H. Irving Hancock.

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"Are you going to leave the cattle on the clearing?" Dick asked
in sudden concern.

"We'll bury the carcasses," smiled Mr. Ross. "If we didn't the
smell would soon force you boys to move your camp a mile or two.
But see here! Ever have a barbecue?"

"No, sir," Dick made answer, his voice betraying sudden interest.

"Would you like one?" went on the owner. "A barbecue, real western
style, with a whole cow on the fire?"

"It would be great!" answered nearly all of Dick & Co. in concert.

"Then we'll have one, as soon as I can call my men in," replied
Mr. Ross cheerfully. "I'm bound to get some good out of the dead
cattle."

"We'll want a lot of firewood for that, won't we?" asked Dick,
his eyes gleaming.

"More than a little," nodded Mr. Ross. "And big wood, at that."

"Dave, you and Tom had better take the axes and get some real
wood," Prescott called. "Harry and Dan will help you and bring
it in. Where shall we put the wood, Mr. Ross?"

"In the middle of the burnt clearing will be better," replied
the cattle owner. "Then the fire won't have a chance to spread
in any direction. Besides, you won't want the heat of a great
fire too close to your camp. After the meat is cooked we can
bring it over here. Have you boys plenty of canned vegetables
and the like?"

"Plenty, sir," Dick answered cheerily, though his heart sank a
trifle as he thought of how the cattle owner and his helpers might
clean out their stock.

Dick and Greg busied themselves with carrying over to the clearing
such things as Mr. Ross said that they would need. Then it was
decided that the vegetables should be cooked at the camp.

"Let me see your stock of provisions and perhaps I may get another
idea," proposed the cattle owner. "I see that you have flour,
and oh, yes; you have all that will be needed for a pudding,
and one of my men knows how to make one of the best boiled puddings
you ever ate out under the sky."

Drawing a small horn from one of his side pockets, Mr. Ross blew
a long, shrill blast.

"Jim will come in as soon as possible, after hearing that sound,"
smiled the cattle owner.

Jim Hornby rode in within five minutes. He was a lean, long,
roughened and reddened farm laborer, but when told that a boiled
pudding was wanted he walked straight to the place where the
supplies were kept.

"Everything here but berries," Jim explained. "Any of you boys
know where to get some blueberries?"

Greg knew, and promptly departed with a pail.

Crackle! Crackle! Two brisk fires were now going in the burnt
clearing, started by Dick at Mr. Ross' direction. By this time
Mr. Ross' other helper had come in, reporting that the cattle
were quiet and grazing, and now this helper and his employer began
to remove the hide from one of the cows.

"This cow was overcome by smoke and hot air as soon as it rushed
into the blaze," explained Mr. Ross. "Therefore, this will be
safe meat to eat. When an animal, however, dies in pain, after
much suffering, its flesh should never be used for food. Bill,
now that we've gotten the hide off you mount and ride back to
the wagon. Bring it along."

Dan and Harry were still bringing in heavy firewood and stacking
it up, while the ring of axes in the hands of Dave and Tom was
heard. It was a busy scene.

"Prescott, you'd better begin piling on the big wood now," suggested
Mr. Ross, after noting the sun's position.

Things moved rapidly along.

"You might as well halt your wood cutters, unless you want their
product for your own camp," suggested the cattle owner, and Prescott
sent the word to stop chopping.

Within twenty minutes the big wagon, drawn by a pair of mules,
came up with Bill Hopple driving and his horse tied to the tailboard.

With a speed and skill born of long practice, Mr. Ross began to
cut up the carcass of the cow. Bill was busy making greenwood
spits and arranging them over the two fires, Dan and Harry helping
him.

Almost at a dead run came Greg Holmes through the woods, with
two quarts of blueberries. Over at the camp, as soon as he saw
the berries, Jim Hornby began mixing his pudding batter. He had
already prepared his fire and had found a suitable kettle.

From watching the pudding game, Tom strolled through to the two
fires in the clearing.

"This begins to look like a fine chance to eat," sighed Tom full
of contentment.

"Doing anything, Reade?" inquired the cattle owner, who had quickly
learned all their names.

"No, sir."

"Then suppose you take this heart of the cow over to your camp.
Put it on the fire in a kettle of salted water, and let it boil
slowly. By that means you will be able to serve up the heart
for your evening meal."

"Is there no end to this cow?" gasped Tom.

"Well, a good-sized cow provides several hundred pounds of meat,"
replied Mr. Ross. "Oh, what a shame that you boys have no ice,
and no way of getting it or keeping it! I could fix you for a
month's supply of meat!"

