Infomotions, Inc.The High School Boys' Fishing Trip / Hancock, H. Irving (Harrie Irving), 1868-1922



Author: Hancock, H. Irving (Harrie Irving), 1868-1922
Title: The High School Boys' Fishing Trip
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): dick; bayliss; dave; bert; prescott; greg; tom; dodge; danny grin; bert dodge; dick prescott; dave darrin; camp; tom reade; gridley high; greg holmes
Contributor(s): Baker, Franklin T. [Editor]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 50,968 words (really short) Grade range: 6-8 (grade school) Readability score: 76 (easy)
Identifier: etext12730
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Title: The High School Boys' Fishing Trip

Author: H. Irving Hancock

Release Date: June 25, 2004  [eBook #12730]

Language: English

Character set encoding: US-ASCII


***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE HIGH SCHOOL BOYS' FISHING
TRIP***


E-text prepared by Jim Ludwig



The High School Boys Fishing Trip
or
Dick & Co. in the Wilderness

By H. Irving Hancock







CONTENTS

CHAPTERS
     I. Tom Reade has a "Brand-New One"
    II. Dodge and Bayless Hear Something
   III. Dick & Co. Driven Up a Tree
    IV. Stalling the Red Smattach
     V. Bert Dodge Hears the Battle Cry
    VI. Paid in Full---To Date
   VII. The Box That Set Them Guessing
  VIII. The Man With the Haunting Face
    IX. The Start of a Bad Night
     X. Powder Mills, or Just What!
    XI. In a Fever "To Find Out"
   XII. Dick Makes a Find
  XIII. Perhaps Ten Thousand Years Old
   XIV. More Mystery in the Air
    XV. The Scream That Started a Race
   XVI. The Camp Invaded and Captured
  XVII. Dick Makes Fish Talk
 XVIII. A Kettle of Hot Water for Someone
   XIX. Bert Dodge Hears Frightful News
    XX. A Frenzied Ride to Safety
   XXI. Real News and "Punk Heroes"
  XXII. Tom Tells the Big Secret
 XXIII. "Four of Us are Pin-Heads!"
  XXIV. Conclusion





CHAPTER I

TOM READE HAS A "BRAND-NEW ONE"


"Hello, Timmy!"

"'Lo, Reade."

"Warm night," observed Tom Reade, as he paused not far from the
street corner to wipe his perspiring face and neck with his handkerchief.

"Middling warm," admitted Timmy Finbrink.

Yet the heat couldn't have made him extremely uncomfortable, for
Tom Reade, amiable and budding senior in the Gridley High School,
smiled good naturedly as he stood surveying as much as he could
make out of the face of Timmy Finbrink in that dark stretch of
the street.

Timmy was merely a prospective freshman, having been graduated
a few days before from the North Grammar School in Gridley.

Tom, himself, had been graduated, three years before, from the
fine old Central Grammar, whence, in his estimation, all the "regular"
boys came.  As a North Grammar boy, Timmy was to be regarded only
with easygoing indifference.  Yet a tale of woe quickly made Tom
Reade his young fellow citizen's instant ally.

"Aren't you out pretty late, Timmy, for a boy who isn't even a
regular high school freshman as yet?" inquired Reade, with another
smile.  "It's almost nine-thirty, you know."

"Don't I know?" wailed Timmy Finbrink, with something of a shiver.
"It's getting later every minute, too, and I'm due for a trouncing
when I do go in, so what's the odds?"

"Who's going to give you that trouncing?" Tom demanded.

"My father," replied Timmy Finbrink.

"What have you been doing?"

"Pop told me to be upstairs and in bed by nine o'clock, without
fail," Timmy explained.  "I came along just five minutes ago,
and found that pop has the house planted for me.  I can't slip
in without his knowing it."

"Oho!  So your father has the other members of the family stationed
where they can see you, whichever way you go into the house?"
asked Reade, with genuine interest in the unfortunate Timmy.

"Nope," explained Timmy, with another shiver.  "Mother and sister
are away visiting, and pop is all alone in the house."

"But he can't watch both the front and back doors at the same
time," Reade suggested hopefully.

"Can't he do just that, though?" sputtered Timmy.  "I've been
scouting on tip-toe around the house to get the lay of the land.
Pop is smoking his pipe, and has placed his chair so that he
can see both the back and the front doors, for he has the room
doors open right through.  There isn't a ghost of a show to get
in without being seen---and pop has the strap on a chair beside
him!" finished Timmy, with an anticipatory shiver.

"Timmy, you're a fearfully slow boy," Tom drawled.

"What do you mean?"

"I can fix it so you can get into the house while your father
is doing something else," Tom declared.

"Can you?  How?  Ring the front door bell, while I slip in at
the back door?"

"Nothing as stale as that," scoffed Tom Reade.  "That wouldn't
call for any brains, you see.  Come along and we'll look over
the lay of the land.  Cheer up, Timmy!  You'll have plenty of
chance to slip into the house, get upstairs, undressed and be
in bed before your father has time to get over the surprise that's
coming to him."

"What are you going to-----" Timmy began breathlessly, but Tom
interrupted him with:

"Keep quiet, and be ready to follow orders fast."

As they gained the front gate of the Finbrink yard Tom's keen
eyes noted a brick lying on the grass.  As that was just what
he wanted, he pounced upon it.

"Now, Timmy, do you know where you can find a fairly good-sized
bottle---without going into the house or taking the risk of being
seen by your father?"

"Yes; there's one back of the house, with the ashes," Timmy answered
eagerly.

"Go and get it, and don't make any noise."

Timmy disappeared in the darkness beyond, but soon returned carrying
an empty quart bottle.

"Good enough!" whispered Reade, eyeing the bottle with cordial
interest.  Then he noiselessly approached the house, laying the
brick on the grass under one of the front windows.

"Now, Timmy, you slip around to the back of the house," whispered
the young schemer.  "Just as soon as you hear a crash you watch
your swiftest chance to slip into the house and upstairs to bed.
Understand?"

"Sure!  What you-----"

"Don't stop to ask questions.  Get on your mark and look out for
your own best interests!"

Rejoicing in the possession of such a valuable ally as Tom Reade,
Timmy vanished in the darkness.  Tom Reade waited until he judged
that the youngster must be in position near the back door.  Now
Tom gripped the bottle in his left hand, crouching over the brick.

With his felt hat in his right hand, Tom reached up, hitting a
window pane smartly with the hat.  At the same instant he brought
the bottle crashing down over the brick.

As the bottle smashed against the brick Mr. Finbrink, in the dining
room of the house, jumped up so quickly that he dropped his pipe.

"Some young rascal has smashed a front window!" he gasped, as
he bolted into the parlor.

That was just what the noise had sounded like, and Tom Reade had
intended that it should do so.

"I'll catch the young scamp!" gasped Mr.  Finbrink, making a rush
for the front door, which he pulled open.

Pausing an instant, he heard the sound of running feet in the
distance.

"The young scoundrel went west, and he has a good start," grunted
Mr. Finbrink, as he gave chase in that direction.  "Hang it, I
don't believe I can catch him!"

That guess proved well founded.  After running a short distance
Mr. Finbrink halted.  He had not caught sight of the fugitive,
nor could he now hear the running steps.

"I wonder how many panes of glass the young scamp broke?" muttered
the irate Mr. Finbrink.

Retracing his steps quickly, Mr. Finbrink halted in front of his
house, scanning the windows.  Not a crack in a window pane could
he discern, which was not remarkable, in view of the fact that
no panes of glass had been broken.

"I need a lantern," Mr. Finbrink said to himself, and went inside
the house.  Soon afterwards he came out with a lighted lantern,
and began his inspection.  Three windows showed no sign of damage.
Nor did the fourth.   Then Mr. Finbrink chanced to glance down
at the ground.  There rested the brick, the fragments of the broken
bottle lying around it.

"Say, what's that?  What's that?" ejaculated Mr. Finbrink, much
puzzled.  Soon, however, he began to see light on the riddle.
His lips parted in a grin; the grin became a chuckle.

"Humph!  That goes ahead of anything I ever had the brains to
think up when I was a boy," laughed the man.  "That's a good one!
It sounded for all the world as though someone had smashed one
of my windows with a brick-bat.  Ha, ha, ha!  That's an all right
one!  I'd be willing to shake hands with the boy who put up that
joke on me.  How about my own Timmy, I wonder?  No; Timmy wouldn't
be smart enough for this one---but he may have smart friends.
I'll look up that young hopeful of mine!"

With that purpose in view, the lantern still in his hand, Mr.
Finbrink passed into the house and then up the back stairs.  On
the next floor he pushed open the door of a room, holding the
lantern high as he scanned the bed.

There lay Master Timmy, covered only with a sheet, his head sunk
in the depths of a pillow, eyes tightly closed, and breathing
with almost mechanical rhythm.

"Oh, you're asleep, aren't you?" demanded his father, in a low,
ironical voice.  "How long have you been asleep, Tim?"

But Timmy's only answer was the beginning of a snore.

"Are you very tired, Timmy?" continued his father craftily.

Still no answer.

Mr. Finbrink held the lantern so that the rays shone fully against
the boy's closed eyelids.  Any youngster genuinely asleep would
have opened his eyes instantly, and Mr. Finbrink knew it.  But
Timmy began to snore in earnest.

"I'm glad you sleep so soundly," went on Mr. Finbrink.  "It shows,
boy, what a clear conscience you have!  No guile in your heart!
But I wish you'd wake up and tell me who broke the bottle against
the brick and made me sprint down the street."

Still young Master Timmy snored.

"In your sleeve you're laughing, to think how you fooled your
father, aren't you?" murmured Mr. Finbrink.  "Well, it was a good
joke, and I admit it, young man, so I'm not going to trounce you
this time.  But I'd be glad if you'd wake up and tell me who put
you up to that game."

Master Timmy, however, was disobliging enough to slumber on.

"All right, then," nodded the father.  "I say again, it was a
good joke.  Good night!"

Only a little louder snore served as the son's answer.  Mr. Finbrink
went out, closed the door and his footsteps sounded down the hallway.

"Whew!" gasped Master Timmy, opening his eyes presently.  "That
was a mighty narrow  squeak!  But I got out of it this time.
That Tom Reade is a sure enough wonder!"

Mr. Finbrink, however, had slipped back, catfooted, and was now
outside the door, where he could hear the barely audible mutterings
of his son and heir.

"So it was Tom Reade, eh?" murmured Mr. Finbrink, as he started
for the stairs in earnest this time.  "I might have guessed it
was Tom Reade.  He has genius enough for even greater things than
that.  But Timmy has certainly helped, at least, to earn a right
not to be strapped this time."  Then the father returned to his
chair downstairs, to resume his interrupted smoke.  Within the
next half hour Mr. Finbrink chuckled many a time over the remembrance
of the pranks of his boyhood days.

"But we had no Tom Reade in _our_ crowd in those good old days,"
he repeated to himself several times.  "If we had had a Tom Reade
among us, I think we would have beaten any crowd of boys of to-day!"

Meanwhile Tom's love of mischief was speeding him into other experiences
ere he reached his bed that night.  Some of the consequences of
his mischievous prank were to be immediate, others more remote.

"Humph!  But that did sound just like a window breaking," Tom
chuckled as he slowed down to a walk.  "Whee!  I'd like to show
that one to Dick Prescott.  I wonder if he is up yet?"

Whereupon Tom walked briskly over to the side street, just off
Main Street, whereon stood  the book store of Prescott, Senior,
with the Prescotts' living rooms overhead.

"Good evening, Mr. Prescott.  Good evening, Mrs. Prescott," was
Tom's greeting as he walked into the store.  "Is Dick up yet?"

"He went upstairs not more than two minutes ago," Mrs. Prescott
replied.  "He can't be asleep yet.  Shall I call upstairs to see?"

"On second thought, perhaps not," Tom replied.  "Thank you, just
as much.  But I've something new that I'd like to show Dick.
Do you mind if I slip out around the back of the store and try
a new trick on him?  It won't hurt anyone; there'll be a crash
of glass, but it won't break any good glass---merely a bottle."

"I think that perhaps our son needs a little enlivening," smiled
Mr. Prescott.

"Thank you," answered Tom.  "You won't be startled, will you,
Mrs. Prescott?"

"I don't see how I can possibly be startled, when I've been so
kindly warned," laughed Mrs. Prescott.

Then, as Reade darted from the store, Mrs. Prescott added, to
her husband:

"I think the back of Tom Reade's head contains more pranks than
that of any other boy I ever knew."

"I don't imagine our own son is any too far behind him," replied
Mr. Prescott dryly.

A minute or two passed.  Then there sounded under one of the store's
rear windows a most realistic crash of glass.  With it mingled
another sound, not so easy to determine, followed by a loud yell
and the noise of running feet.  Now, out in the street the cry
sounded:

"There he goes!  Get him!"

"Throw him down and hold him!" yelled another voice.

"Mercy!" gasped Mrs. Prescott.

"Don't be alarmed, my dear," smiled Mr. Prescott.  "It's only
the natural aftermath of Tom Reade's newest startler."

Was it?

Dick Prescott, after yawning twice, and before starting to disrobe,
had decided that his adjustable screen was not fixed in the window
of his bedroom as securely as it should be.  In endeavoring to
fix it he found it necessary to remove the screen from the window.
Hardly had he done so when, gazing down into the darkness, he
saw a dimly visible figure flitting over the ground below.

"Who's that?" murmured Dick to himself.  "What's up?"

Whoever the prowler was, he was flitting over to the ash cans
set out by a neighbor.  One can contained ashes only, the other
contained various kinds of rubbish.  It took the prowler but a
moment to find an empty bottle in the second can.  Then he came
straight over toward the rear window of the store, which was
situated directly under Dick's own window.

"There's some mischief afloat," murmured Dick, unable to recognize
his chum in the darkness.  "I can't get down in time to catch
him, but I'll mark him so that I'll know him when I overtake him."

Tip-toeing over to his washstand, Dick quickly picked up the water
pitcher.  He returned to his window just as Tom crouched under
the store window with a bottle in his left hand and his felt hat
in his right.

Then Tom struck the harmless blow against the window, at the same
time breaking the bottle.

Smash!

Splash!

"Gracious!" gasped Dick, believing that the store window had been
broken.

A yell from Tom arose as the contents of the pitcher deluged him.

Reade was up and away like a shot, reaching the street only to
cause a hue and cry to be started after him as he ran.

So swiftly had Tom moved, that by the time Dick Prescott reached
the street both pursuers and pursued were a block away and going
fast.  Dick was about to join the chase when his father called
after him:

"Dick!  Dick!  Come back here!"

"Yes, sir," replied young Prescott, halting, wheeling, then springing
back.  "But that scoundrel smashed the rear store window!"

"No, he didn't," laughed Mr. Prescott.  "That was Tom Reade, and
he was playing a trick on you---with our permission.  Now he's
being chased.  Do you want to go out and aid that crowd in capturing
him?"

"Of course I don't, sir," replied Dick, who knew full well that
such a sturdy high school athlete as Tom Reade was in very little
danger of being caught by any citizen runners to be found on the
street at that time of night.  "But what did Tom do, Dad?"

"I don't just know," admitted the bookseller.  "Reade told us
there would be a smash of glass, but that it would be harmless.
He warned your mother, Dick, so that she wouldn't he startled
when it came.  Tom did the right thing in warning your mother.
I wish all boys could realize that only cowards and fools go
about frightening women."

"But something else happened," insisted Mrs. Prescott.  "I wonder
what it was?"

"Suppose we take a lantern and go out in the back yard and see,"
proposed Dick.

While Dick was finding the lantern the elder Prescott closed the
front of the store, also drawing down the shades for the night.

Dick's mother followed him into the rear yard.  The fragments
of the bottle under one of the store windows told the whole story
to one as experienced in jokes as Dick Prescott.

"But see how wet the ground is," Mrs. Prescott remarked after
Dick had explained the trick.

"That was because I didn't recognize the joker, and emptied the
contents of my water pitcher on him just as he broke the bottle,"
Dick smiled.  "Poor old Tom.  That was really a shame!"

"But why did you pour the water on him?" asked Mrs. Prescott.

"Because I felt sure that the prowler was up to some mischief,
and I wanted to mark him for identification, mother," Dick explained.
"If we had found a fellow on the street looking as though he
had just come out of the river, we'd have known our man, wouldn't
we?  Poor Tom!  I don't blame him for letting out that yell when
that drenching splash hit him."

"I hope he didn't get caught by the men who started after him,"
sighed Mrs. Prescott.

"Don't worry about Tom, mother," urged Dick.  "No one about here
could catch him, unless he happened to be a member of the Gridley
High School Eleven!"

But was it true that Tom Reade had escaped without disaster?
That remained to be seen.




CHAPTER II

DODGE AND BAYLISS HEAR SOMETHING


"If we start to-morrow we must hustle all day long to-day," declared
Dave Darrin.

"That's true," agreed Greg Holmes, as the two boys stood on a
side street not far from Main Street in Gridley.

"I wish the rest of the fellows would hurry along," Dave went
on impatiently.

"At all events, I wish Dick would hurry up, as he has charge of
the arrangements," Greg made answer.  "Oh, my!  But I'm getting
anxious to see the fish nibble."

"I thought you didn't care especially about fishing," Dave murmured,
regarding his friend.

"Probably, as far as mere fishing goes, I don't care so very much,"
young Holmes assented.  "But when fishing means weeks of outdoor
life, free from the noise and dust of the town---then I'm simply
wild about fishing as an excuse for getting away.  Probably at
the end of our fun we'll all be so sick of fish, from having had
to eat so much of it, that any one of us will run away and hide
when we suspect that the home folks are planning to send us on
errands to a fish store.  It would be all the same to me if we
were going clamming, or hunting, or on any other kind of expedition,
as long as it brought us to life under canvas and sleeping in
the very place where pure, fresh air is made.  Here comes Dick
now!"

Young Prescott came swiftly up to his friends.

"Well, I think I've gotten about everything fixed," Dick announced.

"Tell us all the plans," urged Greg eagerly.

"What's the matter with waiting until all the other fellows show
up?" Prescott inquired.  "That will save me from having to go
twice over the same ground.  While we're waiting I'll tell you
Tom Reade's latest one."

"A funny trick?" queried Greg.

"Needless question!" rebuked Dave Darrin.  "Tell us about the
latest one, Dick."

Thereupon the leader of Dick & Co. told of Tom's scheme for making
people think one of their windows broken.

"Did it sound real?" Dave demanded.

"Did it?" inquired Dick.  "It fooled me.  I thought surely that
our rear store window had been smashed to pieces.  The sound is
as natural as any joker could wish.  But I haven't told you the
other half of the story."

Thereupon Dick told about the pitcher of water dumped so unerringly
on Tom, and of Reade's flight with the crowd pursuing him.

"I'd like to have been near enough to hear just what Tom said
when the water struck him," laughed Darrin.

"Did the people running after him catch him?" asked Greg.

"I don't believe so," Dick Prescott smiled.  "When Tom gets under
way in earnest, his middle name, as you may have observed, is
Double Speed---and then a bit more."

"Who's talking about me?" gruffly demanded Reade, coming up behind
the group.  "Dick, you old rascal!  That was a mean trick you
played upon me when you hurled that water down on me last night!
But say, didn't it sound just like a three dollar pane of glass
going to pieces?"

"It certainly did," laughed Prescott.  "And by the way, Tom, did
the water, when it struck, make you think at all about what you've
read of Niagara Falls?"

"Hang you!" grumbled Tom, shaking a fist.  "Why did you pour the
wet stuff on me like that?"

"Because I was fooled myself," Dick promptly rejoined.  "I thought
some rascal was plotting mischief to the store.  I wanted to mark
that rascal with a suit of wet clothes, then run down in the street
and collar him with his wet clothes on as a marker.  But Dad called
me back, and so I missed you.  I heard the crowd after you, however.
Did you get caught, Tom?"

Reade's answer was something of a growl.

"What happened between you and the crowd?" pressed Darrin, scenting
some news from Reade's mysterious, half-sulky manner.

"Never you mind," Tom growled.

"Don't tell us," Dick urged.  "We can guess a few things, anyway.
You've a bruised spot over your left cheek bone that looks like
the mark of a punch on the face."

"Go ahead and tell us what happened, Tom," urged Greg.

Reade only scowled.

"Anyway, you must have avenged yourself," Dick smiled.  "Just
look at the way the knuckles of your right hand are skinned.
You certainly hit someone hard."

Tom flushed quickly as he glanced at the knuckles in question,
then thrust his right hand into his pocket with an air of indifference.

"Be a good fellow and tell us the finish of the adventure," begged
Darrin.

"Certainly," grinned Reade.  "The end of my adventure was-----"

"Yes, yes!" pressed Greg, as Tom hesitated.

"The end of the adventure came," Tom continued maliciously, "when
I turned out the gas in my little room and hopped into bed.  I
slept like a top, thank you."

"Now, now, now!" Dick warned him. "Thomas, you're hiding something
from us!"

"If I am, it's my own business, and I've a right to hide it,"
retorted Tom, smiling once more, though still uncommunicative.

At this moment Hazelton and Dan Dalzell, otherwise known as Danny
Grin, came up.  They, too, had to hear all about the bottle-breaking
trick.

"How did you ever come to think of a thing like that, Tom?" asked
Harry Hazelton.

"I thought of it before I tried it out at Dick's," Reade rejoined,
and explained how he had helped Timmy Finbrink out of a scrape.

"What did you say the fellow's name is, Tom?" Dick asked.

"His name is Timmy Finbrink," Reade rejoined, "and he looks the
part. Just one glance at Timmy, and you know that he's all that
the name implies."

Then followed, for the benefit of the two latest arrivals, the
story of Tom's attempt in the rear of the Prescott bookstore.

Harry and Dalzell duly admired the bruise on Tom's face.

"Now, be a gentleman, Tom," urged Harry mischievously, "and let
us have a good, satisfying look at your skinned knuckles."

"Umph!" grunted Reade.

"Or, at least," pursued Harry relentlessly, "tell us just what
it was into which you ran to get such a mark on your face."

"Umph!" retorted Reade once more.  "Danny, in the name of mercy,
take that grin of yours around the corner and lose it!"

"I'll try," promised Dan, "provided you'll tell us who caught
you last night, and why he punched your face."

But Tom, knowing that he had them all wild with curiosity, refused
to reveal the secret.

"Now, let's get back to the big fishing trip," begged Greg Holmes.
"Dick, what's the plan?"

"We start to-morrow," Prescott rejoined.

"Humph!" grunted Holmes.  "We knew that all along.  What we want
are the particulars in detail."

"In the next place, then," Dick replied, "we shall devote a good
deal of our time, while away, to the pleasurable excitement of
fishing."

"Perhaps you won't be able to get away," Greg retorted, "if you
go on stringing us in that fashion.  I warn you that we're becoming
impatient."

"That's right," nodded Dave Darrin.  "Get down to actual particulars,
Dick."

"Well, then," Prescott resumed, "we meet at the same old grocery
store in the morning.  There we stock up with food."

"Are we going to hire a horse and wagon for transporting our tent,
cots, bedding and food?" Dan asked.

"No," Dick replied.  "I've been thinking that over, and the funds
won't stand it.  So I've rented a push cart for two dollars.
We can keep it as long as we need it.  The tent, folding cots,
blankets, pillows and kitchen utensils will go on the cart."

"Do we have to push that cart?" demanded Danny Grin, looking displeased.

"We do, if we want the cart to go along with us," Dick admitted.

Danny Grin groaned dismally as he remarked:

"That one detail of the arrangements just about spoils all the
pleasure of the trip, then."

"No, it won't," Dick reported promptly.  "I've looked into that.
The wheels are well greased---the axles, I mean.  I've loaded
the cart with more weight than we shall put on it, and it pushes
along very easily.  If we come to a bad stretch of road, then
two fellows can manage the cart at a time.  The scheme saves us
a lot of expense, fellows."

"Will all the food go on the cart, tool" asked Dave.

"Each one of us can carry some of the food,"  Dick replied.

Then his eye, roving from face to face, took in the fact that
his chums were not impressed with the proposed method of
transportation.

"Cheer up, fellows," he begged.  "You'll find that it will be
pretty easy, after all."

"I'd rather believe you, Dick, than have it proved to me," was
Tom Reade's dejected answer.  "I thought we were going away for
pleasure and rest, but I suppose we can work our way if we have to."

None of these high school boys are strangers to our readers.
Everyone remembers the first really public appearance of Dick
& Co., as set forth in the first volume of the "_Grammar School
Boys Series_."  Then we met them again in the first volume of
the "_High School Boys Series_," entitled, "_The High School Freshmen_."
That stormy first year of high school life was one that Dick
& Co. could never forget.  In the second volume, "_The High School
Pitcher_," we found Dick & Co. actively engaged in athletics,
though in their sophomore year they did not attempt to make the
eleven, but waited until the spring to try for the baseball nine.
In the third volume, "_The High School Left End_," Dick & Co.
were shown in their struggles to make the eleven, against some
clever candidates, and also in the face of bitter opposition from
a certain clique of high school boys who considered themselves
to be of better social standing than Dick and his chosen comrades.

In the "_High School Boys' Vacation Series_" our readers have
followed Dick & Co. through their summer pleasures and sports.
In the first volume of this present series, "_The High School
Boys' Canoe Club_," the adventures are described that fell to
the lot of Prescott, Darrin, Reade and the others in the summer
following their freshman high school year.  In the second volume,
"_The High School Boys In Summer Camp_," our readers found an
absorbing narrative of the startling doings of Dick & Co. in the
summer following their sophomore year.  And now, in this present
volume, we at last come upon our young friends at the beginning
of their vacation season after the completion of  their junior
year, with its football victories.  Now they are budding seniors,
ready to enter the final, graduating class of Gridley High School
in the coming autumn.

As Dick looked into the faces of his chums he laughed.

"So you don't like the push-cart idea, eh?" he demanded.  "All
right; if you fellows would rather loaf than eat-----"

"We can hire a horse, and still have money enough left to eat,"
protested Tom.  "See here, Dick, although fishing is great fun
while it lasts, we shan't be out all summer on a fishing trip.
We don't need such a lot of money for, say, only a two or three
weeks' trip."

"Yes; I think two or three weeks will see us in from our fishing
trip," Prescott admitted.  "But if we do come back early, fellows,
then we shall need some other kind of a trip for August, won't we?"

"Say, that's right!" cried Dave Darrin, his eyes glistening.
"Fellows, we are troubled with wooden heads.  While we've been
thinking of nothing but a fishing trip in July, Dick has actually
had the brains to figure out that we might like to go away on
some other kind of outing in August."

"Such an idea did occur to me," replied Dick.

"What's the scheme for August, Dick?" demanded Greg eagerly.

"Out with it!" insisted Hazelton.

Dick shook his head.

"Now, don't be mean," insisted Danny Grin.  "Dick, you owe it
to us, almost, to let us get a little look at the machinery that's
moving in the back of your head."

"I haven't an August plan---at least, not one that is clear enough
for me to submit it and put it to vote before you," Dick went
on.  "Fellows, let's set about this present fishing trip, for
this month, and then, while we're away, talk up the proper scheme
for August.  Whatever we do in the way of fun, next month, will
be sure to be better planned if we wait a little before talking
it over."

"All right, then," agreed Tom Reade with a sigh.  "But I warn
you, Dick, and all you fellows, that if Prescott is too stingy
with news about his August plan, I shall put forth one of my own."

"What's your August plan, Tom?" demanded Greg.

"I'm not going to tell you---yet," Reade rejoined, shaking his
head mysteriously.

"There are a lot of things that you're not telling us," Dave reminded
him.  "Just for one little thing, you're not telling us what happened
to you last night after you let a lot of strange men chase you
out of Dick's street."

"They didn't chase me off the street!" declared Tom indignantly.

"Then what did happen?" quizzed Danny Grin.

"They all tried to beat me in a foot race," Tom declared, "and
I put it all over them!"

"Yet someone must have passed you, or got in front of you," teased
Greg.  "Look at the bruise on your face, and your knuckles."

"Oh, that happened when-----" began Tom, then paused abruptly.

"Yes, yes," pressed Danny Grin.  "Tell us about it."

"All right," agreed Tom, "I will.  You see, when I got home and
into bed, I had a sort of nightmare.  Just suppose, for instance,
that the mark on my face is where the nightmare kicked me and
that I skinned my knuckles against the bedstead when I tried to
jump over the bed to return the nightmare's kick."

"Tom Reade," called Dave sternly, "hold up your right hand!"

"Look out, Darry!  You're not going to ask Tom to swear to the
truth of a yarn like that, are you?" asked Dick anxiously.

"You may let your hand down again, young man," decided Dave, and
Tom, as his hand reached his side, heaved a sigh expressive of
great relief.

"Now, have you fellows got your tackle all ready?" Dick went on.
"Remember the different things in the way of tackle that each
of us was to bring."

The others assured their leader that the matter of tackle had
been attended to.

"Then your bedding and your clothing are the only other matters
to be considered," Dick went on, "as we're to travel light."

"As we don't take a horse along," suggested Tom, "then I take
it that we are not going to carry any planking for a tent floor."

"We can't very well do that," Dick answered him.  "Fellows, the
real thing for us to do, on this trip, is to learn how to move
fast and light.  We must learn how to do without many things and
yet have just as good a time."

"I think that's good sense," murmured Dave.  "At the same time,
I'll admit, at first blush, that I don't care particularly for
the motion of the push cart.  That means a lot of extra work for
us, if we change camping sites often."

"Then let's put it to a vote whether to hire a horse and wagon,
and give up the idea of an August trip," proposed Dick.

"No need whatever of taking any vote," broke in Tom.  "All of
us want that August trip, too, and we know that we haven't purses
as big as a bank's vault."

And that opinion prevailed, without dissent.

"Greg's house ought to be the best place to keep the push cart
over night," Dick continued.  "I'll have the cart there at four
this afternoon.  Suppose you fellows meet us there, with your
bedding and clothing for the trip?"

This also was agreed upon.

While the boys stood there chatting not one of them suspected
how eagerly they were being watched by two pairs of eyes.

On the same side of the street, only a door below them, was an
unrented cottage.  One of the windows of this cottage, upstairs,
was open, though closed blinds concealed the fact.  Between these
blinds peered two young men.

