Part 2 out of 4
He aimed a savage blow at Dick. Young Prescott, who had really
doubted that Dodge had courage enough to invite a fight, was not
expecting it. The blow landed on Dick's chin, sending the leader
of Dick & Co to the ground.
"Now, get up and answer that---you---you sneak!" dared Bert exultantly.
Dick was on his feet fast enough, side-stepping just in time to
dodge a follow-up punch.
"Dodge," Dick remarked, as he threw up his guard, "there, is still
time for you to beat it out of here if you don't want to take
the consequences of that blow."
"You put me out of here!" Bert retorted defiantly.
Though Dick was quivering with indignation, he still hesitated
to spring at Dodge. Dick didn't want to fight, on the sole ground
that he felt too much contempt for his opponent.
"Come, on, you mucker!" challenged Bert, dancing about Prescott.
Then Dodge delivered two swift, straight-from-the-shoulder blows.
Of a sudden Dick jumped into the fray.
"Good!" quivered Darry, his eyes flashing. To Dave's way of thinking,
Dick's swift vigorous defence should have followed that first
"Come on, you mucker!" taunted Bert, while the interchange of
blows now became fast and furious. "If there's anything you know
how to do in this game, let us see what it is! Trot it out!"
"I'll attend to my side of this match," said Dick quietly. "My
advice to you is that you keep quiet and save your wind for your
"Bosh! You can't do anything to anyone in my class!" sneered
Bert. Indeed, young Dodge's address to his task opened up
particularly well. Dodge was rather heavy for his years, and he had
been doing some good training work through the spring and early
Dick, who was lighter and not noticeably quicker, confined himself,
at the outset, to his old tactics of allowing his opponent to
Bert, however, was soon quick to discover this. He moderated
the savagery of his own attack somewhat, sparring cleverly for
a chance to feint and then land a face blow.
Dick gave ground readily when it served his purpose, though he
did not run.
"Keep back, fellows!" called Tom Reade. "Don't get near enough
to interfere with either man."
"Don't interfere with either the man or the thing, you mean,"
interposed Danny Grin.
"Shut up, Dalzell!" ordered Reade with generous roughness. "Remember
that you're not fighting Dodge, and that it's unfair to say anything
to anger him. Be fair!"
Though Dick's chums followed the fighters, at a generous distance,
they would have noticed, had they been less intent on the work
of the combatants, that Bayliss kept well on the outskirts of
the crowd. Bayliss didn't want to attract any dangerous notice
to himself, nor was he at all sure that the farmer would interfere
to see fair play for Dodge's side. In this, however, he really
wronged the farmer.
In giving ground Prescott stepped backward, his feet becoming
entangled with a vine running along the ground.
Down went Dick, just in time to save himself from a savage blow
in the face.
"Stand up to the fight, like a man!" roared Dodge, for he felt
that he was winning.
Dick drew himself to his knees. Ere he could gain his feet Bert
landed a smashing blow on his left cheek. Down went Dick again.
"Stop that sort of thing, Dodge!" flared Dave Darrin. "Either
man who goes down must have safety until he's on his feet again."
"Shut up!" flared Bert, but this time he waited, afraid to try
to hit his opponent until Dick was on his feet.
"Can't Dodge run his own fight, hang you?" Bayliss demanded.
This was the first word he had had the courage to utter.
Quick as a flash Dave wheeled, running toward Dodge's companion.
"This isn't wholly Dodge's fight, Bayliss," Darry cried, his anger
at a white heat. "Prescott has some rights in the game, and you
know it, too."
"You're too fresh!" snapped Bayliss.
"You're no good, Bayliss," Darry remarked contemptuously.
"You're a sneak and a liar, and so-----"
"And so I shall claim some of your time just as soon as Dick and
Dodge have finished," retorted Darry coldly. "Don't forget that,
Bayliss, and don't show yourself up by trying to run away."
With that Darrin stalked back to watch the finish of the present
Dick, on his feet again, renewed the battle in earnest. He found
Dodge a really worthy opponent. Both boys soon had bruised faces
Smash! That blow, delivered by Bert, almost ended the fight.
Dick staggered backward, the blood beginning to flow from his
Dodge followed it up, driving in another hard blow. The pain
stung Dick, not to madness, but into a more resolute defense,
with more of offense in it.
Then Dick so manoeuvred that he had Dodge between himself and
the shore of the lake. This advantage gave young Prescott slightly
higher ground on the gentle slope toward the lake. Bert tried
to manoeuvre for a more level footing, but Prescott drove him
Suddenly one of Dick's blows landed, with staggering force, on
the tip of Dodge's chin. Bert went to earth, rolling over as
he struck, and lying face downward. He was not knocked out,
but he had had enough.
For a moment or two Dick glanced down at his adversary in cold
contempt. Then suddenly, without a word, he bent over, seizing
Dodge by the shirt collar and belt, and threw him sprawling out
into the lake.
Young Dodge landed some distance from the bank. There was a loud
splash and a yell from the vanquished one, then a gurgling noise
as Bert's mouth went under water. He disappeared under the black
surface of the lake.
Dick waited calmly, ready to go to Dodge's assistance if needed.
Bert, however, rose quickly, the water not much above his knees.
"You loafer!" hissed Dodge, dashing the water from his face.
"Haven't you had enough?" asked Prescott mildly. "Didn't the
water cool you off?"
Dodge didn't reply, but he walked a few steps away before attempting
to step on dry land, thus avoiding his late opponent.
"That little business is all over," declared Tom Reade coolly.
"Bend down by the water, Dick, and I'll wash your nose with my
handkerchief. Greg, bring one of the lanterns here."
"Now, I guess it's time for our practice, Bayliss," Dave announced,
stepping over to Bert's companion.
"I've got to look after Dodge," mumbled Bayliss.
"No, you don't!" Dave warned him. "After the kind of language
you have used to me you can't slip out of trouble quite so easily
as all that. Get ready."
"Quit---can't you?" protested Bayliss.
"No; not unless you'll admit that you lied when you applied
disagreeable names to me," said Dave Darrin firmly. "Bayliss,
are you ready to admit that you are a liar?"
"You bet I'm not!" cried the other hoarsely. "Then back up your
words! Ready! Here's something coming!"
That "something" arrived. Bayliss fairly gasped as Darrin started
in on him.
But Dave drew back, holding up his fists.
"You didn't get started fairly, Bayliss," Darry declared. "I
want you to have as fair a show as possible. Draw in a deep breath.
Fill your lungs with air. Plant your feet firmly. Put up your
Patiently Darry waited for perhaps three quarters of a minute.
"Now!" he said at last.
Then the fight went on, but it was one sided. Had Bayliss done
himself justice, it might have resulted in a draw, at least, for
Bayliss was strong and quick. But he lacked courage.
Presently Bayliss, considerably battered, though not as severely
punished as Dodge had been, went down to his knees, nor would
"Going to get up and go on?" demanded Darry, pausing before him.
"Or do you quit?"
Bayliss, breathing hard, did not answer.
"What you need here," declared the farmer, stepping forward and
puffing slowly at his pipe, "is a referee. I'll take the job.
Bayliss, if you believe that you can do anything more, then the
place for you is on your feet. I'll give you until I count five."
Deliberately the farmer counted, but Bayliss remained on his knees.
"Bayliss loses," announced the farmer. "Not that I believe he
ever had much in the fighting line to lose, but he loses."
"I'll wait five minutes for him," offered Darry. "By that time
he'll be in shape to go on again."
"He's in good enough shape now," declared the self-appointed referee.
"The point is that Mr. Bayliss hasn't any liking for boxing.
He's the kind of young man that finds croquet strenuous enough!"
The four recent combatants now had some repairing to do. Dick
and Dave were attended by their own friends. The farmer offered
to help Bert Dodge ease his bruises. Greg made a tender of his
services to Bayliss, but was gruffly repulsed.
"Everything is over," called the farmer at last. "I must wake
up my horses and get on to Gridley. Young gentlemen, I'm much
obliged for the rest that my horses have had, and also for my
entertainment. Dodge, I don't believe you're really worth an
ounce of soda crackers, but I realize that you don't feel as bright
as usual, so I'm going to help you get the tires on your car."
