E-text prepared by Jim Ludwig
The High School Boys' Training Hike or Making Themselves "Hard as Nails"
By H. Irving Hancock
CHAPTERS I. Mr. Titmouse Doesn't Know Dick II. The Deed of a Hero III. The Peddler and the Lawyer's Half IV. Peddler Hinman's Next Appearance V. Dave Does Some Good Work VI. The No-Breakfast Plan VII. Making the Tramps Squirm VIII. When the Peddler Was "Frisked" IX. Dick Imitates a Tame Indian X. Reuben Hinman Proves His Mettle XI. Tom Idealizes Working Clothes XII. Trouble With the Rah-Rah-Rahs XIII. A Snub and the Quick Retort XIV. Dick & Co Make an Apple "Pie" XV. Making Port in a Storm XVI. Home, Hospital and Almshouse XVII. Two Kinds of Hobo XVIII. Dick Prescott, Knight Errant XIX. "I'll Fight Him for This Man!" XX. In the Milksop Class? XXI. The Revenge Talk at Miller's XXII. Under the Sting of the Lash XXIII. Timmy, the Gentleman, at Home XXIV. Conclusion
MR. TITMOUSE DOESN'T KNOW DICK
"We thought ten dollars would be about right," Dick Prescott announced.
"Per week?" inquired Mr. Titmouse, as though he doubted his hearing.
"Oh, dear, no! For the month of August, sir."
Mr. Newbegin Titmouse surveyed his young caller through half-closed eyelids.
"Ten dollars for the use of that fine wagon for a whole month?" cried Mr. Titmouse in astonishment. "Absurd!"
"Very likely I am looking at it from the wrong point of view," admitted Prescott, who fingered a ten dollar bill and was slowly smoothing it out so that Mr. Titmouse might see it.
"That wagon was put together especially for the purpose," Mr. Titmouse resumed. "It has seats that run lengthwise, and eight small cupboards and lockers under the seats. There is a place to secure the cook stove at the rear end of the wagon, and the stove rests on zinc. Though the wagon is light enough for one horse to draw it, it will hold all that several people could require for camping or for leading a regular gipsy life. There is a special awning that covers the wagon when needed, so that on a rainy day you can travel without using umbrellas or getting wet. You can cook equally well on the stove whether in camp or on the road. There are not many vehicles in which you can cook a full meal when traveling from one point to another."
"Nor is it every stewpan or kettle that would refrain from slipping off the stove when driving the wagon over rough roads," laughed Dick good-humoredly.
"Well—-er—-of course, one has to choose decent roads when touring with a wagon of that sort," admitted the owner.
"Then you don't think ten dollars a fair price?" Dick Prescott inquired thoughtfully.
"For a month's use of the wagon? I do not," replied Mr. Newbegin Titmouse with emphasis.
"And so you decline our offer of ten dollars?" Prescott asked, looking still more thoughtful.
"I certainly do," replied Mr. Titmouse.
Then the owner of the wagon began to descant glowingly upon the many advantages of going on a road hike aided by the service that such a specially constructed wagon would give. In fact, Mr. Titmouse dwelt so enthusiastically upon the value of his wagon that Dick shrewdly told himself:
"He's very anxious—-unusually so—-to rent us that wagon. I've already found out that he hasn't used the wagon in two years, nor has he succeeded in renting it to anyone else. The wagon is so much useless lumber in his stable."
"I wouldn't rent that wagon to everyone," Mr. Titmouse wound up.
"No, sir," Dick agreed heartily, yet with a most innocent look in his face. "Not everyone would want the wagon."
"I—-I don't mean that!" Mr. Titmouse exclaimed.
"In fact, sir," Dick went on very smoothly, "I have learned that you have been offering the wagon for sale or hire during the last two summers, without getting any customers."
"Eh?" demanded Mr. Titmouse in some astonishment.
"Naturally, sir," Dick went on, "before coming here to see you I made a few inquiries in Tottenville. I discovered that in this vicinity the wagon is something of a joke."
"What's that?" questioned the other sharply. "My camping wagon a joke? Nothing of the sort. And, if it is a joke, why did you want to get it?"
"Oh, all of our fellows can stand a joke," laughed young Prescott "So I came over to see just what terms we could make for the use of your wagon during the month of August."
"Well, I'll be as fair with you as I can," Mr. Titmouse replied. "From men—-grown men—-I would want at least thirty dollars a month for the wagon—-probably thirty-five. Of course I know that money is not as plentiful with boys. I'll let you have the wagon for the month of August at the bottom price of twenty-five dollars."
Dick smilingly shook his head.
"I've named the best price I could think of taking," insisted Mr. Titmouse. "Come into the wagon shed and have another look at it."
"Thank you, sir, but there is no use in looking at the wagon again, when such a price as twenty-five dollars is asked for a month's hire," Dick answered promptly.
"Come inside and look at it again, anyway," urged Mr. Titmouse.
"Thank you, sir, but I must get back to Gridley at the earliest possible moment."
"If you didn't want to hire the wagon," asked Mr. Titmouse testily, "what was the use of taking up my time?"
"I do want to hire it," Dick admitted, "but since hearing your price I have realized that I don't want the wagon half as much as I did at the outset."
It was notable about Mr. Titmouse that he would gladly talk for three hours in order to gain a dollar's advantage in any trade in which he was interested. He was a small man, with small features and very small eyes which, somehow, suggested gimlets. He bore about with him always an air of injury, as though deeply sensitive over the supposed fact that the whole world was concerned in getting the better of him.
Though Mr. Titmouse had acquired, through sharp dealing, usury and in many other ways a considerable sum of money and property in the course of his life, yet he was not the man to part with any of it needlessly.
The special wagon now resting in the wagon shed at his home place in Tottenville had been designed by him at a time when people all through the state had been much interested in outdoor life. The Titmouse wagon had been built as the result of much thought on the part of its designer. It certainly was a handy kind of wagon for campers to use on the road. Mr. Titmouse had spent four weeks of wandering life, going from point to point and trying to talk up the merits of his wagon. He had hoped to establish a small factory, there to build such wagons to order at high prices.
For some reason he had met with no success in that enterprise. After his realization of failure Newbegin Titmouse had felt that he would be content if he could sell the wagon at anything like a good price. Failing to sell it, he hoped to be able to get his money back through renting the wagon.
Now he stood watching this high school boy from Gridley, wondering just how much rental he could extort from this wiry, athletic-looking football player.
"There will be a car along in about five minutes," mused Dick aloud. "I must try to take that car. Thank you very much for your kindness, Mr. Titmouse."
"But we haven't come to any understanding yet," cried the wagon's owner as Dick turned and walked away.
"Why, yes, we have, sir," Prescott answered pleasantly over his shoulder. "We have come to the understanding that you can't afford to come down to our price, and that we can't go up to yours. So I'm going back to make some other arrangements for a wagon."
"Wait a minute!" interjected Newbegin Titmouse, stepping after the boy from Gridley. "Maybe I can drop off a dollar or so on the price."
"Much obliged, sir; but it wouldn't help us any, and it's almost time for the car," was Prescott's answer.
"What's your best offer? Make it!" urged Mr. Titmouse restlessly.
"Seven dollars for the wagon for the month of August," Prescott replied.
"Seven? Why, only a minute or two ago you offered me ten dollars!"
"I know it, sir," said Dick coolly. "You will recall that you declined that offer, so I am at liberty to make a new offer."
"You'll have to make a better——-"
"If you decline seven dollars," Dick smiled pleasantly, "my next offer, if I make one, will not go above six."
Mr. Titmouse felt, of a sudden, very certain that the high school boy would stand by that threat.
"Seven dollars doesn't land me clear for the season," complained Newbegin Titmouse. "I've spent nine dollars already in advertising the wagon."
"Then, if you don't take my seven dollars," Prescott proposed, "you'll be out quite a bit of money, Mr. Titmouse. I see my car coming in the distance. So good——-"
"I'll take ten!" called Mr. Titmouse, as Dick once more turned away.
"Six," smiled Dick significantly. "But I haven't time to stay here and dicker, sir. Good——-"
"Hold on!" fairly screamed Mr. Titmouse, as Dick, nodding at him, started to run to the corner.
"Then I'll stop and talk it over with you, sir," answered Prescott, going back. "But I don't say that I'll agree to take the wagon."
"Now, don't you try to work the price down any lower," exclaimed Mr. Titmouse, looking worried.
"No, sir; I won't do that," Dick promised. "I won't say, yet, that I'll take the wagon, but I will agree that I'll either take it at six dollars or refuse the chance altogether. I've just happened to think of something that I want to make sure about"
"What is it?" asked Mr. Titmouse apprehensively.
"I forgot to look at the tires on the wheels," Prescott went on. "I want to make sure that they're sound, so that we fellows won't have to take the chance of paying a blacksmith to make new ones before we've been out a week."
The tires were in excellent condition, so the little man had no objection whatever to showing them.
"Good, so far," nodded Prescott. "Now, next, I'd enjoy looking at the axles and the hub-nuts."
"You're not the lad who is going to allow himself to be cheated," laughed Mr. Titmouse admiringly. "The hubs and axles are all right, so I've no objection to showing them to you."
"I'm satisfied with the wagon," Dick declared, a few minutes later. "Now, Mr. Titmouse, I'll pay you the six dollars if you'll make out a satisfactory receipt for the money."
"Come into the office and tell me what you want me to say in the receipt," urged Newbegin Titmouse, leading the way across the stable into a little room in the furthermost corner.
The receipt was soon made out, the money paid and the receipt in Dick's pocket.
"I'll either come for the wagon myself, or send one of the other fellows," Dick promised. "If I send for it I'll also send a written order."
"I hope you boys will have a pleasant time this summer," chirped Mr. Titmouse, who, though he had been badly out-generaled in the trade, had at least the satisfaction of knowing that there was some money in his pocket that had come to him by sheer good luck.
"We're going to try to have the finest good time that a crowd of fellows ever had," Dick replied, after nodding his thanks. "I've missed that car, and shall have quite a little wait."
"Perhaps you'd like to sit under a tree and eat a few apples," suggested Mr. Titmouse.
Dick was about to accept the invitation with thanks when Mr. Titmouse added:
"I've a lot of fine summer apples I gathered yesterday. I'll let you have three for five cents."
This attempt at petty trade, almost in the guise of hospitality, struck Dick as being so utterly funny that he could not help laughing outright.
