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´╗┐Title: Grace Harlowe's Overland Riders Among the Kentucky Mountaineers
Author: Flower, Jessie Graham [pseud.], -1931
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Grace Harlowe's Overland Riders Among the Kentucky Mountaineers" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

AMONG THE KENTUCKY MOUNTAINEERS***


GRACE HARLOWE'S OVERLAND RIDERS AMONG THE KENTUCKY MOUNTAINEERS

by

JESSIE GRAHAM FLOWER, A. M.

Illustrated



The Saalfield Publishing Company
Akron, Ohio          New York
Made in U. S. A.
Copyright MCMXXI
by The Saalfield Publishing Company



[Illustration: "It's Grace!"
_Frontispiece._]



CONTENTS

                                                            PAGE

       CHAPTER I--EXCITEMENT IN THE FOOTHILLS                11

      Washington Washington's music is rudely interrupted.
      The revenge of an outraged mule. "Why dat fool mule
      kick me?" Hippy airs his knowledge of woodcraft.
      "Laundry" puts the Overland camp in an uproar.


       CHAPTER II--THE MYSTERY MAN                           25

      "Dis am de sebbenth yeah." The Spectacle Man
      introduces himself. The voice from the wilderness.
      The visitor gives the Overland Riders a word of
      advice. Mystified by an appearance and a
      disappearance.


       CHAPTER III--HIPPY BOUNCES THE "SHEREEF"              32

       Overlanders ordered to leave the mountains at once.
       Hippy Wingate's smile grows into a frown. A bullet
       that missed its mark. Grace Harlowe steps on Washington's
       neck and starts an uproar. A mysterious
       shot wings the mountaineer.


       CHAPTER IV--FOOTPRINTS IN THE MOSS                    42

       The Mystery Man slips away unobserved. The Overlanders
       led to wonder. Tom Gray utters a warning.
       Washington gets another scare. The prowler leaves a
       trail. Revolver shots stir the Overland Riders to
       action. "That's Grace's weapon!" cries Lieutenant
       Wingate.


       CHAPTER V--THE WAY IS BARRED                          52

       "Halt! Who comes?" Grace Harlowe slightly
       wounded. Hippy, in search of her, loses himself.
       Grace tells of her duel in the bush. The Overlanders
       are sternly halted and ordered to go back. A shot and
       a command. Hippy's hat is shot off.


       CHAPTER VI--HIPPY MYSTERIOUSLY DISAPPEARS             61

       Overlanders throw up their hands. Nora tweaks a
       mountaineer's nose, and boxes his ears. Tables turned
       on a mountain ruffian. A night prowler frightened
       away by a shot. "Hurry, Grace! Hippy has gone!"
       cries Elfreda Briggs in a thrilling voice.


       CHAPTER VII--A VOICE FROM THE SHADOWS                 74

       The search for Hippy Wingate is begun. Significant
       trail-signs are discovered. Grace Harlowe makes a find.
       "Hippy's hat!" gasps Miss Briggs. A mysterious
       message is tossed into the Overland camp at night.
       The girls are encouraged by a comforting word.


       CHAPTER VIII--A FRIEND IN NEED                        87

       Hippy, awakening, finds himself a captive. A grilling
       ride on horseback. Captors question and threaten their
       prisoner. Sight of food makes Hippy sad. "Don't make a
       sound, Lieutenant," warns a friendly voice. "There's a
       price on your head!"


       CHAPTER IX--THE POWER OF MIND                         99

       "I didn't con-centrate for nothing," declares Emma
       Dean. Grace finds and loses the trail. Elfreda fires
       at a noise. "Cut the gun!" howls Hippy Wingate. "The
       mountaineers are after us!" Lieutenant Wingate's
       rescuer advises the party to move at once.


       CHAPTER X--"THEY'VE GOT THE BOY!"                    107

       "Two skips an' er jump" to their destination.
       Washington's howls arouse the Overland camp. The
       colored boy suddenly disappears. The night vigil of
       the Overland Riders is broken by a shock.


       CHAPTER XI--"A MARKED MAN"                           114

       "Hold your fire!" orders Lieutenant Wingate. Washington
       Washington flounders into camp. "All this scare for a
       black nightmare," groans Emma. The "rural free delivery
       man" makes an early call. Another mystery for the Overland
       Riders to solve.


       CHAPTER XII--A MOUNTAIN MYSTERY                      121

       A message and a postscript. Miss Briggs says she will
       show her companions. Camp is made on the Thompson farm.
       Julie calls to look the Overlanders over. Invited to a
       mountain dance. Hippy makes a trouble-forecast.


       CHAPTER XIII--THREE MEN IN THE CORNFIELD             132

       Washington says he "sawed" a man. Jeremiah makes a
       call on the Overland camp. How the Spectacle Man
       "fits" glasses. The "benefactor of all mankind"
       suddenly changes his mind. "Two dollars, please."


       CHAPTER XIV--ELFREDA DISTINGUISHES HERSELF           140

       The Mystery Man makes a pun. Jeremiah "rolls" out of
       camp. Elfreda discovers a bear. "He is eating up our
       food." With the bear's assistance Miss Briggs succeeds
       in lassoing him. The Overland camp turned into turmoil.

       CHAPTER XV--WHEN EMMA SAID TOO MUCH                  148

       Young Bruin upsets the entire Overland party. "Quick!
       Get her loose!" Hippy kills and dresses the bear.
       Footprints in the cornfield. A stranger comes to call
       and fills up on bear meat. "I'm the game constable!
       Where's the bear?" he demands sternly.


       CHAPTER XVI--A JOKE ON THE OVERLANDERS               162

       "No one ain't allowed to have bear meat till December."
       Overland Riders are told that they are under arrest.
       Hippy knocks out the "constable" and brings him to with
       a pail of water. "I'll give you ten seconds to get out
       of camp!"


       CHAPTER XVII--THE DANCE AT COON HOLLOW               168

       Hippy declares he is not getting sufficient nourishment.
       Gay mountain folk gather at the schoolhouse. Washington's
       music not appreciated. Emma Dean lays the foundation for
       a "riot." Hippy makes a disheartening discovery.


       CHAPTER XVIII--AN INTERRUPTED PARTY                  180

       Julie introduces her "feller" to the Overlanders. Lum
       Bangs threatens Lieutenant Wingate. Weapons drawn in
       the schoolroom. A mysterious shot cripples the
       "constable." Knocked out by a blow. Washington has a
       bad fright.


       CHAPTER XIX--A CALL FOR HELP                         189

       Emma "con-centrates" on Hippy and "saves his life."
       The Overland camp found destroyed. "Dey done got de
       mule!" wailed the colored boy. Julie's warning is
       recalled. Grace and Elfreda summoned to the Thompson
       home to care for sick children.


       CHAPTER XX--HIPPY AS A ROUGHRIDER                    199

       Lieutenant Wingate goes for a doctor. The Overland
       girls sleep in a barn. Julie refuses to tell tales. The
       doctor arrives alone. "We were attacked from ambush!"
       Jed Thompson orders the Overland nurses from his cabin.


       CHAPTER XXI--AN APOLOGY AND A THREAT                 209

       "The lieutenant is down there yet and may be dead!"
       The doctor reads Jed Thompson a severe lecture.
       Thompson goes to Hippy's rescue. Hippy accused of
       being Jim Townsend. "If he looks like me, he's a
       lucky man."


       CHAPTER XXII--JULIE BRINGS DISTURBING NEWS           216

       Lieutenant Wingate informs Jed that the Spurgeons are
       coming to "shoot him up." On the trail again. Julie
       overtakes the Overland Riders, bearing a warning. "Bat
       Spurgeon an' his gang is waitin' fer you-uns on the
       White River Ridge," she tells them.


       CHAPTER XXIII--THE GATHERING OF THE CLANS            228

       Grace learns that Tom Gray is in the feudist country.
       Tom's tent found, but he is missing. Nora's missile
       hits the wrong man. The Overland Riders seek refuge
       in a cave. Fresh disasters befall them. Fighting out
       a mountain feud.


       CHAPTER XXIV--TRAIL'S END                            245

       The Mystery Man found a captive in a cave. He "fits"
       Grace Harlowe with "magic glasses." Through her new
       specs she sees Tom Gray. Jeremiah Long says his
       farewell. What Tom found on Hippy's claim.



GRACE HARLOWE'S OVERLAND
RIDERS AMONG THE
KENTUCKY MOUNTAINEERS



CHAPTER I

EXCITEMENT IN THE FOOTHILLS


The foothills of the Kentucky Mountains echoed to the strains of a
rollicking college song, as Grace Harlowe's Overland Riders rode into a
laurel-bordered clearing and dismounted to make their first camp of
this, their third summer's outing in the saddle.

Only one of the party remained on his mount. This one was Washington
Washington, the colored boy that they had taken on at Henderson to be
their man of all work, guide and assistant cook, for Washington had
declared that, "Ah knows more 'bout de mountings dan any oder niggah in
Kaintuck." On his own recommendation, Grace and her party had accepted
him.

Washington, however, already had shown a love of leisure that was not
wholly in keeping with his further recommendation for activity, and,
instead of assisting the girls of the Overland unit to unload their
ponies, the boy sat perched on the pack mule that he had been riding,
playing a harmonica, swaying in his saddle in rhythm with the music, and
rolling the whites of his eyes in ecstasy.

"Just look at him, girls," urged Grace Harlowe Gray laughingly. "If that
isn't a picture!"

"I call it a nightmare," objected Emma Dean. "Oh, if I only had a nice
ripe tomato, and could throw straight enough."

"Impossible!" declared Elfreda Briggs, whereupon Anne Nesbit and Nora
Wingate broke forth into merry peals of laughter.

"Laundry!" roared Hippy Wingate. "We didn't hire you for a moving
picture. Shake your lazy bones and get busy. If you don't hustle you'll
get something harder than a tomato."

"Laundry?" wondered Tom Gray. "Why Laundry, Hippy?"

"That's his name, isn't it? Doesn't he call himself Washington
Washington on Sundays and holidays, and Wash-Wash, for short, on
weekdays? I have his word for it. Wash is laundry and laundry is wash in
the neck of the woods where I was reared," explained Hippy, at the same
time narrowly observing the colored boy, who, following Lieutenant
Wingate's threat, had permitted himself to slide to the ground, and
there he sat, still mouthing his harmonica, lost to everything but the
music he was creating.

"Your logic is unassailable," nodded Miss Briggs. "I was wondering why,
while we are about it, we don't hire a brass band. We at least would not
be obliged to listen to the same tune all the time. Does any one know of
a way to put a mute on a harmonica?"

"Ah reckon Ah do," mimicked Emma Dean, taking careful aim and shying a
pebble at Wash.

The pebble went rather wide of the mark--that is, the mark for which it
was intended, but it reached another and a fully as satisfactory one.
The pebble hit Washington's pack mule on the tender part of its hind
leg, galvanizing that member into instant and vigorous action.

The eyes of the Overlanders were not quick enough to see the movement
that followed. What they did see, however, was Washington Washington
lifted from the ground and pitched head first into a clump of laurel,
where the light foot of an outraged mule had landed him.

"He's killed!" cried Anne, voicing the thought that was in the mind of
each of her companions, and a concerted rush was made for the clump of
laurel.

They found the colored boy somewhat dazed when they dragged him from the
bushes.

"Wha--whar dat 'monica?" he gasped, referring to the harmonica that he
was playing when the mule kicked him.

"Maybe he swallowed it," suggested Emma. "I hope not, for he surely
would have musical indigestion. Wouldn't that be terrible--for us?"

"No great loss if it has landed over in the Cumberlands," observed Tom
Gray. "Wash, where did the mule hit you?"

"Ah reckons all ovah, 'cept on de bean. Why dat fool mule kick me?
Hain't nevah done nothin' laik that befo'. Ah ask yuh why he do dat?"
insisted Washington.

They glanced at Emma, whose face reddened.

"I threw a stone at you and hit the mule, if you must know," she said.
"The mule passed it on, hitting you with his foot. That mule must have
played tag when he was a child. I'm sorry, Wash--but if you had been
attending to your business you would not have been hit."

Washington's first thought upon recovering from his daze had been for
the harmonica, and his first act, after getting to his feet, was to go
in search of it. He found it after considerable effort, and ran the
scales on it.

"Glory be!" cried the boy. "Dat fool mule ain't done kicked de music out
ob it."

"Listen to me, Washington," demanded Grace, stepping over and laying a
firm hand on the lad's shoulder. "You will put that instrument away--"

"'Tain't no inst'ment. Hit's a 'monica," he interrupted.

"I am speaking. Put it away, and do not let me see you touch it again
until you have finished your work. Do you understand?"

"Uh-huh."

"See that you do not forget. Unpack both mule packs, but look out for
the mules' heels, and remember that we did not hire you for an ornament.
Emma Dean, let this be a warning to you," admonished Grace, turning to
her companion. "Never trifle with a mule. They are all notoriously
devoid of a sense of humor."

Washington, in the meantime, had shuffled away and had leisurely begun
removing the packs.

"Speaking of ornaments, I suppose I am the only real ornament in this
outfit," observed Hippy.

"You mean the kind that they pack away in the garret with broken chairs
and old chromos," suggested Emma.

Hippy shrugged his shoulders and walked away, followed by the laughter
of his companions. Emma had scored again, as she frequently did, and
Hippy, instead of being ruffled, took keen delight, as usual, in her
repartee.

"I fear that boy is not going to do at all," said Grace's husband with a
shake of the head. "As I have remarked before, you should have a man for
a guide, a man who knows these mountains and who is able to protect and
look out for you girls in the event of your getting into trouble."

"But, Tom dear, don't you think the Overland girls by this time should
be quite able to look out for themselves?" begged Grace.

"Ordinarily, yes. You are, however, going into territory that is rather
wild, going among people that do not value human life or liberty
according to our standards. My friend, Colonel Spotsworth, of
Louisville, strongly advised against you folks crossing the eastern end
of the range, which would take you through mountains where moonshiners
and feudists hold forth. I agree with him."

"We have Hippy," suggested Elfreda. "In an emergency he is worth half a
dozen of the ordinary kind."

"Yes, but Hippy is not a woodsman. He knows nothing at all about
woodcraft, a necessary accomplishment in one who is going to pilot a
party of girls across such mountain territory as you propose to travel."

"What's that you say, Tom Gray?" called Lieutenant Wingate from the
campfire where he was observing Washington fan it into life.

Grace laughingly repeated what Tom had said.

"Humph! I know all I need to know about woodcraft," declared Hippy with
emphasis. "When I smell wood burning in the kitchen stove I know it is
time to eat. What more knowledge of woodcraft does a fellow need?"

"Amply sufficient for you, Hippy. But what about the rest of the party?"
grinned Tom Gray.

"As I was about to say," resumed Grace, "we shall be up with you in a
few weeks. How long do you reckon it will take you to finish your
government contract to survey that tract in the Cumberlands?"

"Possibly four weeks. Not longer."

"Call it three weeks--three weeks from to-day. That will make it the
twenty-fifth. We will try to be in the vicinity of Hall's Corners on
that date, and if you are not there we will wait for you. You will do
the same provided we are late in reaching the Corners. Let's have a look
at the contour map," suggested Grace.

While the others of the party were busy setting the camp to rights,
Washington having removed the packs from the mules, Grace and Tom pored
over the map of the eastern section of the mountains. Not only were they
planning their routes, but they were critically examining a portion of
the map that was encircled with a ring of red ink. The space within the
circle represented a tract of mountain land that belonged to Lieutenant
Hippy Wingate, property that he had inherited.

Hippy had never seen this property, it having been left to him by a
wealthy uncle whose large fortune Hippy had inherited while fighting the
Germans in the air in France. He now proposed to look it over. In fact,
this journey of the Overland Riders had been planned with that object in
view.

Following their return from France, where they had served in the Overton
College Unit, Grace having been an ambulance driver at the front, the
girls had decided to seek recreation in the saddle each summer. Their
first vacation was spent in an exciting ride over the Old Apache Trail
in Arizona, following this with a venturesome journey on horseback
across the arid waste of the Great American Desert. Lieutenant Wingate's
determination to visit his property in the Kentucky Mountains led the
Overland Riders, as Grace Harlowe and her friends called themselves, to
make those mountains the objective of their third vacation in the
saddle.

After Tom Gray had finished his government survey, it was their purpose
to proceed with him to Lieutenant Wingate's tract, where Tom was to make
a survey and examination of it, so that Hippy might learn whether or not
the property possessed any particular value.

"Hippy says his uncle took the property in payment of a debt, but that
the uncle never had considered it to be worth much of anything," said
Tom reflectively. "From what little I know of that section of the
country, I am inclined to agree with him. However, we shall see when we
get there."

"Who knows but that Hippy may find still another fortune awaiting him
there?" suggested Grace.

Tom shook his head and smiled.

"It would be Hippy's luck, wouldn't it? He doesn't need it; he already
has more money than he knows what to do with. Nor have I the slightest
hope that he will find anything of value there. The twenty-fifth, then,
it is. I shall make Chapman's my base and work from there. If necessary
to communicate with me in the meantime you may address me there. I--"

"What's this? Henpecking your husband again, Grace Harlowe?" teased
Hippy, coming up to them at this juncture.

"Yes, Hip. I am a shining example of a much henpecked husband. What
would you do were you a henpecked husband?" questioned Tom quizzically.
"Come, now!"

"Well," reflected Hippy, "I think that would depend largely upon the
hen."

"You are right," agreed Tom Gray laughingly. "I shall be leaving in the
morning, old man, and I have agreed with Grace to meet the Overland
outfit at Hall's Corners three weeks from to-day, or as near to that
date as possible. We will then make a pilgrimage to the lands of one
Lieutenant Wingate and see what we shall find there. Probably nothing
more than some wild game, a few rattlers and--and some mountaineers,"
added Tom significantly.

"I have been thinking, Tom and Grace, that, should we discover anything
of real value there, the Overland Riders should share in it. This is a
sort of exploration party, and to the discoverers should belong the
spoils," declared Hippy.

Tom shook his head.

"No, no," protested Grace. "It is fine of you to make the offer, but I
could not permit it for myself, and I am positive that the other girls
will not even listen to it."

"You see, Tom, how they spurn me. The instant I get a brilliant thought
they promptly duck it in ice water," complained Hippy.

"We will do this much, we will be your guests when we reach your
domains, and, if you insist on being liberal, you may cook our meals for
us three times a day. However, so far as sharing in your good fortune is
concerned, we can do so only in our hearts," decided Grace with
emphasis.

Grace immediately acquainted her companions with Hippy's unselfish offer
to share with them whatever good fortune might be in store for him in
the Kentucky Mountains.

"That is splendid of Hippy," declared Anne, smiling and nodding.

"I tell him, however, that when we are his guests in the Hippy
Mountains, he can give us three good meals a day, cooked by his own fair
hands, but that is all," announced Grace. "Do I echo your sentiments,
girls?"

They said she did. That is, all except Emma Dean agreed with Grace
Harlowe. Emma warned them that Hippy had better not offer her a share in
anything unless he were prepared in his heart to lose it.