That cottage was the property of Mr. Dodge, vice-president of
one of Gridley's banks.

Readers of "_The High School Left End_" have good reason to remember
the banker's son, Bert Dodge.  He and his friend, Bayliss, also
the scion of a wealthy family, had been members of the notorious
"sorehead" group in the last year's football squad at Gridley
High School.

As our readers well remember, Dodge and Bayliss had carried their
opposition to Dick & Co. to such dishonorable extent that they
had been given the "silence" by the boys and girls attending the
Gridley High School.

Dodge and Bayliss had thereupon left home to attend a private
school, and they had gone away from Gridley with bitter hatred
of Dick & Co. rankling in their hearts.

Just at this present moment Dodge and Bayliss were back in the
home town.  Deeply and properly humiliated by the contempt with
which they were regarded in Gridley, these two "soreheads" had
concealed from all but members of their families the fact that
they were in town.

Bert had secured from his father the keys of the cottage.  Two
cots had been placed in a front room.  Late the night before
Dodge had brought food supplies to the cottage.  Here the two
youngsters were to remain secretly for a few days until Bayliss
received from his family, then abroad, the money needed for his
summer outing.  What the elder Dodge did not know or even suspect,
was that his son and Bayliss had returned with some half-formed
plans of paying back old scores against Dick & Co.

"I knew this cottage was the place for us," Bert whispered.  "As
I told you, Bayliss, this corner is a favorite meeting place for
Prescott and his fellow muckers."

"From what I hear, they're going to leave town for a few weeks,"
replied Bayliss.

"Yes; going out into the wilds on some sort of fishing jaunt."

"I wish we knew their plans better than we do," murmured Bayliss.

"Don't believe they know 'em themselves any too well," sneered
Bert Dodge.  "However, we don't need to know where they're going.
We can follow 'em, can't we?"

"Yes; and get jolly well thumped for our pains, maybe," retorted
Bayliss dryly.

"Well, if you're afraid, we'll let 'em depart in peace," mocked
Bert.

"Who's afraid?" demanded Bayliss irritably.

"I hope you're not," retorted Bert Dodge.

"If you're not afraid---if you're as thoroughly game as I am---then
we'll have some satisfaction out of those fellows."

"Lead me to it!" ordered Bayliss hotly.

"I will, to-morrow morning," promised Bert Dodge.  "If you stick
to me, we'll make those muckers sorry they ever knew us!"

"We must be under way by nine o'clock," the listeners heard Dick
say.  "We go west, over Main Street.  We must start promptly,
for we have sixteen miles to go to our first camp at the second
lake in the Cheney Forest."

"Do you hear that?" whispered Bert.  "The idiots have given us
their full route!  We can leave at four in the morning, and won't
have to follow 'em at all.  We can be there ahead of time, and
have all the lines laid."

"Somehow," sounded Dave Darrin's voice, "I have a hunch, fellows,
that we're going to have the finest time we ever had in our lives."

"We would have," sighed Tom Reade, "if it weren't for that push
cart."

"At four o'clock this afternoon, then, and be prompt," called
Dick, preparing to leave the others.

"Wait a moment," urged Dave.

"What's the matter?" inquired Dick, halting.

"Tom's just on the point of telling us what really happened to
him last night," smiled Darry.

"Humph!" grunted Reade, walking briskly away.

"I can tell what's going to happen to 'em all on some other nights,"
whispered Bert Dodge in his friend's ear.

"To get square with those muckers, who drove us out of Gridley
High School and out of town is my only excuse for living at present,"
sniffed Bayliss.




CHAPTER III

DICK & CO. DRIVEN UP A TREE


"Dick!"

"Yes?" replied Prescott, turning and looking back at Tom, whose
turn it now was to furnish motive power to the loaded cart.

"How far did you say it was from Gridley to the second lake?"
asked Reade.

"Sixteen miles."

"I've pushed the cart more than that far already," grunted Tom.
"I'm willing to wager that the lake is more than a hundred and
twenty miles from Gridley."

"Suppose it is," scoffed Dave, falling back beside the cart "Tom,
just think of the fine training your back muscles are getting
out of this work!"

"I'll tell you all about that, Darry," grumbled Reade, "when you've
had your turn for ten minutes.  How much longer does my turn run,
Dick?"

"Five minutes," replied Prescott, after glancing at his watch.
"Are you going to be able to hold out that long?"

"Yes; if I live that long," sighed Tom.

Dick and Hazelton had each taken their fifteen minute turns at
pushing the cart.  The boys had already put some distance between
themselves and Gridley.  Dick & Co. were tramping down a well-shaded
road bounded by prosperous-looking farms.  Two miles further on
the boys would branch off through a long stretch of woods where
the road was rougher.  Here two youngsters would be needed for
the work, one pushing, while the other hauled on a rope made fast
to the front of the cart.

Five of the boys were well laden with miscellaneous packages of
food.  Tom, on account of pushing the cart, had been permitted
to place his load on the already well-packed cart.

"Time's up," called Dick.  "Dave to the bat."

Smiling, Darry packed his own parcels in the cart.

"Whew!  But it's good to get away from that thing," grunted Reade,
mopping his forehead, as he stalked on ahead.

"Here, you, Tom!" called Danny Grin.  "Take your personal pack
off the cart and tote it like the rest of us."

Reade turned a comically scowling face to Dalzell.

"Danny," he demanded rebukingly, "why couldn't you hold your tongue?"

"Because, when I'm working hard, I don't like to see you shirk,"
replied Dalzell with a complacent grin.

"But consider Darry," urged Reade.  "Note how strong, lithe and
supple he is.  Boy, he is much better fitted for pushing my personal
pack on the cart than I am for carrying it."

"Stick a pin in the chat, Tom," advised Darrin briefly, "and take
your truck off the cart.  I want to begin enjoying myself."

"I'd carry twice as much as I have to, just for the sheer joy
of hearing you kick like a Texas maverick by the time you've had
the cart handles for two minutes," laughed Tom, as he took his
own parcels off the cart.  "Now, David, little giant, let us see
you buckle down to your task---like a real or imitation man!"

Darry braced himself, gave a hitch, then started forward briskly.

"Get out of the way, you loiterers!" called Dave, overtaking Tom
and Greg and shoving the front end of the cart against them.
"Don't block the road!"

"That's what comes of hitching an express engine to a freight
load," grunted Reade, as he made for the side of the road, brushing
his clothes.

There was bound to be a lot of "kicking" over the work of handling
the push cart, but Dick & Co. were in high spirits this hot July
morning.

Weeks before, when first planning this trip, all had begun to
"save up" toward outfits of khaki, leggings and all, and blue
flannel shirts.  These khaki clothes made the most serviceable
of all camping costumes.

"I begin to feel like a soldier," laughed Dick contentedly.

"So do I," agreed Tom Reade.  "I feel like a poor dub of a soldier
who has been sent to march across a continent on the line of
the equator.  I believe eggs would cook in any of my pockets!"

"Cut out all the grumbling and the discomfort talk," warned Dave
Darrin.

"Well, I don't know that I need to grumble, if you can feel contented
behind that old cart," laughed Reade.  "How does it go, Darry?"

"I haven't begun to notice, as yet," replied Dave coolly.

Tom eyed him suspiciously.

"Darry," he remarked presently, "you're talented."

"In what way?" Dave inquired.

"You're one of the most talented fibbers I ever encountered.
You've been pushing that cart all of four minutes, and you pretend
that you don't notice the work."

"I expected to work when I left home," Darrin informed him.  "If
I hadn't felt that I could endure a little fatigue, then I'd have
remained at home and looked for a job sleeping in a mattress factory's
show-room."

Tom subsided after that.  Dave's fifteen minutes were up presently,
but he declined to accept relief at the push cart until they reached
the point where their road branched off on to the rougher highway.
Now, Greg and Hazelton took the cart, Greg at the handles, Hazelton
pulling ahead on the rope.

Thus they went along, for some five minutes, when Dick, who was
in the lead, reached a small covered bridge over a noisy, rushing
creek.

Just as Dick gained the entrance to the bridge his gaze fell upon
a large white sheet of paper tacked there.  The word "Notice,"
written in printing characters, stared him in the face.

Dick read, then called back quietly:

"Halt!  Here's something we've got to look into at once."

The cart handlers willingly enough dropped their burden.  All
hands crowded forward to read what was written underneath on the
sheet of paper.  It ran thus:

"All passers-by are cautioned that a mad dog, frothing at the
mouth, has passed this way, going west.  Officers have gone in
pursuit of the animal, but passers-by may encounter the dog before
the officers do.  The dog is a huge English mastiff, without collar.
Turn back unless armed!"

"Fine and cheery!" exclaimed Tom Reade, looking rather startled
despite his light comment.

"And, just as it happens, this is the only road in the country
that we want to use just at present," commented Dick Prescott.

"Shall we go ahead, keeping a sharp lookout?" asked Dave.

"I don't know," Dick muttered.  "We'll have to think that over
a bit."

"There are six of us, and we can cut good, stout clubs before
we proceed farther," suggested Greg Holmes.

"Yes, and probably, if attacked, we could finish the dog," Dick
went on.  "Yet, most likely, before we did kill the brute, he'd
have bitten at least one of us."

"I'll go on, if the rest of you fellows want to," observed Danny
Grin.  "At the same time, it looks like taking a big chance, doesn't
it?"

"It's taking a chance, of course," Dick admitted.  "The dog may
be running yet, and we might never get within ten, or even twenty,
miles of him.  Or, the officers may have caught and killed the
brute by this time.  Or, the mastiff might bound at us from the
woods at any moment now."

"Whether we go back or keep on, we're fairly likely to meet the
mad dog," suggested Tom.  "Mr. Chairman, I rise to move, sir,
that we cut clubs at once, and do the rest of our talking afterwards!"

"The motion is seconded and carried," called Dick, darting into
the woods.  "Come on and find the clubs."

Less than forty seconds afterwards each of the six boys was cutting
a stout sapling, which he forthwith trimmed.

"I believe I could kill anything but an ox with this," observed
Reade, eyeing his bludgeon.

"Look out!" called Danny Grin, as if in alarm.

In a twinkling Tom dropped his club, dashed at a young oak tree
and began to climb, thinking that the dog had suddenly appeared.

"Stop that nonsense, Dan---and everyone of you!" called Dick sharply.
"Let no one knowingly give any false alarms, or we might disregard
a real warning when it comes."

Tom sheepishly dropped to the ground, picked up his cudgel, then
gazed at Dalzell with a look that had "daggers" in it.

"I'll owe you one for that, Danny Grin," Reade remarked, "and
I'm always careful about paying my debts."

"Now that we have our clubs," suggested Dick, "let's get back
to the road and discuss what we're going to do."

"Surely," hinted Dave, "we can find some other road and keep on
our way."

"Undoubtedly," Greg nodded.  "But the mad dog might cross through
the woods and be found waiting for us on that other road.  Or,
he may now be headed for the second lake, or even be there now."

"Let's vote on what we're going to do," urged Hazelton.  "Dick,
what do you say?"

"I don't know what to say," their young leader answered.  "I don't
like to see our party cheated out of our vacation.  Neither do
I care to take too many chances of having our vacation changed
into a tragedy.  I've never had hydrophobia, but I've a strong
notion that it wouldn't be pleasant.  I know just how you fellows
feel.  You hate to lose your fun."

"We do hate to lose our fun," agreed Darry.

"And yet you don't want to have an encounter with a dog that has
hydrophobia."

"We don't," approved Tom Reade.  "Dick, you have a truly wonderful
intellect when it comes to successful guessing."

"There's a cloud of dust up the road to the west," discovered
Greg Holmes.

In an instant all eyes were turned that way.

"Can that be the dog?" asked Darry.  "Something is traveling this
way and stirring up a lot of dust."

Whatever the moving object was, it appeared to be half a mile
away up the straight, dust-covered road.

"Until we find out what it is," Dick suggested, "I believe that
tree climbing will prove healthful exercise."

Quickly they moved the push cart a little to one side of the road.
Then they ran for trees, but every member of Dick & Co. retained
his hold on his bludgeon.

The dust cloud was coming nearer.  From the elevation of his perch
in a tree Dick soon discovered and announced:

"It's a horse and wagon coming this way."

"Maybe it's the officers returning from the hunt," suggested Reade,
who was on a lower limb of the next tree.

"There's only one man in the wagon, and he's whipping up the horse,"
Dick announced.

"There are good enough reasons for the man wanting his horse to
hurry," chuckled Danny.

"Maybe the dog is in pursuit now," hinted Darrin.

Dick, who had the best view of the road to the westward, peered
carefully.

"I don't see anything to suggest a pursuing dog," Prescott made
answer.  "If the dog is near, he must be running under the trees
along the side of the road."

Greg climbed up beside his leader.

"Why, that man has stopped whipping the horse," young Holmes declared.
"And is lighting his pipe.  That doesn't look as though he were
very much scared about anything."

"We'll stay where we are until we've talked with the man," Dick
decided.

Just before reaching the other end of the covered bridge the driver,
a farmer, and with what looked like a light load of farm produce
in the body of the wagon, slowed his horse down to a walk, at
which gait he drove over the bridge.  Then, sighting the boys
up in the trees, and each with a club, he reined up.

"Hello, boys!" he called drawlingly.  "Who's been a-chasing you?
What scared you?"

"Read that notice, sir, tacked up at the bridge entrance," urged
Dick.

Alighting, and drawing a pair of spectacles from a vest pocket,
the farmer complied.

"Mad dog, eh?" he drawled.  "Sho!"

"Did you see anything of the brute?" called Darry.

"No; I didn't," answered the farmer.  "Don't believe there is
any mad dog along the way, either.  I've reined up and talked
with neighbors during the last hour and a half along the way.
They didn't mention nothin' 'bout any peevish dogs.  Now, it
stands to reason that the officers would have stopped and warned
folks along the road, don't it?  And the neighbors would have
passed the gossip with me, wouldn't they?"

"Didn't you see any officers coming from this way?" asked Dick.

"Nary one," rejoined the farmer.  "Only fellers that passed me,
coming from this direction, was two young dudes---I sh'd say about
your ages.  They was in a high-toned speed wagon-----"

"Automobile?" asked Reade.

"Said so, didn't I?" drawled the farmer.  "Them dudes looked mighty
tickled about something.  They was laughin' a whole lot and looked
mighty well pleased with themselves.   Do you reckon they was
any friends of your'n, trying to have fun with you?"

"I can't recall any friends who would try to put up such a pleasant
surprise for us," said Dick dryly, as he slipped down to the ground.
"What did the fellows in the automobile look like, sir?"

That farmer possessed well-developed powers of observation, as
was proved by the minute descriptions he gave of the two young
men.

Dick's chums, who had now joined him at the roadside, looked puzzled.
Then light dawned in Tom's eyes.

"Jupiter!" cried Reade.  "If it weren't that they're not in this
part of the country, I'd say that the pair were Dodge and Bayliss!"

"How do you know they're not in this part of the country?" asked
Prescott dryly.  Then, of the farmer, he further inquired:

"What kind of a car were they driving, sir?"

"A red Smattach, last year's model," answered the man.

"That's just what the Dodge automobile runabout is, and Smattach
cars are not common in this section," muttered Prescott.  Then
he went over to take a keener look at the written notice on the
sheet of white paper.

"This looks like disguised handwriting; it's backhanded," Dick
mused aloud.  "But I notice one thing peculiar.  Who makes a funny
little  quirl at the beginning of a letter 'm,' such as you see
in this writing?"

"Bert Dodge!" flashed Dave Darrin, an indignant light flashing
in his eyes.  "So we're six simpletons, held up by his shady tricks,
are we?  If Bert Dodge is anywhere ahead of us on the road, then
I hope we have the good luck to meet him under conditions where
he can't jam on the speed and get away from us!"

"Joke on you all, is it?" asked the farmer, grinning quizzically.

"It looks like it," admitted Dick sheepishly.  "You're sure that
none of the folks west of here heard anything of a mad dog, are
you?"

"Pretty sure," nodded the farmer.

"Then this notice isn't really needed up here," replied Dick,
carefully pulling the tacks, after which he folded the paper and
tucked it in one of his pockets. "We're mightily obliged to you,
sir."

"Oh, you're welcome," grinned the farmer, as he gathered up the
reins over his horse.  "I've got to be getting along.  I'm late
in Gridley now."

"If that man is too talkative in Gridley, folks will hear how
we got sold," yawned Tom, gazing after the farm wagon.  "Then---my!
Won't folks be laughing at us?"

"It's a mean trick," cried Dave indignantly. "I wish I had that
Dodge fellow here, right now!  I believe that I'm master of enough
English to convey to him an idea of just what I think of him!"

"I wouldn't waste any of my carefully acquired English on him,"
growled Tom Reade.

"What would you do---skin your other knuckles?" inquired Danny
Grin innocently.

"We're wasting too much time punishing a fellow who isn't here,"
Dick broke in.  "Let's get forward.  After another mile Dalzell
and I will take the cart and get it over some of the ground.
Now, forward, march!"

It was noticed that Dave Darrin walked with clenched-fists.  Tom
took long strides that carried him in advance of the others.
Dick Prescott was mostly silent, yet in his eyes there was a steady
light, and a grim look about his mouth, that bespoke the possibility
of some inconvenience to Bert Dodge and his friend, should that
pair fall into the hands of Dick & Co. within the next hour.

At noon Dick & Co. halted.  Under the shade of a group of trees,
close to a roadside spring, they built two small fires.  Over
one they made coffee; over the other, they fried bacon and eggs.
This, with bread, constituted the meal.  A brief rest, then on
they went once more.

It was toward five o'clock when Dick and Tom, who knew the road
from having tramped over it before, announced that they were less
than half a mile from the point where they would turn in to go
to the second lake.

At this time Greg and Dan were managing the push cart.  Tom and
Dick strode on ahead,  watching for the first sign of the path
that should lead down to their intended camp site.

Suddenly, however, Prescott seized Reade by the arm, halting him.

"What's the matter?" asked Tom.

"Sh!---" Dick piloted his friend in behind a line of bushes, then
went cautiously ahead.

"Look over there!" whispered Dick.

Tom Reade gave a start when he found himself gazing at a red
runabout that stood just off the road and apparently deserted.

"Humph!  That's a Smattach, too," declared Tom.  "It must be the
Dodge car.  Bert and Bayliss must be somewhere about."

Dick stood surveying the car with speculative eyes.

"I know what you're thinking about," Tom whispered.  "Wait; I'll
go back and halt the fellows and bring Dave forward with me."

In a few moments this had been done.  Darry gazed at the red Smattach
with gleaming eyes.

"This is surely our chance!" he muttered.  "Now, what can we do?"

All three were silent for a few moments.  Then Tom Reade smote
his thigh with one hand.

"I have it," he muttered excitedly.

"Then don't be stingy with your secret," urged Dave.  "Out with
at least a part of it."

For some moments Dick, Dave and Tom remained engaged in a rapid
interchange of whispers, all the time glancing about them.




CHAPTER IV

STALLING THE RED "SMATTACH"


"That's the very thing!" muttered Tom Reade at last.

"It can't get us into any scrape with the law, can it?" queried
Dave Darrin, with almost unwonted caution.

"I don't see how it can," smiled Dick Prescott.  "I'm no lawyer,
but I can't see how our trick, the way we intend to play it, can
be called a breach of the law."

"Let's not lose any time with the game," urged Reade.  "Let's
get in and do it before Dodge and Bayliss come back.  I wonder
where they are, anyway?"

"I don't care where they are," said Dave, "as long as they keep
away from here until we're through with what we intend to do."

From its place in the runabout car Tom drew forth a wheel-jack.
This he and Dave fitted under an axle, raising the wheel half
aft inch off the ground.  Dick rapidly remove the tire from that
front wheel.

By the time he had finished Tom ran with the jack around to the
other front wheel, removing the tire from it also.

As the red runabout carried no extra tires the little car was
now hopelessly stalled until relief was brought to the scene.

"Now, I'll slip back and bring the fellows on," Dick whispered.
"Tom, you take Dave down to the camp site.  I'll be right along
with the other fellows."

Tom and Dave started along the forest path, each carrying a tire
slung over one shoulder.

Dick, darting back, brought up the other fellows.  All took a
gleeful look at the red Smattach as they passed, then hurried on.

Down to a level bit of ground at the lakeside Dick led the last
of his friends.  Tom and Dave were already there, the two pneumatic
tires standing against the trunk o a tree.

Dick's first move was to take a rope from the cart.  This, after
being passed through the rubber tires, was tied between two trees,
clothesline fashion.

"Now, let's rustle all the stuff off the cart," urged Dick.  "Be
quick about it.  We want the tent up in good shape before darkness
falls."

It is not much of a trick to raise a tent twelve feet by twenty,
when there are six pairs of hands to do it.  The two centre poles
were adjusted to the ridge-pole, and all three were pushed in
under the canvas.

"Up with her," called Dick.

As the tent was raised, Tom and Greg were left holding the centre
poles in place.  With a sledge Dick drove a corner stake, and
a guy-rope was made fast to it.  One after another the remaining
corner stakes were quickly driven and the ropes made fast.  The
tent would now stand by itself.

Dick and Dave, Tom and Greg now attended to two stakes at a time,
making the other guy-ropes fast.

"Danny, you may set in all the wall-pegs," said Dick, standing
back to survey the really neat job.

"I've been thinking-----" began Dalzell.

"Then let Hazelton do the wall-pegging," retorted Dick tersely.

"I've been thinking-----" Dalzell went on, "that it would be awfully
funny, wouldn't it, if that red Smattach belonged, not to Dodge,
but to some fellow we've never seen before?"

"It would be inexpressibly funny!" growled Tom Reade.  "And what
would be funnier than anything else would be our frantic efforts
to make a satisfactory explanation."

"We could be arrested for theft, couldn't we?" asked Greg, glancing
up apprehensively from the side wall pegging.

"Hardly that," replied Dick, with a shake of his head.  "Theft,
as I understand it, usually carries with it the sale of the plunder,
or its concealment.  We have hung up the tires where anyone who
is interested may see them.  Still, it would be awkward making
explanations to strangers, and we'd all feel mighty cheap."

"Then maybe we'll have our chance to feel that way," suggested
Danny Grin, his mouth opening still wider.

"Don't waste your time on pleasant thoughts, like that," grunted
Reade.  "Try to think of something sad."

"If it's the Dodge car, could Bert make any trouble for us?" Darrin
wanted to know.

"Hardly," answered young Prescott.  "We've simply played a clever
trick on Dodge and Bayliss.  As our excuse we could point out
a trick they palmed off on us earlier in the day.  We'd be quits.
You needn't fear Dodge.  Never, since that time when he got so
awfully beaten over the assault charge he made against me, has
he felt that he wanted to face me in court again."

"You fellows wait here, and don't be worried if I don't come back
soon," interposed Darry suddenly.

"What are you going to do?" demanded Tom Reade.

But Dave had slipped away.  When he chose to be as mysterious
as that, Dick Prescott knew better than to question his chum.

Rapidly the work of straightening camp proceeded.  Dave was back
in a little more than half an hour.  Yet he returned so noiselessly
that he was in camp before the others realized his presence.

"Well-----?" asked Dick eagerly.

"Come into the tent, fellows," whispered Dave.

When Darrin had them inside he went on, in a low voice:

"It's the Dodge car, all right.  I hid behind a tree nearby the
car and waited until they returned.  When they found the front
tires missing they were furious.  Bayliss said we fellows had
done it, but Bert said he didn't believe we were anywhere near
here as yet.  I slipped away and left them arguing.  Dodge wants
Bayliss to walk to the nearest place where he can telephone to
a garage to send a man out with new tires.  Bayliss says it's
the Dodge car, and Bert can do the walking.  It looks as though
they would come to blows, and, as I've been gently reared, with
a distaste for fighting, I slipped away."

"If they want to come down and look along the edge of this lake,
they'll soon find out where their tires are," Dick Prescott chuckled.
"But they'll have to come right in here to camp and ask for their
property."

"Which they won't greatly care about doing," laughed Reade.

"Let them stay away until their nerves improve, then," said Dick
briefly.  "Now, let's see; we've got to set up the cots and bedding,
and get the two lanterns filled and trimmed for the evening.
That ought not to take many minutes."

Nor did it.  When this had been done, Dick asked:

"Fellows, you know what we came here to do?  Fish wouldn't taste
bad for supper, would it?  Which two of you want to go and try
your luck for perch?  They'll bite, even after dark."

Tom and Hazelton made a hasty selection of tackle, also producing
a can of bait that had been brought along from Gridley.

Then Tom and Harry disappeared, taking with them one of the lanterns.
A quarter of a mile below the camp were the ruins of an old pier
from which they could cast their lines.

Where the perch are plentiful there is little skill involved in
such fishing.  Perch will bite after dark.  The hook is baited
and dropped in.  The fish take hold greedily, rarely falling from
the hook afterward.

While Tom and Harry were still fishing darkness fell.  The two
Gridley boys fished on in silence, adding frequently to the two
crotched stick "strings" that flopped on the end of the pier.

"We've thirty-nine perch.  That's enough, even for a hungry crowd
like ours," said Tom at last, after lighting the lantern.

"Here is the fortieth, then," called Hazelton, as he felt a tug
at his line.  He landed a pound perch almost under Tom's nose.

"Good enough business, this," declared Tom contentedly.  "I hope
the fellows have everything else ready."

Tom carried the lantern; each boy carried a string of fish.  As
they neared camp, Danny Grin espied them, and ran forward to
see the size of the catch.

"Here they are!" called Dalzell.  "They've fish enough to feed
a fat men's boarding house!"

"Bring them here," called Dick from a board beside which he and
Greg crouched, each with a knife in hand.

One after another the fish were scaled and cleaned with a speed
known only to old campers.  Dave had two frying pans hot over
a fire. In went the perch, sputtering in the fat and giving forth
appetizing odors.

"My, but they're going to taste good!" declared Danny Grin.

Leaving Greg to finish with the cleaning of the fish Dick passed
to another campfire, throwing into a hot pan the material for
fried potatoes.

Ere long the meal was on the table---two boards placed across
the tops of two boxes.  It was a low table, but it served the
purpose.

"My, but this fish tastes good!" murmured Tom Reade, as he picked
a piece of fried perch free of the backbone and began eating it.

"We'll all of us find it the best meal ever, just because we've
tramped far enough and worked hard enough to make any kind of
decent food taste great," Dick smiled.

The supper over, and one of the campfires replenished, all six
of the youngsters took the dishes down to the lake, carrying along
two kettles of hot water, where a general dish-washing ensued.
With so many to do the work, the camp was spick and span within
twenty minutes.

"Now, I'm going to enjoy one thing that I haven't had all day,
and that's some real rest," Prescott declared, throwing himself
down upon the grass.  "I don't believe I shall move until bedtime."

But he did.  Already trouble was hovering over the camp.  From
out of the darkness beyond three pairs of eyes studied the campers
in silence.  One pair belonged to Bert Dodge, another the young
Bayliss, and the third to a man of about middle age.

Dodge and Bayliss were thoroughly angry.




CHAPTER V

BERT DODGE HEARS THE BATTLE CRY


Ten minutes after Dick had thrown himself on the grass a rustling
was heard above the camp.  Then down the slope strode three figures.

Dick sat up, regarding the visitors in silence until they came
within the fringe of the light of the campfire.

"Hello, Dodge," was Prescott's ready greeting.  "I didn't hear
you knock."

"Then maybe you will, before long," retorted Bert, in a voice
of barely suppressed fury.  "Prescott, you sneak, how long since
you have added grand larceny to your other bad habits?"

"Try that over again," requested Dick calmly.  "I don't believe
I quite catch you."

"Yes, you do," Dodge retorted.  "Come now, no lying about it."

"The nearest that I come to understanding you, as yet," Dick answered
in an unruffled voice, "is that you appear to be trying to be
offensive."

"I'll be more than offensive with you, before I get through!"
cried Bert, his temper rising.

The third member of the visiting party was a man of about forty
years, of sandy complexion and with a stubby, bristling red moustache.
He looked like a man who had been born a fighter, though his
face expressed keen attention rather than a desire to be quarrelsome.
In dress this man looked as though he might be a farmer.  Dick
and his friends judged the man to be a rustic constable.

"A nice trick you played on us!" Bert went on angrily.  "You took
our front tires off the wheels of the car and ran away with them."

"Easy!  Careful!" Dick smilingly advised.  "Did anyone see us
take the tires off and run away with them?"

Bert looked astonished, then gulped chokingly.  Did Prescott and
his friends intend to deny the charge?

"No one had to see you take the tires," Bert went on angrily.
"All that is necessary is for us to discover the merchandise
on you!"

"Then you have missed some tires, and you think I'm wearing them?"
Dick chuckled.

"Don't try to sneak, lie or equivocate" commanded Bert Dodge,
his face flushing with anger.  "Those are my tires hanging from
that line!"

"Are they?" Prescott inquired, in a tone of the mildest curiosity.

"You know they are!"

"Then, if the tires are your property, just help yourself!" Dick
coolly answered.  "If they are your tires, I will even offer to
forego making any storage charges for the time they have been.
hanging there."

"Hang you!" choked Bert

Then he turned to the man with them, demanding:

"Don't you see a pretty clear case of grand larceny here?"

"I can't sa-ay that I do---yet," drawled the stranger.

"You'll never see a clearer case!" quivered young Dodge.

To this the stranger did not reply.  He had been looking over
this sextette of high school boys, and if one might judge from
his face, the man seemed to be rather favorably impressed by Dick
& Co.

"If these are your tires," Dick went on smoothly, "would you mind
removing them from our camp?"

"I won't," Bert answered hotly.  "You fellows, who stole the tires,
will take them back to the car from which you stole them, and
there you will put the tires on again."

"You've missed some part of the idea in your haste," declared
young Prescott.

"What do you mean?" gasped Dodge.

"I mean simply that we'll have nothing whatever to do with taking
back the tires, or putting them on your wheels."

"Then I'll see what I can do to punish you all!" flared Bert hotly.
"You're none of you any better than a lot of low-lived thieves!"

The situation was growing too warm for Dave Darrin, though Dick
was still smiling.

Darry jumped to his feet, advancing upon Bert Dodge, who retreated
a couple of steps.

