H. Irving Hancock.

The High School Boys in Summer Camp online

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"In forty-five minutes more," remarked Prescott, glancing at his
watch, "we must be back at training work."

"Not to-day," replied Tom.

"What's the matter?" demanded Dick, looking sharply at him.

"In forty-five minutes more," exclaimed Reade, "we'll be sitting
inside the tent, looking out at the weather."

"What are you talking about, Tom?" asked Darry.

"Read your answer in the skies," retorted Reade.

Though none of the other five boys had noticed it, the sky had
been gradually clouding. The wind was becoming brisker, too,
and there was more than the usual amount of moisture in the air.

"Pshaw! That's a shame," muttered Dick.

"I wish we might arrange it with the weather clerk to have it
rain at night, after ten o'clock, and have dry ground in the day
time," sighed Dave Darrin.

Yet none of the boys spoke the thought that was uppermost in more
than one mind - -the wish that they might go over to the Bentley
camp to spend the time that it rained in the society of the girls.

It was Reade, who was perhaps less attracted by girls' society
than the others who finally suggested:

"We ought to send someone over to the other camp to see if they
are all fixed to stand the coming rain."

"Good idea!" nodded Dick. "You run over, Tom."

Reade was away less than ten minutes.

"Dr. Bentley says they'll be as snug as can be in the biggest
kind of a summer rain that the weather clerk has on tap," Tom
reported.

Flashes of lightning were now illumining the gradually darkening
sky. Distant rumblings of thunder also sounded.

"I hope it won't be much of a thunderstorm," sighed Dick. "Some
girls are very uneasy in a thunderstorm."

"Laura is afraid of one, I know," said Dave.

In a few minutes more the big drops of rain began to fall. Soon
after swirling sheets of water descended. Dick & Co. had all
they could do to keep dry in such a downpour.

"This is where the portable house has the advantage of a tent,"
grunted Tom. "The portable houses yonder are even equipped with
some kind of rubber roofing. If this storm keeps up through the
night at this rate, we'll be washed out long before daylight."

"I can stand it," retorted Prescott, "as long as I know that Mrs.
Bentley and the girls are protected from the weather. Yet I won't
mind if the storm does let up after an hour or two."

Conversation ceasing, after a time, all but Reade and Dalzell
got out books to read from the slender stock of literature that
they had brought with them into the woods.

The heavy storm made it a dull afternoon, where there might have
been so much fun.

But not one of Dick & Co. had the least idea of the excitement
in store for them. The storm held more than rain for many people.




CHAPTER XVIII

MR. PAGE'S KIND OF FATHER


As though the heavy downpour did not sufficiently indicate that
the storm was still raging as heavily as ever, Harry Hazelton
went to the tent doorway to peer out at the sky.

Just as suddenly he ducked back again.

"Hist!" he called. "There's someone at our canned goods stock,
and I think it's Tag!"

In a twinkling Dick and Dave were by Hazelton's side. The heavy
rain supplied a curtain like a light fog.

"I think that's Tag!" muttered Dick. "We'll go after him."

There was a quick diving into rubber coats. Dick and Dave were
first to get outside.

But the figure seen through the rain was already under way, heading
away from the tent. This figure, just as it stole under the great
trees, turned to point a sawed-off shotgun their way.

"That's Tag," muttered Dick. "Come on; we'll catch him."

"Yes; if he'll kindly permit us to get close to him," rejoined
Darry, as he ran at Dick's side.

Evidently the figure ahead had made a successful raid on the food,
for he carried a gunnysack, and that appeared to have a load inside.

"We can catch him - -if we can run fast enough," declared Dick,
for just then the fugitive darted ahead with renewed speed.

"Unless he stops us with the gun," objected Dave.

"Don't let him stop you with that. I don't believe he would dare
use it on us."

"If it's only a question of 'daring,'" responded Dave, "I don't
believe there is anything that Tag Mosher would be afraid to do
at a pinch."

Owing to the storm it was dark in the great woods. Shadows were
deceptive. Though Dick and Dave ran on at pell-mell speed they
presently came to a sudden halt, looking inquiringly at each other.

"Which way did that fellow go?" demanded Dave.

"Blessed if I know," Dick admitted.

"Are we still on the right trail, and merely a mile behind him?"

"I wish I knew even that," admitted Prescott.

"We might as well go back," proposed Darry. "In these woods all
we'll get is - -wet."