"Very good then, I won't. I withdraw the offer," declared Hippy airily.
"I will agree to cook a meal for you over on the range. Mark the words,
'cook a meal for you on the range!' Ha-ha. How is that? I reckon I can
stand it to cook a meal for you if you can stand it to eat it. Speaking
of food reminds me that I smell bacon frying, so suppose we fall to and
devour it, provided it is fit to eat. Personally I am not overloaded
with confidence in Laundry's ability as a chef."

Night had settled over the mountains when they finally sat down on the
ground by the campfire to eat their supper, the first warm meal they had
had since starting out on their journey at daylight that morning.

Washington had done very well with his first meal, considering that he
so recently had been kicked out of camp by an irate mule, and the
Overland girls admitted that the little colored boy did know how to cook
after all, for the bacon, the coffee, and the potatoes, baked in their
jackets in hot ashes, were delicious.

The girls, however, had already found it necessary to read Wash a
lecture on the beauties of neatness and cleanliness, it having been
discovered that, in this direction, Wash-Wash was not all that his
nickname implied.

Wash, having been given permission, retired to the edge of the laurel to
resume his harmonica exercise. Lying back in the shadows, only the
whites of his eyes and the reflection of the light from the campfire on
teeth and harmonica were visible to the Overlanders, giving merely a
suggestion of a human countenance.

"A nature sketch in black and white," observed Anne Nesbit. "I should
think he would weary of blowing that thing so much. He has been doing so
all day long."

"Blowing? You are wrong," corrected Hippy. "A harmonica is played with a
grunt and a sigh. I could make a brand new pun on that if I wanted to,
but--"

"Don't you dare," begged Miss Briggs. "I am long-suffering, but I cannot
tolerate the ancient quality of your puns."

"Most spinsters are that way," retorted Lieutenant Wingate. "Tom, have
you any orders for me? I suppose I shall have to act as guardian for
your wife while you are absent from this outfit. If you have half as
difficult a time managing her as I do, I don't envy you your lot. The
only bright spot in the situation is that I have to put up with her
peculiarities for the duration of this journey only. You are in for
life."

"Hippy, I am ashamed of you," rebuked Nora Wingate.

"Thank you. You see, Tom, what a helpmate my little Nora is. I don't
have to feel ashamed of any act of mine; I don't have to feel
embarrassed after I have put my foot in it, nor anything. Nora does all
of that for me. Really, Tom, you ought to train Grace to be ashamed for
you for your shortcomings, or to be embarrassed for you. You have no
idea what a lot of bother over nothing it relieves a fellow of."

"Nora Wingate is a very busy woman," observed Emma, whereat there was a
laugh at Hippy's expense.

"Tom Gray's wife doesn't have to apologize for him," laughed Grace.
"Folks, don't you think this conversation is growing rather personal? I
would suggest that we all put on the brakes and start something less
personal."

The brakes were instantly put on in one direction, but wholly released
in another. The music from Washington's harmonica ceased suddenly in the
midst of a lofty flight, ending in a gurgle and a gasp. The Overlanders
heard it and laughed.

"He's swallowed the music box!" cried Emma.

Wash, finding his voice, uttered a shrill scream of fright that brought
the Overland Riders to their feet in alarm. They were amazed to see the
colored boy charging across the camp, his feet barely touching the
ground, his eyes wide and staring. In his flight he bowled over Grace
Harlowe who measured her length on the ground on her back.

"Stop!" shouted Tom Gray, making a grab for the boy, and missing him by
an inch or so.

Emma Dean stuck out a foot and succeeded better than she had hoped, for
Washington tripped and plunged floundering into the campfire.

Uttering a piercing yell, he bounded up like a rubber ball and made a
mad dash for the bushes with Hippy Wingate in full pursuit.



CHAPTER II

THE MYSTERY MAN


"I've got him," cried Hippy, appearing with a firm grip on the
frightened Washington's arm, and fairly dragging him along. "Can't
afford to let any fellow get away who can bake potatoes like Wash can."

"Bring him to me, please," demanded Grace. "Now, Washington, what
happened to frighten you so?" she asked in a soothing tone, at the same
time patting the colored boy on his kinky head.

Wash rolled his eyes from side to side and twisted his head as if to
smooth out the wrinkles in his neck muscles.

"Speak up. Don't be afraid. Nothing can harm you. What was it?" urged
Grace.

"De--de debbil him--him speak--him heyeh. Him speak to Wash right outer
de air," gasped the boy.

"There! I knew something terrible would happen from your awful work on
that harmonica," declared Emma Dean. "I'm not at all surprised, Wash."

Grace shook her head at Emma.

"You imagined all of that, Wash," she said. "What did you think you
heard him say?"

"Him say--right outer de air, 'Wash! Remembah, dis am de sebbenth yeah.'
Den Ah tuk a frenzy spell."

"What do you mean by the seventh year?" questioned Miss Briggs.

"Ah doan know. It's de hoodoo, Miss. Somet'n sure gwine happen to dis
niggah."

"Nonsense!" retorted Nora sharply.

"If you don't brace up and behave yourself, something surely will happen
to you," warned Lieutenant Wingate.

"I believe the boy really did hear something," declared Grace as she
gazed at the trembling lad before her. "Tom, please look there where he
was sitting, will you?"

Tom Gray rose and started to obey her request. At this juncture the
bushes parted, and a man, faintly outlined in the light from the
campfire, stepped into view.

Wash saw him and, uttering another yell, made a break, but Hippy, on the
watch for this very thing, caught and held him.

"Behave yourself or I'll let the fellow have you," he warned.

Tom hesitated, then stepped forward to meet the stranger. He saw a man
apparently of early middle age, smooth-shaven, wearing long iron-gray
hair that hung below his sombrero, the locks curling slightly at the
bottom. The eyes that regarded Tom were keen and twinkling, full of good
nature and humor.

"Well, sir, who are you?" demanded Grace's husband.

"Who am I? You will be surprised when I tell you. I'm the original
Mystery Man. Spectacles, notions and trinkets are my specialty. I make
the near blind see and dull the glare of the sun for those who do see."

"Glad to meet you. Come in, won't you?" invited Tom.

"That's what I'm here for. I've invited myself to have a snack with
you-all."

Grace said they had just eaten, but that they would prepare something
for their caller if he could wait. The stranger said he could and would
wait, so Anne and Nora set about making coffee and frying bacon,
Washington being still in too great a fright to do anything useful.

"I'll introduce myself again," resumed the caller. "I'm Jeremiah Long,
and that's the long and short of it. Who are you?"

Grace introduced the members of her party, telling Long that they were
riding for their health and amusement. Emma added that they were on
their way in search of a fortune on Lieutenant Wingate's tract of
mountain land, and would have said more had not Grace given her a
warning look.

"Are you the voice from the wilderness?" demanded Hippy scowlingly.

The stranger threw back his head and laughed.

"I confess it. I am the 'seventh year' man. Couldn't resist the
temptation to give the pickaninny a scare. Oh, thank you," he added as
Nora handed a heaping plate of food to him and a tin cup full of
steaming coffee.

"You are a peddler. Is that it?" questioned Emma.

"Heavens, no! I'm a promoter. I promote the well-being of these good
mountain folks by giving them sight and by furnishing them with
nick-nacks to delight the eye. If you-all are troubled with poor sight
I'll be happy to fit you with glasses warranted to make you see double.
More coffee, if you please. This is the real article. I think I'll have
to make this camp my headquarters."

"This camp will be some miles from here by this time to-morrow," Grace
Harlowe informed him.

"So will I. So will I. No bother at all about that. Wash, come here!"

Washington would not budge, so Hippy led him over to the caller.

"Scared you, didn't I, eh? Mebby it is the seventh year, but don't let
that bother you. Here! Here's a new harmonica for you. It will make more
noise than the one you lost when I whispered in your ear out yonder. Go
on now, and behave yourself," he added, giving Wash a playful push.
"What can I do for you, folks?"

"I suppose you know this country well?" questioned Grace.

Long shrugged his shoulders.

"Sometimes I think I do, then I discover that I don't," he replied
soberly. "No one knows it. I know the people, on the surface, and know
my way around."

"Perhaps you know something about the moonshiners and the feudists?"
suggested Nora.

Jeremiah Long gave her a quick glance of inquiry.

"Take a word of advice from the Mystery Man. The less you know about
anything up here in these hills the better off you are in the end. Some
folks have made the mistake of knowing too much for their own good, and
some of them are here yet, but they ain't saying anything."

Grace thanked him and agreed that his advice was good, at the same time
speculating in her own mind over their guest. She was not wholly
satisfied that he was what he pretended to be, but what he was in
reality, she could not even guess.

In the meantime, Washington, lost in admiration of his new possession,
was drawing harmony, and some discord, from it and rolling his eyes
soulfully. In the ecstasy of the moment he had forgotten his recent
fright. Tom and the Mystery Man were engaged in conversation, Hippy now
and then interjecting a question, for the topic under discussion was the
tract of land owned by Hippy, though not since Emma's remark had any
reference been made to Hippy's ownership of it. The guest's talk was
largely about the lay of the land there and its possibilities.

"I'll see you folks if you are going there," he promised finally. "I
shall be in that section of the range about three weeks from now, and
maybe I can do you some good."

"Thank you," smiled Grace. "We shall be pleased to see you then or at
any other time. Mr. Gray leaves to-morrow morning for the Cumberlands
where he has business, and we hope to join him, or rather to have him
join us, in about that time. I think--"

"Hulloa the camp!" shouted a voice from the bushes on the opposite side
of the camp from that by which Mr. Long had entered.

"Hulloa yourself!" bellowed Hippy Wingate. "Come in. The door's wide
open."

An instant later a man stepped into the camp, a rifle slung under one
arm, a revolver hanging from his belt in its holster. He was tall, gaunt
and raw-boned, a typical Kentucky mountaineer, and, as he stood there
surveying the Overland Riders from beneath his broad-brimmed hat, not a
word was spoken on either side. The mountaineer was studying the members
of the Overland party, and the Overland Riders were regarding him
inquiringly.

"Why, where is--" began Emma Dean, but a gesture from Grace checked her.
Not so with Washington Washington, however.

"Whar dat man?" he cried, referring to their first visitor.

A quick glance about the camp revealed to the amazed Overlanders that
Jeremiah Long, the Mystery Man, had suddenly and mysteriously
disappeared. No one had seen or heard him go. He had simply melted away.



CHAPTER III

HIPPY BOUNCES THE "SHEREEF"


Still the newcomer stood peering into the faces of the Overlanders.
Hippy began talking to the man with his fingers in the deaf and dumb
system. The stranger regarded him frowningly, then shifted his rifle
into his right hand.

"Who be yuh?" demanded the man.

"Oh! I thought you were a dummy," apologized Hippy. "A thousand pardons,
old man."

"May I ask who _you_ are and what you wish?" questioned Grace
pleasantly, as she stepped forward.

"Ah asked yuh first. Who be yuh?"

"We are a party from the north, riding through the Kentucky Mountains
partly for pleasure, partly for business reasons."

"Whut business?"

"That is a personal question, is it not?" smiled Grace. "Won't you sit
down and rest before you go on? We shall be glad to have you do so."

"Be yuh goin' to answer mah question?"

"I think not, sir."

"Ah'll tell yuh who Ah be, then, an' mebby yuh'll answer. Ah'm the dep'y
Shereef of this 'ere deestric'. Ah kin land yuh all in the calaboose if
Ah wants to."

"Deputy Sheriff! Mercy to goodness!" murmured Emma. "Next thing we know,
the Lord High Executioner will be calling on us looking for victims to
decapitate."

"Yes?" questioned Grace.

"Let me speak with the man," urged Tom Gray, whereupon Grace waved her
hand behind her to warn Tom to keep quiet.

"Who be yuh?"

"Presumably the man means to ask 'Who are you?' but unfortunately he
doesn't speak English," said Emma in a voice loud enough for the
mountaineer to hear. He glared at her and Emma glared back.

"I think, sir," replied Grace Harlowe, "that this has gone far enough.
We have no information to give. I am sorry, sir. Our purpose in visiting
these mountains is a proper one. We are violating no law, have committed
no crime, and therefore can have no interest for a deputy sheriff.
Besides, I do not believe you are a deputy sheriff!"

The stranger shifted uneasily. Hippy had risen and was stretching
himself and yawning.

"All Ah've got to say is, yuh-all git out o' these mountings right smart
or Ah'll take yuh-all in. T'morrow mornin' yuh git!"

"Thank you." Grace smiled sweetly.

Hippy strolled up to the mountaineer, also smiling, with right hand
extended as if about to shake hands with their caller, but as he neared
the man the smile suddenly left his face, and he inhaled a long full
breath.

"Beat it!" exploded Lieutenant Wingate in the mountaineer's ear, at the
same time turning the man about and running him out of camp in bouncer
fashion.

"Run, Mr. Man! Run as if the Old Harry were after you, and don't forget
to keep that rifle pointed away from the camp. If it goes off you're
liable to get hurt. Get out!"

The mountaineer, as Hippy released him, sprang away a few paces, then,
suddenly whirling, fired point blank at Hippy.

Expecting this very move, Lieutenant Wingate had dropped down the
instant he saw the man turning, and the bullet went over Hippy's head,
and incidentally over the heads of the Overland Riders in the camp a
few yards to the rear.

Lieutenant Wingate was unarmed, his revolver being in its holster on his
saddle, so all he could do was to duck. His experience as a fighting
aviator in France had made Hippy somewhat callous to bullets, as well as
an expert in ducking. In the present instance, Lieutenant Wingate made
so many ducks and dives, side-slips and Immelman turns that the
mountaineer, crack shot that he was, found himself unable to score a
hit. The darkness, too, prevented his getting a good sight at the man he
was trying to shoot.

Back in the camp the rest of the Overland outfit were lying flat on the
ground, just as they used to do in France when they heard a shell
coming, which might be due to land somewhere near them. Not one of them
had a weapon handy, nor would they have dared use them had weapons been
at hand, because there was no telling where Hippy Wingate was at any
given second. That, too, was what was troubling the mountaineer.

At the first shot, Washington Washington had forsaken the harmonica and
dived head first into the bushes where he lay, face down, a finger stuck
in either ear.

Hippy's floundering finally ceased and the mountaineer could not find
him. Believing, perhaps, that he had hit his victim, the fellow began
shooting into the camp of the Overlanders.

"I'm not going to lie here and let that fellow kill us all," declared
Grace Harlowe, springing up and starting away on a zigzagging run. "Keep
down, all of you. I'll fetch weapons," she called back.

Tom Gray, however, had forestalled her, and, leaping to his feet, had
run back to the tethering ground, where the ponies and their equipment
had been placed for the night, to fetch rifles.

Tom and Grace were back in a few moments, but instead of stepping out
into the open space where the tents were pitched and the campfire was
burning, they separated and crept around opposite sides of the camp,
over which bullets continued to whistle at intervals.

"That you, Grace?" demanded a cautious voice a few yards to her right.

"Hippy! Are you wounded?" begged Grace.

"I _am_ not. I'm trying to get to my rifle."

"Here. Take mine. Look out for Tom. He is on the opposite side of the
camp. We agreed not to go beyond the edge of the clearing so there might
be no danger of our hitting each other. He is looking for the
'shereef.'"

"I'll fix him. Hark! Did you hear that?"

"Yes. It was a revolver shot on beyond where Tom is," answered Grace.

"There it goes again. Tom must be using his revolver. A hit! Somebody
yelled," cried Lieutenant Wingate. "I hope it is that pesky mosquito
that has been trying to sting us. Stay here while I go out to
investigate."

"No, no!" protested Grace. "If you do you and Tom surely will shoot at
each other. Remember he is a woodsman and knows how to creep up on one
without making a sound that a human being could hear half a dozen yards
away. Go to the edge of the clearing and wait. I will go back and around
on Tom's side of the camp."

Grace crept away, calling softly to the girls to keep down. Washington,
with his ears muffled, failed to hear her coming, nor had she given the
little colored boy a thought until she planked a foot down on his neck.

Wash uttered a yell and leaped to his feet, for the second time that
night bowling Grace over and darting deeper into the bush.

"Oh, that impossible boy!" complained Grace. "He nearly frightened me
out of my wits. The firing has stopped. I must know what has happened."

Grace crept on cautiously, listening intently, not knowing what moment
she might come upon the mountaineer. Either he had been hit or he was
still stalking the camp, and she must settle the question in her mind
before she would feel safe to settle down for the night.

"Is that you, Grace?" demanded a low, guarded voice just ahead of her.

"Oh, yes! Gracious, Tom, you gave me a start that time! Where is the
man?"

"Gone away."

"Was it you who shot at him?"

"No. I was just about to let him have it when some one fired two shots
from a revolver. The second shot hit the man in his shoulder, I think,
spinning him clean around and dropping him. He was up and staggering
away in a few seconds. I followed him for some little distance; then,
being satisfied that he was trying to get away, I came back."

"I hope he stays away," said Grace with emphasis.

"He may be back in force," answered Tom. "I could easily have hit the
fellow, and was about to put a bullet through his leg when the revolver
shots were fired. Say, Grace! You did not do that, did you?"

"No, Tom, I did not, nor do I know who did. Let's go into camp."

They got up and walked briskly back, calling out to the Overlanders that
they were coming.

"He has gone," cried Grace as the two emerged into the clearing.

"Tom, did you wing the critter?" demanded Hippy.

"Hippy, did you fire those shots?" demanded Tom Gray, each asking his
question at the same time.

There was a laugh from the girls, and another laugh when both men
replied in chorus, "I did not!"

"Where's Washington?" asked Miss Briggs.

"I heard him yell," answered Hippy. "Hope the kid hasn't gotten into
trouble. I'll go look for him."

"Yes," spoke up Grace. "I stepped on his neck and he uttered a frightful
howl and ran away."

"The question now appears to be, 'Who killed Cock Robin?'" observed Emma
Dean. "We know who stepped on Laundry's neck, but we do not know who
fired the fatal shot."

"Mystery, mystery, mystery!" complained Miss Briggs. "This is only our
first day out and we have involved ourselves in a maze of it, with an
excellent foundation laid for future trouble."

"All because that husband of mine ran that deputy sheriff out of our
camp," wailed Nora. "Hippy will be the death of all of us yet."

"Hippy did exactly right," approved Tom Gray. "What I am thinking about
now is why the mountaineer came here to order us out. I have my
suspicions, and I don't like the outlook at all."

"Don't worry, Tom dear," soothed Grace.

"Yes, the worst is yet to come," called Hippy Wingate, at this juncture
appearing leading Washington Washington by the ear. "I found Laundry
hiding in the bushes. Sit down there and behave yourself, Little
Snowdrop, and let that harmonica alone for the rest of the night. Will
some one tell me what became of Jeremiah Long?"

"The Mystery Man is here," announced a voice, and the spectacle man
walked up rubbing his hands and smiling in great good humor. "What's the
excitement?"

"Where did you go so suddenly?" demanded Hippy frowningly.

"I went out to stake down my horse and get my store--my grip. Did I not
hear shooting?"

"Yes. We had a visitor and--" Emma bubbled over with words as she
described what had occurred after Long's departure, to all of which he
listened attentively. "Somebody, we don't know who, shot him in the
shoulder. Who do you think could have done that, Mr. Long?"