"Dodge," Dave began, "you want to put a halter on your tongue.
You can't come here to this camp and call too many names.  You
don't amount to much, of course, and nothing that you know how
to say should be treated very seriously.  It would be hard for
a rascal like yourself to be really insulting to anyone possessed
of the average degree of honor.  But we came up here for pleasure
and rest.  Both your face and your voice---not particularly your
words---are disturbing.  If those are your tires, kindly take
them and get out of camp!"

"You fellows will carry the tires back to the road, and you'll
put them on the wheels," retorted Dodge hoarsely.

"As Dick has already told you, we'll do nothing of the sort,"
Dave flashed back at him.  "All we want, Dodge, is for you to
get out of this camp.  Incidentally, if you want the tires, we
shall offer no objections to your taking them with you."

"What have you to say to that?" demanded Bert hotly, turning to
the man with the stubby red mustache.

"It seems to me like good judgment," replied the stranger.

"You say that?" screamed Bert, going into a blind passion.  "Is
that what we brought you here for?"

"I don't really know what you did bring me here for," replied
the stranger.  "All I know is that you stopped me, when I was
driving past with my load of produce for the Gridley markets,
and you offered me two dollars to come down here and not say much
unless I was spoken to.  I didn't come until you paid me the money.
It was good pay, and I'll stay here an hour longer if you really
think I owe you that much time."

"You're not a constable, or a sheriff's officer, are you, sir?"
asked Dick pleasantly.

"Not unless someone made me one when I wasn't looking," replied
the stranger, with a shrewd smile.

"I understand," nodded Prescott.  "This fellow Dodge hired you
to come down with him for more than one reason.  In the first
place, he and Bayliss were afraid to come here without backing.
For another thing, Dodge thought that we'd guess you to be a
constable, and I'll admit that I did mistake you for an officer
at the outset.  Dodge thought your presence would frighten us.
You look like a decent man, sir, and I'm sorry to see you in
such company.  These two fellows were chased out of the Gridley
High School just because they were considered unfit to associate
with the members of the student body."

"That's a lie!" sputtered young Dodge.

"If you want to find out, sir, whether I'm speaking the truth,"
Dick went on, looking at the stranger, "just ask any well-informed
citizen of Gridley whether Bert Dodge and his chum, Bayliss, were
really chased out of the Gridley  High School.  You'll soon discover
who the liar is---Dodge or myself."

"Hang you!" roared Bert, advancing with fists clenched.  "I'll
punch your head off your shoulders!"

"Wait one moment, though," advised the stranger, stepping between
Dick and Bert.  "Here, young man!"

"What's this?" Bert demanded, as the stranger forced something
into one of his hands.

"It's the two-dollar bill you handed me," replied he of the stubby
moustache.  "I reckon that I made a mistake in taking it."

"Aren't you on my side any longer?" gasped Bert, in utter
astonishment.

"I reckon not," was the crisp answer.  "I didn't realize that
I was in such bad company."

"But you've only that mucker's word against mine!" cried Bert,
flying into another rage.

"I've watched you both, and I'm a pretty good judge of human nature,"
replied the farmer.  "I prefer to believe this young man that
you seem to dislike so much."

"You're a nice one---you are!" uttered Bert, glaring in disgust
at the ally on whom he had counted.

"Perhaps you can calm down, Dodge, long enough to listen to reason,"
Dick suggested.  "First of all, I am going to admit that we did
remove the front tires of your car and that we  brought the tires
here and hung them on that line."

"Do you hear that?" demanded Dodge eagerly, turning once more
to the farmer.  "They admit stealing my tires."

"I didn't quite notice that the young man went as far as to admit
theft," the farmer replied.  "What I heard was that these young
men took your tires.  As yet I haven't heard their reason for
removing the tires of your car."

"The reason for doing so was," Dick went on coolly, "that we had
some questions to ask of this fellow Dodge.  We knew that if he
had to come here to look up his tires, we'd have a chance to ask
the questions.  Dodge, you thought you were having fun with us
when you decorated the entrance to that covered bridge with your
notice about a rabid mastiff at large in that part of the country,
didn't you?  You thought that a mad-dog scare would send us
helter-skelter home.  If it gives you any satisfaction, I'll admit
that the notice did startle us for a brief time.  But we soon got
at the truth of the matter, and learned that posting the notice was
your act."

"Can you prove it?" sneered Dodge.

Ignoring the question, Dick went on:

"Perhaps, had your trick affected only ourselves, then the trick
would have been only a piece of meanness without any very serious
results.  But are you sure, Bert Dodge, that no one but ourselves
was alarmed by that notice?  Do you know whether any woman traveling
over the road may have seen that notice, and then, noticing any
strange dog trotting in her direction was frightened, into convulsions,
or actually frightened to death?  Do you know whether some man,
traveling along the road on really important business, read the
notice and was afraid to continue on his errand, thereby losing
a good deal of money through your foolish trickery?  Do you know,
for certain, that twenty serious consequences to other people
have not followed on the heels of your stupid, senseless joke?
Have you any way of being certain that the sheriffs officers
are not already searching industriously for the two foolish young
fellows who took so many desperate chances in attempting such
a 'joke' as that of which you two fellows were guilty?"

"Who's going to prove that Bayliss or I put up that notice?" sneered
young Dodge.

"There's at least one witness," Dick answered, "who would testify,
at any time, that he passed by you on the road when you were both
laughing loudly over a joke you had played.  Then there's the
notice itself.  A handwriting expert could swear that it was done
with a pen held by your hand."

"Where's the notice?" asked Bayliss suddenly.

"It's where we can produce it at any time that it's wanted," Prescott
made reply.  "If anyone has been injured, Dodge, in health or
in business, by your stupid, brainless bit of horse play and meanness,
then I imagine that you'll find yourself in for a serious time
of it.  So now you know why we took the tires off your automobile.
We knew that our campfire would show you the way to our camp,
and that you'd surely be here to hear what we had to say to you.
Dodge, we don't care particularly for you, or for Bayliss, either,
but if the warning I've given you about pasting up such lying
notices to scare people traveling over a public highway is of
any use to you, then you're welcome to what you've learned."

The coolness of this proposition was such as to take Bert's breath
away for a few seconds.  When he recovered, he turned to the
red-moustached farmer, sputtering:

"Well, what do you---you think of that cast-iron nerve and cheek?"

"If the facts have been correctly stated," replied the farmer,
"I believe these young men have done you a service, and that you'd
show more of the spirit of a man if you admitted it."

"Humph!" muttered Dodge.

"Humph!" echoed Bayliss.

Then, enraged at the tantalizing smile on Prescott's face, Bert
lost all control of himself.

Striding over, he shook his fist before Dick's face, at the same
time shouting:

"All you need is a trimming with fists, and I'm going to give
you one---you hound!"




CHAPTER VI

PAID IN PULL TO DATE


Then, struck by a sudden consideration of prudence, Bert stepped
back two or three feet, looking appealingly at the farmer.

"Will you stay here long enough to see fair play done?" Dodge
demanded of the farmer.

"If there is going to be a boxing exhibit, with plenty of science,
and all fair play," grinned the farmer, "I don't believe there
are enough of you young fellows here to chase me away.  Start
things moving as soon as you like."

With that the stranger drew out a pipe, which he proceeded to
fill and light.

"Get yourself in shape, you mucker!" breathed Bert fiercely, pulling
off his coat and tossing his motoring cap after it to the ground.
"Come on---get ready!"

"I'm no rowdy," Dick declared coolly, making no move to put himself
in readiness.

"No; you're a coward, with a long line of talk, but no spirit
in you!" jeered young Dodge.

"If I'm a coward, what possible glory would there be in your fighting
me?" Dick smiled.

"Let me have the sneak!" begged Dave, stepping forward, but Dick
pushed his churn back.  Tom Reade took tight hold of Dave's right
arm.

With the prospects of an encounter vanishing, Bert Dodge's valor
went up tenfold.

"Get up your guard!" he roared.  "I've been taking boxing lessons
and I want to teach you one or two things."

"I haven't been taking any boxing lessons lately," Dick remarked
with composure.

"Oh, that's why you're afraid to act at all like a man, is it?"
scoffed Bert in his harshest voice.

"No; my main reason for not caring to fight you, Dodge, is that
I don't like the idea of soiling my hands."

"What's that?" screamed Bert in added fury.  "You insult
me---you---you mucker?"

"If I'm a mucker, then you don't need to feel insulted at my opinion
of you," Dick suggested, with a smile.

But this hesitancy on the part of Prescott was filling Bert Dodge
with more valor every instant.

"Prescott, I've owed you something for a mighty long time," quivered
Bert.  "And now it's coming!  Here it is!"

He aimed a savage blow at Dick.  Young Prescott, who had really
doubted that Dodge had courage enough to invite a fight, was not
expecting it.  The blow landed on Dick's chin, sending the leader
of Dick & Co to the ground.

"Now, get up and answer that---you---you sneak!" dared Bert exultantly.

Dick was on his feet fast enough, side-stepping just in time to
dodge a follow-up punch.

"Dodge," Dick remarked, as he threw up his guard, "there, is still
time for you to beat it out of here if you don't want to take
the consequences of that blow."

"You put me out of here!" Bert retorted defiantly.

Though Dick was quivering with indignation, he still hesitated
to spring at Dodge.  Dick didn't want to fight, on the sole ground
that he felt too much contempt for his opponent.

"Come, on, you mucker!" challenged Bert, dancing about Prescott.
Then Dodge delivered two swift, straight-from-the-shoulder blows.

Of a sudden Dick jumped into the fray.

"Good!" quivered Darry, his eyes flashing.  To Dave's way of thinking,
Dick's swift vigorous defence should have followed that first
knock-down.

"Come on, you mucker!" taunted Bert, while the interchange of
blows now became fast and furious.  "If there's anything you know
how to do in this game, let us see what it is!  Trot it out!"

"I'll attend to my side of this match," said Dick quietly.  "My
advice to you is that you keep quiet and save your wind for your
own protection."

"Bosh!  You can't do anything to anyone in my class!" sneered
Bert.  Indeed, young Dodge's address to his task opened up
particularly well.  Dodge was rather heavy for his years, and he had
been doing some good training work through the spring and early
summer.

Dick, who was lighter and not noticeably quicker, confined himself,
at the outset, to his old tactics of allowing his opponent to
tire himself.

Bert, however, was soon quick to discover this.  He moderated
the savagery of his own attack somewhat, sparring cleverly for
a chance to feint and then land a face blow.

Dick gave ground readily when it served his purpose, though he
did not run.

"Keep back, fellows!" called Tom Reade.  "Don't get near enough
to interfere with either man."

"Don't interfere with either the man or the thing, you mean,"
interposed Danny Grin.

"Shut up, Dalzell!" ordered Reade with generous roughness.  "Remember
that you're not fighting Dodge, and that it's unfair to say anything
to anger him.  Be fair!"

Though Dick's chums followed the fighters, at a generous distance,
they would have noticed, had they been less intent on the work
of the combatants, that Bayliss kept well on the outskirts of
the crowd.  Bayliss didn't want to attract any dangerous notice
to himself, nor was he at all sure that the farmer would interfere
to see fair play for Dodge's side.  In this, however, he really
wronged the farmer.

In giving ground Prescott stepped backward, his feet becoming
entangled with a vine running along the ground.

Down went Dick, just in time to save himself from a savage blow
in the face.

"Stand up to the fight, like a man!" roared Dodge, for he felt
that he was winning.

Dick drew himself to his knees.  Ere he could gain his feet Bert
landed a smashing blow on his left cheek.  Down went Dick again.

"Stop that sort of thing, Dodge!" flared Dave Darrin.  "Either
man who goes down must have safety until he's on his feet again."

"Shut up!" flared Bert, but this time he waited, afraid to try
to hit his opponent until Dick was on his feet.

"Can't Dodge run his own fight, hang you?" Bayliss demanded.
This was the first word he had had the courage to utter.

Quick as a flash Dave wheeled, running toward Dodge's companion.

"This isn't wholly Dodge's fight, Bayliss," Darry cried, his anger
at a white heat.  "Prescott has some rights in the game, and you
know it, too."

"You're too fresh!" snapped Bayliss.

"You're no good, Bayliss," Darry remarked contemptuously.

"You're a sneak and a liar, and so-----"

"And so I shall claim some of your time just as soon as Dick and
Dodge have finished," retorted Darry coldly.  "Don't forget that,
Bayliss, and don't show yourself up by trying to run away."

With that Darrin stalked back to watch the finish of the present
affair.

Dick, on his feet again, renewed the battle in earnest.  He found
Dodge a really worthy opponent.  Both boys soon had bruised faces
to show.

Smash!  That blow, delivered by Bert, almost ended the fight.
Dick staggered backward, the blood beginning to flow from his
nose.

Dodge followed it up, driving in another hard blow.  The pain
stung Dick, not to madness, but into a more resolute defense,
with more of offense in it.

Then Dick so manoeuvred that he had Dodge between himself and
the shore of the lake.  This advantage gave young Prescott slightly
higher ground on the gentle slope toward the lake.  Bert tried
to manoeuvre for a more level footing, but Prescott drove him
slowly backward.

Suddenly one of Dick's blows landed, with staggering force, on
the tip of Dodge's chin.  Bert went to earth, rolling over as
he struck, and  lying face downward.  He was not knocked out,
but he had had enough.

For a moment or two Dick glanced down at his adversary in cold
contempt.  Then suddenly, without a word, he bent over, seizing
Dodge by the shirt collar and belt, and threw him sprawling out
into the lake.

Young Dodge landed some distance from the bank.  There was a loud
splash and a yell from the vanquished one, then a gurgling noise
as Bert's mouth went under water.  He disappeared under the black
surface of the lake.

Dick waited calmly, ready to go to Dodge's assistance if needed.
Bert, however, rose quickly, the water not much above his knees.

"You loafer!" hissed Dodge, dashing the water from his face.

"Haven't you had enough?" asked Prescott mildly.  "Didn't the
water cool you off?"

Dodge didn't reply, but he walked a few steps away before attempting
to step on dry land, thus avoiding his late opponent.

"That little business is all over," declared Tom Reade coolly.
"Bend down by the water, Dick, and I'll wash your nose with my
handkerchief.  Greg, bring one of the lanterns here."

"Now, I guess it's time for our practice, Bayliss," Dave announced,
stepping over to Bert's companion.

"I've got to look after Dodge," mumbled Bayliss.

"No, you don't!" Dave warned him.  "After the kind of language
you have used to me you can't slip out of trouble quite so easily
as all that.  Get ready."

"Quit---can't you?" protested Bayliss.

"No; not unless you'll admit that you lied when you applied
disagreeable names to me," said Dave Darrin firmly.  "Bayliss,
are you ready to admit that you are a liar?"

"You bet I'm not!" cried the other hoarsely.  "Then back up your
words!  Ready!  Here's something coming!"

That "something" arrived.  Bayliss fairly gasped as Darrin started
in on him.

But Dave drew back, holding up his fists.

"You didn't get started fairly, Bayliss,"  Darry declared.  "I
want you to have as fair a show as possible.  Draw in a deep breath.
Fill your lungs with air.  Plant your feet firmly.  Put up your
hands."

Patiently Darry waited for perhaps three quarters of a minute.

"Now!" he said at last.

Then the fight went on, but it was one sided.  Had Bayliss done
himself justice, it might have resulted in a draw, at least, for
Bayliss was strong and quick.  But he lacked courage.

Presently Bayliss, considerably battered, though not as severely
punished as Dodge had been, went down to his knees, nor would
he rise.

"Going to get up and go on?" demanded Darry, pausing before him.
"Or do you quit?"

Bayliss, breathing hard, did not answer.

"What you need here," declared the farmer, stepping forward and
puffing slowly at his pipe, "is a referee.  I'll take the job.
Bayliss, if you believe that you can do anything more, then the
place for you is on your feet.  I'll give you until I count five."

Deliberately the farmer counted, but Bayliss remained on his knees.

"Bayliss loses," announced the farmer.  "Not that I believe he
ever had much in the fighting line to lose, but he loses."

"I'll wait five minutes for him," offered Darry.  "By that time
he'll be in shape to go on again."

"He's in good enough shape now," declared the self-appointed referee.
"The point is that Mr. Bayliss hasn't any liking for boxing.
He's the kind of young man that finds croquet strenuous enough!"

The four recent combatants now had some repairing to do.  Dick
and Dave were attended by their own friends.  The farmer offered
to help Bert Dodge ease his bruises.  Greg made a tender of his
services to Bayliss, but was gruffly repulsed.

"Everything is over," called the farmer at last.  "I must wake
up my horses and get on to Gridley.  Young gentlemen, I'm much
obliged for the rest that my horses have had, and also for my
entertainment.  Dodge, I don't believe you're really worth an
ounce of soda crackers, but I realize that you don't feel as bright
as usual, so I'm going to help you get the tires on your car."

Reaching up, the farmer untied one end of the line on which the
tires hung.  Letting the tubes fall at his feet.  The man then
drew a card out of his pocket and handed it to Reade.

"That will tell you who I am, if you ever want to find me," suggested
the farmer.

"George Simpson," said Tom, reading the card.  "Mr. Simpson, we're
certainly glad of having had the pleasure of meeting you."

Reade thereupon gravely introduced the other members of Dick &
Co.

"Glad to have met you, boys," said Simpson, picking up the tires.
"Now, come along, Dodge and Bayliss, if you want my help, for
I really must be moving."

"This hasn't been such a dull evening, after all," jovially commented
Tom Reade, after the late visitors had vanished into the darkness
surrounding the camp.

"I'm sorry for the fighting, though," mused Dick aloud.  "I don't
enjoy anything that makes bad blood, or more bad blood, between
human beings."

"You couldn't do anything else but fight," retorted Greg sharply.

"That's the only reason why I fought," Prescott rejoined.

Half or three quarters of an hour later two resonant honks sounded
from the red Smattach automobile up at the roadside.  Dick & Co.
rightly judged that Simpson had taken this means of signaling
them that the Smattach car was ready to go on its way again.

"What's the matter with Mr. Simpson?" Tom demanded at the top
of his voice.

From the throats of all of Dick & Co. came the ready response!

"He's all right!"

Honk!  honk!  honk!  Mr. Simpson had heard this tribute to himself.
Then the chugging of a starting car was heard.  The noise soon
sounded fainter, then died away.

"That's the last of the firm of Dodge and Bayliss for this season!"
chuckled Dave Darrin.

In this conclusion, however, it was wholly probable that Darry
was wrong.  He would have been sure of it, himself, had he been
privileged to hear the talk of Bert Dodge and his companion as
the enraged and humiliated pair drove swiftly over the rough road
on their way back to Gridley.

"I can't think of anything bad enough to call Dick Prescott,"
growled Bert, who sat at the steering wheel.

"Don't try to," grumbled Bayliss.  "It would poison your mind."

"The mucker!"

"The sneak!"

"The coward!  He fights only when he has his gang with him."

"I don't see what the high school fellows can find to admire in
that crowd," quivered Bayliss, tenderly fingering his damaged
eye.

"Never mind what anyone thinks of them!" raged Bert Dodge.  "We've
nothing but our own side of the affair to settle!"

"What do you mean?" asked Bayliss curiously.

"Bayliss, what do you think I am?"

"Oh, I guess you're a pretty good sort of fellow, Bert."

"Do you think I'd let business like to-night's go by without
resenting it?"

"Are you going to try to take Prescott on again?" Bayliss asked
wonderingly.

"I'm not a fool!" retorted Dodge indignantly.  "Prescott might
thrash me again.  Bayliss, I'm going to hit him with the kind
of club that he can't beat!"

"Is the club big enough to take care of Darrin, too?"

"I'm after the whole Prescott gang, for good measure!" Bert raged.

"What are you going to do?"

"I'll let you in on it, Bayliss, when I have all the details
planned---if you've nerve enough to do a man's part---of which I'm
not too sure," Dodge finished under his breath.

"You may count on me for anything---anything that is prudent!"
Bayliss declared.




CHAPTER VII

THE BOX THAT SET THEM GUESSING


"Look at that!" cried Tom Reade, leaping up from the breakfast
table so precipitately that he overturned his cup of coffee.

"What?" demanded Greg.

"Didn't you see that---out on the lake?" Tom demanded.

"I didn't see anything," Greg admitted.

"There it goes again!" cried Tom.

"Oh, I saw something rise from the water and fall back again,"
continued Greg.

"Do you know what it was?" Reade insisted.

"No."

"That was a black bass!" declared Reade, as though it were one
of the seven wonders of the world.

"Keep cool, Reade," chaffed Danny Grin.  "We all knew, that there
are fish in the lake."

"But black bass-----" choked Tom.

"Are they any better eating than any other fish?" asked Hazelton.

"Not so much better," Reade confessed.  "But black bass are gamey,
and hard fish to land when you hook 'em!"

"They're no better food, but it's harder work to get them," laughed
Greg.  "Sit down, Tom, and keep cool"

"No real fisherman would ever talk that way," Tom insisted indignantly.
"The greatest charm about fishing comes in hooking and landing
the really good fighting fish!"

"How much does a black bass weigh?" asked Greg.

"That one probably weighed four pounds.  Look!  look!  There he
goes again.  Did you fellows see him?"

"There isn't any four pound fish in water that can give me a fight,"
Danny Grin asserted solemnly.  "I'd be ashamed to talk about having
a fight with a four pound fish.  It looks small and mean to me."

"Well, go after some bass, if they're so easy to catch," urged
Greg.  "I'll look on and see if you've over estimated your ability
as a fisherman."

"You're a fine fisherman, aren't you?" demanded Tom scornfully.

"No fisherman at all," Holmes promptly confessed.

"If you knew the A-B-C of fishing," Reade continued, "you'd know
that one must have a boat in order to go after bass."

"Don't they ever come near enough to shore to be caught without
the aid of a boat?" Danny Grin demanded.

Tom snorted.

"Tell me," insisted Dalzell.

"You're stringing me," protested Tom.

"No; I'm after information," Dan asserted.

"If you really don't know," Tom resumed, "I'll tell you that
black bass are generally caught only by trolling for them.  That
is, if I fish for bass I've got to keep playing my line over the
stern while someone else rows the boat."

"You've a positive genius for picking out the easy half of the
job," Danny Grin murmured admiringly.

"The trolling part of the job merely looks easy," Tom went on,
good-humoredly.  "The fellow who is doing the fisherman act must
have all the brains, while the fellow at the oars may be a real
dolt, for all he has to know.  I'll take you out with me after
black bass, Danny, if we can get hold of a boat one of these days."

"Who'll do the rowing?" asked Dalzell suspiciously.

"Naturally you will," was Reade's answer.

"Can't we find a boat somewhere about here?" asked Hazelton eagerly.

"I haven't seen one on any part of the lake that is visible from
here," Prescott put in.  "I don't know why, but this so called
second lake doesn't seem to be a popular spot.  There isn't a
house to be seen anywhere along the shore on either side, and
I doubt if there's a boat on this sheet of water."

"I don't believe there is a boat, either---and just look at that!"
cried Reade, as three distinct splashes about an eighth of a mile
out showed how frequently the bass were leaping.

"It's tough---not to have a chance at good sport!" declared Dave
Darrin impatiently.  "We fellows ought to search this old shore,
anyway, to see if we can't find some sort of craft."

"Come along, then!" urged Tom, leaping to his feet.  "I can't
stand this state of affairs much longer.  Look at that, out there.
Four bass jumping within fifteen seconds.  This is cruelty to
fishermen!"

"Tom, you take Dan and Harry, and go up along the shore," proposed
Dick.  "I'll take the others with me, and we'll go down along
the shore.  Each party will walk and search for half an hour,
and then return, unless we find a boat sooner."

"Aren't you going to leave someone to watch the camp?" asked Danny
Grin.

"It is hardly necessary," decided Prescott.

"But Bert Dodge-----" suggested Greg.

"For Dodge to be out here so early he'd have to be up by five
in the morning, and make an early start," Dick rejoined.  "I don't
believe he's industrious enough for that."

"The camp will be all right," Dave agreed.

"Of course," Tom assented.  "Anyway, there's nothing here worth
stealing that would be small enough to carry away."

"Except the food," hinted Danny Grin.

"This is too far off the main roads for tramps to come this way,"
Dick replied.

So Dalzell, with a sigh, rose to accompany Reade and Hazelton.

Dick and his two companions thoroughly explored the shore as far
as they went on the lower part of the lake.  From time to time
Prescott consulted his watch.  In all the time that they were
out they passed only one building, a tumble-down, weather-beaten
shack that looked as though it had not been inhabited in twenty
years.  Not even a vestige of a craft was found.

"It's time to go back," said Dick at last.  "Too bad we couldn't
find anything."

"There must have been boats on this lake at one time," hinted
Dave, "or else there wouldn't be that broken-down old pier near
the camp."

"I guess there was a time when this lake was a fishing ground
to supply the Gridley and other near-by markets," Dick went on.
"But, fellows, there's a curious thing about these fish markets
that I don't know whether you've noticed.  There are several fish
stores in Gridley, and yet in all of them you couldn't buy a pound
of fish except the kinds that are caught in salt water.  I wonder
if there are any fish markets in this part of the country that
make a specialty of fresh-water fish?"

More slowly, Dick, Dave and Greg retraced their steps.

"Hoo-hoo!  Hoo-hoo!" signaled Dick as they neared their camp.

From away up the shore the answering "hoo hoo!" came faintly.

"Tom didn't give up the search as easily as we did," commented
Dave.  "Poor old chap, he will be seriously disappointed if he
hasn't found something that will float.  He's the one sincere
fisherman of the crowd, and the bass certainly have hypnotized
him."

"Race you back to camp," offered Dick.

"Come back," laughed Dave, "and make a fair start."

But Dick kept on, laughing back at his distanced comrades.  Prescott
ran like a deer, as was to be expected from one who had played
left end on the invincible Gridley High School eleven.

Just as he bounded on to the camp ground Dick's glance fell on
a packing box some four feet long.

"This doesn't belong here," he muttered, bounding forward, then
dropping on one knee beside the box.

In amazed wonder he read the following inscription, from a card
tacked to the box:

"Will Dick Prescott accept the enclosed and keep it as trustee
for Dick & Co.?  From a most appreciative friend---two of them,
in fact!"

"Now, what on earth can this be?" Dick demanded, as Dave reached
his side.

Darry read the message on the card with growing wonder.

"Greg," directed Dick, "trot into the camp and get a hammer and
the cold chisel.  Hustle!"

Full of curiosity, Greg Holmes carried out the order at a run.

"Here you are!" panted Holmes.

Dick took the cold chisel, placed the edge against one side of
the lid, and was about to strike the first blow when Darry snatched
the hammer from his hand.

"What ails you?" Prescott demanded.

"Suspicion," Dave replied dryly.  "In fact, I've a bad case of
suspiciousness."

"What are you talking about?" Dick insisted.

"I don't know," Dave admitted.  "But I've something of a shivery
hunch that perhaps we'd better not open that box."

"What, then?  Toss it into the lake?"

"Even that might not be as foolish as it sounds to you," Darry
went on.  "How do we know what that box contains!"

"We never will know until we open it," declared Greg impatiently.

"And then we might be mighty sorry that we opened it," Dave continued.

"You think that there is something suspicious about the box?"
queried Prescott.

"Oh, the box looks all right," Dave laughed.  "But the contents
might prove more than a disappointment.  A real danger, for instance."

"Do you really think so?" Dick mused wonderingly.

"Well, let's not be too rash," Darrin urged.  "When I try to think
of the friends who might take the trouble to come away out here
to leave something for us, about the dearest friends I can think
of are---Dodge and Bayliss."

"And what would they leave in the box for us?" pondered Prescott.

"Anything from a nest of rattlesnakes to an infernal machine,"
Greg Holmes suggested.

"That doesn't sound quite reasonable," Dick replied slowly.  "Neither
Dodge nor Bayliss amount to much, and both fellows are pretty
mean; but do you imagine they would dare do anything that might
come very close to murder?  I don't."

"Oh, well, open the box, then," Dave agreed.  "Whatever may be
in it of a dangerous nature, I'll stand by and take my share of it."

"A few minutes won't make any difference," said Dick, rising and
dropping hammer and chisel.  "We'll wait until the rest of the
fellows come in, and then we'll hold a pow-wow and vote on what's
to be done."

"Tom!  Oh, Tom!  Fellows!  Hoo-hoo!" roared Greg, making a megaphone
of his hands.

"Wha-at's wa-anted?" came Reade's hail, still from a distance.

"Hurry up!" yelled Greg.  "Hustle.  Big doings here!"

"Have you found a boat?" came Tom's query.

"No!  But---hustle!  Run!"

Greg was alive with curiosity.  He could not wait.  If the box
were to be opened only after a pow-wow, then the sooner the council
were held the sooner the mystery of the box's contents would be
solved.

Tom, Dan and Harry came in at a trot.

"What's all the row about?" Reade demanded.

"That," stated Greg, pointing to the packing case.

"What's in it?" asked Reade.

"We don't know," said Dick.

"I fail to see what's to hinder you from knowing," retorted Reade.
"I see that you have the tools for opening the case at hand.
What were you waiting for---my strong arm on the hammer?  If
so-----"

While speaking Tom had been glancing at the inscription on the
card.

"I don't know just whether we ought to open it," Dave declared.
"That box may come from Dodge and Bayliss, and we may be sorry
that we meddled with it."

"There may be something in that," agreed Reade, laying down hammer
and chisel and rising.  "But I wish we knew."

"We all wish that," said Greg.

"Well, what are we going to do?" inquired Hazelton.  "Are we going
to remain afraid of the box and shy away from it?"

"I'm not afraid," replied Darrin, his color rising.  "I'm willing
to open it if you fellows say so."

"Then what has kept you back so far?" Tom wanted to know.

"If it's a job put up by Dodge and Bayliss, then I don't just
like to be caught napping by them," Dave replied.  "However, you
fellows all get back a few rods---and here goes for little David
to solve the box mystery."

"Not!" advised Reade with emphasis.  "I suppose we'll have to
do something with this box, sometime, but I, for one, am in favor
of considering the matter for a little while before we go any
further.  Dave, you are a foxy one, but I'm glad you are.  It
may save us all trouble."

