E-text prepared by Jim Ludwig
The High School Boys Fishing Trip or Dick & Co. in the Wilderness
By H. Irving Hancock
CHAPTERS I. Tom Reade has a "Brand-New One" II. Dodge and Bayless Hear Something III. Dick & Co. Driven Up a Tree IV. Stalling the Red Smattach V. Bert Dodge Hears the Battle Cry VI. Paid in Full—-To Date VII. The Box That Set Them Guessing VIII. The Man With the Haunting Face IX. The Start of a Bad Night X. Powder Mills, or Just What! XI. In a Fever "To Find Out" XII. Dick Makes a Find XIII. Perhaps Ten Thousand Years Old XIV. More Mystery in the Air XV. The Scream That Started a Race XVI. The Camp Invaded and Captured XVII. Dick Makes Fish Talk XVIII. A Kettle of Hot Water for Someone XIX. Bert Dodge Hears Frightful News XX. A Frenzied Ride to Safety XXI. Real News and "Punk Heroes" XXII. Tom Tells the Big Secret XXIII. "Four of Us are Pin-Heads!" XXIV. Conclusion
TOM READE HAS A "BRAND-NEW ONE"
"Warm night," observed Tom Reade, as he paused not far from the street corner to wipe his perspiring face and neck with his handkerchief.
"Middling warm," admitted Timmy Finbrink.
Yet the heat couldn't have made him extremely uncomfortable, for Tom Reade, amiable and budding senior in the Gridley High School, smiled good naturedly as he stood surveying as much as he could make out of the face of Timmy Finbrink in that dark stretch of the street.
Timmy was merely a prospective freshman, having been graduated a few days before from the North Grammar School in Gridley.
Tom, himself, had been graduated, three years before, from the fine old Central Grammar, whence, in his estimation, all the "regular" boys came. As a North Grammar boy, Timmy was to be regarded only with easygoing indifference. Yet a tale of woe quickly made Tom Reade his young fellow citizen's instant ally.
"Aren't you out pretty late, Timmy, for a boy who isn't even a regular high school freshman as yet?" inquired Reade, with another smile. "It's almost nine-thirty, you know."
"Don't I know?" wailed Timmy Finbrink, with something of a shiver. "It's getting later every minute, too, and I'm due for a trouncing when I do go in, so what's the odds?"
"Who's going to give you that trouncing?" Tom demanded.
"My father," replied Timmy Finbrink.
"What have you been doing?"
"Pop told me to be upstairs and in bed by nine o'clock, without fail," Timmy explained. "I came along just five minutes ago, and found that pop has the house planted for me. I can't slip in without his knowing it."
"Oho! So your father has the other members of the family stationed where they can see you, whichever way you go into the house?" asked Reade, with genuine interest in the unfortunate Timmy.
"Nope," explained Timmy, with another shiver. "Mother and sister are away visiting, and pop is all alone in the house."
"But he can't watch both the front and back doors at the same time," Reade suggested hopefully.
"Can't he do just that, though?" sputtered Timmy. "I've been scouting on tip-toe around the house to get the lay of the land. Pop is smoking his pipe, and has placed his chair so that he can see both the back and the front doors, for he has the room doors open right through. There isn't a ghost of a show to get in without being seen—-and pop has the strap on a chair beside him!" finished Timmy, with an anticipatory shiver.
"Timmy, you're a fearfully slow boy," Tom drawled.
"What do you mean?"
"I can fix it so you can get into the house while your father is doing something else," Tom declared.
"Can you? How? Ring the front door bell, while I slip in at the back door?"
"Nothing as stale as that," scoffed Tom Reade. "That wouldn't call for any brains, you see. Come along and we'll look over the lay of the land. Cheer up, Timmy! You'll have plenty of chance to slip into the house, get upstairs, undressed and be in bed before your father has time to get over the surprise that's coming to him."
"What are you going to——-" Timmy began breathlessly, but Tom interrupted him with:
"Keep quiet, and be ready to follow orders fast."
As they gained the front gate of the Finbrink yard Tom's keen eyes noted a brick lying on the grass. As that was just what he wanted, he pounced upon it.
"Now, Timmy, do you know where you can find a fairly good-sized bottle—-without going into the house or taking the risk of being seen by your father?"
"Yes; there's one back of the house, with the ashes," Timmy answered eagerly.
"Go and get it, and don't make any noise."
Timmy disappeared in the darkness beyond, but soon returned carrying an empty quart bottle.
"Good enough!" whispered Reade, eyeing the bottle with cordial interest. Then he noiselessly approached the house, laying the brick on the grass under one of the front windows.
"Now, Timmy, you slip around to the back of the house," whispered the young schemer. "Just as soon as you hear a crash you watch your swiftest chance to slip into the house and upstairs to bed. Understand?"
"Sure! What you——-"
"Don't stop to ask questions. Get on your mark and look out for your own best interests!"
Rejoicing in the possession of such a valuable ally as Tom Reade, Timmy vanished in the darkness. Tom Reade waited until he judged that the youngster must be in position near the back door. Now Tom gripped the bottle in his left hand, crouching over the brick.
With his felt hat in his right hand, Tom reached up, hitting a window pane smartly with the hat. At the same instant he brought the bottle crashing down over the brick.
As the bottle smashed against the brick Mr. Finbrink, in the dining room of the house, jumped up so quickly that he dropped his pipe.
"Some young rascal has smashed a front window!" he gasped, as he bolted into the parlor.
That was just what the noise had sounded like, and Tom Reade had intended that it should do so.
"I'll catch the young scamp!" gasped Mr. Finbrink, making a rush for the front door, which he pulled open.
Pausing an instant, he heard the sound of running feet in the distance.
"The young scoundrel went west, and he has a good start," grunted Mr. Finbrink, as he gave chase in that direction. "Hang it, I don't believe I can catch him!"
That guess proved well founded. After running a short distance Mr. Finbrink halted. He had not caught sight of the fugitive, nor could he now hear the running steps.
"I wonder how many panes of glass the young scamp broke?" muttered the irate Mr. Finbrink.
Retracing his steps quickly, Mr. Finbrink halted in front of his house, scanning the windows. Not a crack in a window pane could he discern, which was not remarkable, in view of the fact that no panes of glass had been broken.
"I need a lantern," Mr. Finbrink said to himself, and went inside the house. Soon afterwards he came out with a lighted lantern, and began his inspection. Three windows showed no sign of damage. Nor did the fourth. Then Mr. Finbrink chanced to glance down at the ground. There rested the brick, the fragments of the broken bottle lying around it.
"Say, what's that? What's that?" ejaculated Mr. Finbrink, much puzzled. Soon, however, he began to see light on the riddle. His lips parted in a grin; the grin became a chuckle.
"Humph! That goes ahead of anything I ever had the brains to think up when I was a boy," laughed the man. "That's a good one! It sounded for all the world as though someone had smashed one of my windows with a brick-bat. Ha, ha, ha! That's an all right one! I'd be willing to shake hands with the boy who put up that joke on me. How about my own Timmy, I wonder? No; Timmy wouldn't be smart enough for this one—-but he may have smart friends. I'll look up that young hopeful of mine!"
With that purpose in view, the lantern still in his hand, Mr. Finbrink passed into the house and then up the back stairs. On the next floor he pushed open the door of a room, holding the lantern high as he scanned the bed.
There lay Master Timmy, covered only with a sheet, his head sunk in the depths of a pillow, eyes tightly closed, and breathing with almost mechanical rhythm.
"Oh, you're asleep, aren't you?" demanded his father, in a low, ironical voice. "How long have you been asleep, Tim?"
But Timmy's only answer was the beginning of a snore.
"Are you very tired, Timmy?" continued his father craftily.
Still no answer.
Mr. Finbrink held the lantern so that the rays shone fully against the boy's closed eyelids. Any youngster genuinely asleep would have opened his eyes instantly, and Mr. Finbrink knew it. But Timmy began to snore in earnest.
"I'm glad you sleep so soundly," went on Mr. Finbrink. "It shows, boy, what a clear conscience you have! No guile in your heart! But I wish you'd wake up and tell me who broke the bottle against the brick and made me sprint down the street."
Still young Master Timmy snored.
"In your sleeve you're laughing, to think how you fooled your father, aren't you?" murmured Mr. Finbrink. "Well, it was a good joke, and I admit it, young man, so I'm not going to trounce you this time. But I'd be glad if you'd wake up and tell me who put you up to that game."
Master Timmy, however, was disobliging enough to slumber on.
"All right, then," nodded the father. "I say again, it was a good joke. Good night!"
Only a little louder snore served as the son's answer. Mr. Finbrink went out, closed the door and his footsteps sounded down the hallway.
"Whew!" gasped Master Timmy, opening his eyes presently. "That was a mighty narrow squeak! But I got out of it this time. That Tom Reade is a sure enough wonder!"
Mr. Finbrink, however, had slipped back, catfooted, and was now outside the door, where he could hear the barely audible mutterings of his son and heir.
"So it was Tom Reade, eh?" murmured Mr. Finbrink, as he started for the stairs in earnest this time. "I might have guessed it was Tom Reade. He has genius enough for even greater things than that. But Timmy has certainly helped, at least, to earn a right not to be strapped this time." Then the father returned to his chair downstairs, to resume his interrupted smoke. Within the next half hour Mr. Finbrink chuckled many a time over the remembrance of the pranks of his boyhood days.
"But we had no Tom Reade in our crowd in those good old days," he repeated to himself several times. "If we had had a Tom Reade among us, I think we would have beaten any crowd of boys of to-day!"
Meanwhile Tom's love of mischief was speeding him into other experiences ere he reached his bed that night. Some of the consequences of his mischievous prank were to be immediate, others more remote.