"Very mysterious, very mysterious," answered the Mystery Man.

Grace and Elfreda were regarding him keenly.

"Think I'll pitch my camp by your fire to-night, if you haven't any
objection," announced the visitor.

"You are quite welcome," offered Tom. "If you wish to, you can bunk in
with the lieutenant and myself. There is room for three in our tent. We
could not think of letting you sleep outside in this chill air."

"Outside for me," answered Mr. Long. "Must have air and plenty of it.
You see I heat it up inside of me and use it later to sell my goods. A
promoter, you know, must depend upon hot air because what he's selling
won't float on cold air."

Grace brought out blankets and a pneumatic pillow which she placed in a
heap near the fire.

"Make up your bed on the softest spot you can find, Mr. Long, though I
do not believe there is much choice," said Grace. Then, in a lower
voice: "I hope you may not find it necessary to shoot any more
mountaineers to-night, Mr. Long."

"Sh--h--h--h--h!" warned the Mystery Man. "I don't know what you're
talking about," he added in a louder tone, observing that Washington
Washington was standing close by, all eyes and ears.

Grace walked away laughing, Jeremiah Long observing her with twinkling
eyes, a quizzical smile on his face.



CHAPTER IV

FOOTPRINTS IN THE MOSS


Tom Gray had planned to make an early start next morning, so he was up
just before break of day, lighting the cook-fire that Washington had
laid for him. Wisps of smoke from the fire were wafted into Grace's
tent, awakening her instantly.

"Well, Tom, you thought you would steal a march on me, didn't you?" she
chided, as she came out unbraiding her hair.

"I hoped I might. That was why I said good-bye last night."

"You did not think for a moment that I would let you go away without my
getting up to see you off, did you?" she wondered. "No. You should have
known better than that."

"Now that you are here, I will speak what is in my mind. Watch yourself,
Grace. That affair last night disturbs me not a little, because it is
an indication of what you folks may have to contend with up here. The
Kentucky mountaineer is not a gentle animal. He is a man of almost
primitive instincts, and the worst of him is that he doesn't come out in
the open to settle a grudge, but, as a rule, settles it from ambush."

"You forget, Tom dear, that we girls are not tenderfeet, that we are
seasoned veterans of the world war and that the whistle of a bullet is
not a new nor a particularly terrifying sound to us. I hope you will not
worry about us. In three weeks you will be with us. By the way, when did
our Mystery Man leave?"

"When? Why--I--I didn't know--"

"You had not even discovered that he had gone?" chuckled Grace. "Oh,
Tom! There are his blankets within a yard of you, neatly folded, and a
slip of paper pinned to the top one, probably bidding us good-bye and
thanking us for our hospitality. Read it, please."

Tom did so and nodded.

"Just what you thought it was, Grace. You must be gifted with second
sight. About the man Jeremiah Long, who calls himself the Mystery Man, I
have a thought that he is the fellow who shot the mountaineer last
night."

"Tom dear, you're really awake at last, and before breakfast, too. I am
proud of you, my husband. Indeed I am," teased Grace.

"Don't laugh at me. I will confess that it never occurred to me until a
few moments ago. There _is_ something mysterious about the fellow, and I
confess that I cannot make him out."

Grace nodded and her face took on a thoughtful expression.

"He is not only mysterious, but very keen. Last night--I don't know
whether or not you noted the fact--he heard that mountaineer
approaching, and slipped out of camp. I do not believe he went far, but
that where he was he could see and hear all that was going on. Later he
must have hurried around to the rear of the camp, and, when the fellow
was trying to shoot Hippy, Long put a bullet through our caller's
shoulder. I call that good shooting."

"Hm--m--m--m! Now that you speak of it, I do recall that he disappeared
rather suddenly. I am grateful for what he did for us, of course, but,
Grace, I do not wholly trust the man, and, if he comes again, I should
watch him, were I in your place."

"I do not agree with you at all, Tom. The man is a mystery, but I am
convinced that nothing bad lurks behind those twinkling eyes. However,
we shall undoubtedly know more about him later, for I have a feeling
that Jeremiah will play an important part in our operations up here in
the Kentucky mountains. We won't get worked up over him at present,
anyway. To change the subject, I haven't told you that Elfreda has
adopted Little Lindy, the hermit's daughter that we took from the cave
in the Specter Mountains last season. The Overlanders are still her
guardians, but that guardianship will be transferred to Elfreda when we
get back home in the fall."

"Lindy is a lucky girl. The silver mine is panning out big and she will
be a very rich girl by the time she comes of age. Have a cup of coffee
with me?"

"Yes, Tom."

While Tom was eating his breakfast, he and Grace discussed their
personal affairs, then Grace walked with him to the tethering ground,
first having seen to it that Tom's pack contained sufficient food to
last him through his journey of several days to the Cumberlands.
Good-byes were then said and Tom rode away.

After watering the ponies, Grace returned to camp and sat by the fire
thinking, until it was time to call her companions. By the time they
came out she had breakfast ready for them. Washington, who slept in a
little pup-tent, had to be dragged out by the feet by Hippy before he
was sufficiently awake to function.

"Laundry," said Hippy solemnly, "I hope you never get caught in a
burning house in the night. If you are, the house and yourself will be a
heap of ashes in the cellar by the time you get awake."

"Listen to him, will you, Nora Wingate," cackled Emma Dean hoarsely, for
the chill of the mountain morning had gotten into her throat.

"For your information, Miss Dean, I will say that the only time my Nora
ever listens to her husband is when he talks in his sleep." A pained
expression appeared on Hippy's face when he said it.

"Go on wid ye," laughed Nora. "Ye know ye can't talk in your sleep
because your snores don't give ye a chance."

Grace put an end to the argument by announcing that breakfast was
served. The girls regarded Grace inquiringly when she informed them that
their late guest, the Mystery Man, had again vanished with his usual
mysteriousness.

"He hath folded his tent and stolen away," observed Emma Dean
dramatically.

"He didn't fold his tent, for he hadn't any tent to fold," differed
Hippy. "He folded his blankets and hiked for the tall timber. How far do
we ride to-day, Grace?"

"To Spring Brook. Wash, how far from here is the next camping place?"
questioned Grace, turning to the colored boy.

"Wall, Ah reckons it's 'bout er whoop an' er holler from heyeh."

"So far as that?" chuckled Hippy Wingate.

"It's terrible! I know I never shall be able to stand it to ride so
far," declared Emma, tilting her nose up, her head inclined over her
right shoulder, a characteristic pose for her when she thought she was
saying something smart. As usual, her remark brought a laugh.

"Emma Dean, your nose is the last word in neat impertinence," declared
Elfreda Briggs. "Were you a man, some one surely would flatten it for
you. Forgive me, dear. That was rude of me," apologized J. Elfreda.

"Never mind the apology. I am used to being abused by my companions,"
retorted Emma, her face a little redder than usual.

Grace laughingly interrupted the badinage by directing Washington to
begin packing. She said they must make an early start, not knowing how
far it was to their day's destination, but which, she believed, from a
perusal of her map, was all of twenty-five miles.

"The trails are no more than foot-paths and we can make no time, so
let's go," she urged.

It was an hour later when the party mounted and started away,
Washington bringing up the rear on a pack mule, industriously playing
his new harmonica. The going was slow and tedious and the Overlanders
were tired when they halted for a rest and luncheon shortly before noon.
A half hour's nap followed the luncheon, the party being "lulled" to
sleep by Washington's harmonica.

It was a discordant, insistent screeching of the harmonica that finally
awakened them.

"Stop that noise!" roared Hippy. "I'll--"

"What is it?" cried Grace, springing up, shaking her head to more
thoroughly awaken herself.

"Ah seen er man, Ah did," answered Washington. His eyes wore a
frightened expression and he was shifting and shuffling uneasily. "Ah
seen his face. He war a peekin' through the bushes right thar where yuh
be sleepin'," he informed them, nodding to Lieutenant Wingate.

"You were dreaming," scoffed Hippy.

"Ah wuz wide awake, Cap'n. Er fly er a bug bit me on de nose an' waked
me up. Ah seed de man den, an' when he seen I sawed him he run away."

"I hope you gave him an anesthetic before you 'sawed' him, Wash," said
Emma Dean, who had been listening eagerly to the conversation.

"Yes'm."

Hippy started towards the spot indicated by Wash.

"Wait! Don't trample down the bushes until I have had a look," begged
Grace, stepping forward. "We will look first."

Parting the bushes she peered in and pointed. Hippy saw a well-marked
trail where the bushes had been brushed aside, and here and there a
tender leaf-stem broken off.

Stooping over, the Overland girl scrutinized the ground, and, with a
finger, beckoned Hippy to kneel down.

"See that?" she demanded.

"What is it?" questioned the other girls in chorus. They had followed
Grace and Hippy and were eagerly peering over the heads of the two
kneeling Overlanders.

"Footprints of a pair of heavy boots," announced Hippy. "The impression
they have left in the moss is unmistakable. This looks as if he had
rested his gun-butt here," he added, laying a finger on another
depression in the moss.

"I do not think so," said Grace, after examining it critically. "I
should say that the man made that second impression with the toe of his
left boot. By looking at the impression of the right boot you will
observe that it sunk in deeper, meaning, probably, that he threw his
weight on the right foot and took a step forward with the left, only the
toe of which was on the ground as he leaned forward to peer into our
camp."

"'Ma'velous! Ma'velous, Sherlock!' How do you do it?" chortled Hippy.

"Elfreda, please fetch my revolver. I am going to follow out this trail
a little way. Perhaps I may discover something," said Grace.

Hippy said he would accompany her, but Grace shook her head.

"Please stay here and look out for the camp. If I need you I will shoot
three times."

"I wish you would not go out," urged Elfreda. "What is to be gained?
Nothing, and there may be much to lose."

"Grace has made up her mind to go, so you might as well save your
breath, J. Elfreda," said Anne.

"Some persons are so stubborn," murmured Emma.

Grace smiled and nodded, then parted the bushes and stepped in. She was
lost to their sight in a few seconds, moving on through the tangle of
bush and vine without causing a rustle that their listening ears could
hear.

"Fine, fine!" observed Miss Briggs. "We surely have made a most
excellent start."

"Cheer up. The worst is yet to come," reiterated Hippy. "Keep your ears
open. I'll be back in a moment."

Hippy ran to his tent, returning with his heavy army revolver strapped
to his waist.

"What are you going to do?" questioned Anne. "Grace said you were not to
follow her."

"I'm not going to. I have merely prepared myself in case she signals for
me. All hands keep quiet and listen. Stop that noise!" warned Hippy as
Wash struck a chord on his harmonica. "Nora, if he sounds another note,
take the infernal music box away from him. I--hark!"

A sharp report startled the Overland girls.

"That wasn't Grace's revolver," announced Lieutenant Wingate, leaning
forward in a listening attitude, but before the words had left his lips,
in fact, instantly following the first shot came a heavy report, a bang
that woke the mountain echoes.

"That's Grace! That's a service revolver," cried Hippy.

"They're at it!" exclaimed Elfreda, as three more shots in quick
succession, two of them from Grace's revolver, were fired.

"Run, Hippy!" cried Nora Wingate. "Shake your feet!"

"My knees are shaking already. Isn't that enough?" returned Hippy as he
plunged into the bushes going to Grace's assistance, but there was
nothing in his movements to indicate that his knees were shaking. Hippy
Wingate knew no fear, as befitted a man who had fought many winning
battles with the Germans high above the earth, but it amused him to
convey the impression that he was timid.



CHAPTER V

THE WAY IS BARRED


The Overland Riders were calm. The thrilling experiences through which
they had passed, while engaged in war work in France, had taught them to
be so.

"Do--do you think--she is hurt?" stammered Emma.

"We sincerely hope not," answered Anne. "Judging from the reports, it
was Grace who fired the last shot we heard," said Elfreda Briggs.
"Still, that does not prove anything. I would suggest that we arm
ourselves at once and prepare for trouble. There appears to be plenty of
it abroad in these mountains."

Acting on her suggestion, the four girls hurried to their tents and
armed themselves with rifles, then, taking positions around the outer
edge of the camp, just within the bushes, they watched and waited,
observed by Washington Washington with wide, frightened eyes.

It was Elfreda who made the first discovery. She caught the faint sound
of some one moving through the bushes and raised her rifle.

"Halt! Who comes?" she demanded as she saw the bushes sway, a few yards
ahead of her, as some one worked their way slowly through them.

"It's Grace," came the answer. "Help me in."

"Girls!" called Miss Briggs sharply, springing forward. She paused at
the first glimpse of Grace Harlowe's face, which was pale; then hurried
to her.

There were flecks of blood on Grace's cheek, and by that token Elfreda
Briggs knew that she had been hit.

"Got a smack, I see."

"Just a mere scratch," replied Grace. "It made me feel weak and dizzy,
but I shall be myself in a few moments."

Elfreda led her companion into the camp, then examined Grace's wound,
which, as the Overland girl had said, was a mere scratch over the left
temple. Miss Briggs washed the wound where a bullet had barely grazed
the skin, and applied an antiseptic.

"Lie down a few minutes, Loyalheart," she urged.

Grace shook her head.

"I shall get my bearings sooner if I keep on my feet. I am ashamed of
myself to give way to a little thing like a bullet scratch."

"That's because you're out of practice. You haven't been shot since last
summer," said Emma Dean soothingly. "You won't mind it at all after you
have been shot again a few times."

Grace laughed so merrily that, for the moment, she forgot the pain of
her wound.

"Emma Dean, you are a regular tonic. I thank you. Now I am all right.
Where is Hippy?" she questioned, gazing about her.

"Hippy!" wailed Nora Wingate. "Where is he?"

"He went out when we heard you shoot," Elfreda informed Grace. "Did he
miss you?"

"I have not seen Hippy since I left this camp. He must have got lost,"
replied Grace. "Elfreda, fire three interval shots with your rifle to
guide him in."

Miss Briggs did so, and all listened for an answer, but none came.
Acting on Grace's suggestion, Elfreda fired further signal shots, and
still no reply from Lieutenant Wingate.

Grace, finally becoming disturbed at Hippy's long absence, announced her
intention of going out to look for him, and was giving her companions
directions about signaling her when Hippy Wingate came strolling into
camp, his clothing torn and his face scratched from contact with brier
bushes. "Hulloa, folks," he greeted, grinning sheepishly.

"My darlin', my darlin', are you hurt?" cried Nora, hurrying to him
solicitously.

"No. I got lost and just found myself. Where do you suppose I was? Why
less than ten rods from this camp all the time. Never saw such a country
for mixing a fellow up. Confound the whole business. If my property is
in such a mess as this I'll set the lazy mountaineers at work clearing
it up before I'll set foot on it. Hey! What hit you, Brown Eyes?"

"A bullet."

"I heard it. I mean I heard the shot, and, like the hero I am, I ran to
the rescue, but got all tangled up," explained Hippy.

"Didn't you hear our shots?" demanded Anne.

"I heard 'em, but I was too busy untangling myself to answer. I thought
the shots sounded off the other way and got deeper into the mess trying
to find the camp."

"You are a fine woodsman," rebuked Elfreda.

"Yes, and you wouldn't be here yet had it not been for me," declared
Emma Dean.

"How's that?" demanded Hippy.

"Well, you see, when we found that you did not come back and we surmised
that you were lost, I just sat down and con-centrated. Then you came
back, just like the cat did in the old story."

"Where did you get that piffle?" chortled Hippy when his laughter had
subsided.

"From a professor who visited our town last winter. He said that, by
con-centrating, one could bring anything to pass that he
wished--provided he con-centrated intently enough and long enough. Why,
he said that a person, by con-centrating properly, could move a house if
he wished."

The Overlanders shouted.

"You'd better see a doctor," advised Hippy. "Brown Eyes, you haven't
told me what happened to you. Who shot you?"

"I don't know. I did not see the person who did it. He saw me,
evidently. Perhaps, catching a glimpse of my campaign hat, he thought it
was you and shot at me. I let go at him, and we had it out. His second
shot hit me and my third hit him. How badly I don't know, but he
plainly had enough and got away without even picking up his rifle. It is
out there yet, unless he returned for it."

"Did you follow him?" asked Nora.

"A few yards only, then I got dizzy and had to sit down for a few
moments. That is all I know about it. I think we had better pack up and
move."

"I sincerely hope the next stopping place may be more peaceful than
those that have preceded it," said Miss Briggs.

"Please hurry, Washington," admonished Grace. "We have delayed much too
long, and if we do not make haste we shall not reach our day's objective
before dark. I don't fancy traveling here at night without a guide. Can
you find your way about in the night, Washington?"

"Yes'm."

"I doubt it," observed Emma.

Soon after that, Grace now feeling fit again, the Overlanders were
mounted and on their way, following a narrow trail, dodging overhanging
limbs, pausing now and then to consult their map, for they had found
that Washington could not be depended upon to guide them. He was useful,
but apparently was not overstocked with information about the mountains.

It was after seven o'clock that evening before they swung into a valley
that, according to the map, narrowed into a cut in the mountains,
through which ran a stream of sparkling water fed by equally sparkling
mountain rivulets that rippled down to it in silver cascades. The
Overland party was still riding under difficulties, for the trail was
narrow and, in some instances, overgrown. They were now looking for the
stream that the map indicated as being somewhere in the vicinity.

"Here's water," called Lieutenant Wingate, who was in the lead.

"Washington!" called Grace. "What is this stream?"

"Ah reckons it am watah," answered the colored boy, which brought a
laugh from the Overlanders.

"Laundry must have been 'con-centrating,'" observed Anne Nesbit.

"This may be Spring Brook," called Miss Briggs. "We shall have to take
for granted that it is."

"I think it is," answered Grace as they rode out into a fairly open
space and discovered the cut in the mountains through which the stream
was flowing.

The ponies already were showing their eagerness to wade into the water
and drink, and Grace had just headed her mount towards the stream when
she brought him up with a sharp tug on the bridle-rein.

Just ahead of her stood a tall, gaunt mountaineer leaning on his rifle.
The expression on his face was not one of welcome, but Grace Harlowe saw
fit to ignore that.

"Howdy, stranger," she greeted, smiling down at the man.

"Howdy," grunted the man, as they regarded each other appraisingly.

"Where do ye-all reckon yer goin'?" he demanded gruffly.

"Is this Spring Brook?" interjected Hippy.

"Ah reckon it air."

"Then that is where we are going."

"Yer kain't go this a-way," replied the mountaineer.

"Why can't we?" demanded Grace.

"'Cause Ah says ye kain't."

"Perhaps you do not know who we are. We are a party out for a ride
through the Kentucky mountains. We ride every summer. We have no other
object, and, if you will pause to consider, you will see that we can do
no harm to you or any one else by going where we please in this part of
the country," urged Grace.

"Ah knows who ye be. Turn aroun' an' git out o' here right smart!"

"You are making a mistake, sir," warned Grace. "If there is good reason
why we should not go up this gorge we will go around it on the ridge."

"Ah said git out! Ye kain't go up the gorge nor over the ridge. Git out
o' the mountains!"

