H. Irving Hancock.

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has spoiled our supper!"

"Perhaps you were too sure about Rip being off in Canada," grinned
Reade.

"Fred Ripley would hardly steal food," Prescott retorted. "Rip
is seldom really hungry. Tom, I'd give a dollar to know just
who was hanging around this camp."

"I'd give two dollars to know," snapped Reade, "but I'd take the
money from the camp treasury."

"Queer that the fellow didn't take the potatoes, too," mused Dick,
turning back to the stove.

"The potatoes weren't done," suggested Reade wisely, "and probably
our visitor didn't think it wise to wait until they were. The
hulled corn will serve his purpose very well, though."

"It was a mean trick to play on us," quivered Dick.

"Of course it was - -unless the thief were really very hungry,"
answered Tom.

"In that case, I don't believe I'd blame the fellow so much,"
Dick admitted. "But now, what are we going to have for supper?"

"I've an inspiration," Tom declared, as he thrust a fork into
some of the potatoes in the pot. "These potatoes will be done
in two or three minutes more. Open three tins of the corned beef."

"Tinned corned beef isn't so much of an inspiration, as inspirations
go," laughed Dick.

"Open the three tins," Tom insisted. "Here are the onions. I'll
peel a few - -and do the weeping for the whole camp."

Tom was busy at once. Dick, after watching his friend start,
caught something of the spirit of quick work.

"Dump the meat into this chopping bowl," Tom continued, as he
hastily dropped peeled onion after onion into the wooden bowl.
"Now, get the potatoes off the fire, and we'll drain and peel
'em."

This work was quickly under way.

"Do you see what the poem is to be?" grinned Reade.

"Looks like corned beef hash," smiled Dick.

"It will taste like it, too," predicted Reade. "Come on, now!"

Potatoes were quickly made ready. Tom began to chop the mixture,
while Prescott got out one of the frying pans.

"Get out the lard," urged Tom. "Let's have some of this stuff
cooking by the time that the fellows come in. It will console
them a bit."

"It begins to smell good," murmured Dick presently, as he stirred
the cooking mixture.

Tom busied himself with setting the table.

"All ready, when the fellows come in," announced Dick, as he removed
the coffee pot and began to cut bread. "Better call 'em."

Placing his hands over his mouth, megaphone shape, Tom sent several
loud halloos echoing through the woods.

Dan was the first one in. Greg arrived next, Harry third.

"Where can Dave be?" asked Tom, after several more halloos.

"We'll go and find him, if he doesn't show up," suggested Harry.
"But first of all, let's stow some of this supper inside of us."

"We'll wait for Dave before we eat," Dick retorted quickly.

"Hello, Dave, hello!" roared Reade and Prescott in concert "Supper
is ready! Hurry up."

"Queer there's no answer," said Greg, after a minute's wait.

"Something must have happened to Dave," suggested Danny Grin anxiously.

"What could happen to him?" demanded Hazelton scornfully. "Darry
can take care of himself. He'll be in presently."

"Let's call him again!" urged Dan.

They called in concert, their voices echoing through the woods.

"Did you hear that?" asked Dick eagerly, after a pause of listening.
"There it goes again."

"It's Dave, answering us," Harry declared.

The hail sounded distant.

"Come on!" cried Dick, leaping forward. "That yell was one of
trouble, or I'm a bad guesser. Dan, you and Hazelton stand by
the camp. Tom and Greg come along. If Dave is in trouble he'll
be sure to need some of us!"




CHAPTER IV

DAVE DARRIN IS ANGRY


"Keep on calling, Dave!" shouted Dick, as they ran toward the
sound of the voice.

"This way!" answered Darry, his voice sounding louder as they
neared him.

"What's up?" Tom asked as they ran.

Dave's voice sounded in wrathful explosion.

"Eh?" Tom pressed him.

"Wait until you get here, and you'll see," retorted Dave.

"You're not hurt?" Dick shouted.

"No; but my feelings are!" vented Darrin indignantly.

Another minute and the trio headed by Dick, reached the spot.

By this time darkness was coming on through the woods. Prescott,
who was in the lead, at first received the impression that Dave
was standing beside a tree. And so Dave was, though the reason
for his standing there was yet to be explained.

A moment more and Tom and Dick had reached the spot where the
wrathful Darrin was standing.

"Well, of all the - - -" began Tom wonderingly.

"Outrages!" finished Darry angrily.

Prescott laughed outright.

