H. Irving Hancock.

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had been no more raids on the food supplies of the camp. It was
now necessary, therefore, to leave but one boy at a time in the
camp, and Dick, while his hip was mending, had usually been that
one.

Every member of Dick & Co. was brown as a berry. Muscles, too,
were beginning to stand out with a firmness that had never been
observed at home in the winter time. Enough more of this camping
and hard work and training, and Dick & Co. were likely to return
to Gridley as six condensed young giants. Nothing puts the athlete
in shape as quickly as does camping, combined with training, in
the summer time.

This morning the work had begun with practice kicks, passing from
that to the work of tackling the dummy. Two hours of hard work
had now been put in, and all were comfortably tired.

"Let's keep quiet and cool off," urged Dick at last. "Then for
the swimming pool and clean clothes."

"I wonder if Tag has died yet, as he expected to, now that he's
out of the forest and locked up in a jail?" mused Tom Reade aloud.

"He must be in fearfully depressed spirits," muttered Dick
sympathetically.

Dave Darrin regarded his chum curiously.

"Dick, you seem to have a positive sympathy for that fellow."

"I have," Prescott avowed promptly.

"You even seem to like him," pressed Darry.

"I do like him," Dick assented. "Darry, I believe that a lot
of good might be found in Tag Mosher if he could have the same
chance that most other fellows have. Usually, when a fellow says
he has had no chance in life, the fact really is that he has been
too lazy to take his chance. But I don't believe that Tag ever
had a real, sure-enough chance. He has spent his days with a
drunkard and a vagabond."

"Yet Tag has been to school," objected Tom Reade. "Tag talks
like a fellow who has had a very fair amount of schooling. Schools
teach something more than mere book lessons. They give a fellow
some of the first principles of truth and honor. Despite his
schooling, however, Tag prefers to steal as a means of supplying
all his needs. And now, at last, he is in jail, charged, perhaps,
with killing a fellow being."

"I wonder if Mr. Leigh is dead yet?" mused Dick. "I like being
off here in the deep forest like this, but there's one drawback.
We don't hear much news."

"What news do you want?" asked a familiar voice behind him.
Soft-footed Deputy Simmons stalked into the circle.

"We were just wondering, Mr. Simmons," spoke Prescott, rising,
"if Mr. Leigh is dead yet?"

"Not yet," replied the peace officer, "but the doctors say that
he is likely to die any day now."

"Then will Tag be charged with manslaughter - -or murder?"

"He may be charged with murder, if we can catch him," replied
the deputy.

"If you can ca - - -Why, what's up?" asked Dick eagerly.

"Tag broke out of jail last night," replied the officer.

"He's - -at large?"

"That's what he is," nodded Simmons. "Tag was looked upon as
a kid, and wasn't watched as carefully as he should have been.
So he got out. Not only that, but he visited the warden's office,
late at night. So, when he left, he took with him a sawed-off
shotgun - -one of the wickedest weapons ever invented - -and a revolver
and plenty of ammunition. That's what I'm doing in the woods
now. I came to see if you had seen Tag to-day, but your asking
for news of him shows me that you haven't."

"Is Mr. Valden with you?" asked Dick.

"Yes; he's over at the road, in the car. He wouldn't come to
camp. I guess the truth is" - -Simmons' eyes twinkled - -that Valden
is ashamed to see you after the rebuke you gave him the other
night, Prescott. After we got young Mosher to the jail and locked
up, I gave Valden a talking-to, and told him I'd report him to
the sheriff if I ever heard of his abusing a prisoner again."

"So Tag escaped, with some field artillery, and you officers are
out after him?" Tom asked.

"Yes; and three other pairs of deputies are out also," nodded
Mr. Simmons.

"Did you get that car out of the creek?" asked Darry. "We never
heard."

"That car was a complete wreck," replied the officer. "We got
it out of the creek, but left it in the woods nearby. The bridge
has been rebuilt, and is stronger than before. How's your hip,
Prescott?"

"As well as ever, thank you," replied Dick.

"I'm glad to know that, boy. Meant to drop in on you before.
I must hurry along now. Of course, if Tag shows up about your
camp, you won't tell him that you've seen me."

"Certainly not, sir," nodded Dick. "We'll also try to get word
to you, if we see him. Where is your home?"

"Five Corners is my address," replied the deputy. "So long, boys!
Glad to have seen you again."

The cat-footed deputy was soon lost to sight among the trees.

Dave was the first to speak, and that was some moments later.