Reaching up, the farmer untied one end of the line on which the
tires hung. Letting the tubes fall at his feet. The man then
drew a card out of his pocket and handed it to Reade.
"That will tell you who I am, if you ever want to find me," suggested
"George Simpson," said Tom, reading the card. "Mr. Simpson, we're
certainly glad of having had the pleasure of meeting you."
Reade thereupon gravely introduced the other members of Dick &
"Glad to have met you, boys," said Simpson, picking up the tires.
"Now, come along, Dodge and Bayliss, if you want my help, for
I really must be moving."
"This hasn't been such a dull evening, after all," jovially commented
Tom Reade, after the late visitors had vanished into the darkness
surrounding the camp.
"I'm sorry for the fighting, though," mused Dick aloud. "I don't
enjoy anything that makes bad blood, or more bad blood, between
"You couldn't do anything else but fight," retorted Greg sharply.
"That's the only reason why I fought," Prescott rejoined.
Half or three quarters of an hour later two resonant honks sounded
from the red Smattach automobile up at the roadside. Dick & Co.
rightly judged that Simpson had taken this means of signaling
them that the Smattach car was ready to go on its way again.
"What's the matter with Mr. Simpson?" Tom demanded at the top
of his voice.
From the throats of all of Dick & Co. came the ready response!
"He's all right!"
Honk! honk! honk! Mr. Simpson had heard this tribute to himself.
Then the chugging of a starting car was heard. The noise soon
sounded fainter, then died away.
"That's the last of the firm of Dodge and Bayliss for this season!"
chuckled Dave Darrin.
In this conclusion, however, it was wholly probable that Darry
was wrong. He would have been sure of it, himself, had he been
privileged to hear the talk of Bert Dodge and his companion as
the enraged and humiliated pair drove swiftly over the rough road
on their way back to Gridley.
"I can't think of anything bad enough to call Dick Prescott,"
growled Bert, who sat at the steering wheel.
"Don't try to," grumbled Bayliss. "It would poison your mind."
"The coward! He fights only when he has his gang with him."
"I don't see what the high school fellows can find to admire in
that crowd," quivered Bayliss, tenderly fingering his damaged
"Never mind what anyone thinks of them!" raged Bert Dodge. "We've
nothing but our own side of the affair to settle!"
"What do you mean?" asked Bayliss curiously.
"Bayliss, what do you think I am?"
"Oh, I guess you're a pretty good sort of fellow, Bert."
"Do you think I'd let business like to-night's go by without
"Are you going to try to take Prescott on again?" Bayliss asked
"I'm not a fool!" retorted Dodge indignantly. "Prescott might
thrash me again. Bayliss, I'm going to hit him with the kind
of club that he can't beat!"
"Is the club big enough to take care of Darrin, too?"
"I'm after the whole Prescott gang, for good measure!" Bert raged.
"What are you going to do?"
"I'll let you in on it, Bayliss, when I have all the details
planned---if you've nerve enough to do a man's part---of which I'm
not too sure," Dodge finished under his breath.
"You may count on me for anything---anything that is prudent!"
THE BOX THAT SET THEM GUESSING
"Look at that!" cried Tom Reade, leaping up from the breakfast
table so precipitately that he overturned his cup of coffee.
"What?" demanded Greg.
"Didn't you see that---out on the lake?" Tom demanded.
"I didn't see anything," Greg admitted.
"There it goes again!" cried Tom.
"Oh, I saw something rise from the water and fall back again,"
"Do you know what it was?" Reade insisted.
"That was a black bass!" declared Reade, as though it were one
of the seven wonders of the world.
"Keep cool, Reade," chaffed Danny Grin. "We all knew, that there
are fish in the lake."
"But black bass-----" choked Tom.
"Are they any better eating than any other fish?" asked Hazelton.
"Not so much better," Reade confessed. "But black bass are gamey,
and hard fish to land when you hook 'em!"
"They're no better food, but it's harder work to get them," laughed
Greg. "Sit down, Tom, and keep cool"
"No real fisherman would ever talk that way," Tom insisted indignantly.
"The greatest charm about fishing comes in hooking and landing
the really good fighting fish!"
"How much does a black bass weigh?" asked Greg.
"That one probably weighed four pounds. Look! look! There he
goes again. Did you fellows see him?"
"There isn't any four pound fish in water that can give me a fight,"
Danny Grin asserted solemnly. "I'd be ashamed to talk about having
a fight with a four pound fish. It looks small and mean to me."
"Well, go after some bass, if they're so easy to catch," urged
Greg. "I'll look on and see if you've over estimated your ability
as a fisherman."
"You're a fine fisherman, aren't you?" demanded Tom scornfully.
"No fisherman at all," Holmes promptly confessed.
"If you knew the A-B-C of fishing," Reade continued, "you'd know
that one must have a boat in order to go after bass."
"Don't they ever come near enough to shore to be caught without
the aid of a boat?" Danny Grin demanded.
"Tell me," insisted Dalzell.
"You're stringing me," protested Tom.
"No; I'm after information," Dan asserted.
"If you really don't know," Tom resumed, "I'll tell you that
black bass are generally caught only by trolling for them. That
is, if I fish for bass I've got to keep playing my line over the
stern while someone else rows the boat."
"You've a positive genius for picking out the easy half of the
job," Danny Grin murmured admiringly.
"The trolling part of the job merely looks easy," Tom went on,
good-humoredly. "The fellow who is doing the fisherman act must
have all the brains, while the fellow at the oars may be a real
dolt, for all he has to know. I'll take you out with me after
black bass, Danny, if we can get hold of a boat one of these days."
"Who'll do the rowing?" asked Dalzell suspiciously.
"Naturally you will," was Reade's answer.
"Can't we find a boat somewhere about here?" asked Hazelton eagerly.
"I haven't seen one on any part of the lake that is visible from
here," Prescott put in. "I don't know why, but this so called
second lake doesn't seem to be a popular spot. There isn't a
house to be seen anywhere along the shore on either side, and
I doubt if there's a boat on this sheet of water."
"I don't believe there is a boat, either---and just look at that!"
cried Reade, as three distinct splashes about an eighth of a mile
out showed how frequently the bass were leaping.
"It's tough---not to have a chance at good sport!" declared Dave
Darrin impatiently. "We fellows ought to search this old shore,
anyway, to see if we can't find some sort of craft."
"Come along, then!" urged Tom, leaping to his feet. "I can't
stand this state of affairs much longer. Look at that, out there.
Four bass jumping within fifteen seconds. This is cruelty to
"Tom, you take Dan and Harry, and go up along the shore," proposed
Dick. "I'll take the others with me, and we'll go down along
the shore. Each party will walk and search for half an hour,
and then return, unless we find a boat sooner."
"Aren't you going to leave someone to watch the camp?" asked Danny
"It is hardly necessary," decided Prescott.
"But Bert Dodge-----" suggested Greg.
"For Dodge to be out here so early he'd have to be up by five
in the morning, and make an early start," Dick rejoined. "I don't
believe he's industrious enough for that."
"The camp will be all right," Dave agreed.
"Of course," Tom assented. "Anyway, there's nothing here worth
stealing that would be small enough to carry away."
"Except the food," hinted Danny Grin.
"This is too far off the main roads for tramps to come this way,"
So Dalzell, with a sigh, rose to accompany Reade and Hazelton.
Dick and his two companions thoroughly explored the shore as far
as they went on the lower part of the lake. From time to time
Prescott consulted his watch. In all the time that they were
out they passed only one building, a tumble-down, weather-beaten
shack that looked as though it had not been inhabited in twenty
years. Not even a vestige of a craft was found.
"It's time to go back," said Dick at last. "Too bad we couldn't
"There must have been boats on this lake at one time," hinted
Dave, "or else there wouldn't be that broken-down old pier near
"I guess there was a time when this lake was a fishing ground
to supply the Gridley and other near-by markets," Dick went on.