"Thank you, Mr. Titmouse," he replied. "I don't believe I'll eat any apples just now."
"I might make it four for a nickel," coaxed the little man, "if you agree not to pick out the largest apples."
"Thank you, but I don't believe I'll eat any apples at all just now," Dick managed to reply, then made his escape in time to avoid laughing in Mr. Titmouse's face.
Once out on the street, and knowing that he had some twenty minutes to wait for the next car, Dick strolled slowly along.
"I didn't know that boy," muttered Newbegin Titmouse, looking after Prescott with a half admiring gaze, "and I didn't size him up right. He offered me ten dollars, and then got the wagon for six. Whew! I don't believe I ever before got off so badly as that in a trade. But I really did spend five-fifty in advertising the wagon in the Tottenville and Gridley papers this summer, so I'm fifty cents ahead, anyway, and a fifty-cent piece is always equivalent to half a dollar!"
With which sage reflection Mr. Newbegin Titmouse went out into his small orchard to see whether he had overlooked any summer apples that were worth two dollars a barrel.
Dick sauntered down the street for a few blocks ere he heard the whirr of a Gridley-bound trolley car behind him. He quickened his pace until he reached the next corner. There he signaled to the motorman.
As the car slowed down Dick swung himself on nimbly, remarking to the conductor:
"Don't make a real stop for me. Drive on!"
As Prescott passed inside the car he was greeted by a pleasant-faced, well-dressed young man. It was Mr. Luce, one of the sub-masters of Gridley High School. Dick dropped into a seat beside him.
"Been tramping a bit, Prescott?" inquired the sub-master.
"No, sir; I've been over here on a little matter of business, but I expect to start, in a day or two, on a few weeks of tramping."
Thereupon young Prescott fell to describing the trip that he, Dave Darrin, Greg Holmes, Dan Dalzell, Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton had mapped out for themselves.
"Just for pleasure?" asked Mr. Luce.
"No, sir; for training. We all hope to make the football team this fall. We're all of us in pretty good shape, too, I think, sir; but we're going out on this training hike to see if we can't work ourselves down as hard as nails."
"I'd like to go with you," nodded the sub-master.
"Can't you do it, sir?" asked Dick eagerly, for Mr. Luce was a favorite with all the boys.
"Unfortunately, I can't," replied the submaster. "I'm expected at home. My mother and sister claim me for this month. But I wish I could go, just the same."
"You would be most welcome I assure you, sir," replied Dick warmly.
"Thank you, Prescott," returned Mr. Luce with a smile. "I appreciate your invitation and regret that I cannot accept it."
The conversation again turned to the subject of the coming football season, and an animated discussion ensued, as Sub-master Luce was an enthusiastic advocate of football.
Suddenly, Dick, glancing ahead out of the window, turned pale. Without a word of explanation he sprang from his seat and made a bound for the nearer car door, the rear one.
"Everyone off! Stop the car! Hustle!" shouted the high school boy. "Mr. Luce! Come on. Quick!"
By the time the last words were uttered Dick had made a flying leap from the car platform.
By good luck, rather more than by expert work, he landed on his feet. Not an instant did he lose, but dashed along at full speed.
John Luce, though he had no inkling of what had caused the excitement, sprang after Dick.
Dick, however, had not waited to see if the sub-master had followed him. His horror-filled eyes, as he ran, were turned straight ahead.
It needed but a few steps to carry him across the road. He bounded into a field where a loaded hay wagon stood near an apple tree.
The horses had been led away to be fed. Seated on the top of the hay were a boy of barely six and a girl not more than four years old. They were awaiting the return of the farmer.
Down below a six-year-old boy, barefooted and brown as a gipsy, had appeared on the scene during the farmer's absence.
"For fun" this youngster had been lighting match after match, making believe to set the hay afire. As he held the matches as close to the dried hay as he dared, this urchin on the ground called to the two babies above that he would "burn 'em up."
Not all of this did Dick Prescott know, but his glance through the car window had shown him the boy on the ground just as that tiny fellow had lighted another match, shouting tantalizingly to the two children on top of the load of hay.
Just as he called up to them the mischievous youngster tripped slightly. Throwing out his right hand to save himself the boy accidentally touched the bottom of the load at one side with the lighted match.
At this fateful instant it was out of the question to think of putting out the flame that leaped from wisp to wisp of the dried grass.
"Jump!" shouted the young match-burner, but the children above did not hear, or else did not realize their plight.
"Fire! Fire!" screamed the little incendiary, as he ran panic-stricken toward the farm house.
And now Dick was racing as he had never done before, even over the football gridiron. On his speed depended the lives of the two children.
THE DEED OF A HERO
At the moment of Dick's leap from the car, Sub-master Luce did not know what had happened. He realized in an instant what was the matter, and made frantic efforts to reach the scene at the same moment with Prescott.
Dick, however, kept the lead.
As the flames shot up through the hay the children on top of the hay began to gather a sense of their awful danger.
Seconds—-fractions of seconds—-were of priceless value now—-if lives were to be saved.
There was still time for the two children to jump over the side on which the flames had not yet appeared, but they were too badly frightened to know what to do.
If they should jump where the flames were leaping up they were almost certain to have their clothing catch fire, with fatal burns as a result.
Dick felt that he did not have time to shout to the frightened children. Besides, his commands would likely serve only to confuse them the more.
Terror-stricken the two little ones clasped each other and stood screaming with fear on the top of the load.
Dick's quick eye had taken in the only chance in this terrifying situation.
Straight for the apple tree he bounded, his first leap carrying him into a crotch in the tree a few feet above the ground.
Out he sprang, now, on a limb of the tree that most nearly overhung the load of hay.
That limb sagged under him—-creaked—-threatened to snap off under his weight.
But young Prescott, wholly heedless of his own safety, and with only one object in mind, scrambled out on the creaking limb as far as he could; then, with a prayer on his lips, he made a wild, strenuous leap.
Sub-master Luce turned white as he saw what Dick had attempted to do. Had he been made of more timorous stuff the high school teacher would have closed his eyes for that awful instant.
As it was, John Luce saw young Prescott land at the rear end of the load.
Dick felt himself slipping. For one frenzied second, he feared that he had failed. Young Strongheart that he was, he braced all his muscles for the supreme effort—-and drew himself up to safer footing on the hay.
Then, like an eagle, he swooped down upon the children. The little girl he snatched from her tiny brother's clasp.
"Here!" called Sub-master Luce from the further side.
Brief as the time was Dick Prescott calculated the distance like lightning. There was no time to call back to Mr. Lucen—-nor need to do so.
Aiming with all the precision at his command, Dick threw the child from him.
His aim splendidly true, he had the joy of seeing the child land in Mr. Luce's arms.
Without a moment's loss of time Prescott now snatched up the shrieking boy.
"Ready!" shouted Dick, and a second little body was thrown through the air.
Again did John Luce do credit to his college baseball training, for, hurriedly placing the girl baby on the ground he put up his hands to receive the boy.
"Jump yourself, Prescott!" bawled the submaster hoarsely.
But Dick was already in the air. With the flames shooting up and seeming fairly to lick his face, Dick had had no time to calculate his jump.
On the ground, some feet beyond the wagon, Prescott landed, sprawling on all fours.
He leaped up, however, his face twitching yet with a laugh on his lips.
Behind him the whole load of hay now flared up, crackling and hissing.
"Hurry back out of the heat!" yelled John Luce, leaping forward, seizing young Prescott and dragging him several yards away.
Dick turned in time to see the whole glowing mass cave in.
Had he arrived on the scene a few seconds later than he did both children would have perished miserably.
Now, from the house came a white-faced man, running as though some demon animated him. Behind him came a woman even paler.
Toward father and mother ran the pair of little tots, wholly unmindful of their rescuers.
As for the older, match-burning boy, that youngster half scared to death, had dashed away into hiding to escape the wrath that he knew must soon seek him.
"That was simply magnificent, Prescott!" said the sub-master enthusiastically. "But I honestly believed that it would be your last good deed."
While the sub-master spoke he was running both hands up and down over the high school boy's clothing, putting out many glowing sparks that had found lodgment in the cloth.
"It was easy," smiled Dick. "Thank goodness I saw the trouble in time!"
"There are others who are thankful that you saw it in time," uttered John Luce, as he looked toward the parents, now coming up as fast as they could, each with a child clasped in arms.
From the road went up a loud cheer. The trolley car had been halted and backed down to the scene. Though there were few people on the car, they made up amply in enthusiasm for their lack of numbers.
As for the farmer and his wife, though they tried to thank Dick and Mr. Luce, they were too completely overcome with emotion to express themselves intelligibly.
The wagon that had held the hay was now blazing fiercely. As for the hay, that had already burned to a fine powder.
"How—-how did you ever get here in time?" cried the rejoicing mother brokenly.
It was the conductor of the trolley car, just reaching the spot, who told how Dick Prescott and Mr. Luce had leaped from the moving car. The sub-master described Dick's feat in climbing the apple tree and leaping from the limb of the tree to the top of the loaded hay wagon.
"It was a nervy thing for any man to do!" choked the farmer, tears of joy running down his cheeks.
"It was just like Dick Prescott," replied John Luce simply.
As soon as possible Dick and the sub-master made their escape from the earnest protestations of gratitude of the farmer and his wife, though they did not go until Mr. Luce had persuaded the parents not to whip the mischievous match-burner, but to content themselves with pointing out to the little rascal the dreadful possibilities of such pranks.
At last, however, Dick and Mr. Luce returned to the car followed by the other passengers. The conductor gave the go-ahead signal, and the motor-man started in to try to make up some of the time lost from his schedule.
Dick, as soon as he reached Gridley, went up to Greg Holmes' house, where he knew his chums would be waiting to learn the result of his Tottenville trip.
That evening Sub-master Luce chanced to take a stroll up Main Street. As the offices of the "Morning Blade" were lighted up, Mr. Luce stepped inside, seeking Editor Pollock in the editorial room.
"Is Prescott about?" asked Mr. Luce, for Dick, as our readers know, earned many a dollar as a "space-writer"; that is, he was paid so much a column for furnishing and writing up local news.
"Dick went out about ten minutes ago," replied Mr. Pollock.
"Was he here long?"
"About fifteen minutes."
"By the way, Mr. Pollock," the sub-master went on, "what do you think of Dick's latest feat?"