"I suppose I must be a comical-looking object," admitted Dave
Darrin ruefully. "But just wait until I lay my hands on the rascal
who played this trick on me! Oh, I'll make him ache for his
smartness."

Though Darrin had an unusually quick temper, he generally had
it under excellent control. Now, however, he was so indignant
that he fairly sputtered, and the humorous side of the situation
did not appeal to him.

What Dick saw was that Dave stood with his back to the trunk of
the tree. Around Darry's neck a noose was fast. Back of the
prisoner the rope had been wrapped once around the trunk of the
tree. Next, several folds of rope had been passed both around
Darrin and the tree trunk in such fashion that the boy's arms
were pinioned fast to his sides. In addition, a single turn of
rope had been taken around each arm. Finally, the rope had been
knotted several times at the opposite side of the tree from that
on which Darrin stood.

"You must have stood pretty patiently for anyone to be able to
tie you up in that artistic fashion!" blurted Tom Reade.

"Patient? Patient nothing!" growled Darry between his teeth.
"I was so angry all the time that I couldn't keep from sputtering,
but that rascal had me fast, and kept making me more secure."

"How old a man was he?" asked Dick.

"I don't know whether he was a man or a boy."

"Is your eyesight failing, Dave?" asked Tom.

"I haven't eyes in the back of my head," snapped Darry. "Say,
aren't you fellows going to hurry up and free me?"

"Can't you free yourself?" suggested Reade.

"If I could have done that I'd now be ranging these woods in search
of the perpetrator of this outrage," Darry declared. "Hurry up
and untie me!"

"We will, but please be patient for a moment or two longer," begged
young Prescott. "This is such a cleverly artistic job that I
want to study out just how it was done. How did the fellow attack
you?"

"From behind," muttered Darry.

"But how?"

"Wait, and I'll tell you," Dave went on, forcing himself to talk
a trifle more calmly. "When I'm free I'll show you the spot over
there, in the thicket between the two clumps of bushes. Well,
I had gotten this far when I saw the missing steaks. They rested
on a tin pan on the ground in the thicket. It looked as though
the thief of our supper had gone away to get water or something.
I had just stepped, on tiptoe, of course, past this tree when
I heard a soft step behind me. Before I could turn, the noose
was dropped over my head, and then down on my neck. It was jerked
tight, like a flash, and I was pulled against this tree. The
fellow took some kind of hitch around the trunk of the tree to
hold me - - -"

"Yes; I see the hitch," assented Dick. "It was well done."

"So well done that it held me, for a moment," Dave went on. "The
noose choked me, for a brief space, so that I didn't have much
presence of mind. Before I recovered myself, the fellow had passed
the rope several times around my body and arms, and had taken
the extra loops on my arms. By that time I was so helpless that
I couldn't stir to free myself."

"And you didn't see the fellow?" asked Dick.

"Not a glimpse of him. He worked from behind, and did his trick
like lightning."

"But there are no steaks, nor any plate, on the ground in the
thicket now," Reade reported, after looking.

"No," Darry grunted. "The fellow who tried me up like this passed
over my eyes a dirty cloth that perhaps he would call a handkerchief.
Then I heard him over by the thicket. Next he was back here
and had whisked that cloth away from my eyes. That was the last
I heard of him."

"Why didn't you set up a roar as soon as he attacked you?" demanded
Tom Reade.

"The noose bound my throat so tightly, I couldn't," Darry explained.
"I was seeing stars, and I was dizzy. After he had taken a few
hitches of the rope around me he eased up on the noose a bit."

"Did you 'holler' then?" questioned Dick.

"No," Dave Darrin admitted honestly. "I used up all my breath
telling that unknown, unseen fellow just what I thought of him."

"If you want to know what I think of the fellow," uttered young
Prescott, "it seems to me that the unknown chap is clever and
bright enough to be capable of better things than stealing supper
from other people. This tie-up is about the most ingenious thing
I've seen in a long time."

"Maybe I'd appreciate it more," retorted Darry, "if I could see
it as you do, on another fellow. Are you going to hurry up and
cut away this rope?"

"Not if you are able to wait calmly while I untie it," Dick answered.
"It's surely a good piece of rope. It will go part way toward
paying for the steaks."

With that Prescott began to untie the knots. When his fingers
ached from this from of exercise, Greg took his place. Meanwhile,
Tom Reade explored the thicket where Dave had seen the plate of
steaks. There was no sign of the food taken from the camp. This
Tom made out by the aid of lighted matches, as the long shadows
were now falling in the woods.