"But, fellows, there's a curious thing about these fish markets
that I don't know whether you've noticed. There are several fish
stores in Gridley, and yet in all of them you couldn't buy a pound
of fish except the kinds that are caught in salt water. I wonder
if there are any fish markets in this part of the country that
make a specialty of fresh-water fish?"
More slowly, Dick, Dave and Greg retraced their steps.
"Hoo-hoo! Hoo-hoo!" signaled Dick as they neared their camp.
From away up the shore the answering "hoo hoo!" came faintly.
"Tom didn't give up the search as easily as we did," commented
Dave. "Poor old chap, he will be seriously disappointed if he
hasn't found something that will float. He's the one sincere
fisherman of the crowd, and the bass certainly have hypnotized
"Race you back to camp," offered Dick.
"Come back," laughed Dave, "and make a fair start."
But Dick kept on, laughing back at his distanced comrades. Prescott
ran like a deer, as was to be expected from one who had played
left end on the invincible Gridley High School eleven.
Just as he bounded on to the camp ground Dick's glance fell on
a packing box some four feet long.
"This doesn't belong here," he muttered, bounding forward, then
dropping on one knee beside the box.
In amazed wonder he read the following inscription, from a card
tacked to the box:
"Will Dick Prescott accept the enclosed and keep it as trustee
for Dick & Co.? From a most appreciative friend---two of them,
"Now, what on earth can this be?" Dick demanded, as Dave reached
Darry read the message on the card with growing wonder.
"Greg," directed Dick, "trot into the camp and get a hammer and
the cold chisel. Hustle!"
Full of curiosity, Greg Holmes carried out the order at a run.
"Here you are!" panted Holmes.
Dick took the cold chisel, placed the edge against one side of
the lid, and was about to strike the first blow when Darry snatched
the hammer from his hand.
"What ails you?" Prescott demanded.
"Suspicion," Dave replied dryly. "In fact, I've a bad case of
"What are you talking about?" Dick insisted.
"I don't know," Dave admitted. "But I've something of a shivery
hunch that perhaps we'd better not open that box."
"What, then? Toss it into the lake?"
"Even that might not be as foolish as it sounds to you," Darry
went on. "How do we know what that box contains!"
"We never will know until we open it," declared Greg impatiently.
"And then we might be mighty sorry that we opened it," Dave continued.
"You think that there is something suspicious about the box?"
"Oh, the box looks all right," Dave laughed. "But the contents
might prove more than a disappointment. A real danger, for instance."
"Do you really think so?" Dick mused wonderingly.
"Well, let's not be too rash," Darrin urged. "When I try to think
of the friends who might take the trouble to come away out here
to leave something for us, about the dearest friends I can think
of are---Dodge and Bayliss."
"And what would they leave in the box for us?" pondered Prescott.
"Anything from a nest of rattlesnakes to an infernal machine,"
Greg Holmes suggested.
"That doesn't sound quite reasonable," Dick replied slowly. "Neither
Dodge nor Bayliss amount to much, and both fellows are pretty
mean; but do you imagine they would dare do anything that might
come very close to murder? I don't."
"Oh, well, open the box, then," Dave agreed. "Whatever may be
in it of a dangerous nature, I'll stand by and take my share of it."
"A few minutes won't make any difference," said Dick, rising and
dropping hammer and chisel. "We'll wait until the rest of the
fellows come in, and then we'll hold a pow-wow and vote on what's
to be done."
"Tom! Oh, Tom! Fellows! Hoo-hoo!" roared Greg, making a megaphone
of his hands.
"Wha-at's wa-anted?" came Reade's hail, still from a distance.
"Hurry up!" yelled Greg. "Hustle. Big doings here!"
"Have you found a boat?" came Tom's query.
"No! But---hustle! Run!"
Greg was alive with curiosity. He could not wait. If the box
were to be opened only after a pow-wow, then the sooner the council
were held the sooner the mystery of the box's contents would be
Tom, Dan and Harry came in at a trot.
"What's all the row about?" Reade demanded.
"That," stated Greg, pointing to the packing case.
"What's in it?" asked Reade.
"We don't know," said Dick.
"I fail to see what's to hinder you from knowing," retorted Reade.
"I see that you have the tools for opening the case at hand.
What were you waiting for---my strong arm on the hammer? If
While speaking Tom had been glancing at the inscription on the
"I don't know just whether we ought to open it," Dave declared.
"That box may come from Dodge and Bayliss, and we may be sorry
that we meddled with it."
"There may be something in that," agreed Reade, laying down hammer
and chisel and rising. "But I wish we knew."
"We all wish that," said Greg.
"Well, what are we going to do?" inquired Hazelton. "Are we going
to remain afraid of the box and shy away from it?"
"I'm not afraid," replied Darrin, his color rising. "I'm willing
to open it if you fellows say so."
"Then what has kept you back so far?" Tom wanted to know.
"If it's a job put up by Dodge and Bayliss, then I don't just
like to be caught napping by them," Dave replied. "However, you
fellows all get back a few rods---and here goes for little David
to solve the box mystery."
"Not!" advised Reade with emphasis. "I suppose we'll have to
do something with this box, sometime, but I, for one, am in favor
of considering the matter for a little while before we go any
further. Dave, you are a foxy one, but I'm glad you are. It
may save us all trouble."
So the box lay there through the forenoon, and Dick & Co. did
little else but wonder and guess as to its contents.
Any member of Dick & Co. would have taken the risk of opening
it, had he been chosen by his comrades to do so; but not one of
them wanted one of the other fellows to take the risk.
In the meantime Greg Holmes could scarcely curb his rising curiosity.
THE MAN WITH THE HAUNTING FACE
The noon meal had been eaten, and the camp put to rights. The
water before them and the woods behind them called to nature-loving
Dick & Co., yet the invitations were ignored.
What could be in the innocent-looking box? That was the question
that held six minds in the thraldom of curiosity.
"I can't stand this suspense any longer!" muttered Reade towards
three o'clock in the afternoon.
"Open the box yourself," prompted Danny Grin.
"I will," offered Reade, advancing toward the box. "I don't care
if it's a ton of dynamite, all fixed up with clock work and automatic
fuses. I want to find it out."
But Greg Holmes sprang forward.
"Wait just a little longer, Tom," he urged. "Dick will be back
in a few minutes and then we'll get him to agree to it."
"Dick Prescott doesn't open the box," Tom retorted.
"It's addressed to him, anyway," said Greg firmly.
"I guess that's right," interposed Dave, nodding. "And Dick will
be here soon."
Dick reappeared within five minutes. He had taken two buckets
and had gone to a spring at some distance from camp for water.
"Dick," said Greg, "there's Tom on the ground on the other side
of that tree. He's growling like a Teddy bear because no one
has opened the box."
"I think we'd better open it," nodded Prescott, after glancing
at the faces of the others, for he saw that their curiosity was
at fever heat.
"Hooray!" yelled Greg. "Come on, fellows!"
There was a rush for the hammer and cold chisel, but young Holmes
"You pry the lid up on one side, and then give me a chance at
the other side," proposed Tom Reade.
But Greg, smiling quietly, soon had the entire lid off the box.
Nothing but a lot of multi-colored, curly packing paper met their
"The world destroyer must be underneath this ton of rubbish,"
grunted Darry, kneeling and prying the strings of paper out.
At last he delved down to a parcel wrapped in stout manila paper
and securely tied with cord.
"Cut the strings," advised Reade, passing Dave a pocket knife
with one blade open.
Darrin, however, had lifted the parcel out to lay it on the ground.
It was fairly heavy, but Dave handled it with ease. Now he
cut the strings. As the papers were pushed aside he and the others
saw nothing at first but a lot of khaki-colored canvas.
"Fellows," declared Dick, "I don't believe this is a practical
joke, at all. It looks to me as though someone had sent us something
very much like a cook tent."
All thought of danger having now passed, Prescott and his comrades
unfolded the canvas. At the bottom of the package they found
something that caused them to send up a wild hurrah.
Two daintily modeled white maple paddles lay there. There were
two other objects made of wood that looked like seats.
"Fellows," gasped Dick, "don't you understand what this is?"