So the box lay there through the forenoon, and Dick & Co. did
little else but wonder and guess as to its contents.

Any member of Dick & Co. would have taken the risk of opening
it, had he been chosen by his comrades to do so; but not one of
them wanted one of the other fellows to take the risk.

In the meantime Greg Holmes could scarcely curb his rising curiosity.




CHAPTER VIII

THE MAN WITH THE HAUNTING FACE


The noon meal had been eaten, and the camp put to rights.  The
water before them and the woods behind them called to nature-loving
Dick & Co., yet the invitations were ignored.

What could be in the innocent-looking box?  That was the question
that held six minds in the thraldom of curiosity.

"I can't stand this suspense any longer!" muttered Reade towards
three o'clock in the afternoon.

"Open the box yourself," prompted Danny Grin.

"I will," offered Reade, advancing toward the box.  "I don't care
if it's a ton of dynamite, all fixed up with clock work and automatic
fuses.  I want to find it out."

But Greg Holmes sprang forward.

"Wait just a little longer, Tom," he urged.  "Dick will be back
in a few minutes and then we'll get him to agree to it."

"Dick Prescott doesn't open the box," Tom retorted.

"It's addressed to him, anyway," said Greg firmly.

"I guess that's right," interposed Dave, nodding.  "And Dick will
be here soon."

Dick reappeared within five minutes.  He had taken two buckets
and had gone to a spring at some distance from camp for water.

"Dick," said Greg, "there's Tom on the ground on the other side
of that tree.  He's growling like a Teddy bear because no one
has opened the box."

"I think we'd better open it," nodded Prescott, after glancing
at the faces of the others, for he saw that their curiosity was
at fever heat.

"Hooray!" yelled Greg.  "Come on, fellows!"

There was a rush for the hammer and cold chisel, but young Holmes
won.

"You pry the lid up on one side, and then give me a chance at
the other side," proposed Tom Reade.

But Greg, smiling quietly, soon had the entire lid off the box.

Nothing but a lot of multi-colored, curly packing paper met their
gaze.

"The world destroyer must be underneath this ton of rubbish,"
grunted Darry, kneeling and prying the strings of paper out.

At last he delved down to a parcel wrapped in stout manila paper
and securely tied with cord.

"Cut the strings," advised Reade, passing Dave a pocket knife
with one blade open.

Darrin, however, had lifted the parcel out to lay it on the ground.
It was fairly heavy, but Dave handled it with ease.  Now he
cut the strings.  As the papers were pushed aside he and the others
saw nothing at first but a lot of khaki-colored canvas.

"Fellows," declared Dick, "I don't believe this is a practical
joke, at all.  It looks to me as though someone had sent us something
very much like a cook tent."

All thought of danger having now passed, Prescott and his comrades
unfolded the canvas.  At the bottom of the package they found
something that caused them to send up a wild hurrah.

Two daintily modeled white maple paddles lay there.  There were
two other objects made of wood that looked like seats.

"Fellows," gasped Dick, "don't you understand what this is?"

"I do," nodded Tom huskily.  "I do, if not another soul in the
world does.  Fellows, it's a collapsible canoe, all ready to set
up and run into the water.  It's our boat, that we've been wanting
so badly.  It's a beauty!  Oh, shake it out!  Lay it and let's
put the braces in!  I shan't be able to breathe again until I
see this thing of beauty floating on the water!"

Yet Tom was no more excited than were the other members of Dick
& Co.  All took a hand, and all tried to work so nimbly that they
got considerably in the way of one another.  Yet at last the canoe
was ready to be picked up and carried to the lake's edge.

"Here's even a painter to tie it to a tree with," shouted Dave.
"Say!  Whoever bought this canoe knew all about one!"

"Don't anyone try to get into the craft yet," ordered Dick, as
the canoe was slid out upon the water, Prescott holding the painter,
which he tied around a sapling growing near the water's edge.
"We want to make sure that this canoe is waterproof.  If it stands
twenty minutes without taking in water we'll know it's all right."

Since they couldn't board the canoe, these delighted boys joined
hands, dancing about in a ring.  Then, suddenly, they started
off in burlesqued figures of an Indian war-dance, whooping like
mad.

While the excitement was at its height, Reade suddenly seized
Hazelton by his collar, rushing him to the lake.  Into it went
both boys, Tom ducking Harry's head under the water.

"Wha-a-at's that for?" sputtered Hazelton as soon as he could
talk.

"Because you needed it," replied Tom soberly.  "Will you kindly
do as much for me?  We were all such chumps that we cheated ourselves
out of the best black bass fishing to-day that ever mortal saw.
So we all ought to be ducked."

Harry stared at his friend in some astonishment.

"On second thought, though," concluded Reade, "you needn't duck
me.  You may postpone it.  I'm going bass fishing the very instant
that the canoe is judged to be safe."

"And I'll be the bass-hunting pin-head who merely does the paddling,"
proposed Danny Grin meekly.

"I guess you're the biggest pin-head in camp, all right---after
myself," nodded Reade.  "So we ought to hit it off as bass fishermen,
Danny boy."

"Fellows," hinted Dick judicially, "I think we had better turn
the canoe over to Tom for the first trip.  His craze to go bass
fishing is so acute that it fairly pains him.  Tom can have the
first trip, can't he?"

There was a general assent.  Tom darted away to overhaul such
tackle as he had for bass fishing.  He came back with a small
but tough jointed rod, some very long lines, and some flashily,
bright spoons.

"Danny, get a shovel and dig for some grubs," Tom ordered, as
he sorted tackle.  "When you can't fool black bass with one thing
you must try another.  If you fellows see any tiny chubs swimming
about in the little coves here, try to get a lot of them.  We
can keep them in a bucket of water.  Perch?  Bah!  The real fishing
is about to begin now!"

"Do you really expect to get any bass today, Tom?" Dick inquired.

"Hard to say," replied Reade, shaking his head as he glanced up
from the tackle he was overhauling to look out upon the lake.
"I haven't seen a single bass jump in five hours now.  But I
may get two or three.  I certainly will, if the bass are sportsmanlike
enough to give me any show at 'em."

By the time that Tom had his tackle in shape Dick and Dave pronounced
the canoe wholly water tight.  Dan Dalzell, equipped with one
of the paddles, took a kneeling position just back of the bow
seat.  Tom got in next, squatting with his face to the stern of
the canoe.  None of the others were to go.  At a pinch this ten-foot
canoe might hold three, but fishermen as a rule do not care to
have extra passengers in their boats.

"Give 'em a cheer, boys!" cried Darry, as Danny Grin, with a few
deft strokes of the paddle, propelled the craft away from the
shore.

"And let that cheer be the last," called back Tom, in a low voice
that nevertheless traveled backward over the water.  "Don't frighten
my bass from coming up to take a look at me."

"Tom surely is the sincere old bass fisher, isn't he?" demanded
Harry Hazelton.

"I don't know," Dick made answer.  "We can tell better when we've
seen him hook and land a few fish."

"Paddle slowly right across the lake, Danny," begged Tom, watching
his trolling line.

From the camp the boys watched until they grew tired of the monotony.
Reade did not seem destined to secure a single "strike" from
bass that afternoon.

"At half-past four o'clock," proposed Darrin, "I'll go down to
the old pier and see what I can do toward catching a string of
perch for to-night."

"I'll go with you," nodded Hazelton.

"All right," agreed Dick.  "Greg and I will get in the water and
wood, and see to whatever else we're to have for supper.  I don't
believe Tom will bring us anything."

Nor did Reade himself believe it.  For two solid hours Dan Dalzell
paddled lazily wherever his skipper told him to.  The nearest
that Tom seemed destined to get a "strike" was when his hook caught
in the weeds.

At last they were some distance out on the lake, perhaps a hundred
and fifty yards from shore.  Reade, wholly discouraged, was about
to give the order to make for camp.

Turning about in the canoe, Reade discovered that Dalzell was
in a brown study, slowly lifting his paddle and lifting it out
again, but without watching his course.

"Look out, Danny boy," cautioned Tom, "or you'll scratch the sides
of the canoe on those bushes right ahead."

Dan glanced up with a start, backing water.  They had now passed
in under the shadow of trees, for the sun was low, and it was
somewhat dark and gloomy in there.

"It's queer for bushes to be growing so far out from shore," muttered
Tom, "and it shows how shallow the water must be about here.
You had better back water out of here, Danny."

Dalzell was about to do so when his glance fell on something that
halted his arm.

In the same moment Tom Reade saw the object that had arrested
Dan's attention.

From between the bushes peered a pair of deep-set, frightened
eyes that looked out from the haggard, despairing face of a man
whose head alone was visible.

Just for the moment neither Tom nor Dalzell could really guess
whether the face belonged to the living or the dead.  The sight
caused cold shivers to run up and down their spines, for that
face was ghastly and haunting in the extreme.

But quickly Tom Reade found his voice sufficiently to ask huskily:

"What's your trouble, my friend?"




CHAPTER IX

THE START OF A BAD NIGHT


Without noise, leaving barely a ripple behind, that head sank
from view.  It had vanished in an instant before the eyes of the
two thoroughly startled high school boys.

"He's drowning now!" gasped Dan, as the head failed to bob up
again into view.  "Oh, Tom, we must save him!"

"Wait!" said Reade, in a quivering voice.  His eyes expressed
uncertainty as to how he should act.

"But he's drowning.  You see, he hasn't come up again!" Dalzell
insisted.

"Drowning---in water shallow enough for small bushes to grow from
the bottom?" demanded Reade.  "Of course not!  But what does it
mean---and why didn't the fellow speak?"

"Perhaps---i---i---it was a---dead man," suggested Dalzell.

"That's what I'm trying to figure out," replied Reade.  "I---I
almost thought I saw the man's eyelids move."

"I thought so, too," agreed Dan, "but now I'm inclined to believe
that we didn't.  Wait!  I'm going to get close to the bushes."

Dan drove the paddle into the water a few times, bringing the
canoe up alongside the bushes, when it was seen that these were
standing up from a square framework of wood.

"Now, what do you think of that?" asked Reade in perplexity.
"These are freshly cut bushes, that have been fastened to this
frame to-day.  The frame will float wherever wind or current may
take it.  I thought this was shallow water.  I'll soon know."

Tom had, among his tackle, a line with a sinker attached.  He
tossed the sinker over the side of the canoe, paying out the line
until the sinker touched bottom.  Then he pulled the line in again,
carefully measuring by his arm as much of the line as was wet.

"Danny," he announced solemnly, "at this point the water is from
twenty-seven to thirty feet deep."

"Then that man did drown!" breathed Dalzell, his face as white
as chalk.

"Of course he did," Tom agreed, "provided he was alive when we
saw him."

"But he had to be alive," protested Dan, "or else he couldn't
have nailed the framework together and decorated it with branches
from bushes."

"That is, if the man we saw made the frame," propounded Reade
in a very solemn voice.

It was a shock to both of them.  The whole incident had been uncanny
and unreal, but the horror of that haggard, haunting face was
still strong upon both of the beholders.

"Tom, we simply must get off our clothes and dive to see what
we can do to find that poor fellow," urged Dalzell.

"All right," assented Reade.  "I'll do all the diving myself,
Danny, if you'll take command and give your orders.  Where shall
I dive?  The bushes have already shifted position.  We're floating
away from the spot, too.  Just where do you want me to make the
first dive?"

"I don't know," Dan Dalzell confessed.  "The whole affair has
given me the creeps, I think."

"I know it has done that to me," smiled Tom unsteadily.  "Whew!
I'll dream of that face to-night---all night long!  Dan, there
seems to be just about one chance in a thousand that that man
will reach shore.  Let's keep the craft headed to the shore, and
watch for some minutes to come.  At the same time, if we see a
sign of the poor fellow, we'll swim to him, or paddle to him as
fast as we know how."

Both boys knew, inwardly, that they would be heartily glad to
get away from what seemed plainly to them to be a haunted spot.
Yet neither cared to admit his dread to the other.  So, talking
rather busily, they remained on the spot for fully another ten
minutes.

"We won't see anything come out of the water now," Tom asserted
at last.  "Even if we do, it will be a drowned man."

"I guess we may as well get back to camp," Danny agreed.  "Yet
it is going to be an awfully creepy night for all of us, with
this weird mystery of the lake on our minds."

"Don't paddle yet," begged Tom.  "I'll give a hail, and see if
that brings any answer."

Raising his voice, Reade shouted lustily:

"Hello, there, friend?  Are you safe?  Want any help?"

"Anything we can do for you, friend?" bawled Dan Dalzell, in his
most resonant tone.

Only the mocking echoes of their own questions came back to them.

"Beat the water with the paddle.  Danny," advised Reade after
they had waited for some moments.  "We've more than a mile to
go.  Whip up the water.  If you get tired, pass the paddle back
to me."

"I'm not sorry to get away from that place," breathed Dalzell,
after at least a hundred lusty strokes.

"Nor I," confessed Reade.  "I'm beginning to get a headache already
from trying to figure out what it all meant.  Danny, describe
that haunting face just as you saw it."

"Ugh!  I hate to think about it again," protested Dalzell.

"You'll think about it more than once," retorted Tom.  "You won't
be able to help that, I promise you.  So go ahead and describe
the face as you saw it."

Dan did so, Tom listening attentively.

"Then that wasn't a case of imagination," Tom declared gravely.
"If we had imagined it, each would have seen a different face.
But the face that you describe, Danny, is the one that I also
saw.  Pass back the paddle, please.  I want a little exercise."

Tom still had the paddle when he shot the canoe in close to the
camp.

"Any luck?" called Dave, who had already returned with a string
of perch.

"Catch any bass?" was Dick's question.

"Did you even see anything?" laughed Greg Holmes.

"Did we see anything?" groaned Tom, as he sent the canoe's prow
to land.

"Danny looks as though he had been seeing all sorts of things,"
chuckled Hazelton, as Dalzell stepped ashore.

"Don't ask me," gasped Danny Grin, with a shudder.

At this the faces of those who had remained behind sobered instantly.

"You won't eat any supper, if we tell you," Tom declared, as he
came ashore while Dave held the painter of the canoe.

"I'll accept that challenge," laughed Prescott, as Dave and Tom
drew the collapsible canoe up on shore.  "Fire away as soon as
you're ready, Mr. Reade."

Perch and potatoes were frying, coffee bubbling and Dick had been
mixing some kind of boiled pudding that he had learned to make
so that it would not cause acute indigestion.

"Better wait until after supper," Reade advised.

"No; we want the story now," Prescott declared firmly.

So Reade told of the strange apparition they had seen, with many
additions to the tale from Danny.

"I decline to shudder," asserted Dave.

"That's just because you've only heard about the face, instead
of seeing it," Tom muttered.

"Dick, what do you make of the whole affair?" asked Greg.

"I only wish I could guess the answer," Prescott made answer solemnly,
"but I can't."

"What are we going to do about it?" asked Tom Reade.

"Let it alone," proposed Harry Hazelton.

"No, we won't," said Dick promptly.  "Not unless we have to, just
because of inability to find out anything.  Fellows, it's too
late to try to do anything in the darkness to-night.  If the man
were drowned, we couldn't help him, anyway.  But we'll go over
there to-morrow and try to find out whether there is any other
answer to the riddle."

"You won't need any supper to-night, anyway," declared Reade,
in a tone of grim triumph.

"That is where you lose," Prescott answered quietly.  "You'll
be hungry, too, Tom, when the food goes on the table."

However, neither Reade nor Danny Grin ate very heartily that evening.
Every few moments the haunting face rose before their memories.
It proved a dull evening, too, in camp.  The sky became overcast.
It looked so much like rain that Dick & Co. voted in favor of
retiring early.

First of all, however, the canoe was hauled into the tent for
safety.  Then, with only one lantern burning dimly, six sturdy
but wondering high school boys rolled themselves in their blankets.

Just as five of them were dozing off uneasily Dave Darrin's voice
sounded quietly:

"That thing couldn't have been a joke rigged up on us, could it?"

"A joke?" rumbled Reade.  "No, sir!  That face was real enough
to suit the most particular individual.  No, sir; that face wasn't
a joke, nor did the face look as though the man to whom it belonged
had ever heard a joke in all his life."

"Suppose you fellows shut up until the sun is shining again,"
proposed Danny Grin, who had been fidgeting restlessly in his
blanket.

"That's right," agreed Dick blandly.  "All ghost stories ought
to be told in the broad daylight."

"Just the same-----" Tom began.

"Shut up---_please_!" came a chorus of protest.

All was quiet after that.  Hours must have passed.  All the boys
were sleeping at least fairly well when air and earth shook with
a mighty explosion.

Instantly six bewildered high school boys leaped to their feet
in alarm.




CHAPTER X

POWDER MILLS, OR JUST WHAT?


"If that's a thunderstorm," muttered Greg Holmes, barely half
awake, "then it's going to be a dandy!"

But Dick seized him by one arm and shook him.

"Come to your senses, Greg!  That wasn't thunder."

"No; but what was it?" wondered Dave.

"I'm going to dress and find out," rejoined Dick sturdily.  He
sat on the edge of his canvas cot and began to pull on his clothing.

BANG!  All were awake enough now to appreciate fully the force
of this second jarring explosion.

"I wonder if there are any powder works off in this wilderness?"
asked Danny Grin.

But Dick, who had now dressed as fully as he intended to do, save
for the lacing of his shoes, now came back from the doorway of
the tent with the lantern, the wick of which he was turning up.

"No powder mills in this part of the world," he declared.  "But,
gracious!  The explosion seemed big enough."

Tom Reade stepped over to Prescott, whispering in the latter's
ear:

"What if this is another chapter in the lake mystery that we struck
this afternoon?"

"That's possible," nodded Dick.

"What are you two fellows whispering about?" called Hazelton.

"We're using whispers in case there's anyone else near enough
to hear speaking voices," Prescott explained in a low tone.

That was enough to fan the curiosity of the others, who, partially
dressed, crowded about Prescott and Reade.

Leaving the lantern in the tent, Dick & Co. gathered in the darkness
in the open air.

"What do you make of it, Dick?" Dave asked.

"Just as much as you fellows do---no more," came the reply.

"If it isn't anything that carries danger to us," proposed Darrin,
"we may as well go back and to bed."

"All who are sleepy enough may go back and turn in," Prescott
suggested.  "I'll stay up and watch for a while."

"So will I," promised Reade.

But it turned out that none of the party wanted to sleep.  Even
Darrin said he was interested enough in this newest mystery to
stay up and try to fathom it.

"Whatever it is," smiled Dick, "it hasn't done us any harm."

"Oh, yes; there has been one casualty, at least," protested Holmes.
"The explosion has caused a compound fracture in my bump of curiosity."

"There don't seem to be any more explosions," suggested Dick Prescott,
after a few moments had passed, and some of the boys were yawning.
"Anyone want to turn in?"

No one wished to do so, however.

"If we can't find out anything to-night," murmured Dick, in a
low voice, "we'll at least make a strong effort in that direction
after breakfast to-morrow morning."

"We have the lake mystery on for after breakfast," urged Hazelton.

"There's probably a connection between the lake mystery and the
big explosions," whispered Tom Reade wisely.  "Fellows, I've a
notion that Danny Grin and I unintentionally bumped into someone
else's business of some queer kind.  Now the people who are peevish
with us are trying to chase us out of these woods.  At least,
that's my idea."

"It will take something more than noise to chase us," smiled Dick
coolly.  "Our ear drums are as sound as the next fellow's.  Just
the same, I wish we might find out something about this mystery.
If there's another explosion like that last one, then some of
us ought to travel straight in the direction of the noise."

"And run straight into the hard, swift punch that is behind that
noise!" muttered Danny Grin, with one of those facial contortions
that had earned him his nickname.

"Whoever starts to playing with a boy's curiosity must be ready
to abide by the consequences," chuckled Prescott.  "Now, if anyone
has started something against us, then we'll run the rascal to
the earth."

"You don't suppose it's Dodge's work?" whispered Greg.

Before Dick could answer Darrin broke in with an emphatic:

"Not much!  The lake mystery affair is one of too large calibre
for Bert Dodge's poor, anaemic brain.  There's something bigger
and smarter than a mere Dodge behind the doings of this night."

"It's one o'clock, fellows," said Dick, after walking over to
the lantern for a glimpse at his watch.  "Tom, Greg and I will
stay up until three o'clock and be ready to jump out together
at the first sign of anything happening.  The rest of you turn
in and get some sleep.  We'll call you at three o'clock and then
take our turn at the pillow."

"You'll call us, of course, if anything happens?" asked Dave.

"If another powder mill blows up," chuckled Tom, "you won't need
to be called.  You'll be out here on the jump."

Dave, Dan and Harry thereupon turned in.  Knowing that others
were on watch the trio in the tent were all sound asleep within
five minutes.

Only the sighing of the wind through the trees, the occasional
splash of a leaping fish in the lake, and the subdued, musical
hum of tiny night insects came to the ears of Dick and his fellow
watchers.

Greg was soon yawning.  Tom, for want of something better to do,
began describing all over again the strange apparition he and
Dalzell had seen that afternoon.  Greg, finding the "creeps" in
Tom's narration to be stronger than the interest, shivered and
withdrew to a spot beyond the reach of Tom's whispers.

Not long after Greg, his back propped against a tree trunk, was
sound asleep.

Tom liked to talk.  Prescott was a good listener, putting in a
question now and then.

So at least another hour passed.  Then-----

Boo-oom!

That crash was so close at hand that it seemed as though the earth
must open.

Tom's first startled glance was at the sky.  Then, with a whisking
sound, several fragments of something passed over their heads.

"We're being bombarded?" gasped Tom inquiringly.

"This is getting too noisy to be interesting," protested Greg,
waking and leaping over to the place where his chums stood.

"I thought you fellows were going to put a stop to that racket!"
complained Darry from the tent.

Dick Prescott's whole thought and effort had been centered on
the task of placing the location of that latest explosion.

"You fellows look after the camp," Dick called in a low voice
to those in the tent.  "Come on, Tom and Greg!"

His two chums hurried to overtake him as the young leader rushed
off in the darkness.  Prescott was traveling up the slope in a
direction that ran in an oblique line from the lake front.

"Are you sure it was just exactly in this direction?" whispered
Reade, as he reached Dick's side.

"In this direction as nearly as I could judge," Dick affirmed.

For some moments they traveled onward.  Then they halted to listen.

"I don't know whether I'm any good at judging distances," Dick
whispered, "but it seemed to me that whatever exploded was not much
more than three hundred yards from camp."

"About that distance, I should say," Tom agreed.

"Then we've gone about as far as the place of the explosion.
Suppose we keep very quiet and listen."

"Ugh!" grunted Greg.  "I hope the earth doesn't blow up under
our feet."

"Go back to camp, if you're nervous," smiled Dick, but Greg remained
where he was.

"I'm going out a little way and prowl," whispered Dick, pointing
in the direction he had chosen.  "Tom, why don't you travel in
about the opposite direction?"

Reade nodded.

"Where shall I go?" asked Greg.

"You had better remain right here," Prescott whispered.  "If you
should hear either of us yell for help then you could start in
the direction of the sound."

"Then I'll get into those bushes," whispered Greg.  "When you
come back, come straight to the bushes, so I'll know that it's
one of my own crowd.  If any strangers appear, I'll listen to
'em if they halt near here, or trail them if they try to go past
here."

Dick nodded.  This seemed about the best that could be done.
Of course, back in camp, he had three more good and courageous
fellows to draw upon as added forces, but with such strange doings
afoot in the night it didn't seem wise to call the others away
from the camp.  Above all, the camp had to be watched and guarded.

In half an hour Dick returned.  He had found nothing to throw
light on the puzzle of the night.  Tom was back already, having
beaten Dick to Greg's hiding place by about two minutes.

"We may as well go back to camp," whispered Greg.

"Not much!" Prescott retorted.  "If anyone is trying to do anything
to us, then we want to run the mystery down and put an end to
it.  My idea is that the best thing we can do is to get up to
the road, post ourselves at fair intervals and watch to see if
anyone should pass."

"Correct!" clicked Reade.  "And I think that would have been the
best plan in the first instance."

"If the powder-mill explosions are to keep up through the night,"
hinted Tom, "then there ought to be another one due within a few
minutes.  In that case our tormentors may be getting ready to
plan something now.  So let's hike for the road at once."

Dick led the way, all three boys moving as noiselessly as they
could.  Prescott posted his friends, then chose his own post,
so that they were stationed at intervals of about a hundred yards.
All had hiding places within plain view of this rough country
road.

Now the time dragged again.  Strain their ears as they might,
none of these young outposts of Dick & Co. could hear a single
suspicious sound.  They must have remained there all of three
quarters of an hour.

Bang! sounded a terrific crash.  Tom and Greg, without showing
themselves in the road, hurriedly, silently reached their leader.

"Pshaw!" uttered Prescott in disgust.  "With all our care we were
on the wrong side of camp to be near the explosion.  Come along,
now, but don't make any noise if you can help it, and don't step
out into the road.  We'll go straight toward that latest noise.
If it takes all summer we're simply bound to find out who is
trying to blow up these woods just to scare out a few little rabbits
like ourselves!"




CHAPTER XI

IN A FEVER "TO FIND OUT"


Our trio had nearly reached what they judged to be the scene of
the latest explosion when Dick suddenly gave a low, sharp "hist,"
at the same time bending over to the ground while still peering
ahead.

Palpitating with excitement, Tom and Greg halted, also looking.

Out of the shadow ahead emerged something only vaguely outlined
in the dark.  Whether wild animal or human being it would be hard
to say there in the darkness.  Indeed, the slight sound caused
by its progress close to the road had more to do with warning
Dick and his friends than anything their eyes saw at first.

"Come on!" whispered Dick, heading suddenly for the road.  In
a jiffy Tom and Greg were also in hot pursuit, though young Prescott
managed to keep somewhat in the lead.

But the object of their pursuit took alarm, too, and gaining the
road, flew like the wind.

"Hold on there, you!" challenged Dick.  "We want a little conversation
with you at once."

At that vocal warning the fugitive put on an even better burst
of speed.

"It must be a man!" exclaimed Dick.  "He evidently understood me."

"No use for you to try to get away!" shouted Reade.  "We intend
to get you if we have to chase you all the way to the seaboard."

That was enough to make the fugitive veer suddenly and dart in
under the trees.  Tom vented an exclamation of disappointment,
for he knew the chances were easy for escape in the deep shadows
of the forest.

At that instant Dick raised his right hand.  In it he held a small
stone that he had picked up at the first instant of discovering
the presence of the stranger.

Now Dick threw the stone, with the best judgment that he could
command in the darkness.

Ahead there went up a cry, as though of pain.  Then all three
pursuers distinctly heard an angry voice say!

"Hang him!  He hit me in the heel!"

If there were any reply to this from a confederate of the injured
fugitive neither Dick nor his chums heard it.

After a minute all three stopped at a low uttered order from young
Prescott.

"Hush!" whispered Dick.

"Sh!" confirmed Tom Reade.

As they stood there in the forest not a sound of another human
being was audible.

For some five minutes the trio of high school boys stood without
stirring from their tracks.

"We've lost the trail," whispered Dick at last.  "We could remain
here, of course, waiting for more things to happen, but my belief
is that daylight would find us still standing here, like so many
foiled dummies.  We might as well return to camp.  What do you
think?"

"Yes; we'd better go back to camp," assented Tom.

"I'm agreeable," murmured Greg

So back to camp they went, going by the open road as much of the
way as served their purpose.

"There's the camp," muttered Tom, as they caught sight of a light
between the trees.  "Why the fellows have started a campfire."

"What do you say if we slip up on them and give them something
to jump about?" laughed Greg.

"That might work with some people," negatived Dick, "but Darry
is there, and he's impulsive.  He might half kill us before he
discovered his mistake.  O-o-o-h, Dave!"

"Hello!" answered Darrin, coming away from the campfire.  Then
he waited until the trio were close at hand before he went on:

"I judge you didn't have any luck."

"We got close to one of the scamps," muttered Tom, "whom Dick
seems to have hit  on the heel with a stone, but he slipped away
from us under the trees."

"It's only half an hour to dawn," yawned Dave, looking at his
watch.  "We can turn in, now, I guess, for the rascals must be
about through with the guessing match they've put up for us."

"We could turn in now," suggested Danny Grin.  "We don't have
to go to sleep, you know, but we could lie in our blankets and
talk the time away until dawn.  The campfire will keep going until
after daylight comes on."

That seemed rather a sensible course.  Dick nodded, and all hands,
after Darry had thrown a few more sticks on the fire, went into
the tent, undressed, donned pajamas and slipped in under a single
thickness of blanket apiece, and lay there talking.

Yet it proved to be a case of gape and yawn.  One after another
their eyes closed and more regular breathing started.

Dick Prescott was the last one to drop off.  Yet he had barely
more than lost himself in slumberland when there came a blast
so close at hand that, to the boys, it seemed as though they must
have been blown from their cots.

"That was right up toward the road!" panted Dave Darrin, leaping
from his cot barefooted and clad only in pajamas.  "Don't stop
to dress.  Come on!  Chase 'em!"

"Go as far as you like!" chuckled Dick, stopping to pull on his
shoes and fasten them, as did most of the others.  Hazelton went
only to the doorway of the tent, but Danny Grin followed Darrin,
keeping at the latter's heels.

Prescott and Reade were hardly sixty seconds later in heading
up the slope toward the road, Greg and Harry remaining at the
camp.

As they came out from under the trees and into the road Dick discovered
that the first signs of dawn were appearing.  In a few minutes
more it would be possible to see clearly over a stretch of road
more than half a mile in length.  Already objects were beginning
to take shape.  Dave was coming back, followed by Dan.  Both were
limping slightly, for neither boy was accustomed to traveling
barefoot and both had picked up slight stone bruises in their
progress.

"Did you sight anything or anyone?" called Dick.

"No," grumbled Darrin, in deep disgust.  "The odds are all against
us, anyway.  The scoundrels know which way they are going; we
can only guess at their course."

"One thing looks rather certain, at any rate," yawned Dick, covering
his mouth with his hand.  "Whoever the unknowns are, they were
trying only to bother us.  Or, if they were trying to injure us,
they were rank amateurs at the destructive game.

"But what was it that blew up, anyway?" queried Dave.