"Dick, do you remember what we came out here in the woods for?"
queried Tom.

"To camp, and have a good time," Prescott laughed. "And, so far,
we win. We're having a bully time!"

"What else did we come out here for?"

"To harden and train ourselves so that we can make a hard try
for the Gridley High School football eleven this fall."

"Will a week of training table undo the harm of to-day's big feasts?"
groaned Reade.

"No fellow is obliged to make a glutton of himself," retorted
Dick.

"Maybe not," quoth Tom, "but everyone of us will be sorely tempted.
You ought to see that pudding that Jim Hornby is putting up."

"Young man, are you going to get that heart to cooking before
it goes bad in the sun?" asked Mr. Ross sharply.

Tom meekly turned and started toward camp.

"What's Greg doing?" Dick called after him.

"Holmesy is watching, learning the way Jim Hornby puts up a boiled
pudding," Reade called back.

Honk! honk! sounded an automobile horn from the rough trail
of a roadway an eighth of a mile away. The honking continued
until Dick, realizing that it was a signal, gave a loud halloo.

"Is that Prescott's camp?" called a voice.

"It's the camp of Prescott and his friends," Dick shouted back.

"Get ready for visitors, then!" called the voice again, and this
time Dick recognized the voice as that of Dr. Bentley.

"We won't eat you out of supplies, though," called the doctor,
now heading through the forest. "We're bringing with us our own
cold lunch."

"Cold lunch!" Dick chuckled back. "You won't be able to eat it
after you see what we have!"

Through the trees now the fluttering of skirts could be seen.
High school girls were on their way to share the barbecue, though
as yet they did not know of the treat in store for them.




CHAPTER IX

DICK'S WOODLAND DISCOVERY


"You couldn't have come at a finer time!" cried Dick joyously,
as he raced to meet the most welcome visitors.

"We're barbecuing a whole cow."

"Then I trust, Prescott, that you came honestly by the cow," rejoined
Dr. Bentley his eyes twinkling.

Besides Dr. and Mrs. Bentley, there were eight girls. The visitors
quickly explained that, besides the Bentley touring car, that
of the Sharps was being used on this expedition, Susie Sharp being
one of the girls of the party. The Sharps did not employ a chauffeur,
but their general man knew how to run the car, and he was now
engaged in taking the cars to a spot well off the road.

"I'll send one of the fellows to get him," Dick promised, as he
led the numerous though welcome guests to camp.

"Lucky I made a special big pudding," grinned Jim Hornby.

"The girls may have my share," gallantly offered Tom Reade, though
he groaned under his breath.

"There's pudding enough for a lot more people than we have here,"
returned Jim. "I don't bother making small puddings."

The boys were all called in quickly to greet the girls and Dr.
and Mrs. Bentley. Of course, the girls had to see the interior
of the tent, and all the arrangements of the camp.

"I wish I were a boy," sighed Laura Bentley enviously.

"I'm glad you're not," spoke Dick gallantly. "You're ever so
much nicer as a girl."

Honk! honk! sounded over by the road. The noise continued.

"Greg," said Dick, "that's Miss Sharp's father's man. Evidently
he wants something. You'd better run over."

In less than five minutes back came Greg with three other men,
all of them unexpected. Mr. Alonzo Hibbert, minus his four-quart
hat, and wearing a flat straw hat instead, as well as light clothes
and silk negligee shirt, came in advance of Tom Colquitt, the
man from Blinders' detective agency. Still to the rear of them
was a third man, slightly bent and looking somewhat old, though
there were no gray streaks in his light brown hair.

"How do you do, boys?" called Mr. Hibbert airily, as he came swiftly
forward. "We saw a big smoke over this way, and so we stopped
to find out what was the matter. Young Holmes has asked us to
stop for your barbecue, but it looks to me like a terrible imposition
on you, and so - - -"

Here Mr. Hibbert paused, looking highly embarrassed as he caught
sight of Mrs. Bentley and the girls coming out of the tent.

"You already have other company," murmured Hibbert apologetically.
"No; most decidedly we must not intrude on you."

"How do you do, Mr. Colquitt?" was Dr. Bentley's greeting. Then
other introductions followed, and, ere he knew it, Hibbert and
his friends were members of the party and destined to partake
of the barbecue feast.

The oldish-looking man with the new arrivals proved to be Mr.
Calvin Page.

"He's the millionaire father of the missing boy that Colquitt
and I are trying to find," Hibbert explained to Dick.

"Have you any clue, as yet?" Prescott inquired.