"His fine work over on the Tottenville road this afternoon?"
"I haven't heard of it," replied Mr. Pollock, opening his eyes.
"Come to think of it," rejoined John Luce, "and knowing young Prescott as I do, I don't suppose you have heard of it—-not from Prescott, at all events."
Then the sub-master told the story of the burning load of hay in a way that made the "Blade's" editor reach hastily for pencil and paper that he might take notes.
"That's just the kind of story that Dick Prescott never could be depended upon to bring in here—-if he was the central character in it," observed the editor quietly.
Despite the failure of Dick to bring in this particular story, however, the "Blade," the next morning, printed more than a column from the data furnished by Mr. Luce.
Dick, however, didn't hear of it—-in Gridley. It was Harry Hazelton, who, at four o'clock, mounted a horse he had hired for the trip and rode over to Tottenville, where the camp wagon was obtained from Mr. Newbegin Titmouse. Hazelton wasted no time on the road, but drove as fast as the horse could comfortably travel.
It was but a few minutes after six o'clock, that August morning, when Dick Prescott and his five chums, collectively famous as Dick & Co., drove out of Gridley.
Harry Hazelton was now the driver, the other five high school boys walking briskly just ahead of the wagon.
Mr. Titmouse's special vehicle carried all that Dick & Co. would need in the near future, and the six boys were setting out on what was destined to be their most famous vacation jaunt.
THE PEDDLER AND THE LAWYER'S HALF
Just before leaving Gridley, Greg Holmes had bought a copy of the "Blade" from a newsboy.
Three miles out, the chums enjoyed their first halt.
"Ten minutes' rest under this tree," Dick announced, for already the August morning sun was beating down upon them.
Greg drew out his copy of the newspaper, unfolding it.
"Say!" he yelled suddenly.
"Stop that," commanded Tom Reade, "or you'll make the horse run away and wreck our outfit."
"But this paper says——-"
"Stop it," ordered Tom with a scowl. "I know what you're going to do. You'll read us some exciting stuff, and get us all worked up, and then in the last paragraph you'll stumble on the fact that some well-known Tottenville man was cured of all his ailments by Brown's Blood Bitters."
"Can you hold your tongue a minute?" demanded Greg ironically.
"Not when I see you headed that way," retorted Reade. "I've been fooled by the same style of exciting item, and I know how cheap it makes a fellow feel when he comes to the name of the Bitters, the Pills or the Sarsaparilla. Holmesy, I want to save your face for you with this crowd."
"Will you keep quiet, for a moment, and let the other fellows hear, even if you have to take a walk in order to save your own ears?" demanded Greg, with sarcasm. "This piece is about Dick Prescott, and he doesn't sign patent medicine test——-"
"Dick Prescott?" demanded Darrin. "Whoop! Let's have it!"
"It isn't a roast, is it?" demanded Danny Grin solemnly.
"No; it isn't," Greg went on. "Listen, while I read the headlines."
It was a four-line heading, beginning with "Dick Prescott's Fine Nerve."
"There! I was afraid it was a roast, after all," sighed Danny Grin.
"Take that fellow away and muzzle him," ordered Greg, then proceeded to read the other sections of the headlines.
By this time Greg had a very attentive audience. Even Tom Reade had ceased to scoff.
"Oh, bosh!" gasped Dick, when Greg was about one third of the way through the column article.
"Isn't it true?" demanded Dave.
"After a fashion," Dick admitted.
"Then hold off and be good while the rest of us hear about yesterday's doings."
So Dick stood by, his face growing redder and redder as the reading proceeded.
"That's what I call a dandy story," declared Greg as he finished reading.
"Dick, why didn't you tell us something about it last night?" demanded Hazelton.
"What was the use?" asked Prescott. "And, though I've always thought the 'Blade' a fine local newspaper, I don't quite approve of Mr. Pollock's judgment of news values in this instance. I suspect that Mr. Pollock must have been away, and that Mr. Bradley, the news editor, ran this in."
"It sounds like some of Len Spencer's stuff," guessed Dave. "He's great on local events."
"If they had to print the yarn, eight or ten lines would have covered it," Dick declared. "Fellows, we've used up eighteen minutes for our halt, instead of ten. Come on!"
Greg, however, after rising, and before starting, was careful to fold the "Blade" neatly and to tuck it away in a pocket. He meant to save that news story.
All of our readers are familiar with the lives and doings of Dick Prescott and his friends up to date.
"Dick & Co.," as the boys styled their unorganized club of chums, was made up of the six boys, who had been fast friends back in their days of study at the Central Grammar School of Gridley.
They had been together in everything, and notably so in athletics and sports. All that befell them in their later days at Central Grammar School is told fully in the four volumes of the "Grammar School Boys Series."
Yet it was when these same boys entered Gridley High School that they came into the fullest measure of their local fame and popularity. Even as freshmen they found a chance to accomplish far more for school athletics than is usually permitted to freshmen. It was due to their efforts that athletics were put on a sound financial basis in the Gridley High School. All this and more is described in the first volume of the "High School Boys Series," entitled "The High School Freshmen."
But it was in the second volume of that series, "The High School Pitcher," that our readers found Dick & Co. entered fully in the training squads of one of the most famous of American high schools. As described in the third volume, "The High School Left End," Dick & Co. were transferred from the baseball nine to the gridiron eleven, and by this time had become the undisputed athletic leaders of Gridley High School. These honors they had not won without tremendous opposition, especially by the formation of the notorious "Sorehead Squad" to oppose their hard earned supremacy in football. Yet Dick & Co. ever went strenuously forward, in manly, clean-cut fashion, working unceasingly for the furthering of honest American sport. Between the plottings of their enemies and a host of adventures on all sides, the school life of Dick & Co. proved exciting indeed.
In the "High School Boys' Vacation Series" our readers have followed the summer doings of Dick & Co. as distinguished from the doings of their crowded school years. The first volume devoted to the vacations of Dick & Co., "The High School Boys' Canoe Club," describes the adventures of our lads in an Indian war canoe which even their slender financial resources enabled them to buy at an auction sale of the effects of a stranded Wild West Show. In the second volume of this series, "The High School Boys In Summer Camp," our readers came upon an even more exciting narrative of keenly enjoyed summer doings, replete with lively adventures. In that volume the activities of Tag Mosher, a strangely odd character, kept Dick & Co. continually on the alert. In the third volume of the vacation series, entitled "The High School Boys' Fishing Trip," were chronicled the things that befell Dick & Co. while away on a fishing expedition that became famous in the annals of Gridley school days. This third volume was full to the brim with the sort of adventures that boys most love. Some old enemies of Dick & Co. appeared; how they were put to rout is well known to all our readers. How Dick & Co. played a huge joke, and several smaller ones upon their enemies, is described in that volume.
In this present volume will be recounted all that befell Dick & Co. in August after completing their junior year in Gridley High School, just as the preceding or third volume dealt with the happenings of July of that same summer.
After that first halt Dick & Co. plodded on for another hour. But Prescott, noting that Hazelton was still on the driver's seat of the camp wagon, blandly inquired:
"Harry, if you sit up there, lazily holding the reins, how do you expect to get your share of the training work of this hike?"
"Perhaps I'd rather have the comfort than the training work," laughed Hazelton.
"That will never do!" smiled Dick. "Suppose you climb down and let Danny Grin take your place at the reins until the next halt. I suspect that Danny boy already has a few pebbles in his shoes, and that he'll be glad enough to look over the world from the driver's seat."
"I'm willing to sacrifice myself for the good of the expedition, anyway," sighed Dalzell, as Harry drew rein. "Come down with you, Hazy, and begin to share the delights of this walking match!"
The change of drivers made, Dick & Co. plodded on again.
"It seems to me that we ought to put on more speed," suggested Dave Darrin.
"Are you in a hurry to get somewhere, Darry?" drawled Tom Reade.
"No," Dave replied, "but, if we're out for training, it seems to me that we had better do brisker walking than we're doing now, even if the horse can't keep up with us."
"We're making about three miles and a half an hour," Dick responded.
"But will that be work enough to make us as hard as nails?" persisted Darry.
"We're getting over the ground as fast as the troops of the regular army usually travel," Prescott rejoined. "I believe our regulars are generally regarded as rather perfect specimens in the walking line. We might move along at a speed of six miles, and might keep it up for an hour. Then we'd be footsore, and all in. If the first hour didn't do it, the second hour would. But if we plug along in this deliberate fashion, and get over fifteen, eighteen or twenty miles a day, and keep it up, I don't believe any one of you fellows will complain, September first, that he isn't as hard and solid as he wants to be—-even for bucking the football lines, of other high schools."
"I know that I can be satisfied with this gait," murmured Reade.
"If Darry wants to move faster," suggested Hazelton, "why not tell him where to wait for us, and let him gallop ahead?"
"I'll stay with the rest of you," Darry retorted. "All I want to make sure of is that we're going to get the most out of our training work this summer."
"I'll tell you what you might do, Dave, by way of extra exercise and hardening," offered Tom.
"What?" asked Dave suspiciously.
"I believe we're going to halt every hour for a brief rest"
"While the five of us are resting under the trees, Darry, you might climb the trees, swinging from limb to limb and leaping from tree to tree. Of course you'll select trees that are not directly over our heads."
"Humph!" retorted Dave.
"Try it, anyway," urged Tom, "it's fine exercise, even if you give it up after a while."
"I'll try it as often as you do," Darrin agreed with a grin.
Their second halt found the high school boys more than six miles from their starting point.
On this trip they were not heading in the direction they had followed on their fishing trip. Instead, they were traveling in the opposite direction from Gridley, through a fairly populous farming region.
At a quarter-past ten o'clock Dick called for another halt. The road map that the boys had brought along showed them that they were now eleven miles from Gridley.
"Pretty fair work," muttered Tom, "considering that these roads were built by men who had never seen any better kind."
"We can more than double the distance," suggested Dave, "before we go into camp for the night."
"If we hike a couple more miles this morning, then halt, get the noon meal and rest until two o'clock," replied young Prescott, "I think we shall do better."
"If we've gone only eleven miles," protested Darrin, "then I'm certainly good for twenty-five miles in all to-day, and I believe the rest of you are, too."
"Wait until we've done eighteen or twenty miles," Prescott proposed. "Then we can take a vote about making it twenty-five."
