E-text prepared by Jim Ludwig
The High School Boys in Summer Camp or The Dick Prescott Six Training for the Gridley Eleven
By H. Irving Hancock
CHAPTERS I. The Man in the Four-Quart-Hat II. Dick and Some High Finance III. The Human Mystery of the Woods IV. Dave Darrin is Angry V. Dick Grapples in the Dark VI. Danger Comes on the Hoof VII. Fighting the Mad Stampede VIII. Visitors for the Feast IX. Dick's Woodland Discovery X. Setting a New Trap XI. A Hard Prowler to Catch XII. "Tag" is the Game—Tag Mosher! XIII. In a Fix! XIV. Thrashing an Ambulance Case! XV. The Interruption of a Training Bout XVI. Ten Minutes of Real Daring XVII. During the Big Storm XVIII. Mr. Page's Kind of Father XIX. Seen in a New, Worse Light XX. Some Imitation Villainy XXI. The Medical Examiner Talks Training XXII. Plating Ragtime on Mr. Bull XXIII. What Tag "Borrowed" from the Doctor XIV. Conclusion
THE MAN IN THE FOUR-QUART HAT
"You'll find your man in the lobby of the Eagle Hotel or in the neighborhood of the hotel on Main Street," said Dick Prescott. "You can hardly miss him."
"But how will I know Mr. Hibbert, when I see him?" pursued the stranger.
"I don't know that his name is Hibbert," Dick answered. "However, he is the only young man who has just reached town fresh from Europe. His trunks are pasted all over with labels."
"You'll know the young man, sir," Tom Reade broke in, with a quiet smile. "He always wears a spite-fence collar. You could bill a minstrel show on that collar."
"A collar is but a slight means of identification, in a city full of people," remarked the stranger good-humoredly.
"Well, then, sir, your man also wears a four-quart silk hat, and a long black coat that makes you think of a neat umbrella covering," Tom went on.
"And lavender trousers," supplemented Greg Holmes.
"Always wears these things, you say?" questioned the stranger.
"He has, so far," Dick nodded. "Mr. Hibbert has been in town only since late yesterday afternoon, and it's only four in the afternoon to-day."
"I shall be able to find my man all right," smiled the stranger. "You've informed me that he is stopping at the Eagle Hotel. Until now, I knew only that Mr. Hibbert was in Gridley. Thank you, young gentlemen."
"Now, I wonder how he knew that," murmured Tom reflectively.
"Knew what?" demanded Dave Darrin.
"That we're gentlemen," Tom responded.
"Oh, he guessed that," suggested Harry Hazelton.
"He's a good guesser, then," remarked Tom. "I always like to see a man so discerning. I'm ashamed to confess it, but Dick is the only fellow in our crowd who looks at all like a gentleman. He is dressed in his Sunday best. Look at us!"
The other five certainly looked neat enough, even though they did not wear their "Sunday best."
"Now, fellows, what's the lowest I'm to take for the canoe?" Dick inquired, after a glance at his watch. "The train is due in two minutes."
Instantly his five chums looked thoughtful.
"You'll get the most that you can, of course," Greg insisted.
"I shall try to get a good price," Dick nodded, "but I may find myself up against close bargainers. So hurry up and vote as to the lowest price that I'm to accept under any circumstances."
"What do you say?" asked Tom Reade, looking at Dave.
"We ought to get sixty dollars for it, at the very lowest," Darrin replied, slowly. "I'd like to pull in seventy-five dollars, for we need every penny of the latter amount."
"We might get along with seventy," hinted Harry Hazelton. "Suppose we say seventy dollars as the lowest possible price that we can consider."
"Sixty-five dollars, anyway," urged Dan Dalzell, otherwise known as "Danny Grin."
"What's your own idea, Dick?" asked Tom Reade, as the distant whistle sounded.
"If you fellows are going to be content with a sixty or seventy-dollar bottom price," suggested Prescott, "I wish you'd elect someone else to go in my place."
"Do you think we'll have to take fifty?" asked Tom Reade looking aghast.
"If you send me, and leave the trade in my hands," retorted young Prescott, "then you'll have to accept ninety dollars as the very bottom price, or there won't be any sale."
"Hurrah!" chuckled Danny Grin. "That's the talk! Ninety—-or nothing!"
"Do you think you can get that much?" asked Dave doubtingly.
"I'll have to, or I won't make any trade," Dick smiled, though there was a glint of firmness in his eyes.
"Let it be ninety dollars or nothing, then," agreed Tom Reade, adding, under his breath, "With the accept on the 'nothing.'"
As Dick glanced about him at the faces of his chums they all nodded their approval.
"I have my final instructions, then," Dick announced, as the east-bound train rolled in at the Gridley station. It had been from the westbound train, a few minutes before, that the stranger seeking Mr. Hibbert had alighted.
"Wish you luck, old chap!" cheered Dave, as Dick ascended the carsteps.
"I wish us all luck," Dick called back from the car platform, "and I'll try to bring it back to you."
The train was moving as Dick entered one of the day coaches. Silently his chums wished that they might all have gone with Dick, instead of turning away from the station, as they were now doing. Funds were low with Dick & Co., however, and all hands had contributed to buy young Prescott's round-trip ticket to Porthampton, more than an hour's ride away.
"Do you believe Dick can get ninety dollars for the canoe?" asked Dave at last, when the high school boys were half way to Main Street.
"Why not? It's a six-paddle war canoe, a genuine one, and in good condition for the water," Tom Reade replied.
"But it's only a second-hand canoe," Darrin argued. "It was second-hand when we bought it at the Wild West auction a year ago."
"That canoe is in just as good order as it ever was," Greg maintained. "It's a shame for us to sell it at all. We could have had a lot of fun with it this summer."
"Yes," sighed Danny Grin, "if only Harry and I hadn't been forbidden by our parents to have anything more to do with the canoe."
"One thing is certain," spoke up Tom promptly. "With two of our fellows barred from entering the canoe we couldn't have any fun. Dick & Co. have always pulled together, you know. There are six of us, but we don't break up into smaller parties, and we don't recruit our ranks with newcomers."
"I don't see why my father had to kick so about the canoe," sighed Harry Hazelton. "We enjoyed the good old canoe all last summer, and not one of us got hurt in it, or from it."
"I understand why your father objects, Harry," broke in Darrin. "With five drowning accidents from canoes hereabouts, already this summer, and two of those accidents on our own river, your father has some right to be nervous about the canoe."
"I can swim," argued Harry.
"So could both of the fellows who were drowned right here in the river," rejoined Reade. "Harry, I don't blame either your father or Dan's mother for objecting. Anyway, think of the fun we're going to have, this summer, of a different kind."
"If we sell the canoe," Darrin laughed. "But we haven't sold it yet."
"Oh, Dick can get something for the canoe," insisted Reade.
"Yes; but 'something' won't fill the bill, now, for you all heard Dick say he wouldn't take less than ninety dollars for it. When Dick says a thing like that he means it. He will bring back ninety dollars, or——-"
"Or nothing," finished Dave. "Somehow, I can't just figure out what any man would look like who'd give ninety dollars for an old second-hand war canoe, even if it is of Indian model."
"And made of genuine birch bark, which is so hard to get these days," added Reade. "Fellows, I can't believe that our old Dick will come back whipped. Defeat isn't a habit of his, you know."
So the "Co." of Dick & Co. wandered up on to Main Street, a prey to suspense. Some hours must pass ere they could hope to know the result of their young leader's mission at Porthampton.
All the member of Dick & Co. are assuredly familiar enough our readers. These six young Americans, Gridleyites, amateur athletes and high school boys, were first introduced to the reader during their eventful days of early chumship at the Central Grammar School. Their adventures have been related in detail in the "Grammar School Boys Series." How they made their start in athletics, as grammar school boys, and, more important still, how they made their beginnings in character forming, have all been related in that series. We next came upon Dick & Co. in the "High School Boys Series." All of our readers recall the rousing story of "The High School Freshmen." Young Prescott and his chums were bound to be "different," even as freshmen; so, without being in the least "fresh," they managed to make their influence felt in Gridley High School during their first year there. Though, as freshmen, they were not allowed to take part in athletics, they contrived to "boost up" Gridley High School athletics several notches, and aided in putting the Athletic Association on a firmer basis than it had ever known before. They did several other noteworthy things in their freshman year, all of which are now wholly familiar to our readers. Their doings in the second high school year are fully chronicled in "The High School Pitcher." In this second volume the formal and exciting entry of Dick & Co. into high school athletics is splendidly described, with a wealth of rousing adventure and humorous situations.
This present series, which is intended to describe the vacations of our Gridley High School boys in between their regular school years, opened with the preceding volume, "The High School Boys Canoe Club." Within the pages of that volume are set forth the manner in which Dick & Co. secured, at an auction sale of a Wild West show, a six-paddle Indian war canoe. All their problems in getting this canoe into serviceable condition made highly interesting reading. The host of adventures that surrounded their vacation at Lake Pleasant proved thrilling indeed to our readers. How they met and contested with the canoe clubs from other high schools was delightfully set forth. The efforts of Fred Ripley to spoil the fun of Dick & Co. during that vacation, formed another strong feature of the tale.
We now find our young high school friends, just after the Fourth of July, at a very exciting point in their careers. As has been intimated, Harry Hazelton's and Dan Dalzell's parents had grown nervous about the canoeing sport, and had urged their sons not to enter the craft again. As Dick & Co. had always been companions in all forms of sport, the other four chums had promptly decided to sell the canoe, if possible, and to devote the proceeds to going off in the "real woods" to camp.
And now a probable customer at Porthampton had been found, and Dick had departed by train to see whether the sale could be effected.