"I do," nodded Tom huskily. "I do, if not another soul in the
world does. Fellows, it's a collapsible canoe, all ready to set
up and run into the water. It's our boat, that we've been wanting
so badly. It's a beauty! Oh, shake it out! Lay it and let's
put the braces in! I shan't be able to breathe again until I
see this thing of beauty floating on the water!"
Yet Tom was no more excited than were the other members of Dick
& Co. All took a hand, and all tried to work so nimbly that they
got considerably in the way of one another. Yet at last the canoe
was ready to be picked up and carried to the lake's edge.
"Here's even a painter to tie it to a tree with," shouted Dave.
"Say! Whoever bought this canoe knew all about one!"
"Don't anyone try to get into the craft yet," ordered Dick, as
the canoe was slid out upon the water, Prescott holding the painter,
which he tied around a sapling growing near the water's edge.
"We want to make sure that this canoe is waterproof. If it stands
twenty minutes without taking in water we'll know it's all right."
Since they couldn't board the canoe, these delighted boys joined
hands, dancing about in a ring. Then, suddenly, they started
off in burlesqued figures of an Indian war-dance, whooping like
While the excitement was at its height, Reade suddenly seized
Hazelton by his collar, rushing him to the lake. Into it went
both boys, Tom ducking Harry's head under the water.
"Wha-a-at's that for?" sputtered Hazelton as soon as he could
"Because you needed it," replied Tom soberly. "Will you kindly
do as much for me? We were all such chumps that we cheated ourselves
out of the best black bass fishing to-day that ever mortal saw.
So we all ought to be ducked."
Harry stared at his friend in some astonishment.
"On second thought, though," concluded Reade, "you needn't duck
me. You may postpone it. I'm going bass fishing the very instant
that the canoe is judged to be safe."
"And I'll be the bass-hunting pin-head who merely does the paddling,"
proposed Danny Grin meekly.
"I guess you're the biggest pin-head in camp, all right---after
myself," nodded Reade. "So we ought to hit it off as bass fishermen,
"Fellows," hinted Dick judicially, "I think we had better turn
the canoe over to Tom for the first trip. His craze to go bass
fishing is so acute that it fairly pains him. Tom can have the
first trip, can't he?"
There was a general assent. Tom darted away to overhaul such
tackle as he had for bass fishing. He came back with a small
but tough jointed rod, some very long lines, and some flashily,
"Danny, get a shovel and dig for some grubs," Tom ordered, as
he sorted tackle. "When you can't fool black bass with one thing
you must try another. If you fellows see any tiny chubs swimming
about in the little coves here, try to get a lot of them. We
can keep them in a bucket of water. Perch? Bah! The real fishing
is about to begin now!"
"Do you really expect to get any bass today, Tom?" Dick inquired.
"Hard to say," replied Reade, shaking his head as he glanced up
from the tackle he was overhauling to look out upon the lake.
"I haven't seen a single bass jump in five hours now. But I
may get two or three. I certainly will, if the bass are sportsmanlike
enough to give me any show at 'em."
By the time that Tom had his tackle in shape Dick and Dave pronounced
the canoe wholly water tight. Dan Dalzell, equipped with one
of the paddles, took a kneeling position just back of the bow
seat. Tom got in next, squatting with his face to the stern of
the canoe. None of the others were to go. At a pinch this ten-foot
canoe might hold three, but fishermen as a rule do not care to
have extra passengers in their boats.
"Give 'em a cheer, boys!" cried Darry, as Danny Grin, with a few
deft strokes of the paddle, propelled the craft away from the
"And let that cheer be the last," called back Tom, in a low voice
that nevertheless traveled backward over the water. "Don't frighten
my bass from coming up to take a look at me."
"Tom surely is the sincere old bass fisher, isn't he?" demanded
"I don't know," Dick made answer. "We can tell better when we've
seen him hook and land a few fish."
"Paddle slowly right across the lake, Danny," begged Tom, watching
his trolling line.
From the camp the boys watched until they grew tired of the monotony.
Reade did not seem destined to secure a single "strike" from
bass that afternoon.
"At half-past four o'clock," proposed Darrin, "I'll go down to
the old pier and see what I can do toward catching a string of
perch for to-night."
"I'll go with you," nodded Hazelton.
"All right," agreed Dick. "Greg and I will get in the water and
wood, and see to whatever else we're to have for supper. I don't
believe Tom will bring us anything."
Nor did Reade himself believe it. For two solid hours Dan Dalzell
paddled lazily wherever his skipper told him to. The nearest
that Tom seemed destined to get a "strike" was when his hook caught
in the weeds.
At last they were some distance out on the lake, perhaps a hundred
and fifty yards from shore. Reade, wholly discouraged, was about
to give the order to make for camp.
Turning about in the canoe, Reade discovered that Dalzell was
in a brown study, slowly lifting his paddle and lifting it out
again, but without watching his course.
"Look out, Danny boy," cautioned Tom, "or you'll scratch the sides
of the canoe on those bushes right ahead."
Dan glanced up with a start, backing water. They had now passed
in under the shadow of trees, for the sun was low, and it was
somewhat dark and gloomy in there.
"It's queer for bushes to be growing so far out from shore," muttered
Tom, "and it shows how shallow the water must be about here.
You had better back water out of here, Danny."
Dalzell was about to do so when his glance fell on something that
halted his arm.
In the same moment Tom Reade saw the object that had arrested
From between the bushes peered a pair of deep-set, frightened
eyes that looked out from the haggard, despairing face of a man
whose head alone was visible.
Just for the moment neither Tom nor Dalzell could really guess
whether the face belonged to the living or the dead. The sight
caused cold shivers to run up and down their spines, for that
face was ghastly and haunting in the extreme.
But quickly Tom Reade found his voice sufficiently to ask huskily:
"What's your trouble, my friend?"
THE START OF A BAD NIGHT
Without noise, leaving barely a ripple behind, that head sank
from view. It had vanished in an instant before the eyes of the
two thoroughly startled high school boys.
"He's drowning now!" gasped Dan, as the head failed to bob up
again into view. "Oh, Tom, we must save him!"
"Wait!" said Reade, in a quivering voice. His eyes expressed
uncertainty as to how he should act.
"But he's drowning. You see, he hasn't come up again!" Dalzell
"Drowning---in water shallow enough for small bushes to grow from
the bottom?" demanded Reade. "Of course not! But what does it
mean---and why didn't the fellow speak?"
"Perhaps---i---i---it was a---dead man," suggested Dalzell.
"That's what I'm trying to figure out," replied Reade. "I---I
almost thought I saw the man's eyelids move."
"I thought so, too," agreed Dan, "but now I'm inclined to believe
that we didn't. Wait! I'm going to get close to the bushes."
Dan drove the paddle into the water a few times, bringing the
canoe up alongside the bushes, when it was seen that these were
standing up from a square framework of wood.
"Now, what do you think of that?" asked Reade in perplexity.
"These are freshly cut bushes, that have been fastened to this
frame to-day. The frame will float wherever wind or current may
take it. I thought this was shallow water. I'll soon know."
Tom had, among his tackle, a line with a sinker attached. He
tossed the sinker over the side of the canoe, paying out the line
until the sinker touched bottom. Then he pulled the line in again,
carefully measuring by his arm as much of the line as was wet.
"Danny," he announced solemnly, "at this point the water is from
twenty-seven to thirty feet deep."
"Then that man did drown!" breathed Dalzell, his face as white
"Of course he did," Tom agreed, "provided he was alive when we
"But he had to be alive," protested Dan, "or else he couldn't
have nailed the framework together and decorated it with branches
"That is, if the man we saw made the frame," propounded Reade
in a very solemn voice.
It was a shock to both of them. The whole incident had been uncanny
and unreal, but the horror of that haggard, haunting face was
still strong upon both of the beholders.
"Tom, we simply must get off our clothes and dive to see what
we can do to find that poor fellow," urged Dalzell.
"All right," assented Reade. "I'll do all the diving myself,
Danny, if you'll take command and give your orders. Where shall
I dive? The bushes have already shifted position. We're floating
away from the spot, too. Just where do you want me to make the
"I don't know," Dan Dalzell confessed. "The whole affair has
given me the creeps, I think."