"All right," nodded Prescott. Discouraged with the chase, they
turned to retrace their way nearly half a mile through the soggy,
dripping woods. They had not gone far on their return when they
came upon Tom and Greg.

"Hello, where have you fellows been?" asked Reade.

"We weren't very far ahead of you," Dick answered.

"Greg and I didn't see or hear you ahead."

"And Tag Mosher was just as invisible and unfindable to us," laughed
Dick, "so we came back."

"I'm growing disgusted," muttered Dave, "with the stupid way that
we let that fellow carry off all of our property. It begins to
look as though we ought to camp in one of our own back yards,
where our parents can keep a watchful eye over us and protect
us!"

There could be no doubt that Darry was completely angry. Had
he encountered young Mosher at that moment he would have "sailed
into" the thief with his fists, regardless of any consequences
that might follow.

"Well, shall we go on hunting for him?" demanded Dick.

"It's just as Darry says," offered Tom, "I'm willing to remain
out in this weather if Dave wants to."

"Oh, what's the use?" grumbled Dave. "That fellow knows the woods
a hundred times better than we do, and he has made his get away.
Did you leave anyone back at the camp?"

"Dan and Harry are there," nodded Tom.

"We may as well join them," sighed Dave. So the party headed
toward camp.

Just as they stepped out into the clearing, they sighted a rubber-coated
party of three men entering the clearing from the direction of
the road.

"Why, that must be our friends, Hibbert, Colquitt and Mr. Page!"
announced Prescott, halting, then running forward. "They must
have gotten our note at last. Oh, Mr. Hibbert!"

The three travelers waved their hands. Then it was the oldest
of the trio who ran at top speed in an effort to reach Prescott
quickly.

"My boy!" panted Mr. Page, seizing Dick by the shoulders. "You
have found him? We received your note this morning, and have
been breaking the speed laws ever since in our effort to get here.
My boy! You know where he is! Perhaps he is now one of your
own party? You have told him, and have kept him here against
my coming?"

"No, sir; he's not here just now," Dick answered, shaking his
head. "But come into the tent, sir. There is a lot to tell you."

"I can hardly contain myself to wait for the news!" cried the
eager father tremulously.

Nevertheless, silence was preserved until the tent had been entered.
Mr. Page, Hibbert and Colquitt were given seats on camp stools,
some of the boys finding seats on empty boxes.

"Now, my boy - -my son! Tell me all about him," pleaded Mr. Page.
"Is he well? Does he know that I am looking for him?"

"I have hinted to him," Prescott answered, "that he is not the
son of the man whom he has grown up to regard as his father.
I have told him that you were looking for him, and - - -"

"Oh, my boy!" cried Mr. Page. "Was he pleased - -or even curious?"

Prescott swallowed hard, twice, and did some rapid thinking, ere
he went on, with all faces turned toward him:

"Mr. Page, if this boy turns out to be your son - - -"

"Describe him to me - -minutely!" ordered the father.

Dick fell into a personal description of Tag Mosher. Others,
as they now watched Mr. Page closely, felt that Tag must be his
son. The description, as to complexion, features, hair and eyes,
all tallied closely with Mr. Page's own appearance.

"Now, don't keep me in suspense any longer," begged Mr. Page.
"Take me to him, that I may help decide for myself."

"If he is your son, sir," Dick went on solemnly, and hating his
task, "I am much afraid that you are going to be disappointed
in him. The boy is known as Tag Mosher. He believes a dissolute,
drunken, thieving fellow named Bill Mosher, who is now in jail,
to be his father. Tag is himself a wild young savage of the
forest, and maintains himself by st - -poaching."

"If this young man is, indeed, my son," murmured Mr. Page, his
eyes glistening, "how fortunate that I am about to come up with
him! He will have no need to steal hereafter. He shall have
comfort, protection, proper training at last! But where is he?
Why are you keeping me from him? How long since you have seen
him?"

"Only a few minutes ago," Dick answered. "He had just robbed
our food supply. We pursued him, but lost him in the woods."

"Then these woods must be scoured until the boy is found!" cried
Mr. Page. "Colquitt, this is a task for you. Employ as many
more of your force of detectives as you may need, but you must
find the boy without an hour's delay."

"I must tell you something else, sir," Dick went on in a distressed
tone. "Even for my own peace of mind I must have it over with
as early as possible. Mr. Page, the boy is now roaming the woods
armed with a shotgun and a revolver. He is a fugitive from justice."

"What is that you say?" cried Mr. Page, his face growing haggard
and ghastly. "My boy - - my son - -a fugitive from justice!"