"It sounded like a keg of gunpowder each time," Tom declared.
"Yet to carry around five kegs of gunpowder would call for a
lot of muscular work."

"I'm going back to camp to put on my shoes," Dave declared.

"So am I," Danny Grin added.

"We'll wait here for you," said Dick.  "When you come back there
may be light enough for us to look into matters a little."

Dave and Dan returned in a little more than five minutes afterwards.
The daylight was now becoming stronger.

"Are Greg and Harry keeping awake?" was Prescott's first question.

"They are," nodded Darrin.

"Then they can be trusted to look after the camp," Dick continued.

"And to look after the canoe," Reade amended.

"Now, we'll explore the woods a bit," Prescott went on.  "We know
about where we heard the explosions, and we'll look for whatever
evidence we can find."

For this purpose each explorer went by himself.  Ten minutes later
Dave Darrin set up a loud hello.  This brought the others to him
on the run.

"Give us another call," demanded Dick.

"Here!" called Dave, from the depths of the woods.

Dick went in, followed by Tom and Dan.

"I've found this much," Dave announced, holding up a scorched
bit of colored paper.  It was such paper as is used for the outer
wrapping of fireworks.

Dick took the fragment of paper, reading therefrom the title,
"The Sploderite Pyrotechnic Co."

"Nothing but fireworks, after all," ejaculated Danny Grin in great
contempt, now that it was broad daylight.

"But I would like to have seen the fireworks before they blew
up," retorted Tom Reade.  "They were surely the loudest I ever
heard.  I don't believe anything but the heaviest cannon could
make as much noise."

"Whoever touched off fireworks like these," uttered Dave, "didn't
care a hang whether or not he set the woods on fire."

"There was no fire danger," Dick rejoined.  "The grass and everything
in these forests is as green as can be.  But let's look about
and see if we can't find evidences of the explosion at this point."

"There ought to be a good-sized hole in the ground right under
where this piece of fireworks exploded," Tom guessed.  "We ought
to find, not far from here, some evidences of what explosives
can do in ripping up the ground."

"Now I remember that one of the explosions in the night sent something
whizzing through the air over our heads."

"Pieces of the pasteboard enclosing the mine, bomb or whatever
kind of fireworks it was," Dick suggested.  "But let's look for
other debris around here."

That single bit of scorched paper, however, was all that any of
them could find.

Tom discovered a spot where he thought the ground had been blackened,
but Dave thought the blackened appearance due to humus soil, and
so nothing came of the argument.

"I think," yawned Dick, "this search will lead to the same result
that the others did during the night.  About all we can do is
to go back to camp."

The sun was up by the time that all six members of Dick & Co.
were once more gathered about the remains of their campfire.

"I don't know what you fellows are going to do," yawned Tom Reade.
"As for me, at present a nap looks better than any shower bath
or breakfast that was ever invented.  No matter how much objection
I hear, I'm going to get an hour or two more of sleep."

That idea met with rather a hearty reception.  Within three minutes
all six high school boys were lying between blankets again, composed
for sleep.

No more explosions came to disturb their slumbers, which were
deep and broken only when at last Dick Prescott called out:

"Fellows, we're regular Rip Van Winkles!  It's half-past nine
o'clock!"

"And we've that lake mystery to solve today!" uttered Greg Holmes,
leaping up.




CHAPTER XII

DICK MAKES A FIND


"Now, I don't know how it is going to hit the rest of you," remarked
Tom Reade, as he put down his coffee cup at the end of the hasty
breakfast, "but I'll confess that I'm not wholly keen about solving
the puzzle of the lake mystery."

"Why not?" challenged Dave in astonishment.

"It's just like this," Tom went on.  "Solving human riddles is
all right in the daytime, but it's likely to spoil our rest at
night.  I can't help feeling that last night's Sploderite function
was a mark of displeasure over our unwelcome interest in the lake
mystery."

"Suppose we grant that," Dick answered, "yet how would last night's
rascals expect us to connect the bang concert with Tom and Dan's
canoe trip and discovery yesterday afternoon?"

"There's something in that idea," Reade admitted.  "The unknowns
might hardly expect us to show as much human reasoning power as
all that.  Yet I'm of the opinion that we'll continue to rest
badly at night as long as we continue to feel any unhealthy curiosity
about the lake mystery.  In other words, my belief is that our
interest in the affairs of perfect strangers is regarded by the
unknowns as rudeness that must be rebuked."

"I don't care a hang about the lake mystery, anyway," gaped Dan,
who was giving forth a series of yawns, his mouth only partially
hidden by his right hand.

"There's just one strong point to the other side of the question,"
Dick argued.  "There's a very fair amount of reason to believe
that a man may have been drowned late yesterday afternoon, and
that Tom and Dan saw him go down for the last time.  That probability
existing, I believe we are bound, as good citizens, to see if
we can find any trace of a drowned man.  If we can, then as good
citizens it is clearly our further duty to report the matter to
the authorities.  If we can't find the remains of the drowned
man, then I am under the impression that, at the least, Tom and
Dan must report to some county officer just what they did see,
and the county can then take up the question in any way it pleases.
First of all, however, we ought to look for the body of a drowned
man."

This view prevailing, Tom and Dan launched the canoe, Dick entering
as passenger, while the other two handled the paddles.

Some brisk work took the canoe over, as nearly as Tom could judge,
to the spot where the haunting face had been seen so briefly on
the afternoon before.

Under the bright morning sun the waters were clear here, though
the bottom could not be seen.

"Paddle half a mile up the lake, then down," Dick ordered.

This was done, Prescott and the paddlers keeping a sharp lookout.
No body of a drowned man was seen, however, either on the surface
or under the water.

"I don't believe anyone was drowned," re marked Dick at last.
"There is no wind today,  and hardly any such thing as current
on this placid water.  Whoever the man was, he got ashore."

"That's my belief," agreed Reade.

"Where's that brush arrangement?" asked Dan suddenly.  "That frame
all trimmed with green boughs."

Nor was this to be seen, either, though an object of that size
would have been visible at any point on the water within half
a mile.

"The man got ashore, all right, and he took care of the bush-trimmed
frame as well," was Prescott's conclusion.  "Whoever the man was,
whatever happened, I don't believe that anything tragic happened
in the water.  For that matter, fellows, isn't it possible that,
in the gathering gloom, and with the sky somewhat overcast, you
were deceived about the ghastly, haunted look in that face?  Isn't
it likely that the look you thought you saw in the man's face
was merely an effect of the unusual light of late yesterday afternoon?"

Tom shook his head emphatically.

"Why don't you ask us," demanded Dan ironically, "if it weren't
just imagination on our part that we saw the face at all?"

"I don't doubt your having seen the face," Dick replied.  "That
wasn't anything that the light supplied."

"Then where is the man?" quizzed Dalzell.

"Safe on shore somewhere, beyond a doubt," Dick answered

"Then the chase takes us ashore, doesn't it?" asked Dan.

"Yes; if we're going to follow up the matter any further," Dick
replied.

"We ought to follow it up," Reade insisted.

"Why?" asked Prescott.

"For one thing," smiled Tom, "it will give us something interesting
to do."

"Should we find our interest in meddling with other folks' business?"
wondered their leader.

"We've a right to, when those people come around and spoil our
night's rest for us," Tom retorted.

"It was a bit like a challenge, wasn't it?" Dick laughed.

"Besides," Dan urged, "we certainly saw enough yesterday afternoon
to show us that there is something tragic in the air around this
sleepy old lake.  If anyone is in trouble we ought to try to help
that one out of trouble.  And there was real, aching trouble in
that face if ever I saw evidences of trouble."

"I guess we'll put in part of the day looking into the matter,"
Dick assented.

"Where shall we land?" asked Dalzell.

"As nearly as possible opposite the exact spot where you saw the
man's head," Prescott made answer.

"Over there where that bent birch shows between the two chestnut
trees," announced Reade, pointing with his paddle.

"Pull for that place," Dick ordered.

In a few minutes the canoe was drawn up along the shore so that
Dick could step on land.

"You'd better come with me, Tom," said Prescott.

"And I'm the nifty little boat-tender who stays here and dozes
in the shade?" asked Danny Grin, with a grimace.

"Are you good and strong this morning?" queried Dick, with a smile.

"Strong enough to walk, anyway," Dan retorted.

"Then perhaps you're strong enough to paddle back across the lake
and bring over two more fellows.  Then, when you get back here,
leave one of the pair here in the canoe, and we will get them
to keep it a hundred feet or more off shore.  We don't want our
craft destroyed.  And be sure, Dan, that the fellow who stays
behind on the other side of the lake understands that he's to
stick right by the camp and watch it for all he's worth."

"I've got my orders," clicked Danny Grin, with a mock salute.

"Then let's see how well you can paddle alone."

Dalzell gave a few swift, strong turns of the paddle that sent
the light canvas canoe darting over the water.

"Now, come along," urged Tom.  "I'm anxious to get busy this morning."

First of all, the two high school boys walked up the lake shore
for some distance, keeping their eyes wide open and all their
senses on the alert.  Then, returning, they walked for a considerable
distance down the shore.

"There are our reinforcements coming," announced Tom, pointing
across the lake.  "Danny and his load will be here within fifteen
minutes."

"We'll wait for the other fellows, before going away from the
shore," Dick proposed.  "If we started now they wouldn't know
where to find us."

Returning to the landing place, Dick silently waved his hat until
he caught the attention of Dave Darrin, seated in the bow of the
canoe, who answered the signal just as silently.

Presently the craft came up to the shore.

"Who's going to stay in the canoe?" Dick inquired.

"I am," Harry Hazelton declared dolefully.  "We drew lots on the
other side.  Greg drew the shortest twig, so he had to stay at
the camp.  I got the next shortest twig, so my job is boat-tender."

Dave and Dan stepped ashore.  Heaving a sigh, Harry paddled out
on the lake some hundred and fifty feet from land.

"Now, how are we going to beat up the country on this fine July
morning?" Tom wanted to know.

Dick stood looking at the surrounding ground.

"I think I know as good a plan as any," he announced, after a
pause.  "Dave, you and I will walk down the lake, using our eyes
and ears.  Tom and Dan will go in the opposite direction.  Each
pair will keep along until our watches show that we've been going
ten minutes.  Then we will walk up the slope a hundred steps and
turn toward the centre, meeting probably about the end of the
second ten minutes.  After that, if we decide to do so, we can
go further inland from the lake.  If there's a house or hut, or
any fellow camping out in this neighborhood we ought to find him
without much trouble.  What do you fellows say to my plan?"

"It's about as systematic as anything could be," Dave agreed.
"But what if one pair of us find something?"

"We'll try our best to communicate with the other pair," Dick
rejoined.  "Suppose, Dave, that you and I run into something interesting
and don't want to leave it?  Tom and Dan, not meeting us at the
appointed place, will know enough to keep right on over our course
until they find us."

"That looks plain enough," nodded Reade thoughtfully.

"All right, then," Dick declared.  "Now we'll start."

He and Dave started off at a swinging gait.  The first time Prescott
turned to look behind him Reade and Danny Grin had already vanished.

Dick kept close to the shore, Dave moving in a parallel line a
few steps up the slope.

"There isn't any hut, lodge or camp down there," Dave called softly,
"or else we'd have seen it from our camp on the other side of
the lake."

"I know it," Dick nodded.  "What I'm trying to do is to see if
I can find any hint, on the shore, of how that fellow landed yesterday,
without Tom or Danny catching sight of him.  Of course, a very
clever swimmer could have gone quite a distance under water.
and I want to see if I can find any sign of anything that would
have hidden his landing from the fellows in the canoe."

"Oh!" nodded Dave understandingly.

The full ten minutes of searching passed without the slightest
trace of a discovery.

"Halt," Dick called up smilingly.  "Now, join me, Darry, while
I count off the hundred steps up the slope."

This done, the chums started backward, keeping a course as nearly
parallel with the shore as was possible.

"Now, try to be keener than ever," Dick urged, as Dave paced off
another twenty steps higher up.  "We're in a growth of deeper
forest, with a bigger tangle of underbrush and it will be easy
enough to overlook something."

The two boys trudged on.  They were five minutes on their way
back, perhaps, when Dick heard a sudden scrambling in the underbrush
not far away.  Then Prescott caught sight of a human figure, yet
so fleetingly that he could have given no description of it.

"Is that you, Darry?" he called sharply.

But it wasn't, for no answer came back, save for the slight sound
of someone going through the brush farther on.

"Dave!  Darry!" shouted Prescott.  "Here!  Quickly!"

Then Dick dashed on in pursuit, calling again and again until
Dave came in sight and joined in the chase.

"What was it?" panted Dave, as he came within hailing distance.

"Someone running away from me," Dick explained.

"What did he look like?"

"I didn't have a chance to see.  Let's travel hot-foot."

Yet presently Dick halted.  Dave stopped beside him.

"We've passed him; he has doubled on us," uttered Darrin in a
tone of intense chagrin.  "We belong in the primary class in wood
lore."

Then, suddenly, they heard a slight noise again.  Forward they
dashed.  Now they came out to a place where the ground was more
open.  Before the two high school boys rose a great boulder of
rock, its front sloping backward, and running up to a height of
fifty feet or more.  They had already seen this boulder from the
water.

"That fellow ran into the open, but he didn't have time to cross
it," announced Dick in a tone of conviction, as the pair halted
at the foot of the boulder.  "He could have gone up this side;
there are crevices enough for foothold.  But in that case we'd
have seen him."

Dave stood plucking absent-mindedly at the leaves of a bush in
a clump that grew at the foot of the boulder.  Suddenly Dick glanced
down, noting that his feet were on boggy ground, though the surrounding
soil was firm enough.

"Is there a spring running out of the solid rock?" wondered Dick,
reaching out and pulling one of the bushes forward.

Then he gave a sudden shout of discovery:

"Look here, Dave!  We're on the track of it!  These bushes conceal
the mouth of a cave!  This is where our fugitive has gone!"




CHAPTER XIII

PERHAPS TEN THOUSAND YEARS OLD


"By Jove!" gasped Dave, also bending back a bush and glaring down,
his eyes wide open with interest.

"That's where our man went," Dick whispered.

"Not a doubt of it," Dave assented.  "We'll signal the other fellows,
and then get him at our leisure."

"Unless there are other openings to this cave," Dick hinted.

"That's so!  The fellow may be a quarter of a mile away from here
already," Darrin quivered.  "Let's not lose any time.  I'll go
in there first."

Dave was on his knees, quivering with eagerness, dominated by
purpose, when Dick grabbed him, hauling him back.

"Let me alone," growled Dave.  "Don't interfere with me!"

"But you don't know what you might run into in there, Darry,"
Prescott insisted firmly.  "For one thing, you have no idea how
many villains may have their secret home in there."

"Then, what are you going to do?" Darry demanded, looking up.

"I'm going to watch, right here, while you go forward and find
Tom and Dan.  Bring them here, and then we'll decide what ought
to be done."

"That's rather slow," hot-headed Darry objected.

"It is, and a heap safer," Dick contended.  "Hot-foot it after
Tom and Dan.  I'll stay right here and see to it that the mouth
of the cave doesn't run away.  Start---at once, Darry, please!
Don't let us waste time."

Knowing how stubborn Dick could be when he knew that he was wholly
right, Dave lost no time in argument.  He sprinted away, and presently
Dick heard faint echoes of Darry's signaling, "hoo-hoo!"

A few minutes later the trio came up at a dog trot.

Not one of them spoke, as all had lost their breath in their haste.
Tom, now in the lead, dashed up to where Dick stood on guard
a few yards away from the bushes.

"Over there," nodded Dick, pointing to the bushes.

Tom and Dan pulled the bushes aside curiously.

"If we're going into that cave we may as well cut the bushes down,"
murmured Reade, producing a pocket knife.  "Any objections, Chief?"

"No," smiled Dick, "and I'm not the Big Chief, either.  Cut the
bushes down, if you want.  Move over, and I'll give you some help."

Within a short time the bushes had been cut down close to the
ground, revealing an irregular shaped opening in the cave.  This
aperture was about three feet high and some five feet in width.

"Did you bring that pocket flash lamp, Tom?" asked Dick suddenly.

"Thank goodness, I did," replied Reade, producing the lamp.

Dick took it and crawled a few feet into the hole.

"There's water all along on the floor here," he called, "but just
a dribble.  Come in here and you'll find that you can stand up."

It needed no urging to induce the other boys to follow.  Then
they stood up, in almost complete darkness, save when the flashlight
showed them their surroundings.

Some parts of the cave rose to a height of perhaps sixteen feet.
Twelve feet was about the average height.  From what the boys
could see as they moved along, the cave extended for some sixty
feet.

"I don't believe there's anyone in here except ourselves," muttered
Darry in disgust, peering all around him.  "In that case, we are
wasting our time in this cave.  Phew!  How cold it is in here!"

"And well it might be," laughed Dick.  "Do you see that mass just
ahead of us?"

"What is it?" asked Dan.  "Flash the light on it."

"Come over and look at it," Dick went on.  "No one could live
in this cold place.  It is chilling me to the bone, just to stand
here.  And now you see why that little trickle of water keeps
moving out through the mouth of the cave.  Fellows, we're in one
of nature's icehouses."

"But we're not after ice," Dave protested.

"We won't turn down ice in the wilderness, when we can find it
in July," Dick rejoined.

"Not much!" answered practical Tom Reade. "Why, fellows, ice is
just what we need at the camp.  Let's get a closer look at it
and make plans for an ice-box over at the camp."

"But I want to follow that man of mystery," protested Dave.

"Go ahead, David, little giant," Dick laughed.  "We won't stop
you.  But we've lost our man of mystery, anyway, and this cave
contains something that we really do want.  Tom, you're the
mathematician of the party.  How much ice is there here?"

"If I could see better I could tell you better," sniffed Reade.
"Hundreds of tons of it, anyway."

"How did the stuff get here?" asked Dan wonderingly.

Dick was now at the edge of the ice pile, and flashed the light
at the roof of the cavern.

"See the rifts in the rock up there?" he asked.  "Water must have
leaked in here during the heavy winter rains.  It was cold water,
too.  Then, in extra cold spells, such as this country experiences,
the water must have frozen.  As heat doesn't get in here in warm
weather the ice may have been here for generations.  Fellows,
we may be looking upon ice that was here when George Washington
was a boy."

"I've read, somewhere," declared Tom soberly, "that icebergs that
float down from the polar regions in spring often represent ice
that is at least ten thousand years old.  Fellows, some of this
very ice may have been here in this cave long, long before Julius
Caesar went into the soldiering business!"

That thought had somewhat of an awesome effect upon Dick & Co.
The four high school boys felt as though they were in the presence
of great antiquity.

"But the practical side of it," declared Tom, "is that we must
devise the best way of cutting some of this ice and getting it
across the lake to the camp."

"Oh, you can break off enough for making ice water," replied Dave
Darrin impatiently, "and take it over in the canoe, though the
spring water is cold enough for anybody."

"All of Dave's thoughts are still on the man of mystery," Dick
declared, with a chuckle.

"It's much more interesting than standing here figuring on how
to get ice that we don't need," retorted Darry.

"Now, as to moving this stuff to the camp," Tom went on, "it seems
to me-----"

"Of course," laughed Dick.  "It has already struck you that we
can fell a few small trees and build a raft on which we can tow
a few hundred pounds of ice at a time."

"Oh, pshaw!" fidgeted Dave.  "I am anxious to find the man of
mystery."

"That isn't anything practical," scoffed Tom Reade, "while in
hot weather a good supply of ice is eminently practical."

"You'll think there's a practical side to the man of mystery and
his cronies when to-night comes, and there's so much noise about
the camp that we miss another night's rest," hinted Darry sagely.

"Humph!" was Tom's greeting to that assertion.  "I don't know
but you're right."

"Well, we know where the ice is," remarked Dick.  "We can get
it at our convenience.  Darry, we'll follow you in pursuit of
your man of mystery.  Come out of here, fellows."

Dick led the way out of the cave, flashing the light as he walked.
All four blinked when they found themselves out in the sunlight.

"Now, which way are we going, David, little giant?" demanded Tom
good-humoredly.

Now that he was put to it, Dave had to confess that he didn't
know.

"Let's make a swift, thorough search all around here, and see
if we can find any footprints not made by ourselves," Dave suggested
rather weakly, at last.

This was done, and faithfully, for, now that they were out in
the sunlight again, the interest in the mystery began to return.
It grew stronger as they searched.  At last, however, after more
than an hour of fruitless effort that offered not an atom of promise,
even Darry was willing to give it up for the time, at any rate.

"Let's keep on walking along the slope, then," Dick suggested,
"until we come in sight of the canoe."

As they walked along they came to a brook that, at this point,
was nearly the width of a creek.  The water ran noisily down over
the stones, save here and there where there were deep pools.

"It's narrow enough, at one point below here, to jump over," Dave
volunteered.

"Thank you," replied Dick, "but just at present I'm not for jumping
over this brook."

"Well, then, what on earth does interest you?" Dan asked.  "This
isn't the first time you've seen this stream.  You passed it
down by the lake, though down there it runs more smoothly."

"I know," Dick nodded.  "I remember the fallen tree we used for
a bridge, and I'm simply ashamed of myself that I didn't think
more about this stream at the time---but my head was then too
full of the lake mystery and the chap with the haunting face.
But now-----"

"Well?" demanded Tom impatiently.

"Reade, old fellow," Dick answered solemnly, turning back from
peering at one of the quiet pools in the creek, "you're a wonder
at black bass fishing, no doubt.  My tastes ran to another form
of sport.  Mr. Morton taught me trout fishing; he lent me his
tackle before we started, and I have it over at the camp now.
Fellows, I believe, from the looks of things, that this stream
is well stocked with trout.  At all events, I mean to have a try
at it."

"To-morrow?" asked Dave.

"No, siree!  This afternoon----just as soon as possible!  A little
while ago we were talking about ferrying ice over to the camp.
Instead, we'll ferry the camp over here, and keep the cave just
as it is for our ice-house.  Do you fellows know that brook trout
make the most delicious eating to be had when the cook knows his
business?  I do, for Mr. Morton has cooked trout for me in the
woods.  Besides, brook trout are growing scarce these days.  If
we can make a good haul, we can get a pretty big price per pound
for them!  We have ice, now, and we could carry a lot of trout
to market on our push cart, on top of enough ice to keep them.
Come on!  Back to camp!  We'll shift it to this side of the lake
at once.  This crowd can't do better than to work out this trout
stream.  I know the trout are there!  I can smell 'em!  Tom, I've
got an important job for you!"




CHAPTER XIX

MORE MYSTERY IN THE AIR


It was nearly dark, after an afternoon of hard work for five members
of the party, and an afternoon of wonderful sport for Dick Prescott.

A crude raft had been built.  That part of the work had been easy,
and it was swiftly performed.  But three trips with the small
raft had been needed to bring over the tent, the supplies, the
push cart and everything belonging to the old camp.

Now the new camp stood pitched at a short distance from the cave,
but near to the edge of the lake.  The tent had been put up in
a natural clearing, behind a line of timber, so that the canvas
was not visible from the other side of the lake.

At trout fishing Dick had proved himself more than an expert.

Now that darkness was coming, Dick was bending over a low fire,
watching a frying pan in which four speckled beauties, well dipped
in batter, were sizzling merrily.

"This is the finest food I've ever had," declared Greg Holmes,
swallowing another mouthful of trout and leaning back with a contented
sigh.

"It certainly is great," agreed Dave Darrin.  "Fellows, I've wasted
some of my life in the past, for I never before knew the taste
of brook trout."

"I tried 'em once," said Reade, "but they didn't taste as fine
as these.  With trout, I've heard, a tremendous lot depends upon
the way they're cooked."

"Of course the cooking has a lot to do with bringing out the full
flavor," Dick admitted modestly.  "But, Tom, perhaps you hadn't
done any hard work before eating trout that time.  Exercise brings
hunger, and hunger is the best sauce that food can have---as we
all ought to know."

"Exercise?" repeated Tom, with a laugh.  "Yes; I've had that this
afternoon, all right.  You had me guessing when you told me you
had such an important job for me.  I didn't know, then, that you
wanted me to boss the raft building and transporting the camp
over here.  It was exercise, all right.  We ought to have taken
an entire day to it."

Dick rose with the frying pan, dropping hot trout on four plates
in turn, omitting only Holmes.

"You shall have a trout out of the next serving, Greg," Dick promised.

"I'm not worrying about myself," Greg returned.  "But are you
going to have anything left for yourself, Dick?"

"I'm not worrying about that, either," laughed Prescott.  "It
was mighty nice of you fellows to do all the work this afternoon,
and leave me to enjoy myself all the time at sport.  So the trout
belong to you fellows."

"I don't suppose you worked at all, Dick," said Tom quizzically.
"Of course whipping up and down a stream in rubber boots, over
stones and all sorts of obstacles, isn't anything like work."

"It would be pretty hard work for a fellow who didn't like trout
fishing, I suppose," Dick answered.  "But, to me, it was only
so much glorious sport.  Here's your trout, Greg.  Who else wants
some more?"

"Don't ask foolish questions," chuckled Danny Grin.

But at last the five boys had to admit that they had eaten their
fill out of the splendid result of Dick's afternoon of sport.
There were still several trout left, all cleaned and ready to
be dipped in the batter.

"Now, you sit down at the table, and let us wait on you," urged
Greg, going over to Dick.

Dave took hold of one of young Holmes' suspender straps, pulling
him back.

"You simpleton," expostulated Darry, "are you going to spoil Dick's
reward by letting a chump cook attend to the trout?  Dick wants
to cook his trout for himself, but we'll do everything else.
I'll appoint myself to make the coffee for all hands."

Dick soon had a pan full of trout ready for his own plate.  As
he seated himself at the table he was fully conscious of how tired
and sore he was from the afternoon of whipping up and down stream
after these handsome, speckled fish, but he was careful not to
admit his fatigue to the others, who, also, were very tired.

Dick had to fry a second pan of trout, eating the last one of
the lot he had caught, ere he found his appetite satisfied.

Then, with only the light of a lantern on the table, the boys
sat about sipping their coffee and feeling supremely contented
with their day of effort and its results.

"There are not so many mosquitoes over here," Tom announced.

"They haven't found us out yet," chuckled Danny Grin.  "They will
do so, later."

"I'm ready for bed any time the word comes," confessed Harry Hazelton.

"But, see here, fellows," suggested Dave soberly, "we're now right
in the enemy's country.  That is to say, we're on the same side
of the lake with the man of mystery and his companions, if he
has any.  I don't doubt that resentful eyes have watched the erecting
of this camp on its present site."

"Sorry to have hurt anyone's feelings," yawned Tom.  "Still, I
guess we've as much right here as anyone else."

"But the point is this," Dave went on.  "Last night some persons
must have crossed the lake in order to annoy us.  To-night we're
on the same side of the lake with them.  We'll be much more accessible
to the people who object so strenuously to our presence."

"Where did these unknown people find a boat for crossing the lake?"
queried Reade.  "We couldn't find one anywhere until the canoe
was left at our camp."

"Anyone might have a boat or canoe here, and keep it hidden easily
enough when not in use," Dave asserted.  "Just as we---have brought
our canoe up here and hidden it in the tent, for instance.  Now,
we'll all have to admit that we're extremely likely to have unwelcome
visitors here to-night?  Are we going to keep a guard?"

"It might not be a bad idea to keep someone on watch through the
night," Dick suggested.

"I'll stand the first watch trick," proposed Dave.  "It need be
only an hour long.  I'll drink some more coffee, and then walk
a while, so as to be sure to keep awake."

"I'll take the second trick," nodded Dick.

The schedule for watch tricks was quickly made up.  Then all but
Dave hastily sought their cots.  Darkness was not an hour old
when Dave was the only member of the camp awake.  Had the high
school boys been less healthy and sturdy their hearty suppers
might have summoned the nightmare, but they slept on soundly.

Dick, however, stretched, gaped, then sprang up when Darry called
him.  Some of the others, when their turns came, did not respond
as readily, and had to be dragged from their cots and stood upright
before they were thoroughly awake.

It was shortly after one o'clock in the morning when Tom Reade,
then on watch, stepped lightly into the tent, passing through
the round of the cots, shaking each sleeper in turn.

"Those of you who want to listen to something interesting, get
up instantly!" Tom exclaimed in a low voice.

Three boys drowsily rolled over, going immediately back into sound
slumber.  Dick and Dave, however, got up, pulling on their shoes.

"What's all that racket across the lake?" was Dick's prompt question
as he stood in the doorway of the tent.

"That comes from the former camp site," chuckled Tom.

"Guns!" cried Dave Darrin in amazement.

"It sounds like a big fusillade," Dick cried, as he stepped out
into the night.

"But surely no one can be trying to attack our camp, thinking
we are still there," Tom protested.  "We don't know any people
who are wicked enough to plan an attack upon our camp."

"No," Dick agreed.  "But this much is sure.  There are those who
dislike us enough to try to spoil our rest night after night."

Dave began to laugh merrily.

"I half believe it's Dodge and Bayliss," he remarked quietly.

"I don't," Reade objected.  "Both of them are too lazy to motor
up into the wilderness each night, over such rough roads, all
the way from Gridley.  No, no!  It's someone else, though who
it is I can't imagine.  If it were the man of the lake mystery,
or any of his people, they'd be likely to know that we're on this
side of the lake."

From the edge of the timber line near by came the sound of a crackling
twig, followed by a groan as of a soul in torment.

Wheeling like a flash, Tom Reade produced the pocket flash lamp.

Staring toward the boys, his face outlined between the close-growing
trunks of two spruce trees, were the startling features of a man.

"That's he---the Man of the Haunting Face!" came from Tom Reade
in a hoarse whisper.

"Then we'll get him!" cried Dick Prescott, leaping forward.  "Hold
the light on him!"




CHAPTER XV

THE SCREAM THAT STARTED A RACE


Yet even as the three boys dashed toward the two spruce trees
the light went out.

Tom pressed frantically on the spring of the lamp as he ran, but
the lamp gave forth a flickering gleam that was little better
than no light at all.

The long use of the lamp in the cave had weakened the storage
battery.

"Give us the light!" called Dave, as they reached the tree.

"Can't!  The battery's on a strike," answered Reade grimly.

