"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!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
"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.
"Do you see anything?"
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."
"Did you ever slide for a base?"
"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.
"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.