"For one thing," Darry objected, "none of us actually walks twenty-five miles when we cover that distance. We take turns riding on the wagon, and, as there are six of us, that means that each fellow rides something like four miles of the distance covered."
"What Darry is driving at," proposed Danny Grin, "is that he wants to devote himself wholly to walking hereafter. He doesn't care about driving the horse."
"I'm big enough and cranky enough to do my own talking, when there is any reason for my entering into the conversation," smiled Dave.
At a little after eleven that morning, when thirteen and a half miles had been covered, all hands were willing enough to halt and rest, prepare luncheon and rest again.
"But I still hope we shall cover the twenty-five miles to-day," Darry insisted.
"No difficulty about that, either," declared Harry Hazelton. "Darry, while we are swapping stories over the campfire this evening you can take a lantern and do an extra five miles by way of an evening walk. Then you'll be tired enough to sleep."
"I'll see about it," Darrin laughed.
"And that's the last we'll hear about it," Tom predicted dryly.
"It is the experience of every military commander, so I've read," Dick went on, "that a long march the first day of a big hike is no especially good sign of how the soldiers will hold out to the end. On the contrary, military men have found that it's better to march a shorter distance on the first day and to work up gradually to a good standard of performance."
"All right," agreed Hazelton. "For one, I'm willing to take a rest after eating, and then take the afternoon for getting acquainted with this pretty grove."
"We won't quite do that, either, if I have my way," Prescott laughed. "We ought to do a few miles this afternoon, but not set out to do any record-breaking or back-breaking stunt."
"There goes hazy's dream up in the air," laughed Greg. "I just knew that Hazy was planning how to spend the afternoon napping."
"I'll volunteer to drive all the way, this afternoon," Harry offered. "That will give all of you fellows a chance to harden yourselves more on the first day."
"If you want to know a good definition of 'generosity,' then ask Hazy," snorted Dalzell.
"Come on!" cried Dick good-humoredly. "Scatter. Some for wood, some for water. Tom and I will get the kitchen kit ready for a meal. But we must have the wood and water before we can prepare luncheon."
At that suggestion of something to eat there was a general rush to get things in readiness. As soon as a fire was going in the stove in the wagon, Dick put on a frying pan. Into this he dropped several slices of bacon. Tom, over a fire built on the ground, set the coffee-pot going. In a pot on the stove Dick put potatoes to cook.
Now Dave rattled out the dishes, as soon as Greg and Hazy had set up the folding table. Dan placed the chairs.
"Get ready!" called Dick, as soon as he had fried two platters full of bacon and eggs. Tom, will you try the potatoes?"
"Done," responded Reade, after prodding the potatoes with a fork.
"What shall we do with the food that's left over?" asked Danny Grin, as he began to eat.
"There isn't going to be any food left over," Dick laughed. "You fellows will be lucky, indeed, if you get as much as you want."
Everyone was satisfied, however, by the time that the meal was finished.
"Greg and Harry may have the pleasure of washing the dishes," Dick suggested.
"Oh, dear!" grunted Hazy, but he went at his task without further remarks.
Before one o'clock everything was in readiness for going forward again, save for putting the horse between the shafts of the wagon. Prescott, however, put a proposition to rest until two o'clock before his chums. It was unanimously carried.
Despite his desire for a walking record that day, Darry proved quite willing to lie off at full length in the shade of the trees and doze as much as the flies would permit.
Dick and Tom strolled slowly down toward the road, halting by a couple of trees.
"There's something you don't often see, nowadays," spoke up Tom after a while.
He nodded back up the road. Coming in the same direction that the boys themselves had traveled was a faded, queer-looking old red wagon, much decorated on the outside by a lot of hanging, swinging tin and agate ware.
"That's the old-fashioned tin-peddler that I've heard a good deal about as being a common enough character some forty years ago," said Prescott. "Our grandmothers used to save up meat-bones, rags and bottles and trade them off to the peddler, receiving tinware in return."
"The man on that wagon was doing business forty years ago," remarked Tom. "In fact, judging by his appearance, he must have been quite a veteran at the business even forty years ago."
A bent, little old man it was who was perched upon the seat of the red wagon. Once upon a time his hair had been tawny. Now it was streaked liberally with gray. He was smoking a black little wooden pipe and paying small attention to the sad-eyed, bony horse between the shafts. There was a far-away, rather dull look in the old peddler's eyes.
Just before he reached the boys, whom he had not seen, he took a piece of paper from his pocket, pulled his spectacles down from his forehead and read the paper.
"I don't understand it," muttered the peddler, aloud. "I can't understand it. I wish I had someone to give me the right of it."
"Could we be of any service, sir?" Reade inquired.
Hearing a human voice so close at hand the peddler started for an instant. Then he pulled in the horse.
"I dunno whether you can be of much use to me," answered the peddler slowly. "You don't look old enough to know much about business."
"Still, I know more than anyone would think, from just looking at me," volunteered Reade, reddening a bit as he saw the laughter in Dick Prescott's eyes.
"Maybe you can explain this riddle," went on the peddler, extending the sheet of white paper. "It can't do any harm to give you a chance. You see, I had a bill of twenty dollars against Bill Peterson. The bill had been running three years, and I couldn't get anything out of Bill but promises without any exact dates tied to 'em. I needed the money as bad as Bill did, so at last I went to Lawyer Stark to see what could be done about it. Lawyer Stark said he'd tackle the job if I'd give him half. I agreed to that, for half a loaf is better'n nothing at all, as you may have heard. Then weeks went by, and I heard nothing from Squire Stark. So the other night I writ a letter, asking him how the collection of the bill was coming on. This is the answer he sends me."
So Tom read aloud, from the typewritten sheet, the following remarkably brief communication:
"Dear Sir: Answering your letter of yesterday's date, I have to advise you that I have collected my half of the Peterson bill. Your half I regard as extremely doubtful."
This was signed with the name of Lawyer Stark.
Tom Reade glanced through the note again, then gave vent to a shout of laughter.
"Eh?" asked the peddler looking puzzled.
"I beg your pardon, sir," replied Reade instantly. "I shouldn't have laughed, but this struck me, at first, as one of the funniest letters I ever saw. So the lawyer has collected his half of the twenty and regards the collection of your half as exceedingly doubtful!"
"Shouldn't Lawyer Stark give me half of the ten he got from Bill Peterson?" asked the peddler anxiously.
"Undoubtedly he should," Tom assented, "and just as undoubtedly he hasn't any idea of doing so."
"What do you say, young man?" inquired the peddler, turning to young Prescott.
"Why, sir, if you are asking about your legal chance of getting half of that ten dollars from the lawyer," Dick answered, "then I'm afraid you stand a poor show. If the lawyer won't pay you the money, then you would have to sue him. Even if you won the suit, the fight would cost you a good deal more than the amount you would recover. And the lawyer might beat you, even if you sued him."
"Then—-what's the answer?" demanded the peddler slowly.
"I know the answer," said Tom confidently, "but it would be a shame to tell you, sir."
"Just the same, I wish you would," replied the peddler coaxingly.
"The answer," replied Reade, "is that you have been cheated."
"But it looks to me like a mean trick," Dick went on.
"What am I going to do about it?" asked the peddler wonderingly.
"I don't believe you can do anything about it, sir," Prescott answered, "unless you are willing to sue the lawyer, or can make him agree to fair play. But I certainly would drop in to see him and tell him that you expect just half of what he has so far collected."
"I believe I'll do that," replied Peddler Hinman, judging from the address on the letter, that was his name. "I don't like to be made a fool of by any man—-especially when I need money as badly as any other man on my route."
Dick took a sweeping glance at the peddler's shabby attire. While, of course, the size of a man's bank account cannot be judged from his wardrobe, Mr. Hinman had the appearance of needing money as much as he declared. The horse, too, looked as though a generous feed of oats would do him good.
"And to think of all the things I know about Squire Stark, too," murmured Mr. Hinman, apparently speaking to himself and not realizing that his words carried to the boys' ears. "If he had a little more judgment, Silas Stark would treat me with more fairness."
"I'm very sorry if I seemed too much amused," Tom apologized earnestly, "but that letter, apart from its meaning to you, really is funny."
"I—-I suppose so," assented Reuben Hinman sighing, and the far-away look returning to his eyes. "But I—-I need the money!"
"And both of us hope that you will get it, sir, the whole of your half," said Dick Prescott heartily.
"Anyway, I'm much obliged to both of you boys," said the peddler. "Giddap, Prince!"
Somehow, both boys thought that Reuben Hinman drooped more on the seat of his wagon than before. He drove off slowly, evidently doing a lot of hard thinking.
"Poor old man!" muttered Tom sympathetically.
"He looks a bit slow-witted," Prescott suggested. "I'm afraid he has always been going through life wondering at the doings of others, and especially at the success of unprincipled men he has had to deal with."
"Do you know," remarked Reade, gazing after the bent, huddled little figure, "I've a notion that there has been a lot in that poor fellow's life that has been downright tragic."
Tragic? Without doubt! Moreover, though Dick could not guess it, he and his friends were soon to be mixed up in the tragic side of Peddler Hinman's life.
PEDDLER HINMAN'S NEXT APPEARANCE
Camp was made at half-past four that afternoon, nineteen miles having been covered. The tent was pitched in a bit of woods, not far from the road, permission from the owner having been secured.
Dave had asked the owner if they might picket the horse out to graze, but Dick had instantly objected.
"We don't want to feed our hired horse on green grass if we're going to work him hard."
"That's right," agreed the farmer, so twenty cents' worth of hay was purchased, to be added to the feed of oats.
"It's some fun to travel this way when we know we have money enough to pay our way like men," Tom Reade remarked exultingly.
For Dick & Co. were well supplied with funds. As told in the preceding volume in this series, they had, during July, realized enough from the sale of black bass and brook trout to enable them to have a thoroughly good time during this present month of August.
"Oh, Hazy!" called Reade, when it became time to think of supper.
"Here," reported Harry, rising from a cot in the tent and coming outside.
"It's time for you and Dan to rustle the firewood and bring in more water," Reade went on.
"All right," agreed Hazelton. "Where's Dan?"
Where, indeed, was Dalzell? That soon became a problem for all five of the other boys. Danny Grin was nowhere in sight.
"Dan! Oh, Dan!" Dave shouted.
"Where is that grinning monkey of a football player?" demanded Tom in disgust. "Did any of you fellows see him go away from camp?"
It turned out that none of them had.