Dick Prescott, who was ahead of his companions, now halted, whispering
to the others to do the same.

The man they sought had vanished.  No betraying sounds came to
indicate where he had gone.

"Dave and I'll stay here," whispered Dick.  "Tom, run back for
a lantern.  Hustle!"

Fifteen minutes of eager searching, after the lantern was brought,
failed to give any clue to the whereabouts of the man whom they
sought.

"This is more ghostly than human," laughed young Prescott.

They felt compelled to give up the search.  As they returned to
the camp the firing on the opposite side of the lake broke out
anew.  At the distance, however, it was not loud enough to disturb
the other three, who still slept in the tent.  Dick flashed the
lantern inside to make sure that the sleepers were safe.

At intervals the racket across the lake broke out anew.

"It's my turn to go on watch again," said Darry, glancing at his
watch by the light of the lantern.  "You two might as well turn
in."

"We'll dress and bring our cots out into the open," Dick proposed.
"You might as well have us, Dave, where you can get us instantly,
and ready for action, by just touching us on the shoulder."

But the night passed, without any further disturbances than the
occasional distant firing, and the rousing, every hour, of a new
watchman for the camp.

It was past seven in the morning when Dick finally turned out,
to find Greg and Harry busy preparing breakfast, while Darrin
still slumbered.

"Where are Tom and Dan?" Prescott asked.

"Look through the trees, and presently you'll discover them out
in the canoe," answered Greg.  "Tom simply couldn't wait any longer
to go out after bass."

"I'm going trout fishing, if I can do it without shirking," said
Dick, as he rose and stretched.

"And if no one kicks I'm going with you," added Darrin, opening
his eyes.  "How about it, Greg?  Are you and Harry willing to
do the camp watch this morning?"

Greg had turned around eagerly, seeing which, Hazelton broke in:

"Go right along with 'em, Holmesy, if they'll take you.  There
won't be much to do in camp after, the dishes are washed."

"But it's rather a shame to leave you alone," hinted Greg wistfully.
He wanted, with all his heart, to see some of the rare sport
that Dick had described, but he didn't want to be unfair to anyone.

"I won't be lonesome," protested Hazelton. "We have some good
books along, and I can read one of them."

"But what if the camp should be molested?" asked Greg.  "You know,
there is at least the Man with the Haunting Face, and there may
be others."

"Whoever tries to molest this camp will be molested in his turn,
I promise you," laughed Harry.  "I'm no weakling, so run right
along, Holmesy.  Even if serious trouble should arise, I have
this, you know."

He produced a long-barreled fish horn that he had used in celebrating
the night before the Fourth of July.

"Two or three loud blasts on this bugle would carry a long way,
and you fellows would know what I wanted," finished Hazelton.

"All right, then, I'll go," said Greg, his face beaming.

"We've trout flies in plenty, you know," Dick went on, "but we've
only two poles that are suited to trouting, so we'll have to take
turns."

"You may keep one pole all the time.  Dick," suggested Darry.
"Greg and I can take turns with the other pole."

"That will hardly be fair to you two," replied Dick, with a shake
of his head.

"It wouldn't be fair to the whole crowd to take your pole away
from you any part of the time," retorted Greg.  "Remember, Dick,
you are the expert trout fisherman of the party, and all the fellows
want some more trout.  We'll never forget those of last night."

Greg and Hazelton now had breakfast ready.  It was eaten rather
hastily, after which all hands fell to setting things to rights.

"Here, come out of the tent," called Hazelton, as Dick started
inside to use a broom there.  "You fellows are the providers,
and I can do the little housework that's left to do."

So Dick, Dave and Greg brought out their long-legged rubber boots
and got into them with little delay.  Then there came a sorting
of flies, and the rigging of lines and reels.  Within a few minutes
the three were ready to start out.

As they went up the stream Dick cut and trimmed two crotched sticks
on which to string the fish they might catch.

"That looks almost boastful," chuckled Dave.  "It looks as though
we thought it a cinch that we're going to get a lot of trout."

"It all depends on us," Prescott rejoined.  "The brook is simply
full of trout, that we can catch if we display the requisite amount
of skill.  The mystery to me is that this brook has escaped the
knowledge of the trout fishermen in Gridley.  Not even Mr. Morton
ever heard of this stream."

"Well, Mr. Morton can't be expected to know everything," argued
Greg.  "He's already the most capable sub-master in Gridley High
School and the finest coach the Gridley football squad ever had."

"He's also an A No.1 trout fisherman," Dick went on.  "Fellows,
we mustn't tell everyone about this trout stream, but Mr. Morton
is such an all around fine fellow that I think we owe it to him
to tell him, when we see him, just how to reach this brook."

"If the real estate men of Gridley knew of this place," laughed
Greg, "they'd buy up the ground around here and then sell bungalows
at fancy prices to amateur fishermen of means."

"And then the brook would soon cease to be a trout stream," retorted
young Prescott.  "A large proportion of the trout would be caught
within a few days, and the rest of 'em scared away to safer breeding
grounds.  The only way to keep a trout stream in working order
is not to let many people know about it.  It sounds selfish, but
it's good sportsmanship."

Dick soon halted, eyeing a pool so deep that its bottom could
not be seen.

"This looks like a good place to start in," he announced.  "I
believe I'll go a little way up stream, and then whip down past
this pool and below.  Now, talk only in whispers, if you can remember,
fellows.  Trout are shy creatures.  Has either of you ever fished
for trout before?"

Both Dave and Greg shook their heads.

"Then I think you had better watch me for a while, and catch some
of the knack of it," their leader advised.  "Notice particularly
how I whip.  If I get a nibble, then note, particularly, that
I don't make an immediate effort to land the trout.  I play the
line out a bit and let him play with the fly, and beat about and
get himself better imbedded on the hook.  When I am sure I have
him well hooked, then you'll see the peculiar motion with which
I bring him out of the water and throw him on the ground.  That
landing trick is one that you need to get just so.  Study it,
and develop it.  Don't be disappointed if you lose quite a few
trout.  You will lose them often until you get the hang of the
thing."

Some distance above the pool Dick stepped into the water.  He
walked along slowly, not stirring up much dirt from the bottom.
All the time he kept his line behind him, frequently lifting
it and whipping it into the water again.  The gayly colored flies
and the glistening spoon just above the hook flashed in the sunlight
every time he made a whipping cast.

Not twenty feet had Dick gone when he felt a sudden, violent tug.
With the true patience of the trout fisherman, Dick didn't become
at all  excited.  His hand on the reel, he let the line fly out
as the finny captive darted up stream.

Presently Dick played the fish in gently, then suddenly gave it
plenty of slack line.  These tactics were repeated, while Dave
and Greg almost danced in their eagerness.

Suddenly Dick flipped his pole sharply.  There was a swish of
line in the air.  Something speckled and glistening dropped on
the ground at least ten feet from the brook, where it lay floundering
and gasping.

"Hoo-ray!" yelled Greg, with all his pent-up enthusiasm.

"Do that again, Holmesy, and I'll chase you back into camp," warned
Dick, with his patient smile.  Then he stepped ashore, took the
trout from the line and impaled it on a stick, which he gave Greg
to carry.

Within two minutes there was another strike.  The same patient
tactics, and Dick had another trout---this time a two-pounder
as against about three quarters of a pound for the weight of the
first trout.

The third trout got away, despite the most careful handling, but
the fourth and fifth biters were soon landed.

"I can't stand this any longer," quivered Dave.  "I've got to
start in.  Where do you want me to go, Dick?"

"Better go about a quarter of a mile upstream," Prescott suggested,
"and then work down this way.  Greg can go along with you and
carry the stick for your string.  I'll look out for my own string."

For nearly half an hour Prescott saw nothing of his friends.
Then Dave and Greg came in sight.  Dick held up a string now numbering
eleven trout, some of them unusually large.

For answer Greg held up a crotched stick with not a single trout
dangling therefrom.

"There's more knack to this game than I can catch," muttered Darry
disconsolately, "but I'd give a good deal to get the knack of it."

"No man save the first trout fisherman of all ever learned without
a teacher," Dick assured his chum.  "Greg, you take a place farther
down the stream, and I'll stay with Dave and try to show him some
of the tricks.  You may have my pole and line, Greg, for I shall
be busy watching Dave."

Many a pull at his line had Darrin, and many a fish was lost ere,
under Prescott's patient instruction, he managed to land a trout
weighing about a pound.

"Whew!" muttered Dave, mopping his brow. "At this moment I believe
I feel prouder than any general who ever captured a city."

"You'll soon have the hang of it, now, Dave," was his chum's encouraging
assurance.  "Now, I'm going to hunt up Holmesy, and see if I can
show him some of the knack."

Greg proved a grateful though not very clever pupil.  He was all
enthusiasm, but the art of landing a trout appeared to him to
be one of the most difficult feats in the world.

"I don't believe I'll ever land enough to fill a frying pan,"
he said dejectedly.  "Dick, the fellows are depending upon you.
Take this pole and use it for the next hour."

Later in the forenoon Greg had one small trout on a stick he had
cut and trimmed for himself.  Dave Darrin looked almost triumphant
as he displayed three of the speckled ones.  Both stared in envy
at Dick's string of thirty-four trout.

"Of course it'll take a few days of patient study of the game
to enable you to make big catches," was Dick's consoling assurance.

"I'd put in all summer, if I were sure I could master the trick
in the end," said Dave.

Greg said nothing, but felt less resolute about it than Darrin
did.

"Why, it's only fifteen minutes before noon," cried Dave, glancing
at his watch.

"Then it's high time to be going back," nodded Dick, "in case
the fellows are depending upon us for their meal.  If Tom has
a lot of bass, though, we can store these trout in our new ice
box---the cave."

"And let the Man with the Haunting Face slip in there, after dark,
and help himself!" grumbled Darry.  "Somehow that idea doesn't
make any hit with me."

"Then we'll have to put in the afternoon," proposed Prescott,
"in building a log-lined pit in the ground and moving ice from
the cave to fill it.  Then we can keep our fish supplies right
up under our noses in front of the tent."

"That's a little more satisfactory in the way of an idea," nodded
Darry.

For the purpose of taking a short cut they soon left the brook,
going through a stretch of woods on their way to camp.

Hardly had these high school boys entered the woods when they
halted, for an instant, in intense consternation.

On the air there came to them a sudden scream.

"That was a girl's voice!" gasped Greg.

"Or a woman's," nodded Dick.  "We've got to-----"

Again a piercing scream, then more screams in two voices.

"Hustle!" finished Dick, as the three boys broke into a run in
the direction whence the sound of the voices came to them.




CHAPTER XVI

THE CAMP INVADED AND CAPTURED


Clad in their long fishing boots, none of the boys made anything
like his usual speed in running.

Grumbling inwardly at their clumsy gait, all three hurried as
fast as they could into the near-by stretch of forest.

There, in a path, they came upon a middle-aged woman accompanied
by four girls, all of whom showed signs of unusual alarm.

"Oh, Dave," called Belle Meade, "I'm so glad to see you!"

"You usually are," laughed Darrin, "but I never knew you to make
so much noise about it before."

"What's the trouble?" Dick inquired, after a hasty greeting to
Mrs. Bentley, Laura Bentley, Belle Meade, Fannie Upham and Margery
White, the latter four all Gridley High School girls.

"A man---he must have been crazy!" replied Laura.  Her voice shook
slightly, and she was still trembling, though the color was beginning
to return to her face.

"Did he offer to molest you?" flared Dick.

"No, indeed!" replied Mrs. Bentley promptly and laughing nervously.
"In fact, I think we must have frightened the man, for his desire
seemed to be to get away from us as fast as he could."

"But that face!" cried Miss Fanny.  "I never want to see it again."

"It must have been our Man of the Haunting Face," murmured Dick,
turning to his chums.

"That was he---just who it was!" declared Belle, with emphasis.
"I don't know whom you're talking about, but 'haunting face'
just describes the man who frightened us."

"It was so silly of us!" murmured Laura Bentley.  "It was clear
nonsense for us to be so frightened, but when, we saw that face
peering at us from behind a tree we simply couldn't help screaming."

"Are you alone?" demanded Prescott in some astonishment, for these
were carefully brought-up girls, and it was not like their parents
to let them go into the woods without other guard than that of
a chaperon.

At that instant Dick's question was answered by the appearance
of Dr. Bentley, who, on account of his weight, panted somewhat
as he ran.

"Did---these---young men frighten---you so badly---that you---made
such a commotion---and caused me nearly to breathe---my last in
running to---your aid?" demanded the good doctor gaspingly, his
eyes twinkling.

"No, sir; we came, like yourself, when we heard the girls scream,"
Dick Prescott explained.

Then, amid much talking, and with as many as three people speaking
at once, the story was quickly recounted for Dr. Bentley.

"We've seen the fellow before," Dick explained, "but he always
fakes alarm and vanishes.  We call him our man of mystery---the
Man with the Haunting Face."

"Some poor, simple-minded fellow," suggested Dr. Bentley.  "Probably
one whose mild mania leads him to prefer to live in the woods,
a regular hermit.  My dears, I'm surprised that any of you should
be so easily startled and make such noisy testimony to your alarm."

"I'm indignant with myself now---when there are men standing by,"
laughed Belle.  "But I wish you had seen that man's strange face,
Doctor."

"I would like to see it, and punch it, too!" muttered Dave.

"Not a bit of it!" objected Dr. Bentley heartily.  "No doubt the
poor fellow is sadly afflicted mentally.  He's what the Arabs
call a 'simple,' and the Arabs have a beautiful faith that all
'simples' are under the direct protection of Allah.  So, woe to
him who offends one of Allah's 'simples.'"

"How do you boys come to be here?" asked Laura.

"I might ask the same question of your party," smiled Dick.  "As
for us, we are away on a vacation fishing and camping trip."

"I knew you were going away," said Dr. Bentley, "but I didn't
know just where.  We are touring again, in my seven-passenger
car.  We are headed for the St. Clair Lake House, eight miles
below here.  But the roads are so bad that the chauffeur said
it would take us more than an hour to get through.  So I proposed
to Mrs. Bentley and the girls that we leave the car at the road
and cross over here to have our luncheon on the shore of this
second lake.  I have been here before, and remember it as a beautiful
spot.  Mrs. Bentley and the girls started on ahead, and I brought
up the rear with the baskets of food.  But they got further ahead
of me than I thought.  Now I must go back after the baskets, which
I set down before I started to run here.  Greg, will you go back
with me and help me bring the baskets?"

Greg at once accompanied the physician.  When they came to the
spot, however, they found but one basket, and that nearly empty.
The second basket had disappeared altogether.

"Fine!" grunted Dr. Bentley.  "Greg, our committee of two must
go back and report the disquieting news."

"Not so very disquieting, sir," smiled young Holmes.  "We have
a camp full of food to offer you."

That invitation Dick and Dave very quickly seconded when the doctor
rejoined the party.

"Especially if you can eat trout, sir," Dick went on.

"Don't!  Don't be cruel!" remonstrated Dr. Bentley.  "I used to
eat trout when I was a boy, but they are now an extinct fish."

"Are they, sir?" inquired Dick, unwrapping a paper from around
part of the morning's heavy catch, while Dave exhibited the contents
of a similar bundle.

Dr. Bentley rubbed his eyes.

"Bless me, these are a fine imitation of brook trout as I recall
them," he murmured.

"What did you mean by saying that trout were an extinct fish?"
asked Laura.

"They're extinct for all but the wealthy," replied the physician.
"Brook trout, in these days, generally cost all of a dollar and
a half a pound, and I've heard of as high as two dollars a pound
being paid for them."

"There are plenty hereabouts, just now," Dick replied.  "But we
may take them all out of the water before we move from here."

"Of course," nodded Laura's father.  "That's what trout are for.
They won't do anyone any good as long as they remain in the water."

"Let's hurry back, please," urged Dick.  "I am anxious to see
your luncheon under way."

"Yes," teased Belle, "the sooner you have satisfied our appetites
the sooner you may expect to see us gone and be able to enjoy
yourselves and your comfortable solitude once more."

"Now, just for saying that, Belle," uttered Dick reproachfully,
"I'm going to consider the revenge of burning two of your trout
in the pan."

"Mercy!" cried Belle Meade.  "Are you going to cook the trout?"

"After you've eaten a trout cooked and served up by Dick Prescott,"
Dave declared, "you won't want them cooked by anyone else.  Dick
is the one trout chef in this part of the country."

"Where did he learn?" teased Belle with a pretense of suspicion.

"Mr. Morton---Coach Morton, of our high school eleven---taught
Dick how to do it," Dave explained.

"Right here, young ladies---attention!" called Dr. Bentley, holding
up a warning finger.  "If brook trout are as fine eating as they
used to be when I was a boy, then you simply won't be able to
keep it a secret that you've eaten some recently.  Yet on one
point I must insist.  None of you must be dishonorable enough
to name any spot within fifty miles of here as the scene of your
trout luncheon.  If you let the secret out all the trout fishermen
in four counties will be swarming here to destroy all the fun
your young men friends are having.  So, please remember!  Utter,
dark, uncompromising secrecy!"

"Is it as bad as that?" asked Belle.

"Every real trout fisherman knows enough to keep his own secrets
as to the streams that contain trout," Dave nodded.

By this time they came within sight of the camp.  Nor was it long
before Tom, Dan and Harry caught sight of the visitors and ran
forward to meet them.

"Our friends have come just in time to have a trout feast," Dick
announced.

"I shall be jealous if they eat the trout," Tom retorted.

"Or envious?" laughed Belle.

"No; jealous," Tom assured her.  "Dan and I have been fishing,
too.  Come and see what we caught."

Tom led the way to where he had cleaned more than a dozen black
bass, while in buckets of water lay nearly thirty more fine,
sleek-looking fish.

"Didn't you catch anything but bass?" Dave asked.

"A few other fish," Tom admitted, "but we threw the inferior fish
back into the water.  Now, girls, which are you going to have---trout
or bass?"

"Both---if we may," ventured Laura, with a smile.

And both were served at the meal.  Motherly Mrs. Bentley laid
aside her motoring dust coat and marshaled the girls for the various
tasks to which she assigned them.

What a hubbub there was in preparing the feast!

Dick built two small fires for his own exclusive use.  Tom built
two more, while Dan and Greg skirmished for more wood.  Dr. Bentley,
his coat off and shirt sleeves rolled up, constructed a "warm
oven" with stones topped by a large baking tin.  Then he built
another.

Dick fried the trout, while Dr. Bentley started low fires under
the two crude warming ovens.  As fast as trout were fried they
were dropped into one oven, Tom's bass being dropped into the
other.  Potatoes were boiling in one pot, tinned peas in another,
and tinned string beans in still another.  Tinned pudding was
set in another pot of water to heat, while Mrs. Bentley made a
sauce, and the girls set the table and made the other necessary
preparations for the luncheon.

Presently the meal was ready, though the boys did not seat themselves
until they had seen their welcome guests served.

"Daddy," murmured Laura, "I don't blame you for regretting your
boyhood, if you had many trout feasts."

"How's the bass?" asked Tom, almost jealously.

"Just splendid," replied Laura, sampling her first fork full.

"You boys are camping in a fisherman's paradise," declared Dr.
Bentley.  "I don't blame you for liking this life.  When I was
a boy fresh water fish were almost as plentiful as salt water
fish.  Now, we rarely find any fresh water fish in the markets.
I can't understand how this choice retreat for fishermen has
escaped notice, unless it is because of the almost total lack
of inhabitants in this section, and the miserable apologies for
roads.  Once again I must caution all of you young women not to
be indiscreet and spoil this fisherman's paradise for your young
friends by talking about it to anyone."

All four of the girls promised absolute secrecy.

After they had all satisfied their hunger, Dick asked Dr. Bentley
all about the St. Clair Lake House.  He learned that it was a
fine, modern hotel, accommodating about one hundred and fifty
guests.  It was just on the edge of the good roads, Dr. Bentley
explained; this side of the hotel no roads worthy of the name
existed.  Dick was very thoughtful after receiving the information,
for he had something on his mind.

"How about that chauffeur of yours, doctor?" asked Dave suddenly.

"Oh, we left him with a comfortable luncheon," replied Dr. Bentley.
"He can't leave the car, you know."

"Will you take him two or three trout, sir?" urged Dick.

"And a bass, sir?" added Reade.

"We'll wait for him to eat them in the car," replied the physician,
"provided the poor fellow hasn't gorged himself on plainer food
and has no room left for real fare like this."

When the time came that the guests must really leave, five of
the boys accompanied the party to the road.  Hazelton remained
to watch the camp.

"Now, let's hustle!" urged Dick, as the car rolled out of sight.
"When we get back to camp we have many long hours of work to do."

"Work of what kind?" inquired Tom.

"First of all," replied Prescott, with his most mysterious air,
"we are going to build, close to camp, a make-believe ice-box.
Then we're going to fill the box with ice."

"And what will all that be for?" Dave wanted to know.

"If you can't guess now," smiled young Prescott, his eyes gleaming,
"you'll soon begin to see daylight through my plan!  I don't know---but
I believe that the plan I have in mind is going to work out in
great shape!"




CHAPTER XVII

DICK MAKES FISH TALK


"That's the longest eight miles I've ever done," muttered Hazelton.

"The map is wrong.  It's a hundred and eight," affirmed Dave.

"No matter, if the trip turns out to have been wisely planned,"
remarked Dick, a wistful look coming into his eyes.  "Of course,
I may have overshot the mark."

"That's a chance we had to take," declared Dave promptly.  "We
won't be disappointed if we find that we haven't made such a big
move, after all."

The three high school boys had halted in the shade of some trees
by the highway.  A quarter of a mile away, around the head of
the body of water known as the third lake, stood a handsome hotel,
the St. Clair Lake House.

It was now nearly nine o'clock in the morning.  Dick and his two
comrades had been on the way, over the rough road, propelling
the heavily laden push cart, from which water now dripped from
melting ice.  The boys had built their ice-house, or ice-box,
whichever one preferred to call it, and they had stocked it with
ice from the cave.  Dick, Dave and Greg had whipped up and down
the stream in turn; Tom and Dan had trolled the lake for bass.
As fast as the fish were brought in they were stored on the ice.
After two days of hard fishing the boys arose before four o'clock
in the morning, for Dick was now ready to test his venture.

"Stay close by that box, Harry," warned Dick, as he took hold
of the handles of the push cart.

"Won't I, though?" Hazelton demanded.

Dick and Dave trudged onward, taking brief turns at the cart.
Thus they entered the hotel grounds at the rear, continuing until
they were close up to the rear porch.  Then Dick ascended the
steps and knocked at the door.  As no one answered, he stepped
into the corridor.

"What do you want here?" asked a well-dressed, portly man of fifty,
who stepped out of a nearby room.

"I would like to see the manager, or steward, sir," Prescott replied.

"We don't want any help," replied the man.

"I haven't any help to offer, sir," Dick smiled.  "Can I see the
steward, or the manager?"

"I'm the proprietor, if that will do," answered the man, giving
Dick a sharp look.  He saw that his youthful visitor was evidently
a well-bred boy, but that did not prove that Dick was not looking
for work.  College boys often serve as bell-boys or waiters at
summer hotels.

"If you will step outside then, a moment, sir," Prescott continued,
"I think I can show you the nicest lot of black bass you ever saw."

"A string of bass, eh?"

"No, sir; quite a load."

"I'll look at them," said the proprietor briefly.

When he saw the quantity of bass, and noted the plumpness of the
fish, the proprietor was more interested.  It is always a problem,
with a summer hotel, to serve enough novel food.  But the proprietor
offered less than half the price Dick named.  The high school
boy, however, stuck to his price.

"I can't deal with you, then," said the owner, with a shake of
the head, starting to reenter the hotel.

"The Kelway House is about a mile and a half below here, isn't
it, sir?" asked Prescott, preparing to push the cart along.

"Yes; but they won't buy fish at that price."

"I'll try them, anyway, sir.  Thank you for the trouble you've
taken for me.  Good morning, sir."

"Hold on, there," interrupted the hotel proprietor.  "Perhaps
I can offer you a little more."

In his own mind the hotel man was determined that the rival Kelway
House should not have the chance to serve these bass.

More haggling followed, but Dick stuck to his price.  In the end
he got it.  Scales were brought and the fish weighed.  The total
came to eighteen dollars and thirty-three cents.

"I suppose an even eighteen dollars will satisfy you?" asked the
hotel man.

"Yes, sir," admitted the greatly delighted Prescott.

While the money was being counted over, Dave slipped away with
the push cart.

"In about ten minutes, sir," said Dick, after he had pocketed
the money and had thanked the hotel man, "I'll have something
else to show you."

"What?" asked the man, eyeing Dick keenly.

"Now, if you don't mind, sir," coaxed Dick, with a smile, "I'd
rather not destroy, in advance, the keen delight you're going
to feel when you see the next cartload."

"How many of these cartloads have you lying around?" asked the
proprietor quickly.

"The next one will be also the last, sir.  May I call you out
when my friends get here with it?"

"I---I guess so," assented the hotel man, and then went inside.
Dick found a seat on a nearby bench and waited.

Dave and Harry presently came along with the cart.  Dick once
more went after his prospective purchaser.

"What have you now---more bass?" asked the hotel man, eyeing the
heavy box on the cart.  Water was dripping from the ice and running
to the ground.

"No, sir; just look!" begged Prescott, lifting some jute bagging
from the top of the box, then  digging down through the top layer
of cracked ice.

"Brook trout?" cried the hotel man.  "Where on earth did you get
them?"

"We have a factory where we turn 'em out nights, sir," volunteered
Dave, with a grin.

"What do you want for them---same price as for the bass?" demanded
the proprietor.

"We could hardly afford to do that, you know," Prescott replied.
"Down in a town like Gridley these brook trout ought to retail
for a dollar and a half a pound.  We'll offer them to you, sir,
at sixty cents a pound---flat."

"Take 'em away!" ordered the hotel man, with an air of finality.
This time it was plain that he did not propose to purchase.

"You won't be sorry after we're gone, will you?" asked Dick politely.

"I can't afford to put sixty-cents-a-pound fish on my bill of
fare," said the hotel man.

At this moment two well-dressed, prosperous-looking, middle-aged
men came strolling around the corner of the building.  As Dick
was about to cover his fish one of them caught sight of the speckled
beauties, and stopped short.

"Hello!  Aren't these fine, Johnson?" the man demanded of the
proprietor.  "Going to buy these trout for the hotel?"

"I can't afford to put such costly fish on the bill of fare,"
replied Johnson candidly.

"Man, you don't have to," replied the other.  "Send these trout
to the grill-room ice-box.  Let guests who want brook trout order
them as extras.  Why, I'll eat a few of these myself, if you serve
'em."

"Certainly," nodded the other man.

Proprietor Johnson had caught a new idea from the suggestion of
serving the trout as an "extra" in the grill-room of the hotel.
All of a sudden he began to scent a profit.

"All right, young man," smiled Mr. Johnson.  "Begin to unload.
I'll have the scales brought out again."

The weight proved to be a little over one hundred pounds.  Dick
accepted an even sixty dollars, while Harry Hazelton nearly strangled
himself in his efforts to keep from cheering lustily.

This money, too, was counted out.

"Are you going to bring any more fish this way?" asked Mr. Johnson.

"I can hardly say as to that, sir," Dick hesitated.

"If you do, I can't agree positively to buy, but I'll be glad,
anyway, if you'll give me the first chance.  I will see how these
trout 'go' in the grill-room in the meantime."

"We'll give you the first call, sir," Dick nodded.  "Thank you
very much for this morning's business."

"That boy is a budding merchant," thought Johnson, staring after
Dick as the three high school boys trundled their cart away.
But in this estimate the hotel man chanced to be wrong.

"Let's hurry up and get away from the hotel---a long way off,"
urged Hazelton.

"Why?" asked Dave.  "It was a fine place---for us."

"Yes; but I want to yell, with all my might," Darry declared.
"Seventy-eight dollars---think of it!"

"Nothing to get excited about," Dick declared calmly.

"When did we ever make so much money in life same time before?"
blurted Hazelton.

"Never, perhaps," Prescott admitted.  "We made money, this time,
because we had something that everyone wants, and the supply of
which isn't large.  We would have made far more money if we had
had a cart full of diamonds in the rough."

"What are you talking about?" demanded Hazelton.  "We don't know
where to find diamonds."

"I didn't say that we did," Dick rejoined.  "But we had something
that is rare, and in demand.  The rarer a thing is that everyone
wants the better price can be had for it.  The bass didn't bring
anywhere near as much money as the trout, just because people
don't call for black bass as much as they will for brook trout."

They were entering the little village beyond the hotel.  They
had to go there in order to mail their letters, for all the boys
had taken advantage of this opportunity to write home.

"We'll be nervous with this seventy-eight dollars in camp, in
addition to the few other dollars we have," Dave suggested.

"We won't keep a lot of money in camp," Dick replied.  "I'm going
to buy a money order for seventy-five dollars, payable to myself,
and send it to my father to hold for me until we get back.  Then
I'll cash the order in Gridley and turn the money into our common
fund."

"And we'll add to that fund," proposed Hazelton eagerly.

"If the bass and the trout hold out," supplemented Dick.

"Say, wouldn't it be mighty nice if only we could get some home
letters here?" asked Hazelton, as the three left the cart at the
curb and turned to enter the post-office.

"We can look for home letters on our next trip here," Dick suggested.
"On Tom's, Greg's and Dan's letters I'm going to add a note on
the outside of the envelope to the effect that letters may be
sent to this office for us.  And I'm going to add a postscript
to my letter to my father and mother.  You fellows had better
do the same thing."

Dick's first move was to get a money order blank and fill out
his application.  Then all hands attended to their postscripts.

This done they went outside.

"There's a little grove down that street," said Dave, pointing.
"Why not go down there and take a brief nap?"

"I want a long one," Dick laughed.  "Traveling over that road
was harder work than I've ever done on the football field."

Their nap lasted until a little after noon.

"Whee!  But I'm hungry," grumbled Hazelton.

"I think we may feel justified in finding a restaurant, and getting
a good meal," assented Dick.

"I want a steak for mine," proposed Darry.  "It seems a year since
we've had one."

"Great idea!" nodded Dick.  "And, while we're about it, we'll
get steaks and some stewing meat the last thing before we leave
town and take it back to the fellows.  We've had so much fish
that red meat will hit a tender spot with all the fellows."