"Dick, you're foolish to feel any liking for Tag Mosher. He's
bad all the way through. As it was he was locked up on a charge
of possible manslaughter, and now he has escaped, taking with
him firearms and ammunition enough to rid the county of peace
and police officers. He'll do it, too, if he's cornered. Now,
where's the good in that kind of a pest?"

"I don't know how to answer you," sighed Dick. "Perhaps I am
foolish, but I'm not yet prepared to admit it. Instead, I still
contend that I feel a sneaking liking for poor Tag."

"'Poor Tag,' indeed!" mimicked Tom Reade. "Poor wives and kids
of the deputy sheriffs whom Tag may shoot down in their tracks
before he's cornered at last! Dick, young Mosher is a budding
outlaw and a bad egg all around."

"No decent citizen should feel any sort of sympathy for him,"
affirmed Harry Hazelton.

"Let Dick alone," objected Greg Holmes. "Dick generally knows
what he's about, even in regard to his emotions and sympathies."

"What do you say, Danny?" asked Dave.

"May the sheriff deliver me from Tag Mosher!" replied Danny Grin.

"You're a prejudiced lot," smiled Dick, as he rose from his camp
stool. "Who'll watch camp this time while the rest of us go to
swimming pool?"

"I will," Darry volunteered.

Carrying clean underclothing, soap and towels from the tent, the
other five started through the woods to a new swimming pool that
had been discovered lately.

When they returned Dave went away alone for his bath. Tom Reade,
as the cook for the day, lifted the lid of the soup pot to examine
the contents.

"I wish one of you fellows would go out into the woods and bring
in some of that flowering savory herb for the soup," called Tom.

"I know the kind you mean," nodded Prescott. "I'll go and get it."

He strolled off in the opposite direction from the pool. Yet,
truth to tell, his mind was very little on the herb he was seeking.
His mind dwelt almost completely on the thought of Tag Mosher,
once more at large, and most likely roaming about somewhere in
this vast expanse of woods.

"I don't believe it's so much badness in Tag, as it is that he's
just a plain, simple savage, with the instincts and the passions
of the savage," Dick reflected. "I wonder if Tag ever did really
have a chance to be decent? Poor fellow! If he must be caught
and returned to jail, and by and by pay the penalty of his attack
upon Farmer Leigh, then I don't believe he ever will have a real
chance to try to be decent again. I wonder if I'm wrong and the
other fellows are right? Perhaps Tag would scorn a chance to
be an all-around decent fellow. I wonder. I wonder!"

His musings led Prescott rather far afield. At last he halted,
looking about him in some bewilderment.

"Humph! That's queer!" he muttered. "Now, I wonder if I can
really remember what it was I came out here for?"

For a few moments the bewilderment continued.

"Oh, yes! Now, I know," he laughed. "I am after some of that
savory herb for the soup."

It was necessary to retrace his steps considerably, and to go
in a somewhat different direction. At last he came upon a patch
of the herb.

"This stuff has been burned by the sun," he said to himself, turning
away from the first specimens of the herb. "Over there in the
shade it will be fresher and greener."

Dick took a few rapid steps, halting before a fringe of bushes.
Bending over, he extended a hand to pick some of the herbs.

Just then he heard a slight sound, like the catching of someone's
breath. Starting, Prescott raised his head just a trifle, to
find himself looking straight into the eyes of Tag Mosher, as
that youth lay flat on the ground. Two muzzles of a shotgun stared
Dick in the face, while the fingers of the fugitive rested on
the triggers of the gun.

"If you're looking for me," grimaced Tag, "you've found me! I'm
right here, and this is going to be my dizzy day!"




CHAPTER XVI

TEN MINUTES OF REAL DARING


Still keeping his eyes turned on the fugitive, Dick took three
quick, backward steps.

"Halt!" ordered Tag.

"I was going to stop, anyway," smiled Dick. "Now, put your hands up!"

"Why?"

"Because I'm boss here!" remarked Tag.

"I didn't know that you were boss of anything," Dick replied,
still smiling.

"I'm telling you," declared Mosher. "Want me to make good?"

"I wish you'd make something of yourself, instead," rejoined Prescott
in a voice of intense earnestness.

"Get your hands up!" ordered Tag, with a decided increase in
emphasis.

"That's a silly demand on your part," Dick retorted calmly. "Why
should you want my hands up? I'm not armed, and am in no position
to attack you. Are you such a coward, Mosher, that you're afraid
of an unarmed fellow that you could thrash even if you were unarmed?
I can't bring myself to believe that of you.

"You've a mighty fine opinion of me, haven't you?" jeered Tag.