"He may not be your son, sir," broke in Tom Colquitt.

Then the whole story came out. With it Dick described the birthmarks
he had seen on Tag when the latter was at the swimming pool.

"That's my boy - -my son!" declared Mr. Page. "And, oh! To think
of the fate that has come upon him. Wanted, perhaps for homicide!"

Then suddenly the flash of determination returned to the father's
eyes. He rose, stood erect, and went on:

"If he is my son, he needs guidance, aid - -protection of such rights
as he may still have left. Above all, he must surrender himself
and go back to face the laws of the land like a man! If he has
done wrong, he must bow to the decision of a court, whatever that
may be. If this boy is my son, I will see to it that he does
all of this. If he is not my son, then - - -"

"Then you will do well to drop him like a piece of hot metal,"
interposed the detective quietly.

"Silence!" flashed Mr. Page. "If Tag Mosher is not really my
son, then I will stand by his last spark of manhood as though
he were my son, and in memory of my own boy!"

"If you will permit me," proposed Tom Colquitt, "I will go back
to the road, get into the car and order your man to drive me to
the county jail. There I will see old Bill Mosher, and drag the
truth out of him. What Mosher has to say will be to the point."

"Go, by all means!" pleaded Mr. Page, who had now sunk down into
his seat trembling.

"And I'll go with him," declared Hibbert, jumping up. "Cheer
up, my old friend, and we'll find out all the facts that there
are to be learned. We'll be back here as speedily as possible."

The hours passed - -hours of rain at the camp. It was a deluge that
kept all hands in the tent, though even that place was wet. A
pretense of supper was prepared over two oil stoves. Mr. Page made
an effort to eat, but was not highly successful.

The hours dragged on, but none thought of going to bed. At last
quick steps were heard outside.

"That must be Colquitt and Hibbert!" cried Mr. Page, starting
up, trembling, though he soon recovered his self-control.

"Don't go out in the rain. Wait for another moment, sir," begged
Dick, placing a hand on the man's shoulder.

"Do you think I could wait another minute?" demanded Mr. Page
excitedly. Then he darted out into the downpour.

"Hibbert, is that you?" he screamed.




CHAPTER XIX

SEEN IN A NEW, WORSE LIGHT


"It's Hibbert," was the reply from the darkness.

Then two figures came tramping through the rain, over the soggy
ground, next splashing into the tent, the flaps of which Dick
and Harry held aside.

As they came in Mr. Page almost tottered toward them.

"Well," he demanded impatiently. "What did you learn?"

"I guess the boy is yours, Mr. Page," Colquitt answered. "Bill
Mosher told us a pretty straight story. He found the child at
the railway wreck, and he and his wife took it home, expecting
that parents or friends would soon claim it. Bill says his wife
was a good woman, and, when no one claimed the boy, she kept it
and loved it as her own. Bill admits that his part in the transaction
was due to the hope of receiving a reward. After his wife died,
Bill, it seems, went to the dogs, followed his naturally shiftless
bent, and, from a common vagrant, became a drunkard and common
thief. Yet Bill claims, with an air of a good deal of virtue,
that he never stole anything he didn't really need, and that he
brought Tag up the same way."

Mr. Page, white-faced and trembling, listened to the detective's
dry recital.

"You have taken pains to find further verification of the fact
that this unhappy boy is my son, haven't you?"

"Oh, yes," the detective went on. "Bill described with great
minuteness the clothing the child wore when found, even to the
embroidered letter 'p' on the underclothing. And Bill tells me
that his sister has kept that clothing ever since, in the hope
that something might come of it. The sister also has two pictures
of Tag, taken when a baby."

"Where does that sister live?" cried the father. "Take me to
her home at once!"

"She lives in another state, some four hundred miles from here,"
smiled Tom Colquitt. "Mr. Page, I advise that you find the boy,
first. There isn't any real doubt as to his being your son.
You had better wait for further proofs until after you have found
the boy - -who, according to all accounts, stands badly in need
of a real father just now."

"You are right - -quite right," admitted Mr. Page. "Yes, we will
find my son first. But tell me something more. Didn't the boy
know that Bill Mosher wasn't his real father?"

"No; it had never been hinted to him," Colquitt answered. "Bill
kept the truth from the child, and, after Bill's wife died, they
moved over into this part of the country, where no one knew their
past history."

"And has my son never been in school?"

"Oh, yes; the compulsory education law came to the rescue, and
the boy had a grammar school education before he took to the
woods altogether."