"Not this evening, we won't!" shouted Lieutenant Wingate, now thoroughly
angered, as he gathered up his reins.

_Bang!_

A bullet from the mountaineer's rifle went through the peak of Hippy
Wingate's campaign hat, lifting it from his head and depositing it on
the ground.

"Don't draw!" cried Grace in a warning voice as Hippy let a hand slip
from the bridle-rein.

"Put yer hands up! All of ye!" commanded the mountaineer, the muzzle of
his rifle swinging suggestively from side to side so as to cover the
entire party.



CHAPTER VI

HIPPY MYSTERIOUSLY DISAPPEARS


All except Nora Wingate obeyed the command to hold up their hands.

"I'll not put me hands up for the likes of you!" she retorted, her eyes
snapping, as she deliberately got down from her pony.

"Don't do anything foolish," warned Grace Harlowe.

Unheeding the warning, Nora stepped over and picked up Hippy's hat, eyed
the hole in it, the color flaming higher and higher in her face. Nora
then walked straight up to the mountaineer, apparently unconscious of
the fact that his rifle was now pointed directly at her.

The mountaineer was nearer death at that moment than he knew, for two
hands had slipped to two revolver butts resting respectively in the
holsters of Grace Harlowe and Lieutenant Wingate. What mad thing Nora
had in mind they could not imagine, but they did not believe the fellow
would dare to shoot her down in cold blood, for it must be plain to him
that she was unarmed.

"Look what you did!" she demanded, holding up the hat that the
mountaineer might see the bullet hole in it. "You put a bullet through
my husband's perfectly good hat. Aren't you ashamed of yourself? That
hat cost him eight dollars, and if I thought you had eight dollars in
the world, I'd make you pay for it. You're a cheap ruffian, that's what
you are!"

Nora's chin was thrust out belligerently. At this juncture her right
hand flashed up to the nose of the mountaineer. The fingers closed over
that prominent member and Nora Wingate gave it a violent tweak.

The fellow's jaw sagged. He appeared actually dazed and the muzzle of
his rifle, that Nora had thrust to one side as she boldly stepped up to
him, had been permitted to sink slowly towards the ground.

Nora Wingate did not stop there. She soundly boxed the fellow's ears,
first with the right, then with the left hand, each whack giving his
head a violent jolt to one side.

"Jump back!" It was Grace Harlowe who, in an incisive tone of voice,
gave the order to Nora.

"Why should I jump back?" demanded Nora, turning a flushed face to her
companions. What she saw, however, caused Nora to take a few slow steps
backwards. Three revolvers were pointed over her head at the
mountaineer. The revolvers were in the hands of Grace Harlowe,
Lieutenant Wingate and Elfreda Briggs.

The mountaineer saw the weapons at the same time.

"Drop it!" bellowed Hippy. "Drop it or I'll bore you full of holes!"

The mountain man permitted his grasp on his rifle to relax and the
weapon fell to the ground.

"Back up!" commanded Hippy. "Don't play any tricks, and keep your hands
away from your holster. Keep him covered, Grace, while I dismount. You,
fellow! Take notice! We know how to shoot, probably better than you do.
If you try any tricks you'll get what's coming to you. Turn around and
stand still with your hands as high above your head as they will go.
Good!"

Hippy dismounted and, with revolver at ready, stepped over to the man
who was now standing with his back to the Overland Riders.

"Don't make a move! I'm going to take your revolver," warned Lieutenant
Wingate, pressing his own revolver against the mountaineer's back. He
then jerked the fellow's weapon from its holster and tossed it behind
him. Nora picked it up.

"Turn around!"

The mountaineer faced him, his face contorted with deadly rage.

"I'll kill ye fer this 'ere!" threatened the man.

"Not this evening you won't. Listen to me, Mister Man. We are not here
to interfere with you or with your business, and we wish to be let
alone. So long as we are let alone, we shall move along peaceably. When
we are not, some one is going to get hurt right smart. Get me?" Hippy
thrust out his chin pugnaciously.

The mountaineer did not reply, but his eyes, and the malignant scowl on
his face, voiced the thought that was uppermost in his mind.

"Now turn around, face up the gully and sprint when I give the word.
Don't you show up in this vicinity until to-morrow. You will find your
rifle and revolver right here where I am standing. We don't want any
such antiquated hardware. Don't stop until you get to the other end of
the gully, if you value your life. Go!"

The mountaineer started away at a brisk trot, never once looking behind
him.

"Shoot! Make him dance," urged Emma Dean excitedly.

"No!" replied Grace incisively. "We are not savages."

"Why didn't you 'con-centrate' on him and save us all this bother?"
demanded Hippy. "Nora darling, I am proud of you," he said, turning to
her smilingly. "But never do a crazy thing like that again. Even Emma
Dean could do no worse. What's the next thing on the programme, Grace?
Do we go on or do we camp here?"

"I don't like the climate of Spring Brook at all. It is too warm and
malarial for me," interjected Miss Briggs.

"I agree with you, J. Elfreda," replied Grace laughingly. "I would
suggest that we detour to the right and proceed over the ridge, and on
into the mountains where there may be a probability that we shall not be
molested. What do you say, people?"

"I think we all agree with you," answered Anne.

"Yes, let's seek the seclusion of the mountain fastness and have Emma
sit up and 'con-centrate' all night. If she can move a house and lot
with her con-centration stunt, she surely should be able to move that
touchy mountain savage further away from us," suggested Hippy to the
discomfiture of Emma and the great amusement of her companions.

"I think you are real mean," pouted Emma.

"Would it not be a wise thing to do to leave one of us here for a short
time to see if that fellow returns and tries to follow us?" asked Nora,
still full of fight. "I should just like to teach him a lesson."

"You already have done so," chuckled Anne.

"Your suggestion is excellent," agreed Grace. "However, it is getting
dark and we must locate ourselves before that. That is, we should do so.
Let's go!"

The Overlanders then mounted and retraced their steps until they found a
place where they could climb to the ridge. Reaching the top, they
followed the ridge trail for half a mile, then struck off into the
mountain fastness. In order to better hide their trail, they guided
their horses into a small stream and rode up that for a full mile,
finally finding a suitable camping place.

A cook fire, a small blaze, was made under a shelving rock, and
Washington was left to cook the supper while Hippy and the girls watered
and cared for the ponies. Supper was ready about the time they finished.
The pitching of the tents was left for the boy to attend to while the
Overlanders were eating.

"Now that we are composed, what does all this disturbance of to-day
mean?" demanded Miss Briggs.

"It may be the result of our running that fellow out of our camp last
night, or rather Hippy's running him out. Then again, the incident of
to-day may be explained in another way. I first had a duel with some one
in the bushes; later, when we headed into Spring Brook valley we may
have been getting into the Moonshiners' territory. I understand they are
rather touchy when it comes to outsiders penetrating their mountain
preserves. At least this last savage was thoroughly in earnest when he
ordered us to get out. I fear we should have gotten into trouble had it
not been for Nora." Grace smiled at the recollection of Nora's
chastisement of the mountaineer.

"Surely, they do not think we are revenue officers, do they?" asked
Anne.

"They are suspicious of all strangers," Hippy informed his companions.
"I had a friend in the flying corps, who comes from Kentucky, and he
told me all about these mountaineers. They are, in a way, simple as
children, but bad all through when they differ with you."

"Then, there is the Mystery Man," reminded Nora. "Is he one of them?"

"He may be for all we know about him," answered Elfreda, shrugging her
shoulders.

Grace said "no."

"It doesn't seem probable, that, were he one of them, he would have shot
one of them in our defense, does it?" she asked.

The Overlanders admitted the force of her argument. Supper finished,
they sat about the campfire, now a glowing bed of coals, which now and
then was fed and stirred into little ribbons of flame by adding bits of
dry twigs.

"I am going to sit up to-night, and watch the camp," announced Hippy
after the tents had been pitched and the girls, one by one, had begun to
do their hair for the night.

"Yes, it will be wise. When you get sleepy, call me and I will take the
watch for the rest of the night," directed Grace.

"I never sleep," remonstrated Hippy.

"He never sleeps," mimicked Emma in a deep voice from her tent, sending
her companions into a shout of laughter.

"Except when he is supposed to be awake," teased Anne.

Before turning in, Grace made a circuit of the camp and the bushes and
the trees surrounding it, halting where the ponies were tethered to see
that they were properly tied for the night. Soon after making camp she
had taken possession of Washington's harmonica, for it was all-important
that attention be not attracted to their camp that night.

Grace was certain that they had not yet heard the last of their mountain
enemies and that trouble might be looked for from that direction, hence
no precaution must be overlooked with regard to protecting themselves.

"Tom was right," murmured Grace, when, after giving Washington and Hippy
final directions, she had retired to her tent and lain down with rifle
and revolver within easy reach.

Lieutenant Wingate put out the fire and sat down to watch, rifle in
hand. Grace got up an hour later and, peering from her tent, saw Hippy
sitting with his back against a rock. At first she thought he was
asleep; then, when she saw him take off his hat and smooth back his
hair, she knew that she was mistaken.

It was long past midnight when Grace again roused herself and got up
with a feeling that all was not well. A quick survey of the camp from
her tent revealed nothing disturbing. Hippy was in the same position in
which she had seen him some hours before and not a sound was heard from
the ponies' direction.

Picking up her rifle, and strapping on her revolver, Grace stepped over
to Hippy and peered down into his face. He was sound asleep and snoring.

"It were a pity to wake him," she muttered, moving quietly away and
sitting down within a dozen feet of the sleeping man to guard the camp
for the rest of the night.

Grace suddenly tensed with every faculty on the alert. She thought she
heard something moving cautiously in the bushes at the left of the camp.
A few moments of listening convinced her that she was right. She knew
that none of her outfit was out there and that Washington Washington was
sleeping in his little pup-tent a few yards from her, for she could hear
him breathing.

The Overland girl used her eyes and ears, and a few moments later she
made out a vague form at the edge of the camp. Even then she would not
have seen it, had it not moved to one side. The dark background
prevented her being able to make anything out of the form, except that
it was a human being.

Having satisfied herself of this, Grace raised her rifle, aiming it
above the head of the intruder, and waited. Herself being in a deeper
shadow, her movements were not observed by the prowler.

Grace put a gentle pressure on the trigger. A flash of fire and a
deafening report followed.

Hippy Wingate sprang to his feet.

"Wha--wha--wha?" he gasped.

"Don't get excited," soothed the calm voice of Grace Harlowe. "I shot
over the head of a prowler. Go back to your tent, Washington," she
directed, as the colored boy ran out ready to bolt into the bushes.

Grace had heard the prowler crash through the bushes in his haste to get
away, and felt reasonably certain that they would not be troubled by him
again that night. In the meantime the others of her party had sprung
from their tents, excitedly demanding to know what had occurred. She
told them briefly, and advised that they go back to sleep.

"You too turn in, Hippy," directed Grace. "It is too bad to have spoiled
that lovely sleep. I will look after the camp for the rest of the
night."

Without a word Lieutenant Wingate went to his tent. He was ashamed of
himself despite his former assertion that Nora Wingate always provided
this emotion for him.

"I think I'll ask Emma to sit up and 'con-centrate' to keep me awake
after this," muttered Hippy, and then lost himself in slumber.

The camp once more settled down and was not again disturbed, but Grace
kept her vigil ceaselessly through the rest of the night. The girls did
not know the details of the disturbance until breakfast next morning
when Grace told them all she knew about the occurrence. After breakfast
she and Hippy searched the ground about the camp and found traces of
their visitor. In leaving he had made no effort to hide his trail,
probably having been in too great a hurry, but Grace did not consider
it worth while to try to follow the trail.

"We must make time, you know," she told her companions upon returning to
camp. "If we are late in keeping our appointment with Tom, he will be
worrying for fear something has happened to us."

"Something probably will have happened to us by that time," observed
Elfreda solemnly. "Several somethings, perhaps."

After considerable milling about, after retracing their steps along the
mountain rivulet, they found the trail that they were in search of, the
footpath that led in the direction that they wished to go. On either
side of the path was a jungle-like tangle of shrub and vine, through
which the party, riding in single file, were obliged to force their way.

So dense was the foliage that they could not see each other, but they
kept up a rattling fire of conversation back and forth, much of which
was directed at Hippy who was leading and doing his best to beat down a
path for those who were following.

This continued for some time, until finally Hippy's mount seemed to be
getting lazy, for Elfreda, who was riding directly behind the leader,
bumped into his pony several times.

"Come, come, Hippy! Have you gone to sleep?" demanded Elfreda. "We
shall never get out of the tangle at this rate."

There was no reply, and when Elfreda communicated her belief to her
companions that Hippy had gone to sleep on his saddle, there was much
laughter. Emma called out that, so long as the horse kept awake, they
would be all right.

This condition of affairs continued for some little time, until finally
Elfreda rode out into a rugged, rocky clearing and made a discovery
that, for the moment, left her speechless.

Hippy Wingate's pony was browsing at tender blades of grass that were
sprouting from crevices in the rocks, but its saddle was empty.

"Hippy! Oh, Hippy!" called Miss Briggs.

There was no response to her call. The pony raised its head and looked
at her and then resumed its eating.

"Grace!" cried Elfreda in a tone that thrilled every member of the
party. "Hurry! Hippy has gone!"



CHAPTER VII

A VOICE FROM THE SHADOWS


The Overlanders came trotting into the clearing, Grace bringing up the
rear of the line just ahead of Washington and his mules, who still were
some little distance behind.

"What is it?" called Grace as she burst into the clearing.

Miss Briggs pointed to Hippy's empty saddle, and it was not until then
that Nora Wingate fully realized the meaning of the scene.

"Hippy, my darlin', where are you?" she cried excitedly.

"Steady now," cautioned Grace. "It will profit us not at all to lose our
heads. Spread out and search the clearing. First, tie your ponies so
they don't disappear and leave us in the lurch."

The girls quickly slipped from their saddles and began searching, Grace
first having examined the saddle of Hippy's pony. She found his rifle in
the saddle-boot and his revolver in the holster suspended from the
pommel. This discovery indicated to her that Lieutenant Wingate had not
had time to take either weapon with him when he dismounted.

"It is my opinion that Hippy fell asleep and fell off," declared Emma,
after they had completed their search of the clearing.

"Oh, what shall we do?" wailed Nora, wringing her hands. "Grace darlin',
help me think. I can't think straight. Somebody suggest something."

"When did you first discover that his pony was lagging?" questioned
Grace, turning to Miss Briggs.

"I should say that it was twenty or thirty minutes ago."

"Say half a mile back. It is possible that Hippy was unseated by coming
in contact with an overhanging limb, though I do not recall having seen
any low enough to bump one's head."

"We must go back and try to find him," said Miss Briggs.

"Yes," agreed Grace, her brow puckering in thought. "Anne, I think you
had better remain here in charge of the camp. Get your rifles out and be
on the alert. This affair looks suspicious to me. Shoot a signal if you
need us in a hurry. Elfreda, will you go with me?"

Miss Briggs nodded.

"Bring your revolver. Rifles will be in the way," advised Grace. "You
girls stay right here. Do not attempt to leave this spot. Nora, keep
your head level. Let's go!"

The two girls started back over the trail on foot, walking briskly. A
short distance back from the clearing they met Washington, whom Grace
directed to go on and wait for them in the clearing. She did not think
it worth while to ask the boy if he had seen Lieutenant Wingate.

"I have a recollection of seeing the bushes trampled down on the left
side of the trail as we came along," said Grace, after they had left
Washington. "It is possible that there is where Hippy was unhorsed."

"Grace, you suspect something, don't you?"

"I don't know whether I do or not. I will tell you after we have found
the place where he left the trail. Does not Hippy's disappearance strike
you as being a strange one, Elfreda?" questioned Grace, giving her
companion a quick glance of inquiry.

"Yes."

"I think we are nearing the spot to which I referred. Keep your eyes
open and move slowly. Should we find nothing there, we will walk along a
little way off the trail, each taking a side. There!"

Grace pointed to a spot where the bushes had been lately crushed down.
She then laid a restraining hand on her companion's arm, and there they
stood for a few moments, fixing the picture of the scene in their minds.

Grace finally parted the bushes and looked in, Miss Briggs peering over
her shoulders. Using extreme caution they stepped into the bushes, to
one side of the disturbed spot, and there Grace got down on her knees
and examined the ground with infinite pains. She then crawled along a
short distance, following the trail that had been made by whoever had
passed through there.

"How far are you going?" asked Elfreda.

"I don't know."

Grace's search led her a full five hundred yards into the thicket, she
halting only when she came to a spot where the brush had been trampled
down over several yards of space. The sound of a stream could be heard
close at hand.

An examination of the ground there gave Grace a fresh clue, and, after
stepping over to the brook and gazing at it briefly, she announced
herself as ready to go back.

"What now?" asked Elfreda.

"After I get something we will return to camp. We must hold a
consultation. I do not feel like deciding this problem alone."

"I know you have made a discovery, but beyond the fact that some one has
trampled down the bushes beside the trail, and that a horse has been
standing where we are now, I must confess that I am no wiser than
before."

"You have done very well," smiled Grace. "Come with me and I will
enlighten you further."

They walked briskly back to the edge of the trail where they had first
found the bushes disturbed.

"Two men have stood here. If you will scrutinize the ground you will see
the imprint of their hobnailed boots. They stood facing each other, just
as you and I are doing at this moment. All at once they turned facing
the trail and took a step toward it."

"Wait a moment! Wait a moment! You are going too fast for me, Grace
Harlowe. Are you gifted with second sight that you know all this?"

"J. Elfreda, for goodness' sake use your eyes. The footprints are so
plain that all you have to do, to understand, is to look at them. They
tell the whole story up to a certain point," answered Grace.

"Go on."

"They unhorsed Hippy at that point, and I should not be at all surprised
if they hit him over the head with a club or the butt of a revolver.
You see how easy it would be to do that without being discovered, the
foliage being so dense over the trail. After unhorsing him they at least
dragged him back for some little distance before they picked him up. I
found the marks of his heels where they had dug into the soft earth as
he was being dragged."

"You--you said you wished to--to get something," reminded Miss Briggs,
somewhat dazed by her companion's rapid recital.

"Yes. I discovered it when I was on my knees examining the trail here."
Grace stooped over and, thrusting a hand into the bushes, brought forth
an object which she held up for Elfreda's inspection.

"Do you recognize it, J. Elfreda?"

[Illustration: "Hippy's Hat!" Gasped Miss Briggs.]

"Hippy's hat!" gasped Miss Briggs.

"Yes. Let us examine it. Look at this! Am I right?" demanded Grace
triumphantly. "Hippy was whacked over the head with the butt of a
revolver, and the blow cut right through the felt. No wonder he made no
outcry. He is a lucky fellow if he hasn't a fractured skull. Elfreda,
this is serious."

"Both serious and marvelous--serious so far as Hippy is concerned, and
marvelous so far as your visualizing the incident is concerned,"
declared Miss Briggs.

"Do you think we should tell Nora?"

"We must tell her something, and we cannot tell her an untruth," replied
Elfreda after brief reflection. "I should advise telling her all except
about the hat. We can conveniently forget about the hat. He was taken
prisoner by two men, probably in the belief that it was some one else
they were capturing."