"I've twenty cents left. Is there money enough in the crowd to buy five ice creams?" asked Tom Reade, displaying two dimes.
"I've a whole half dollar, though you won't believe it until you see it," laughed Dave Darrin.
"Then there's enough for cream," decided Tom.
"I'll put in my half, if you fellows say so," Dave went on. "But we may soon be in need of quite a bit of money. Wouldn't it be better to hold on to our fruit of the mint?"
"When we sell the canoe we'll have plenty of money," suggested Danny Grin.
"Very true, old Smilax," nodded Dave. "But what if Dick doesn't sell it?"
"Then we won't have plenty of money," responded Greg promptly.
"If Dick doesn't make a sale to the parties he has gone to see," Dave went on argumentatively, "we may want money to buy him a ticket to some other town. It won't be wise to spend our little capital until we see some more money coming in."
"That sounds like common sense," agreed Reade, dropping his dimes back into his pocket. "Still, I'm sorry that we're not rich enough to finance the ice cream proposition and still have enough capital left."
"So am I sorry," sighed Danny Grin. "This waiting for Dick Prescott to get back with the news is a wearing proposition."
"Come down to my house," suggested Dave. "I've got that catalogue from the tent and camping goods house. Let's go and look over the catalogue, and try to decide just what we want to buy for our camp when Dick gets the money for the canoe."
"That would be bully fun, if we really knew that Dick had sold the canoe," smiled young Holmes wistfully. "However, until we do know, I suggest that we avoid all false hopes and keep away from all catalogues."
At this instant Tom nudged Dave. Two men were passing, and one of them was saying to the other:
"Yes; I sold the double house for eighty-two hundred dollars—-a clear profit of twenty-two hundred. Then I put four thousand more with that money and bought the Miller place. Within a couple of years I'll get rid of the Miller place for at least sixteen thousand dollars. I've never known a time when real estate money came in as easily."
"Is he talking about real money?" grunted Darrin. "He can't be!"
"He is," Tom declared. "That's Buller, of Wrenville. He is a very successful man in real estate. Father knows him."
"Humph! Talking of thousands, when a few ten dollar bills would fix us for the summer," muttered Dave Darrin. "I wonder if men ever stop to think how it feels for a boy to go around broke."
"I spoke to my dad along those lines once," smiled Tom.
"What did he say?" asked Danny Grin.
"Oh, dad told me there was no objection whatever to my starting out and earning a lot of money. He explained that was how he had gotten his."
The other youngsters were smiling now, for, as was well known to them all, Mr. Reade wasn't credited with possessing a great deal of money.
"Well, are you fellows coming down to my place to look over the catalogue?" Dave proposed once more. "It'll help to kill time during our suspense."
Though they felt rather foolish about spending their dollars before they obtained them, the four high school boys turned to follow Darrin, when a voice behind them called:
"Oh, boys! Just a moment, please!"
"It's the man in the four-quart silk hat," Tom whispered, as the five chums baited and turned.
"Man?" echoed Darry, though also in a whisper. "Humph! Hibbert looks more like a boy who has run away from home with his father's wardrobe."
Certainly, as he hurried toward them, Mr. Hibbert did look youthful. He couldn't have been more than twenty-two—-perhaps he was a year younger than that. He was not very tall, nor very stout. His round, rosy, cherubic, smoothly shaven face made him look almost girlish. He was faultlessly, expensively dressed, though on this hot July afternoon a black frock coat and high silk hat looked somewhat out of keeping with the day's weather report.
"I just wanted to ask you boys to do me something of a favor," Mr. Alonzo Hibbert went on.
"Name the favor, please," urged Tom with drawling gentleness.
"Can you tell me what shop that is over there?" inquired Mr. Hibbert, pointing, with a dapper cane, across the street.
"That is Anderson's Ice Cream Emporium," Tom answered gravely.
"Let's go over there," proposed Mr. Hibbert smiling, as he glanced from one face to another.
"That proposition was just before the house, and was voted down," Tom continued.
"What was the matter, boys?" demanded young Mr. Hibbert beamingly. "Didn't you have the price?"
"On the contrary, we had the price," Reade answered, as gravely as ever. "However, after discussion, we decided that we had other uses for our capital."
"But I haven't any other uses for my present capital," pursued Mr. Hibbert, as smiling as ever. "So come along, please."
Instead of jumping at the offer, Dick's partners regarded the man in the four-quart hat with some doubt. Often, when offered a courtesy from strangers that they would like to accept, these boys were likely to regard the offer with this same attitude of suspicion. It was not that Dick & Co. meant to be ungracious to strangers, but rather that their boyish experience with the world had taught them that such offers from strangers usually have strings attached to them.
"Don't you young men like ice cream?" asked Mr. Hibbert, looking fully as astonished as he felt.
"Certainly we do, Mr. Hibbert," Tom responded. "But what's the idea? What do you want us to do for you?"
"I ask you for the pleasure of your company," explained Mr. Hibbert. "I'm a stranger in this town, and I'd like a little company."
"And—-afterwards?" pursued Reade.
"'Afterwards'?" repeated Alonzo Hibbert looking puzzled.
"What do you want us to do for you by and by?" Tom asked.
"Oh, I see," replied Hibbert, laughing with keen enjoyment. "You think my invitation a bait for services that I expect presently to demand. Nothing of the sort, I assure you. All I want is someone to talk to for the next half hour. Won't you oblige me?"
"Mr. Hibbert," broke in Dave suddenly, "I've just happened to remember that there is a man in town who wants to talk with you. We met him at the station, and he inquired where he could find you."
"I think I know whom you mean," admitted Hibbert.
"We told him you were stopping at the Eagle Hotel," Greg added.
"Then, if the man who is looking for me went to the Eagle Hotel, he has already learned that I am elsewhere. It's his business to find me, not mine to run about town seeking him. He can find me as well in the ice cream shop as in any other place. Will you young men oblige me with your company?"
At a nod from Darrin the others fell in line. Mr. Hibbert led the way across the street, entering the shop, which proved to be empty of other customers.
As the waitress approached the two tables to take the orders for ice cream the host of the occasion turned to his guests.
"Give the young woman your orders, gentlemen," said Alonzo Hibbert.
"Strawberry," said Tom.
"Vanilla," requested Dave.
"Oh, fudge!" interposed their host.
"We haven't any fudge ice cream, sir," remarked the waitress without smiling.
"I cried fudge on their orders," remarked Hibbert gayly. "They are too modest. Young woman, have you still some of those cantaloupes, which you cut open and fill with different flavors of cream and water ice?"
"Then, young gentlemen, permit me to change the order to one of those cantaloupes for each of you."
The waitress departed on her errand, while Reade and Darrin glanced at each other, somewhat aghast. The delicacy ordered by Mr. Hibbert cost a quarter of a dollar a portion.
When the orders were brought and placed on the table, Alonzo Hibbert draw from his pocket a roll of bills, stripping off the outermost and handing it to the waitress. Yet their host gave no sign of attempting to make a vulgar display of his money. He seemed rather unconscious of the possession of it.
"Are these favorites of yours?" inquired Mr. Hibbert presently of Greg, indicating the multi-colored load of ices, each resting in a half of a cantaloupe.
"Not exactly favorites," Greg replied. "We don't often have the money to spend on such an expensive treat."
"Don't you?" inquired Hibbert in a tone of considerable surprise, as though wondering why everyone in the world wasn't as well supplied with money as he himself was.
Then, after a pause, their host asked of Greg:
"Would you like always to have plenty of money?"
"I suppose everyone would like that," murmured young Holmes.
"Shall I make a prediction?" inquired Hibbert.
"By all means, if it pleases you," Greg answered politely.
"Then, Greg Holmes, I venture to assert that you will very shortly find yourself a millionaire."
This was said with so much earnestness, and apparent sincerity, that all five of the chums now regarded their host intently.
"How soon is that going to happen?" Greg laughingly inquired.
"Within a week," Alonzo Hibbert replied as seriously as ever. He glanced at Greg with a look full of friendly interest.
Tom Reade snorted, almost audibly, then drew down the corners of his mouth to keep himself from laughing outright. Dave, too, took another swift look at their smiling young host.
"I wish you were a sure prophet," murmured Greg trying hard not to laugh.
"I am," declared Mr. Hibbert seriously. "Mind what I tell you, Greg Holmes, within a week you will know yourself to be a millionaire."
"Real money?" demanded Greg.
"Real money," nodded Hibbert positively. "Or else it will be in stocks, bonds or real estate that could be converted into real money."
By this time, Tom, Dave and the others, Greg included, had taken Alonzo Hibbert's measure or believed they had. Their host, then, was a lunatic. A harmless and very amiable lunatic, to be sure, yet none the less the victim of a deranged mind.
"Eaten up your creams?" asked Mr. Hibbert, glancing around. "Then we'll have another apiece."
He signaled the waitress, giving the order.
"Don't ask me—-yet—-how I know," continued their host, turning once more to Greg Holmes, "but you're going to find yourself a millionaire within a week. I know it. It's all in your ear."
As he spoke Hibbert gave Greg's right ear a playful tweak.
"All in Greg's ear?" muttered Tom Reade under his breath. "I knew that from the outset."
"All in your ear, Holmes!" Hibbert repeated. "Yet it will all be very real money. Oh, won't you be astonished!"
"I—-I think I shall, when the wealth rains down upon me," murmured Greg, now afraid to raise his eyes to meet the mocking glance that Darry was sending toward him.
At this moment the stranger of the railway station entered the room, then came toward the table.
"Mr. Hibbert, here is the man who was inquiring for you at the station," Tom announced in a low voice.
Hibbert turned, glancing inquiringly at the stranger.
"Are you Mr. Hibbert?" asked the latter.