"I know something definite, at last," sighed the unhappy father.
"I know that my boy is alive, and that he needs a father. Moreover,
I feel certain that he is at this moment not far away from me.
What shall we do next? Did you wire for more detectives from
your agency?"

"There was no need to do so," Colquitt replied. "There are several
officers now looking for the lad, and they are certain to come
upon him. Hibbert and I will aid in the search. The chauffeur
will bring in four folding cots and some blankets. We shall have
to impose upon these young men for shelter to-night, as this is
the point from which we must take up the chase in the morning."

At least one man in the tent lay with eyes wide open all night,
and that was Mr. Page. By daylight the rain had stopped. The
sun came up, drying the ground in the open spaces, raising a semi-fog
under the big trees as the moisture steamed up. It was a close,
humid morning, yet all rose so early that breakfast had been eaten
before six o'clock.

Then Mr. Page's party went away in the automobile, on some errand
of their own.

"I wonder how the girls got through the rain last night?" mused
Dave Darrin.

"They must have gotten along all right,"

Dick replied. "They had two dry houses in, which to sleep."

"I've a good mind to go over now, and make some inquiries," Dave
pursued. "Will you come with me?"

"No, and I'd advise you not to go, either. Six in the morning
is too early to call on young women."

"That's so," Dave assented. "What time should we go over?"

"As this is camp life, I should say it might be all right for
us to drop over there soon after nine o'clock," Dick said slowly.
"How does that strike you?"

"If that's too early," pondered Darry wonderingly, "then we might
go within sight of the camp, as if looking for firewood, but not
go over to them unless we get a hail."

"That would be a subterfuge," Dick replied, shaking his head.
"Straight dealing is always the best rule in anything."

However, Dr. Bentley settled the question of etiquette himself,
by coming over to the boys' camp shortly after eight o'clock.

"Mrs. Bentley sent me to see if you got through the night without
being drowned," smiled the physician.

"We look pretty healthy, don't, we, sir?" smiled Dick.

"Speaking professionally, I would say that you do," agreed Dr.
Bentley. "However, I believe you must have had a pretty dismal
time in all that downpour. Have you been in the woods this morning?
They are pretty wet, aren't they?"

"The woods are damp, sir," Prescott answered, "but not really
wet. The water has soaked fairly well into the ground since sun-up."

"Are the woods dry enough for a little botanizing?" asked the
doctor. "Laura and Belle say they have a few plants in mind that
they want to add to their collection of botanical specimens.
Are you two young men ready to escort them?"

"Certainly, sir," Dick nodded. "And the forenoon will be the
best time, as we must go through our training work this afternoon."

"Hang my luck!" muttered Darrin in sudden disgust. "This is my
day to do the cooking here."

"One of the other fellows will take your turn," suggested Prescott.

"I won't ask anyone to do it," sighed Darry. "I'm man enough
to shoulder my own share of the camp work. Dick, you can look
after both girls, can't you? And you'll make my excuses satisfactorily
to Miss Meade?"

"That's right - -just right, David," spoke the physician. "Do
your own work like a man. I'll undertake to make your excuses
so well that Belle will have a higher opinion of you if that were
possible. Dick, shall the girls look for you within the next
few minutes?"

"I'll be there soon, doctor."

Five minutes later Dick presented himself at the other camp.
He went first to Mrs. Bentley and inquired as to her comfort during
the storm.

"We know Dave can't come, but where are the other boys?" inquired
Clara Marshall.

"Over at the camp," smiled Dick.

"Don't they think that we need attention?" asked Susie Sharp.

"Tom is hauling firewood," Dick explained. "Greg is chopping
it up. Harry is hauling the water supply and Dan is doing the
housework in the tent."

"Laura and Belle have an escort for their trip into the forest,
but it's not a rosy outlook for the rest of us," Clara pouted.

"Can't we all go together?" proposed Dick. "Surely, one guide
ought to be enough for a party of eight girls."

Susie decided to join the botanizing party. The other girls made
up their minds to take a walk under Dr. Bentley's escort. So
Dick started away with the trio.

Belle and Laura carried the regulation oval cans for holding such
plant specimens as they might collect. Prescott promptly offered
to carry both cans, but the two girls declared that they were
not going to permit him to impose upon himself.

For fifteen minutes the young people went on, farther into the
forest. Though the girls wore overshoes, Dick went ahead to
pick out the drier paths.