"I don't think so," interrupted Grace.

"I do," insisted Miss Briggs.

"All right, then you tell the story to Nora. Let's go back."

Grace hid the hat, intending to return for it at another time, as it
might be useful as evidence. They then started on to join their
companions, both silent and thoughtful.

Reaching the halting place of the party in the clearing, Elfreda,
without giving Grace an opportunity to speak, launched forth into a
description of what they had discovered--minus the hat.

Nora wept silently, and Emma slipped a comforting hand into hers.

"Don't cry, Nora darling. Hippy will be back. Nobody, not even a
mountaineer, could live with him very long. I don't see how you ever
stood it so long as you have." Saying which, Emma prudently dropped the
hand she was holding, and backed away.

Nora Wingate sprang up blazing, to meet the laughing eyes and impishly
uptilted nose of the irrepressible Emma Dean. Nora laughed and wept at
the same time, and then quickly pulled herself together.

"I ought to take ye over me knee, but I won't because ye've brought me
to me senses. Grace, see how calm I am. I am ready to listen to your
plan, knowing very well that you have one in mind. If they haven't
killed him, my Hippy will yet beat those scoundrels at their own game.
Any man who has fought duels with the Germans above the clouds, and won,
surely will be able to outwit a whole army of these thick-headed
mountaineers. What do you think we should do?"

"At the beginning of this journey, as well as those we have taken
before, it was agreed between us that when one strays away or gets
separated from the party, the Overlanders were to go into camp at or as
near the point of separation as possible, and wait there a reasonable
time for the return of the absent one. That is what I should suggest
doing in the present instance," offered Grace.

"Make camp right here?" asked Anne.

"Yes."

"Yes, but are we not going to try to find my Hippy?" begged Nora.

"I think it advisable to wait a reasonable time, so, with the approval
of you folks, I will tell Washington to make camp."

This the girls agreed to, though Nora was for setting out in search of
her husband at once. That, too, was what Grace Harlowe would have liked
to do, but she believed it would be better for them to remain where they
were for the time being.

"Couldn't you follow the trail of those men?" asked Nora.

"I did up to the point where they rode into a stream to throw off
pursuers, just as we did last night. Of course they had to leave the
stream somewhere, but the probabilities are that they were sharp enough
not to leave a plain trail where they came out. For instance, they could
easily dismount their prisoner on a rocky footing where no trail would
be left, carry him on and secrete him, then have one of their party ride
the horses in another direction. Don't you see where that would leave
us?"

"Oh, yes, I do," moaned Nora. "My wheels are all turning the wrong way.
Don't mind me."

"We won't," promised Emma.

Washington, aroused from a day dream, was directed to hustle himself and
make camp. While he was busying himself at this, the girls held a
further conference. At its conclusion, Grace paid another visit to the
scene of Lieutenant Wingate's undoing.

This time, Grace followed the trail left by the two men who had captured
him, and then on down the stream until she came in sight of a rocky
clearing, where she believed the captors had left the brook and followed
out the plan that she had visualized.

Grace dared not press her investigation further, nor even show herself,
the Overland girl shrewdly reasoning that the spot would be watched by
those responsible for Hippy's disappearance. She was not desirous of
taking unnecessary chances just yet, for, being the captain of her
party, she was responsible for their safety.

All during the rest of the day, after her return to camp, one or the
other of the girls was posted outside the camp, secreted in the bushes,
to prevent a surprise by intruders. So far as they could discover no one
approached the camp.

The camp having been pitched at the extreme end of the open space, the
campfire, at Elfreda's suggestion, was built at the opposite end, which,
as she pointed out, would leave their tents in a shadow after dark, for
there were a few scattering laurel bushes between the tents and the
fire, but not so dense that the view was greatly interfered with.

The outside guarding was continued until nearly bedtime, eyes and ears
being strained, not only for prowlers, but for the return of Hippy
Wingate.

"If we get no word to-morrow, what?" questioned Anne.

"Grace and myself will take the trail," announced Elfreda. "If she does
not think it wise to go, I can go alone."

"We will both go, unless something occurs to make our going
inadvisable," answered Grace quietly. "Elfreda, you and I will sit up
together to-night, if you don't mind."

After the others had turned in and Washington had piled some hard wood
on the fire, so that a bed of coals might remain for some hours after
the flames had died out, Grace and Elfreda sat down together in the
shadows near the tents and began their long night's vigil.

Their conversation was pitched too low to be heard by one a yard away;
in fact it was carried on mostly in whispers.

Elfreda's watch showed that it lacked but a few minutes of one when, as
she gazed at the illuminated dial, Grace suddenly gripped her arm.

"I heard something in the bushes," whispered Grace. "It may have been
an animal. I rather think it was. I--"

Something thudded on the ground between the two girls and the laurel
shrubs.

"Wha--at is it?" whispered Grace.

"A stick of wood," replied Elfreda. "It looks like a section of a tree
limb. Something white is wrapped about it. Oughtn't we to see what it
is?"

"No!" answered Grace with emphasis. "Sit tight. It may be a trick."

With rifles held at ready, ears alert, Elfreda Briggs and Grace Harlowe
sat almost motionless until the skies began to assume a leaden gray that
foretold the coming of another day.

A few moments later Elfreda crept over and returned with the stick that
she had observed to fall. An old newspaper sheet was wrapped about it.
This Miss Briggs undid cautiously, Grace's eyes keenly observing the
operation.

"Look! There is writing on the lower margin of the sheet," she said.

Miss Briggs turned the page around and eagerly read the words that were
penciled there.

          "'Stay where you are. Friends are working in your
          behalf. In the meantime guard yourselves
          vigilantly.

                                                 'A FRIEND.'"

The message that Elfreda had read out loud to her companion served to
deepen the mysteries that surrounded them, yet, as they pondered and
discussed it, the message seemed to convey to them the hope that at
least one of the mysteries might soon be solved.



CHAPTER VIII

A FRIEND IN NEED


"Hey! What hit me?" demanded Hippy Wingate, opening his eyes.

"Keep shet!" commanded a surly voice near at hand.

Hippy tried to raise his arms, but could not. They were roped to his
sides, as he discovered now that he was regaining full consciousness. A
dim light filtering through an opening that he could not see, for it was
behind him, showed Lieutenant Wingate that he was lying in one of the
shallow caves that may be found almost anywhere in the Kentucky
mountains.

"How did I--I get here?" he ventured to ask.

The other occupant of the cave stepped up and gave the captive a vicious
prod with his boot.

"Ouch! Say, you! Don't be so infernally rough about it. Kicking is a
dangerous habit to get into. One of these days you will forget yourself
and kick a Kentucky mule. Then _good night_!"

"Didn't Ah tell ye-all to keep still? Want another clip ovah the haid?"

"Thank you, no," replied Hippy. "If you don't mind, before I relapse
into gloomy silence, you might tell me what the big idea is. Who or what
hit me, and why am I here hog-tied like a captured hoss thief?"

"Mebby ye-all be that. Kain't answer no questions, an' if ye don't keep
still Ah'll shoot ye. Ah reckon ye-all will keep still that-away."

"Ah reckon maybe you're right," agreed Hippy, and was silent.

Lieutenant Wingate was kept in the cave all that day. Now and then his
guard would go out for a short time, and, returning, would stand peering
down at the prisoner, but no further conversation passed between them.

Hippy tried to recall what had happened to him. He remembered riding
along the trail; remembered the good-natured teasing of the Overland
girls, then all at once consciousness was blotted out. He had a faint
recollection of being jolted, which probably was when he was being
carried away on a horse, but that was the extent of his recollections.
He did know that his head hurt him terribly and that it felt twice its
natural size. His throat was parched from thirst, but Lieutenant Wingate
declared to himself that he would die rather than ask a favor of the
ruffian there who was guarding him.

Shortly after dark Hippy heard voices outside the cave; then two men
came in, jerked him to his feet and, dragging him out, threw him over
the back of a pony just ahead of the saddle, as if he were a bag of
meal. When the rider mounted, Hippy was placed right side up on the
saddle, his companion sitting behind him on the horse's back.

A rough, miserable ride of something more than an hour followed; then
they halted. Hippy, now being blindfolded, could make out nothing of his
surroundings, but he realized that there were trees all about him, and
he could hear the snapping of a campfire, which reminded him of food and
that he was nearly famished.

"If they fry bacon near enough for me to smell, I'll break my bonds and
run--for the bacon," he added to himself.

Lieutenant Wingate was roughly yanked from the horse. He landed heavily
on the ground in a heap, where he was left to untangle himself as best
he could. By violent winking and twisting his head from side to side he
was able, by tilting his head well back, to displace the handkerchief
with which he had been blindfolded sufficiently to enable him to look
about.

Several men were holding a discussion by the campfire, and that their
conversation had to do with him, Hippy Wingate knew from the frequent
gestures in his direction, though he was too far away to distinguish
what they were saying.

The men finally came over to him and demanded to know who and what he
was.

Hippy told them briefly. One of the men laughed.

"Ye mean ye'r a hoss thief," he jeered.

"I wish I were. I'd steal a horse and get away from here."

"Know anybody in these parts, anybody who'll give ye a character?"
questioned another.

"No. I've got a character of my own. I don't need any one to give me a
character," retorted Hippy.

"Who is the feller that come inter these mountains with ye, and then
quit ye in such a hurry?" demanded another.

"His name is Tom Gray. He is the husband of Grace Harlowe Gray, who
leads our party of Riders. He has gone over to the Cumberlands on
business."

"Whut business?"

"He is to make a survey for the government."

Lieutenant Wingate had let slip something that he should not have done.
He saw instantly from the exclamations that the mountaineers uttered
under their breaths, that he had "said something," as he expressed it to
himself.

"So that's it, hey! Be ye-all workin' fer the gov'ment, too?" demanded a
voice.

"I am not, nor have I been since I fought in France. Is there anything
else that you ruffians wish to have me tell you?" demanded Hippy
belligerently.

"Where be the other feller headed for fust?"

"I don't know where he is headed for now," answered the captive,
becoming wary.

"Reckon we'd better look that gov'ment feller up right smart," said one
of the captors in a low tone. "We'll bag the bunch of 'em. Shore ye
ain't got nothin' else t' tell us honest folk up here?" demanded the
first speaker.

"No."

"Reckon ye better think it over, young feller. We'll give ye till
ter-morrer t' make a clean sweep an' tell us the whole business. If ye
don't we'll jest blow yer fool haid off an' chuck ye in a hole in the
mountain an' there won't be nothin' more heard of ye," threatened
another.

"The Germans tried to do that same thing, but they didn't succeed,"
dared Lieutenant Wingate. "Who do you think I am, anyway? What do you
think I am? Come, now, suppose you make a clean sweep and tell me what
all this rotten business is about."

"Ah reckons ye don't have t' be told nothin'," was the reply that Hippy
got. "We're goin' t' take ye away from here an' put a guard over ye, so
if ye wants t' live till ter-morrer, keep quiet."

"Wait a moment!" called Hippy, as the captors turned away for further
conference. "Don't I get anything to eat out of all this?"

There was no reply to his question, and Hippy went without his supper,
which fact really gave him more concern than the knowledge that he was a
prisoner in the hands of desperate men, who, if their word could be
believed, proposed to do desperate things to him.

All but two of the mountaineers soon left the scene, and these two took
turns in sleeping and guarding their prisoner. Along towards morning
Hippy fell into an uneasy sleep, but his sleep was brief. He was roughly
yanked to his feet, and, at the point of a rifle, driven deeper into the
forest. His guards did not halt until daybreak. They then untied the
prisoner's arms, bound his feet, and placing him in a sitting position,
back against a tree, passed a rope around his waist and tied him to the
tree.

"You forgot something," reminded Hippy as they started to walk away.

"Huh?" demanded one of the mountaineers.

"You forgot to tie the tree down. It might run away, you know."

A grunt was the only reply he got. The men then built a small fire and
began preparing their breakfast. Bacon and coffee was their meal, and
Hippy Wingate, now without his blindfold, was forced to sit there and
watch them eat. It was the most unhappy hour that he remembered ever to
have experienced.

After finishing their own breakfast they favored him with a cup of
water, and, lighting their pipes, sat down to talk, much of which the
listening ears of their captive overheard.

As nearly as Hippy could make it out a mountain feud was in the making,
and the twenty-third of the month was the time set for the opening. He
heard the names "Bat Spurgeon" and "Jed Thompson" mentioned, but they
conveyed nothing to him beyond the mere names. The voices of his captors
and his own weariness finally lulled Lieutenant Wingate to sleep, and he
slept for hours. He was awakened late in the day by being roughly shaken
and a cup of water thrust into his hands.

"I thank you for this bounteous repast," said Hippy mockingly. "Is this
the water cure you are giving me?"

"Oh, shut up!" growled the mountaineer, and went away leaving Hippy
gazing after him, a sardonic grin on the Overland Rider's face.

Hippy was aching all over his body as darkness settled over the forest,
marking the second night of his captivity. With it came the cook fire
and again the agonizing odors of coffee and bacon. With it, too, came
something else--a low, guarded voice behind him and, seemingly, only a
few inches from his ear.

"Don't make a sound, Lieutenant."

"Who are you?" demanded Hippy, without in the least changing his
position or showing excitement.

"You would not know if I told you. Listen to me. When those two fellows
sit down to supper, the light of the fire will be in their eyes, and,
unless they get up and stare, they will not be able to see you in this
shadow. If everything is safe I will cut you loose. Are your feet
bound?"

"Yes. Who are you?"

"You wouldn't know if I told you, I said. Keep quiet and speak only in
answer to my questions."

"All right. Got anything loose about your person--I mean food,
man-sized food, not canary-bird rations such as those bandits have been
doling out to me?"

"You can't have anything now. After we have gotten away from here I will
try to dig up a snack for you. Silence!"

For the next several minutes neither the prisoner nor his mysterious
friend uttered a word. Supper was ready for the mountaineers, but,
before sitting down to it, one of them walked over to the prisoner and
stood peering down at him. Hippy's heart almost stopped beating, so
intent was he on listening for the breathing of the man behind him and
from his fear that his mysterious friend might be discovered.

No such emergency arose, nor did he hear the breathing he was listening
for.

After satisfying himself that the captive was safe, the mountaineer
returned to the fire and sat down to his supper.

Hippy felt a slight tug on the rope that bound him, then its pressure
about his waist was released.

"Steady, now," warned that even voice behind him. "Crawl on all fours."

The rescuer placed a hand on Hippy's shoulder and guided him slowly,
cautiously, every movement forward threatening to draw a groan from the
released captive.

"Now get up! Give me your hand," whispered, the stranger. "Don't speak."

For some little time they crept on in silence, the stranger twisting and
turning, finally taking to the middle of a mountain stream and following
it up for some distance when he halted.

"Tell me what the situation is back there. What did they propose to do
to you?" demanded the man.

"I expect the gang is on its way there now to shoot me up, provided I do
not give them the information they seek," answered Hippy.

"What information?"

Lieutenant Wingate repeated the conversation of the previous night,
leaving out no details, however trivial they might seem to him.

"I thought so. Come up here and sit down. I shall have to leave you,
perhaps for an hour or more. When I return I will give one short
whistle. If all is well you will reply with two short whistles."

"You are going back there to spy on that outfit that we just left?"
questioned Hippy.

"Yes. I want to see who the others are, and what they have up their
sleeves. Here's a revolver for you. I suppose they took yours. Don't use
it unless you have to."

"Wait a moment!" called Hippy, as his mysterious friend started away.
"Haven't you forgotten something? That 'snack' you promised to dig
for."

"Oh, yes. Here's some dog biscuit for you, and--"

"Dog biscuit?" exclaimed Hippy.

"Hardtack. You ought to know what that is," chuckled the stranger.

Hippy groaned. It revived painful memories of France in wartime, but he
accepted the hardtack and began biting it off in large chunks. Hippy did
not concern himself about how long the mysterious friend remained away
so long as the biscuit held out, unpalatable as it was.

"I shall be listening for shells to burst first thing I know. Army food!
How did I ever eat it for nearly two years and live?"

It was full two hours later when the welcome whistle signal sounded
somewhere down stream, which Lieutenant Wingate answered as directed.

"Come! We will head for your camp now," announced the man a few moments
later, as he stepped up before Hippy.

"Did you learn anything on your little excursion?" questioned Hippy
thickly, for his mouth was well filled with hardtack.

"Yes, Lieutenant. I learned a great deal. I was there when the crowd
came in to put you on the rack. The two fellows who let you get away
had a hard time of it, and it looked for a time as if there was going to
be shooting. Cooler heads, however, headed it off. When you get back to
your party I should advise you to pull up stakes and get out. Those
fellows will be after you and you'll have to look alive or you won't be
alive long."

"I know I am thick, old man, but tell me why they are so eager to blow
my light out," begged Hippy.

"Don't you know, Lieutenant?"

"If I did I shouldn't be asking you. Begging your pardon for my
bluntness."

"One reason, but not the principal one, is that you bounced one of the
gang from your camp."

"Go on. What's the big idea?"

"The big idea, as you call it, is that there is a price on your head up
here! Now do you understand, Lieutenant?"

Hippy Wingate uttered a low, long-drawn whistle of amazement.



CHAPTER IX

THE POWER OF MIND


"What do you suppose it can mean, and who threw it into our camp?"
wondered Elfreda Briggs, folding up the newspaper that contained the
message to them.

"It must mean that a friend is interested in our welfare," replied
Grace. "Whoever and whatever he may be, his advice is good, and here we
stay until we find Hippy. I am going out right after breakfast and make
an effort to pick up the trail. Surely the outlaws, or whatever they
are, will not be waiting all that time for us to follow them. I will
make a quiet scout. I do not look to be interfered with, for they surely
will have gone away by now."

"Shall I call the girls and tell them? The knowledge that a helping hand
has been held out to us surely will comfort Nora," said Elfreda.

"Yes. I will rout out Washington and have him start the fire. It has
been a trying night and I am glad it is at an end," replied Grace.

"I knew it," cried Emma Dean when she learned what had taken place. "I
didn't con-centrate for nothing."

"You what?" frowned Elfreda.

"I have been con-centrating all night long--con-centrating on Hippy to
call him back to us."

"Oh, you darlin'," cried Nora, throwing her arms about Emma.

"I should advise you to continue to 'con-centrate,'" suggested Anne. "If
you were to stop now you might break the mental string; then we should
lose Hippy for good."

"You just wait. You'll see whether or not he comes back," retorted Emma
indignantly.

Nora's face was flushed that morning and her heart was filled with a new
hope--the hope that Hippy might be with them before the close of that
day.

After breakfast, as planned, Grace took up her rifle and went away,
leaving Elfreda and the others to guard the camp and, incidentally, to
keep Washington busy and out of mischief. He was, too, forbidden to play
his harmonica lest the noise attract attention to the camp of the
Overland Riders.