"I know it has done that to me," smiled Tom unsteadily. "Whew!
I'll dream of that face to-night---all night long! Dan, there
seems to be just about one chance in a thousand that that man
will reach shore. Let's keep the craft headed to the shore, and
watch for some minutes to come. At the same time, if we see a
sign of the poor fellow, we'll swim to him, or paddle to him as
fast as we know how."
Both boys knew, inwardly, that they would be heartily glad to
get away from what seemed plainly to them to be a haunted spot.
Yet neither cared to admit his dread to the other. So, talking
rather busily, they remained on the spot for fully another ten
"We won't see anything come out of the water now," Tom asserted
at last. "Even if we do, it will be a drowned man."
"I guess we may as well get back to camp," Danny agreed. "Yet
it is going to be an awfully creepy night for all of us, with
this weird mystery of the lake on our minds."
"Don't paddle yet," begged Tom. "I'll give a hail, and see if
that brings any answer."
Raising his voice, Reade shouted lustily:
"Hello, there, friend? Are you safe? Want any help?"
"Anything we can do for you, friend?" bawled Dan Dalzell, in his
most resonant tone.
Only the mocking echoes of their own questions came back to them.
"Beat the water with the paddle. Danny," advised Reade after
they had waited for some moments. "We've more than a mile to
go. Whip up the water. If you get tired, pass the paddle back
"I'm not sorry to get away from that place," breathed Dalzell,
after at least a hundred lusty strokes.
"Nor I," confessed Reade. "I'm beginning to get a headache already
from trying to figure out what it all meant. Danny, describe
that haunting face just as you saw it."
"Ugh! I hate to think about it again," protested Dalzell.
"You'll think about it more than once," retorted Tom. "You won't
be able to help that, I promise you. So go ahead and describe
the face as you saw it."
Dan did so, Tom listening attentively.
"Then that wasn't a case of imagination," Tom declared gravely.
"If we had imagined it, each would have seen a different face.
But the face that you describe, Danny, is the one that I also
saw. Pass back the paddle, please. I want a little exercise."
Tom still had the paddle when he shot the canoe in close to the
"Any luck?" called Dave, who had already returned with a string
"Catch any bass?" was Dick's question.
"Did you even see anything?" laughed Greg Holmes.
"Did we see anything?" groaned Tom, as he sent the canoe's prow
"Danny looks as though he had been seeing all sorts of things,"
chuckled Hazelton, as Dalzell stepped ashore.
"Don't ask me," gasped Danny Grin, with a shudder.
At this the faces of those who had remained behind sobered instantly.
"You won't eat any supper, if we tell you," Tom declared, as he
came ashore while Dave held the painter of the canoe.
"I'll accept that challenge," laughed Prescott, as Dave and Tom
drew the collapsible canoe up on shore. "Fire away as soon as
you're ready, Mr. Reade."
Perch and potatoes were frying, coffee bubbling and Dick had been
mixing some kind of boiled pudding that he had learned to make
so that it would not cause acute indigestion.
"Better wait until after supper," Reade advised.
"No; we want the story now," Prescott declared firmly.
So Reade told of the strange apparition they had seen, with many
additions to the tale from Danny.
"I decline to shudder," asserted Dave.
"That's just because you've only heard about the face, instead
of seeing it," Tom muttered.
"Dick, what do you make of the whole affair?" asked Greg.
"I only wish I could guess the answer," Prescott made answer solemnly,
"but I can't."
"What are we going to do about it?" asked Tom Reade.
"Let it alone," proposed Harry Hazelton.
"No, we won't," said Dick promptly. "Not unless we have to, just
because of inability to find out anything. Fellows, it's too
late to try to do anything in the darkness to-night. If the man
were drowned, we couldn't help him, anyway. But we'll go over
there to-morrow and try to find out whether there is any other
answer to the riddle."
"You won't need any supper to-night, anyway," declared Reade,
in a tone of grim triumph.
"That is where you lose," Prescott answered quietly. "You'll
be hungry, too, Tom, when the food goes on the table."
However, neither Reade nor Danny Grin ate very heartily that evening.
Every few moments the haunting face rose before their memories.
It proved a dull evening, too, in camp. The sky became overcast.
It looked so much like rain that Dick & Co. voted in favor of
First of all, however, the canoe was hauled into the tent for
safety. Then, with only one lantern burning dimly, six sturdy
but wondering high school boys rolled themselves in their blankets.
Just as five of them were dozing off uneasily Dave Darrin's voice
"That thing couldn't have been a joke rigged up on us, could it?"
"A joke?" rumbled Reade. "No, sir! That face was real enough
to suit the most particular individual. No, sir; that face wasn't
a joke, nor did the face look as though the man to whom it belonged
had ever heard a joke in all his life."
"Suppose you fellows shut up until the sun is shining again,"
proposed Danny Grin, who had been fidgeting restlessly in his
"That's right," agreed Dick blandly. "All ghost stories ought
to be told in the broad daylight."
"Just the same-----" Tom began.
"Shut up---_please_!" came a chorus of protest.
All was quiet after that. Hours must have passed. All the boys
were sleeping at least fairly well when air and earth shook with
a mighty explosion.
Instantly six bewildered high school boys leaped to their feet
POWDER MILLS, OR JUST WHAT?
"If that's a thunderstorm," muttered Greg Holmes, barely half
awake, "then it's going to be a dandy!"
But Dick seized him by one arm and shook him.
"Come to your senses, Greg! That wasn't thunder."
"No; but what was it?" wondered Dave.
"I'm going to dress and find out," rejoined Dick sturdily. He
sat on the edge of his canvas cot and began to pull on his clothing.
BANG! All were awake enough now to appreciate fully the force
of this second jarring explosion.
"I wonder if there are any powder works off in this wilderness?"
asked Danny Grin.
But Dick, who had now dressed as fully as he intended to do, save
for the lacing of his shoes, now came back from the doorway of
the tent with the lantern, the wick of which he was turning up.
"No powder mills in this part of the world," he declared. "But,
gracious! The explosion seemed big enough."
Tom Reade stepped over to Prescott, whispering in the latter's
"What if this is another chapter in the lake mystery that we struck
"That's possible," nodded Dick.
"What are you two fellows whispering about?" called Hazelton.
"We're using whispers in case there's anyone else near enough
to hear speaking voices," Prescott explained in a low tone.
That was enough to fan the curiosity of the others, who, partially
dressed, crowded about Prescott and Reade.
Leaving the lantern in the tent, Dick & Co. gathered in the darkness
in the open air.
"What do you make of it, Dick?" Dave asked.
"Just as much as you fellows do---no more," came the reply.
"If it isn't anything that carries danger to us," proposed Darrin,
"we may as well go back and to bed."
"All who are sleepy enough may go back and turn in," Prescott
suggested. "I'll stay up and watch for a while."
"So will I," promised Reade.
But it turned out that none of the party wanted to sleep. Even
Darrin said he was interested enough in this newest mystery to
stay up and try to fathom it.
"Whatever it is," smiled Dick, "it hasn't done us any harm."
"Oh, yes; there has been one casualty, at least," protested Holmes.
"The explosion has caused a compound fracture in my bump of curiosity."
"There don't seem to be any more explosions," suggested Dick Prescott,
after a few moments had passed, and some of the boys were yawning.
"Anyone want to turn in?"
No one wished to do so, however.
"If we can't find out anything to-night," murmured Dick, in a
low voice, "we'll at least make a strong effort in that direction
after breakfast to-morrow morning."
"We have the lake mystery on for after breakfast," urged Hazelton.
"There's probably a connection between the lake mystery and the
big explosions," whispered Tom Reade wisely. "Fellows, I've a
notion that Danny Grin and I unintentionally bumped into someone
else's business of some queer kind. Now the people who are peevish
with us are trying to chase us out of these woods. At least,
that's my idea."
"It will take something more than noise to chase us," smiled Dick
coolly. "Our ear drums are as sound as the next fellow's. Just
the same, I wish we might find out something about this mystery.
If there's another explosion like that last one, then some of
us ought to travel straight in the direction of the noise."
