H. Irving Hancock.

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would enable me to know it again if I saw it."

"Hang the fellow!" growled Darry. "Does he take us for a human
meal ticket with six coupons?"

"He must be hungry," rejoined Dick, "when he could get away with
all that steak and then come back, within a few hours, for more
of our food."

"How did you come to catch him?" Dave asked curiously.

Prescott explained how he had managed to remain awake and on guard,
against a possible second visit from the young prowler.

"So we've got to stay up the rest of the night, and mount guard
every night, have we?" grunted Darry disgustedly. "Fine!"

"We'll either have to watch, or part with our food," Dick assented.

"We ought to have brought Harry Hazelton's bull-dog. That would
have spared us guard duty."

"I'm glad we didn't bring the pup," Dick rejoined. "That pup
is growing older, and crosser. He'd bite a pound or two out of
some prowler's leg, and we don't want that to happen."

"Why not?" demanded Dave grimly, opening his eyes very wide.

Dick laughed softly by way of answer.

"I'd just as soon have a tramp chewed up as have our food supplies
vanish," Darry maintained.

"Little David, your temper has the upper hand of you at this moment,"
laughed Prescott.

"When that temper is on top you're dangerous - -almost bloodthirsty.
When your temper is in check you're as kind and gentle as any
good-natured fellow. You wouldn't really want to see any human
being mangled by a bull-pup's teeth."

"Well, maybe not mangled," Darry agreed. "But I don't believe
Harry's pup would do any more than take hold - -and keep hold."

"We won't have the pup, anyway," Dick replied, in a low voice.

"Why not?" Dave again demanded.

"Because, as you know well enough, Harry's father was afraid the
pup would only get us into trouble by chewing up someone, and
so declined to let us bring the dog."

"That was a shame," Dave insisted.

"I don't think so. If six of us can't take care of one stray
tramp, not much larger than any of us, then we're too tender,
and ought to be sleeping in little white cribs at home."

"Oh, stop that talk!" urged Dave.

"I mean what I said," Dick retorted. "We're big enough, and numerous
enough, to guard our own camp."

"Of course we are; but we'll have to give up some sleep to accomplish
that," Dave contended.

"Whoever loses sleep in the night time can make it up in the day
time. And now, Darry, get to bed!"

"But we've got to remain on watch."

"You'll feel bad, in the morning, if deprived of your sleep.
I'll stay up for a while yet, and then call Tom Reade."

"So I'm no good for guard duty, eh?" snorted Darry.

"Not a bit," said Dick cheerfully. "You're as sleepy and as cross
as can be, right at this minute. Go and tuck in, Davy."

Darrin snorted again, then glared at Dick's placid face. Suddenly
Dave broke into a hearty chuckle, slapping his chum on the back.

"You're all right, Dick," he declared. "You know how to keep
your temper, talk smoothly, and yet hit harder than if you used
a club. No, sirree! I'm not cross, even though I may be tired.
I'm not cross, and I can thrash into subjection any fellow who
dares hint that I'm cross, or that my temper is on a rampage.
You go and turn in, Dick."

"Not yet."

"Then we'll both stay up and watch together."

"I'll tell you what," proposed Dick.

"Well?"

"Bring your cot out here. I'll let you sleep for an hour by my
watch. Then I'll call you, and you hold the watch and let me
sleep for an hour. There is no sense in both of us losing our
rest at the same time. Yet, if either fellow needs the other,
he'll have him right under his hand."

"All right," nodded Dave. "Anything, as long as I'm not accused
of being a sleepy head."

"A sleepy head?" Prescott repeated. "Why, when I called to you
fellows for help you were the only one who responded. No; I wouldn't
call you an incurable sleepy head, Darry."

Now wholly restored to good humor Dave went back into the tent,
lifting his cot and bringing it out to within a few feet of the
campfire.

"You take the first nap, Dick," begged Dave.

"No; you take it."

"But I'm not sleepy; honestly I'm not."

So Prescott lay down on the cot, closing his eyes.

The sunlight, streaming into his face, awakened him.

"Why - -why - -where's Darry?" thought Dick, sitting up straight.

The sound of deep breathing answered him. Dave sat with his back
propped against a tree, sound asleep. He had slept for hours,
evidently, having fallen asleep through sheer, uncontrollable
drowsiness.

Rising from the cot Dick stretched himself for he was still drowsy.
Then he tip-toed over to where the food was stored, peering in.

"I can't see that our friend, the enemy, has been here again,"
Dick smiled. He glanced at Darry, but did not awake that tired
youngster.