Proceeding cautiously, Grace reached the stream, and followed it until
she found where the kidnappers of Hippy had left it. After waiting and
watching for a full hour, Grace stepped out boldly. For six hours the
Overland girl employed all her knowledge of the open in an effort to
pick up the trail of the mountaineers, but the trail appeared to end
abruptly at the bank of the creek. Not even the hoofprints of horses
could be found on the softer ground a short distance back from the
stream.

There are tricks in masking one's trail that the Kentucky mountaineers
had learned from generations of feuds and attacks by revenue agents,
which Grace Harlowe knew nothing of.

At noon she gave up the attempt to find the trail over which Hippy
Wingate had been taken, and started back towards the camp.

"What luck?" called Nora, as she appeared at the edge of the clearing
where the camp was pitched.

"None. As a trailer, I am a miserable failure, a rank amateur."

"If you were to spend as much time con-centrating as you do tearing
about over the landscape, you would be more successful," declared Emma
wisely, at which there was a laugh at Grace's expense.

"I surely could not be more unsuccessful than I have been," replied
Grace smilingly.

The afternoon was passed in discussing their situation. While the girls
were eager to be out trying to find Hippy, they believed that they were
doing the wise thing in following the advice of their unknown friend,
whose message had been tossed into their camp, so they remained in camp
and waited.

When night came and still no Hippy, the depression of the Overlanders
increased and there was little conversation, each one appearing to be
listening, Emma, with a faraway look in her eyes, now and then relapsing
into deep thought. Emma was "con-centrating."

The same arrangement for guarding the camp, as had been carried out the
previous night, was again followed. This time, Grace took one side of
the camp and Miss Briggs the other. Both hid in deep shadows, each with
a rifle at her side and a revolver in its holster. Thus prepared they
settled themselves for the night, all the other members of the party
being in their tents and, supposedly, asleep.

It was late when Grace and Elfreda were aroused by Washington talking,
muttering in his sleep, then the nerves of the two girls leaped to
attention as, out of the bushes on Miss Briggs' side of the camp, a twig
snapped. It was accompanied by a sound that indicated the presence of a
human being.

"Who goes?" demanded Elfreda sharply.

_Bang!_

Without giving the maker of the noise out there time to answer, she
fired a shot from her revolver into the trees in that direction, but
high enough to be certain that one underneath them would not be hit.

Miss Briggs' shot brought instant results.

"Hey there! Cut the gun!" howled Hippy Wingate.

"It's Hippy!" breathed Grace, springing to her feet. "Don't shoot,
Elfreda!"

The two girls sprang up and waited. They were still cautious, but their
companions, awakened by the shot, were not. Nora, Anne and Emma rushed
out, demanding excitedly to know what the trouble was.

At this juncture Hippy walked into the clearing.

"Meet me with a pail of food! I'm starving!" he wailed.

For the next few minutes there was excitement in the camp, Nora clinging
to Hippy's neck laughing and crying, Emma standing a little aloof from
them with a superior smile on her face, Anne, urging the wide-eyed
Washington to start the fire and prepare coffee, and Grace seeking to
quiet Nora so that they might hear Hippy's story.

When the campfire blazed up and they saw his condition, Nora wept again.
Hippy was hatless--his hat was out in the bushes where Grace, after
finding it, had secreted it--his clothes were torn, he was hollow-eyed,
and his head wore a lump that stood out prominently.

"Never mind the trimmings. Give me food," he begged. Then between
mouthfuls he told the story of his capture so far as he knew it, told it
to the moment of his reaching the Overland camp. Hippy said he intended,
if possible, to creep in quietly without awakening any one and give the
girls a big surprise in the morning, when Elfreda threw a wrench into
the machinery, "and tried to wing me," he added amid laughter.

"I could not afford to wait," answered Miss Briggs.

"You sure are some quick on the trigger," declared Hippy. "The fellow
who was with me ducked, and I heard him chuckling and laughing as he
sneaked away."

"Yes, but, had it not been for me, you might not have been here,
Lieutenant Wingate," interjected Emma Dean.

"Eh? How's that, Emma?"

"Why, I--I con-centrated on you and brought you back," answered Emma
solemnly.

"What a pity," murmured Hippy sadly. "And she so young."

"Who was the man who rescued you?" questioned Grace, after the laugh at
Emma's expense had subsided.

"I don't know. I never saw him before. He is a slick article, whoever he
may be."

"Are you certain that it was not our Mystery Man?" asked Anne.

"I am. Say! We must get out of here right smart, for there is going to
be trouble," urged Hippy.

"I should say that we already have had our share of it," complained
Elfreda.

"Yes, but this is different, child. The mountaineers are after us--after
me especially," he added, throwing out his chest a little.

"After you--after you, Hippy, my darlin'?" cried Nora. "Why should they
be after you?"

"I don't know any more about it than you do. Perhaps the little mix-ups
we had with those two fellows may have something to do with it."

"It must be something more serious than revenge for your having bounced
one and driven the other one away," offered Grace. "Will you please tell
me why we should move in such a hurry?"

"Because the fellow who got me out of my scrape said we must. He says we
have got to make Thompson's farm as quickly as possible and stay there
until the storm blows over," insisted Lieutenant Wingate. "Of course, I
don't give a rap for myself, but I have a great moral responsibility."

"A what?" interjected Emma.

"Moral responsibility. I am responsible for the safety of you girls and
my powerful body shall stand between you and all harm."

"Ahem--m--m," piped Emma Dean.

"To what storm did he refer?" asked Grace. She was regarding Hippy
narrowly, not yet sure that he was not joking, though she did not
believe he was.

"I don't know, Brown Eyes. That depends upon which way the wind blows.
It feels like snow to me. He did not say what kind of storm, but he
strongly advised what I have told you," answered the lieutenant.

"It doesn't sound reasonable to me. I do not see how we should be any
safer on the farm you speak of, than we shall be by following the trail
to Hall's Corners, all the time attending strictly to our own business,"
observed Elfreda.

"Nor do I," agreed Grace.

"I will tell you why, Elfreda," answered Hippy. "We shall be safer
there, where, for some reason, my informant doesn't seem to think those
ruffians will bother us. Whereas, if we remain out and continue on our
way to our destination, I shall probably be shot. Those mountaineers are
bound to get me."

"What?" gasped Nora Wingate. "Hippy, my darlin', do you mean it?"

"Yes I do. There is a price on my head up here! That's the whole story."

"A price! Huh! If there is, I'll wager that it is a cut-rate price.
Good-night! I am going back to bed." Emma Dean turned her back on them
and flounced off to her tent.



CHAPTER X

"THEY'VE GOT THE BOY"


"I don't believe it. Your rescuer was drawing the long bow," spoke up
Anne Nesbit.

"Yes, I can't imagine Hippy with a price on his head," nodded Miss
Briggs.

"When I'm dead you folks will be sorry that you didn't take me
seriously," rebuked Lieutenant Wingate. "Do we do as my friend
suggested, and hike for the Thompson farm, or must I be sacrificed on
the altar of unbelief?"

"Grace must answer that question. She is our captain," answered Elfreda.

Grace Harlowe regarded Hippy with searching eyes.

"You are not fooling us, Hippy?" she demanded.

"Could I be so base as to deceive my dearest friends?" answered
Lieutenant Wingate in an aggrieved tone. "How can you doubt me?"

"Girls, if there be no objection, we will start at daybreak. Washington,
do you know where the Thompson farm is?" questioned Grace.

"Ah reckon Ah does," drawled Washington.

"How far is it from here?"

"'Bout two skips an' er jump, Ah reckons."

"He thinks we are a flock of fleas," grumbled Hippy under his breath.

"I will get the map. We shall learn nothing from Washington," said
Grace, rising. "Washington, pack up everything we shall not need
to-night. We wish to make an early start in the morning."

"Yes'm."

Fetching the map, Grace and Elfreda pored over it and finally located
the farm in question. The map was a sectional map issued by the
government and gave every trail and landmark in the territory that it
covered.

"I should say Thompson's farm is about twenty miles from here. It
appears to be quite a bit out of our way, but that doesn't matter in the
circumstances. Yes, I think we can make it. All right, Hippy."

"What about to-night?" asked Miss Briggs.

"The same arrangement as last night," replied Grace in a low tone. "We
will take turns. Take your blanket out. He needs a rest to-night,"
nodding towards Hippy Wingate.

Neither Grace nor Elfreda felt like sitting up another night. Hippy
insisted that he must take his watch on guard, but they declined his
offer, telling him that they could not trust him to keep awake in view
of what he had been through and the sleep he had lost. So the two girls
took up their vigil again, Grace lying down near her companion, Elfreda
taking the first watch of the night.

It was not long after the camp had settled down to sleep that Elfreda
put a quick pressure on the arm of her companion. Grace was awake
instantly.

"What is it?" she whispered, instinctively sensing that the pressure on
her arm was a warning pressure.

"I thought I heard something yonder by Washington's tent," whispered
Miss Briggs.

"Yes, something is moving about there," agreed Grace, after a few
minutes of attentive listening. "It may be Washington himself. Don't
shoot. Remember, too, that the ponies are in that direction, so if we
have to fire we must fire high."

"I had thought of that. I--"

Miss Briggs was interrupted by the most unearthly yell that any member
of the Overland party had ever heard. The yell was uttered by Washington
Washington.

"Leggo me! Leggo! He kotched me! He kotched me! Wo--o--o--o--o--ow!"

The howls of the colored boy ended in a gurgle.

"Shoot!" commanded Grace. "Shoot high! Empty your rifle!"

Both girls let go a rattling fire with their rifles, and the howls and
the shots brought the others of their party tumbling and shouting from
their tents.

"Down! Quiet!" commanded Grace. "Let no one shoot without orders, unless
in an emergency. I am going out there."

"Better not," advised Miss Briggs.

"I must. You know I must. If they have harmed that boy--Well, you know
the answer. Keep them quiet."

With only her revolver, Grace crept around the outer edge of the camp,
making every movement with extreme care, pausing now and then to listen.
It was her opinion that the disturbers had left, but she was too old a
campaigner to take that for granted, and never for an instant relaxed
her caution.

The Overland girl reached the far end of the camp without incident. She
crept to the tent where the colored boy slept and found it empty. There
was no trace, that she was able to discover in the dark, to indicate
what had happened to him. Not satisfied with what she had already
accomplished, Grace crept further out along the trail, revolver in hand,
eyes and ears keenly on the alert.

Finally she turned campwards.

"They have got the boy," she announced, coming up from the rear of the
tents, and approaching her companions from behind. All were sitting on
the ground, silent, expectant, waiting, either for Grace's return or a
burst of revolver fire. Their nerves jumped from the reaction when Grace
spoke to them.

"Oh, that is too bad," murmured Anne.

"Did you discover anything else?" asked Elfreda.

"No. I could not see anything in the dark. The worst of it is that we
shall not be able to do a thing until morning. That settles our getting
started in the morning, for I for one shall not leave here until we have
found Washington. I don't know why they should have taken the boy. He
surely can be of no use to them."

"He can give them information, can't he?" asked Hippy.

"None that will be of use to them."

"It is my opinion," spoke up Elfreda, "that they were not after the boy
at all, but that his howls made it necessary for them to take him to
protect themselves. Of course they will drag such information as he has,
from him."

"We must all stand watch for the rest of the night," announced Hippy. He
then promptly distributed his force, taking the lead in the
arrangements, which Grace was now glad to have him do. Then again, she
understood full well that Lieutenant Wingate himself was eager to even
up old scores with the men who had handled him so roughly.

Each girl, armed with a rifle, took the position assigned to her, and
there was no more conversation for the next two hours, no sound other
than that from the insect life and the occasional whinney of a pony. The
minds of the Overlanders, however, were active. They were pondering over
these persistent attacks on them, and Grace, for one, became finally
convinced that Lieutenant Wingate was not overstating when he declared
that there was a price on his head. She was inclined to think, too, that
the same condition applied to all members of the Overland party.

As for Washington, none of them believed that the mountaineers could
have any possible motive for harming him, unless, perhaps, it were
necessary to do so for their own protection. That, the girls realized,
was a grave possibility, especially were the men to see that he
recognized any of them.

There was worry on the minds of the Overlanders, and the hours of their
vigil seemed to drag out interminably. It was not until morning,
however, that anything occurred to disturb them or even rouse them from
their endless listening and peering into the darkness with straining
eyes and bated breaths. Therefore, the interruption that followed the
long, tense silence came as a shock, an interruption that startled each
member of the party into a new and throbbing alertness.



CHAPTER XI

"A MARKED MAN"


The first indication that something was approaching the opposite side of
the camp was made known by the sudden restlessness of the ponies, which
sprang up and gave every indication of fright.

The action of the ponies was followed by a floundering and crashing out
there in the bushes as if a large animal were tearing its way through
them.

"Hold your fire!" directed Lieutenant Wingate in a low voice. "It may be
that one of the ponies has broken loose."

No one answered, but every rifle was held at ready.

"There it comes! It's a man," cried Nora, as a figure burst into view
from the bushes.

"Doan shoot! Doan shoot! It am Wash," howled Washington Washington, then
tripping on a vine, he fell flat on his face. "It kotched me! It kotched
me!" he bellowed, springing up ready to make another dash.

By this time Hippy had him by the collar.

"Oh, fiddlesticks! All this scare for a black nightmare," groaned Emma.

"Stop that racket!" commanded Hippy. "Is any one chasing you?"

"Ah--Ah doan know. Ah--Ah reckons de debbil hisself am chasing me. Ah--"

"Pull yourself together and tell us what happened to you," directed
Grace as Lieutenant Wingate led the trembling lad up to them.

"He got me, he did."

"Who got you?" interjected Miss Briggs.

"Ah doan know. He kotched me an' Ah yelled--"

"He yelled? How unusual," muttered Emma.

"Den--den he put er hand ovah ma mouth an' gib me er clip on de haid,"
continued Washington excitedly. "Ah doan knows nothin' moah till Ah
wakes up. Dey was talkin' 'bout dat time."

"Who was talking?" interrupted Hippy.

"Dis heah niggah doan know nothin' 'bout dat. Dey was talkin', an' den
Ah jest jumps up--an' den Ah jumps up an runs away."

"How did you find your way here?" asked Anne.

"That is what I have been wondering," nodded Grace.

"Ah didn'. A feller kotched me when Ah runned, an' held mah mouf shut
so Ah couldn't holler. Den he-all fotched me heah. Den he gib me er kick
an' says, 'Gwine on, yuh lazy niggah, but look out fer de guns. Dem
folks kin shoot.' Dat's why Ah hollered when Ah kim inter de camp,"
finished Washington.

"Did you recognize any of the men who took you away from here?"
questioned Miss Briggs.

Washington shook his curly head.

"Did you know the man who brought you back?" asked Grace.

"Ah did not. Who yuh reckons he was?"

"That is what we are trying to find out," Hippy informed him. "Would you
know the man were you to see him again?"

"Ah didn' see him nohow. Ah felt him, Ah did, an' Ah feels him yit, Ah
does."

"No need to question him," laughed Grace. "His militant friend was
rather violent, it appears. Washington, get your blanket and lie down
here near the tents. The camp is being guarded and you will be perfectly
safe. The others had better turn in also, and get what rest they can. It
now lacks only about two hours to daylight, and we shall be able to make
an early start, now that Washington is here."

"Yes, he's here, but he would not be here if I had not con-centrated on
him," spoke up Emma Dean.

"For the love of goodness, drop that piffle!" begged Hippy wearily. "We
have enough serious matters on hand to think about without having to
listen to prattle. Laundry, did you know that Miss Dean had been
'con-centrating' on you?"

"What dat? Er hoodoo?"

"Yes, that is what Miss Dean is trying to put on you," laughed Hippy.

"You listen to me, Wash!" demanded Emma spiritedly. "When I was
con-centrating on you, making my mind reach out to yours, didn't your
hair seem to stand on end just the way a cat's hair does when you stroke
it the wrong way--"

"Yes'm! Mah hair stood up all right when dey kotched me," admitted
Washington.

"And didn't you feel a distinct electric shock all over your being?"

"Just like as if you had run into an electric light pole?" interjected
Hippy.

"No, suh. Didn' feel no shock, 'cept when dat feller kicked me. Ah felt
dat all right an' Ah feels it yit."

"I reckon that will be about all. You see, Emma, this was not a case of
mind over matter, but of a heavy boot against Washington Washington's
anatomy," chuckled Hippy.

The Overland Riders laughed louder than their situation warranted, and
Emma Dean, very red in the face, flounced off to her tent without
another word.

"I think that was real mean of you, Hippy," chided Grace, laughing in
spite of her effort to be stern.

Soon after that the camp settled down to quietness, with Hippy Wingate
and Elfreda Briggs on guard, Grace having consented to lie down and
sleep for the rest of the night--provided.

They were undisturbed, except when, shortly before daylight, something
again aroused the ponies, but the disturbance quickly subsided, and the
watchers believed that some animal had startled them.

At daylight the camp was astir--that is, with the exception of Hippy
Wingate who insisted on a brief beauty nap after his two-hour vigil. He
came out just as Washington, after building the cook-fire, was starting
out to water the horses.

"Good morning, Lieutenant," greeted Emma Dean sweetly. "What's the
quotation this morning?"

"On what?" demanded Hippy, halting and eyeing her suspiciously.

"On heads, of course."

"Is there any reason why, because I'm a marked man--because there is a
price on my head, you should make fun of me? Having a price on one's
head is not a joking matter. My mind is carrying a heavy weight, Emma
Dean," rebuked Hippy impressively.

"Nonsense! I know better. If it was carrying a heavy burden your mind
long ago would have caved in," retorted Emma.

Hippy Wingate threw up his hands in token of surrender, and breaking off
a twig of laurel he gravely placed it in Emma's hair so that it drooped
over her forehead.

"I bestow upon thee a crown of laurel," announced Hippy solemnly amid
shouts of laughter.

"Come, children. Breakfast is ready," called Grace Harlowe.
"Washington!"

"Ah'm comin'," answered the colored boy from the bush. "Ah found dis on
de saddle," he announced, holding out an envelope to Grace.

She took it wonderingly.

"What's this? The rural free delivery man here so early in the morning!"
questioned Emma.

"This is addressed to you, Lieutenant," said Grace, handing the envelope
to Lieutenant Wingate.

Hippy read it and a frown grew on his face, deepening as he read it a
second time.

"More mystery?" questioned Anne Nesbit.

"Yes. Listen to this, will you?"

Hippy read out loud the following words, almost illegible on the much
smeared paper:

          "'Yuh-all will git out o' these mountings right
          smart. We-all knows who yuh be. We-all knows why
          yuh be here. Turn aroun' an' git out or it'll be
          th' wus fer yuh-all.'"

"They propose to drive us out, do they?" murmured Grace.

"I looked for something of the sort," nodded Elfreda. "Is the letter
signed?"

"No. But wait a moment. There is a postscript here that I haven't read,"
said Hippy. "Talk about your mysterious forces! Just listen to this
postscript, written in another hand and evidently by an intelligent
person."



CHAPTER XII

A MOUNTAIN MYSTERY


"Perhaps the postscript is to tell us that it is all a mistake and that
we do not have to leave," suggested Emma.