"Yes," nodded the man in the four-quart hat. "My name is Colquitt," explained the stranger. "I am from——-"
"Er—-yes, quite so," murmured Mr. Hibbert. "And here is the boy. He is named Greg Holmes. Do you observe his right ear?"
"I do," Colquitt assented, after a swift, keen glance.
"He is the boy," Hibbert repeated after a moment's hesitation.
"Where do you live, young man?" asked Colquitt.
Greg supplied the name of his street and the number.
"Name of your family physician?" went on the stranger.
"Has he always been your family physician?"
"Ever since I can remember," Greg declared.
"Thank you," and Colquitt turned to leave.
"Won't you stay and have an ice with us?" urged Hibbert.
"Too much to do," replied Colquitt, shaking his head and walking out.
Now the high school boys found themselves doubly, trebly puzzled. If Mr. Hibbert were an amiable lunatic, what of Colquitt? Both had appeared to know something mysterious about young Holmes.
Tom Reade, also, was thinking deeply. Dave Darrin was frowning. Dan Dalzell was grinning slightly, while Hazelton was giving his whole attention to the second ice before him.
Hibbert, however, passed to other topics as lightly as though he had already forgotten all about fortunes and ears. The time passed pleasantly until all of the five chums felt that they could hold no more ices. Then Hibbert, having paid the bill, left the ice cream place with them.
Outside they encountered Mr. Colquitt once more.
"May I have a word aside with you, sir?" demanded Colquitt.
"A dozen," agreed Hibbert readily.
The two walked apart from the boys, going down the sidewalk together slowly. But the youngsters heard Hibbert say earnestly:
"I tell you, Colquitt, that is the boy. He has the ear and all. And he'll be in luck with the money he'll have!"
"And I tell you, Mr. Hibbert, that he isn't the boy at all," retorted Colquitt, with even greater positiveness.
More was said, but the two passed out of hearing.
"Greg," declared Tom Reade solemnly, "it appears that you're the million-dollar kid!"
"I know it," grinned young Holmes. "I am! Also it seems equally certain that I am not!"
"What do you make of the whole business, fellows?" Tom asked, turning to the other chums.
"I've my own idea," laughed Dave Darrin.
"Give it us, quickly!" begged Danny Grin.
"My idea," Dave declared, "is that Hibbert is a rather harmless lunatic, yet one who has to be watched a bit."
"Then what about Colquitt?" urged Hazelton.
"Colquitt," guessed Darry, "is Hibbert's keeper."
"The mild lunatic idea," Tom observed, "fits in well with a chap who, in this sweltering July weather, will insist on wearing a four-quart silk hat, a spite-fence collar and a long, black, double-breasted coat."
"There's only one part of the whole dream that I'd like to believe," sighed young Holmes. "I'd be quite willing to have it proved to me that I'm a young millionaire!"
"What would you do if you had the million—-right in your hand?" quizzed Danny Grin.
"I'd transfer it to my pockets," Greg answered.
"What next?" pressed Dan.
"I'd hurry to the bank with the money."
"And—-then?" Dan still insisted.
"Then," supplied practical Tom Reade, "he'd end our suspense by paying Dick ninety dollars for our war canoe!"
"I would," Greg agreed.
DICK AND SOME HIGH FINANCE
"I feel like a fellow without any manners," complained Dave Darrin.
"What have you done now?" asked Greg, coming out of his million-dollar trance.
"It's what I haven't done," Darry answered. "It's also what none of us have done. We haven't thanked our very pleasant, even if slightly erratic, host for his entertainment."
"We can't very well butt in," declared Reade, glancing down the street. "Hibbert and his kee—-I mean, his friend—-are still talking earnestly. I wonder if they lock poor Hibbert up part of the time?"
Colquitt and young Mr. Hibbert had now turned in at the Eagle Hotel. Dave glanced at his watch, remarking:
"Fellows, it's ten minutes after six. Those of you who want any supper will do well to hurry home."
"I'm certain that I can't eat a bit of supper," declared Hazelton, looking almost alarmed. "I've eaten so much of that cream and cantaloupe that I haven't a cubic inch of space left for anything else."
Nevertheless the high school boys parted, going their various directions, after having agreed to meet by seven o'clock. All wanted to be on hand when Prescott got back to town.
After supper Greg had not been out of the house five minutes when Mr. Hibbert appeared at the gate of the Holmes cottage, and passed inside. The caller inquired for Greg's father, met that gentleman, and the two remained in private conversation for some five minutes.
Ere the first minute was over, however, Greg's father might have been heard, from the sidewalk, laughing uproariously. Finally Mrs. Holmes was called into the conference. She came forth again, looking somewhat amused.
From that meeting Hibbert went back to Main Street, where he fell in with Tom Colquitt.
"Are you satisfied, now?" demanded the latter.
"I'm puzzled," replied Hibbert, with the air and tone of a man who hates to give up a delusion.
Colquitt and Hibbert had not gone a block and a half ere they encountered Dave, Tom and the others, only Dick being absent from the gathering of the chums. Curiously, too, the meeting took place before the same ice cream shop.
"Just in time to have some more cream, boys," suggested young Mr. Hibbert.
"And we'd enjoy it, too, thank you," responded Tom courteously, "but there is a point, sir, past which it would be imposition to go. So we are going to content ourselves with enjoying a very pleasant recollection of the good time we had with you this afternoon."
"Better come inside with us," urged Mr. Colquitt. "I notice a table, away over in the corner, where we can be by ourselves. You see, boys, after what Hibbert said to one of your number this afternoon, we feel that an explanation is due to you. We can explain inside much better than we could on a street corner."
That crowbar of curiosity wedged the boys away from their fear that they were accepting too much from strangers. So they followed their mysterious conductors inside. Young Mr. Hibbert ordered ices similar to those that had been enjoyed that afternoon. Then Mr. Colquitt, with a brisk air, began:
"Concerning that suspicion that young Holmes might be the missing heir to a large sum of money, I'll tell you how Mr. Hibbert got his idea."
Then, as though fearing that he had made too great a promise, Mr. Colquitt paused.
"It's this way," he went on, at last. "Many years ago there was a railway wreck in this part of the state. A good many passengers were killed. Among them was the wife of a wealthy man. The husband escaped with his life, but he was so badly hurt that, for a year or so, his mind suffered. He had to be taken abroad. There were a few babies among those killed in the wreck, and the infant son of the couple was supposed to be one of them. The father is now well and healthy, but a very lonely man. Within the last few weeks this father has had some reason to believe that his son didn't perish in the wreck, but that other people, believing both parents had been killed, took charge of the infant.
"That is all," continued Mr. Colquitt, "except that the missing infant had a small v-shaped nick on the outer edge of his right ear. Probably with the boy's growth, if he is still alive, the nick has become so small as to be barely noticeable, like the nick in Holmes' right ear. Mr. Hibbert came to Gridley only yesterday, and it happened that one of the first young men he saw, close to the hotel, was young Holmes. Rather by chance Hibbert saw that very small nick, that usually would escape notice. In great excitement Hibbert telegraphed the anxious father, and the father wired Blinders' detective agency, which sent me down to Gridley."
"It isn't possible that Greg can be the missing son," breathed Tom Reade incredulously.
"He isn't," declared Tom Colquitt promptly. "I made sure of that very soon after I reached town to-day. First of all, I found out the name of the family physician, Dr. Bentley. I saw that gentleman, and he assured me he knew that young Holmes was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Holmes, for Dr. Bentley told me that he signed young Greg's birth certificate. That was proof enough, but I also saw Mr. and Mrs. Holmes, a few minutes ago. The missing son of the wealthy man in question had two other marks on his body that would identify him."
"What are those marks?" asked Dave Darrin deeply interested.
Tom Colquitt hesitated, glancing at young Mr. Hibbert.
"Tell 'em," nodded the young man of the four-quart hat.
"The young man we are seeking," replied the detective, "will have a brownish mole over his right shoulder blade and a reddish mark to the left of his breast bone. The boy was born with those marks. The nick in his ear resulted from an accident when the nurse was handling the child."
"We'll find the youngster for you," promised Danny Grin lightly.
"And is Mr. Hibbert a detective, too?" asked Tom Reade.
"No," replied Colquitt, with great promptness, while Mr. Hibbert, grinning sheepishly, added:
"I haven't brains enough for that, I guess. But, Master Holmes, please tell me, to satisfy my last doubt. Have you any such marks as Mr. Colquitt has described?"
"I never noticed such marks on myself," Greg replied.
"He hasn't them," Dave interjected, "or the rest of us would have noticed the marks when we've been in swimming."
"Then your last idea that Gregory Holmes is the missing young man must vanish now, my dear Mr. Hibbert," smiled Mr. Colquitt.
"I'm vanquished," confessed Alonzo Hibbert, with a sigh. "I'm no good at anything. I wouldn't even make a detective."
"I must leave you now," suggested Mr. Colquitt, rising. "I must wire to—-er—-to my client. Poor man, he will be greatly disappointed."
As the detective rose and passed outside Hazelton leaned over to murmur to young Holmes:
"Don't you wish it had turned out that you were the million-dollar kid?"
"Not if I had to give up my father and mother," Greg replied, with great promptness.
"I seem to be a fool at everything," sighed Alonzo Hibbert in disgust.
"No; I would say, sir," suggested Tom Reade, "that you made the mistake of proceeding on one sign, instead of looking for all three."
"Have another ice!" urged Mr. Hibbert, brightening at once. "You have set me straight. I wasn't a fool, after all—-merely too swift"
But the boys shook their heads as they murmured their thanks.
So they were about to rise when a voice called cheerily behind them:
"Stay where you are, fellows. We'll have an ice cream all around."
"Dick!" cried five eager voices at once, as Prescott came smilingly to join them. Then their eyes all framed the same question, which their lips refused to utter.