Collecting botanical specimens, though interesting to amateurs
or experts, is dull work for onlookers. As both Belle and Laura
were enthusiastic workers, Dick found himself walking chiefly
with Susie Sharp. There was much waiting while Laura and Belle
dug their mosses and plants.

Finally, Dick and Susie found themselves standing together, some
feet from Laura and Belle, who were gathering wild flowers.

"Look at those beautiful purple blossoms over there!" cried Susie
in sudden enthusiasm.

"Are you going to turn collector, too?" smiled Dick.

"To the extent of wanting a bouquet of those flowers," Susie declared.
"Will you help me?"

"With great pleasure. If you will wait here, I will get the bouquet
for you. It will take me hardly a minute."

Dick started away alone. By the time that he had picked a good-sized
handful, Susie started to meet him. For the moment she was out
of sight of the other girls.

Dick came toward Miss Sharp, holding out the gorgeous blossoms.

"Will these be enough?" he inquired.

"Oh, yes! Thank you so much!"

"It was a very slight service," Prescott laughed. "I am glad
to have pleased - - -"

A sudden scream brought his gallant speech to an abrupt stop.

"Oh, Dick! Be quick!" sounded the voice.

"Pardon me," said Prescott to Susie, as he sprang forward through
the brush.

It was a startling scene that met the high school boy's gaze as
he bounded forward.

Tag Mosher, holding his shotgun under his left arm, stood confronting
Laura and Belle. In his right, hand he held a gold chain and
locket that he had snatched from Laura Bentley's neck. In one
of his pockets, out of sight, now rested two valuable rings that
he had forcibly stripped from one of Belle's hands.

"Sorry, girls," he was saying. "I never did anything quite as
bad as this before. But if you knew how badly I need to get away
from these parts you'd know why I'm holding up girls to get money
to pay my fare, and - - -"

Just then Tag Mosher caught sight of Dick Prescott.

"Stand back!" warned Tag hoarsely. "I don't want to have to do
anything worse than I've just done. Stand back, or by the blue
sky - - -"




CHAPTER XX

SOME IMITATION VILLAINY


"Oh, Dick, do keep back. He won't harm us further," cried Laura.

Prescott ran forward by leaps and bounds.

"If you will have it - - -" growled Tag, cocking both hammers of his
ugly weapon.

Laura uttered another scream, then, with sudden frenzy, seized
the barrels of the gun.

"Let go!" yelled Dick, racing up. "If he fires, even accidentally,
you'll be killed."

"Then let him put down the gun," panted Laura without releasing
her hold.

Belle seized Tag by his right arm, hanging on frantically.

But Dick, reaching the spot, laid hands on the shotgun.

"Let go, Laura," he commanded sternly. "I have hold of this gun."

It was the tone of the high school boy, not her own fear, that
made Laura Bentley obey.

"Let go of his arm, Belle," Dick insisted. "You girls get back
out of harm's way."

"I won't let go," Belle insisted. Then she resorted, excusably
under the circumstances, to the somewhat feminine trick, of pinching
Tag Mosher's arm sharply.

That started the real fight. Dick tripped the bigger fellow,
and the pair went down together as Belle leaped back.

Click! click! sounded both descending hammers of the sawed-off
shotgun. For an instant - -Prescott's heart was in his mouth,
for he knew something of the wicked scattering power of such a
weapon, when discharged, and he feared for the girls.

The next instant, however, his common sense told him that the
hammers had descended harmlessly. By desperate force he wrenched
the piece out of Tag's hands, hurling it away.

Laura's locket, and chain falling to the ground, Belle darted
in and rescued them.

"He has my rings in his right-hand coat pocket," Belle announced.

"He'll give them up, then!" predicted Dick grimly, making a dive
for that pocket. He was on top, in the mix-up, and secured the
rings, tossing them toward Belle. Then Tag, by a violent effort,
hurled Prescott from him and rose, ready for battle.

But Dick landed close beside the sawed-off shotgun, which he snatched
from the ground as he rose to his feet.

"You cur!" said Dick. "Robbing girls!"

"I hated to do it," growled Tag, looking somewhat shamefaced.
"But I've got to have money to get away from this corner of the
world. The deputies are out after me, and they'll get me yet,
if I stay here."

With a quick movement Dick threw the gun open at the breech.

"It isn't loaded," Tag informed him grimly. "This is the piece
of iron that holds cartridges."

From a hip pocket he brought a heavy, long-barreled revolver into
sight.

"You can't scare me with firearms," declared Dick doughtily.
"Nor are you going to rob these young women, who are my best friends."


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