"Listen!" commanded Hippy, then began to read:

"'Do not follow the trail you are on, on your way to Thompson's. Strike
due north for half a mile and you will come up with a wagon trail,
broader and safer, because you can see a long way on either side through
the thin forest. Keep the broad trail for fifteen miles, take third left
and second right, which will take you to Thompson's. You're all right,
but be vigilant. The above warning means what it says.'"

"Is there a name signed to the postscript?" asked Miss Briggs.

Hippy shook his head.

"I know who wrote that postscript," spoke up Miss Dean. "It was our
Mystery Man, Jeremiah Long."

Grace asked for the letter, which she scrutinized critically.

"No, this is not his writing," she decided.

"How do you know? He hasn't been corresponding with you," objected
Hippy.

Grace explained that Mr. Long had left a note thanking the Overlanders
for their hospitality. To make certain that she was right she went to
her kit and fetched the note referred to, and also brought the note that
had been tossed into their camp on the occasion of Hippy's
disappearance. The three missives were examined by each of the Overland
Riders. It was found that the message tossed into camp and the
postscript of the letter found by Washington were in the same
handwriting. Mr. Long's handwriting was different.

"That disposes of the theory that either of these messages was written
by Mr. Long," agreed Elfreda. "The question is, who is our mysterious
friend?"

"You do not think it is a trick to get us where we shall find ourselves
in a tight place?" suggested Anne questioningly.

"No. I do not feel that there is a shadow of doubt that these two notes
are what they appear to be--the suggestions of a friend. Who or what he
is we may or may not learn. I propose that we follow the advice he gives
us. Are you all agreed on that?" asked Grace.

The Overlanders said they were.

"Then we will go on our way," directed Grace.

They found the wagon trail after nearly an hour's hard riding over
rocks, into and out of gullies with steep, precipitous sides, but the
wagon trail when reached, while rutty, was so much better that they soon
forgot the discomforts of riding "across lots," as Hippy put it.

The noon halt was a brief one, after which they pressed on, having no
difficulty in finding their way as directed by their mysterious adviser.

It was nearly dark when they came in sight of a clearing of several
acres covered with growing corn, which they surmised to be part of the
Thompson farm. Grace asked Washington if it were.

"Ah reckons it be," answered the colored boy, but it was apparent that
he knew no more about it than did the Overland Riders.

"Where is the house of this Thompson party?" demanded Hippy.

"Mebby 'bout er whoop an' er holler from heah."

"Huh!" grunted Hippy. "The last 'whoop and holler' you told us of was
nearly twenty miles. Don't guess. If you don't know the correct answer
to a question, say so. Don't stall around and--"

"Yassuh."

"I suppose we should ask permission before we camp on private property,"
suggested Elfreda. "Not knowing where to do so, might it not be wise to
back up a little?"

"What do you mean?" asked Grace.

"Move away from the trail and into the thicket where we shall be both
out of sight and probably on no man's land, as it were."

"The suggestion is good, though I do not wholly approve of the idea of
getting into a pocket where we cannot see about us," agreed Grace. "Our
mysterious friend must know what he is talking about when he advises us
to go to Thompson's farm, as some one urged Hippy to do."

"He seemed to think we would be safer here," nodded Lieutenant Wingate.

"So far as my observation goes--has gone for the last couple of
years--safety is not the one great ambition of our young lives. At
least, getting into difficulties and perilous situations has become a
habit with Grace Harlowe," declared Miss Briggs.

"Yes, for instance, roping bandits with that Mexican lasso that the
cowboys gave her last season," suggested Emma. "Why aren't you throwing
it more? I have seen you swing it only once since we started."

Grace said that she had practiced with the rope nearly all winter, and
declared that it was about time that the rest of the party took up
throwing the lasso. Elfreda, as related in a previous volume, "GRACE
HARLOWE'S OVERLAND RIDERS ON THE GREAT AMERICAN DESERT," also had
learned to throw the lasso and could do so quite well, but since her
winter's practice with it Grace had gained much skill and was far ahead
of her friend in its manipulation. Perhaps, having mastered the secret
of rope-throwing, she had lost interest in it.

"I will start practicing again to-morrow," promised Miss Briggs.

"You need it. I don't believe you could even catch cold with a rope,"
teased Lieutenant Wingate.

"Yes I could--I--" Elfreda's following remark was lost in the laughter
of her companions. "What I said, but which you folks were too impolite
to listen to, was that I will show you whether I can throw a rope or
not. Let me have it, Grace."

"You will find it just inside of my tent, on the left-hand side. What
are you going to do?"

"I am going out, as soon as it is light enough to see, and practice
until breakfast time."

This Miss Briggs did with the graying of the dawn, after a night of
peaceful rest, while Grace and Hippy kept guard over the camp. They
teased her at breakfast, and Hippy suggested that Elfreda ask Emma Dean
to "con-centrate" on her during Miss Briggs' future practice with the
lasso.

"To change the subject, I am going to look up the Thompsons and try to
make peace with them, provided they are like most of the mountaineers
that we have come into intimate contact with," announced Grace. "I
suggest that you and I ride out on a tour of investigation this morning,
leaving Hippy here to protect the camp, Elfreda. You may take your rope
along and practice on me, if you wish," smiled Grace.

"You will be perfectly safe," murmured Emma.

Immediately after breakfast the two girls mounted and rode out along the
trail they had been following, now bordered on one side by a field of
rustling corn. Reaching the end of the cornfield they discovered, just
ahead, a cabin located in an open space of several acres of rugged
mountain land.

"That must be the place. We will ride up and find out," announced Grace,
clucking to her pony.

As they approached the cabin a slovenly looking woman, accompanied by
three children, one a girl that the Overlanders judged to be about
fourteen years of age, the other two girls being much younger, one a
mere toddler, came out and, shading her eyes with a hand, eyed the
newcomers suspiciously.

"Is this Mr. Thompson's home?" asked Grace, smiling down at the
children.

"Ah reckon it be. Who be you?"

"I am Mrs. Grace Gray. My companion is Miss Briggs. We are riding
through the mountains for pleasure and business combined, and are camped
with our party on the other side of the cornfield. What I wished to ask,
if you are Mrs. Thompson, is, may we be permitted to remain there for a
few days?"

"Ah reckon ye kin if ye wants to if mah husband ain't objectin'."

"Is he here?" interjected Elfreda.

The woman shook her head.

"Mah other daughter is out pickin' berries. Mebby she'll come down an'
look ye over bymeby. Kin I sell ye anything!"

"Yes, if you have milk we should be glad to have some every morning and
night while here. We have a man friend and a colored boy with us. One of
them will call for the milk early this evening. Thank you so much. Are
the children quite well?"

"Tol'bly, tol'bly, Ah reckon."

"I think we have a little candy left. I will send it over to them
later," said Grace smilingly, as she wheeled her pony and trotted back
towards camp.

"What a sight! Think of living as those people do," reflected Elfreda.

"Perhaps they are just as happy as we are. But those poor puny children!
I am sorry for them, and when I think of my daughter, Yvonne, and that
healthy young animal, Lindy, your adopted daughter, I feel like crying."

"Don't! Your eyes do not look nice when, they are red. By the way, those
two kiddies, despite what the mother says, do not look at all well. Did
you observe how red their faces were and how listless they appeared?"

Grace said she did. She wondered, too, what the other daughter was like.
Her wonder in this direction was gratified before she had been back from
her brief journey twenty minutes. While telling their companions of the
mountaineer's wife and family and the appearance of the woman and
children, a figure rose up from behind a bush and stood curiously
regarding the Overland party.

Washington discovered the newcomer and began to chatter and point.

"Don't shoot. It's a woman," cried Emma.

"No one is going to shoot," retorted Hippy hopelessly.

By this time all the girls were on their feet, gazing at the head and
shoulders of a young woman showing above the bush. Her full cheeks and
lips were red, and the black, straight hair hanging down her back
reminded the Overlanders of Indian squaws they had seen in their journey
over the Old Apache Trail. It was the caller's eyes, however, that
attracted the most attention. They were large, black and full, and one
felt that they were capable of blazing.

"Won't you come in, Miss?" urged Miss Briggs. "May I ask your name?" she
added, as the girl, whom she judged was not much past twenty years of
age, stepped out into the open.

"Ah'm Julie." That was the only information vouchsafed by the caller,
and the only words she spoke for nearly the entire half hour of her
stay. The Overland girls plied her with questions, and by a nod in
answer to their question learned that Julie was the daughter of the
woman they had called on shortly before. They called her by her first
name, though now and then Emma would address her as "Miss Thompson,"
which seemed to perplex Julie.

"My Paw mebby'll drive ye folks off. He don't like no strangers in these
parts," she finally jerked out.

"It will not be necessary. We shall be moving on in a few days," replied
Grace.

"Paw don't want no strangers," insisted the girl stubbornly. "Spec'ly
since he had er gun fight with one o' them. My gosh how them bullets did
fly. Paw got one through his stumik and had er right smart trouble with
his eatin' fer two days arter that. What you-all doin'?" she demanded,
eyeing Nora Wingate, who was making a sweater.

"Crocheting, Julie. Knitting, perhaps you call it."

"Uh-huh. My gran'ma kin beat you-all knittin'."

"Yes?" smiled Nora.

"You bet she kin. Why, whad you-all think? Gran'ma takes her knittin'
ter bed with 'er and every now and then she throws out a sock. I'll bet
a cookie you-all kain't knit like that-away."

"You win," chuckled Hippy, and the Overland girls laughed merrily.

"I'm going now. Maw said as I'd better come down and look you-all over,
cause Paw'll want ter know 'bout you-all. Say! Goin' to the dance?"

"When?" questioned Emma, her interest instantly aroused.

"Sat'dy night to the schoolhouse over in the holler yonder. Mebby
you-all kin help we uns to pay the band."

"What? Do you have a band up here?" wondered Anne.

"Uh-huh--fiddle and er banjer, and the feller that plays the banjer kin
tear more music out o' it and stomp on the floor harder'n any other
perfesser in the mountains. Better come if Paw ain't run you-all out
befo' then."

"Don't worry, little one. Paw won't run this outfit out just yet,"
replied Hippy.

"I dunno, I dunno. Ain't no tellin' 'bout Paw. Bye." Julie pushed a mass
of hair from her forehead, gave her head a jerk to settle the hair more
firmly in place, then, turning on her heel, walked away without once
turning her head.

"With a stomach like his, 'Paw' should have been in France fighting the
Boches," observed Emma Dean solemnly. "I'm going to the dance! I'm going
to the dance! Tra-la-la," she cried, doing a fancy step about the camp,
keeping time with her upraised arms until she stepped on Washington
Washington's foot and brought a howl from that worthy.

The Overland girls then fell upon and subdued Miss Dean without loss of
time.

"If you let her go to that dance there will be a riot, as sure as I am a
foot high," declared Hippy Wingate, in which assertion most of the girls
agreed with him.



CHAPTER XIII

THREE MEN IN THE CORNFIELD


"Ah tells yuh, Ah did. Ah sawed him obah dar in de co'nfield," protested
Washington Washington.

"There you go again. You will saw the wrong person one of these days,
then you will go to jail for life," rebuked Emma Dean.

"What's that?" demanded Grace, hurrying to the excited colored boy, who
was rolling his eyes and gesticulating as he tried to tell the
Overlanders what he had seen.

"Laundry performed a surgical operation on a man in the cornfield.
That's all, Grace," Emma Dean informed her.

"Ah did. Ah sawed his gun, too."

"Yours must be a sharp saw if it will saw a gun," murmured Emma.

"He war peekin' at yuh-all, an' when he seed Ah sawed him he snooked an'
Ah didn't sawed him no moah."

"Is that all?" questioned Grace.

"Yassuh. Yes'm."

"Quite likely it was the man who owns the cornfield. He probably was
looking the crop over to see if it were fit to cut. I presume a man has
a perfect right to look at his own cornfield, even up here in the
Kentucky mountains," observed Miss Briggs.

"Ah reckons you're right," chuckled Hippy. "I decline to get excited
over it. I have troubles of my own. Say!" he added, his face growing
suddenly serious. "You don't suppose it was a fellow trying to collect
that head money on me, do you?"

"Not in broad daylight, Hippy," smiled Grace. "The headsman probably
will perform the delicate operation of decapitating you some night when
you are asleep."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Nora. "The mountain air has made you all
light-headed. I know who it was. It was 'Paw.' Paw has returned and was
looking us over. I hope, for our own peace of mind, that he liked our
looks."

"Nora may be right," nodded Anne.

"Yes," agreed Grace. "I think it would be wise for Hippy to go to the
Thompson home for the milk to-night. He can then get acquainted with Mr.
Thompson, and perhaps interest him, and make him friendly to us."

Hippy eyed her disapprovingly and sighed.

"A lamb was led to the slaughter and--"

"Just the same, we must be alert to-night," advised Grace. "If Hippy
and Elfreda will take the first half of the night, Anne and I will take
the watch the balance of the night."

This was agreed to, and the rest of the day was devoted to setting the
camp to rights, practicing with the rope, at which all tried their hand,
and taking naps, always with attention to their surroundings, for the
Overland Riders knew they were in more or less peril in the Kentucky
mountains, and believed that sooner or later those who, for some reason,
wished to be rid of them, would make a desperate attempt to force them
to leave that neighborhood.

There was the warning note to indicate that the attempt might not be
long delayed.

Supper, that evening, was eaten just after dark, as the Overlanders
enjoyed sitting about their campfire in the cool evening air, chatting
and telling stories and indulging in good-natured banter as they ate.
They had just sat down when a voice from the darkness brought instant
silence, and a quick reaching for their weapons. The nerves of the
Overland girls were getting jumpy.

"I make the near-blind to see and the seeing to see better. I am the
promoter of happiness, the benefactor of all-uns of the mountains.
Specs, ladies and gentlemen. Nick-nacks, thread, needles, but
principally specs and good cheer. Yes, thanks. I will have a snack with
you. I thank you for the invitation."

The Overland Riders, who, up to this juncture, had not uttered a word,
burst into laughter, for they recognized that voice, the
never-to-be-forgotten voice and lingo of Jeremiah Long, the Mystery Man.

"You are indeed welcome," greeted Grace, stepping forward to shake hands
with the spectacle man, who put down his grip, mopped his forehead, then
grasped her hand, regarding Grace with twinkling eyes.

"I have just come from Jed Thompson's hospitable home where I have
spectacled the family from the old man himself down to and including the
babe. They told me that down by the cornfield was a bunch of campers,
and I said I'd go down and sell them some specs. I'll introduce myself.
I don't know you," he added in a lower tone. "I'm Jeremiah Long, and
I've already told you the rest. Who are you?"

"We are the Overland Riders, riding through the mountains for
pleasure--and business," answered Grace, quickly catching his intimation
that he did not desire that listening ears should know that he had met
the party before. "After mess you must show us your wares. Perhaps we
may find something that may be useful to us."

"Charmed, I'm sure." The Mystery Man of the mountains placed a hand over
his heart and made a profound bow. He then sat down. "Cream and sugar in
the coffee, please. Thank you. I caught the odor of this coffee before I
rounded the upper corner of the cornfield. My nose frequently leads me
to the good things of earth, and what I don't then see with my own eyes,
the eyes in my case do."

"I would give almost anything to be able to talk a blue streak the way
you do," exclaimed Emma so earnestly that her companions nearly choked
with laughter, and that left the Mystery Man with laughter instead of
words on his lips.

"Yes, but greater even than the gift of gab, is the gift of
'con-centration,'" twinkled Jeremiah Long.

"How did you know about that?" demanded Emma, looking her amazement.

"How did I know? My dear young woman, the essence sent out by
'con-centration' is an imponderable quantity--"

"Imponderable?" wondered Miss Dean. "I like that word, and, though I
don't know what it means, it sounds good."

"As I was saying, the waves sent out by your 'con-centrating' may have,
like the wireless waves, been picked up by my own delicate mental
mechanism and--"

"In other words, Miss Dean overshot the mark she aimed at," interjected
Hippy.

"Well, something like that, I should say," chuckled the Mystery Man.

"Is there anything you do not know?" wondered Anne Nesbit.

"You are a mighty fortunate man, I should say," declared Hippy. "Think
what the result would have been had that 'imponderable quantity' hit you
fair and square. Why, it would have blown you to atoms--molecules and--"

"Suppose we change the subject," suggested Grace Harlowe. "Show us your
wares, won't you, Mr. Long?"

The visitor got up, and, fetching his case, opened it, revealing great
numbers of shining spectacles, beads and other shoddy adornments.

"We will now fit you to glasses, those of you who need them."

"You, of course, know how to examine eyes?" nodded Elfreda.

"Oh, no. I 'fit' the bows to the ears," answered Mr. Long.

"Yes, but aren't you afraid you will ruin the eyes of the persons you
fit glasses to?" questioned Grace.

The Mystery Man smiled.

"I never heard of a person's eyes being ruined by looking through a
window," he made reply, raising a merry laugh. "I'll fit you to smoked
glasses to protect your eyes from the sun. They won't cost you anything.
Neither did they cost me anything. I want my wares known in every home
in the mountains, and I want every man, woman and child, and babe in
arms, to be seeing things through my eyes, and I'll accomplish it if the
window glass holds out."

"Of course we expect to pay you," began Grace.

"Not a cent, not a cent. I should say it might be wise to have them--the
glasses--well smoked up like a ham, for there may be doings up here that
it were the part of wisdom for you folks not to see. Do the bows fit,
Mrs. Gray?" he asked, adjusting a pair of specs to her ears.

"I--I think so."

The visitor rattled on, keeping his customers fairly convulsed with
laughter, until he had equipped half the party with spectacles.

"You may pay me," he suddenly suggested, lowering his voice. "I've
changed my mind. That will be two dollars apiece," he added in a loud,
blustering tone.

The Overland Riders looked at him in amazement. Only a few moments
before that he had proposed to "fit" them with glasses free of charge.

"Of course we will pay you," announced Emma Dean airily.

Elfreda and Grace, who had been eyeing Mr. Long inquiringly, saw motive
in his sudden change. The quick, meaning glance he gave them convinced
them that their surmise was right.

"What is it?" asked Grace, her voice down almost to a whisper.

"Yes, two dollars. Thank you. There are three men in the cornfield
watching us," he added in a tone barely loud enough for the Overlanders
to hear. "Don't look. If I don't run out of change I'll have you all
fixed up in three shakes of a possum's tail," said Mr. Long, again
boisterously.



CHAPTER XIV

ELFREDA DISTINGUISHES HERSELF


"The smoke is too thick. I can't see through the glasses. I want my
money back," complained Emma.

"No extra charge for the additional soot. Who is next? Ah! Wash needs a
pair of specs to tone down the whites of his eyes," cried Jeremiah.

"Never mind him. He is smoky enough as it is," returned Hippy. "If you
are dead set on doing more business you might go out and put goggles on
the mules. Perhaps then they might not see so much to bray at."

This badinage was kept up for some little time, so that the prowlers in
the cornfield might not suspect that their presence were known to the
campers.

All of the party were wondering how the Mystery Man knew that they were
being watched, for none of the Overlanders had heard the slightest sound
in the direction of the cornfield, and their ears, after all their
campaigning, were always on the alert. Jeremiah was a man of many
mysteries.