"Humph! But that did sound just like a window breaking," Tom chuckled as he slowed down to a walk. "Whee! I'd like to show that one to Dick Prescott. I wonder if he is up yet?"
Whereupon Tom walked briskly over to the side street, just off Main Street, whereon stood the book store of Prescott, Senior, with the Prescotts' living rooms overhead.
"Good evening, Mr. Prescott. Good evening, Mrs. Prescott," was Tom's greeting as he walked into the store. "Is Dick up yet?"
"He went upstairs not more than two minutes ago," Mrs. Prescott replied. "He can't be asleep yet. Shall I call upstairs to see?"
"On second thought, perhaps not," Tom replied. "Thank you, just as much. But I've something new that I'd like to show Dick. Do you mind if I slip out around the back of the store and try a new trick on him? It won't hurt anyone; there'll be a crash of glass, but it won't break any good glass—-merely a bottle."
"I think that perhaps our son needs a little enlivening," smiled Mr. Prescott.
"Thank you," answered Tom. "You won't be startled, will you, Mrs. Prescott?"
"I don't see how I can possibly be startled, when I've been so kindly warned," laughed Mrs. Prescott.
Then, as Reade darted from the store, Mrs. Prescott added, to her husband:
"I think the back of Tom Reade's head contains more pranks than that of any other boy I ever knew."
"I don't imagine our own son is any too far behind him," replied Mr. Prescott dryly.
A minute or two passed. Then there sounded under one of the store's rear windows a most realistic crash of glass. With it mingled another sound, not so easy to determine, followed by a loud yell and the noise of running feet. Now, out in the street the cry sounded:
"There he goes! Get him!"
"Throw him down and hold him!" yelled another voice.
"Mercy!" gasped Mrs. Prescott.
"Don't be alarmed, my dear," smiled Mr. Prescott. "It's only the natural aftermath of Tom Reade's newest startler."
Dick Prescott, after yawning twice, and before starting to disrobe, had decided that his adjustable screen was not fixed in the window of his bedroom as securely as it should be. In endeavoring to fix it he found it necessary to remove the screen from the window. Hardly had he done so when, gazing down into the darkness, he saw a dimly visible figure flitting over the ground below.
"Who's that?" murmured Dick to himself. "What's up?"
Whoever the prowler was, he was flitting over to the ash cans set out by a neighbor. One can contained ashes only, the other contained various kinds of rubbish. It took the prowler but a moment to find an empty bottle in the second can. Then he came straight over toward the rear window of the store, which was situated directly under Dick's own window.
"There's some mischief afloat," murmured Dick, unable to recognize his chum in the darkness. "I can't get down in time to catch him, but I'll mark him so that I'll know him when I overtake him."
Tip-toeing over to his washstand, Dick quickly picked up the water pitcher. He returned to his window just as Tom crouched under the store window with a bottle in his left hand and his felt hat in his right.
Then Tom struck the harmless blow against the window, at the same time breaking the bottle.
"Gracious!" gasped Dick, believing that the store window had been broken.
A yell from Tom arose as the contents of the pitcher deluged him.
Reade was up and away like a shot, reaching the street only to cause a hue and cry to be started after him as he ran.
So swiftly had Tom moved, that by the time Dick Prescott reached the street both pursuers and pursued were a block away and going fast. Dick was about to join the chase when his father called after him:
"Dick! Dick! Come back here!"
"Yes, sir," replied young Prescott, halting, wheeling, then springing back. "But that scoundrel smashed the rear store window!"
"No, he didn't," laughed Mr. Prescott. "That was Tom Reade, and he was playing a trick on you—-with our permission. Now he's being chased. Do you want to go out and aid that crowd in capturing him?"
"Of course I don't, sir," replied Dick, who knew full well that such a sturdy high school athlete as Tom Reade was in very little danger of being caught by any citizen runners to be found on the street at that time of night. "But what did Tom do, Dad?"
"I don't just know," admitted the bookseller. "Reade told us there would be a smash of glass, but that it would be harmless. He warned your mother, Dick, so that she wouldn't he startled when it came. Tom did the right thing in warning your mother. I wish all boys could realize that only cowards and fools go about frightening women."
"But something else happened," insisted Mrs. Prescott. "I wonder what it was?"
"Suppose we take a lantern and go out in the back yard and see," proposed Dick.
While Dick was finding the lantern the elder Prescott closed the front of the store, also drawing down the shades for the night.
Dick's mother followed him into the rear yard. The fragments of the bottle under one of the store windows told the whole story to one as experienced in jokes as Dick Prescott.
"But see how wet the ground is," Mrs. Prescott remarked after Dick had explained the trick.
"That was because I didn't recognize the joker, and emptied the contents of my water pitcher on him just as he broke the bottle," Dick smiled. "Poor old Tom. That was really a shame!"
"But why did you pour the water on him?" asked Mrs. Prescott.
"Because I felt sure that the prowler was up to some mischief, and I wanted to mark him for identification, mother," Dick explained. "If we had found a fellow on the street looking as though he had just come out of the river, we'd have known our man, wouldn't we? Poor Tom! I don't blame him for letting out that yell when that drenching splash hit him."
"I hope he didn't get caught by the men who started after him," sighed Mrs. Prescott.
"Don't worry about Tom, mother," urged Dick. "No one about here could catch him, unless he happened to be a member of the Gridley High School Eleven!"
But was it true that Tom Reade had escaped without disaster? That remained to be seen.
DODGE AND BAYLISS HEAR SOMETHING
"If we start to-morrow we must hustle all day long to-day," declared Dave Darrin.
"That's true," agreed Greg Holmes, as the two boys stood on a side street not far from Main Street in Gridley.
"I wish the rest of the fellows would hurry along," Dave went on impatiently.
"At all events, I wish Dick would hurry up, as he has charge of the arrangements," Greg made answer. "Oh, my! But I'm getting anxious to see the fish nibble."
"I thought you didn't care especially about fishing," Dave murmured, regarding his friend.
"Probably, as far as mere fishing goes, I don't care so very much," young Holmes assented. "But when fishing means weeks of outdoor life, free from the noise and dust of the town—-then I'm simply wild about fishing as an excuse for getting away. Probably at the end of our fun we'll all be so sick of fish, from having had to eat so much of it, that any one of us will run away and hide when we suspect that the home folks are planning to send us on errands to a fish store. It would be all the same to me if we were going clamming, or hunting, or on any other kind of expedition, as long as it brought us to life under canvas and sleeping in the very place where pure, fresh air is made. Here comes Dick now!"
Young Prescott came swiftly up to his friends.
"Well, I think I've gotten about everything fixed," Dick announced.
"Tell us all the plans," urged Greg eagerly.
"What's the matter with waiting until all the other fellows show up?" Prescott inquired. "That will save me from having to go twice over the same ground. While we're waiting I'll tell you Tom Reade's latest one."
"A funny trick?" queried Greg.
"Needless question!" rebuked Dave Darrin. "Tell us about the latest one, Dick."
Thereupon the leader of Dick & Co. told of Tom's scheme for making people think one of their windows broken.
"Did it sound real?" Dave demanded.
"Did it?" inquired Dick. "It fooled me. I thought surely that our rear store window had been smashed to pieces. The sound is as natural as any joker could wish. But I haven't told you the other half of the story."
Thereupon Dick told about the pitcher of water dumped so unerringly on Tom, and of Reade's flight with the crowd pursuing him.
"I'd like to have been near enough to hear just what Tom said when the water struck him," laughed Darrin.
"Did the people running after him catch him?" asked Greg.
"I don't believe so," Dick Prescott smiled. "When Tom gets under way in earnest, his middle name, as you may have observed, is Double Speed—-and then a bit more."
"Who's talking about me?" gruffly demanded Reade, coming up behind the group. "Dick, you old rascal! That was a mean trick you played upon me when you hurled that water down on me last night! But say, didn't it sound just like a three dollar pane of glass going to pieces?"
"It certainly did," laughed Prescott. "And by the way, Tom, did the water, when it struck, make you think at all about what you've read of Niagara Falls?"
"Hang you!" grumbled Tom, shaking a fist. "Why did you pour the wet stuff on me like that?"
"Because I was fooled myself," Dick promptly rejoined. "I thought some rascal was plotting mischief to the store. I wanted to mark that rascal with a suit of wet clothes, then run down in the street and collar him with his wet clothes on as a marker. But Dad called me back, and so I missed you. I heard the crowd after you, however. Did you get caught, Tom?"
Reade's answer was something of a growl.
"What happened between you and the crowd?" pressed Darrin, scenting some news from Reade's mysterious, half-sulky manner.
"Never you mind," Tom growled.
"Don't tell us," Dick urged. "We can guess a few things, anyway. You've a bruised spot over your left cheek bone that looks like the mark of a punch on the face."
"Go ahead and tell us what happened, Tom," urged Greg.
Reade only scowled.
"Anyway, you must have avenged yourself," Dick smiled. "Just look at the way the knuckles of your right hand are skinned. You certainly hit someone hard."
Tom flushed quickly as he glanced at the knuckles in question, then thrust his right hand into his pocket with an air of indifference.
"Be a good fellow and tell us the finish of the adventure," begged Darrin.
"Certainly," grinned Reade. "The end of my adventure was——-"
"Yes, yes!" pressed Greg, as Tom hesitated.
"The end of the adventure came," Tom continued maliciously, "when I turned out the gas in my little room and hopped into bed. I slept like a top, thank you."
"Now, now, now!" Dick warned him. "Thomas, you're hiding something from us!"