"And run straight into the hard, swift punch that is behind that
noise!" muttered Danny Grin, with one of those facial contortions
that had earned him his nickname.
"Whoever starts to playing with a boy's curiosity must be ready
to abide by the consequences," chuckled Prescott. "Now, if anyone
has started something against us, then we'll run the rascal to
"You don't suppose it's Dodge's work?" whispered Greg.
Before Dick could answer Darrin broke in with an emphatic:
"Not much! The lake mystery affair is one of too large calibre
for Bert Dodge's poor, anaemic brain. There's something bigger
and smarter than a mere Dodge behind the doings of this night."
"It's one o'clock, fellows," said Dick, after walking over to
the lantern for a glimpse at his watch. "Tom, Greg and I will
stay up until three o'clock and be ready to jump out together
at the first sign of anything happening. The rest of you turn
in and get some sleep. We'll call you at three o'clock and then
take our turn at the pillow."
"You'll call us, of course, if anything happens?" asked Dave.
"If another powder mill blows up," chuckled Tom, "you won't need
to be called. You'll be out here on the jump."
Dave, Dan and Harry thereupon turned in. Knowing that others
were on watch the trio in the tent were all sound asleep within
Only the sighing of the wind through the trees, the occasional
splash of a leaping fish in the lake, and the subdued, musical
hum of tiny night insects came to the ears of Dick and his fellow
Greg was soon yawning. Tom, for want of something better to do,
began describing all over again the strange apparition he and
Dalzell had seen that afternoon. Greg, finding the "creeps" in
Tom's narration to be stronger than the interest, shivered and
withdrew to a spot beyond the reach of Tom's whispers.
Not long after Greg, his back propped against a tree trunk, was
Tom liked to talk. Prescott was a good listener, putting in a
question now and then.
So at least another hour passed. Then-----
That crash was so close at hand that it seemed as though the earth
Tom's first startled glance was at the sky. Then, with a whisking
sound, several fragments of something passed over their heads.
"We're being bombarded?" gasped Tom inquiringly.
"This is getting too noisy to be interesting," protested Greg,
waking and leaping over to the place where his chums stood.
"I thought you fellows were going to put a stop to that racket!"
complained Darry from the tent.
Dick Prescott's whole thought and effort had been centered on
the task of placing the location of that latest explosion.
"You fellows look after the camp," Dick called in a low voice
to those in the tent. "Come on, Tom and Greg!"
His two chums hurried to overtake him as the young leader rushed
off in the darkness. Prescott was traveling up the slope in a
direction that ran in an oblique line from the lake front.
"Are you sure it was just exactly in this direction?" whispered
Reade, as he reached Dick's side.
"In this direction as nearly as I could judge," Dick affirmed.
For some moments they traveled onward. Then they halted to listen.
"I don't know whether I'm any good at judging distances," Dick
whispered, "but it seemed to me that whatever exploded was not much
more than three hundred yards from camp."
"About that distance, I should say," Tom agreed.
"Then we've gone about as far as the place of the explosion.
Suppose we keep very quiet and listen."
"Ugh!" grunted Greg. "I hope the earth doesn't blow up under
"Go back to camp, if you're nervous," smiled Dick, but Greg remained
where he was.
"I'm going out a little way and prowl," whispered Dick, pointing
in the direction he had chosen. "Tom, why don't you travel in
about the opposite direction?"
"Where shall I go?" asked Greg.
"You had better remain right here," Prescott whispered. "If you
should hear either of us yell for help then you could start in
the direction of the sound."
"Then I'll get into those bushes," whispered Greg. "When you
come back, come straight to the bushes, so I'll know that it's
one of my own crowd. If any strangers appear, I'll listen to
'em if they halt near here, or trail them if they try to go past
Dick nodded. This seemed about the best that could be done.
Of course, back in camp, he had three more good and courageous
fellows to draw upon as added forces, but with such strange doings
afoot in the night it didn't seem wise to call the others away
from the camp. Above all, the camp had to be watched and guarded.
In half an hour Dick returned. He had found nothing to throw
light on the puzzle of the night. Tom was back already, having
beaten Dick to Greg's hiding place by about two minutes.
"We may as well go back to camp," whispered Greg.
"Not much!" Prescott retorted. "If anyone is trying to do anything
to us, then we want to run the mystery down and put an end to
it. My idea is that the best thing we can do is to get up to
the road, post ourselves at fair intervals and watch to see if
anyone should pass."
"Correct!" clicked Reade. "And I think that would have been the
best plan in the first instance."
"If the powder-mill explosions are to keep up through the night,"
hinted Tom, "then there ought to be another one due within a few
minutes. In that case our tormentors may be getting ready to
plan something now. So let's hike for the road at once."
Dick led the way, all three boys moving as noiselessly as they
could. Prescott posted his friends, then chose his own post,
so that they were stationed at intervals of about a hundred yards.
All had hiding places within plain view of this rough country
Now the time dragged again. Strain their ears as they might,
none of these young outposts of Dick & Co. could hear a single
suspicious sound. They must have remained there all of three
quarters of an hour.
Bang! sounded a terrific crash. Tom and Greg, without showing
themselves in the road, hurriedly, silently reached their leader.
"Pshaw!" uttered Prescott in disgust. "With all our care we were
on the wrong side of camp to be near the explosion. Come along,
now, but don't make any noise if you can help it, and don't step
out into the road. We'll go straight toward that latest noise.
If it takes all summer we're simply bound to find out who is
trying to blow up these woods just to scare out a few little rabbits
IN A FEVER "TO FIND OUT"
Our trio had nearly reached what they judged to be the scene of
the latest explosion when Dick suddenly gave a low, sharp "hist,"
at the same time bending over to the ground while still peering
Palpitating with excitement, Tom and Greg halted, also looking.
Out of the shadow ahead emerged something only vaguely outlined
in the dark. Whether wild animal or human being it would be hard
to say there in the darkness. Indeed, the slight sound caused
by its progress close to the road had more to do with warning
Dick and his friends than anything their eyes saw at first.
"Come on!" whispered Dick, heading suddenly for the road. In
a jiffy Tom and Greg were also in hot pursuit, though young Prescott
managed to keep somewhat in the lead.
But the object of their pursuit took alarm, too, and gaining the
road, flew like the wind.
"Hold on there, you!" challenged Dick. "We want a little conversation
with you at once."
At that vocal warning the fugitive put on an even better burst
"It must be a man!" exclaimed Dick. "He evidently understood me."
"No use for you to try to get away!" shouted Reade. "We intend
to get you if we have to chase you all the way to the seaboard."
That was enough to make the fugitive veer suddenly and dart in
under the trees. Tom vented an exclamation of disappointment,
for he knew the chances were easy for escape in the deep shadows
of the forest.
At that instant Dick raised his right hand. In it he held a small
stone that he had picked up at the first instant of discovering
the presence of the stranger.
Now Dick threw the stone, with the best judgment that he could
command in the darkness.
Ahead there went up a cry, as though of pain. Then all three
pursuers distinctly heard an angry voice say!
"Hang him! He hit me in the heel!"
If there were any reply to this from a confederate of the injured
fugitive neither Dick nor his chums heard it.
After a minute all three stopped at a low uttered order from young
"Hush!" whispered Dick.
"Sh!" confirmed Tom Reade.
As they stood there in the forest not a sound of another human
being was audible.
For some five minutes the trio of high school boys stood without
stirring from their tracks.
"We've lost the trail," whispered Dick at last. "We could remain
here, of course, waiting for more things to happen, but my belief
is that daylight would find us still standing here, like so many
foiled dummies. We might as well return to camp. What do you
"Yes; we'd better go back to camp," assented Tom.
"I'm agreeable," murmured Greg
So back to camp they went, going by the open road as much of the
way as served their purpose.
"There's the camp," muttered Tom, as they caught sight of a light
between the trees. "Why the fellows have started a campfire."
"What do you say if we slip up on them and give them something
to jump about?" laughed Greg.
"That might work with some people," negatived Dick, "but Darry
is there, and he's impulsive. He might half kill us before he
discovered his mistake. O-o-o-h, Dave!"