"Did you sell the canoe?"
As Dick glanced inquiringly at young Mr. Hibbert, Dave Darrin presented him. Dick also learned that Hibbert had been a willing host to five of the chums.
"Now, you'll turn about and eat an ice cream with us, won't you, Mr. Hibbert?" urged young Prescott.
This the young man consented to do, though, as soon as the dainty had been disposed of, he begged to be excused that he might go and have further talk with Tom Colquitt.
"You sold the canoe, I think, Dick?" said Tom, as soon as their late host had left them.
"Yes," beamed their leader.
"You might tell us what you got for it," urged Danny Grin.
"Guess," hinted Dick.
"Fifty," said Dave promptly.
"He said he wouldn't take less than ninety," retorted Hazelton.
"Ninety dollars," guessed Tom.
"Fellows," laughed Dick, "at one time on the train I was so downhearted and glum over the chances of a trade that I believe I would have jumped at fifty dollars. Then I remembered my promise not to take less than ninety dollars. With that I soared to a hundred dollars, then down, by degrees, to seventy. But my promise pulled me back to ninety."
"It wasn't exactly a promise," Dave broke in. "Anyway, Dick, it wasn't the kind of promise that had to be kept."
"Half the time I felt that the promise had to be kept, and the other half of the time I felt that it might better be broken," Prescott went on, laughingly. "Just as I reached Porthampton, however, and saw all the fine summer homes there, my figures began to rise. I realized, of course, that a birch bark canoe is a good deal of a rarity in these days; that such a boat hasn't anything like a hard-and-fast, staple value. A birch bark canoe, in other words, is worth what it will bring."
"And no more," nodded Dave Darrin. "So you were wise to take the fifty dollars."
"Who said that I took fifty dollars for the canoe?" Dick smiled back.
"What did you get?" insisted Harry Hazelton, his impatience increasing with every minute.
"Do you really want to know what I got?" teased Dick.
"Of course I do," snorted Harry. "We all do!"
"Then I'll tell you," nodded Dick. Instead, however, he began feeling in his pockets.
"Tell us, then!" ordered Hazelton gruffly.
"I got a check," smiled Dick.
"For how much?" pressed Hazelton.
"Well, let me explain," said Dick, still laughing. "You see, I didn't have to do any describing or praising of the canoe, for Mr. Eades, who bought the canoe for his crowd, was here three days ago, as you know, and looked the canoe over, in water and out. It was just a question of settling the price of the canoe. So, when I reached Mr. Eades, we started in to bargain. He asked me how much I wanted for the canoe. I guess, fellows, my nerve must have gone to my head, for I told him two hundred dollars."
"You didn't get it?" gasped Hazelton.
"I didn't," Dick answered soberly.
"Mr. Eades told me he represented himself and associates, who wanted the canoe to put on the little lake down at their country club. I told him it seemed to me that a canoe like ours was an expensive sort of thing to put in a pond. Then he offered me seventy-five dollars."
"That's a good, round sum, and will help us out a lot this summer," nodded Dave Darrin. "I'm glad you accepted it."
"I didn't," smiled Dick. "Mr. Eades finally offered eighty, and I told him I regretted that we hadn't done the trading at the time that he came over to Gridley to see the canoe. Mr. Eades replied that at the time he came here he wasn't authorized to speak for his friends, but merely to look at the canoe and report. After that he made one or two more small increases in his price, but I seemed to have lost interest in the subject of a trade and looked at my time table to see when the next train left for Gridley. Then we talked about other matters, and, fellows, I was pretty glum, though I didn't allow the fact to show. Finally, he offered me more money, and then a little more. At last I came down on my price, and made him my final offer. Mr. Eades didn't seem to like it, and then, all of a sudden, he took out his check book and wrote a check for me."
"Close to a hundred dollars?" asked Dave, with deep interest.
For answer Dick threw the check on the table. There was a wild scramble for it.
"A hundred and fifty dollars!" gasped Tom Reade.
"Let me see that check!" demanded Greg Holmes unbelievingly.
The check went from hand to hand, each of the fellows looking at it half bewildered. Yet certainly the check said one hundred and fifty dollars.
"See here, Dick," asked Tom anxiously, "are you sure—-positive, that is—-that it was honest to charge a hundred and fifty for that canoe of ours?"
"You may be sure that I thought of that," Prescott answered. "I don't want to defraud any man. But birch bark suitable for canoes is getting to be a thing of the past in this country. Our friend, Hiram Driggs, the boat builder, told me that a birch bark canoe, nowadays, is simply worth all one can get for it. But, after Mr. Eades had written the check and handed it to me, he said: 'Now, the trade is made and closed, Prescott, what do you really consider the canoe worth?' I answered him a good deal as I've answered you, and offered to return the check if Mr. Eades wasn't satisfied. Fellows, for just a moment or two my heart was in my mouth for fear he'd take me up and ask for the return of his check. But Mr. Eades merely smiled, and said he was satisfied if I was."
"I'll bet he'd have gone to a two hundred dollar price," declared Hazelton. "Dick, weren't you sorry, afterwards, that you didn't hold out flat for two hundred dollars?"
"Not I," young Prescott answered promptly. "If I had been too greedy I'd have deserved to lose altogether, and very likely I would have lost. Fellows, I think we can be well satisfied with the price we've obtained."
"I am!" declared Dave Darrin promptly. "We've realized a hundred dollars above my wildest dream."
Incidentally it may be mentioned that Mr. Eades found, from his friends, that he had a prize, indeed, in the fine old war canoe. The grounds committee of another country club offered two hundred and fifty for that same canoe a month later.
"Now, fellows," Dick went on, "suppose we leave here and decide how we're to lay out this money for our summer camp?"
The vote was carried instantly. With a whoop of glee the chums started for Dave's house.
THE HUMAN MYSTERY OF THE WOODS
"Now, get to work!" shouted Dick Prescott. "Destruction to all shirkers!"
"Please may I beg off for five minutes?" begged Danny Grin, raising one hand.
"Why?" queried Prescott sharply.
"I want to take that much time to convince myself that it's all true," replied Danny.
"You'll know that it's all true when you wake up to-morrow morning," laughed Dick. "But it won't look half as real if any fellow shirks any part of his work now. All ready, fellows?"
"Ready!" came the chorus.
"Tom Reade will make the best foreman, won't he?" appealed Prescott. "Tom has a knack for just such jobs as this, and it's going to be a tough one."
The boys stood in the middle of a half acre clearing in the deep woods, five miles past the town of Porter. Here the woods extended for miles in every direction. As these young campers glanced about them it seemed as though they possessed a wealth of camping material—-far more than they had ever dreamed of owning.
The tent, twelve feet by twenty, and eleven feet high at the ridgepole, with six-foot walls, was their greatest single treasure. It had cost thirty-five dollars, and had been bought from the nearest large city.
"We'll get the tent up first," called Reade.
"Of course," smiled Dave. "That's all you're boss of anyway, Tom."
"Come on, then, and spread the canvas out," Tom ordered. "Bring it over this way. We want it under the trees at the edge of the clearing. Dan, you bring the longest poles."
Under Tom's further direction the canvas was spread just where he wanted it. Then the ridge-pole was secured in place across the tops of the highest two standing poles.
"Run it in under the canvas," Tom directed. "We'll get the metal tips of the poles through the proper roof holes in the canvas. There, that's right. Dick, you and Greg stand by that long pole; Dave, you and Dan by the other. Now, then—-raise her!"
Up off the ground went the two uprights and the ridge-pole, the canvas hanging shapelessly from the ridge-pole.
"Bring that wooden sledge over here, Harry," was Foreman Reade's next order. "Now, drive in this stake while I hold it. Remember to hit the stake, not my hands."
The stake being soon driven into place Reade slipped the loop of a guy-rope around it, partly tightening the rope. Then he slipped to the next corner, where the process was repeated.
"Hurrah!" burst from Danny Grin, as the fourth corner stake was driven, and now the tent began to take shape.
"You fellows holding the poles may let go of them now," called Tom. "Come and help with the other stakes and guy-ropes."
As soon as the ropes along a given side of the tent had been made fast the side wall poles were stepped into place. At last the task of tent-raising was completed, save for the final tightening of all the ropes. Now Dick and Dave, under their foreman's orders, began to drive the shorter stakes that held the bottoms of the tent walls in place.
"Hurrah!" went up from several throats, as the boys stood back to take in the full dimensions of their big, new tent.
"My but she's a whopper!" exclaimed Danny Grin, pushing back the door flaps and peering inside.
"We won't find the tent any too large for a crowd of our size," Dick declared. "You all remember how crowded we were in the tent that we used last summer. You'll find we can fill this tent up when we get it furnished."
"Dick," called Tom, "take all of my gang except Harry. He and I will lay the floor."
Reade and Hazelton thereupon began to carry in two-by-four timbers and lay them where they wanted them on the ground inside the tent. Next they nailed boards across. They had bought all of this timber in Gridley secondhand at a bargain.
"Dave, you and Dan can start the furnace, while Greg and I unpack supplies," suggested Prescott.
Thereupon Darrin and Danny Grin started in to move a small pile of bricks. Next a tub of mixed mortar was carried to the level spot decided upon as the place whereon to erect the "furnace."
It was not much of a stove that Dave and Dan built, yet it was fitted and destined for the preparing of many a meal in record time. First of all, Dave marked off the space to be used. Four parallel lines of bricks, each line five bricks long, were laid on the ground. Dave, with a two-foot rule, measured a distance of sixteen inches between each row. Then began some amateur brick-laying. It was not perfectly done, by any means, yet these four parallel walls of brick that were presently up afforded three "stoves" lying side by side. As soon as the mortar was reasonably dried—-and fire would help—-grates and pieces of sheet iron could be laid across the tops of the walls over the three fires. It was one of the simplest and most effective cooking devices that such a camp could have. There was even a gas-stove oven, an old one, furnished by Dick's mother.