"If I am, it's my own business, and I've a right to hide it," retorted Tom, smiling once more, though still uncommunicative.
At this moment Hazelton and Dan Dalzell, otherwise known as Danny Grin, came up. They, too, had to hear all about the bottle-breaking trick.
"How did you ever come to think of a thing like that, Tom?" asked Harry Hazelton.
"I thought of it before I tried it out at Dick's," Reade rejoined, and explained how he had helped Timmy Finbrink out of a scrape.
"What did you say the fellow's name is, Tom?" Dick asked.
"His name is Timmy Finbrink," Reade rejoined, "and he looks the part. Just one glance at Timmy, and you know that he's all that the name implies."
Then followed, for the benefit of the two latest arrivals, the story of Tom's attempt in the rear of the Prescott bookstore.
Harry and Dalzell duly admired the bruise on Tom's face.
"Now, be a gentleman, Tom," urged Harry mischievously, "and let us have a good, satisfying look at your skinned knuckles."
"Umph!" grunted Reade.
"Or, at least," pursued Harry relentlessly, "tell us just what it was into which you ran to get such a mark on your face."
"Umph!" retorted Reade once more. "Danny, in the name of mercy, take that grin of yours around the corner and lose it!"
"I'll try," promised Dan, "provided you'll tell us who caught you last night, and why he punched your face."
But Tom, knowing that he had them all wild with curiosity, refused to reveal the secret.
"Now, let's get back to the big fishing trip," begged Greg Holmes. "Dick, what's the plan?"
"We start to-morrow," Prescott rejoined.
"Humph!" grunted Holmes. "We knew that all along. What we want are the particulars in detail."
"In the next place, then," Dick replied, "we shall devote a good deal of our time, while away, to the pleasurable excitement of fishing."
"Perhaps you won't be able to get away," Greg retorted, "if you go on stringing us in that fashion. I warn you that we're becoming impatient."
"That's right," nodded Dave Darrin. "Get down to actual particulars, Dick."
"Well, then," Prescott resumed, "we meet at the same old grocery store in the morning. There we stock up with food."
"Are we going to hire a horse and wagon for transporting our tent, cots, bedding and food?" Dan asked.
"No," Dick replied. "I've been thinking that over, and the funds won't stand it. So I've rented a push cart for two dollars. We can keep it as long as we need it. The tent, folding cots, blankets, pillows and kitchen utensils will go on the cart."
"Do we have to push that cart?" demanded Danny Grin, looking displeased.
"We do, if we want the cart to go along with us," Dick admitted.
Danny Grin groaned dismally as he remarked:
"That one detail of the arrangements just about spoils all the pleasure of the trip, then."
"No, it won't," Dick reported promptly. "I've looked into that. The wheels are well greased—-the axles, I mean. I've loaded the cart with more weight than we shall put on it, and it pushes along very easily. If we come to a bad stretch of road, then two fellows can manage the cart at a time. The scheme saves us a lot of expense, fellows."
"Will all the food go on the cart, tool" asked Dave.
"Each one of us can carry some of the food," Dick replied.
Then his eye, roving from face to face, took in the fact that his chums were not impressed with the proposed method of transportation.
"Cheer up, fellows," he begged. "You'll find that it will be pretty easy, after all."
"I'd rather believe you, Dick, than have it proved to me," was Tom Reade's dejected answer. "I thought we were going away for pleasure and rest, but I suppose we can work our way if we have to."
None of these high school boys are strangers to our readers. Everyone remembers the first really public appearance of Dick & Co., as set forth in the first volume of the "Grammar School Boys Series." Then we met them again in the first volume of the "High School Boys Series," entitled, "The High School Freshmen." That stormy first year of high school life was one that Dick & Co. could never forget. In the second volume, "The High School Pitcher," we found Dick & Co. actively engaged in athletics, though in their sophomore year they did not attempt to make the eleven, but waited until the spring to try for the baseball nine. In the third volume, "The High School Left End," Dick & Co. were shown in their struggles to make the eleven, against some clever candidates, and also in the face of bitter opposition from a certain clique of high school boys who considered themselves to be of better social standing than Dick and his chosen comrades.
In the "High School Boys' Vacation Series" our readers have followed Dick & Co. through their summer pleasures and sports. In the first volume of this present series, "The High School Boys' Canoe Club," the adventures are described that fell to the lot of Prescott, Darrin, Reade and the others in the summer following their freshman high school year. In the second volume, "The High School Boys In Summer Camp," our readers found an absorbing narrative of the startling doings of Dick & Co. in the summer following their sophomore year. And now, in this present volume, we at last come upon our young friends at the beginning of their vacation season after the completion of their junior year, with its football victories. Now they are budding seniors, ready to enter the final, graduating class of Gridley High School in the coming autumn.
As Dick looked into the faces of his chums he laughed.
"So you don't like the push-cart idea, eh?" he demanded. "All right; if you fellows would rather loaf than eat——-"
"We can hire a horse, and still have money enough left to eat," protested Tom. "See here, Dick, although fishing is great fun while it lasts, we shan't be out all summer on a fishing trip. We don't need such a lot of money for, say, only a two or three weeks' trip."
"Yes; I think two or three weeks will see us in from our fishing trip," Prescott admitted. "But if we do come back early, fellows, then we shall need some other kind of a trip for August, won't we?"
"Say, that's right!" cried Dave Darrin, his eyes glistening. "Fellows, we are troubled with wooden heads. While we've been thinking of nothing but a fishing trip in July, Dick has actually had the brains to figure out that we might like to go away on some other kind of outing in August."
"Such an idea did occur to me," replied Dick.
"What's the scheme for August, Dick?" demanded Greg eagerly.
"Out with it!" insisted Hazelton.
Dick shook his head.
"Now, don't be mean," insisted Danny Grin. "Dick, you owe it to us, almost, to let us get a little look at the machinery that's moving in the back of your head."
"I haven't an August plan—-at least, not one that is clear enough for me to submit it and put it to vote before you," Dick went on. "Fellows, let's set about this present fishing trip, for this month, and then, while we're away, talk up the proper scheme for August. Whatever we do in the way of fun, next month, will be sure to be better planned if we wait a little before talking it over."
"All right, then," agreed Tom Reade with a sigh. "But I warn you, Dick, and all you fellows, that if Prescott is too stingy with news about his August plan, I shall put forth one of my own."
"What's your August plan, Tom?" demanded Greg.
"I'm not going to tell you—-yet," Reade rejoined, shaking his head mysteriously.
"There are a lot of things that you're not telling us," Dave reminded him. "Just for one little thing, you're not telling us what happened to you last night after you let a lot of strange men chase you out of Dick's street."
"They didn't chase me off the street!" declared Tom indignantly.
"Then what did happen?" quizzed Danny Grin.
"They all tried to beat me in a foot race," Tom declared, "and I put it all over them!"
"Yet someone must have passed you, or got in front of you," teased Greg. "Look at the bruise on your face, and your knuckles."
"Oh, that happened when——-" began Tom, then paused abruptly.
"Yes, yes," pressed Danny Grin. "Tell us about it."
"All right," agreed Tom, "I will. You see, when I got home and into bed, I had a sort of nightmare. Just suppose, for instance, that the mark on my face is where the nightmare kicked me and that I skinned my knuckles against the bedstead when I tried to jump over the bed to return the nightmare's kick."
"Tom Reade," called Dave sternly, "hold up your right hand!"
"Look out, Darry! You're not going to ask Tom to swear to the truth of a yarn like that, are you?" asked Dick anxiously.
"You may let your hand down again, young man," decided Dave, and Tom, as his hand reached his side, heaved a sigh expressive of great relief.
"Now, have you fellows got your tackle all ready?" Dick went on. "Remember the different things in the way of tackle that each of us was to bring."
The others assured their leader that the matter of tackle had been attended to.
"Then your bedding and your clothing are the only other matters to be considered," Dick went on, "as we're to travel light."
"As we don't take a horse along," suggested Tom, "then I take it that we are not going to carry any planking for a tent floor."
"We can't very well do that," Dick answered him. "Fellows, the real thing for us to do, on this trip, is to learn how to move fast and light. We must learn how to do without many things and yet have just as good a time."
"I think that's good sense," murmured Dave. "At the same time, I'll admit, at first blush, that I don't care particularly for the motion of the push cart. That means a lot of extra work for us, if we change camping sites often."
"Then let's put it to a vote whether to hire a horse and wagon, and give up the idea of an August trip," proposed Dick.
"No need whatever of taking any vote," broke in Tom. "All of us want that August trip, too, and we know that we haven't purses as big as a bank's vault."
And that opinion prevailed, without dissent.
"Greg's house ought to be the best place to keep the push cart over night," Dick continued. "I'll have the cart there at four this afternoon. Suppose you fellows meet us there, with your bedding and clothing for the trip?"
This also was agreed upon.
While the boys stood there chatting not one of them suspected how eagerly they were being watched by two pairs of eyes.
On the same side of the street, only a door below them, was an unrented cottage. One of the windows of this cottage, upstairs, was open, though closed blinds concealed the fact. Between these blinds peered two young men.
That cottage was the property of Mr. Dodge, vice-president of one of Gridley's banks.
Readers of "The High School Left End" have good reason to remember the banker's son, Bert Dodge. He and his friend, Bayliss, also the scion of a wealthy family, had been members of the notorious "sorehead" group in the last year's football squad at Gridley High School.
As our readers well remember, Dodge and Bayliss had carried their opposition to Dick & Co. to such dishonorable extent that they had been given the "silence" by the boys and girls attending the Gridley High School.
Dodge and Bayliss had thereupon left home to attend a private school, and they had gone away from Gridley with bitter hatred of Dick & Co. rankling in their hearts.