"I'm glad, now, that you didn't cut the rope," said Dave, as at
last he stepped free. "We'll save his rope, for I hope to find
that fellow again."

"What will you do to him if you catch him?" grinned Reade.

"Maybe I'll need the rope to lynch him with," uttered Darry grimly.

Tom threw back his head, laughing heartily.

"Our dear, savage, blood-thirsty old Darry!" Reade laughed. "You
talk as vindictively as a pirate, but if you found your enemy
hurt you'd drop everything else and nurse him back into condition.
Darry, you know you would!"

"Let's get back to camp," urged Greg. "Supper is ready, but no
one has had any yet. My stomach feels like an empty balloon."

"All right, then," agreed Darrin gruffly, "though I'd sooner catch
that fellow than eat."

"That word, 'eat,' sounds like a poem!" sighed Greg, tightening
his belt as the quartette turned campward.

"So you didn't get a single glimpse of your - -your annoyer?" asked
Prescott.

"Not what you could call a glimpse," Darrin responded. "Two or
three times I caught sight of the fellow's shirt sleeves as he
passed the rope around me. His shirt sleeves were of a light
tan color, so I suppose that is the color of his entire shirt.
That, however, is the sole clue I have to the scoundrel's description."

"I'd like to meet the fellow," mused Dick.

"Maybe you'll have that pleasure," hinted Darry with the nearest
approach to a smile he had yet shown.

"You mean you'd like to see me tied up in the same fashion, and
then discover whether I could keep my temper under such circumstances?"
laughed young Prescott.

"Never mind what I mean," Dave retorted.

They were soon in camp, now, after calling to Dan and Harry two
or three times in order to locate their way. At last, however,
they came in sight of the glowing embers of fire and the rays of
the two lanterns that Dan had lighted and hung up.

"I smell something that smells mighty good," sniffed Dave. "Did
any of you fellows recover the steaks? Have you been keeping
something back from me?"

"I don't believe you'll find the steaks in camp," Dick retorted,
"but you'll find something that will taste fully as good."

With that the quartette charged into camp. Everything was ready
for the table by the time each fellow had washed his hands and
face in the one tin basin that served the camp.

"Put one of those lanterns on the table, Dan," called Dick, as
he finished drying himself on a towel. "Another night, if we
eat after dark, we'll try to have a campfire that'll light the
place up like an electric light."

"Another night, unless some of our neighbors move," predicted
Darry, "we won't have food enough left to make it worth while
to try to have supper!"

The boys sat down in great good humor, even Dave softening when
he saw the bountiful supper that had been prepared. Not one
of them felt nervous about the possible nearness of the late prowler.
The boys were six to one, whoever the prowler might be. Besides,
this mysterious stranger seemed to prefer humor to violence.

Yet, all the time they were eating and chattering - -and Dick did
his full share of both that young man, Prescott, was also busily
thinking up plans by means of which he hoped to be able to gain
a closer view of the recent prowler.

Of these plans he said no word to his chums, for there was more
than a chance that the human mystery of the woods was even then
within earshot, off under the shadows among the trees.




CHAPTER V

DICK GRAPPLES IN THE DARK


At last the meal was finished, this time without the help of the
prowler. Dave and Dan washed the dishes, while Tom and Harry
carried water enough to fill the hogshead that had been brought
along as part of their camp equipment.

At the same time, Dick and Greg unstrapped and set up the six
light-weight folding canvas cots, standing them in a row in the
tent. Next they arranged the bedding that had been loaned by
mothers at home, and made up the six beds. Enough fuel to start
a fire in the morning was also brought in.

"And now, what did we come out here in the woods for?" inquired
Dick smilingly.

"To get our fill of sleep," yawned Tom.

"To eat," suggested Hazelton hopefully.

"To fish," added Dave Darrin promptly.

"Just to lie down and take things easy," declared Danny Grin.

"As for me," piped up Greg Holmes, "I'm not going to bother my
head, to-night, as to why we came here. I'm going to get a ten
hour nap, and in the morning I'll try to solve the riddle for
you, Dick, of why we came here."

A tired lot of boys, not really ready, as yet, to admit that they
were used up, lay down on their cots without undressing. They
intended, later, to get into their pajamas.

A single lantern, its wick turned low, hung from one of the posts.
Prescott did not trust himself to lie down, for his eyes, despite
his efforts to keep awake, were heavy, and he did not want to
sleep for some time yet.