"Nothing worth while," sighed Lon Hibbert.

"It's too bad," murmured Dick. "Mr. Page is a fine-looking man,
but he must be lonely."

"He is," agreed Lon Hibbert.

"His wife is dead, isn't she?"

"Yes; and Page would give the world to find that boy of his."

"Perhaps if he doesn't find his son it may be as well," Dick hinted.

"Why, as well?"

"The missing son, brought up by others, might have turned out
badly," Prescott suggested.

"Pooh!" quickly rejoined Lon Hibbert. "That missing son, no
matter how wild or bad he may be, is still young enough to reform.
Prescott, no matter how bad that son may be, it will be a blessing
for my friend Page to find his boy! I pray that it may be my
good fortune to run across that son, one of these days, and that
I may be the first to recognize the boy."

"Prescott," broke in Mr. Ross, coming forward, "you don't begin
to have enough knives, forks and plates to take care of this crowd,
do you?"

"I'm sorry to say that we haven't," Dick smiled. "But we'll manage
that all right. My friends and I will play waiters, and sit at
second table after the dishes have been washed."

"You won't have to," replied the cattle owner. "I have a folding
table and dishes in my wagon, and I'll send Bill Hopple after
'em."

So the tables were set under the shade of the trees, not far from
the campfire. The Sharps man came up, and was seated with Jim
and Bill. Everything being now cooked, the feast began.

"I've never had anything as wonderful as this happen to me before,"
cried Belle Meade, as she seated herself and looked over the two
tables with sparkling eyes. "Girls, we didn't look forward to
such a treat as this when we left Gridley this morning."

"You intended to look in on us, didn't you?" inquired Darry.

"Yes; but we brought our own luncheons," said Laura. "We didn't
expect you to do anything for us - -unless you boys had happened
to catch a mess of fish."

"We were planning to go fishing this morning," Tom Reade explained,
"although we do not know whether the fishing near here amounts
to much. May I pass you some of this sirloin, Miss Marshall?"

Gay spirits ruled, as they usually do and always should when young
people are together out in the open, far from studies or from
any of the other cares of life.

Dick told the story of the stampede, while Mr. Ross added much
about the peculiarities of stampeding cattle and the impossibility
of controlling the animals while their mad fright lasts.

"I am certain that this is the finest meal I have ever eaten,"
declared Mr. Page, who, up to the present, had been rather silent.

"There is only one thing it needs," rejoined Mr. Ross. "If we
had about six roasted ears of corn for each diner then this barbecue
would be a huge success."

"Not even the corn could improve it," declared Laura Bentley,
as Dick helped her to more of the roasted meat.

"Don't forget that pudding, ladies and gentlemen!" called out
Jim Hornby, from where he sat. "That pudding is my best kind,
and the best one of its kind that I ever turned out. When you
have the pudding you won't be thinking of a little thing like
roasted ears of corn."

"No more, thank you," replied Clara Marshall, as Greg tried to
secure her plate in order to help her to more food.

"Until the pudding comes on," prompted Jim Hornby.

"Until the pudding arrives," smiled Clara.

"But no one may think of having pudding yet," insisted Mr. Ross,
with mock gravity. "I forbid that anyone should have pudding,
or even think of it, until we have tried the one really delicious
dish of this feast."

"And what may that be?" called Dr. Bentley.

"The best part of the cow," replied Mr. Ross.

"A big rib roast, served with cracked bones with the marrow cooked
in them. Come along, Bill. We'll bring back the roast and the
marrow."

Ross and his man moved briskly out of sight. Only a few moments
had passed when Mr. Ross' voice was heard from the clearing:

"_Thieves_! The rib roast is gone - -so is the marrow!"

Dick glanced swiftly at his chums. The same idea was in the minds
of all the members of Dick & Co.

"Our friend, the prowler, has been here," muttered Prescott, rising
hastily. "This thing has got to be stopped. Come along, fellows!
Friends, please excuse us for a few moments."

At a dog trot Dick led the way to the clearing. There stood Mr.
Ross, looking the picture of indignation.

"I didn't know there were tramps in these woods," muttered the
cattle owner.

"Tramp, thief, or whatever he is," exclaimed Dick Prescott, "that
fellow must move on out of this part of the country. If he doesn't
we'll catch him. After we get through with him, he'll be glad
enough to move on."

"If he's able," added Dave Darrin significantly.

"Oh, what's the use of making a fuss, this time?" demanded Tom
Reade good-humoredly. "For once we have so much meat that we
could spare a hungry man two hundred pounds and not miss it."