"It isn't like Dalzell to run away from his share of the work, either," added Greg Holmes.
"If he won't stay and do his share toward getting supper, then he ought to be passed up at table," grumbled Darrin.
"Before we pass sentence," proposed Dick, "won't it be better to wait and find out whether he's guilty of shirking this time?"
"I suppose it would be better," Darrin admitted.
So the boys continued their preparations.
"What shall we have for the main thing to eat to-night?" Dick inquired, after supper preparations were well under way.
"Canned corned beef?" suggested Greg.
"That would be about as good as anything," Tom nodded. "It means two salted meats in one day, but this country is well supplied with water."
"We can't ask Danny Grin's preference this evening," Dick laughed. "I wonder what Dan would like, anyway?"
"Who's taking my name in vain?" demanded a laughing voice, as Dalzell appeared between the trees.
"Shirk!" Reade had been about to add, when Danny held up a fat string of fish. These were horned-pouts, sometimes called "bull-heads."
"How many?" asked Dick promptly.
"Nineteen—-one for every mile we made in getting close to the creek," Dan rejoined.
"Great!" cried Greg. "We haven't had any fish, either, since we returned from our trip to the second lake."
"How do you cook bull-heads?" Dave wondered aloud.
"With the aid of fire," Hazy informed him with an air of superior knowledge.
"But I mean—-I mean———" uttered Darry disgustedly, "how do you prepare bull-heads for cooking?"
"First of all, you clean 'em, as in the case of any other fish," proclaimed Tom Reade. "I defy any fellow to dispute me on that point."
"And then you wet the bull-head and roll him in corn meal, next dropping him into the pan and frying him to a fine brown," Dick supplemented.
"But we haven't any corn meal," objected Hazy.
"Yes, we have," Prescott corrected. "I saw to that last night. You fellows jump in and clean these fish, fast, while I get out the corn meal and put a pan on the fire."
These boys knew much more about cooking than falls to most boys in their teens. Frequent camping since their good old days in Central Grammar School had made them able to cook like veteran woodsmen.
Within two minutes, fat was sputtering in a hot pan, and Dick was shaking corn meal onto a plate.
"Bring 'em up!" he ordered. "We'll start this thing going."
Twenty minutes later, using two pans, all the bull-heads had been cooked, and now lay on platters in the oven of the stove.
"Three apiece, and one left over," Greg discovered. "Who gets the odd one?"
"Shame on you!" muttered Reade. "The horse gets the odd one, of course."
"A horse won't eat fish," Holmes retorted.
"Didn't you ever see a horse eat fish?" Tom challenged.
"I never did."
"Well, I don't know that I ever did, either," Reade admitted. "So we'll give the odd one to Danny Grin."
"Maybe we'll be glad to," laughed Dave. "I'm not sure that all these bull-heads were alive when Dalzell picked them up."
"Huh!" snorted Dan.
Nothing spoiled their appetite for the fish, however, which were cooked to a turn and of fine flavor. Tom Reade, however, got the odd fish as being the only one whose appetite was large enough to permit of the feat of adding it to three other fish.
"And now, what are we going to do?" asked Dave, after the meal was finished and the dishes had been washed.
"Who has sore feet?" called Dick.
Not one of the six boys would plead guilty to that charge.
"Then we won't have to heat water," Dick announced. "Each fellow can bathe his feet in cold water before turning in. But, when one's feet ache, or are blistered, then a wash in piping hot water is the thing to take out the ache."
By nine o'clock all hands began to feel somewhat drowsy, for the day had been warm, and, at last, these youngsters were willing to admit that their road work had been as strenuous as they needed.
"But to-morrow we'll do twenty-five miles," Dave insisted.
"My opinion is that we'll do well if we make twenty miles to-morrow," Dick rejoined.
"But what are we going to do now?" yawned Hazy, as they sat about under the light of two lanterns.
"Go to bed," declared Greg.
"Hooray! That's the ticket that I vote," announced Hazy.
"I was just thinking of that mean lawyer we heard about to-day," Reade remarked.
"I was thinking of the same matter, but more about the poor old peddler," Dick stated. "That poor old fellow! I'll wager he has had a hard time all through life, and that he's still wondering why it all had to happen. How old would you say Mr. Hinman is, Tom?"
"He'll never have a seventieth birthday again," replied Reade thoughtfully. "My! A man at that age ought not to have to bother with working. It's pitiful. It's a shame!"
"Maybe he finds his only happiness in work," Darrin suggested. "I have known old people like that."
By this time Dan had taken one of the lanterns into the tent, and was undressing. Dave soon followed, then Greg and Hazelton.
"Do you want to take a little walk down to the road, where we can get a better look at the sky?" Dick proposed to Reade. "We ought to take a squint at the weather."
"That will suit me," Tom nodded, so away they strolled toward the road.
"If you fellows stay away from camp long, don't you be mean enough to talk, or make any other noise when you get back to the tent," Darrin called after them.
Down by the road there was a breeze blowing, and it was cooler.
"I'd like to bring my cot down this way," Tom suggested.
"There's no law against it," Dick smiled. "The owner's permission extended in a general way to all the land right around here."
"Will you bring your cot, too?" Tom asked.
So, before any of the other fellows were asleep, Dick and Tom reentered the tent to get their folding cots and bedding.
"Cooler down by the road, is it?" asked Darrin wistfully. "Then I'm sorry you didn't find it out before I undressed."
"We'll sleep in our clothes," Dick replied. "Come along, Tom, and give the infant class a chance to get to sleep."
After lying, fully dressed on their cots, which they placed within ten feet of the road, Dick and Tom found themselves so wide awake that they lay chatting for some moments.
At last Reade mumbled his answers; next his unmistakably deep breathing indicated that he was asleep. Prescott thereupon turned over on his side and dozed off.
It was shortly after their first few moments of sleep had passed that a noise in the road close by awoke both boys.
Dick sat up leaning on one elbow, listening. Someone was coming toward them.
As the stranger came closer, Dick, his eyes seeing well in the dark, made out the unmistakable form of Reuben Hinman, the peddler.
"What's he doing out here at this hour of the night, and on foot?" wondered Dick Prescott half aloud.
"Eh? What?" asked Reade in a low, drowsy voice, as he opened his eyes.
"It's Mr. Hinman, the peddler," Prescott whispered to his chum. "But I wonder what's wrong with him?"
"I wonder, too," Reade assented. "One thing is certain; something has happened to him."
For Reuben Hinman half-lurched, half-staggered along, yet his gait did not suggest intoxication. He moved, rather, as one who is dazed with trouble.
The old man was sobbing, too, with a sound that was pitiful to hear; as though some great grief were clutching at his heart.
DAVE DOES SOME GOOD WORK
"Good evening, Mr. Hinman!" called Dick softly.
The old man started, affrighted.
"Who—-who calls?" he quavered.
"One of the boys you talked with, this noon."
"Where are you?"
"Here," answered Dick, throwing his blanket aside, rising and stepping toward the old man, who, more bent than ever, was shaking as though from fright. "Don't be afraid of us, sir. Can we help you in anything?"
"I am afraid not," replied the peddler, then leaned against a tree-trunk, staring, as he tried to stifle his sobs.
"What has happened, sir?" asked Tom Reade, also stepping forward.
"I've been robbed!" replied the old man, in a broken voice.
"Robbed?" repeated Dick. "Do you mean that some villains have stolen the goods from your wagon?"
"No, no!" replied the old man, with sudden, unlooked for vehemence. "I've been robbed, I tell you—-my money stolen!"
"Money?" asked Tom in surprise. "How much was taken from you?"
"Four hundred and eighteen dollars," replied the old man, with a lack of reserve that testified to his confidence in these unknown but respectful and sympathetic high school boys.
"All that money?" cried Dick. "How did you ever come to have so much about you?"
"I owe some bills for goods, over at Hillsboro," replied Reuben Hinman, "and this trip was to take me toward Hillsboro. But now——-"
He broke off, the strange, rending sobbing returning.
"Perhaps we can help you, bad as the case looks," Tom suggested. "Try to tell us all about it, sir."
"Where did you have the money?" inquired Dick.
"In a wallet, in this inside coat pocket," replied the peddler, holding his frayed coat open at the right side.
"You carried your wallet as conspicuously as that when traveling over lonely country roads?" cried Prescott in amazement.
"I had a lot of letters and papers in front of the wallet, so that no one would suspect that I had the wallet or the money," explained Reuben Hinman.
"I don't see any papers there now," Tom interposed.
"They're gone," replied Mr. Hinman. "Probably the thief thought the papers valuable, also, but they weren't.——-"
"You were robbed—-when?" asked Dick.
"When I was sleeping."
"At some farm house?" Reade inquired.
"No; I slept on a pile of old rags that I had taken in trade."
"In the wagon?——-" from Prescott.
"But why did you sleep in the wagon? And where did you have the wagon?" Dick pressed.
"The wagon was off the road, two miles below here," the peddler explained brokenly. "It would cost me fifty cents for a bed at a farm house, so, when the night is fine, I sleep outdoors on the wagon and save the money. It's cheaper with the horse, too, as I have to pay only for his feed."
"But the money?" Tom pressed the old man. Reuben Hinman groaned, but did not take to sobbing again.
"I woke up to-night, and found it gone," he answered.
"Did you feel or hear anyone prowling about, or searching your clothing?"
"No; if I had discovered anyone robbing me," shivered the peddler, "I would have caught and held on to him. I have strong hands. I have strong hands. Do you see?"
Holding up his wiry, claw-like hands, the old peddler worked the fingers convulsively.
"Then how do you know you were robbed, Mr. Hinman?" Dick insisted.
"Because the money is gone," replied the old man simply.
"You searched the rags, and the surrounding parts of your wagon?" Reade asked.
"Young man, you may be sure that I did."
"And where were you going when we stopped you?"
"Whose help?" Dick inquired.
"I don't know," replied the old man blankly. "Perhaps to a lawyer."
"Lawyers don't recover stolen property," rejoined Reade.
"Perhaps not," assented the peddler. "The people whom you should see are the local officers," Dick assured the old man. "Probably they couldn't recover your money, though, since you have no idea who robbed you."
Reuben Hinman groaned helplessly. It was plain to the two high school boys that the peddler had started out, thus, in the middle of the night simply because his misery was too great to permit of inaction on his part.
"I wish we could help you," Prescott went on earnestly.