"It makes me hungry to look at the stove," declared Danny Grin.
"It's four o'clock now, so you'll have two hours more to wait," smiled Dick, as he glanced at his watch.
Out of packing cases and some odds and ends of lumber Dick and Greg had constructed some very fair cupboards, with doors.
"Oh, if we only had ice for use in this hot weather!" sighed Greg.
"But we haven't," returned Dick, "so what's the use of thinking of it."
In the tent Tom and Harry were putting in some of the last taps of the hammer. They had made a very creditable job of the flooring. It was now five o'clock. Dick & Co. had worked so briskly that they were now somewhat tired.
It had been an exciting day. They had left Gridley in the forenoon, journeying for an hour and a half on the train. Arriving at Porter the boys had eaten luncheons brought along with them. Then they had hunted up a farmer, had bargained with him to haul their stuff and then had tramped out to their camping place.
But the camp looked as though bound to prove a success. It was their camp, anyway, and they were happy.
"I'm glad enough of one thing," murmured Dick as he rested, mopping his brow.
"I'm glad of several things I can think of," rejoined Darry.
"The thing I refer to," chuckled Prescott, "is Fred Ripley."
"It never occurred to me to feel glad about Ripley," muttered Tom dryly.
"I mean, I'm glad that he has gone to Canada with his father this summer," Dick continued. "We shan't have a lot of things happening all the time, as we did last summer. Rip was a hoodoo to us last summer. This year we know that he's too far away to be troublesome."
"It will seem a bit strange, at first," assented Reade, "to return to our camp and not discover that, while we were away, Rip had been along and slashed the tent to ribbons, or committed some other atrocious act."
"Let's not crow until we're out of the woods," suggested Darrin. "Rip might come back from Canada, you know."
"He's sure to, if the Canadians find out the kind of a chap that he is," Danny Grin declared solemnly.
"Come here, you fellows," summoned Dick, "and hold a council of war over the supplies, to decide what we'll have for supper."
"I thought the steak was to be the main item," Tom rejoined. "With no ice it won't keep until morning."
"What do you want to eat with the steak?" asked Dick briskly.
The council—-of six—-quickly decided on the items of the meal. Harry, catching up two buckets, started to the nearest spring for water. Dave, with the coffee-mill between his knees, started to grind. Dick, with an old knife, began to cut the steak up into suitably sized pieces. Greg started a fire in one of the stove spaces,
Dan bringing more firewood. A task was at hand for each of them.
When the first fire was ready an old grate was placed over it. On this the pieces of steak were arranged. Dave was boiling coffee on another grate over the second fire.
"Wood is mighty scarce around here," complained Harry.
Dick glanced about him. No one was immediately busy.
"All scatter!" called Prescott. "Go in different directions. Each fellow bring back an armful of dry wood. Hustle!"
Dick himself was the first to return, about three minutes later. He came in fast, for he expected that the steak would be ready to remove from the grate.
Long before he reached the stoves, however, Dick dropped his wood and his lower jaw simultaneously.
"Hurry up, fellows!" he called hoarsely. "Hurry and see what has happened!"
That note of real distress in his voice caused the others to come running.
"Well, if you haven't an appetite!" gasped Tom. "To go and eat all the steak yourself!"
"I didn't eat any of it," Dick retorted grimly. "From the looks of things none of the rest of us will eat any of it, either."
"A dog got it, or some wild animal!" guessed Greg.
"No one animal could carry off four pieces of steak in his mouth at a time," Prescott answered, thinking fast. "And the tin plate I left here has gone with the meat. Animals don't lug off tin plates."
"Dick and I will stay behind to watch and take account of stock," Tom called. "The rest of you scatter through the woods and try to come up with the thief. If any fellow comes upon him, give a whoop, and the rest of us will hurry along."
The four scouts went off on the run.
"Anything else missing?" asked Reade, as Dick looked among the supplies.
"Yes," Prescott raged; "one of the bottles of Worcestshire sauce and two of the tins of corn. Oh, it's a two-legged thief that has spoiled our supper!"
"Perhaps you were too sure about Rip being off in Canada," grinned Reade.
"Fred Ripley would hardly steal food," Prescott retorted. "Rip is seldom really hungry. Tom, I'd give a dollar to know just who was hanging around this camp."
"I'd give two dollars to know," snapped Reade, "but I'd take the money from the camp treasury."
"Queer that the fellow didn't take the potatoes, too," mused Dick, turning back to the stove.
"The potatoes weren't done," suggested Reade wisely, "and probably our visitor didn't think it wise to wait until they were. The hulled corn will serve his purpose very well, though."
"It was a mean trick to play on us," quivered Dick.
"Of course it was—-unless the thief were really very hungry," answered Tom.
"In that case, I don't believe I'd blame the fellow so much," Dick admitted. "But now, what are we going to have for supper?"
"I've an inspiration," Tom declared, as he thrust a fork into some of the potatoes in the pot. "These potatoes will be done in two or three minutes more. Open three tins of the corned beef."
"Tinned corned beef isn't so much of an inspiration, as inspirations go," laughed Dick.
"Open the three tins," Tom insisted. "Here are the onions. I'll peel a few—-and do the weeping for the whole camp."
Tom was busy at once. Dick, after watching his friend start, caught something of the spirit of quick work.
"Dump the meat into this chopping bowl," Tom continued, as he hastily dropped peeled onion after onion into the wooden bowl. "Now, get the potatoes off the fire, and we'll drain and peel 'em."
This work was quickly under way.
"Do you see what the poem is to be?" grinned Reade.
"Looks like corned beef hash," smiled Dick.
"It will taste like it, too," predicted Reade. "Come on, now!"
Potatoes were quickly made ready. Tom began to chop the mixture, while Prescott got out one of the frying pans.
"Get out the lard," urged Tom. "Let's have some of this stuff cooking by the time that the fellows come in. It will console them a bit."
"It begins to smell good," murmured Dick presently, as he stirred the cooking mixture.
Tom busied himself with setting the table.
"All ready, when the fellows come in," announced Dick, as he removed the coffee pot and began to cut bread. "Better call 'em."
Placing his hands over his mouth, megaphone shape, Tom sent several loud halloos echoing through the woods.
Dan was the first one in. Greg arrived next, Harry third.
"Where can Dave be?" asked Tom, after several more halloos.
"We'll go and find him, if he doesn't show up," suggested Harry. "But first of all, let's stow some of this supper inside of us."
"We'll wait for Dave before we eat," Dick retorted quickly.
"Hello, Dave, hello!" roared Reade and Prescott in concert "Supper is ready! Hurry up."
"Queer there's no answer," said Greg, after a minute's wait.
"Something must have happened to Dave," suggested Danny Grin anxiously.
"What could happen to him?" demanded Hazelton scornfully. "Darry can take care of himself. He'll be in presently."
"Let's call him again!" urged Dan.
They called in concert, their voices echoing through the woods.
"Did you hear that?" asked Dick eagerly, after a pause of listening. "There it goes again."
"It's Dave, answering us," Harry declared.
The hail sounded distant.
"Come on!" cried Dick, leaping forward. "That yell was one of trouble, or I'm a bad guesser. Dan, you and Hazelton stand by the camp. Tom and Greg come along. If Dave is in trouble he'll be sure to need some of us!"
DAVE DARRIN IS ANGRY
"Keep on calling, Dave!" shouted Dick, as they ran toward the sound of the voice.
"This way!" answered Darry, his voice sounding louder as they neared him.
"What's up?" Tom asked as they ran.
Dave's voice sounded in wrathful explosion.
"Eh?" Tom pressed him.
"Wait until you get here, and you'll see," retorted Dave.
"You're not hurt?" Dick shouted.
"No; but my feelings are!" vented Darrin indignantly.
Another minute and the trio headed by Dick, reached the spot.
By this time darkness was coming on through the woods. Prescott, who was in the lead, at first received the impression that Dave was standing beside a tree. And so Dave was, though the reason for his standing there was yet to be explained.
A moment more and Tom and Dick had reached the spot where the wrathful Darrin was standing.
"Well, of all the——-" began Tom wonderingly.
"Outrages!" finished Darry angrily.
Prescott laughed outright.
"I suppose I must be a comical-looking object," admitted Dave Darrin ruefully. "But just wait until I lay my hands on the rascal who played this trick on me! Oh, I'll make him ache for his smartness."
Though Darrin had an unusually quick temper, he generally had it under excellent control. Now, however, he was so indignant that he fairly sputtered, and the humorous side of the situation did not appeal to him.
What Dick saw was that Dave stood with his back to the trunk of the tree. Around Darry's neck a noose was fast. Back of the prisoner the rope had been wrapped once around the trunk of the tree. Next, several folds of rope had been passed both around Darrin and the tree trunk in such fashion that the boy's arms were pinioned fast to his sides. In addition, a single turn of rope had been taken around each arm. Finally, the rope had been knotted several times at the opposite side of the tree from that on which Darrin stood.
"You must have stood pretty patiently for anyone to be able to tie you up in that artistic fashion!" blurted Tom Reade.
"Patient? Patient nothing!" growled Darry between his teeth. "I was so angry all the time that I couldn't keep from sputtering, but that rascal had me fast, and kept making me more secure."
"How old a man was he?" asked Dick.
"I don't know whether he was a man or a boy."
"Is your eyesight failing, Dave?" asked Tom.
"I haven't eyes in the back of my head," snapped Darry. "Say, aren't you fellows going to hurry up and free me?"