"It's the principle of the thing," muttered Dick, who was studying
the ground intently. "That big, hulking fellow doesn't care a
rap whether we have plenty, or whether he takes all we have.
We've got to suppress him. We must catch him, and put a stop
to his thieving. See! Here's where he went off through the woods.
Come on! We'll trail him!"

"And, if we find him?" asked Greg.

"We'll try to reason with the fellow," responded Prescott rather
grimly.

Just as the boys started off on the trail that Prescott had discovered,
other figures appeared on the scene.

"Now, may I ask what you girls are doing here?" asked Tom, his
tone more agreeable than his words.

"We want to see the fun, whatever is going to happen," declared
Susie Sharp.

"Oh, there will be plenty of that, I promise you, if we can find
the fellow," asserted Darry bluntly.

"Come along, girls!" cried Belle Meade gleefully.

"But there may be something disagreeable happen, you know, girls,"
Dick warned them. "If we overtake this fellow there may be a
fight."

"If you could call it a fight, when six Gridley high school boys
attack one man, then I shall have to change my mind about our
high school boys," hinted Laura Bentley teasingly.

It was plain enough that the girls were bent on following them,
so no more objections were raised.

"We'll travel so fast that the girls won't be able to keep up,"
whispered Tom Reade to Dick. "We'll lose 'em, and they'll be
glad to hike back to the table."

This, however, proved to be not quite as easy as had been expected.
The trail into the woods was rather a plain one, though it could
not be followed at a run.

"Keep behind me, fellows," urged Dick. "If you keep up with me
you may blot out the trail."

So his five chums came after him, with the girls in the rear,
in a straggling line.

Into the deepest woods the trail led. "The girls will soon tire
of this chase, and face about," Tom told Darry.

Which was precisely what happened.

In the deepest part of the woods Dick parted a tangle of bushes
through which the trail led. Then, in a voice vibrant with agitation,
he shouted:

"Come on, fellows! Quick!"




CHAPTER X

SETTING A NEW TRAP


What Dick had caught sight of, and what had made him call to his
chums was the figure of the camp prowler partially dressed seated
on the edge of a pool of water fed by a forest brook where evidently
he had been bathing.

He had heard Dick's cry, however. These few instants of time
had been enough for the bather to jump up, snatch up the remainder
of his clothes and set off through the woods with the speed of
an antelope.

"Come on!" cheered Dick Prescott. "Full speed! We'll catch him.
He hasn't his shoes on, and his bare feet will soon go lame on
the twigs and stones that he'll step on in running. He can't
go far before we nab him."

"Spread out, fellows!" called Tom Reade. "Don't let the rascal
slip through our line. Dick, did you get a good look at him?"

"A fine peep," Prescott affirmed.

"Was he the thief?" Dave demanded.

"The very fellow!" Dick called back, for he was still in the lead.

"Don't talk any more," Reade warned his friends cautiously. "We'll
use up our wind."

As he ran Dick had an important secret on his mind. This was
not quite the time to impart it to his chums, however, so he held
his peace and did his best to save his wind.

Thus half a mile, at least, was quickly traversed. By this time
the high school boys, running as they had done, began to feel
winded.

"I can't go any further," gasped Hazelton, halting and leaning
against a tree.

"I'm in the same fix," muttered Danny Grin. as he, too, came
to a stop.

Reade, Darrin and Prescott ran on some distance farther, but at
last Dick called a brief signal for a halt.

"Where are you, friend?" bawled Dick, using his last wind in one
resolute vocal effort.

"Friend!" scoffed Reade.

"Of course the fellow will call and tell us where he is!" jeered
Darry.

"We won't hurt you - -won't try to," Dick promised solemnly, again
sending his voice as far as he could make it travel. "All we
want to do is to talk to you - -and we're friends honestly!"

"Say, what are you trying to give that thief?" protested Tom,
in an indignant undertone.

"Why are you telling him we're friends, and won't hurt him?" insisted
Dave Darrin.

"Because I mean just what I say," retorted Prescott, so crisply
that, for the moment, no one pressed him with any more questions.

Dick continued his calls, but received no response.

"By this time that fellow's a mile from here, and still running,"
mocked Dave.

"Or else he doubled on us, somewhere, and is hidden where he can
watch us, and laugh at us slyly," suggested Tom, as the three
high school boys turned to walk back to camp.

"If he's hiding on our trail, the thief had better not let me
catch him laughing at us!" growled Darry indignantly.