"I'd like to have a fine opinion of you," Prescott declared.

"Oh! And what must I do to win that fine opinion?" demanded Tag
mockingly.

"If you want to know, I'll tell you," Dick continued. "Just put
down that gun and step away from it."

"And then you'll pounce on it and hold me up!" jeered Tag. "Fine!"

"You get away from your weapon," Prescott urged, "and I'll give
you my word of honor not to touch it without your leave."

"Your word of honor?" asked Tag, driven to wonder despite himself.
"What good would your word of honor be?"

"It would be as good as anything I'm capable of," Prescott responded.
"Tag, didn't you ever have any respect for a man's word of honor?
Didn't you ever respect your own?"

"I got that game played on me at school, once," leered Mosher.
"As soon as I swallowed the bait the other fellow kicked me in
the shins and ran off and left me there. Now, Prescott, I don't
want any more nonsense. Put up your hands!"

"I've already declined," Dick smiled calmly. "To that refusal
I'll add my thanks."

"Put up your hands, or I'll keep the gun turned on you and pull
a trigger or two."

"Then the gun isn't loaded," chuckled Dick.

"Oh, isn't it?"

"No, for you're not bad enough, Tag, to shoot down an unarmed
person who isn't your enemy."

"You'll tell the officers you saw me here, won't you?"

"Certainly."

"Then you're my enemy," young Mosher argued, with thorough conviction.
"So you'll put up your hands, and take further orders, as long
as I give 'em, or you'll be found taking a long nap on the grass
here!"

"That's another wrong guess you've made, Tag."

Laughing softly, Dick dropped to a seat on the grass.

"You're a mighty sassy fellow," scowled young Mosher.

"I'm very disobliging sometimes," Prescott admitted. "For instance,
Tag, I won't believe that you're half as bad as you try to paint
yourself."

"Bad?" snorted young Mosher, with something of sullen pride in
his voice. "I'm about as mean as they make them. You know what
they say I did to that farmer?"

"Well, did you?" challenged Prescott.

"I'm not saying," came the gruff answer. "For one thing, it wouldn't
do me a bit of good to deny it. When a fellow has a bad name
everywhere any judge and jury will hang him. Now, I happen to
object to being hanged, or even to being locked up for perhaps
twenty or thirty years. Queer in me, isn't it?"

"What you ought to do," pursued Dick, "and what you will do, if
you are brave and manly, is to drop that gun, face about, and
march yourself back to jail."

"And be locked up some more?" quivered Tag in excitement.

"If you're guilty of assaulting Mr. Leigh, you should be also
brave and manly enough to walk back to jail, ready to pay the
price of your act like a man. If you're not guilty, then you
should be man enough to face the world and prove your innocence
like a real man. Don't be a cowardly sneak, Tag!"

"A coward?" blurted the other angrily. "You ought to know better'n
that. And the officers know better, too; I may be only a boy,
but the officers are out in packs, hunting for me. I know, for
I've seen two pairs of those fellows go by on the road to-day."

"Are you going to be a man, Tag, or just a sneaking coward?" asked
Dick, as he rose.

"Sit down!" commanded Tag sharply.

"If you really want to talk with me, and will say 'please,' I'll
sit down," Dick smiled back coolly at the angry boy. "But if
you're just simply ordering me to sit down, then I won't do anything
of the sort. Do you want to talk with me?"

"Sit down!"

"You didn't say 'please.'"

"I'm not going to say it."

"Then good-bye for a little while."

Though the muzzles of the sawed-off shotgun stared wickedly at
him, Dick Prescott turned on his heel, walking off.

"Are you going, now, to tip the officers off that you've seen
me?" called Tag.

"Yes."

Behind Dick, as he kept on his way back toward camp there came
a snort of anger. Prescott was not quite as cool as he appeared
to be. He knew there was at least a chance that savage Tag Mosher
would send the contents of one or both barrels of the gun into
his back. Dick, however, had mastered the first secret of bravery,
which is to conceal one's fear.

Again snorting, young Mosher cocked both hammers of the shotgun,
Dick heard the clicks, but still walked on.

"I hate to do it!" called Tag warningly.

"Oh, you won't do it," Dick answered in a tone of calm self-assurance.

Young Prescott kept on for another hundred yards. No sound came
from behind him. Unless young Mosher were creeping upon him,
Prescott knew that he was now out of range of the shotgun.

Impelled by curiosity, Dick wheeled about Tag Mosher was nowhere
in sight.

"Either that fellow isn't half as bad as he pretends to be, or
else not half as desperate as he likes to think himself," Dick
chuckled.