"Why can't you?" eagerly demanded the peddler, as one who clutches at the frailest straw.
"Call Dave, Tom. Try not to wake the others," murmured Dick. Then, while Reade was gone, Prescott asked:
"Mr. Hinman, why on earth didn't you keep your money in a bank, and then pay by check?"
"No, no, no! No banks for me!" cried the old man tremulously.
"Are you afraid to trust banks with your money?" demanded Dick incredulously.
"No, no! It isn't that," protested the peddler confusedly. "The banks are all right, and honest men run them. But——-"
Whatever was in his mind he checked himself. It was as though he had been on the verge of uttering words that must not be spoken.
Dick Prescott found himself obliged to turn his eyes away. It was altogether too pitiful, the look in old Reuben Hinman's shriveled face. In his misery the small, stooped peddler looked still smaller and more bent.
Tom soon came along, carrying a lantern and followed by Dave, the latter yawning every step of the way.
"Now, which way are we going to look first?" Reade inquired.
"I've been thinking that over," Dick replied. "It seems to me that the sanest course will be to start right at the scene of the robbery. From there we may get a clue that we can follow somewhere."
"Yes, that's as good a course as any," nodded Darrin, who had received some of the particulars of the affair from Reade.
So the three high school boys started off down the road together, old Reuben Hinman trudging tirelessly along with them, acting like a man in a trance.
At last they came to the old, red wagon. The tethered horse, disturbed, rose to its feet.
"Now, the rest of you keep away," requested young Prescott, "until I've had time to look all around the wagon with the lantern. I want to see if I can discover any footprints that will help."
For a considerable radius around the wagon the high school athlete scanned the ground. He could find no footprints, other than those of Reuben Hinman, and the fresher ones made by himself.
"Nothing doing in the footprint line, boys," Dick called at last. "Now, come along and we'll search the wagon."
"Let me have the first chance," begged Dave, taking the lantern.
Reuben Hinman showed where he had slept on the pile of rags, but this was hardly necessary, the impression made by his slight body being still visible.
Dave began to rummage. At last he got down into the body of the wagon. With the rays of the lantern thus concealed, the other three stood in darkness.
"Hooray!" gasped Dave at last. Then rising, leaning over the side of the wagon, he called:
"Mr. Hinman, I've found a wallet, with a lot of greenbacks inside. How much I don't know. Please count it and see if all the money is there intact."
With an inarticulate cry the old peddler seized the wallet that was handed down to him. He shook like a leaf as Tom held the lantern for him to count the money. Now that the strain was over, Mr. Hinman's legs became suddenly too weak to support him. He sank to the ground, Tom squatting close so that the lantern's rays would fall where they would be most useful. Thus the old peddler counted his money with trembling fingers.
"Where did you find the wallet?" young Prescott asked Darrin.
"Up against the side of the wagon, under a partly tilted, upsidedown feed-pail," Dave answered. "I can understand why Mr. Hinman didn't find it. He was too much upset—-too nervous, and it certainly didn't look like a likely place."
"It must have fallen out of his pocket as he slept," Prescott guessed correctly. "Did you find any papers down there on the floor of the wagon?"
"Yes; some sort of paper stuff," nodded Dave. "I took it for rubbish."
"The money is all here!" cried the old peddler, in a frenzy of joy. "Oh, how can I thank you young men? You don't know what your blessed help means for me!"
"Was it all the money you had?" Dick asked feelingly.
"Yes; all except for few loose dollars that I have in a little sack in my trousers pocket," replied Mr. Hinman.
"Then it was all you had in the world, outside of your peddling stock and your horse and cart?" Prescott continued.
"All except a little house and barn that I own, and the small piece of ground they stand on," said the peddler. "If I had not found my money I would have been obliged to mortgage my little home to a bank—-and then I am afraid I could not have repaid the bank, and my home would be taken from me."
"But you would have found the money in the wagon some day soon," suggested Dick.
"Perhaps," replied the peddler. "Who knows? Perhaps someone else would have rummaged the wagon and found it before I did. Oh! It might have been taken a little while ago, even when I was toiling down the road, or talking with you boys at your camp!" he added, with a sudden wave of fright over the thought.
"One thing is certain, anyhow, Mr. Hinman," Dick concluded. "Someone may have overheard you talking with us about this money. You will hardly be safe here. I urge you to come to our camp, and there spend the night with boys who know how to take care of themselves, and who can look after you at need. You will not be attacked in our camp."
Reuben Hinman eagerly agreeing, Dave harnessed the bony horse into the wagon. After a while the red wagon rested within the confines of the camp of Dick & Co.
In the bright light of the morning, Harry Hazelton was the first to be astir. He saw Prescott asleep on the floor of the tent, rolled up in a blanket, while another blanket rested on Dick's cot, brought back to the tent, as though some stranger had slept there.
Outside, attached to the seat of their camp wagon, Hazy found a note that mystified him a good deal at first. It read:
"The sun is now well up. I shall go at once to Hillsboro, and then my great worry will be over. Boys, you will ever be remembered in the prayers of R.H."
"Now, that's mighty nice of R.H., whoever he is," smiled Harry Hazelton, not immediately connecting the initials with the name of the little, old peddler.
Nor was it until Prescott and Reade were astir that Harry was fully enlightened as to the meaning of the words scrawled in pencil on the sheet of paper.
"You boys call me Hazy, and I must look and act the part," laughed Hazelton shamefacedly, "when we can have such an invasion of the camp, and such an early get-away with a loaded wagon, and all without my stirring."
Reuben Hinman was on his way, and, all unknown to himself nearer the hour when he would meet the high, school boys under vastly more exciting circumstances.
THE NO-BREAKFAST PLAN
"Let's get the tent down, fellows," Dick called. "Greg is loading the bedding on to the wagon now."
"Haven't, you forgotten something?" Danny Grin asked.
"What?" challenged Dick smilingly.
"Well, a little thing like breakfast, for instance?"
"We don't get that until after we've had our swim," Prescott rejoined cheerily.
"I suppose that's all right," observed Tom, his jaw dropping. "Still, in that case, Mr. Trainer, why didn't you camp nearer to a stream?"
"The nearest stream fit for swimming is two miles from here," Dick replied. "At least, that's what I judge from the map."
"There's the creek the bull-heads came from," suggested Hazelton hopefully. "That's close at hand."
"I know it is," Dick replied, "but I've had a look at it. That creek is both shallow and muddy. No sort of place for swimming."
One thing these Gridley High School boys had learned in the football squad, and that was discipline. So, though there were some gloomy looks, all remembered that Dick had been chosen trainer during the hike, and that his word, in training matters, was to be their law. So the tent came down, in pretty nearly record time, and was loaded on the wagon. The horse was harnessed, also without breakfast, and the party started down the road with Harry Hazelton holding the reins.
"I hope it's a short two miles," growled Reade to Darrin.
"Humph! A fine Indian you'd make, Tom!" jibed Dave. "An Indian is trained in being hungry. It's a part of the work that he has to undergo before he is allowed to be one of the men of the tribe."
"That's just the trouble with me," Tom admitted. "I've never been trained to be an Indian, and I am inclined to think that it requires training, and a lot of it."
Outwardly Tom didn't "grump" any, but he made a resolve that, hereafter, his voice would be strong for halting right on the bank of a swimming place.
"Can't we hit up the pace a bit?" asked Tom.
"Yes," nodded Dick. "All who want to travel fast can hike right ahead. Just keep on the main road."
Tom, Greg and Dan immediately forged ahead, taking long, rapid steps.
"But don't go in the water until we come up," Dick called after them. "Remember, the morning is hot, and you'll be too overheated to go in at once."
"Eh?" muttered Tom, with a sidelong look at his two fast-time companions. "Humph!"
Then they fell back with the wagon again.
"There doesn't seem to be any way to beat the clock to breakfast," observed Dan, after he had walked several rods down the road.
"I've talked with old soldiers," Dick went on, "who have told me all sorts of tales of war time, about the commissary train not catching up with the fighting line for four days at a stretch. Yet here you fellows feel almost ill if you have to put off breakfast half an hour. What kind of men would you boys make if it came to the stern part of life?"
"If going without breakfast is part of the making of a man," said Danny Grin solemnly, "then I'd rather be a child some more."
"You always will be a child," Dave observed dryly. "Birthdays won't make any great difference in your real age, Danny boy."
"After that kind of a roast," grinned Reade, "I believe I'll take a reef in a few of the bitter things I was about to say."
Dick laughed pleasantly. Somehow, with the walk, all soon began to feel better. That first fainting, yearning desire for food was beginning to pass.
"Do you know what the greatest trouble is with the American people?" asked Dick, after they had covered a mile.
"I don't," Tom admitted. "Do you, Dick?"
"I've been forming an idea," Prescott went on. "Our fault, if I can gather it rightly from what I've been reading, is that we Americans are inclined to be too babyish."
"Tell that to the countries we've been at war with in the past," jeered Tom Reade.
"Oh, I guess it's a different breed of Americans that we send to the front in war time," Prescott continued. "But, take you fellows; some of you have been almost kicking because breakfast is put off a bit. Most Americans are like that. Yet, it isn't because we have such healthy stomachs, either, for foreigners know us as a race of dyspeptics. Take a bit of cold weather in winter—-really cold, biting weather and just notice how Americans kick and worry about it. Take any time when we have a succession of rainy days, and notice how Americans growl over the continued wet. Whatever happens that is in the least disagreeable, see what a row we Americans raise about it."
"I imagine it's a nervous vent for the race," advanced Dave Darrin.
"But why must Americans have a nervous vent?" Dick inquired. "In other words, what business have we with diseased nerves! Don't you imagine that all our kicking, many times every day of our lives, makes the need of nervous vent more and more pronounced?"
"Oh, I don't know about that," argued Tom. "I hate to hear any fellow talk disparagingly about his own country or its people. It doesn't sound just right. In war time, or during any great national disaster or calamity, the Americans who do things always seem to rise to the occasion. We're a truly great people, all right. But I don't make that claim because I consider myself ever likely to be one of the great ones."
"Why are we a great people?" pursued Prescott.
"We are the richest nation in the world," argued Reade. "That must show that we are people capable of making great successes."
"Is our greatness due to ourselves, or to the fact that the United States embraces the greatest natural resources in the world?" demanded Dick Prescott.
"It's partly due to the people, and partly due to the resources of the country," Dave contended.