"It will make a big hit with Tom Reade, I know," laughed Hazelton.

Pushing the cart through the street, the high school boys found
a restaurant that looked as though it would be within reach of
their purses.  The boys put their cart in a back yard, then went
in and asked permission to wash up.  This being granted, they
soon after took seats at a table in the restaurant.

It was an odd little place, equipped with several booths, each
containing a table and seats for four persons.

"We'll take the booth away down at the end of the room, where
we won't be seen by better-dressed people," proposed Dave.

Accordingly they occupied the last booth in the row.  There they
ordered a meal that made their mouths water in advance.

Hazelton, poking his head out of the booth as he heard some one
enter, hastily drew it in again.

"Guess who's coming!" he whispered.

"Can't," replied Dick.

"Dodge and Bayliss," replied Harry.

"Keep out of sight, and don't talk," ordered Prescott.

Bert Dodge and his chum came down the room, taking the booth next
to that of the high school boys, yet without seeing Dick and his
chums.

When the waiter appeared Dodge ordered two ice creams.

"Queer what became of the mucker gang," observed Bayliss, after
the waiter had departed.

"Not a bit queer," retorted Bert.  "That was why I wanted to meet
you here this morning.  I've found out where they are."

"How did you find out?" demanded Bayliss.

"Do you see this post card?" demanded Bert, laying a card on the
table.  "It was written by Laura Bentley to Susie Sharp, and mentions
their having had lunch at the camp of the high school muckers.
And this message gives a clear enough idea of where their camp
is, too.  Laura must have dropped the card in the street, for
that's where I found it."

"Say, that's a great find!" chuckled Bayliss.

"You may wager that it is," grinned Dodge.  "We broke up one night
of sleep for the muckers with those bombs, but I've an idea that
the night we shot off sixty rounds of blank shotgun shells that
they had already moved.  But now I have a brand-new one that we
can use and make them break camp and run for home as fast as they
can go.  Then we'll pass the story of their scare all around Gridley,
and they'll never hear the last of the laugh against them."

"I'm all attention, old fellow!" Bayliss protested eagerly.

"So are we!" thought Dick grimly, as he glanced at Dave and Harry.




CHAPTER XVIII

A KETTLE OF HOT WATER FOR SOMEONE


It was a wonderfully elaborate scheme to which the high school
boys were privileged to listen.  Such a scheme, really showed
Dodge, in a way, to be possessed of more brains than people in
Gridley commonly credited him with possessing.

But Dick smiled at Dave Darrin's scowl as the plot was unfolded
in the next booth.

Fortunately for Dick and his chums the steak order was delayed
in the serving.  Thus Dodge and Bayliss finished their ice cream
and left the place without discovering the presence of their intended
victims.

"Say, aren't that pair just going to enjoy themselves at our expense?"
chuckled Hazelton, after the plotters had left.

"Unless I miss my guess, they're going to dance to our music to-night,"
laughed Dick gleefully.

Their meal was served soon after, and eaten with relish.  As soon
as it had been finished Dick asked the waiter for a sheet of paper
and envelope.

"Don't worry about any weird doings you may hear of from our camp,"
Prescott wrote his mother.  "We've just learned of a big scare
Dodge and Bayliss are planning to spring on us up at our camp.
We're going to turn the tables on them---that's all.  But I write
this for fear you may hear some awful tales when that pair reach
Gridley."

As they left the restaurant, Dick returned to the post-office,
mailing this second letter to his mother.

"Now, we must buy a few things here," Dick explained to his friends.
"Then we must get out of this village by a back road, and we
must make sure that we don't run into that pair of ex-soreheads."

The "sorehead" reference, as readers of our "_High School Boys
Series_" will recall, had to do with Dodge and Bayliss, ere they
had been chased out of Gridley High School.  These boys had belonged
to the notorious "sorehead faction" in the high school football
squad.

Going in different directions, Dick, Dave and Harry were able
to make all their needed purchases in a short time.  Right after
that, they got out of the village, and back upon the rough trail
for camp without having met their enemies.

It was nearly seven o'clock when the three travelers, all but
fagged out, pushed their cart in sight of camp and gave a hail
that brought the other chums running to meet them.

First of all, word was passed as to the successful outcome of
the fish-selling expedition.

"I thought you fellows would bring us some fresh meat," Tom cried,
when Dave unloaded the cart.  "Fresh vegetables, too?  Wow!  Won't
we live?  I told the fellows not to try to get supper until you
got back, as you'd be sure to bring something that would make
us sorry we had eaten.  We've the fires all ready."

"And now, listen!" commanded Dick Prescott, after the first preparations
had been made for supper.

Thereupon the young leader of Dick & Co. repeated the plot they
had heard Dodge and Bayliss unfold that noon.

"Hang those two heathens!" sputtered Tom Reade indignantly.

"Oh, I'm glad they're coming," laughed Dick.  "All I hope is that
nothing will happen to keep them from coming to-night."

Then Dick outlined his plan.  Tom Read, after listening for a
few moments, lay on the ground, rolling over and over in his glee.

"Wow!  But won't that be great?" demanded Greg, laughing until
the tears ran from his eyes.

"Say, we mustn't talk any more now.  We must eat supper, and then
get ready if we're to play the reception committee successfully
tonight."

At a very early hour, considering the lateness of the evening
meal, Reade, with his knack in woodwork, and with no other tool
than his jackknife, had fashioned the stocks for two "rifles."
These Hazelton carefully treated with mud from the lake so as
to give them a dark color.

"If the guns are seen by the light of the campfire, the stocks
and barrels ought to be of different colors," Dick explained.

Dave was now fashioning two straight sticks into semblance of
rifle barrels.  These were lightly treated with mud and fastened
to the two stocks.  Then two additional "rifles" were to be manufactured.

Other work was performed, and all was gotten in readiness.  Prescott
had a number of mysterious-looking little packages that he had
bought in the village.

"Oh, dear, but I hope nothing happens to keep Dodge and Bayliss
from coming to-night," breathed Tom, as he labored fast.  "David,
little giant, hurry up with those barrels.  There can be no telling
how soon we shall have to defend ourselves with these 'Quaker'
guns!"

As they worked, the high school boys indulged in many a chuckle.

"It takes something like this to keep me awake to-night," Dick
yawned.  "If there were no excitement coming, I'm so dead sleepy
that I could go right into dreamland standing up."

"So could I," chirped Dave.  "But I manage to keep awake by enjoying
the thought of how thoroughly we'll wake up someone else tonight!"

"If our plans don't miscarry," warned Dick.

"Please don't croak about failure or disappointment," begged Tom
tragically.  "My warm, impulsive young heart won't stand any
disappointment to-night."

So they toiled on, their preparations all along the line taking
shape rapidly.

By ten o'clock they had everything completed, including the
manufacture of the "Quaker" rifles.

"Now, to our posts," chuckled Dick, after a rapid distribution
of things from the packages brought up from the village.

The campfire was allowed to burn low.  Some light was still needed
for the full success of their plans.

Tom and Dan took up their stand in front of the tent, each armed
with a "Quaker" gun.




CHAPTER XIX

BERT DODGE HEARS FRIGHTFUL NEWS


Half an hour passed.  At last there came the long-drawn, doleful
note of the screech owl.

It was but an amateurish imitation; an Indian would have treated
it with contempt, but it was well enough done to deceive untrained
ears.

Tom glanced at Danny Grin, smiling quietly.  The imitation note
of the screech owl was a signal from Dick that Dodge and Bayliss
had arrived, and were starting their nonsense.

Still Tom did not speak of this to Dan.  There could be no telling
whether Dodge or Bayliss might be within hearing already.  So
Tom and Dan, gripping their quite harmless weapons, became more
alert in appearance.

It was true enough that Dodge and Bayliss were now on the scene.
They had hidden their car off at the side of the road, a mile
or more below, and had crept forward with their outfit for the
night's big scare.

Dodge carried half a dozen large hot-air balloons, which he had
made for the purpose.  Under the other arm be carried a package
that looked as though it had come from a department store.

Bayliss, a broad grin on his face, carried the working parts of
a new style siren whistle, intended for automobiles, but a machinist
had succeeded in flutting some new notes and effects into the
screech of this ear-splitter.

"I hope they won't take the noise of this siren for the cry of
a screech owl," whispered Bayliss, as the pair stole stealthily
along.

"If they do, they'll soon get over that idea, and find their real
fright up in the air," Bert Dodge whispered in response.

"I wonder how much further on their camp is, or whether we're
anywhere near it?" Bayliss asked.

"We'll soon know how close we are, for the lake can't be much
further on.  I just caught sight of the water in the starlight,"
Bert answered.

How astounded both mischief makers would have been had they known
that certain members of Dick & Co. were even now trailing them.

"There's the tent!" whispered Dodge suddenly, checking his Companion,
as they came to a spot on the slope where they could see the white
of the canvas faintly displayed by the glow from a dying campfire.

"Two of them are about, too!" muttered Bayliss disgustedly.

"Then they're all the more certain to see what they're going to
see soon," chuckled his companion.  "Only we must work quickly."

Bayliss separated one of the balloons from the string held by
Bert.  The package was opened and from it Bayliss took and fitted
over the balloon enough filmy gauze to cover it to a length of
six or seven feet.  Tying a longer string to the balloon, Bayliss
allowed the white, filmy mass to soar upward.  When the balloon
had reached a height of twenty feet above the near-by tree tops,
Bayliss made it fast to a tree trunk.  Then he and Dodge skipped
hastily to a point some eighty yards away, where they speedily
sent up another.  In a very short time all six balloons were flying
on the night air, each with its trail of white fleecy stuff hanging
therefrom.

"They do look like ghosts flying in the air, don't they?" demanded
Bayliss exultantly.

"Not to me," muttered Bert.  "But that's because I know what they're
made of."

"Let's hustle now with the rest," urged Bayliss.

"Right you are," agreed Bert.

They hurried along, going a bit nearer to the camp, until Dodge
pointed to a tangle of bushes.

"That'll be a good place to hide with the siren.  You get in there
with it, but don't start it until about sixty seconds after you
hear the big noise.  Then I'll hustle right back here to you."

"Don't let any of Dick Prescott's friends catch you," urged Bayliss,
who would have gasped had he known that at that moment two of
them crouched close enough to hear every word.

Now Bert hastened down the slope, carrying a fireworks' bomb very
much like those that he and Bayliss had set off on the opposite
side of the lake on another evening long to be remembered.

Treading cautiously, Bert reached a point not far distant from
the doorway of the camp tent.  Here, crouching in the screening
bushes, Bert placed the bomb in position.  It was only a fireworks'
bomb of the kind used on Fourth of July nights.  It was harmless
enough to one who stood more than thirty feet from it.

"The fuse will burn a minute before it goes off," murmured Bert
to himself.  "That will give me almost time to reach Bayliss before
the big noise comes.  The noise will bring them all out of the
tent.  Then the remainder of our programme will do the rest."

But, even as Bert reached for the match with which to touch off
the fuse he heard Dalzell call in a voice audible at the distance:

"Look at those things up in the air, Tom!"

"He has sighted our 'ghosts,'" laughed Bert to himself.

"They must be some sort of signal kites, flown by the moonshiners,"
answered Reade in an interested tone.

"Kites!  Is that what he takes our ghosts for?" wondered Bert
Dodge in deep disgust.

But the mention of the word "moonshiners" gave the listener a
start.  In a general way he knew that "moonshiner" is the term
applied to men who try to cheat the United States Revenue Service
by distilling liquors on which they pay no tax.  Bert had heard
that moonshiners are deadly men, indeed, and that they make little
of shooting down the government officers who are sent to ferret
out their hiding places and arrest them.

"I wish we hadn't run into those moonshiners," said Danny, rather
dolefully.  "And I wish Dick hadn't thought it necessary to go
and send word to the United States authorities.  I'm afraid there's
going to be an awful row here to-night."

"What's that?" wondered Bert, pricking up his ears.

"I rather wish Dick hadn't been in such an awful rush," Tom admitted
slowly.  "Anyway, we fellows should have gotten out of here and
left it to the marshals to have it all their own way.  I'm afraid
there is going to be a big fight to-night, and these old woods
may be full of humming bullets.  And I'm worried about Dick, too,
going off as guide to the marshals.  There were only eight of
the marshals, and, even with four of our fellows, they still have
to face nearly twenty of the moonshiners---and I'll wager that
the moonshiners are all desperate fighters."

"Oh, dear!" wailed Danny Grin.

Bert Dodge's face was a study.  With the prospect of a running
fight between United States' marshals and desperate moonshiners
about to take place, these woods seemed likely to be anything
but a safe place.

"At least, the marshals did a decent thing in leaving us rifles
here to protect ourselves with," Dan Dalzell continued.

Raising his head, Bert took a long look at the camp.  Not far
away stood Tom Reade, the  outlines of a rifle in his grasp showing
very distinctly.  Dalzell was over nearer the shadow of the tent,
yet Bert made sure that Dalzell had a rifle also.

"Gracious!  There is likely to be real enough trouble in the woods
to-night!" muttered Bert.  "Those boys didn't have guns when they
left Gridley.  The authorities have probably furnished them."

Just then a popping fire rang out further up the lake slope.

"There it goes!" almost yelled Danny Grin.  "The marshals have
run into the moonshiners.  The fight is on.  Oh, I hope none of
our fellows are being hit!"

Certainly the firing continued briskly.  Dodge forgot all about
lighting the fuse of the fireworks' bomb.

Instead, he crouched low, then darted from the bushes, running
as fast as he could to the point where he had left his companion.

"In here!" chuckled Bayliss gleefully.  "I didn't know you had
anything with you but the bomb, Bert."

"That's all I did have," whispered Dodge, white-faced.  "Hustle
out of here, Bayliss!"

"What's the matter?"

"Hear that firing?"

"I thought you had been setting off fire crackers, Bert."

"Fire crackers nothing!" ejaculated Bert, his face ghastly.  "Man
alive, that's a fight going on up the slope between United States
officers and a lot of desperate moonshiners!  There goes the firing
again."

Bayliss heard it; he couldn't help that.

Then still nearer rang out the firing.

"We've got to get out of here as fast as our legs will take us,"
Bert insisted.  "Hustle before the bullets reach us."

At that moment Dave Darrin broke from cover, running as fast as
his legs could carry him.  As he raced toward camp Darrin called:

"Reade!  Danny!  This is Darrin.  Get ready to run or fight.
It's a fearful affair.  Four of the marshals were down when I
left, and Dick Prescott is done for, too!  Oh, it's fearful!
There won't be any of the government party left!"

Apparent terror rang in Darrin's voice as he ran forward flourishing
his "Quaker" rifle.

"Great Scott!" groaned Bayliss, trying to rise and run, though
his legs shook under him.

"Buck up!  Don't be a coward!" hissed Dodge, seizing his companion
by the arm.  "Come on!  Run for it---before we're hit."

Thus the two made their escape, running, stumbling through the
woods, heading blindly for the spot where they had left their
car.

Back of them fresh sounds of firing rang out.  How could the frightened,
dazed fugitives know that it was Dick Prescott, pursuing, and
dropping lighted strings of fire crackers as he ran?

"It's a running fight, and coming right our way!" gasped Bert.

"Let's drop down and crawl to safety!" almost screamed Bayliss.

"No, you don't!" retorted Dodge angrily.  "Our only safety lies
in getting into that car and throwing the engine wide open.  I
don't care if we wreck the car if only we can cover a couple of
miles of ground first.  Run!  Hustle!"

Had he suffered from a little keener fear, Bayliss would have
collapsed utterly.  As it was, fear lent him extra speed.  He
fairly tore over the ground, darting through bushes, plunging
on in headlong haste.  Bert kept with him.

"We'll soon be all right," cried Dodge encouragingly.  "Now,
jump right across the road.  Our car is in there, and headed the
right way."

Just as they reached the car and Bert's pale face showed right
in front of the headlights a third figure dashed up.

Harry Hazelton, his head swathed in a red-stained bandage, and
what appeared to be blood dripping from his left arm, sprang at
them, the butt of his rifle showing, but its barrel wrapped in
his jacket.




CHAPTER XX

A FRENZIED RIDE TO SAFETY


"Wait!" gasped Hazelton.  "You've got to take me, too."

"Not much," hissed Bayliss, his voice trembling.  "This car is
built only for two."

"You've got to take me, I tell you," Harry insisted, his voice
trembling.  "Do you think I'm going to be left behind?"

"This car is built for-----" Bayliss started to insist again.

"Then you will stay behind, Bayliss, at that rate," Harry retorted.
"Remember, I am able to enforce my wishes.  Do I go, too?"

Bert had started the engine, and now sprang in at the wheel.
Hazelton leaped in also, taking the other seat.

Bayliss, quivering in every muscle, leaped in, crouching between
them.

"I see that you've decided to come along with us," mocked Harry.

"Hang you!" snarled Bayliss.  "If you didn't have that gun we'd
see about it."

"Start her, fast, Dodge!" ordered Harry.

With a roar of the engine the car lurched forward.

"What happened to the others in your crowd?" asked Bert in a weak
voice, as he steered carefully down the rough road.

"All flat---all five of 'em!" affirmed Harry, but be neglected
to state that his five chums were lying on the ground, rolling
over in their mirth.

"None of 'em got away, then, but you?" chattered Bayliss.

"Do you think I'd let you take this car away from here?" demanded
Hazelton indignantly, "if there were any more of our fellows to
get away from here?  What would you fellows count for if it were
necessary to save more of my friends?"

"It must have been a fearful fight," shivered Dodge.

"It was," said Harry grimly, striving with all his might to keep
from bursting out in laughter.  "I never had any idea that a gun
fight was such an awful thing!"

"Prescott got his, then?" asked Bayliss.

"All five of my friends," replied Hazelton, in a choking voice.
"And I've some traces of the fight to show myself."

"How badly bit are you?" demanded Dodge.

"I'll last all right until I get to Gridley," Harry predicted,
"if you fellows don't keep me talking too much."

"I didn't intend going to Gridley to-night," Dodge replied.

"Yes, you will," Hazelton replied firmly.  "I must go to Gridley.
You drive straight there.  I'll hold you responsible, if you
don't."

Bert began to believe that he _would_ be held accountable if he
failed to take Hazelton to Gridley, so he gave in without protest.
At any rate, both Dodge and Bayliss wanted to get as far as possible
from the recent "horror," and as speedily as they could do it.

"There's no chance of our being attacked on the road to Gridley?"
asked Bayliss by and by, in a quavering voice.

"No," replied Hazelton.  "The lake will be between us and the
trouble makers."

It was rough going most of the way.  Hazelton was disinclined
to talk.  Bayliss' nerves were too shattered for him to feel like
indulging in conversation.  Dodge, white-faced, his cap pulled
well down over his eyes, showed all that he knew about running
a car carefully and as speedily as was possible over such rough
roads.

It was after two o'clock in the morning when the car turned into
the stretch of Main Street, Gridley.

"We'll go to the police station with the fearful news," proposed
Bert Dodge.

"No, we won't," retorted Hazelton.  "We'll go to the 'Blade' office.
Mr. Pollock, the editor, is one of Dick's best friends, and he'll
know better than anyone else in town what ought to be done."

So with hands that trembled Bert drove the car up in front of
the "Morning Blade" office.  All three leaped out, Dodge and Bayliss
eager to get into the glow of lights and among human beings.

As Harry's feet struck the sidewalk he remembered his character
as a wounded man and tried to totter up the steps in a realistic
fashion.

In the "Blade" building the press was rumbling busily as the inside
pages of the paper were being run off.

Mr. Pollock, all alone in the editorial part of the plant, looked
up in astonishment as the ghastly-hued Dodge and Bayliss appeared.
The editor's feeling turned to consternation when he saw Hazelton's
seemingly pitiable condition.

"Hazelton, what can have happened?" gasped the editor, leaping
to his feet.

"Take me into another room!" pleaded Harry.  "You two fellows,"
indicating Bert and his chum, "stay out here."

Though he didn't guess the answer, Mr. Pollock led young Hazelton
into the mailing room and turned on the light there.

"Sh-h-h!" warned Hazelton, his face lighting up impishly.  "Dodge
and Bayliss tried to play a trick on Dick & Co. and Prescott has
turned the laugh on them."

"But these blood-stained bandages?" questioned the astounded editor.

"It's stuff that is used for coloring strawberry ice cream.  Dick
bought it at a store.  Looks like the real thing, doesn't it?"

"It looked real enough to give me a bad turn," admitted the editor
dryly.

Then, in whispers, Harry told the story as rapidly as he could.
Mr. Pollock's face took on a broader grin as he listened.

"I'd hate to have young Prescott for my enemy," confessed the
"Blade's" editor.  "But this is the most atrocious joke I've ever
known him to put up."

"We had to put a stop to Dodge and Bayliss," Harry smiled.  "Perhaps
you'd better go back to Dodge and Bayliss, now---but please don't
let 'em know that it's all a joke."

"I won't spoil the thing," promised the editor, and hastened out.

"I'll be with you in just a minute, gentlemen," nodded Mr. Pollock
to Dodge and Bayliss, as he entered the editorial room, then sprang
into the telephone closet, closing the door after him.

Mr. Pollock telephoned the sheriff of the county, and also the
officer in charge at the Gridley police station, giving the officials
a hint of the joke at the second lake, so they wouldn't rush away
on a fool's errand in case the wild story reached their ears.

"Now I'll listen to what you two may have to tell me," announced
Mr. Pollock, coming out of the telephone closet.  "Then I'll have
to ask you to hurry away, as Hazelton will have to be attended
to and many things done.  Talk fast, if you please."

Dodge and Bayliss poured out what they knew of the night's business.

"And how did you two happen to be there?" inquired Mr. Pollock.

"Oh, we---we---we were touring in that part of the country, and
were fixing a break-down when Hazelton came running up," stammered
Bert Dodge.

"It was fortunate, indeed, for Hazelton, that you had that break-down,"
replied the editor.  Then his manner showed Dodge and Bayliss
that it was time for them to go.  Both were glad to get out of
the "Blade" office, for they feared to stand too much questioning
from one as keen as the newspaper man.




CHAPTER XXI

REAL NEWS AND "PUNK HEROES"


"Bayliss, no matter what happens," whispered Dodge, as the two
young men climbed into the car outside, "don't you ever let it
be found out that we went to the camp of Dick & Co. to play a
joke on Prescott and the others.  The awful way this night's work
has turned out would make the town too hot for us."

"Don't you be afraid of my becoming loose-tongued," chattered
Bayliss.  "Ugh!  I don't believe I'll ever want to talk to anyone
again.  Bert, do you really believe that all of the fellows but
Hazelton were really wiped out?"

"They---they must have been," gasped Dodge.

"It's fearful!"

"It is," Dodge assented, as he threw on the speed.  "I never liked
Prescott, but to-night's awful work is something that I'd have
been willing to have saved him from if there had been a way to
do it.

"Which way are you heading?" asked Bayliss suddenly.

"To Dr. Bentley's.  If he's at home, I want to hustle him to the
'Blade' office.  I believe he's the Hazelton family's physician.
Bayliss, any sign of attention to Hazelton on our part will look
well for us at a time when we're likely to be asked many questions
about how we came to be so near to their camp.  We've got to be
mighty careful, or in the excitement that will follow the awful
fate of Prescott and his friends  the town might grow so hot for
us that we'd be all but lynched.  Now, no one can prove that we
weren't on a trip, and that our car broke down on the road; that
we heard the fire of rifles, and the next thing we knew Hazelton,
badly wounded, came rushing up to us, and that we brought him
in as fast as we could.  Now, let's make up a story as to just
what trip we were taking when we broke down on the road a mile
from their camp."

The two plotters quickly planned out their story.

"Here's Dr. Bentley's office," said Dodge, as they turned a corner.
"You stay in the car, Bayliss.  I can attend to this better."
So Dodge was soon pouring a tale of woe and tragedy up through
the night speaking tube into the astounded, half-suspicious ears
of Dr. Bentley.

Then Bert Dodge drove with Bayliss to the latter's home, after
which Bert quakingly drove the car around to his own home, where
he roused his father to hear the strange news.  Nor was it long
ere the whole Dodge family was listening, awe struck.

In the meantime Hazelton was exhibiting to Mr. Pollock, with many
a chuckle, the "Quaker" rifle that he had brought into the office
wrapped in his jacket.  Harry also displayed the bottle of strawberry
coloring for ice cream that had supplied the color to his head
bandage.

Ting-a-ling! rang the telephone.  It was Dr. Bentley on the wire,
inquiring whether Dodge had been guilty of a hoax in calling him
up to go to the "Blade" office in order to attend Hazelton.

With many a chuckle Mr. Pollock told Dr. Bentley, under injunction
of secrecy, the story of the night's doings.  When Dr. Bentley
heard the story of this latest "outrage" by Dick & Co. he laughed
heartily.  "Well, well," he mused, "what will Dick and his friends
be up to next?"

"Hazelton," ordered Mr. Pollock, "you take the old overcoats you'll
find in that closet and arrange them on top of one of these long
tables.  Get some sleep.  I'll call you in time for you to get
word to the parents of Dick & Co. after six in the morning.  As
for me, I shall expect to get no sleep until I've put this big
news story in shape."

Yet that morning's issue of the "Blade" didn't contain a word
on the subject.  Mr. Pollock was wise enough to write the story,
then save it for appearance at the proper time.

By six o'clock Harry was aroused.  A closed cab, its driver pledged
to secrecy, was at the door to carry Harry on his rounds.  He
visited the parents of all the members of Dick & Co., informing
them that the story they might soon hear was not based on any
facts that need alarm them.

Before seven o'clock that morning Dodge and Bayliss, wild-eyed
and haggard looking, met at Bert's home.  Mr. Dodge took them,
soon after, down onto Main Street with him.

The first public whisper of the news sent it flying fast over
Gridley.

By nine o'clock Main Street was unwontedly crowded.  Groups of
men, women and young people everywhere discussed the "awful news."
Those who had been privileged to hear Dodge and Bayliss tell
the story were looked upon as most interesting people.

Of course a few Gridleyites tried to find the parents of the "slain"
boys and express their sympathy, but the parents of the members
of Dick & Co., strangely enough, could not be found.

With many repetitions of the story, Dodge and Bayliss almost
unintentionally began to picture themselves as heroes, who had risked
their lives in order to bring the single survivor away to safety.

"There's some good in young Dodge and Bayliss, after all," was
a not infrequent comment that morning.

"It must have taken real nerve, anyway, for them to make that
thrilling rescue of Hazelton," said others.

So Dodge and Bayliss, much to their astonishment and not a little
to their delight, found themselves somewhat in the hero class.
Their exhausted, wild-eyed, haggard appearance gave more color
to the story of the harrowing experience they claimed to have
undergone in rescuing Hazelton from that awful field of carnage
up by the second lake.

At ten o'clock Mr. Pollock's automobile drew up at the rear door
of the "Blade" building.  Hazelton slipped out, crouching low
in the car, that he might not be seen and recognized, while Mr.
Pollock and his star reporter, Len Spencer, openly entered and
drove away.  They made straight for the wilderness camp of Dick
& Co.  Once out of the town Harry rose to a comfortable seat,
and made up some of his lost sleep during the trip.

One thing that puzzled the excited citizens of Gridley was the
placid way in which the chief of police and the sheriff of the
county appeared to take the sad news.

Mr. Pollock drove his car as close to camp as he could, after
which he and his companions hurried over the uneven ground until
they came upon five high school boys seated outside.

"How did it all work out, Harry?" shouted Dick, leaping up as
soon as he saw his approaching comrade.

"It is working in great shape, you young scoundrel!" roared Editor
Pollock, gripping Dick Prescott's hand.  "And the yarn is going
to make the biggest and best midsummer sensation that the 'Blade'
has ever had!"

Mr. Pollock and Len Spencer remained at camp for something like
an hour and a half, enjoying a trout luncheon before they left.

It was four o'clock in the afternoon when editor and reporter
reached the "Blade" office.

At five o'clock the "Blade" put out a bulletin, around which a
crowd collected in no time.  The crowd grew to such proportions
that the policeman on the beat tried in vain to make it "move
on."

That bulletin read:

"Lake Tragedy All a Tremendous Hoax:  Read the 'Blade's' six o'clock
extra."

At a few minutes before six o'clock Len Spencer began to arrange
one of the street windows of the "Blade" office.

First of all, from hooks, he suspended Dodge and Bayliss' "ghosts"
of the night before.

"What does that mean?" asked the wondering onlookers.

Then an unexploded bomb bearing the trademark of the Sploderite
Company was put in the window.  It was followed by the _siren_ whistle
that Bayliss had dropped in his flight.  Then four "Quaker" wooden
guns, a red-stained bandage and a partly used bottle of strawberry
ice cream coloring appeared.

Promptly at six o'clock newsboys appeared on the street with the
exciting announcement:

"Extree!  Extree 'Bla-ade'!  All about Dick & Co.'s latest!  The
best joke of the season!"

Papers went off like hot cakes.  Before the evening was over more
than two thousand copies of that edition had been sold.  Many
more than two thousand people had crowded to the "Blade's" show
window to catch a glimpse of the exhibits described in the rollicking
news story.

"Pshaw!  Dodge and Bayliss, the heroes!" shouted one man in the
crowd, as he ran his eye through the story.

"Punk heroes!" answered someone else in the crowd.

The story was cleverly told.  Dodge and Bayliss were not mentioned
by name, but described only as a pair of amateur jokers whose
plans had miscarried.  Yet the plain, unvarnished story cast complete
ridicule over Bert and his friend.

While the fever of the reading crowd was at its height someone
shouted:

"Here they come now!"

Bert and Bayliss had just driven around the corner in the car.
During the last three hours both had slept at Bert's, but now
they were out and abroad again in order to hear the latest
developments.

Suddenly a hush fell over the crowd.  Bert and Bayliss were allowed
to drive in silence to the curb.

Then, just as suddenly, a dozen men leaped at the car, dragging
both youths to the sidewalk.

"Wha-a-at's wrong?" faltered Bert Dodge.

"We'll soon show you!" came the jeering answer of the captors.

Then a mighty shout of derision went up from  the crowd.