"Hello!" answered Darrin, coming away from the campfire. Then
he waited until the trio were close at hand before he went on:
"I judge you didn't have any luck."
"We got close to one of the scamps," muttered Tom, "whom Dick
seems to have hit on the heel with a stone, but he slipped away
from us under the trees."
"It's only half an hour to dawn," yawned Dave, looking at his
watch. "We can turn in, now, I guess, for the rascals must be
about through with the guessing match they've put up for us."
"We could turn in now," suggested Danny Grin. "We don't have
to go to sleep, you know, but we could lie in our blankets and
talk the time away until dawn. The campfire will keep going until
after daylight comes on."
That seemed rather a sensible course. Dick nodded, and all hands,
after Darry had thrown a few more sticks on the fire, went into
the tent, undressed, donned pajamas and slipped in under a single
thickness of blanket apiece, and lay there talking.
Yet it proved to be a case of gape and yawn. One after another
their eyes closed and more regular breathing started.
Dick Prescott was the last one to drop off. Yet he had barely
more than lost himself in slumberland when there came a blast
so close at hand that, to the boys, it seemed as though they must
have been blown from their cots.
"That was right up toward the road!" panted Dave Darrin, leaping
from his cot barefooted and clad only in pajamas. "Don't stop
to dress. Come on! Chase 'em!"
"Go as far as you like!" chuckled Dick, stopping to pull on his
shoes and fasten them, as did most of the others. Hazelton went
only to the doorway of the tent, but Danny Grin followed Darrin,
keeping at the latter's heels.
Prescott and Reade were hardly sixty seconds later in heading
up the slope toward the road, Greg and Harry remaining at the
As they came out from under the trees and into the road Dick discovered
that the first signs of dawn were appearing. In a few minutes
more it would be possible to see clearly over a stretch of road
more than half a mile in length. Already objects were beginning
to take shape. Dave was coming back, followed by Dan. Both were
limping slightly, for neither boy was accustomed to traveling
barefoot and both had picked up slight stone bruises in their
"Did you sight anything or anyone?" called Dick.
"No," grumbled Darrin, in deep disgust. "The odds are all against
us, anyway. The scoundrels know which way they are going; we
can only guess at their course."
"One thing looks rather certain, at any rate," yawned Dick, covering
his mouth with his hand. "Whoever the unknowns are, they were
trying only to bother us. Or, if they were trying to injure us,
they were rank amateurs at the destructive game.
"But what was it that blew up, anyway?" queried Dave.
"It sounded like a keg of gunpowder each time," Tom declared.
"Yet to carry around five kegs of gunpowder would call for a
lot of muscular work."
"I'm going back to camp to put on my shoes," Dave declared.
"So am I," Danny Grin added.
"We'll wait here for you," said Dick. "When you come back there
may be light enough for us to look into matters a little."
Dave and Dan returned in a little more than five minutes afterwards.
The daylight was now becoming stronger.
"Are Greg and Harry keeping awake?" was Prescott's first question.
"They are," nodded Darrin.
"Then they can be trusted to look after the camp," Dick continued.
"And to look after the canoe," Reade amended.
"Now, we'll explore the woods a bit," Prescott went on. "We know
about where we heard the explosions, and we'll look for whatever
evidence we can find."
For this purpose each explorer went by himself. Ten minutes later
Dave Darrin set up a loud hello. This brought the others to him
on the run.
"Give us another call," demanded Dick.
"Here!" called Dave, from the depths of the woods.
Dick went in, followed by Tom and Dan.
"I've found this much," Dave announced, holding up a scorched
bit of colored paper. It was such paper as is used for the outer
wrapping of fireworks.
Dick took the fragment of paper, reading therefrom the title,
"The Sploderite Pyrotechnic Co."
"Nothing but fireworks, after all," ejaculated Danny Grin in great
contempt, now that it was broad daylight.
"But I would like to have seen the fireworks before they blew
up," retorted Tom Reade. "They were surely the loudest I ever
heard. I don't believe anything but the heaviest cannon could
make as much noise."
"Whoever touched off fireworks like these," uttered Dave, "didn't
care a hang whether or not he set the woods on fire."
"There was no fire danger," Dick rejoined. "The grass and everything
in these forests is as green as can be. But let's look about
and see if we can't find evidences of the explosion at this point."
"There ought to be a good-sized hole in the ground right under
where this piece of fireworks exploded," Tom guessed. "We ought
to find, not far from here, some evidences of what explosives
can do in ripping up the ground."
"Now I remember that one of the explosions in the night sent something
whizzing through the air over our heads."
"Pieces of the pasteboard enclosing the mine, bomb or whatever
kind of fireworks it was," Dick suggested. "But let's look for
other debris around here."
That single bit of scorched paper, however, was all that any of
them could find.
Tom discovered a spot where he thought the ground had been blackened,
but Dave thought the blackened appearance due to humus soil, and
so nothing came of the argument.
"I think," yawned Dick, "this search will lead to the same result
that the others did during the night. About all we can do is
to go back to camp."
The sun was up by the time that all six members of Dick & Co.
were once more gathered about the remains of their campfire.
"I don't know what you fellows are going to do," yawned Tom Reade.
"As for me, at present a nap looks better than any shower bath
or breakfast that was ever invented. No matter how much objection
I hear, I'm going to get an hour or two more of sleep."
That idea met with rather a hearty reception. Within three minutes
all six high school boys were lying between blankets again, composed
No more explosions came to disturb their slumbers, which were
deep and broken only when at last Dick Prescott called out:
"Fellows, we're regular Rip Van Winkles! It's half-past nine
"And we've that lake mystery to solve today!" uttered Greg Holmes,
DICK MAKES A FIND
"Now, I don't know how it is going to hit the rest of you," remarked
Tom Reade, as he put down his coffee cup at the end of the hasty
breakfast, "but I'll confess that I'm not wholly keen about solving
the puzzle of the lake mystery."
"Why not?" challenged Dave in astonishment.
"It's just like this," Tom went on. "Solving human riddles is
all right in the daytime, but it's likely to spoil our rest at
night. I can't help feeling that last night's Sploderite function
was a mark of displeasure over our unwelcome interest in the lake
"Suppose we grant that," Dick answered, "yet how would last night's
rascals expect us to connect the bang concert with Tom and Dan's
canoe trip and discovery yesterday afternoon?"
"There's something in that idea," Reade admitted. "The unknowns
might hardly expect us to show as much human reasoning power as
all that. Yet I'm of the opinion that we'll continue to rest
badly at night as long as we continue to feel any unhealthy curiosity
about the lake mystery. In other words, my belief is that our
interest in the affairs of perfect strangers is regarded by the
unknowns as rudeness that must be rebuked."
"I don't care a hang about the lake mystery, anyway," gaped Dan,
who was giving forth a series of yawns, his mouth only partially
hidden by his right hand.
"There's just one strong point to the other side of the question,"
Dick argued. "There's a very fair amount of reason to believe
that a man may have been drowned late yesterday afternoon, and
that Tom and Dan saw him go down for the last time. That probability
existing, I believe we are bound, as good citizens, to see if
we can find any trace of a drowned man. If we can, then as good
citizens it is clearly our further duty to report the matter to
the authorities. If we can't find the remains of the drowned
man, then I am under the impression that, at the least, Tom and
Dan must report to some county officer just what they did see,
and the county can then take up the question in any way it pleases.
First of all, however, we ought to look for the body of a drowned
This view prevailing, Tom and Dan launched the canoe, Dick entering
as passenger, while the other two handled the paddles.
Some brisk work took the canoe over, as nearly as Tom could judge,
to the spot where the haunting face had been seen so briefly on
the afternoon before.
Under the bright morning sun the waters were clear here, though
the bottom could not be seen.
"Paddle half a mile up the lake, then down," Dick ordered.
This was done, Prescott and the paddlers keeping a sharp lookout.
No body of a drowned man was seen, however, either on the surface
or under the water.
"I don't believe anyone was drowned," re marked Dick at last.
"There is no wind today, and hardly any such thing as current
on this placid water. Whoever the man was, he got ashore."