Dick kept them arguing. Harry Hazelton, as driver, remained silent, but the others argued against Dick, trying to overthrow all his disparaging utterances against the American people.
Finally Reade grew warm, indeed.
"Cut it out, Dick—-do!" he urged. "This doesn't really sound like you. I hate to hear a fellow go on running down his own countrymen. I tell you, it isn't patriotic."
"But just stop to consider this point," Prescott urged, and started on a new, cynical line of argument.
"I still contend that we're the greatest people on earth," Reade insisted almost angrily. "We ought to be, anyway, for Americans don't come of any one line of stock. We're descended from pioneers—-the pick and cream of all the peoples of Europe."
But Dick kept up his line of discussion until they came to the river for which he had headed them. They followed the winding stream into the woods where the trees partially hid them from the observation of passers-by on the road, From this point they could easily keep a watch on the wagon while in the water.
"Now, let's sit down and cool off for five minutes," proposed Dick, as he filled the feed bag for the horse. "After that we'll be ready for a swim."
"But, with regard to what you were saying about frayed American nerves, poor stomachs and all-around babyishness——-" Tom began all over again.
"Stop it!" laughed Dick. "We don't need that line of talk any longer."
"Then why did you start it?" asked Dave.
"We've covered the two miles that you all thought such a hardship," chuckled Prescott.
"Then you——-" began Reade, opening his eyes wider as a dawning light came into them. "Come on, Dave! Catch him! The water's handy!"
But Dick, with a light laugh, bounded away, shinned up a tree, and, sitting in a crotch, swung his feet toward the faces of Tom, Dave and Harry as they tried to get him and drag him down.
"You've got a strategic position, just now," growled Reade. "But just you wait until we catch you down on the ground again!"
"You fellows must feel pretty well sold," Greg taunted them. "I kept out of the row, for I saw, at the outset, that Dick was going to start something for the sole purpose of keeping us arguing until we forgot all about our breakfasts."
"That's just like Dick Prescott!" uttered Tom ruefully. "We never get to know him so well that he can't start us all on a new tack and have more fun with us."
"Well, you forgot your supposed starvation, didn't you?" chuckled Dick from his tree.
Two or three minutes later he swung down from the tree to the ground, rapidly removing his clothing and donning swimming trunks. He was not molested; the other five were too busy preparing for the bath.
"The water's great to-day!" shouted Dick, rising and "blowing" after a shallow dive from a tree trunk at the shore.
In a moment they were all in the water.
"Come on! Follow your leader!" shouted Tom Reade, striking out lustily upstream.
"Come back and give us a handicap!" roared Dave. "How do you expect us to catch you when you get the lead over us with your long legs and arms?"
But Tom dived under water, swimming there. The others followed suit, each remaining under as long as possible, for, in this "stunt," there was no way of knowing when the leader came up. Tom remained under less than fifteen seconds. Then, showing his head, and with rapid overhand strokes he made for the nearer bank, slipping ashore and hiding behind some bushes.
It was Hazy who had to come up first after Tom.
"Whew! Tom must have met someone he knows on the bottom," called Harry, as Greg's head rose above the surface.
Dave came up next, then Dick, and then Dan.
"Tom ought to be a fish!" uttered Darrin admiringly. "I stayed under water as long as I could."
Yet after going a few yards further up stream Dick Prescott turned, gazing anxiously down stream.
"Fellows," he suggested, "something must have happened to old Tom."
"Or else he's playing a joke on us," hinted Danny Grin, suspiciously.
"It's some joke to remain under water four times as long as the average swimmer can do it," retorted Prescott.
"But Tom may not be under water," spoke up Greg.
"He didn't have time to get anywhere else," Dave declared.
"It may be a joke, but I don't want to take any chances," Dick said earnestly. "Let's go down stream. Spread out, and every now and then bob under and take as near a look at the bottom as you can."
"It doesn't look right," Dave admitted as they all started back.
Several times they went under water, the best swimmers among them getting close to bottom. So they continued on down the stream for some distance.
"Now, all together. Go under water all at the same time," ordered Dick.
Below the surface of the river they went. One after another their heads presently appeared above the surface once more.
"Have you fellows lost anything?" quizzed Reade, suddenly appearing on the bank.
"That's what I call a mean trick on us!" cried Dave, flushing slightly.
"You fellows were in for a swim, weren't you?" Reade drawled. "You have been having it."
With that he took to the water himself. There was something so jovial and harmless about Reade that, despite their recent anxiety concerning him, they made no effort to duck him.
"The water is fine this morning," called Tom presently, as they all swam about.
"Then why didn't you stay in?" demanded Darry rather cuttingly.
"Say, I'm beginning to feel glad that I waited breakfast for the swim," Reade announced.
"Stick to the truth!" mocked Dick.
"But I really am beginning to feel that a little exercise is the best course before breakfast," Tom declared.
"The next thing we hear," scoffed Hazy, "you'll be telling us that you really don't want any breakfast."
"I'll tell you fellows what I'll do," Tom called. "I'll agree to put off eating until noon if you'll all stick to the idea."
But that suggestion did not prove popular.
"I mean it," Reade insisted. "I hardly care, now, whether I eat any breakfast or not."
"What's that noise below? Come on!" called Prescott, landing and running along the bank. Tom was close behind him, the others following.
In their search for Tom they had gotten farther away from the wagon than they realized. During their brief absence from the spot two tramps had come upon the camp wagon and the piles of discarded clothing. It was plain that the wagon contained all that was needed for several meals—-and the tramps were hungry.
Yet the only safe way to enjoy that food would be to partake of it at a safe distance from the rightful owners.
For that reason, after a few whispered words, the tramps hastily gathered up all the clothing of the high school swimmers, dumping it in the wagon. Then they mounted to the seat.
Just as Dick Prescott and his chums broke from cover they beheld the tramps in the act of driving from the woods out on the road.
Once in the road the tramps urged the horse to a gallop. It was out of the question for the boys, clad as they were in only swimming trunks to pursue the thieves.
"I—-I—-take back all I said about not wanting any breakfast!" gasped Tom Reade, turning to his dismayed chums.
MAKING THE TRAMPS SQUIRM
"You come back here!" screamed Danny Grin desperately.
"Haven't time now," called one of the tramps jeeringly, while his companion laid the whip over the startled horse.
With such a start as the tramps had they might be able to drive a mile ere the running boys could overtake them.
Besides, both law and custom forbade six boys clad only in bathing trunks from running along the highway.
"You'll find the wagon a few miles from here!" jeered the tramp who held the reins. "We'll leave it when we're through with it. We——-"
But further words could not be heard for the wagon had vanished from view at a turn in the road between the trees.
"We're in a bad pickle, now!" gasped Tom Reade.
But Dick, studying the lay of the land with swift glances, saw just one chance. If the tramps turned the horse in the right direction on gaining the highway——-
Dick broke off his thoughts there.
"Tom, you and Dave pursue a little way and travel like lightning," ordered young Prescott. "The rest of you pick up stones! Fast! Come along now."
On reaching the highway the driver was forced to make a little turn in order to cross the bridge, in case he decided to travel in the direction that the boys had been going. So Dick dashed ahead, hoping to profit by the one chance he saw.
Just as luck would have it, the tramps turned in the right direction. The horse, galloping fast under the lash, struck his forefeet on the bridge.
Whack! clatter! plug! Four high school boys, all of them baseball players and proud of their straight throwing, sent a small shower of rocks whizzing through the air.
These struck the bridge planks well ahead of the horse.
"Stop—-or the next ones will hit you!" shouted young Prescott.
Just by way of suggestion he threw one stone that flew by within a foot of the nearer tramp's head. Holmes duplicated the throw.
"Stop that!" yelled one of the tramps, but he brought the horse to a standstill.
"Don't you throw any more stones!" yelled the tramp, as he saw the four ball players poised ready for more work in that line.
"Then hold the horse where he is until we come and take him," ordered Dick.
"We won't, and don't you throw any more stones," ordered the tramp. "Jerry, turn your pistol loose on the young cubs if they throw another stone. Giddap!"
"That's a bluff. You haven't any pistol," Dick called to the tramps coolly. "Just start that horse, and we'll knock both your heads off with stones. We know how to throw 'em."
Splash! Greg Holmes had taken to the narrow river. Now he was striking out lustily for the other side. In case the horse was started Holmes would be there, with a handful of stones with which to bombard the fugitives in passing.
"You fellers quit throwing stones, or you're going to get hurt!"
But the pause had accomplished the very thing for which Dick had waited.
"Throw another stone," repeated the tramp, "and you'll get——-"
"Oh, tell it to the Senate!" broke in Tom Reade, climbing into the wagon and seizing the speaker. Dave, who had crept up with him, had gripped the other tramp by the collar.
Both tramps were thrown from the seat. Ere they could recover from their astonishment, Reade and Darrin had leaped down upon their tormentors.
"In with them!" ordered Dick.
Two splashes, occurring almost in the same second, testified to the tackling skill that Reade and Darrin had acquired on the gridiron.
Dick and his friends stood by to rescue the tramps, in case either of them could not swim.
Both could, however, and struck out for the shore, abusing the boys roundly as they swam.
Dave had seized the horse's bridle, and was now turning the animal about. Tom walked on the other side of the wagon.
"Look out, Greg!" called Dick suddenly, as the tramps, gaining the opposite shore, made a sudden rush at Holmes, who stood alone.
"I can take care of myself!" chuckled Greg gleefully, as dodging backward, he poised his right hand to throw a stone. "Look out, friends, unless you want to get hurt!"
Both tramps halted in a good deal of uncertainty. They wanted to thrash this high school boy, but they didn't like the risk of having their heads hurt by flying stones.
Two splashes on the other side of the river heralded the fact that Dan and Harry had started to Greg's aid. The instant they saw this, both men turned away from Greg, making a dash for the highway.
Laughing, young Holmes followed them up with all the missiles he had left. Not one dropped further than three feet from the flying heels of the fugitives, yet not one struck either of the tramps or was meant to do so.
"Come across, you three fellows," laughed young Prescott, when the enemy had vanished in flight. You've all earned your breakfast now, and you shall have it."
"As for me," spoke Tom from the wagon, as he drove into the forest path, "I'm strong for putting on my clothes before I sit down to dally with food."
Reade did not wait until he had driven the wagon where he and his friends could dress away from the view of people on the road.