As noiselessly as he could Prescott busied himself with starting
a small campfire that could be made larger when needed. This
done, he set water to boil.

"Ho-hum!" yawned Tom Reade, dressed only in underclothes and trousers,
as he stood in the tent doorway half an hour later.

Dick placed his fingers to his lips, whispering:

"Don't rouse the other fellows. They're tired."

"Darry certainly looks tired," smiled Tom, regarding Dave in the
uncomfortable posture by the tree.

Yet, though he must have been quite uncomfortable had he been
awake, Darry slumbered on. Greg came out, looked at Dave and smiled.
Then Hazelton, next Dalzell, came outside.

"What is the cot doing out here?" Danny Grin was the first to
inquire.

"We had a visit from the prowler in the night," Dick replied,
"and Dave and I stayed on guard."

"Was Darry as efficient all through the guard tour as he is just
now?" demanded Reade ironically.

"That's all right for you fellows," retorted Dick, "who even slept
right past my call for help. Let Dave alone. Let him finish
his nap, no matter how long he sleeps."

But at that moment Darrin opened his eyes, then leaped to his
feet, a victim of red-faced confusion.

"What are all you fellows laughing at?" Dave demanded.

So far none had done more than grin, but now a very general roar
went up.

"I'm a chump, on guard duty, and I admit it," Darrin went on,
looking sheepish. "Dick, when you found me asleep why didn't
you call me?"

"Because," Prescott answered, "when you went to sleep I judged
that you did so because you needed the rest."

"I must have been sound asleep from at least one o'clock in the
morning," Dave went on ruefully. "Oh, I am a fellow to be trusted,
I am!"

"If you've been sleeping, with your back against that tree, from
one in the morning, you must be as stiff and lame as you could
possibly be," Reade suggested.

"I am pretty lame," Darrin confessed.

"Are you fellows ever going to hustle about and make some moves
toward getting breakfast?" inquired young Prescott.

"What have you been doing in that line?" Danny Grin wanted to
know.

For answer Dick Prescott pointed to the merrily blazing campfire
and the steaming kettle of water.

"I am ready to do a lot more, too," Dick added, "as soon as the
rest of you will show signs of life."

At that there was a general bustling.

"Why didn't you wake me up in time to save me from all the joshing?"
Darry demanded, with a note of reproach in his voice, as soon
as he got a chance to speak with Dick alone. "Tom Reade won't
be through all summer with tormenting me about being asleep at
the switch."

"No one would have known anything about it, if you hadn't given
it away yourself, both by look and words," Prescott returned.
"I hadn't said a word that enlightened anyone."

Breakfast was soon ready, for hungry boys, in the woods, are always
ready to eat.

While the meal was being disposed of Prescott told his chums of
the visit during the night, and of his own share and Dave's in
trying to nab the tantalizing prowler.

"How many such regiments of guards as Darry, would it take to
guard this camp properly at night?" asked Tom dryly.

"It seems to me," Prescott remarked, "that you fellows will do
very well to sing mighty low about Dave's drowsiness. When I
had to call for help last night he was the only one with an ear
quick enough to hear me and come to my support. What was the
matter with the rest of you, sleepy heads, or did you hear and
feel that it might be dangerous to turn out in the middle of the
night?"

That last taunt had the desired effect. Darrin was allowed to
eat his breakfast in peace.

After the meal was over the boys sat around the camp for a few
minutes. Each hated to be the first to make a move toward the
drudgery of dish-washing and camp cleaning.

"After we get things to rights," inquired Reade, "what is to be
the programme for the day?"

"There's a pond east of us that is said to hold perch," Dave answered.
"I'm going to take fishing tackle and go in search of a mess
of fish. Anyone going with me?"

"I will," offered Danny Grin.

"As for me," spoke up Tom, "I have a line on a place where blueberries
grow in profusion. Harry, will you go along with me and pick
berries?"

"If it isn't over five miles away," Hazelton assented cautiously.

"Then what are we going to do!" asked Greg Holmes, turning to
Prescott.

"From the plans we've heard laid down," smiled Dick, "I think
we will have to stay right here and keep the prowler from dropping
in to carry away the rest of our provisions."

"Bother such sport as that!" snorted Greg.

"Humph! It may turn out to be the liveliest sport of all," declared
Dick dryly. "Certainly if that fellow turns up it will take two
of us to handle him with comfort. He's a tough customer."