"That's my belief," agreed Reade.
"Where's that brush arrangement?" asked Dan suddenly. "That frame
all trimmed with green boughs."
Nor was this to be seen, either, though an object of that size
would have been visible at any point on the water within half
"The man got ashore, all right, and he took care of the bush-trimmed
frame as well," was Prescott's conclusion. "Whoever the man was,
whatever happened, I don't believe that anything tragic happened
in the water. For that matter, fellows, isn't it possible that,
in the gathering gloom, and with the sky somewhat overcast, you
were deceived about the ghastly, haunted look in that face? Isn't
it likely that the look you thought you saw in the man's face
was merely an effect of the unusual light of late yesterday afternoon?"
Tom shook his head emphatically.
"Why don't you ask us," demanded Dan ironically, "if it weren't
just imagination on our part that we saw the face at all?"
"I don't doubt your having seen the face," Dick replied. "That
wasn't anything that the light supplied."
"Then where is the man?" quizzed Dalzell.
"Safe on shore somewhere, beyond a doubt," Dick answered
"Then the chase takes us ashore, doesn't it?" asked Dan.
"Yes; if we're going to follow up the matter any further," Dick
"We ought to follow it up," Reade insisted.
"Why?" asked Prescott.
"For one thing," smiled Tom, "it will give us something interesting
"Should we find our interest in meddling with other folks' business?"
wondered their leader.
"We've a right to, when those people come around and spoil our
night's rest for us," Tom retorted.
"It was a bit like a challenge, wasn't it?" Dick laughed.
"Besides," Dan urged, "we certainly saw enough yesterday afternoon
to show us that there is something tragic in the air around this
sleepy old lake. If anyone is in trouble we ought to try to help
that one out of trouble. And there was real, aching trouble in
that face if ever I saw evidences of trouble."
"I guess we'll put in part of the day looking into the matter,"
"Where shall we land?" asked Dalzell.
"As nearly as possible opposite the exact spot where you saw the
man's head," Prescott made answer.
"Over there where that bent birch shows between the two chestnut
trees," announced Reade, pointing with his paddle.
"Pull for that place," Dick ordered.
In a few minutes the canoe was drawn up along the shore so that
Dick could step on land.
"You'd better come with me, Tom," said Prescott.
"And I'm the nifty little boat-tender who stays here and dozes
in the shade?" asked Danny Grin, with a grimace.
"Are you good and strong this morning?" queried Dick, with a smile.
"Strong enough to walk, anyway," Dan retorted.
"Then perhaps you're strong enough to paddle back across the lake
and bring over two more fellows. Then, when you get back here,
leave one of the pair here in the canoe, and we will get them
to keep it a hundred feet or more off shore. We don't want our
craft destroyed. And be sure, Dan, that the fellow who stays
behind on the other side of the lake understands that he's to
stick right by the camp and watch it for all he's worth."
"I've got my orders," clicked Danny Grin, with a mock salute.
"Then let's see how well you can paddle alone."
Dalzell gave a few swift, strong turns of the paddle that sent
the light canvas canoe darting over the water.
"Now, come along," urged Tom. "I'm anxious to get busy this morning."
First of all, the two high school boys walked up the lake shore
for some distance, keeping their eyes wide open and all their
senses on the alert. Then, returning, they walked for a considerable
distance down the shore.
"There are our reinforcements coming," announced Tom, pointing
across the lake. "Danny and his load will be here within fifteen
"We'll wait for the other fellows, before going away from the
shore," Dick proposed. "If we started now they wouldn't know
where to find us."
Returning to the landing place, Dick silently waved his hat until
he caught the attention of Dave Darrin, seated in the bow of the
canoe, who answered the signal just as silently.
Presently the craft came up to the shore.
"Who's going to stay in the canoe?" Dick inquired.
"I am," Harry Hazelton declared dolefully. "We drew lots on the
other side. Greg drew the shortest twig, so he had to stay at
the camp. I got the next shortest twig, so my job is boat-tender."
Dave and Dan stepped ashore. Heaving a sigh, Harry paddled out
on the lake some hundred and fifty feet from land.
"Now, how are we going to beat up the country on this fine July
morning?" Tom wanted to know.
Dick stood looking at the surrounding ground.
"I think I know as good a plan as any," he announced, after a
pause. "Dave, you and I will walk down the lake, using our eyes
and ears. Tom and Dan will go in the opposite direction. Each
pair will keep along until our watches show that we've been going
ten minutes. Then we will walk up the slope a hundred steps and
turn toward the centre, meeting probably about the end of the
second ten minutes. After that, if we decide to do so, we can
go further inland from the lake. If there's a house or hut, or
any fellow camping out in this neighborhood we ought to find him
without much trouble. What do you fellows say to my plan?"
"It's about as systematic as anything could be," Dave agreed.
"But what if one pair of us find something?"
"We'll try our best to communicate with the other pair," Dick
rejoined. "Suppose, Dave, that you and I run into something interesting
and don't want to leave it? Tom and Dan, not meeting us at the
appointed place, will know enough to keep right on over our course
until they find us."
"That looks plain enough," nodded Reade thoughtfully.
"All right, then," Dick declared. "Now we'll start."
He and Dave started off at a swinging gait. The first time Prescott
turned to look behind him Reade and Danny Grin had already vanished.
Dick kept close to the shore, Dave moving in a parallel line a
few steps up the slope.
"There isn't any hut, lodge or camp down there," Dave called softly,
"or else we'd have seen it from our camp on the other side of
"I know it," Dick nodded. "What I'm trying to do is to see if
I can find any hint, on the shore, of how that fellow landed yesterday,
without Tom or Danny catching sight of him. Of course, a very
clever swimmer could have gone quite a distance under water.
and I want to see if I can find any sign of anything that would
have hidden his landing from the fellows in the canoe."
"Oh!" nodded Dave understandingly.
The full ten minutes of searching passed without the slightest
trace of a discovery.
"Halt," Dick called up smilingly. "Now, join me, Darry, while
I count off the hundred steps up the slope."
This done, the chums started backward, keeping a course as nearly
parallel with the shore as was possible.
"Now, try to be keener than ever," Dick urged, as Dave paced off
another twenty steps higher up. "We're in a growth of deeper
forest, with a bigger tangle of underbrush and it will be easy
enough to overlook something."
The two boys trudged on. They were five minutes on their way
back, perhaps, when Dick heard a sudden scrambling in the underbrush
not far away. Then Prescott caught sight of a human figure, yet
so fleetingly that he could have given no description of it.
"Is that you, Darry?" he called sharply.
But it wasn't, for no answer came back, save for the slight sound
of someone going through the brush farther on.
"Dave! Darry!" shouted Prescott. "Here! Quickly!"
Then Dick dashed on in pursuit, calling again and again until
Dave came in sight and joined in the chase.
"What was it?" panted Dave, as he came within hailing distance.
"Someone running away from me," Dick explained.
"What did he look like?"
"I didn't have a chance to see. Let's travel hot-foot."
Yet presently Dick halted. Dave stopped beside him.
"We've passed him; he has doubled on us," uttered Darrin in a
tone of intense chagrin. "We belong in the primary class in wood
Then, suddenly, they heard a slight noise again. Forward they
dashed. Now they came out to a place where the ground was more
open. Before the two high school boys rose a great boulder of
rock, its front sloping backward, and running up to a height of
fifty feet or more. They had already seen this boulder from the
"That fellow ran into the open, but he didn't have time to cross
it," announced Dick in a tone of conviction, as the pair halted
at the foot of the boulder. "He could have gone up this side;
there are crevices enough for foothold. But in that case we'd
have seen him."
Dave stood plucking absent-mindedly at the leaves of a bush in
a clump that grew at the foot of the boulder. Suddenly Dick glanced
down, noting that his feet were on boggy ground, though the surrounding
soil was firm enough.
"Is there a spring running out of the solid rock?" wondered Dick,
reaching out and pulling one of the bushes forward.
Then he gave a sudden shout of discovery:
"Look here, Dave! We're on the track of it! These bushes conceal
the mouth of a cave! This is where our fugitive has gone!"