CHAPTER XXII

TOM TELLS THE BIG SECRET


"Take 'em to the horse trough!" roared more than one voice.

So Dodge and Bayliss, the centre---of a jeering, resolute crowd,
were dragged down the street a short distance.  The crowd swelled
in numbers.

"Stand Dodge on the edge of the trough, and make him read the
paper!" shouted one man.

That was accordingly done.  Bert was shaking so that he had to
be supported in the place chosen for him.

Bayliss was whimpering in abject terror.

"Now, read this in the 'Blade,' Dodge," ordered a tormentor, shoving
a paper forward.  "Read it aloud."

Bert began, in a wavering voice.

"Louder!" yelled a score of voices from different points in the
crowd.

Bert tried to obey, but his voice was shaky.

However, he read the article through to the end, while the crowd
waited ominously.

"Heroes, weren't you?" jeered many voices when white-faced Bert
had finished the reading.

"Duck him!" came the answer.

Bert was well splashed in the water of the trough.  Then Bayliss
shared the same fate.

"Now---git!  Travel fast---both of you!" came the order.

Nor did Bert or Bayliss need any further commands.  Frightened
as they were, they nevertheless summoned the strength to run
desperately.  No one struck them, even in fun.  Only jeers assailed
them.  Neither boy made any effort to get back to the automobile, but
both kept on until they had turned a corner and vanished from
sight.

"Pity we didn't have some rifle fire to tie to their coat tails,"
laughed one citizen.  For the "Blade" had made it plain that
firecrackers, exploded in packs, had provided the sounds of gun fire
up at the camp on the second lake.

"Oh, we'll make somebody sweat for this outrage!" quivered Bert,
his face dark and scowling, as he and Bayliss slowed up on a quiet
side street.  "There are laws in this land!  We might even get
damages out of someone!"

"I feel as if I had collected about all the damage I want for
a few days," muttered Bayliss, gazing down ruefully at his drenched
clothing and water-logged shoes.

"I wonder who'll take this car home?" asked one of the men in
front of the "Blade" office.

"Where is my son?" inquired Mr. Dodge, pushing his way through
the crowd without any suspicion of what had lately happened.
"Isn't my son here to take this car home?"

"I doubt if he'll come back," replied one man, with a twinkle
in his eyes.

"'Blade'?  Extree 'Blade'?" demanded a newsboy, holding out a paper.

"Better take one, Mr. Dodge," advised a man in the crowd.  "Mighty
interesting reading in this extra!"

Almost mechanically the banker paid for a paper, folded it, then
stepped into the automobile.

On his arrival home, and after having turned the car over to his
chauffeur, Mr. Dodge went to his library, despite the fact that
he knew his dinner was waiting.

There he spread out the extra "Blade" on a table and began to
read the featured news story.

As he read the elder Dodge flushed deeply.  Though the names of
Bert and Bayliss were not mentioned, he had no difficulty in
connecting them with the ludicrous story.

Turning, Mr. Dodge rang.  A man servant answered.

"Mrs. Dodge wishes to know, sir, when you are coming to dinner,"
said the man.

"Ask Mrs. Dodge, from me kindly to let the dinner go on, and say
that I am busy, now, but will come to the table as soon as I am
at leisure.  Then ask Mr. Bert to come here to me at once."

Bert entered.  He had removed his wet garments, and put on fresh
clothing.  He had been at dinner when interrupted by his father's
message.

"This extraordinary story in the 'Blade' refers to you, does it
not?" inquired the banker, shoving the paper before the young
man.

"Yes, sir," Bert admitted sulkily.

"You and your friend, Bayliss, have been making fools of yourselves,
have you?"

"No, sir," cried Bert.  "We were made fools of by others."

"When it comes to making a fool of yourself, Bert, no one else
is swift enough to get ahead of you," replied his father witheringly.
"So, you have succeeded in making the entire family objects of
ridicule once more?  I had hoped that that sort of thing had ceased
when I sent you away to a private school."

"We were imposed on," flushed Bert angrily.  "Nor has the outrage
stopped there.  Bayliss and I were seized in front of the 'Blade'
office, and taken over to the horse trough and ducked!"

"Was it done thoroughly?" inquired the banker ironically.

"A thorough ducking?" gasped his son and heir.  "I should say
it was thorough, sir!"

"Then I wish that the incident would make sufficient impression
on you to last you a few days," went on Mr. Dodge bitterly.  "I
doubt it, however."

"Father, I want you to back me in having some of my assailants
arrested for that ducking!"

"I shall do nothing of the sort," rejoined the banker.  "The ridicule
that this affair has brought upon my family has gone far enough
already.  You are my son, but a most foolish one, if not worse,
and I feel that I am under obligations to the men or boys who
carried you to the horse trough and endeavored to cure you of
some of your folly."

"I had hoped, sir, that you would stand back of your own son better
than that.  I am positive that Mr. Bayliss will not allow the
outrage to pass unnoticed.  I believe that Mr. Bayliss will take
stern measures to avenge the great insult to his son."

"What Mr. Bayliss may do is Mr. Bayliss' affair, not mine," replied
the banker coolly.  "Is young Bayliss in this house at present?"

"Yes, sir; he's at the dinner table."

"Then I won't urge you to be inhospitable, Bert, let him finish
his dinner in peace.  After dinner, however, the sooner young
Bayliss returns to his home, or at least, goes away from here,
the better I shall be pleased.  As for you, young man, I have
had enough of your actions.  I have a nice, and very quiet, summer
place in mind where I am going to send you to-morrow.  You will
stay there, too, unless you wish to incur my severe displeasure.
I will tell you about your new plans for the summer after breakfast
to-morrow, young man."

"You're always hard on me," grumbled Bert sullenly.  "But what
do you think about Dick Prescott and his friends?"

"As for young Prescott," replied the banker, "he is altogether
above your class, Bert.  You should leave him severely alone.
Don't allow yourself to attempt anything against Prescott, Reade,
Darrin, or any of that crowd.  You will find that any one of them
has too much brains for you to hope to cope with.  I repeat that
you are not at all in their class as to brains, and it is quite
time that you recognize the fact.  Now, you may return to your
dinner.  Be good enough to tell your mother that I will be at
table within fifteen minutes.  Present my apologies to your mother
for not having been more prompt.  Now---go!"

Bert Dodge left his father with the feeling that he resembled
an unjustly whipped dog.

"So I've got to go away and rusticate somewhere for the summer,
have I?" wondered Bert angrily.  "And all on account of such a
gang of muckers as the fellows who call themselves Dick & Co.!"

Nor did young Bayliss fare any better on his return home that
night.  He, too, was ordered away for the remainder of the summer
by his father, who had just returned from abroad, nor was he allowed
to accompany Bert Dodge.

What of Dick & Co. during all this time?

They had gone away on an avowed fishing trip and they were making
the most of it.

Harry Hazelton attended to perch fishing, when any of those fish
were wanted.  Tom Reade and Dan made the most of the black bass
sport, while Dick, with Dave and Greg as under-studies, went after
trout.

Several trips were made down to the St. Clair Lake House, and
on each occasion large quantities of bass and trout were sold
to the proprietor.  He took all their offerings.

As a result of the sales of trout and bass some substantial money
orders were forwarded to the elder Prescott, to be cashed by Dick
on his return.

One afternoon Dick, who had gone trout fishing alone, returned
with so small a string of the speckled ones that some of Tom's
bass had to be added to the supper that night.

"I've been doing rather an unsportsmanlike thing, I fear," admitted
Dick.

"Then 'fess up!" ordered Tom Reade.

"The trout are beginning to bite poorly," Prescott went on.  "The
fact is, we've all but cleaned up the stream."

"There must be a few hundred pounds left there yet," guessed Dave.

"There may be, and I hope there are," Prescott went on, "but I've
decided not to take any more trout out of the stream this year.
Whatever are now left in the stream we must leave for next summer.
No good sportsman would ever deplete a stream of all its trout."

"The bass are still biting fairly well," mused Tom aloud.  "However,
they're not as easy to catch as they were.  Had we better leave
the bass alone, also?"

"We might take out what bass we want to eat," Dick suggested,
"but not attempt to catch any more than that this summer."

"Too bad," muttered Tom.  "I was in hopes that we were going to
put by a big stake in the bank, to be divided later on."

"We already have money enough for our purpose," Dick suggested.
"We have sufficient funds to take us all away on a fine jaunt
during August, and these are the last days of July, now.

"I hate to go away from this lake," muttered Dave.

"It has been very pleasant here," Prescott agreed, "and if the
rest of you vote for it, I'll agree to put in the rest of our
summer vacation hereabouts."

"No," dissented Tom.  "I reckon change of scene and air is as
good for us as it is for other folks."

"Tom wants to get where he can find more bass fishing," Greg laughed.

"I've had enough of that sport to last me for one summer," retorted
Reade.

The day was closing in a gorgeous sunset.  In fifteen minutes
more the sun would be down, but there would still be left the
long July twilight.

"Did any of you ever see a more beautiful summer day than this
has been?" asked Harry Hazelton presently.

"I haven't anything to offer in the line of such experience,"
Tom confessed.

"There are some days," Hazelton went on half dreamily, "that somehow
makes a fellow feel thoroughly contented with himself."

"That's the way I feel to-night," Tom admitted, with an indolent air.

"I'd be contented if I knew one thing, and I suspect that you
fellows might be able to tell me, if you only would."

None noticed the twinkle in Prescott's eyes as he spoke.

"I'll offer!" cried Tom good-humoredly.  "If it's anything I can
tell you, I'll do it."

"S-t-u-n-g!" spelled Dick slowly.

Tom suddenly sat up, glaring suspiciously at his chum.

"Now, what have I let myself in for?" demanded Reade.

"You gave your word you'd tell me, if you could, Tom," Dick went
on, "and no one else can tell me nearly as well as you can.  What
I want to know is this: What happened to you, that night a few
weeks ago, when you broke a bottle under my window, and then started
down the street as fast as you could go with a crowd of Gridley
folks behind you?"

"You promised!" chorused the other four boys.

"Well, if that isn't a low-down way to dig out of me what is purely
my own business!" exclaimed Tom Reade, with a scowl.

Nevertheless Tom, like the other members of Dick & Co., had a
high idea of the sacredness of his word, so, after a sigh, he
went on:

"When I ran away from your window, Dick, with that pack of people
behind me, I dashed into a full-fledged scrape that was none of
mine.  You know that Mr. Ritchie, whom some of the Central Grammar
boys plague so fearfully, just because he always gets so mad and
makes such threats against all boys in general?

"Well, it seems that, while I was helping Timmy Finbrink out of
his difficulties, and afterwards tried to fool you with the fake
window-breaking, some of the Central fellows had been down at
Ritchie's playing tick-tack on one of his front windows.  Tick-tack
is a stupid game, and it got me into a mess that night.

"It seems that Mr. Ritchie had already been bothered that evening
before the Central fellows began, and he had telephoned to a friend
down the street who had two college boys visiting him.  So the
friend and the two college fellows went out, on their way to Mr.
Ritchie's.  Then he heard the tapping on his window again, and
Mr. Ritchie ran out through the front door.  The fellows who had
been doing the trick had just time to drop behind a flower bed.

"I had shaken off the crowd that started after me from Main Street,
and had turned the corner down that side street.  As luck would
have it, I had just passed the Ritchie gate when Mr. Ritchie opened
his front door.  He thought I was the offender, and started after
me, yelling to me to stop.  Just for the exercise I kept on running,
though not so fast, for I wanted to see how far Mr. Ritchie would
chase me.  And then I ran straight into the friend and the two
college boys.

"Those college boys tried to collar me.  I was foolish enough
to stop and tackle.  I had one of them on his back, and was doing
nicely with the other, when the two men joined in.  I was down
and being held hard, while Mr. Ritchie was threatening to have
me sent to jail for life---for something I hadn't done, mind you!

"As I ran by the Ritchie yard I saw the three Central Grammar
School boys hiding behind the flower bed.  It made me mad, I suppose,
to think that college boys, who aren't real men, anyway, should
stoop so low as to try to catch a lot of grammar school prankers,
so I fought back at my captors with some vim.  Of course I got
the worst of it, including the bruise on my cheek, but I mussed
those two college boys up a bit, too.  Then, when I got on my
feet, the two college boys still holding me, I demanded virtuously
to know what it was all about.  Mr. Ritchie explained hot-headedly.
I told him I could prove that I had just come from Main Street,
but my captors didn't let go of me until we came to Mr. Ritchie's.
Then I saw at a glance that the Central fellows had made a good
get-away, so then I told Mr. Ritchie how the trick had been done
against him.  I showed him just how the string had been rigged,
and pointed out the spot where the Central boys had flopped down
behind the flower bed.  Their footprints were there in the soil
to show it.  By this time all hands were ready to believe that
a high school senior hadn't been up to such baby stuff, and Mr.
Ritchie apologized to me.  I was pretty stiff about it, though,
and told Mr. Ritchie that I would consult with my parents before
I'd decide to let such an outrageous assault pass without making
trouble for my assailants."

"What did your folks say about it?" pressed Danny Grin eagerly.

"Dalzell, aren't you the little innocent?" asked Reade, with
good-humored scorn.  "Of course I never said anything to my folks
about such a foolish adventure as that.  But I'll wager that I left
Mr. Ritchie worried for just the next few days.  Now, you fellows
know the whole yarn---and I don't think much of Dick's way of
buncoing me out of it, either."

"Don't all turn at once," said Dave in a very low tone, "but,
behind you, through the fork in the cleft rock, the Man with the
Haunting Face is staring this way.  Be careful, and we may-----"

But, as if shot from spring guns, all five of the others were
up on their feet and running fast toward that strange man who
had furnished their lake mystery without solving it.




CHAPTER XXIII

"FOUR OF US ARE PIN-HEADS!"


"Oh, you fellows have spoiled it!" groaned Dave as he joined last
of all in the chase.

From the tent to the cleft rock was perhaps a hundred and twenty
yards.

For such sprinters as these members of the Gridley High School
eleven it did not require much time to cover the distance.  Yet,
by the time that Danny Grin, in the lead, had reached the further
side of the rock there was no sign of the presence of the Man
with the Haunting Face.

"You dreamed it, Dave," charged Greg Holmes.

"No, I didn't, either," muttered Darrin, joining the group of
puzzled youngsters.  "I saw the face as plainly and positively
as I see any of your faces."

"It's hard to believe that," muttered Tom, shaking his head.

"I was wide awake, and my eyesight is good," Darry insisted.

"Then where has your man gone?" asked Dick.  "If he had run to
any point near here we would have found him."

Dave Darrin began to pry about, looking for some concealed opening
near the base of the cleft, rock.  He explored diligently, but
could find no such clue as he had hoped.

"Nonsense!  I'm going back to camp," declared Tom Reade.

"So'm I," Hazelton agreed.

"Dave can't have been mistaken," offered Greg.

"Thank you for one trusting soul," said Dave gratefully.

"But one thing I do know," Greg went on.

"What?" asked Darry.

"Even if our strange fellow was here, he is here no longer, and
moreover, he has succeeded in getting away without leaving any
trace," young Holmes continued.  "So I'm going to join the delegation
that returns to camp."

Only Dick and Dave were left standing there by the cleft rock.

The sun had sunk below the horizon, but the light was still strong.

"If you fellows had taken it easily, as I asked," complained Dave,
"we might have gotten hold of that elusive chap.  To me he looked
hungry.  I thought he was eyeing our camp longingly, as though
he'd like to stroll down and ask us for food.  But that startling
charge of the light brigade must have bewildered or frightened
him---and so he went up in smoke, as he has always done when we've
sighted him.

"It wouldn't surprise me if we could find which way he has gone,"
whispered Prescott.

"What do you mean?"

"Look where I'm pointing with the toe of my boot," Dick went on.

"I'm looking."

"Do you see anything?"

"The earth."

"Look harder!"

Down went Darry to his knees.

"Look out," warned Dick, "or you'll obliterate it."

"And I was bragging of my good eyesight," grunted Darry.  "Why,
this is a footprint, and none of our crowd saw it."

"Besides, it's the print of a bare foot," Prescott went on.  "You
see the way in which it is pointing?"

"Yes; toward that patch of low bushes yonder.  But our chap couldn't
have run through those low bushes, or we'd have seen him."

"Yes; if he had been holding himself erect."

"Or even had he crouched and run," Dave affirmed.

"Dave Darrin, you've played baseball, if my recollection serves
me correctly."

"Of course."

"Did you ever slide for a base?"

"What-----"

"Or see anyone else slide for base?"

"Then our man-----"

"He held himself low and ran as far as the bushes," Dick went
on.  "Then he fell and slid for it through the low bushes.  See,
here's the second print of a bare foot, and the direction is the
same."

"Don't tell our mutton-head chums about it," Darrin begged.  "Let's
follow it up ourselves."

"All right," nodded Dick; "but if we find our fellow, don't let
him suspect that we've reached his hiding place and know it.
We'll just see what we can find out, and not give ourselves away."

"Go ahead," begged Darry.

"Remember, I'm not certain that we can find the fellow's hiding
place before dark.  It may be some distance from here.  We'll
try, though, and hope for luck."

Dick sauntered easily along in the direction indicated by the
two footprints.

As they entered the patch of low bushes both boys noted the fact
that the ground had been slightly disturbed, as it might have
been by the sliding of a human body over it.

Dick, whose eyes were keener, easily followed the marks on the
ground.  Indeed, he  did so without appearing to pay much heed
to the earth under his feet.

Then the trailers passed three trees, behind which the escaping
man might have found good cover.

A hundred yards further on Dave and Dick entered the edge of a
grove of trees.  Here there were also several rather thick tangles
of brush and bush.

Well inside of one clump Dave, with a start, fancied he saw something
that looked like a wall woven of green leaves.  But Dick was trudging
on ahead.  Prescott continued in the lead for another quarter
of a mile before he turned.

"You passed the one real sign," murmured Darry at last.

"I know I did," agreed Dick, "and we're going back wide of that
place.  You mean the jungle where you saw a bit of what looked
like the brush-woven wall of a bush hut?"

"Yes," assented Darrin.

"It's a well-hidden place," declared Dick, "and I don't so much
wonder that we didn't find it before.  But now we'll go back to
camp."

"And what next?"

"I don't know," Prescott confessed, looking puzzled.  "We really
haven't any right to pounce on the man unless we catch him doing
something.  Anyone has a right to lead the wild life in the woods,
unless he's a criminal or a lunatic."

"My vote is that our chap is a lunatic," suggested Darry.

"If he is, then he's a harmless one, anyway.  Let's go back, by
a roundabout way, and tell the fellows."

"There are four pin-heads in this camp," was Tom Reade's decision,
when he heard the report brought back by the others.  "Only two
of us have brains enough to see anything that's written right
on the face of the earth."

"But what are we going to do about our man?" asked Greg.

"That's what we must figure out," Dick replied.  "I don't see
that we can do anything except send word to the authorities down
in the village, and let them act as they see fit."

"What authorities are there in the village?" Dave inquired.

"I don't know.  That we'll have to find out.  We-----"

Dick paused suddenly, listening keenly.

"Do you fellows hear that?" he whispered.

"I hear a rumble of wheels off in the distance," replied Greg.
"The air is so wonderfully still that sound carries a long way
this evening."

Dick ran into the tent, returning with an envelope and a pad of
paper.

"Come along, Dave," Dick requested.  "And you'd better bring Tom's
flashlight.  It will be dark before we get back."

The battery of the flashlight having had a good rest, now furnished
an excellent light again.

As the two chums set off at a trot Greg inquired:

"Now what are that pair up to?"

"Being one of the four pin-heads belonging to this outfit," Tom
made solemn reply, "I can only guess."

"Then what's your guess?" quizzed Danny Grin.

"From the sound that wagon makes rolling over the rough road,"
Tom answered, "I judge that it's headed for the village.  If it
is, Dick is going to send in a note by the driver, and thus save
one or two of us the tiresome sixteen-mile round trip."

Which proved to be a very correct guess, for Prescott and Darrin,
returning three quarters of an hour later, informed the others
that Dick had halted the driver, asking the farmer to wait while
the note was being written.

"I sent the note to the post-master," Dick.  went on.  "If he
and the other folks in the village take enough interest in the
matter, I imagine a constable will be sent up to-morrow."

"Perhaps to-night," hinted Dalzell.

"If you were a constable," asked Tom, "would you want to be pulled
out of your bed and sent on such a trip in the night time?"

"I'll tell you one thing that we fellows want to do," hinted Darrin,
a few minutes later.  "When we go to bed we want to take pains
to leave some food where it can be easily borrowed by our man
of mystery.  I've an idea that he has been making night trips
down here once in a while to obtain something to eat."

"Two or three times I've thought I missed food in the morning,"
nodded Greg.  "Yet, if our man has been getting all his food here,
then he is a very light eater."

"And welcome to the little he borrowed," Dick finished.

"Drowsiness is overcoming curiosity for me," yawned Reade, as
he rose and strolled toward the tent.  "Any of you other fellows
going to turn in?"

"I will," yawned Dalzell, "if you'll permit me to sleep in the
same tent with you."

Fifteen minutes later all of the high school boys were sound asleep.
They all dreamed that night of the Man with the Haunting Face.




CHAPTER XXIV

CONCLUSION


"Where's that man you wanted us to look at?" demanded a farmer
whose trousers were tucked into his boots.

It was about ten o'clock the next forenoon when this man, accompanied
by another man with the same kind of boottops, strode into the
camp of Dick & Co.

"Are you a constable from the village, sir?" inquired young Prescott.

"No; we haven't any constable in the village," replied the farmer,
chewing at a straw.  "I'm the Overseer of the Poor."

"We'll take you to where we think the man is hiding," Dick replied.
"Tom and Dave, suppose you two hurry ahead of us, around the
woods, and stand where you can head our man of mystery off in
case he tries to run the other way.  Dave knows where the place is."

Reade and Darrin promptly departed.

"We can start in two or three minutes from now, after they get
in position, if that suits you, sir," Dick suggested.

"Suits me," nodded the Overseer of the Poor.  "I'm in no great
hurry.  Snug camp you boys have here."

"We've enjoyed ourselves greatly," Dick admitted.

"Going to stay here long?"

"No, sir; we're due back in Gridley soon."

After a little more chat Dick stated that he believed it was time
to go forward to the hut in the woods.

He and Greg went, accompanied by the two farmers.  All four trod
stealthily.  Prescott, in advance, went straight to the bushes
that surrounded the brush hut.  Still in the lead, Dick, found
the doorway, screened by a tattered blanket, pushed it aside and
peered in.

On the floor of earth lay the Man with the Haunting Face.  He
was so still that at first Dick thought him dead.  Dick motioned
to the others to come forward.

"Humph!" grunted the Overseer of the Poor.  "That's Ed Hoskins,
who lives over Pelham way."

At sound of the voice the sleeping man quivered, opened his eyes,
then, with a scream, sat up, trembling violently.

"You've got me!" he screamed.  "You've found me---and I'm not
yet fit to go!"

Dick stepped aside to let the farmers in, while Darrin and Reade
approached the spot at a run.

"Keep quiet, Hoskins," ordered the Overseer of the Poor.  "Quiet,
man; I tell you!"

"Oh, I didn't mean to do it!" moaned the unhappy captive.  "I
didn't mean to do it, I tell  you!  And now I must lose my life
before I'm fit to go."

"'Touched' here," murmured Prescott, tapping his forehead.

"What are you making such a fuss about, Ed Hoskins?" demanded
the Overseer of the Poor.

"I never meant to harm my wife!" screamed Hoskins in an agony
of fear.  "We had had words, and I meant nothing but to push her
aside so I could pass.  But she fell downstairs.  It wasn't my
fault that her neck was broken!"

"Whose neck was broken?" demanded the farmer.

"My wife's.  But I never meant to do it."

"Humph!" remarked the Overseer of the Poor.  "If your wife broke
her neck, Ed Hoskins, she doesn't know it yet.  She's doing some
pretty husky work.  She's the hired help over at St. Ingram's.
She went there to work after you went away."

"Don't try to fool me," trembled Hoskins.  "Don't!  My wife's
dead, and now I've got to go and pay the penalty of a crime I
never meant to commit."

"What you need, Ed," observed the Overseer of the Poor, "is a
bath, a couple of square meals, a little daylight, and a freight
load of common horse sense.  Come out of this place.  We'll take
you to your wife, and you'll find that she's very much alive,
and heart-broken over your running away from her.  She's fretting
because she thinks her own conduct made you run away from her."

"I guess we don't belong here," murmured Dick to his chums.  "Suppose
we hurry down to the camp."

Five minutes later the two farmers also reached camp, holding
Hoskins between them.

"It all shows what a man's fool way of reasoning---or, rather,
not reasoning---can bring him to," explained the Overseer of the
Poor in a low voice to the boys.  "Ed Hoskins isn't exactly one
of life's heavyweights, but he was always a good enough fellow,
and industrious.  He married a good-hearted, simple-minded girl,
and they were mighty devoted to each other.  But, back the last
of May, Ed and his wife had a little bit of a tiff.  They were
standing near the top of the stairs in their house.  Ed, according
to his own story, went to push her aside so he could go downstairs,
when his wife lost her balance and fell half way down the stairs.
She fainted, I reckon, and Ed, in a great fright, thought she
had broken her neck.  So he ran down the stairs past her, got
out of the house with a pair of blankets, a little food and a
hatchet, and started up this miserable road in the night time.
He says he knew he'd have to go to the electric chair some day
for his deed, but he wanted to come up here and prepare his soul
before he gave up his life.  He says he got along all right until
you boys came up here on purpose to find him and run him down
for the law.  He tells me that the first time some of you crossed
the lake in a canoe he rigged up some bushes to a wooden frame,
and swam, with his head inside the frame, hoping to get close
to you and hear what you had to say about him.  Then, he tells
me, you moved your camp across the lake, and he knew you were
here on the law's business.  He says he has known, for certain,
all along, that you'd get him sooner or later, but he couldn't
get up the strength of mind to leave here.  What I told Ed about
his wife was true.  She got nothing worse out of her fall than
a bruise on one elbow.  Gosh!  Ed's wife will be as tickled to
see him alive as he'll be to see her strong and well."

"Hoskins is a little touched in the upper story, isn't he?" Dick
asked.

"Maybe he has been lately," replied the Overseer of the Poor.
"But when he finds I haven't lied to him he'll be O.K. right
away.  Ed was never too strong in his mental works, but he's a
good fellow, just the same, and he's bright enough for his
trade---blacksmith's helper.  Now, I guess I'd better be going back
with him, for Ed will be all excitement and dread till he gets the
first word from his wife.  Miss. Hoskins wife be terribly obliged
to you young men.  I am, too, 'cause I'll be glad to see that couple
together again.  They're so fond of each other that they've no
business apart.  So I reckon, Master Prescott and the rest of you
young men, we'll be a-going now."

The visitors had soon left the camp behind them.  The last seen
of Hoskins, he was walking with the dazed air of a man who knows
he's dreaming and is mortally afraid to wake up.

But that same day Mr. and Mrs. Hoskins were reunited and began
life anew together.

"It all goes to show," the Overseer of the Poor afterwards explained
philosophically, "what a fool a fellow is to be afraid to go
back and look at his work.  It's the same spirit that makes automobile
cowards afraid to stop the machine and go back to look at the
child they've hit.  Any fellow that's afraid to go back and look
at his mistake is bound to be mainly unhappy in life."

A very few days afterwards Dick & Co., still propelling the push
cart by turns, arrived in Gridley toward dark one late July evening.

They had so much to tell their relatives and friends that none
of them got to bed very early on that occasion.

However, the month of August lay before them.  These boys now
planned the greatest summer vacation trip that they had ever enjoyed.
Part of the trail of this vacation lay over in Tottenville.

So, by ten o'clock the next morning, Dick Prescott, alone, hurried
up the side street on which he lived.  Just as he neared the Main
Street corner he beheld a trolley car labeled "Tottenville" pass
the corner.  Dick's shrill whistle rang out, but the conductor
failed to hear it.

Away raced Dick in the wake of the speeding trolley car.  Down
the street for two blocks he dashed after it.

At first it looked as though the high school boy would overtake
the car.  But when he saw the car turn a corner and go off on
the Tottenville road, young Prescott slowed down, panting and
wiping his perspiring face.

"Hey!" called a man standing in a group of others on the curbstone.
"Were you trying to catch that car."

"Was I trying to catch the car?" echoed Dick Prescott, his eyes
opening wide in amazement.  "No, sir!  I made a wager that I could
chase that car right off of Main Street!  And I won the bet,"
Dick added proudly.  "You all saw me do it!"

Then, while the man who had asked the question reddened under
the laughter of his companions, Prescott strolled slowly back
up Main Street to watch for the next car bearing the "Tottenville"
sign.

"Good morning, Prescott," came a greeting from Lawyer Ripley,
just then coming out of a store.  "How did you young men enjoy
that collapsible canoe?"

"That canoe, sir?  It made the vacation trip a perfect one.  But
were you the one who sent it, Mr. Ripley?"

"Yes," assented the lawyer, "though acting as agent for another.
You remember how much Mr. Page wanted to do for you boys, after
your splendid work for him last summer?  Mr. Page wanted to do
something for you this summer, and he and I hit upon the collapsible
canoe as a remembrance so simple and inexpensive that you young
men were quite likely to accept it."

"Mr. Ripley," begged Dick earnestly, "will you accept the very
best thanks of us all for that canoe?  And will you please convey
our deepest gratitude to Mr. Page?  We couldn't have had anything
that would have delighted us as much."

Readers of the preceding volume of this series are well aware
of the reason of Mr. Page's great gratitude to Dick & Co.

The next Tottenville car that came along had Dick Prescott for
one of its passengers.

This narrative, however, has been finished.  That trolley, to
Tottenville really belongs to the next and final volume in this
series, which is published under the title, "_The High School
Boys' Training Hike; Or, Making Themselves 'Hard as Nails_."

This new story will be found to contain the full record of a most
wonderful vacation jaunt taken by six young champions of the Gridley
High School football squad.

Yet this jaunt did not consist wholly of training work, for Dick
& Co. fell in with a lot of tremendously exciting adventures.

What these were and how Dick & Co. acted under amazingly strange
circumstances will be set forth fully in that volume.



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