"Dan, you always were an artist with a shovel," suggested Darry
insinuatingly. "Suppose you get out the spade and see what sort
of perch bait you can turn up in this neighborhood."

"Me?" drawled Dalzell protestingly. "Shucks! I'm no good at
finding bait. Never was."

"Get the spade and try," ordered Darry. "If you don't find some
bait we'll have to put off fishing until some other day."

That brought Dan to terms. He shouldered a spade, picked up an
empty vegetable can and started away, while Dave began to sort
tackle and to rig on hooks suitable for catching perch. Tom and
Harry started in to unpack supplies from a pair of six-quart pails
that they needed for the morning's work.

"Say, hear that, fellows!" demanded Tom, straightening up suddenly.

From the distance to the northward came a dull rumbling sound.

"Thunder?" suggested Danny Grin, glancing wonderingly up at the
clear sky.

"If there's a storm coming it will upset a day's berrying," Reade
announced.

"Fellows," Dick broke in, "it's a rumbling, yet it doesn't sound
just like thunder, either. It sounds more like - - -"

"Cavalry on a gallop," suggested Greg.

"Just what it does sound a lot like," Prescott nodded. Then he
dropped to the ground, holding one ear close to the earth.

"And, whatever the rumble may be," Prescott went on, "it travels
along the ground. Just get your ears down, fellows."

"It's something big, and it's moving this way," cried Dave.

"It can't be cavalry," Tom argued. "There are no manoeuvres on;
there is no state camp ever held in this part of the state, either.
What do you - - -"

But Dick Prescott was up on his feet by this time. Furthermore,
he was running. He stopped at the base of the trunk of the first
tall tree. Up he went with much of the speed of a squirrel.
Higher and higher he made his way among the branches.

"Say, be careful there, Dick!" called Tom Reade, warningly. "If
you get a tumble - - -"

"I'm not a booby, I hope," Dick called down, as he went to still
loftier heights. He was now among the slender uppermost branches,
where a boy would need to be a fine climber in order to make such
swift progress. Even Dick Prescott might readily enough snap
a branch now, and come tumbling to earth.

"Stop!" warned Tom. "If you don't you'll butt your head into
a cloud, the first thing you know."

"Can you see anything?" called Danny Grin.

"I see quite a cloud of dust to the northward."

"How far off?" asked Dave.

"About a mile, I should say, and it's headed this way, coming
closer every minute."

"What's behind the cloud? Can you make out?" Greg bawled up.

"I'm trying to see," Dick replied. "There, I got a glimpse then.
It's some kind of animals, heading for this camp at a gallop."

"It can't be cavalry," shouted Reade. "You don't see any men,
do you?"

"No," Prescott called down, shielding his eyes with one hand.
"Say, fellows!"

"Have you guessed what it is?" demanded Harry Hazelton.

"I know what it is - -now!" Dick answered. Then he began to descend
the tree with great speed.

"Careful, there!" shouted Tom Reade. "That isn't a low baluster
you're sliding down."

"Keep quiet, until I reach the ground," gasped Dick. As he came
nearer those below saw that he looked truly startled.

Then Dick reached the low branches, and began to look for a chance
to jump.

"We've got to get out of here, fellows!" he called. "You know
the trick that cattle - -owners have in this part of the county
of turning their cattle out to graze in one bunch. That bunch
is headed this way - -hundreds strong, and it's going to rush through
this camp, trampling everything in the way!"




CHAPTER VII

FIGHTING THE MAD STAMPEDE


"Nothing doing, and don't get excited," replied Tom Reade, shaking
his head.

"There will be a lot doing in three or four minutes," Prescott
retorted excitedly. "The cattle are stampeded, and they'll sweep
through here like a cyclone."

"The trees will break up the stampede," Tom insisted coolly.

"Not much they won't," Dick answered. "The cattle are headed
along a natural lane, where the trees are less thick than in other
parts of the forest."

"The trees will stop 'em before they get here," Reade insisted.

"The trees will do nothing of the sort," uttered Dick, glancing
swiftly about him. "The cattle are among the trees already.
Just hear that rumble. And it's a lot closer now."

"I reckon we'd better move, do it now, and do it fast," cried
Hazelton, who knew that Dick's judgment was generally the best.

"And leave our camp to be trampled down and made a complete wreck
by a lot of crazy cattle?" gasped Greg Holmes.

"I'd rather have the camp trampled than my face," retorted Dalzell.

"I don't want to flee from here and leave the camp to be destroyed,
and our summer's fun spoiled," protested Greg. "We must stop
the cattle, or split their stampede."