Within ten minutes Darrin alone had his eyes open, and even he
was making a valiant struggle against sleep. At last, however,
he yielded, and soon settled into sound slumber.

"They're off in another world," smiled Dick, as he listened to
the deep breathing of his chums; then he slipped away from his
cot.

From under a box in one corner of the tent he took out a large
cup of coffee that he had hidden some time earlier. It was still
warm and he drank it with relish, though his main purpose in using
the beverage was to make sure of keeping himself awake.

His next move was to extinguish the lantern. Now he made his
way to the bucket of water and basin. Dashing the cold water
into his face, and wetting his eyes well with it, Prescott took
a few deep breaths. He now felt equal to keeping awake for some
time.

Outside, by this time, all was darkness, save where a few embers
of the recent camp fire glowed dully.

Dick threw himself down, resting his head on his elbows, in the
doorway of the tent.

"Now, don't you dare go to sleep!" he ordered himself, repeating
the command frequently as a means of aiding himself to keep his
eyelids from closing.

"You keep awake!" he half snorted, as he felt drowsiness getting
nearer. He pinched himself, inflicting more than a little pain.

At last, however, the young leader of Dick & Co. found that his
drowsiness had passed for the time being, like the sentinel in
war time.

"Now, I think I can keep awake until daylight, if I have to,"
muttered young Prescott to himself. "At daylight it won't be
so very mean to wake one of the other fellows and let him take
my place."

Yet, after an hour had passed, Dick was almost doomed to discover
that nature had some rights and knew how to assert them.

His eyes had just closed when he awoke with a start.

Someone was treading lightly past the wall of the tent, coming
toward the door. Dick had barely time to glide back behind the
flap of the tent when the unknown someone stopped at the doorway.

It was too dark to make out anything distinctly under the canvas,
but the stranger listened to the combined snorings of five of
the six boys, then chuckled softly.

"Oh! Funny, is it, to think that we're all asleep, and that you
may help yourself at will to the food that cost us so much money!"
thought Dick wrathfully. The stranger hearing no sound from the
apparently sleeping camp soon passed on in the direction of the
fire.

Here much of the provisions had been stacked in the packing case
cupboards, for the reason that to store food in the tent would
seriously curtail the space that the boys wanted for comfort.

Out of the tent crept Dick, crouching. His heart was beating
a trifle faster than usual, perhaps, for he saw at once that the
prowler was larger than himself.

Before one of the box cupboards the prowler halted and rummaged
inside with his hands.

"I guess this is where I need a light," mused the stranger, half
aloud.

"Pardon me, but what do you want with a light?" inquired Prescott,
at the same time pushing the stranger forward on his face. Dick
now seated himself on the other's shoulders.

"Don't make a fuss," Prescott advised. "I like to think myself
a gentleman, and I don't want to muss you up too much."

The stranger laughed. It was an easy, confident laugh that destroyed
a bit of the Gridley boy's sense of mastery.

"What are you doing, up at this time of night?" asked the stranger.

"Minding my own business, in my own camp," Dick replied easily.
"And what are you doing here? Whose business are you minding?"

"My own, too, I reckon," replied the prowler more gruffly.

"In other words, attending to your hunger?" pressed Prescott.

"I'm looking out that I don't have too much hunger to-morrow,"
came the now half sullen answer.

"Is this the way you usually get your food?" Dick demanded dryly.

"This is the way I get most of it," came the reply.

"Stealing it, eh?"

"Well, what of it?" came the sulky retort. "The world owes me
a living."

"To be sure it does," Dick answered blithely. "The world owes
every man a living. That's just why you don't need to steal.
Just sail in and collect that living by means of hard work.
Are you the chap who collected our steaks this evening?"

"None of your business. And, now, if you've given me as much
chatter as you want, get off my shoulders!"

"I've a little more to say to you yet," Dick responded.

"Get off my shoulders!"

"I will - -when I'm through with you," Dick agreed.

"You'll get off at once, or I'll roll you off!" came the now angry
threat.

"Try it," Dick urged coolly.

Right then and there the stranger did try it. He "heaved," then
attempted to roll and grapple with the young camper. He would
have succeeded, too, had Prescott relied upon his strength alone.
But Dick employed both hands in getting a neck-hold that hurt.

"Now, quit your fooling," Prescott advised, "or I'll let out a
whoop that will bring five more fellows here. Do you know what
they would do to you? They'd just about lynch you - -schoolboy
fashion. Do you know what a schoolboy lynching is?"

"No," sullenly answered the stranger, as he started to renew the
struggle.