"Can't you free yourself?" suggested Reade.
"If I could have done that I'd now be ranging these woods in search of the perpetrator of this outrage," Darry declared. "Hurry up and untie me!"
"We will, but please be patient for a moment or two longer," begged young Prescott. "This is such a cleverly artistic job that I want to study out just how it was done. How did the fellow attack you?"
"From behind," muttered Darry.
"Wait, and I'll tell you," Dave went on, forcing himself to talk a trifle more calmly. "When I'm free I'll show you the spot over there, in the thicket between the two clumps of bushes. Well, I had gotten this far when I saw the missing steaks. They rested on a tin pan on the ground in the thicket. It looked as though the thief of our supper had gone away to get water or something. I had just stepped, on tiptoe, of course, past this tree when I heard a soft step behind me. Before I could turn, the noose was dropped over my head, and then down on my neck. It was jerked tight, like a flash, and I was pulled against this tree. The fellow took some kind of hitch around the trunk of the tree to hold me——-"
"Yes; I see the hitch," assented Dick. "It was well done."
"So well done that it held me, for a moment," Dave went on. "The noose choked me, for a brief space, so that I didn't have much presence of mind. Before I recovered myself, the fellow had passed the rope several times around my body and arms, and had taken the extra loops on my arms. By that time I was so helpless that I couldn't stir to free myself."
"And you didn't see the fellow?" asked Dick.
"Not a glimpse of him. He worked from behind, and did his trick like lightning."
"But there are no steaks, nor any plate, on the ground in the thicket now," Reade reported, after looking.
"No," Darry grunted. "The fellow who tried me up like this passed over my eyes a dirty cloth that perhaps he would call a handkerchief. Then I heard him over by the thicket. Next he was back here and had whisked that cloth away from my eyes. That was the last I heard of him."
"Why didn't you set up a roar as soon as he attacked you?" demanded Tom Reade.
"The noose bound my throat so tightly, I couldn't," Darry explained. "I was seeing stars, and I was dizzy. After he had taken a few hitches of the rope around me he eased up on the noose a bit."
"Did you 'holler' then?" questioned Dick.
"No," Dave Darrin admitted honestly. "I used up all my breath telling that unknown, unseen fellow just what I thought of him."
"If you want to know what I think of the fellow," uttered young Prescott, "it seems to me that the unknown chap is clever and bright enough to be capable of better things than stealing supper from other people. This tie-up is about the most ingenious thing I've seen in a long time."
"Maybe I'd appreciate it more," retorted Darry, "if I could see it as you do, on another fellow. Are you going to hurry up and cut away this rope?"
"Not if you are able to wait calmly while I untie it," Dick answered. "It's surely a good piece of rope. It will go part way toward paying for the steaks."
With that Prescott began to untie the knots. When his fingers ached from this from of exercise, Greg took his place. Meanwhile, Tom Reade explored the thicket where Dave had seen the plate of steaks. There was no sign of the food taken from the camp. This Tom made out by the aid of lighted matches, as the long shadows were now falling in the woods.
"I'm glad, now, that you didn't cut the rope," said Dave, as at last he stepped free. "We'll save his rope, for I hope to find that fellow again."
"What will you do to him if you catch him?" grinned Reade.
"Maybe I'll need the rope to lynch him with," uttered Darry grimly.
Tom threw back his head, laughing heartily.
"Our dear, savage, blood-thirsty old Darry!" Reade laughed. "You talk as vindictively as a pirate, but if you found your enemy hurt you'd drop everything else and nurse him back into condition. Darry, you know you would!"
"Let's get back to camp," urged Greg. "Supper is ready, but no one has had any yet. My stomach feels like an empty balloon."
"All right, then," agreed Darrin gruffly, "though I'd sooner catch that fellow than eat."
"That word, 'eat,' sounds like a poem!" sighed Greg, tightening his belt as the quartette turned campward.
"So you didn't get a single glimpse of your—-your annoyer?" asked Prescott.
"Not what you could call a glimpse," Darrin responded. "Two or three times I caught sight of the fellow's shirt sleeves as he passed the rope around me. His shirt sleeves were of a light tan color, so I suppose that is the color of his entire shirt. That, however, is the sole clue I have to the scoundrel's description."
"I'd like to meet the fellow," mused Dick.
"Maybe you'll have that pleasure," hinted Darry with the nearest approach to a smile he had yet shown.
"You mean you'd like to see me tied up in the same fashion, and then discover whether I could keep my temper under such circumstances?" laughed young Prescott.
"Never mind what I mean," Dave retorted.
They were soon in camp, now, after calling to Dan and Harry two or three times in order to locate their way. At last, however, they came in sight of the glowing embers of fire and the rays of the two lanterns that Dan had lighted and hung up.
"I smell something that smells mighty good," sniffed Dave. "Did any of you fellows recover the steaks? Have you been keeping something back from me?"
"I don't believe you'll find the steaks in camp," Dick retorted, "but you'll find something that will taste fully as good."
With that the quartette charged into camp. Everything was ready for the table by the time each fellow had washed his hands and face in the one tin basin that served the camp.
"Put one of those lanterns on the table, Dan," called Dick, as he finished drying himself on a towel. "Another night, if we eat after dark, we'll try to have a campfire that'll light the place up like an electric light."
"Another night, unless some of our neighbors move," predicted Darry, "we won't have food enough left to make it worth while to try to have supper!"
The boys sat down in great good humor, even Dave softening when he saw the bountiful supper that had been prepared. Not one of them felt nervous about the possible nearness of the late prowler. The boys were six to one, whoever the prowler might be. Besides, this mysterious stranger seemed to prefer humor to violence.
Yet, all the time they were eating and chattering—-and Dick did his full share of both that young man, Prescott, was also busily thinking up plans by means of which he hoped to be able to gain a closer view of the recent prowler.
Of these plans he said no word to his chums, for there was more than a chance that the human mystery of the woods was even then within earshot, off under the shadows among the trees.
DICK GRAPPLES IN THE DARK
At last the meal was finished, this time without the help of the prowler. Dave and Dan washed the dishes, while Tom and Harry carried water enough to fill the hogshead that had been brought along as part of their camp equipment.
At the same time, Dick and Greg unstrapped and set up the six light-weight folding canvas cots, standing them in a row in the tent. Next they arranged the bedding that had been loaned by mothers at home, and made up the six beds. Enough fuel to start a fire in the morning was also brought in.
"And now, what did we come out here in the woods for?" inquired Dick smilingly.
"To get our fill of sleep," yawned Tom.
"To eat," suggested Hazelton hopefully.
"To fish," added Dave Darrin promptly.
"Just to lie down and take things easy," declared Danny Grin.
"As for me," piped up Greg Holmes, "I'm not going to bother my head, to-night, as to why we came here. I'm going to get a ten hour nap, and in the morning I'll try to solve the riddle for you, Dick, of why we came here."
A tired lot of boys, not really ready, as yet, to admit that they were used up, lay down on their cots without undressing. They intended, later, to get into their pajamas.
A single lantern, its wick turned low, hung from one of the posts. Prescott did not trust himself to lie down, for his eyes, despite his efforts to keep awake, were heavy, and he did not want to sleep for some time yet.
Within ten minutes Darrin alone had his eyes open, and even he was making a valiant struggle against sleep. At last, however, he yielded, and soon settled into sound slumber.
"They're off in another world," smiled Dick, as he listened to the deep breathing of his chums; then he slipped away from his cot.
From under a box in one corner of the tent he took out a large cup of coffee that he had hidden some time earlier. It was still warm and he drank it with relish, though his main purpose in using the beverage was to make sure of keeping himself awake.
His next move was to extinguish the lantern. Now he made his way to the bucket of water and basin. Dashing the cold water into his face, and wetting his eyes well with it, Prescott took a few deep breaths. He now felt equal to keeping awake for some time.
Outside, by this time, all was darkness, save where a few embers of the recent camp fire glowed dully.
Dick threw himself down, resting his head on his elbows, in the doorway of the tent.
"Now, don't you dare go to sleep!" he ordered himself, repeating the command frequently as a means of aiding himself to keep his eyelids from closing.
"You keep awake!" he half snorted, as he felt drowsiness getting nearer. He pinched himself, inflicting more than a little pain.
At last, however, the young leader of Dick & Co. found that his drowsiness had passed for the time being, like the sentinel in war time.
"Now, I think I can keep awake until daylight, if I have to," muttered young Prescott to himself. "At daylight it won't be so very mean to wake one of the other fellows and let him take my place."
Yet, after an hour had passed, Dick was almost doomed to discover that nature had some rights and knew how to assert them.
His eyes had just closed when he awoke with a start.
Someone was treading lightly past the wall of the tent, coming toward the door. Dick had barely time to glide back behind the flap of the tent when the unknown someone stopped at the doorway.
It was too dark to make out anything distinctly under the canvas, but the stranger listened to the combined snorings of five of the six boys, then chuckled softly.
"Oh! Funny, is it, to think that we're all asleep, and that you may help yourself at will to the food that cost us so much money!" thought Dick wrathfully. The stranger hearing no sound from the apparently sleeping camp soon passed on in the direction of the fire.
Here much of the provisions had been stacked in the packing case cupboards, for the reason that to store food in the tent would seriously curtail the space that the boys wanted for comfort.
Out of the tent crept Dick, crouching. His heart was beating a trifle faster than usual, perhaps, for he saw at once that the prowler was larger than himself.
Before one of the box cupboards the prowler halted and rummaged inside with his hands.
"I guess this is where I need a light," mused the stranger, half aloud.
"Pardon me, but what do you want with a light?" inquired Prescott, at the same time pushing the stranger forward on his face. Dick now seated himself on the other's shoulders.