"All right, Holmesy," agreed Tom ironically. "I appoint you to
do my full share in stopping a stampede of cattle." Reade's face
had suddenly grown very grave as he now realized that the trees
were not stopping the frenzied cattle.

Dick, who had been thinking, suddenly wheeled, making a break
for the supplies.

"Get a box of matches, each one of you!" he shouted. "Then sprint
with me for that patch of sun-baked grass just north of us."

"What's the idea?" Dave asked, but Dick was already running fast.

"Get your matches and come on!" Dick called back over his shoulder.

As speedily as could be done the others followed suit. Dick reached
the sun-burned strip of grass, whose nearer edge was some two
hundred yards north of camp.

"Hey! He's starting a forest fire!" gasped Dan Dalzell, as he
caught sight of young Prescott bending over the dried, yellowish
grass.

"Scatter, all along the strip!" shouted Prescott, rising as soon
as he had ignited a clump of grass. "Get this whole strip of
burned grass blazing. It's the only chance to save the camp - -or
ourselves!"

Dalzell shivered. Nor could Dan understand how such a course
would serve to save their camp. But he saw the others following
their leader's orders.

"Get over the ground, Dan!" bellowed Dick, as he sprinted to another
point. "Start a lot of blazes!"

So Danny Grin fell in line with the movements of the others, though
he felt not a little doubt as to the wisdom of the course.

Flame was now spurting up over more than an acre of the sun-baked
strip of grass.

"Get a lot more of the grass going, fellows!" panted Dick, who
was working like a beaver and dripping with perspiration. "It's
our only hope. Hustle!"

With the flames arose a dense cloud of smoke. As the wind was
from the southwest the smoke was in the faces of the onrushing
cattle.

"There! We've done all we can!" bellowed Dick, running down the
line formed by his chums. "Now, get back out of this roasting
furnace."

Close to the edge of the burning strip of grass the six high school
boys now stood side by side gazing at their work.

"We'd better scoot!" counseled Danny Grin.

"Where can we go?" Dick shouted, in order to make himself heard
over the crackling flames and the greater noise of the pounding
hoofs. "If we're not safe behind a curtain of flame, there is
no other place near where we'd be safer."

Danny Grin turned to bolt, but Darry reached out, catching him
by the collar and throwing him to the ground.

"Don't be a fool, Danny, and don't be panic stricken," Darrin
advised. "We're safer here, at least, than we can be anywhere
else within a quarter of a mile."

The bellow of a bull through the forest - -a bellow taken up by
other bulls - -made all of the boys quake in their shoes. But
none of the lads ran away.

Gazing between the trees they soon made out a stirring sight.

On came the stampede, cattle packed so tightly that any animal
falling could only be trampled to death by those behind.

"My, but that's a grand sight!" cried Tom Reade.

Not one of the six boys but longed to take to his heels. To them
it seemed absolutely impossible for the cattle to turn aside as
they must dash on through the blazing grass, such was the pressure
from behind. Yet not one of Dick & Co. turned to run.

Suddenly three of the bulls went down to their knees, snorting
and bellowing furiously. Half a dozen cows held back from the
flames, only to be trampled and killed.

Somehow, the powerful bulls staggered to their feet, then broke
to one side.

A dozen more cows plunged on into the blazing grass, then sank,
overcome by the heat.

It seemed like a miracle as, following the bulls, the herd split,
some going east, others west, and carrying the swerving cattle
after them in two frantic streams.

In some way that the boys could not understand, the pressure of
cattle from the rear accommodated itself to the movement of the
forepart of the herd. The herd divided now swept on rapidly,
going nearly east and west in two sections.

Not until some six hundred crazy cattle had passed out of view
did the boys feel like speaking. Indeed, they felt weak from
the realization of the peril they had so narrowly escaped.

"I think, fellows," proposed Dave Darrin huskily at last, "that
we owe a whopping big vote of thanks to good old Dick Prescott!"

"After we pass that vote," proposed Hazelton, "we'd better make
all haste to get out of these woods before the owner of this
stretch of forest comes along to nab the fellows who set his timber
afire."

"Do you see any trees ablaze?" Dick demanded.

Now, for the first time, two or three of the fellows began to
realize the value of Dick's idea. The sun-burned grass, some
three acres in extent, was a clearing devoid of trees. Here
the July heat had baked the turf. On all sides, under the trees
beyond, the grass was still green. Any boy who has ever been
in the country knows that green grass won't burn. Hence the blaze
was limited to a small area. A few trees whose trunks were near
the edge of the clearing were smoking slightly, but no damage
was done to the timber. There was really no work to be done in
extinguishing this fire, which, furious while it lasted, was now
dying out.