Just at this present moment Dodge and Bayliss were back in the home town. Deeply and properly humiliated by the contempt with which they were regarded in Gridley, these two "soreheads" had concealed from all but members of their families the fact that they were in town.
Bert had secured from his father the keys of the cottage. Two cots had been placed in a front room. Late the night before Dodge had brought food supplies to the cottage. Here the two youngsters were to remain secretly for a few days until Bayliss received from his family, then abroad, the money needed for his summer outing. What the elder Dodge did not know or even suspect, was that his son and Bayliss had returned with some half-formed plans of paying back old scores against Dick & Co.
"I knew this cottage was the place for us," Bert whispered. "As I told you, Bayliss, this corner is a favorite meeting place for Prescott and his fellow muckers."
"From what I hear, they're going to leave town for a few weeks," replied Bayliss.
"Yes; going out into the wilds on some sort of fishing jaunt."
"I wish we knew their plans better than we do," murmured Bayliss.
"Don't believe they know 'em themselves any too well," sneered Bert Dodge. "However, we don't need to know where they're going. We can follow 'em, can't we?"
"Yes; and get jolly well thumped for our pains, maybe," retorted Bayliss dryly.
"Well, if you're afraid, we'll let 'em depart in peace," mocked Bert.
"Who's afraid?" demanded Bayliss irritably.
"I hope you're not," retorted Bert Dodge.
"If you're not afraid—-if you're as thoroughly game as I am—-then we'll have some satisfaction out of those fellows."
"Lead me to it!" ordered Bayliss hotly.
"I will, to-morrow morning," promised Bert Dodge. "If you stick to me, we'll make those muckers sorry they ever knew us!"
"We must be under way by nine o'clock," the listeners heard Dick say. "We go west, over Main Street. We must start promptly, for we have sixteen miles to go to our first camp at the second lake in the Cheney Forest."
"Do you hear that?" whispered Bert. "The idiots have given us their full route! We can leave at four in the morning, and won't have to follow 'em at all. We can be there ahead of time, and have all the lines laid."
"Somehow," sounded Dave Darrin's voice, "I have a hunch, fellows, that we're going to have the finest time we ever had in our lives."
"We would have," sighed Tom Reade, "if it weren't for that push cart."
"At four o'clock this afternoon, then, and be prompt," called Dick, preparing to leave the others.
"Wait a moment," urged Dave.
"What's the matter?" inquired Dick, halting.
"Tom's just on the point of telling us what really happened to him last night," smiled Darry.
"Humph!" grunted Reade, walking briskly away.
"I can tell what's going to happen to 'em all on some other nights," whispered Bert Dodge in his friend's ear.
"To get square with those muckers, who drove us out of Gridley High School and out of town is my only excuse for living at present," sniffed Bayliss.
DICK & CO. DRIVEN UP A TREE
"Yes?" replied Prescott, turning and looking back at Tom, whose turn it now was to furnish motive power to the loaded cart.
"How far did you say it was from Gridley to the second lake?" asked Reade.
"I've pushed the cart more than that far already," grunted Tom. "I'm willing to wager that the lake is more than a hundred and twenty miles from Gridley."
"Suppose it is," scoffed Dave, falling back beside the cart "Tom, just think of the fine training your back muscles are getting out of this work!"
"I'll tell you all about that, Darry," grumbled Reade, "when you've had your turn for ten minutes. How much longer does my turn run, Dick?"
"Five minutes," replied Prescott, after glancing at his watch. "Are you going to be able to hold out that long?"
"Yes; if I live that long," sighed Tom.
Dick and Hazelton had each taken their fifteen minute turns at pushing the cart. The boys had already put some distance between themselves and Gridley. Dick & Co. were tramping down a well-shaded road bounded by prosperous-looking farms. Two miles further on the boys would branch off through a long stretch of woods where the road was rougher. Here two youngsters would be needed for the work, one pushing, while the other hauled on a rope made fast to the front of the cart.
Five of the boys were well laden with miscellaneous packages of food. Tom, on account of pushing the cart, had been permitted to place his load on the already well-packed cart.
"Time's up," called Dick. "Dave to the bat."
Smiling, Darry packed his own parcels in the cart.
"Whew! But it's good to get away from that thing," grunted Reade, mopping his forehead, as he stalked on ahead.
"Here, you, Tom!" called Danny Grin. "Take your personal pack off the cart and tote it like the rest of us."
Reade turned a comically scowling face to Dalzell.
"Danny," he demanded rebukingly, "why couldn't you hold your tongue?"
"Because, when I'm working hard, I don't like to see you shirk," replied Dalzell with a complacent grin.
"But consider Darry," urged Reade. "Note how strong, lithe and supple he is. Boy, he is much better fitted for pushing my personal pack on the cart than I am for carrying it."
"Stick a pin in the chat, Tom," advised Darrin briefly, "and take your truck off the cart. I want to begin enjoying myself."
"I'd carry twice as much as I have to, just for the sheer joy of hearing you kick like a Texas maverick by the time you've had the cart handles for two minutes," laughed Tom, as he took his own parcels off the cart. "Now, David, little giant, let us see you buckle down to your task—-like a real or imitation man!"
Darry braced himself, gave a hitch, then started forward briskly.
"Get out of the way, you loiterers!" called Dave, overtaking Tom and Greg and shoving the front end of the cart against them. "Don't block the road!"
"That's what comes of hitching an express engine to a freight load," grunted Reade, as he made for the side of the road, brushing his clothes.
There was bound to be a lot of "kicking" over the work of handling the push cart, but Dick & Co. were in high spirits this hot July morning.
Weeks before, when first planning this trip, all had begun to "save up" toward outfits of khaki, leggings and all, and blue flannel shirts. These khaki clothes made the most serviceable of all camping costumes.
"I begin to feel like a soldier," laughed Dick contentedly.
"So do I," agreed Tom Reade. "I feel like a poor dub of a soldier who has been sent to march across a continent on the line of the equator. I believe eggs would cook in any of my pockets!"
"Cut out all the grumbling and the discomfort talk," warned Dave Darrin.
"Well, I don't know that I need to grumble, if you can feel contented behind that old cart," laughed Reade. "How does it go, Darry?"
"I haven't begun to notice, as yet," replied Dave coolly.
Tom eyed him suspiciously.
"Darry," he remarked presently, "you're talented."
"In what way?" Dave inquired.
"You're one of the most talented fibbers I ever encountered. You've been pushing that cart all of four minutes, and you pretend that you don't notice the work."
"I expected to work when I left home," Darrin informed him. "If I hadn't felt that I could endure a little fatigue, then I'd have remained at home and looked for a job sleeping in a mattress factory's show-room."
Tom subsided after that. Dave's fifteen minutes were up presently, but he declined to accept relief at the push cart until they reached the point where their road branched off on to the rougher highway. Now, Greg and Hazelton took the cart, Greg at the handles, Hazelton pulling ahead on the rope.
Thus they went along, for some five minutes, when Dick, who was in the lead, reached a small covered bridge over a noisy, rushing creek.
Just as Dick gained the entrance to the bridge his gaze fell upon a large white sheet of paper tacked there. The word "Notice," written in printing characters, stared him in the face.
Dick read, then called back quietly:
"Halt! Here's something we've got to look into at once."
The cart handlers willingly enough dropped their burden. All hands crowded forward to read what was written underneath on the sheet of paper. It ran thus:
"All passers-by are cautioned that a mad dog, frothing at the mouth, has passed this way, going west. Officers have gone in pursuit of the animal, but passers-by may encounter the dog before the officers do. The dog is a huge English mastiff, without collar. Turn back unless armed!"
"Fine and cheery!" exclaimed Tom Reade, looking rather startled despite his light comment.
"And, just as it happens, this is the only road in the country that we want to use just at present," commented Dick Prescott.
"Shall we go ahead, keeping a sharp lookout?" asked Dave.
"I don't know," Dick muttered. "We'll have to think that over a bit."
"There are six of us, and we can cut good, stout clubs before we proceed farther," suggested Greg Holmes.
"Yes, and probably, if attacked, we could finish the dog," Dick went on. "Yet, most likely, before we did kill the brute, he'd have bitten at least one of us."
"I'll go on, if the rest of you fellows want to," observed Danny Grin. "At the same time, it looks like taking a big chance, doesn't it?"
"It's taking a chance, of course," Dick admitted. "The dog may be running yet, and we might never get within ten, or even twenty, miles of him. Or, the officers may have caught and killed the brute by this time. Or, the mastiff might bound at us from the woods at any moment now."
"Whether we go back or keep on, we're fairly likely to meet the mad dog," suggested Tom. "Mr. Chairman, I rise to move, sir, that we cut clubs at once, and do the rest of our talking afterwards!"
"The motion is seconded and carried," called Dick, darting into the woods. "Come on and find the clubs."
Less than forty seconds afterwards each of the six boys was cutting a stout sapling, which he forthwith trimmed.
"I believe I could kill anything but an ox with this," observed Reade, eyeing his bludgeon.
"Look out!" called Danny Grin, as if in alarm.
In a twinkling Tom dropped his club, dashed at a young oak tree and began to climb, thinking that the dog had suddenly appeared.
"Stop that nonsense, Dan—-and everyone of you!" called Dick sharply. "Let no one knowingly give any false alarms, or we might disregard a real warning when it comes."
Tom sheepishly dropped to the ground, picked up his cudgel, then gazed at Dalzell with a look that had "daggers" in it.
"I'll owe you one for that, Danny Grin," Reade remarked, "and I'm always careful about paying my debts."
"Now that we have our clubs," suggested Dick, "let's get back to the road and discuss what we're going to do."