"Don't make a fuss," Prescott advised. "I like to think myself a gentleman, and I don't want to muss you up too much."
The stranger laughed. It was an easy, confident laugh that destroyed a bit of the Gridley boy's sense of mastery.
"What are you doing, up at this time of night?" asked the stranger.
"Minding my own business, in my own camp," Dick replied easily. "And what are you doing here? Whose business are you minding?"
"My own, too, I reckon," replied the prowler more gruffly.
"In other words, attending to your hunger?" pressed Prescott.
"I'm looking out that I don't have too much hunger to-morrow," came the now half sullen answer.
"Is this the way you usually get your food?" Dick demanded dryly.
"This is the way I get most of it," came the reply.
"Stealing it, eh?"
"Well, what of it?" came the sulky retort. "The world owes me a living."
"To be sure it does," Dick answered blithely. "The world owes every man a living. That's just why you don't need to steal. Just sail in and collect that living by means of hard work. Are you the chap who collected our steaks this evening?"
"None of your business. And, now, if you've given me as much chatter as you want, get off my shoulders!"
"I've a little more to say to you yet," Dick responded.
"Get off my shoulders!"
"I will—-when I'm through with you," Dick agreed.
"You'll get off at once, or I'll roll you off!" came the now angry threat.
"Try it," Dick urged coolly.
Right then and there the stranger did try it. He "heaved," then attempted to roll and grapple with the young camper. He would have succeeded, too, had Prescott relied upon his strength alone. But Dick employed both hands in getting a neck-hold that hurt.
"Now, quit your fooling," Prescott advised, "or I'll let out a whoop that will bring five more fellows here. Do you know what they would do to you? They'd just about lynch you—-schoolboy fashion. Do you know what a schoolboy lynching is?"
"No," sullenly answered the stranger, as he started to renew the struggle.
"You will know, soon, if you don't stop your stupid fooling," Dick told him.
"Hang you, kid. Get off of me, and keep your hands away, or I'll hurt you more than you were ever hurt in your life, and I'll get away with it, too, before your friends come!"
So lively did the struggle become that Dick was obliged to use his clenched fist against the side of the prowler's jaw. That quieted the stranger for an instant.
Leaping lightly from his troublesome captive, Dick snatched up a heavy club of firewood that lay nearby.
"That's right," Dick agreed, swinging the club, as the other rose to a sitting posture. "Sit up, but don't try to get up any farther unless you want to feel this stake, which is tougher than those other steaks!"
Prescott kept nimbly out of reach of the other's arms, though he took pains to keep himself where he could jump in with a handy blow at need.
"Now," remarked the high school boy, "you are getting an idea as to who's boss."
"Well, what do you want?" asked the other sullenly. He had already drawn down a tattered, battered old cap so that it screened his face.
"I want to get a better look at you," Prescott replied. "I want to be able to know you anywhere. Tan colored woollen shirt; brown corduroy trousers; low-cut black shoes; cap defies description. Now, let me see your face."
With that Dick bent quickly, picking up an oil-soaked bunch of faggots that he had prepared before the others had turned in for the night and dropped them upon the campfire.
Like a flash he was back, close to the stranger. "Don't you dare try to get up!" Dick threatened, swinging the club.
"Hit me, if you dare!" leered the other. "I'm going to get upright now!"
With that he made a lurching move forward. Prescott swung the club, though of course he did not intend to beat the stranger about the head.
His indecision left him off his guard. The stranger closed in on the club, wrenching it from Prescott's hand and tossing it far away. But Dick dropped, wrapping his arms about the other's legs and throwing him.
Just as the two went down in a crash the fire, which had been smoking, now blazed up.
"I'll show you!" roared the stranger, now thoroughly aroused, as he grappled with Prescott and the pair rolled in fierce embrace over the ground.
Dick was not afraid, but he didn't want this night hawk to get away, so he bellowed lustily:
"Fellows! Gridley! Gr-r-r-id-ley! Quick!"
"Stop that!" hissed the stranger, who was now easily uppermost, and holding Prescott with ease.
"Quick!" yelled Dick.
The stranger grasped the high school boy by the throat, then as swiftly changed his mind, for someone was stirring in the tent. Up leaped the prowler, yet, swift as he was, Dick was also on his feet.
"Keep back!" warned the prowler, as he turned to run.
"You're mine—-all mine!" vaunted young Prescott, making a gallant leap at the unknown foe.
But that brag was uttered just a few seconds too soon.
DANGER COMES ON THE HOOF
Against Dick's face came the palm of the larger youth's right hand. It was the old, familiar trick of "pushing in his face." So quickly did that manoeuvre come that Dick, caught off his balance, was shoved backward until he tripped and fell.
Then the stranger vanished with the speed of one accustomed to flight through the woods.
His eyes full of sand from the fall, Dick struggled to his feet, rubbing his eyelids, just as Dave Darrin came running up.
"What was it?" demanded Dave.
"Come on! We ought to catch him yet!" cried young Prescott, turning and running into the woods. But Dick's eyes were not quite as keen as they had been, and Darry, once he had the general direction, outstripped his chum in the race.
Once away from the blazing fire of oil-soaked wood, however, the boys found themselves at a disadvantage in the woods. At last Darry stopped, listening. Then, hearing sounds, he wheeled, dashing at a figure.
"Get out with you, Darry!" laughed Prescott good-humoredly.
"I thought you were——-"
"The other fellow! Yes; I know," laughed Dick.
"Where is he? Listen!"
But only the night sounds of the woods answered them.
"We'd better put for camp," whispered Dick, "or that fellow will slip around us and pillage the supplies before we get there."
Dave started back at a dog trot, Dick following at a more leisurely gait. Both were soon by the campfire again.
"Was it the same fellow?" demanded Darry, in a low voice.
"It must have been," Dick nodded, "though you didn't see him at all when you encountered him, and I didn't get a view of his face. But he had on a tan colored shirt. He also had on brown corduroy trousers and low-cut black shoes. He kept his torn cap pulled down over his eyes so that I couldn't get a look at his face that would enable me to know it again if I saw it."
"Hang the fellow!" growled Darry. "Does he take us for a human meal ticket with six coupons?"
"He must be hungry," rejoined Dick, "when he could get away with all that steak and then come back, within a few hours, for more of our food."
"How did you come to catch him?" Dave asked curiously.
Prescott explained how he had managed to remain awake and on guard, against a possible second visit from the young prowler.
"So we've got to stay up the rest of the night, and mount guard every night, have we?" grunted Darry disgustedly. "Fine!"
"We'll either have to watch, or part with our food," Dick assented.
"We ought to have brought Harry Hazelton's bull-dog. That would have spared us guard duty."
"I'm glad we didn't bring the pup," Dick rejoined. "That pup is growing older, and crosser. He'd bite a pound or two out of some prowler's leg, and we don't want that to happen."
"Why not?" demanded Dave grimly, opening his eyes very wide.
Dick laughed softly by way of answer.
"I'd just as soon have a tramp chewed up as have our food supplies vanish," Darry maintained.
"Little David, your temper has the upper hand of you at this moment," laughed Prescott.
"When that temper is on top you're dangerous—-almost bloodthirsty. When your temper is in check you're as kind and gentle as any good-natured fellow. You wouldn't really want to see any human being mangled by a bull-pup's teeth."
"Well, maybe not mangled," Darry agreed. "But I don't believe Harry's pup would do any more than take hold—-and keep hold."
"We won't have the pup, anyway," Dick replied, in a low voice.
"Why not?" Dave again demanded.
"Because, as you know well enough, Harry's father was afraid the pup would only get us into trouble by chewing up someone, and so declined to let us bring the dog."
"That was a shame," Dave insisted.
"I don't think so. If six of us can't take care of one stray tramp, not much larger than any of us, then we're too tender, and ought to be sleeping in little white cribs at home."
"Oh, stop that talk!" urged Dave.
"I mean what I said," Dick retorted. "We're big enough, and numerous enough, to guard our own camp."
"Of course we are; but we'll have to give up some sleep to accomplish that," Dave contended.
"Whoever loses sleep in the night time can make it up in the day time. And now, Darry, get to bed!"
"But we've got to remain on watch."
"You'll feel bad, in the morning, if deprived of your sleep. I'll stay up for a while yet, and then call Tom Reade."
"So I'm no good for guard duty, eh?" snorted Darry.
"Not a bit," said Dick cheerfully. "You're as sleepy and as cross as can be, right at this minute. Go and tuck in, Davy."
Darrin snorted again, then glared at Dick's placid face. Suddenly Dave broke into a hearty chuckle, slapping his chum on the back.
"You're all right, Dick," he declared. "You know how to keep your temper, talk smoothly, and yet hit harder than if you used a club. No, sirree! I'm not cross, even though I may be tired. I'm not cross, and I can thrash into subjection any fellow who dares hint that I'm cross, or that my temper is on a rampage. You go and turn in, Dick."
"Then we'll both stay up and watch together."
"I'll tell you what," proposed Dick.
"Bring your cot out here. I'll let you sleep for an hour by my watch. Then I'll call you, and you hold the watch and let me sleep for an hour. There is no sense in both of us losing our rest at the same time. Yet, if either fellow needs the other, he'll have him right under his hand."
"All right," nodded Dave. "Anything, as long as I'm not accused of being a sleepy head."
"A sleepy head?" Prescott repeated. "Why, when I called to you fellows for help you were the only one who responded. No; I wouldn't call you an incurable sleepy head, Darry."
Now wholly restored to good humor Dave went back into the tent, lifting his cot and bringing it out to within a few feet of the campfire.
"You take the first nap, Dick," begged Dave.
"No; you take it."
"But I'm not sleepy; honestly I'm not."
So Prescott lay down on the cot, closing his eyes.