"Let's get back and see how our camp fared," proposed Hazelton.

"We don't have to," Dick replied. "We saw the directions taken
by the cattle, and they didn't go anywhere near our camp. Let's
wait, and, as soon as the ground is cool enough, let's get out
to the injured cows, and see if we can help any of them."

Hardly had Dick spoken when one of the cows, right at the edge
of the blackened clearing, rose clumsily, then moved slowly northward.
Presently another cow followed suit.

"We can get over the ground now," said Dick. "Let's go out and
look at these animals."

They counted eight dead cows, their unwieldy carcasses lying motionless
on the burned grass.

"Probably killed by the hot air that they drew into their lungs,"
commented Tom Reade.

"We killed the poor beasts," said Danny Grin, with a catch in
his breath.

"Perhaps we did," Dick admitted. "But we had to do something.
Anyhow, we broke the force of the stampede, and, if that hadn't
been checked, a still greater number of cows would have been killed.
They would have fallen, exhausted, and then they would have been
trampled on and killed by the plunging cattle behind them."

"That's true enough," nodded Tom. "Even if we did kill a few,
I guess we're more entitled to praise than reproach."

Two more cows presently got up and limped away, but there were
four others still alive, yet too badly hurt to attend to themselves.

Nor could the high school boys help, further than by carrying
buckets of water to the suffering animals. Dick & Co. had no
firearms along, and could not put the injured cows out of their
misery.

"Now, let's get out of here," urged Dick at last. "We can't do
any good here, and this is no pleasant sight to gaze upon."

"It seems too bad to leave all this prime roast beef on the ground,
doesn't it?" hinted Tom. "And we fellows have such good appetites."

"The cattle are not ours," Dick rejoined. "We have no right to
help ourselves to any cuts of meat from the dead animals."

So they returned to the camp, which they found, of course, quite
undisturbed.

It so happened that the four members of the party who had proposed
going to other scenes for the forenoon forgot their projects.




CHAPTER VIII

VISITORS FOR THE FEAST


Bang! bang! sounded in the direction of the burned-over clearing.

"Let's go over and see what that means," proposed Tom.

He jumped up, ready to sprint over to the clearing.

"If you want advice," Dick offered, "I'd say to wait until the
shooting is over. You might stop a stray bullet not intended
for us."

"But what can the shooting mean" wondered Greg.

"When anyone is turning bullets loose," remarked Darry, "I'm not
too inquisitive."

So the boys waited until the firing had ceased. Then they heard
what sounded like the noise of a horse moving through the brush.

"Hello, there!" called Dick.

"Hello, yourself!" came the answer, and a mounted man rode into
view. He did not look especially ugly or dangerous; his garb
was plainly intended for the saddle. As he came into sight the
man slipped a heavy automatic revolver into a saddle holster.

"What was up?" inquired Dick, rising and going forward to meet
the newcomer.

"Stampede," replied the other briefly.

"We know something about that," Dick rejoined.

"Do you know anything about the burning of the clearing?" asked
the horseman, reining up and eyeing the lads keenly.

"Yes, sir; we fired the grass," Prescott acknowledged.

"To break the stampede?"

"No, sir; to save our camp, which would have been destroyed."

"Shake," invited the stranger, riding forward and bending over
to hold out his hand. "Your fire cost us a few cattle, but I
reckon it saved the destruction of a lot more, for there would
have been many of 'em killed if they had charged on into the deeper
forest."

"Then the stampede has been stopped?" asked Prescott.

"Yes; two of my men followed the parted trails, and came back
to report the two herds halted and grazing. My name is Ross.
I'm the owner of about a fourth of the cattle in the big herd."

"I hope you don't feel angry with us for doing the best we could
to save our camp," Dick went on.

"You saved myself and the other owners a greater loss," replied
Mr. Ross, "so I thank you."

"You're quite welcome, Mr. Ross," smiled Tom Reade. "But what
was the shooting about?"

"I shot some of the cattle that appeared to be still alive, to
put an end to their suffering. You boys haven't any ice here,
have you?"

"No, sir," Dick replied.

"Too bad," said Mr. Ross. "If you had ice I could offer you a
prime lot of beef that it will hardly pay me to move, as I can't
get the animals cut up quickly enough and on ice, after the long
haul I would have to make."


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