"Surely," hinted Dave, "we can find some other road and keep on our way."
"Undoubtedly," Greg nodded. "But the mad dog might cross through the woods and be found waiting for us on that other road. Or, he may now be headed for the second lake, or even be there now."
"Let's vote on what we're going to do," urged Hazelton. "Dick, what do you say?"
"I don't know what to say," their young leader answered. "I don't like to see our party cheated out of our vacation. Neither do I care to take too many chances of having our vacation changed into a tragedy. I've never had hydrophobia, but I've a strong notion that it wouldn't be pleasant. I know just how you fellows feel. You hate to lose your fun."
"We do hate to lose our fun," agreed Darry.
"And yet you don't want to have an encounter with a dog that has hydrophobia."
"We don't," approved Tom Reade. "Dick, you have a truly wonderful intellect when it comes to successful guessing."
"There's a cloud of dust up the road to the west," discovered Greg Holmes.
In an instant all eyes were turned that way.
"Can that be the dog?" asked Darry. "Something is traveling this way and stirring up a lot of dust."
Whatever the moving object was, it appeared to be half a mile away up the straight, dust-covered road.
"Until we find out what it is," Dick suggested, "I believe that tree climbing will prove healthful exercise."
Quickly they moved the push cart a little to one side of the road. Then they ran for trees, but every member of Dick & Co. retained his hold on his bludgeon.
The dust cloud was coming nearer. From the elevation of his perch in a tree Dick soon discovered and announced:
"It's a horse and wagon coming this way."
"Maybe it's the officers returning from the hunt," suggested Reade, who was on a lower limb of the next tree.
"There's only one man in the wagon, and he's whipping up the horse," Dick announced.
"There are good enough reasons for the man wanting his horse to hurry," chuckled Danny.
"Maybe the dog is in pursuit now," hinted Darrin.
Dick, who had the best view of the road to the westward, peered carefully.
"I don't see anything to suggest a pursuing dog," Prescott made answer. "If the dog is near, he must be running under the trees along the side of the road."
Greg climbed up beside his leader.
"Why, that man has stopped whipping the horse," young Holmes declared. "And is lighting his pipe. That doesn't look as though he were very much scared about anything."
"We'll stay where we are until we've talked with the man," Dick decided.
Just before reaching the other end of the covered bridge the driver, a farmer, and with what looked like a light load of farm produce in the body of the wagon, slowed his horse down to a walk, at which gait he drove over the bridge. Then, sighting the boys up in the trees, and each with a club, he reined up.
"Hello, boys!" he called drawlingly. "Who's been a-chasing you? What scared you?"
"Read that notice, sir, tacked up at the bridge entrance," urged Dick.
Alighting, and drawing a pair of spectacles from a vest pocket, the farmer complied.
"Mad dog, eh?" he drawled. "Sho!"
"Did you see anything of the brute?" called Darry.
"No; I didn't," answered the farmer. "Don't believe there is any mad dog along the way, either. I've reined up and talked with neighbors during the last hour and a half along the way. They didn't mention nothin' 'bout any peevish dogs. Now, it stands to reason that the officers would have stopped and warned folks along the road, don't it? And the neighbors would have passed the gossip with me, wouldn't they?"
"Didn't you see any officers coming from this way?" asked Dick.
"Nary one," rejoined the farmer. "Only fellers that passed me, coming from this direction, was two young dudes—-I sh'd say about your ages. They was in a high-toned speed wagon——-"
"Automobile?" asked Reade.
"Said so, didn't I?" drawled the farmer. "Them dudes looked mighty tickled about something. They was laughin' a whole lot and looked mighty well pleased with themselves. Do you reckon they was any friends of your'n, trying to have fun with you?"
"I can't recall any friends who would try to put up such a pleasant surprise for us," said Dick dryly, as he slipped down to the ground. "What did the fellows in the automobile look like, sir?"
That farmer possessed well-developed powers of observation, as was proved by the minute descriptions he gave of the two young men.
Dick's chums, who had now joined him at the roadside, looked puzzled. Then light dawned in Tom's eyes.
"Jupiter!" cried Reade. "If it weren't that they're not in this part of the country, I'd say that the pair were Dodge and Bayliss!"
"How do you know they're not in this part of the country?" asked Prescott dryly. Then, of the farmer, he further inquired:
"What kind of a car were they driving, sir?"
"A red Smattach, last year's model," answered the man.
"That's just what the Dodge automobile runabout is, and Smattach cars are not common in this section," muttered Prescott. Then he went over to take a keener look at the written notice on the sheet of white paper.
"This looks like disguised handwriting; it's backhanded," Dick mused aloud. "But I notice one thing peculiar. Who makes a funny little quirl at the beginning of a letter 'm,' such as you see in this writing?"
"Bert Dodge!" flashed Dave Darrin, an indignant light flashing in his eyes. "So we're six simpletons, held up by his shady tricks, are we? If Bert Dodge is anywhere ahead of us on the road, then I hope we have the good luck to meet him under conditions where he can't jam on the speed and get away from us!"
"Joke on you all, is it?" asked the farmer, grinning quizzically.
"It looks like it," admitted Dick sheepishly. "You're sure that none of the folks west of here heard anything of a mad dog, are you?"
"Pretty sure," nodded the farmer.
"Then this notice isn't really needed up here," replied Dick, carefully pulling the tacks, after which he folded the paper and tucked it in one of his pockets. "We're mightily obliged to you, sir."
"Oh, you're welcome," grinned the farmer, as he gathered up the reins over his horse. "I've got to be getting along. I'm late in Gridley now."
"If that man is too talkative in Gridley, folks will hear how we got sold," yawned Tom, gazing after the farm wagon. "Then—-my! Won't folks be laughing at us?"
"It's a mean trick," cried Dave indignantly. "I wish I had that Dodge fellow here, right now! I believe that I'm master of enough English to convey to him an idea of just what I think of him!"
"I wouldn't waste any of my carefully acquired English on him," growled Tom Reade.
"What would you do—-skin your other knuckles?" inquired Danny Grin innocently.
"We're wasting too much time punishing a fellow who isn't here," Dick broke in. "Let's get forward. After another mile Dalzell and I will take the cart and get it over some of the ground. Now, forward, march!"
It was noticed that Dave Darrin walked with clenched-fists. Tom took long strides that carried him in advance of the others. Dick Prescott was mostly silent, yet in his eyes there was a steady light, and a grim look about his mouth, that bespoke the possibility of some inconvenience to Bert Dodge and his friend, should that pair fall into the hands of Dick & Co. within the next hour.
At noon Dick & Co. halted. Under the shade of a group of trees, close to a roadside spring, they built two small fires. Over one they made coffee; over the other, they fried bacon and eggs. This, with bread, constituted the meal. A brief rest, then on they went once more.
It was toward five o'clock when Dick and Tom, who knew the road from having tramped over it before, announced that they were less than half a mile from the point where they would turn in to go to the second lake.
At this time Greg and Dan were managing the push cart. Tom and Dick strode on ahead, watching for the first sign of the path that should lead down to their intended camp site.
Suddenly, however, Prescott seized Reade by the arm, halting him.
"What's the matter?" asked Tom.
"Sh!—-" Dick piloted his friend in behind a line of bushes, then went cautiously ahead.
"Look over there!" whispered Dick.
Tom Reade gave a start when he found himself gazing at a red runabout that stood just off the road and apparently deserted.
"Humph! That's a Smattach, too," declared Tom. "It must be the Dodge car. Bert and Bayliss must be somewhere about."
Dick stood surveying the car with speculative eyes.
"I know what you're thinking about," Tom whispered. "Wait; I'll go back and halt the fellows and bring Dave forward with me."
In a few moments this had been done. Darry gazed at the red Smattach with gleaming eyes.
"This is surely our chance!" he muttered. "Now, what can we do?"
All three were silent for a few moments. Then Tom Reade smote his thigh with one hand.
"I have it," he muttered excitedly.
"Then don't be stingy with your secret," urged Dave. "Out with at least a part of it."
For some moments Dick, Dave and Tom remained engaged in a rapid interchange of whispers, all the time glancing about them.
STALLING THE RED "SMATTACH"
"That's the very thing!" muttered Tom Reade at last.
"It can't get us into any scrape with the law, can it?" queried Dave Darrin, with almost unwonted caution.
"I don't see how it can," smiled Dick Prescott. "I'm no lawyer, but I can't see how our trick, the way we intend to play it, can be called a breach of the law."
"Let's not lose any time with the game," urged Reade. "Let's get in and do it before Dodge and Bayliss come back. I wonder where they are, anyway?"
"I don't care where they are," said Dave, "as long as they keep away from here until we're through with what we intend to do."
From its place in the runabout car Tom drew forth a wheel-jack. This he and Dave fitted under an axle, raising the wheel half aft inch off the ground. Dick rapidly remove the tire from that front wheel.
By the time he had finished Tom ran with the jack around to the other front wheel, removing the tire from it also.
As the red runabout carried no extra tires the little car was now hopelessly stalled until relief was brought to the scene.
"Now, I'll slip back and bring the fellows on," Dick whispered. "Tom, you take Dave down to the camp site. I'll be right along with the other fellows."
Tom and Dave started along the forest path, each carrying a tire slung over one shoulder.
Dick, darting back, brought up the other fellows. All took a gleeful look at the red Smattach as they passed, then hurried on.
Down to a level bit of ground at the lakeside Dick led the last of his friends. Tom and Dave were already there, the two pneumatic tires standing against the trunk o a tree.
Dick's first move was to take a rope from the cart. This, after being passed through the rubber tires, was tied between two trees, clothesline fashion.