Then, remembering, in a flash, the herbs that he had come to get,
the Gridley High School boy deliberately walked back to the spot
where he had left this strange vagrant of the forest.

But Tag was no longer there - -not in sight, at any rate. Bending
over, Prescott collected a goodly bunch of the herbs. Then, after
glancing at his watch, he started back to camp.

It was late when he returned. Dave was back from his swim, the
table was set, and all was in readiness to sit down.

"Too late to use the herbs to-day, I guess," said Tom, as Dick
laid them down. "You were gone a long time, old fellow."

"I had quite a way to go," Dick replied quietly. Then he cut
a number of grass stalks, trimming them to different lengths.
"Fellows, I want you to draw lots. I don't feel any too much
like a walk to Five Corners after dinner, but if I get the short
straw I'll go."

"No; you'd better not try it," warned Darrin. "Your hip might
begin to give you trouble before you get back. If someone has
to go, let the other five draw."

But Dick insisted that the draw should decide it all.

"What's the matter?" asked Tom Reade shrewdly. "Have you found
traces of Tag Mosher?"

"I've seen him," Dick replied, "and talked with him. Come to
think of it, I believe two fellows had better go. The two who
are to go will be those who draw the shortest straws. All ready?"

Dick covered one end of the grass stalks, so that no one could
be sure as to which lot he drew. The lots fell to Reade and Darrin.

"Now, tell us about the meeting," begged Hazelton.

"Let's sit down and begin to eat," Prescott proposed. "As we
eat I will describe the meeting."

Plates passed rapidly until all were served. Then Dick told his
chums the story of the meeting with Tag Mosher.




CHAPTER XVII

DURING THE BIG STORM


"Hoo-hoo! Hoo-hoo!"

"Who's there?" cried Dick, starting up.

Then, to the accompaniment of some giggling, came in feminine
tones, high-pitched, the famous battle yell of Gridley High School.

"T-E-R-R-O-R-S! Wa-ar! Fam-ine! Pes-ti-lence! That's us!
That's us! G-R-I-D-L-E-Y H.S! Rah! rah! rah! rah! _Gri-i-idley_!"

"A lot of mere girls trying themselves out as real war-whoop artists!"
uttered Reade in a tone of pretended disgust.

But Dick and Dave had jumped up, and were now running for the
road as fast as they could.

It was ten days after the last word from Tag Mosher. The officers
had been promptly notified by the messengers from Dick & Co.,
and presumably were still scouring the great stretches of forest,
though so far without result.

"How did we do it, boys?" called the laughing voice of Laura Bentley,
as Dick and Dave came in sight.

"Don't ask me!" begged Dave. "Girls never ought to try school
yells. They ought to content themselves with waving handkerchiefs."

"Mr. Smarty!" cried Clara Marshall.

All eight of the girls were now in the burned clearing, surrounding
the two boys laughingly, while Greg and Dan now ran up.

Out of the woods near the road came Dr. and Mrs. Bentley.

"Prescott," called the doctor, "we forgot to write and secure
your permission for this latest vagary of mine."

"I don't know what the vagary is, sir, but the permission is assured
in advance," laughed Dick. "What are you going to do, anyway,
sir?"

"I'm afraid the idea will bore you," laughed Dr. Bentley, "but
back in the road are the same two automobiles, also two two-horse
wagons, loaded to the gunwales, so to speak. We've brought two
small, portable houses, a couple of tents, a lot of bedding and
supplies, and other things needed, and we're going to try to pitch
a camp not too far from yours. Does the information convey any
jar to your spine?"

"Not a jar," answered Dick promptly, standing with his hat off
in the presence of Mrs. Bentley and the eight girls. "The only
thing I notice in the way of sensation over the news is a great
thrill of delight."

"It's a pity that Dave and some of the other boys couldn't find
their tongues and make as good use of them as Dick has just done,"
pouted Belle Meade.

"Dick Prescott is our captain, always," replied Darry, with a
comical sigh, "and his sway extends even to the point of his
bartering away our liberties."

"Let us go on, farther into the woods," urged Belle, turning to
Dr. Bentley.

"I think not," replied the doctor dryly.

"Since Prescott has been the only one to hold out the gracious
hand, I believe we'll settle right down here, as a reward to Prescott
and as a punishment to the others."

"Hooray for punishment!" laughed Darry. "I can take a lot of it."

"That's the first nice thing you've said," declared Miss Meade.

"I'll say a lot more if you're going to be here for the rest of
the summer vacation," promised Darry.