"The cast-iron cheek of those scoundrels!" vented Dave Darrin indignantly.
"I rather think we are their debtors," smiled Dick quietly, as he drew his shirt over his head.
"You do!" demanded Darry incredulously.
"Yes; just think of all the zest they've put into our morning, and they didn't harm us, either."
"But just think of what it would have been like if we hadn't stopped 'em!" gasped Danny Grin solemnly. "We couldn't have chased 'em. It wouldn't have been decent for us to go along the road, making four miles to every five covered by the horse. No, sir! We'd have had to remain hidden in the forest until we could signal some farmer to send to our folks for clothes to put on. Wouldn't it have been great, staying in the woods two or three days, with nothing to eat, waiting for the proper clothing to enable us to go out into the world again!"
"It was a mean trick!" cried Darry hotly; and then he began to laugh as the ridiculous features of the situation appealed to him.
"But nothing serious happened," laughed Dick, "so we owe that pair of tramps for a pleasant touch to the morning's sport."
"I wonder how many years since either of them has had a bath, until this morning," grinned Reade, as he began to lace his shoes.
As Reade was dressed first, Dick called to him: "Take the horse out of the shafts, Tom, and let him feed in comfort."
"You may," laughed Reade. "As for me, I've flirted with my breakfast so long this morning, and have taken so many chances of not having any, that now I'm going to make sure of that first of all."
So Dick himself attended to the horse. Dan was already gathering firewood, which Dave piled into the stove in the wagon.
Soon water was boiling, coffee was being ground, tins opened, and a general air of comfort and good fellowship prevailed in that forest.
"We'll have to give you the palm for being a good trainer, Dick," declared Tom, taking a bite out of a sandwich and following it with a sip of coffee, "but you have one short-coming. You're no fortune teller. So, as you can't foretell the future, I vote that, after this, we breakfast in the morning and swim later in the day. It would affect my heart in time, if we had to battle every morning for our breakfast in this fashion."
"I can't get over the impudence of those tramps," muttered Darry, as he set his coffee cup down. "They couldn't hope to get away with the horse and wagon and sell them in these days of the rural telephone. They couldn't use our clothing for themselves. And yet they stole all we had in order to get hold of our food. At that, they didn't care what became of us, or how long we had to travel about in these woods without food or clothing."
"The tramps must be optimists," laughed Prescott. "Probably they had an abiding faith that all would turn out well with us, and so proposed to help themselves to what they needed."
"I wonder whether they'll fool with our outfit again," pondered Tom grimly, "if they come across it in our absence."
"I don't know," said Dick gravely. "As you've already reminded me, I am no foreteller of the future."
WHEN THE PEDDLER WAS "FRISKED"
It was a hot and dusty road that lay before them when they again took up their march that day.
Yet Dick Prescott insisted that, despite the late start, they must count upon covering twenty miles for that second day.
At night they halted on the edge of woods so far from the nearest farm house that Prescott did not consider it necessary to hunt up the owner and ask permission.
"Now, we'll have to see if we can find water here," Dick proposed. "Let's scatter, and the fellow who finds drinkable water must let out a yell to inform the others."
"I'll save you some trouble," Reade offered. "You fellows needn't hunt water at all. Give me the buckets and I'll go and get it."
"Have you been in this part of the country before?" asked Dick.
"No; and I don't need to have been here before in order to know that this ground is full of water," replied Reade, who was full of practical knowledge of that sort. "If I were a civil engineer, out with a field party, I'd mark this section 'water' on the map. Look at the ground here under the trees. It's as moist as can be."
Tom departed, but barely two minutes had elapsed when he was back with two pailfuls of water as clear as crystal.
"It's nearly as cold as ice water," Tom announced. "There's a bully big spring just a few steps back in the woods."
"Then I'm going to use some of this to wash up," Darrin declared. "I'll go with you on the next trip, Tom, and help carry the water."
"You'd better wait until we get the tent up before we wash," suggested Prescott. "Then you'll need it more."
Quick work was made of the encamping. Dan and Greg, from the wagon, passed down the tent itself, the floor boards and joists, the cots and bedding and some of the food supplies.
Then all hands quickly put up the tent. Reade and Hazelton had the flooring down in a jiffy. Dan and Greg put up the cots, while Dick and Dave set up the folding camp table and started the fire in the stove with a bundle of fagots brought in by Hazelton.
"Now, get busy with the wash-up," Dick called.
Within thirty minutes after halting, supper was on the table.
"How far from a swimming place this time?" Tom asked.
"Three miles, if I've studied the map right," replied Prescott, taking the road map from his pocket and passing it over.
"To-morrow," said Dave, "some of us will swim in plain sight of the outfit all the time."
"Do you think you can hike three miles and swim before breakfast in the morning?" asked Dick.
"The way I feel now," said Tom, pushing his campstool back from the table, "I shan't need anything to eat to-morrow."
"You must feel ill, then," declared Danny Grin.
"No; I feel just filed up enough to last for two or three days," sighed Reade contentedly.
Harry and Greg were a bit footsore, but the other boys claimed to feel all right.
"Do any of you feel like taking an evening walk?" asked Dick with a smile.
"I do," Darrin declared promptly.
"Not I," replied Tom. "At least not so soon after supper."
"Shall we try the walk?" Dick asked Darrin.
"I'm ready," Dave agreed. "Come along, then." Though it was dark, the two boys decided not to take a lantern with them.
"We don't need one on a public highway," said Dick as they plunged off down the dark road.
"How far shall we go?" Darrin asked.
"I think two miles away from camp and two miles back, ought to be far enough," Dick replied.
"If we feel like going farther, we can tackle it when the time comes," Darrin answered. "But how shall we judge the distance?"
"We'll walk briskly for thirty-five to thirty-eight minutes," Prescott suggested. "Then we'll turn back. While we're out we may get some idea of whether there's a swimming place nearer than three miles from camp."
Neither felt in the least footsore. Indeed, these two hardy high school boys thoroughly enjoyed their tramp in this cooler part of the twenty-four hours.
"I wish we could live outdoors all the time," murmured Darrin, as he filled his lungs with the fine night air.
"A lot of folks have felt that way," smiled Dick. "The idea is all right, too, only the work of the civilized world couldn't be carried on by a lot of tramps without homes or places of business."
"I've heard, or read," Darry went on, "that a tramp, after one season on the road, is rarely ever reclaimed to useful work. I think I can understand something of the fascination of the life."
"I can't see any fascination about being a tramp," Prescott replied judicially. "First of all, he becomes a vagabond, who prefers idleness to work. Then, too, he becomes dirty, and I can't see any charm in a life that is divorced from baths. From mere idleness the tramp soon finds that petty thieving is an easy way to get along. If I were going to be a thief at all, I'd want to be an efficient one. No stealing of wash from a clothes-line, or of pies from a housekeeper's pantry, when there are millions to be stolen in the business world."
"Now, you're laughing at me," uttered Dave.
"No; I'm not."
"But you wouldn't steal money if you had millions right under your hand where you could get away with the stuff," protested Darry.
"I wouldn't," Dick agreed promptly. "I wouldn't steal anything. Yet it's no worse, morally, to steal a million dollars from a great bank than it is to steal a suit of clothes from a house whose occupants are absent. All theft is theft. There are no degrees of theft. The small boy who would steal a nickel or a dime from his mother would steal a million dollars from a stranger if he had the chance and the nerve to commit the crime. All tramps, sooner or later, become petty thieves. Thieving goes with the life of idleness and vagabondage."
"I don't know about that," argued Dave. "A lot of men become tramps just through hard luck. I don't believe all of them steal, even small stuff."
"I believe they do, if they remain tramps," Dick insisted. "No man is safe who will deliberately go through life without earning his way. The man who starts with becoming idle ends with becoming vicious. This doesn't apply to tramps alone. Any day's newspaper will furnish you with stories of the vicious doings of the idle sons of rich men. Unless a man has an object in life, and works directly toward it all the time, he is in danger."
"I'd hate to believe that every ragged tramp I meet is a criminal," Dave muttered.
"He is, if he remains a tramp long enough," Dick declared with emphasis. "Take the tramps we met this morning. Look at all the trouble they were taking to rob us of food for a meal or two."
"There may have been an element of mischief in what they did," Dave hinted. "They may have done it just as a lark."
"They were thieves by instinct," Dick insisted. "They would have stolen anything that they could get away with safely. Hello! There's a light over there in the woods."
"Another camping party?" Dave wondered.
"Tramps, more likely. Suppose we speak low and advance with caution until we know where we are and whom we're likely to meet."
In silence the high school boys drew nearer. The light proved to come from a campfire that had been lighted some fifty feet from the road.
"Yes, you have!" insisted a harsh voice, as the boys drew nearer. "Don't try to fool with us. Turn over your money, or we'll make you wish you had!"
"Why, it's our tramps of this morning," whispered Dave.
"And look at that wagon—-the peddler's!" Dick whispered in answer.
"Come, now, old man! Turn over your money, unless you want us to frisk you for it!" continued a voice.
"There are your honest tramps, Dave," Prescott whispered.
Then his eyes flashed, for, by the light of the campfire the lads saw the tramps seize frightened Reuben Hinman on either side and literally turn him upside down, the old man's head hitting the ground.
"Don't make any noise," whispered Prescott, "but we won't stand for that!"
"We surely won't!" Darry agreed with emphasis.
"Come on, now—-soft-foot!"
As the tramps jostled Mr. Hinman, upside down and yelling with fright, a sack containing the peddler's money rolled from one of the peddler's trousers pockets.
"Shake him again! There'll be more than that coming!" jeered one of the tramps.
But just then they let go their hold of the old man, for Dick Prescott and Dave Darrin rushed in out of the darkness, dealing blows that sent the tramps swiftly to earth.
Yet the two high school boys were now doomed to pay the penalty of not having scouted a bit before rushing in.
For the two tramps were not the only ones of their kind at hand. Out of the shadows under the surrounding trees came a rush of feet, accompanied by hoarse yells.
Then, before they had had time fully to realize just what was happening, Prescott and Darrin found themselves suddenly in the midst of the worst fight they had ever seen in their lives.
"Beat 'em up!" yelled the man whom Dick had knocked down. "I know these young fellers! They put up a bad time for us this morning. Beat 'em up and make a good job of it, too."
There was no use whatever in contending with such odds. Yet Dick and Dave fought with all their might, only to be borne to the ground, where they received severe punishment.