"Now, let's rustle all the stuff off the cart," urged Dick. "Be quick about it. We want the tent up in good shape before darkness falls."
It is not much of a trick to raise a tent twelve feet by twenty, when there are six pairs of hands to do it. The two centre poles were adjusted to the ridge-pole, and all three were pushed in under the canvas.
"Up with her," called Dick.
As the tent was raised, Tom and Greg were left holding the centre poles in place. With a sledge Dick drove a corner stake, and a guy-rope was made fast to it. One after another the remaining corner stakes were quickly driven and the ropes made fast. The tent would now stand by itself.
Dick and Dave, Tom and Greg now attended to two stakes at a time, making the other guy-ropes fast.
"Danny, you may set in all the wall-pegs," said Dick, standing back to survey the really neat job.
"I've been thinking——-" began Dalzell.
"Then let Hazelton do the wall-pegging," retorted Dick tersely.
"I've been thinking——-" Dalzell went on, "that it would be awfully funny, wouldn't it, if that red Smattach belonged, not to Dodge, but to some fellow we've never seen before?"
"It would be inexpressibly funny!" growled Tom Reade. "And what would be funnier than anything else would be our frantic efforts to make a satisfactory explanation."
"We could be arrested for theft, couldn't we?" asked Greg, glancing up apprehensively from the side wall pegging.
"Hardly that," replied Dick, with a shake of his head. "Theft, as I understand it, usually carries with it the sale of the plunder, or its concealment. We have hung up the tires where anyone who is interested may see them. Still, it would be awkward making explanations to strangers, and we'd all feel mighty cheap."
"Then maybe we'll have our chance to feel that way," suggested Danny Grin, his mouth opening still wider.
"Don't waste your time on pleasant thoughts, like that," grunted Reade. "Try to think of something sad."
"If it's the Dodge car, could Bert make any trouble for us?" Darrin wanted to know.
"Hardly," answered young Prescott. "We've simply played a clever trick on Dodge and Bayliss. As our excuse we could point out a trick they palmed off on us earlier in the day. We'd be quits. You needn't fear Dodge. Never, since that time when he got so awfully beaten over the assault charge he made against me, has he felt that he wanted to face me in court again."
"You fellows wait here, and don't be worried if I don't come back soon," interposed Darry suddenly.
"What are you going to do?" demanded Tom Reade.
But Dave had slipped away. When he chose to be as mysterious as that, Dick Prescott knew better than to question his chum.
Rapidly the work of straightening camp proceeded. Dave was back in a little more than half an hour. Yet he returned so noiselessly that he was in camp before the others realized his presence.
"Well——-?" asked Dick eagerly.
"Come into the tent, fellows," whispered Dave.
When Darrin had them inside he went on, in a low voice:
"It's the Dodge car, all right. I hid behind a tree nearby the car and waited until they returned. When they found the front tires missing they were furious. Bayliss said we fellows had done it, but Bert said he didn't believe we were anywhere near here as yet. I slipped away and left them arguing. Dodge wants Bayliss to walk to the nearest place where he can telephone to a garage to send a man out with new tires. Bayliss says it's the Dodge car, and Bert can do the walking. It looks as though they would come to blows, and, as I've been gently reared, with a distaste for fighting, I slipped away."
"If they want to come down and look along the edge of this lake, they'll soon find out where their tires are," Dick Prescott chuckled. "But they'll have to come right in here to camp and ask for their property."
"Which they won't greatly care about doing," laughed Reade.
"Let them stay away until their nerves improve, then," said Dick briefly. "Now, let's see; we've got to set up the cots and bedding, and get the two lanterns filled and trimmed for the evening. That ought not to take many minutes."
Nor did it. When this had been done, Dick asked:
"Fellows, you know what we came here to do? Fish wouldn't taste bad for supper, would it? Which two of you want to go and try your luck for perch? They'll bite, even after dark."
Tom and Hazelton made a hasty selection of tackle, also producing a can of bait that had been brought along from Gridley.
Then Tom and Harry disappeared, taking with them one of the lanterns. A quarter of a mile below the camp were the ruins of an old pier from which they could cast their lines.
Where the perch are plentiful there is little skill involved in such fishing. Perch will bite after dark. The hook is baited and dropped in. The fish take hold greedily, rarely falling from the hook afterward.
While Tom and Harry were still fishing darkness fell. The two Gridley boys fished on in silence, adding frequently to the two crotched stick "strings" that flopped on the end of the pier.
"We've thirty-nine perch. That's enough, even for a hungry crowd like ours," said Tom at last, after lighting the lantern.
"Here is the fortieth, then," called Hazelton, as he felt a tug at his line. He landed a pound perch almost under Tom's nose.
"Good enough business, this," declared Tom contentedly. "I hope the fellows have everything else ready."
Tom carried the lantern; each boy carried a string of fish. As they neared camp, Danny Grin espied them, and ran forward to see the size of the catch.
"Here they are!" called Dalzell. "They've fish enough to feed a fat men's boarding house!"
"Bring them here," called Dick from a board beside which he and Greg crouched, each with a knife in hand.
One after another the fish were scaled and cleaned with a speed known only to old campers. Dave had two frying pans hot over a fire. In went the perch, sputtering in the fat and giving forth appetizing odors.
"My, but they're going to taste good!" declared Danny Grin.
Leaving Greg to finish with the cleaning of the fish Dick passed to another campfire, throwing into a hot pan the material for fried potatoes.
Ere long the meal was on the table—-two boards placed across the tops of two boxes. It was a low table, but it served the purpose.
"My, but this fish tastes good!" murmured Tom Reade, as he picked a piece of fried perch free of the backbone and began eating it.
"We'll all of us find it the best meal ever, just because we've tramped far enough and worked hard enough to make any kind of decent food taste great," Dick smiled.
The supper over, and one of the campfires replenished, all six of the youngsters took the dishes down to the lake, carrying along two kettles of hot water, where a general dish-washing ensued. With so many to do the work, the camp was spick and span within twenty minutes.
"Now, I'm going to enjoy one thing that I haven't had all day, and that's some real rest," Prescott declared, throwing himself down upon the grass. "I don't believe I shall move until bedtime."
But he did. Already trouble was hovering over the camp. From out of the darkness beyond three pairs of eyes studied the campers in silence. One pair belonged to Bert Dodge, another the young Bayliss, and the third to a man of about middle age.
Dodge and Bayliss were thoroughly angry.
BERT DODGE HEARS THE BATTLE CRY
Ten minutes after Dick had thrown himself on the grass a rustling was heard above the camp. Then down the slope strode three figures.
Dick sat up, regarding the visitors in silence until they came within the fringe of the light of the campfire.
"Hello, Dodge," was Prescott's ready greeting. "I didn't hear you knock."
"Then maybe you will, before long," retorted Bert, in a voice of barely suppressed fury. "Prescott, you sneak, how long since you have added grand larceny to your other bad habits?"
"Try that over again," requested Dick calmly. "I don't believe I quite catch you."
"Yes, you do," Dodge retorted. "Come now, no lying about it."
"The nearest that I come to understanding you, as yet," Dick answered in an unruffled voice, "is that you appear to be trying to be offensive."
"I'll be more than offensive with you, before I get through!" cried Bert, his temper rising.
The third member of the visiting party was a man of about forty years, of sandy complexion and with a stubby, bristling red moustache. He looked like a man who had been born a fighter, though his face expressed keen attention rather than a desire to be quarrelsome. In dress this man looked as though he might be a farmer. Dick and his friends judged the man to be a rustic constable.
"A nice trick you played on us!" Bert went on angrily. "You took our front tires off the wheels of the car and ran away with them."
"Easy! Careful!" Dick smilingly advised. "Did anyone see us take the tires off and run away with them?"
Bert looked astonished, then gulped chokingly. Did Prescott and his friends intend to deny the charge?
"No one had to see you take the tires," Bert went on angrily. "All that is necessary is for us to discover the merchandise on you!"
"Then you have missed some tires, and you think I'm wearing them?" Dick chuckled.
"Don't try to sneak, lie or equivocate" commanded Bert Dodge, his face flushing with anger. "Those are my tires hanging from that line!"
"Are they?" Prescott inquired, in a tone of the mildest curiosity.
"You know they are!"
"Then, if the tires are your property, just help yourself!" Dick coolly answered. "If they are your tires, I will even offer to forego making any storage charges for the time they have been. hanging there."
"Hang you!" choked Bert
Then he turned to the man with them, demanding:
"Don't you see a pretty clear case of grand larceny here?"
"I can't sa-ay that I do—-yet," drawled the stranger.
"You'll never see a clearer case!" quivered young Dodge.
To this the stranger did not reply. He had been looking over this sextette of high school boys, and if one might judge from his face, the man seemed to be rather favorably impressed by Dick & Co.
"If these are your tires," Dick went on smoothly, "would you mind removing them from our camp?"
"I won't," Bert answered hotly. "You fellows, who stole the tires, will take them back to the car from which you stole them, and there you will put the tires on again."
"You've missed some part of the idea in your haste," declared young Prescott.
"What do you mean?" gasped Dodge.
"I mean simply that we'll have nothing whatever to do with taking back the tires, or putting them on your wheels."
"Then I'll see what I can do to punish you all!" flared Bert hotly. "You're none of you any better than a lot of low-lived thieves!"
The situation was growing too warm for Dave Darrin, though Dick was still smiling.
Darry jumped to his feet, advancing upon Bert Dodge, who retreated a couple of steps.