The sunlight, streaming into his face, awakened him.
"Why—-why—-where's Darry?" thought Dick, sitting up straight.
The sound of deep breathing answered him. Dave sat with his back propped against a tree, sound asleep. He had slept for hours, evidently, having fallen asleep through sheer, uncontrollable drowsiness.
Rising from the cot Dick stretched himself for he was still drowsy. Then he tip-toed over to where the food was stored, peering in.
"I can't see that our friend, the enemy, has been here again," Dick smiled. He glanced at Darry, but did not awake that tired youngster.
As noiselessly as he could Prescott busied himself with starting a small campfire that could be made larger when needed. This done, he set water to boil.
"Ho-hum!" yawned Tom Reade, dressed only in underclothes and trousers, as he stood in the tent doorway half an hour later.
Dick placed his fingers to his lips, whispering:
"Don't rouse the other fellows. They're tired."
"Darry certainly looks tired," smiled Tom, regarding Dave in the uncomfortable posture by the tree.
Yet, though he must have been quite uncomfortable had he been awake, Darry slumbered on. Greg came out, looked at Dave and smiled. Then Hazelton, next Dalzell, came outside.
"What is the cot doing out here?" Danny Grin was the first to inquire.
"We had a visit from the prowler in the night," Dick replied, "and Dave and I stayed on guard."
"Was Darry as efficient all through the guard tour as he is just now?" demanded Reade ironically.
"That's all right for you fellows," retorted Dick, "who even slept right past my call for help. Let Dave alone. Let him finish his nap, no matter how long he sleeps."
But at that moment Darrin opened his eyes, then leaped to his feet, a victim of red-faced confusion.
"What are all you fellows laughing at?" Dave demanded.
So far none had done more than grin, but now a very general roar went up.
"I'm a chump, on guard duty, and I admit it," Darrin went on, looking sheepish. "Dick, when you found me asleep why didn't you call me?"
"Because," Prescott answered, "when you went to sleep I judged that you did so because you needed the rest."
"I must have been sound asleep from at least one o'clock in the morning," Dave went on ruefully. "Oh, I am a fellow to be trusted, I am!"
"If you've been sleeping, with your back against that tree, from one in the morning, you must be as stiff and lame as you could possibly be," Reade suggested.
"I am pretty lame," Darrin confessed.
"Are you fellows ever going to hustle about and make some moves toward getting breakfast?" inquired young Prescott.
"What have you been doing in that line?" Danny Grin wanted to know.
For answer Dick Prescott pointed to the merrily blazing campfire and the steaming kettle of water.
"I am ready to do a lot more, too," Dick added, "as soon as the rest of you will show signs of life."
At that there was a general bustling.
"Why didn't you wake me up in time to save me from all the joshing?" Darry demanded, with a note of reproach in his voice, as soon as he got a chance to speak with Dick alone. "Tom Reade won't be through all summer with tormenting me about being asleep at the switch."
"No one would have known anything about it, if you hadn't given it away yourself, both by look and words," Prescott returned. "I hadn't said a word that enlightened anyone."
Breakfast was soon ready, for hungry boys, in the woods, are always ready to eat.
While the meal was being disposed of Prescott told his chums of the visit during the night, and of his own share and Dave's in trying to nab the tantalizing prowler.
"How many such regiments of guards as Darry, would it take to guard this camp properly at night?" asked Tom dryly.
"It seems to me," Prescott remarked, "that you fellows will do very well to sing mighty low about Dave's drowsiness. When I had to call for help last night he was the only one with an ear quick enough to hear me and come to my support. What was the matter with the rest of you, sleepy heads, or did you hear and feel that it might be dangerous to turn out in the middle of the night?"
That last taunt had the desired effect. Darrin was allowed to eat his breakfast in peace.
After the meal was over the boys sat around the camp for a few minutes. Each hated to be the first to make a move toward the drudgery of dish-washing and camp cleaning.
"After we get things to rights," inquired Reade, "what is to be the programme for the day?"
"There's a pond east of us that is said to hold perch," Dave answered. "I'm going to take fishing tackle and go in search of a mess of fish. Anyone going with me?"
"I will," offered Danny Grin.
"As for me," spoke up Tom, "I have a line on a place where blueberries grow in profusion. Harry, will you go along with me and pick berries?"
"If it isn't over five miles away," Hazelton assented cautiously.
"Then what are we going to do!" asked Greg Holmes, turning to Prescott.
"From the plans we've heard laid down," smiled Dick, "I think we will have to stay right here and keep the prowler from dropping in to carry away the rest of our provisions."
"Bother such sport as that!" snorted Greg.
"Humph! It may turn out to be the liveliest sport of all," declared Dick dryly. "Certainly if that fellow turns up it will take two of us to handle him with comfort. He's a tough customer."
"Dan, you always were an artist with a shovel," suggested Darry insinuatingly. "Suppose you get out the spade and see what sort of perch bait you can turn up in this neighborhood."
"Me?" drawled Dalzell protestingly. "Shucks! I'm no good at finding bait. Never was."
"Get the spade and try," ordered Darry. "If you don't find some bait we'll have to put off fishing until some other day."
That brought Dan to terms. He shouldered a spade, picked up an empty vegetable can and started away, while Dave began to sort tackle and to rig on hooks suitable for catching perch. Tom and Harry started in to unpack supplies from a pair of six-quart pails that they needed for the morning's work.
"Say, hear that, fellows!" demanded Tom, straightening up suddenly.
From the distance to the northward came a dull rumbling sound.
"Thunder?" suggested Danny Grin, glancing wonderingly up at the clear sky.
"If there's a storm coming it will upset a day's berrying," Reade announced.
"Fellows," Dick broke in, "it's a rumbling, yet it doesn't sound just like thunder, either. It sounds more like——-"
"Cavalry on a gallop," suggested Greg.
"Just what it does sound a lot like," Prescott nodded. Then he dropped to the ground, holding one ear close to the earth.
"And, whatever the rumble may be," Prescott went on, "it travels along the ground. Just get your ears down, fellows."
"It's something big, and it's moving this way," cried Dave.
"It can't be cavalry," Tom argued. "There are no manoeuvres on; there is no state camp ever held in this part of the state, either. What do you——-"
But Dick Prescott was up on his feet by this time. Furthermore, he was running. He stopped at the base of the trunk of the first tall tree. Up he went with much of the speed of a squirrel. Higher and higher he made his way among the branches.
"Say, be careful there, Dick!" called Tom Reade, warningly. "If you get a tumble——-"
"I'm not a booby, I hope," Dick called down, as he went to still loftier heights. He was now among the slender uppermost branches, where a boy would need to be a fine climber in order to make such swift progress. Even Dick Prescott might readily enough snap a branch now, and come tumbling to earth.
"Stop!" warned Tom. "If you don't you'll butt your head into a cloud, the first thing you know."
"Can you see anything?" called Danny Grin.
"I see quite a cloud of dust to the northward."
"How far off?" asked Dave.
"About a mile, I should say, and it's headed this way, coming closer every minute."
"What's behind the cloud? Can you make out?" Greg bawled up.
"I'm trying to see," Dick replied. "There, I got a glimpse then. It's some kind of animals, heading for this camp at a gallop."
"It can't be cavalry," shouted Reade. "You don't see any men, do you?"
"No," Prescott called down, shielding his eyes with one hand. "Say, fellows!"
"Have you guessed what it is?" demanded Harry Hazelton.
"I know what it is—-now!" Dick answered. Then he began to descend the tree with great speed.
"Careful, there!" shouted Tom Reade. "That isn't a low baluster you're sliding down."
"Keep quiet, until I reach the ground," gasped Dick. As he came nearer those below saw that he looked truly startled.
Then Dick reached the low branches, and began to look for a chance to jump.
"We've got to get out of here, fellows!" he called. "You know the trick that cattle—-owners have in this part of the county of turning their cattle out to graze in one bunch. That bunch is headed this way—-hundreds strong, and it's going to rush through this camp, trampling everything in the way!"
FIGHTING THE MAD STAMPEDE
"Nothing doing, and don't get excited," replied Tom Reade, shaking his head.
"There will be a lot doing in three or four minutes," Prescott retorted excitedly. "The cattle are stampeded, and they'll sweep through here like a cyclone."
"The trees will break up the stampede," Tom insisted coolly.
"Not much they won't," Dick answered. "The cattle are headed along a natural lane, where the trees are less thick than in other parts of the forest."
"The trees will stop 'em before they get here," Reade insisted.
"The trees will do nothing of the sort," uttered Dick, glancing swiftly about him. "The cattle are among the trees already. Just hear that rumble. And it's a lot closer now."
"I reckon we'd better move, do it now, and do it fast," cried Hazelton, who knew that Dick's judgment was generally the best.
"And leave our camp to be trampled down and made a complete wreck by a lot of crazy cattle?" gasped Greg Holmes.
"I'd rather have the camp trampled than my face," retorted Dalzell.
"I don't want to flee from here and leave the camp to be destroyed, and our summer's fun spoiled," protested Greg. "We must stop the cattle, or split their stampede."
"All right, Holmesy," agreed Tom ironically. "I appoint you to do my full share in stopping a stampede of cattle." Reade's face had suddenly grown very grave as he now realized that the trees were not stopping the frenzied cattle.
Dick, who had been thinking, suddenly wheeled, making a break for the supplies.
"Get a box of matches, each one of you!" he shouted. "Then sprint with me for that patch of sun-baked grass just north of us."
"What's the idea?" Dave asked, but Dick was already running fast.
"Get your matches and come on!" Dick called back over his shoulder.
As speedily as could be done the others followed suit. Dick reached the sun-burned strip of grass, whose nearer edge was some two hundred yards north of camp.