"Not quite as long as that," declared Dr. Bentley. "But we'll
be here for a few days. Then we'll go on to other camping places."

"You're going to be just in time for dinner to-day," Dick informed
the new arrivals.

"We'll be just in time to get our own dinner," smiled Laura.
"We have an abundance of supplies with us, and we're not going
to eat you boys out of the woods. The first meal with guests
will be when you come over to our camp and take revenge for the
descent that we made upon you the other day."

"Dick," inquired the doctor, "where do you think we could pitch
camp best?"

"It depends upon the size of your houses and tents," Prescott
answered.

"Naturally. Your answer is a good deal more sensible than my
question."

"Anyway," Dick suggested, in an undertone, "your camp should be
just far enough away so that neither camp will intrude on the
privacy of the other. I think I know a spot, if your houses are
not too large."

Dr. Bentley mentioned the sizes of the two portable houses.

"The spot that I have in mind will do finely," Dick declared.
"And I think you can drive the wagons in there."

Dan Dalzell was sent to the road to instruct the teamsters to
drive in at the point which young Prescott mentioned.

It was not long before the two wagons were at the spot. Reade
now remained at the boys' camp, to look out for things, while
the other five went over to the new camp to be of assistance.

Dr. Bentley, having removed his coat, was now busily at work.
The two wagons were unloaded of a host of things, after which
the teamsters started, at once, to erect the portable houses.
As these were of a pattern requiring but little work, they were
up within a few hours.

Dick & Co. pitched the tents, also busying themselves in various
other ways. Now, Mrs. Bentley, aided by the high school girls,
started in to prepare the noon meal.

"We shall want you boys over here about tomorrow noon," said Laura.
"By that time we shall be all to rights and ready to act as hostesses."

"Can't we come over again before to-morrow?" asked Dick, with
a wistfulness that caused a general smile.

"If you don't come over except when you're especially sent for,"
declared Miss Meade, "you'll wake up some morning in the near
future and find us gone on to the next camping place."

Dick had already told Dr. Bentley of the fugitive, Tag Mosher,
and the fact that that young offender was at large in the woods,
and armed.

"I'm not afraid of him," declared the doctor bluntly, "and I shall
always be within sound of the camp. It wouldn't take you boys
long to get over here, either, at need."

Dick now reluctantly called his chums away, as Mrs. Bentley and
the high school girls might want a little time to themselves.

"It's going to be great to have such company right at hand," declared
Darry gleefully.

"Only I must warn you of one thing," retorted Dick.

"What?"

"You remember the errant that brought us into the woods?"

"Football training!"

"Exactly, and even the welcome presence of the girls mustn't be
allowed in the least to interfere with the serious and hard work
that we have ahead of us for the honor of good old Gridley High
School!"

"That goes, too," nodded Greg. "Though I am afraid the girls
will feel almost neglected."

"No, they won't," Darry retorted. "The girls all belong to Gridley
High School as much as we do, and they're just as big football
boosters when it comes to that. They'll endure a little neglect
when they know it's for the honor and glory of our school."

"Besides," suggested Dick, "they may be glad to put in a little
time watching us train."

There will be no objection to that, will there?"

"Not a bit," declared the others.

Tom Reade, having been left in charge of the camp, had also taken
upon himself the preparing of the dinner, though this was not
his day for such service. The others now turned to help him.

"I'm glad the girls have come, and I'm also sorry," declared Reade.
"If we stick to training as conscientiously as we ought to they'll
feel that we're not showing them all the attention they've a right
to expect."

"We won't neglect training," Dick retorted, "and the girls won't
feel neglected, either. We've talked that over on the way here,
and we'll explain it to the girls when we see them again. They're
Gridley High School girls, and they're sensible."

It was not long ere dinner was ready. Six famished boys sat down
at the table.

"I wonder what on earth is the reason that we haven't heard from
Mr. Hibbert, or from the Blinders agency, either?" spoke Dick,
when the meal was half over.

"I had almost forgotten about those parties," Tom rejoined. "Not
hearing from Hibbert, as I take it, means that that generous young
friend of ours has broken off communication with the Eagle Hotel
in Gridley. But I can't understand why the agency hasn't communicated
with us in some way."

Dinner was eaten in quicker time than usual. Dick and Dave, perhaps
some of the others, felt a secret desire to slip over to the other
camp, but no one mentioned any such wish. Instead, the dinner
dishes were washed, the cooking utensils cleaned, and the camp
put in a very good semblance of order.



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Online LibraryH. Irving HancockThe High School Boys in Summer Camp → online text (page 8 of 11)