"Dodge," Dave began, "you want to put a halter on your tongue. You can't come here to this camp and call too many names. You don't amount to much, of course, and nothing that you know how to say should be treated very seriously. It would be hard for a rascal like yourself to be really insulting to anyone possessed of the average degree of honor. But we came up here for pleasure and rest. Both your face and your voice—-not particularly your words—-are disturbing. If those are your tires, kindly take them and get out of camp!"
"You fellows will carry the tires back to the road, and you'll put them on the wheels," retorted Dodge hoarsely.
"As Dick has already told you, we'll do nothing of the sort," Dave flashed back at him. "All we want, Dodge, is for you to get out of this camp. Incidentally, if you want the tires, we shall offer no objections to your taking them with you."
"What have you to say to that?" demanded Bert hotly, turning to the man with the stubby red mustache.
"It seems to me like good judgment," replied the stranger.
"You say that?" screamed Bert, going into a blind passion. "Is that what we brought you here for?"
"I don't really know what you did bring me here for," replied the stranger. "All I know is that you stopped me, when I was driving past with my load of produce for the Gridley markets, and you offered me two dollars to come down here and not say much unless I was spoken to. I didn't come until you paid me the money. It was good pay, and I'll stay here an hour longer if you really think I owe you that much time."
"You're not a constable, or a sheriff's officer, are you, sir?" asked Dick pleasantly.
"Not unless someone made me one when I wasn't looking," replied the stranger, with a shrewd smile.
"I understand," nodded Prescott. "This fellow Dodge hired you to come down with him for more than one reason. In the first place, he and Bayliss were afraid to come here without backing. For another thing, Dodge thought that we'd guess you to be a constable, and I'll admit that I did mistake you for an officer at the outset. Dodge thought your presence would frighten us. You look like a decent man, sir, and I'm sorry to see you in such company. These two fellows were chased out of the Gridley High School just because they were considered unfit to associate with the members of the student body."
"That's a lie!" sputtered young Dodge.
"If you want to find out, sir, whether I'm speaking the truth," Dick went on, looking at the stranger, "just ask any well-informed citizen of Gridley whether Bert Dodge and his chum, Bayliss, were really chased out of the Gridley High School. You'll soon discover who the liar is—-Dodge or myself."
"Hang you!" roared Bert, advancing with fists clenched. "I'll punch your head off your shoulders!"
"Wait one moment, though," advised the stranger, stepping between Dick and Bert. "Here, young man!"
"What's this?" Bert demanded, as the stranger forced something into one of his hands.
"It's the two-dollar bill you handed me," replied he of the stubby moustache. "I reckon that I made a mistake in taking it."
"Aren't you on my side any longer?" gasped Bert, in utter astonishment.
"I reckon not," was the crisp answer. "I didn't realize that I was in such bad company."
"But you've only that mucker's word against mine!" cried Bert, flying into another rage.
"I've watched you both, and I'm a pretty good judge of human nature," replied the farmer. "I prefer to believe this young man that you seem to dislike so much."
"You're a nice one—-you are!" uttered Bert, glaring in disgust at the ally on whom he had counted.
"Perhaps you can calm down, Dodge, long enough to listen to reason," Dick suggested. "First of all, I am going to admit that we did remove the front tires of your car and that we brought the tires here and hung them on that line."
"Do you hear that?" demanded Dodge eagerly, turning once more to the farmer. "They admit stealing my tires."
"I didn't quite notice that the young man went as far as to admit theft," the farmer replied. "What I heard was that these young men took your tires. As yet I haven't heard their reason for removing the tires of your car."
"The reason for doing so was," Dick went on coolly, "that we had some questions to ask of this fellow Dodge. We knew that if he had to come here to look up his tires, we'd have a chance to ask the questions. Dodge, you thought you were having fun with us when you decorated the entrance to that covered bridge with your notice about a rabid mastiff at large in that part of the country, didn't you? You thought that a mad-dog scare would send us helter-skelter home. If it gives you any satisfaction, I'll admit that the notice did startle us for a brief time. But we soon got at the truth of the matter, and learned that posting the notice was your act."
"Can you prove it?" sneered Dodge.
Ignoring the question, Dick went on:
"Perhaps, had your trick affected only ourselves, then the trick would have been only a piece of meanness without any very serious results. But are you sure, Bert Dodge, that no one but ourselves was alarmed by that notice? Do you know whether any woman traveling over the road may have seen that notice, and then, noticing any strange dog trotting in her direction was frightened, into convulsions, or actually frightened to death? Do you know whether some man, traveling along the road on really important business, read the notice and was afraid to continue on his errand, thereby losing a good deal of money through your foolish trickery? Do you know, for certain, that twenty serious consequences to other people have not followed on the heels of your stupid, senseless joke? Have you any way of being certain that the sheriffs officers are not already searching industriously for the two foolish young fellows who took so many desperate chances in attempting such a 'joke' as that of which you two fellows were guilty?"
"Who's going to prove that Bayliss or I put up that notice?" sneered young Dodge.
"There's at least one witness," Dick answered, "who would testify, at any time, that he passed by you on the road when you were both laughing loudly over a joke you had played. Then there's the notice itself. A handwriting expert could swear that it was done with a pen held by your hand."
"Where's the notice?" asked Bayliss suddenly.
"It's where we can produce it at any time that it's wanted," Prescott made reply. "If anyone has been injured, Dodge, in health or in business, by your stupid, brainless bit of horse play and meanness, then I imagine that you'll find yourself in for a serious time of it. So now you know why we took the tires off your automobile. We knew that our campfire would show you the way to our camp, and that you'd surely be here to hear what we had to say to you. Dodge, we don't care particularly for you, or for Bayliss, either, but if the warning I've given you about pasting up such lying notices to scare people traveling over a public highway is of any use to you, then you're welcome to what you've learned."
The coolness of this proposition was such as to take Bert's breath away for a few seconds. When he recovered, he turned to the red-moustached farmer, sputtering:
"Well, what do you—-you think of that cast-iron nerve and cheek?"
"If the facts have been correctly stated," replied the farmer, "I believe these young men have done you a service, and that you'd show more of the spirit of a man if you admitted it."
"Humph!" muttered Dodge.
"Humph!" echoed Bayliss.
Then, enraged at the tantalizing smile on Prescott's face, Bert lost all control of himself.
Striding over, he shook his fist before Dick's face, at the same time shouting:
"All you need is a trimming with fists, and I'm going to give you one—-you hound!"
PAID IN PULL TO DATE
Then, struck by a sudden consideration of prudence, Bert stepped back two or three feet, looking appealingly at the farmer.
"Will you stay here long enough to see fair play done?" Dodge demanded of the farmer.
"If there is going to be a boxing exhibit, with plenty of science, and all fair play," grinned the farmer, "I don't believe there are enough of you young fellows here to chase me away. Start things moving as soon as you like."
With that the stranger drew out a pipe, which he proceeded to fill and light.
"Get yourself in shape, you mucker!" breathed Bert fiercely, pulling off his coat and tossing his motoring cap after it to the ground. "Come on—-get ready!"
"I'm no rowdy," Dick declared coolly, making no move to put himself in readiness.
"No; you're a coward, with a long line of talk, but no spirit in you!" jeered young Dodge.
"If I'm a coward, what possible glory would there be in your fighting me?" Dick smiled.
"Let me have the sneak!" begged Dave, stepping forward, but Dick pushed his churn back. Tom Reade took tight hold of Dave's right arm.
With the prospects of an encounter vanishing, Bert Dodge's valor went up tenfold.
"Get up your guard!" he roared. "I've been taking boxing lessons and I want to teach you one or two things."
"I haven't been taking any boxing lessons lately," Dick remarked with composure.
"Oh, that's why you're afraid to act at all like a man, is it?" scoffed Bert in his harshest voice.
"No; my main reason for not caring to fight you, Dodge, is that I don't like the idea of soiling my hands."
"What's that?" screamed Bert in added fury. "You insult me—-you—-you mucker?"
"If I'm a mucker, then you don't need to feel insulted at my opinion of you," Dick suggested, with a smile.
But this hesitancy on the part of Prescott was filling Bert Dodge with more valor every instant.
"Prescott, I've owed you something for a mighty long time," quivered Bert. "And now it's coming! Here it is!"
He aimed a savage blow at Dick. Young Prescott, who had really doubted that Dodge had courage enough to invite a fight, was not expecting it. The blow landed on Dick's chin, sending the leader of Dick & Co to the ground.
"Now, get up and answer that—-you—-you sneak!" dared Bert exultantly.
Dick was on his feet fast enough, side-stepping just in time to dodge a follow-up punch.
"Dodge," Dick remarked, as he threw up his guard, "there, is still time for you to beat it out of here if you don't want to take the consequences of that blow."
"You put me out of here!" Bert retorted defiantly.
Though Dick was quivering with indignation, he still hesitated to spring at Dodge. Dick didn't want to fight, on the sole ground that he felt too much contempt for his opponent.
"Come, on, you mucker!" challenged Bert, dancing about Prescott. Then Dodge delivered two swift, straight-from-the-shoulder blows.
Of a sudden Dick jumped into the fray.
"Good!" quivered Darry, his eyes flashing. To Dave's way of thinking, Dick's swift vigorous defence should have followed that first knock-down.
"Come on, you mucker!" taunted Bert, while the interchange of blows now became fast and furious. "If there's anything you know how to do in this game, let us see what it is! Trot it out!"
"I'll attend to my side of this match," said Dick quietly. "My advice to you is that you keep quiet and save your wind for your own protection."
"Bosh! You can't do anything to anyone in my class!" sneered Bert. Indeed, young Dodge's address to his task opened up particularly well. Dodge was rather heavy for his years, and he had been doing some good training work through the spring and early summer.