"You will know, soon, if you don't stop your stupid fooling,"
Dick told him.

"Hang you, kid. Get off of me, and keep your hands away, or I'll
hurt you more than you were ever hurt in your life, and I'll get
away with it, too, before your friends come!"

So lively did the struggle become that Dick was obliged to use
his clenched fist against the side of the prowler's jaw. That
quieted the stranger for an instant.

Leaping lightly from his troublesome captive, Dick snatched up
a heavy club of firewood that lay nearby.

"That's right," Dick agreed, swinging the club, as the other rose
to a sitting posture. "Sit up, but don't try to get up any farther
unless you want to feel this stake, which is tougher than those
other steaks!"

Prescott kept nimbly out of reach of the other's arms, though
he took pains to keep himself where he could jump in with a handy
blow at need.

"Now," remarked the high school boy, "you are getting an idea
as to who's boss."

"Well, what do you want?" asked the other sullenly. He had already
drawn down a tattered, battered old cap so that it screened his
face.

"I want to get a better look at you," Prescott replied. "I want
to be able to know you anywhere. Tan colored woollen shirt; brown
corduroy trousers; low-cut black shoes; cap defies description.
Now, let me see your face."

With that Dick bent quickly, picking up an oil-soaked bunch of
faggots that he had prepared before the others had turned in for
the night and dropped them upon the campfire.

Like a flash he was back, close to the stranger. "Don't you dare
try to get up!" Dick threatened, swinging the club.

"Hit me, if you dare!" leered the other. "I'm going to get upright
now!"

With that he made a lurching move forward. Prescott swung the
club, though of course he did not intend to beat the stranger
about the head.

His indecision left him off his guard. The stranger closed in
on the club, wrenching it from Prescott's hand and tossing it
far away. But Dick dropped, wrapping his arms about the other's
legs and throwing him.

Just as the two went down in a crash the fire, which had been
smoking, now blazed up.

"I'll show you!" roared the stranger, now thoroughly aroused,
as he grappled with Prescott and the pair rolled in fierce embrace
over the ground.

Dick was not afraid, but he didn't want this night hawk to get
away, so he bellowed lustily:

"Fellows! Gridley! Gr-r-r-id-ley! Quick!"

"Stop that!" hissed the stranger, who was now easily uppermost,
and holding Prescott with ease.

"Quick!" yelled Dick.

The stranger grasped the high school boy by the throat, then as
swiftly changed his mind, for someone was stirring in the tent.
Up leaped the prowler, yet, swift as he was, Dick was also on
his feet.

"Keep back!" warned the prowler, as he turned to run.

"You're mine - -all mine!" vaunted young Prescott, making a gallant
leap at the unknown foe.

But that brag was uttered just a few seconds too soon.




CHAPTER VI

DANGER COMES ON THE HOOF


Smack!

Against Dick's face came the palm of the larger youth's right
hand. It was the old, familiar trick of "pushing in his face."
So quickly did that manoeuvre come that Dick, caught off his
balance, was shoved backward until he tripped and fell.

Then the stranger vanished with the speed of one accustomed to
flight through the woods.

His eyes full of sand from the fall, Dick struggled to his feet,
rubbing his eyelids, just as Dave Darrin came running up.

"What was it?" demanded Dave.

"Come on! We ought to catch him yet!" cried young Prescott, turning
and running into the woods. But Dick's eyes were not quite as
keen as they had been, and Darry, once he had the general direction,
outstripped his chum in the race.

Once away from the blazing fire of oil-soaked wood, however, the
boys found themselves at a disadvantage in the woods. At last
Darry stopped, listening. Then, hearing sounds, he wheeled, dashing
at a figure.

"Get out with you, Darry!" laughed Prescott good-humoredly.

"I thought you were - - -"

"The other fellow! Yes; I know," laughed Dick.

"Where is he? Listen!"

But only the night sounds of the woods answered them.

"We'd better put for camp," whispered Dick, "or that fellow will
slip around us and pillage the supplies before we get there."

Dave started back at a dog trot, Dick following at a more leisurely
gait. Both were soon by the campfire again.

"Was it the same fellow?" demanded Darry, in a low voice.

"It must have been," Dick nodded, "though you didn't see him at
all when you encountered him, and I didn't get a view of his face.
But he had on a tan colored shirt. He also had on brown corduroy
trousers and low-cut black shoes. He kept his torn cap pulled
down over his eyes so that I couldn't get a look at his face that


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