"Now, see here, both of you," Dick Prescott went on, earnestly.
"If we come across that fellow, don't either of you make a grab
at him. Just let me handle him - -and I'll do it by talking alone.
We mustn't use our fists."

"You've changed your tune wonderfully within the last few minutes,"
muttered Dave.

"If I have," Dick answered impressively, "it's because I know
something now that I didn't know a little while ago."

"And what's that?" asked Tom eagerly.

"I'll tell all hands presently," Dick answered mysteriously.

"Oh, fudge!" growled Darry, under his breath, for he was fully
as curious as Tom Reade had been.

But Dick walked on as briskly as his almost winded condition would
permit. So they returned to the place where Harry and Dan awaited
them. To these two Dick repeated his instructions in the unlikely
case of their meeting the thief during their walk back to camp.

Nothing was seen of the fugitive, however, and the boys picked
up Greg Holmes close to the little swimming pool.

"I knew I could not catch up with you fellows," explained Holmes,
"so I took the girls back to camp and then put in my time prowling
about here and trying to locate the marrow bones that the sneak
stole."

"Dick doesn't want us to hurt the fellow, if we run across him,"
said Dave grimly.

"Why not?" asked Greg, opening his eyes very wide.

"I don't know," sighed Dave. "Ask Dick."

"I'll tell you all by and by," smiled Dick. "But now, let us
hurry back to camp. I want to see Mr. Colquitt just as soon
as I can."

"Bosh! A detective like Colquitt doesn't take up with such trifling
mysteries as missing marrow bones," jibed Reade. "Besides, we
can't afford to hire detectives."

"I don't want to hire a detective," Dick replied enigmatically,
"but I'd like about one minute's talk with Mr. Colquitt, and I
mean to have it. Don't let us dawdle on the way back, fellows."

So the six boys hurried on and soon came within sight of the camp.

"There they come!" cried Belle Meade. "Did you get the thief,
boys?"

"No," called Dave, "and it seems that the fellow is no longer
a thief, but a distinguished fellow citizen whom we must honor
at sight, like a bank draft."

"What are you talking about?" half frowned Belle.

"I haven't the least idea what I am talking about," Dave admitted
cheerfully. "You'll have to ask Dick for the map to my few remarks."

"Where are Mr. Colquitt and his party?" Dick demanded.

"Gone," replied Laura Bentley.

"How long ago?" Dick asked, paling somewhat and looking troubled.

"About two minutes ago," replied Dr. Bentley. "They excused themselves
and went away in their car."

"Can't you take me in your car, Doctor, and help me to pursue
them?" asked Prescott anxiously.

"Yes," agreed Dr. Bentley good-naturedly, "if you've any idea
which direction to take in looking for them. A mile to the east
three roads cross; half a mile to the west four roads cross.
Our friends may be on any one of the seven roads, or they may
have gone by a trail of their own."

Dick came to an abrupt stop, clenching his hands tightly.

"Isn't that luck for you?" he demanded ironically. Then, suddenly,
his face brightened.

"No matter," he said. "They can be reached through the Eagle
Hotel, in Gridley."

"Why should you want to reach them?" asked Laura curiously.

"Will you mind if I keep that to myself, for just a little while?"
asked Dick, so pleasantly that Laura took no offense at all.

"How about my pudding?" called Jim. "Anyone going to want any
of it?"

Did they? It was enjoyed to the full, and there was pudding left
over, to be heated for another meal.

"Now, you boys had better come with me, and I'll show you how
to keep some of the cooked meat over, in summer, without ice,"
proposed Mr. Ross.

"And my party must be getting along, or night will overtake us
here," declared Dr. Bentley, rising from what had been a most
hospitable board.

"Then fellows, please excuse me if I write a short note and ask
Dr. Bentley to mail it," urged Dick.

So Dave Darrin mustered the other chums, marching them off in
the wake of Mr. Ross, while Dick hastily scribbled a note, placed
it in an envelope, and addressed it to Alonzo Hibbert, or Thomas
Colquitt, Eagle Hotel, Gridley.

As Dick came out his other chums halted their labors long
enough to take leave of Dr. Bentley and his party. They escorted
the departing guests to their automobiles, and saw them start
away.

Such of the roast meat as was to be saved was packed in metal
pails, covered, and then the pails lowered into a brook, where
the cool water would to a certain extent take the place of ice.

Then Mr. Ross and his helpers removed the folding tables and other
loaned articles.

"Thank you, boys, for what you did to break the stampede of the
herd," said Mr. Ross, waving his hand after he had sprung up into
the saddle.

Once more Dick & Co. had their camp all to themselves.


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