Dick, who was lighter and not noticeably quicker, confined himself, at the outset, to his old tactics of allowing his opponent to tire himself.
Bert, however, was soon quick to discover this. He moderated the savagery of his own attack somewhat, sparring cleverly for a chance to feint and then land a face blow.
Dick gave ground readily when it served his purpose, though he did not run.
"Keep back, fellows!" called Tom Reade. "Don't get near enough to interfere with either man."
"Don't interfere with either the man or the thing, you mean," interposed Danny Grin.
"Shut up, Dalzell!" ordered Reade with generous roughness. "Remember that you're not fighting Dodge, and that it's unfair to say anything to anger him. Be fair!"
Though Dick's chums followed the fighters, at a generous distance, they would have noticed, had they been less intent on the work of the combatants, that Bayliss kept well on the outskirts of the crowd. Bayliss didn't want to attract any dangerous notice to himself, nor was he at all sure that the farmer would interfere to see fair play for Dodge's side. In this, however, he really wronged the farmer.
In giving ground Prescott stepped backward, his feet becoming entangled with a vine running along the ground.
Down went Dick, just in time to save himself from a savage blow in the face.
"Stand up to the fight, like a man!" roared Dodge, for he felt that he was winning.
Dick drew himself to his knees. Ere he could gain his feet Bert landed a smashing blow on his left cheek. Down went Dick again.
"Stop that sort of thing, Dodge!" flared Dave Darrin. "Either man who goes down must have safety until he's on his feet again."
"Shut up!" flared Bert, but this time he waited, afraid to try to hit his opponent until Dick was on his feet.
"Can't Dodge run his own fight, hang you?" Bayliss demanded. This was the first word he had had the courage to utter.
Quick as a flash Dave wheeled, running toward Dodge's companion.
"This isn't wholly Dodge's fight, Bayliss," Darry cried, his anger at a white heat. "Prescott has some rights in the game, and you know it, too."
"You're too fresh!" snapped Bayliss.
"You're no good, Bayliss," Darry remarked contemptuously.
"You're a sneak and a liar, and so——-"
"And so I shall claim some of your time just as soon as Dick and Dodge have finished," retorted Darry coldly. "Don't forget that, Bayliss, and don't show yourself up by trying to run away."
With that Darrin stalked back to watch the finish of the present affair.
Dick, on his feet again, renewed the battle in earnest. He found Dodge a really worthy opponent. Both boys soon had bruised faces to show.
Smash! That blow, delivered by Bert, almost ended the fight. Dick staggered backward, the blood beginning to flow from his nose.
Dodge followed it up, driving in another hard blow. The pain stung Dick, not to madness, but into a more resolute defense, with more of offense in it.
Then Dick so manoeuvred that he had Dodge between himself and the shore of the lake. This advantage gave young Prescott slightly higher ground on the gentle slope toward the lake. Bert tried to manoeuvre for a more level footing, but Prescott drove him slowly backward.
Suddenly one of Dick's blows landed, with staggering force, on the tip of Dodge's chin. Bert went to earth, rolling over as he struck, and lying face downward. He was not knocked out, but he had had enough.
For a moment or two Dick glanced down at his adversary in cold contempt. Then suddenly, without a word, he bent over, seizing Dodge by the shirt collar and belt, and threw him sprawling out into the lake.
Young Dodge landed some distance from the bank. There was a loud splash and a yell from the vanquished one, then a gurgling noise as Bert's mouth went under water. He disappeared under the black surface of the lake.
Dick waited calmly, ready to go to Dodge's assistance if needed. Bert, however, rose quickly, the water not much above his knees.
"You loafer!" hissed Dodge, dashing the water from his face.
"Haven't you had enough?" asked Prescott mildly. "Didn't the water cool you off?"
Dodge didn't reply, but he walked a few steps away before attempting to step on dry land, thus avoiding his late opponent.
"That little business is all over," declared Tom Reade coolly. "Bend down by the water, Dick, and I'll wash your nose with my handkerchief. Greg, bring one of the lanterns here."
"Now, I guess it's time for our practice, Bayliss," Dave announced, stepping over to Bert's companion.
"I've got to look after Dodge," mumbled Bayliss.
"No, you don't!" Dave warned him. "After the kind of language you have used to me you can't slip out of trouble quite so easily as all that. Get ready."
"Quit—-can't you?" protested Bayliss.
"No; not unless you'll admit that you lied when you applied disagreeable names to me," said Dave Darrin firmly. "Bayliss, are you ready to admit that you are a liar?"
"You bet I'm not!" cried the other hoarsely. "Then back up your words! Ready! Here's something coming!"
That "something" arrived. Bayliss fairly gasped as Darrin started in on him.
But Dave drew back, holding up his fists.
"You didn't get started fairly, Bayliss," Darry declared. "I want you to have as fair a show as possible. Draw in a deep breath. Fill your lungs with air. Plant your feet firmly. Put up your hands."
Patiently Darry waited for perhaps three quarters of a minute.
"Now!" he said at last.
Then the fight went on, but it was one sided. Had Bayliss done himself justice, it might have resulted in a draw, at least, for Bayliss was strong and quick. But he lacked courage.
Presently Bayliss, considerably battered, though not as severely punished as Dodge had been, went down to his knees, nor would he rise.
"Going to get up and go on?" demanded Darry, pausing before him. "Or do you quit?"
Bayliss, breathing hard, did not answer.
"What you need here," declared the farmer, stepping forward and puffing slowly at his pipe, "is a referee. I'll take the job. Bayliss, if you believe that you can do anything more, then the place for you is on your feet. I'll give you until I count five."
Deliberately the farmer counted, but Bayliss remained on his knees.
"Bayliss loses," announced the farmer. "Not that I believe he ever had much in the fighting line to lose, but he loses."
"I'll wait five minutes for him," offered Darry. "By that time he'll be in shape to go on again."
"He's in good enough shape now," declared the self-appointed referee. "The point is that Mr. Bayliss hasn't any liking for boxing. He's the kind of young man that finds croquet strenuous enough!"
The four recent combatants now had some repairing to do. Dick and Dave were attended by their own friends. The farmer offered to help Bert Dodge ease his bruises. Greg made a tender of his services to Bayliss, but was gruffly repulsed.
"Everything is over," called the farmer at last. "I must wake up my horses and get on to Gridley. Young gentlemen, I'm much obliged for the rest that my horses have had, and also for my entertainment. Dodge, I don't believe you're really worth an ounce of soda crackers, but I realize that you don't feel as bright as usual, so I'm going to help you get the tires on your car."
Reaching up, the farmer untied one end of the line on which the tires hung. Letting the tubes fall at his feet. The man then drew a card out of his pocket and handed it to Reade.
"That will tell you who I am, if you ever want to find me," suggested the farmer.
"George Simpson," said Tom, reading the card. "Mr. Simpson, we're certainly glad of having had the pleasure of meeting you."
Reade thereupon gravely introduced the other members of Dick & Co.
"Glad to have met you, boys," said Simpson, picking up the tires. "Now, come along, Dodge and Bayliss, if you want my help, for I really must be moving."
"This hasn't been such a dull evening, after all," jovially commented Tom Reade, after the late visitors had vanished into the darkness surrounding the camp.
"I'm sorry for the fighting, though," mused Dick aloud. "I don't enjoy anything that makes bad blood, or more bad blood, between human beings."
"You couldn't do anything else but fight," retorted Greg sharply.
"That's the only reason why I fought," Prescott rejoined.
Half or three quarters of an hour later two resonant honks sounded from the red Smattach automobile up at the roadside. Dick & Co. rightly judged that Simpson had taken this means of signaling them that the Smattach car was ready to go on its way again.
"What's the matter with Mr. Simpson?" Tom demanded at the top of his voice.
From the throats of all of Dick & Co. came the ready response!
"He's all right!"
Honk! honk! honk! Mr. Simpson had heard this tribute to himself. Then the chugging of a starting car was heard. The noise soon sounded fainter, then died away.
"That's the last of the firm of Dodge and Bayliss for this season!" chuckled Dave Darrin.
In this conclusion, however, it was wholly probable that Darry was wrong. He would have been sure of it, himself, had he been privileged to hear the talk of Bert Dodge and his companion as the enraged and humiliated pair drove swiftly over the rough road on their way back to Gridley.
"I can't think of anything bad enough to call Dick Prescott," growled Bert, who sat at the steering wheel.
"Don't try to," grumbled Bayliss. "It would poison your mind."
"The coward! He fights only when he has his gang with him."
"I don't see what the high school fellows can find to admire in that crowd," quivered Bayliss, tenderly fingering his damaged eye.
"Never mind what anyone thinks of them!" raged Bert Dodge. "We've nothing but our own side of the affair to settle!"
"What do you mean?" asked Bayliss curiously.
"Bayliss, what do you think I am?"
"Oh, I guess you're a pretty good sort of fellow, Bert."
"Do you think I'd let business like to-night's go by without resenting it?"
"Are you going to try to take Prescott on again?" Bayliss asked wonderingly.
"I'm not a fool!" retorted Dodge indignantly. "Prescott might thrash me again. Bayliss, I'm going to hit him with the kind of club that he can't beat!"
"Is the club big enough to take care of Darrin, too?"
"I'm after the whole Prescott gang, for good measure!" Bert raged.
"What are you going to do?"
"I'll let you in on it, Bayliss, when I have all the details planned—-if you've nerve enough to do a man's part—-of which I'm not too sure," Dodge finished under his breath.
"You may count on me for anything—-anything that is prudent!" Bayliss declared.
THE BOX THAT SET THEM GUESSING
"Look at that!" cried Tom Reade, leaping up from the breakfast table so precipitately that he overturned his cup of coffee.