Grace invited him to share their hospitality for the night, which he
acknowledged by rising and favoring them with another profound bow.

"I will sleep in the open, if I may be permitted to do so--as before,"
he murmured. In the same low tone, he added: "I don't just like the
location of your camp."

"Why not, sir?" asked Miss Briggs.

"Too many ears in the cornfield, and besides--"

Emma Dean uttered a dismal groan. Her companions burst out laughing,
Jeremiah regarding them with eyes that twinkled and laughed, though the
face remained almost expressionless.

"Is it not true?" he asked.

"Yes. Too true! Alas, too true," murmured Hippy in an awed tone.

Grace got up laughing and went to her tent for blankets for her guest.

"By the fire as before?" she asked upon her return.

Jeremiah shook his head.

"I will place them, Mrs. Gray. Thank you."

The girls then bade their guest good-night, each one shaking hands with
him, and, as Grace extended her hand, he placed in it a roll of money.

"The funds I held you folks up for," explained Mr. Long. "You can
return it to them to-morrow with an explanation. Do not let the
lieutenant take too many chances, is my suggestion. Good-night."

It had been decided that, so long as their guest were to sleep in the
open, it would not be necessary to keep guard outside. Grace said,
however, that she would stand watch in her tent part of the night, then
call Elfreda, and turn in.

Mr. Long made up his bed on the cornfield side of the camp and, after
listening to one of Hippy's war stories, rolled up in his blankets and
went to sleep. Grace, from her tent, could faintly make out the form of
the Mystery Man, and, sitting, chin in hand regarding him, she wondered,
as she had done many times before, who and what the man was. That he was
all he would have them believe she did not for a moment credit.

"What's that?" Grace leaned forward and peered. Mr. Long appeared to be
asleep under his blankets, but, a short distance from him, she saw
another figure cautiously rolling slowly towards the cornfield.

Looking more closely at the blankets, the Overland girl saw that they
were folded lengthwise to make them appear something like the form of a
human being, and that it was Jeremiah himself who was so cautiously
rolling away.

After waiting another hour for his return she decided that their guest
had left them for the night. Grace then awakened Elfreda and asked her
to take the watch for a couple of hours, saying she was very tired.

Elfreda got up sleepily and, for several minutes, sat with hands clasped
to her head.

"Anything stirring?" she asked, yawning.

"Nothing except the Mystery Man. He stirred himself out of camp. He
rolled out. I do not believe he will return to-night."

"Queer chap, that. All right, Loyalheart. I am awake now. Tumble in and
I will see if I can keep you out of trouble until daylight."

"See to it that, instead, you don't get us into a peck of it," chuckled
Grace, tucking herself in under the blankets. "Thank you for getting the
bed so nice and comfy for me."

"Don't tantalize me. I know how sweet that bed is, for I just got out of
it myself," replied Miss Briggs sourly. Grace did not hear, for she
already was sound asleep, and Elfreda, muttering to herself,
straightened up and exercised her arms and shoulders more thoroughly to
arouse her sleepy faculties.

"There! I think I can manage to keep awake now. I hear Hippy snoring.
Gracious! If I had a snore like that I think I should file it. Oh!"

Elfreda had seen a movement on the cornfield side of the camp. To her,
it looked like a man crawling into camp.

Miss Briggs reached for her rifle and waited. Now and then little
ribbons of flame flickered over the bed of coal of the campfire,
lighting up the camp momentarily. Elfreda was unafraid for the weapon in
her hands gave her confidence, and the cool touch of the barrel against
her hand steadied it.

The intruder was now coming directly towards her.

The moving object was directly in line with Washington Washington's
tent, and for that reason Miss Briggs would not have dared to fire, even
did she find it necessary to do so.

Her first impulse was to awaken Grace, but upon second thought she
decided to wait. Perhaps it was the Mystery Man returning, though
Elfreda did not believe he would take the chance of getting shot.

"Mercy! It's an animal," gasped the watcher. "A bear!" she added in an
awed whisper, as a faint mountain breeze fanned the campfire into a
flame.

The bear by this time had sniffed its way across the camp, bearing to
the left as it neared her tent, but halting when it reached the pack
that contained their provisions. Here the animal was quite clearly
outlined in the light cast by the fire.

It was a small bear, but it looked very large to Elfreda Briggs, who had
never experienced meeting a bear at such close range. He began clawing
at the pack of provisions and tearing with his teeth at the tough canvas
covering, and had it open before Elfreda realized what he was up to.

"He is eating up our food!" she exclaimed under her breath. Miss Briggs
raised her rifle to fire. She lowered it ever so little as a new thought
occurred to her.

"I'll do it!" she declared, laying the rifle on the ground beside her.
"I probably shall make an awful mess of the attempt, but I am going to
try to rope that beast. I don't believe he will attack me if I miss. If
he does I shall have every incentive to break all running records in my
sprint for the rifle."

Elfreda reached for Grace Harlowe's Mexican lasso, arranged it for
casting, then, after listening briefly to Grace's breathing, stepped
cautiously from the tent.

The bear was tearing at the food and its covering, and grunting with
satisfaction, and the supplies of the Overland Riders were disappearing
at a rate that promised a famine, if Bruin's operations were not
immediately checked. So busy was he that her cautious footsteps were
unheard, and so deep was his snout plunged into the treasure he had
found that he failed to catch the scent of his enemy.

As she neared him Miss Briggs felt a sudden weakness in the knees that
threatened flight on her part, but, by summoning all her will, she
managed to call back her grit.

"Ill do it if it kills me!" muttered the Overland Rider. "If I win, I
shall have the laugh on Grace Harlowe. If I lose--well we won't think
about that. Here goes. Steady, and 'con-centrate,' Elfreda Briggs!"

Miss Briggs swung the rope above her head three times to open the loop,
and, gauging her distance as well as she knew how, she let go. One side
of the loop hit Bruin on the ear.

Uttering a snarl at the interruption, the animal made a leap and
accomplished what the roper had failed to accomplish. He leaped right
into the loop with his head and one leg. His spring drew the lasso
tightly about him. He was fast, but he did not propose to be so for many
seconds. Throwing himself on his back, the bear began clawing and biting
at the hateful thing that was drawing tighter and tighter about him.

Elfreda, triumphant, now highly excited, determined to hold fast to that
which she had, twisted the free end of the rope about her arm and
grasped the tautened strand with both hands, at the same time bracing
her feet and pulling with all her might.

Bruin bounded to his feet, and for one terrible instant J. Elfreda
thought he was going to rush her. Instead, the bear whirled and, humping
himself almost into a furry ball, galloped away. His captor, with the
rope twisted about her arm, could not have freed herself in time, even
had she thought of so doing.

"Help! Oh, help!" she wailed, as her feet were jerked from under her and
she was hurled violently to the ground. "Help--p!"

The camp of the Overland Riders was in an uproar in an instant. J.
Elfreda, champion of peace, though not a pacifist, had started
something, the end of which was not yet in sight.



CHAPTER XV

WHEN EMMA SAID TOO MUCH


"Where is he?" bellowed Hippy, charging from his tent, rifle in hand.
"Elfreda!" shouted Grace, rubbing her eyes to get the sleep out of them.
She could hear the commotion, but was unable to make out the cause of
the disturbance.

In the meantime, Miss Briggs was being dragged over the ground at a rate
of speed that was neither good for her clothing nor her body. In his
blind fright, the animal charged straight into Washington Washington's
pup-tent, landing right on the colored boy. The lad threw up his arms,
and they closed about the neck of the bear.

A frightful howl instantly woke the mountain silence, as Washington let
go and rolled from under. The bear, as much frightened as was Wash,
turned and charged across the camp. He met Emma Dean head on, and she
went down under the onslaught.

"It's a bear! Shoot him!" screamed Emma.

"No!" shouted Grace. "He is dragging Elfreda. Don't shoot!" Grace's
eyes by this time had become adjusted to the uncertain light and her
mind instantly comprehended the situation, so far as the fact that her
companion was being dragged was concerned, though she did not realize
that it was her rope that was around the neck of the frightened animal.

Young Bruin went through Grace's tent, Elfreda following him like a
projectile. Both emerged from the ruins on the other side and headed for
the bush, with the Overland Riders in full pursuit.

"Throw yourself on the rope and grab it!" panted Grace, as Hippy ran
past her.

"Let go!" he shouted to Miss Briggs, but, though Elfreda was willing to
do so, she could not. Neither could she summon enough breath to answer.

"Snub the rope around something," urged Grace.

Hippy reached and passed Elfreda and threw himself on the rope, as he
thought. The bear, having made a sudden turn to get away from him,
caused Hippy to miss the rope by a few feet. The rope tripped Grace who
landed flat on the ground.

It was at this juncture that Anne and Nora reached the scene, and the
next instant they too were tripped by the rope. The entire Overland
party were now floundering about in the bushes, and Washington
Washington was up a tree, clinging to it, wide-eyed, as he listened to
the uproar below him.

Darting this way and that, the bear finally raced around a tree with
Miss Briggs following. The purchase thus given to her served to check
the progress of the animal. Hippy took instant advantage. He threw
himself on the rope, and, this time, succeeded in grasping it with both
hands.

[Illustration: "Get Her Loose."]

"Quick! Get her loose," he panted, holding to the lasso with all his
strength, but feeling it slowly slipping through his hands, for the bear
possessed greater pulling strength than did Hippy.

Grace lost no time in freeing the rope from Elfreda's hands and arm.

"Drag her away. Lively!" she urged.

Anne and Nora gave instant obedience, and the instant Elfreda was free
of the rope, Grace quickly snubbed it about the trunk of the tree.

"Let go, Hippy," she called. "I think I can hold him till you get here
to help me."

Bruin was snarling and plunging, throwing himself this way and that in
his vain efforts to free himself, but the hair rope held. Mere bear
strength was not equal to breaking a woven hair rope, and, when Hippy
threw his weight on the end of it with Grace, they hauled the animal
up towards the tree little by little, Bruin fighting every inch of the
way.

"Watch him," warned the lieutenant.

As he neared the tree, the animal showed fight but Grace and Hippy made
the rope fast when the bear was a yard or so from the tree, fearing to
draw him any closer to themselves.

"How is Elfreda?" called Grace, fanning herself with her hat.

"Sadly mussed," answered Nora.

"Well, now that you have him, what do you propose to do with him?"
demanded Grace, walking over and gazing down at Miss Briggs, who lay on
the ground breathing hard.

"I--I have done all I ca--an," groaned Elfreda.

"I should say you had. What happened, Elfreda?"

"Mostly myself. You ought to know that by looking at me." Miss Briggs'
face was scratched from contact with the bushes; her hair was down and
in a tangle, and her clothing was torn. She was a much mussed-up young
woman.

"Watch him, Hippy," called Grace. "J. Elfreda, if you are feeling able
please tell us what occurred. I know that you roped the animal, but that
is all."

Miss Briggs briefly related her experience up to the time the
Overlanders appeared on the scene.

"You win the blue ribbon," laughed Grace. "As I asked before, now that
you have the beast, what do you propose to do with him?"

"Let him go," replied Elfreda a little petulantly.

"Yes, but how? You roped him. It seems up to you to untie him."

"Oh, cut the rope," suggested Emma.

"Indeed, you will not," objected Grace. "You must think of some better
plan."

"Leave it to the bear. He will have the rope gnawed in two very soon at
the present rate," called Hippy. "Come, Emma. Get busy and
'con-centrate' on the difficulty."

The animal was on its back when the girls gathered about him, keeping a
safe distance from him, however. He was clawing and biting and snarling
savagely, and Grace was much concerned for her rope, which was one of
her prized possessions.

"What do you suggest, Hippy?" she asked.

"Either cut the rope or shoot him, or else let him liberate himself."

"He will have to be shot. I am sorry, but it seems the only way,"
decided Grace. "Will you do it, Hippy?"

"Sure I will. Mighty glad for the opportunity. We will have bear steak
for breakfast."

"Perhaps we shall have jail to digest it in. I am not certain whether or
not we are permitted to shoot bear at this time of the year. Do you know
what the Kentucky game laws with reference to bear are?"

Hippy said he did not, and did not care. Having made up his mind to have
bear for breakfast, no mere laws should interfere with his appetite he
said. The girls, not wishing to witness the operation, returned to the
camp and Hippy shot the bear.

Most of the balance of the night was spent by him in dressing the animal
and stringing it up by its hocks to let it cool. He was not an expert at
this sort of thing, but had Tom Gray been there he would have done the
job and been back between his blankets in an hour. However, there was
bear steak for breakfast, though Elfreda declared she wouldn't touch a
mouthful of it for anything. The others were not suffering from delicate
appetites, and did full justice to the meal.

Later in the forenoon, Hippy, who had declared himself too busy to go
for the milk the night before, started out for the Thompson cabin,
accompanied by Nora and Emma, to purchase a pail of fresh milk.

Upon their arrival there, Julie and the rest of the family, except Mr.
Thompson, gathered about the Overland Riders, full of curiosity. Julie
explained that "Paw" had gone away the night before and hadn't come
back.

"Paw's awful mad 'bout you folks," she announced. "Said as how ye had
better git out afore he got too het up 'bout ye."

"We shall be going in a few days," answered Nora. "Tell your 'Paw' not
to get excited."

"I'll tell you what," bubbled Emma. "Does he like bear meat?"

"Ah reckon he likes most any kind o' food," answered Mrs. Thompson.

"Good. Listen to me! We got a bear last night and we had part of him for
breakfast. For a time it looked like he was going to have us for his
breakfast, but we shot him and Lieutenant Wingate dressed him, and he
was fine," declared Miss Dean with enthusiasm. "I will send the colored
boy over with a fine bear steak for Mr. Thompson, and, if he is anything
like Lieutenant Wingate, he will be mad no longer."

The mountain woman smiled at Emma's temperamental enthusiasm.

"I reckon he'll be mighty glad to have it," she nodded.

Before leaving, Hippy Wingate chucked the two little children under the
chin and gave each a five-cent piece, promising to give them as much
more each time he came for the milk.

"Queer about 'Paw,' ain't it?" mimicked Emma as they were on their way
home. "I wonder if he is staying in the cornfield watching our camp.
Perhaps he'll come out when he hears there is bear steak at home. My,
but aren't those children dirty?"

Grace frowned when Nora told her of Emma's offer to give the Thompsons
some of the bear meat.

"Emma, no good ever comes from babbling. I am sorry you did that, but so
long as you promised you must make good," directed Grace.

"All right. Don't be so frightfully touchy. I will send Wash over with a
hind leg."

"No. You will send or take a steak, as you promised. A bear's leg! The
idea!"

"I don't know what you mean. A leg of lamb is considered a real delicacy
where I come from, and I should think a leg of bear would be an equally
delightful delicacy up here where the beast grows."

Even Miss Briggs joined in the laugh that followed, though it hurt
frightfully to exercise her facial muscles.

Hippy said he would cut out a steak, but Nora decided that he must have
assistance or he would be sending something that not even the
mountaineers could eat. A black chunk of meat that weighed all of twelve
pounds was the result of the carving. This Hippy tied up in a roll and
gave to Washington to take to the Thompsons.

"Our peace offering to 'Paw,'" observed Hippy as the colored boy, with
the bear meat on his shoulder, trudged away playing his harmonica. "That
dance that Julie invited us to attend, comes off to-morrow night. She
asked me to-day, if we were going. I said I reckoned we'd be over, and
asked her if she would trip the light fantastic with me, but Julie shook
her head. What about it? Do we go or stay?"

"What will we do about the camp?" wondered Grace.

"Leave it here, of course," urged Emma.

"And find it missing when we return," suggested Elfreda. "I fear that
won't do at all."

"We can hide our equipment and ride the ponies over to Coon Hollow, with
Laundry along on one of the mules to look after our horses when we get
there," planned Lieutenant Wingate.

"What about the other mule?" questioned Anne.

"Let him take care of himself. If any stranger attempts to fool around
that mule he will get the everlasting daylights kicked out of him.
Nora, you had better shake your feet up to-day and get in practice, for
to-morrow night you dance--if--"

"Yes, if," laughed Grace. "It shall be just as you people wish.
Personally I am not keen for it, except that it will be a treat to watch
the mountain folk at play."

All except Miss Briggs were enthusiastic for the dance.

"With my damaged countenance, I shan't be able to dance," she
complained.

"You don't intend to dance on your face, do you!" wondered Emma.

"If I perform the way I did with the bear, I undoubtedly shall. There is
no telling what I might do."

"You ought to have a net to perform over, like the circus people do,"
declared Emma. "Do we go?"

"Yes, let's go," urged Nora.

The others being of the same mind, Grace gave a rather reluctant consent
and the matter was settled then and there, greatly adding to the
happiness of Emma Dean.

That afternoon Grace made an inspection of the cornfield and discovered
the imprints of heavy boots in the soft dirt near the camp. There had
been, she believed, four men in the party, and all four evidently had
been spying on the Overland camp. She followed their trail until she
came to the edge of the cornfield, facing the Thompson cabin. Grace
shrugged her shoulders and retraced her steps.

"I have a feeling that our affairs must come to a head soon," she
murmured. "The footprints, after leaving the cornfield, appear to lead
directly towards the Thompson home. However, we shall see. The night may
bring something in the way of a development. I am getting tired of the
waiting policy. Girls," called Grace, as she entered the camp. "What do
you say if we break camp and get out to-morrow?"

"You forget the dance," reminded Emma, who did not propose to miss such
an opportunity as this.

"Day after to-morrow, then?" questioned Grace.

"In spite of warnings and the suggestion of our unseen friend?" asked
Anne.

"Yes. We can't stay here forever. Besides, the days are passing and we
have some little distance to go before reaching the rendezvous where we
are to meet Tom. What we need is action."

"Did I not start something for you last night? What more do you want?"
demanded Miss Briggs.

"To keep moving. You started the wrong way. You were headed towards
home when you set out behind your bear," laughed Grace. "What do you
say, girls?"

"Yes. Let's go," nodded Elfreda. "Nothing much matters after last night,
so far as I am concerned." The rest left the decision entirely in Grace
Harlowe's hands, and she decided to move as suggested, provided nothing
intervened to prevent their doing so.

Bear meat, coffee with real cream and fresh vegetables, procured from
the Thompsons, made an unusually appetizing supper that night, and
during the meal Washington furnished music to entertain them. He was
still playing when Anne warned her companions that a man had just
stepped out of the cornfield and was coming into camp.

The Overlanders got up, wondering who their caller might be.

"Evenin', folks," greeted the stranger, who was of the same gaunt,
razor-faced type that they had come in contact with on other occasions
on this journey.

"Good evening," answered the Overland Riders pleasantly.

"We have just finished supper, but won't you sit down and have a snack?"
asked Grace. "There is some meat and coffee left."

"Reckon Ah will, thankee."

The caller sat down, tucked his red handkerchief under his chin, hitched
his revolver holster back a little further, leaned over and sniffed at
his heaping plate of bear meat, then fell to with a will. "He ate as if
he had had nothing to eat for a fortnight," as Emma confided to Anne
Nesbit. Washington made a fresh pot of coffee for him.

"Reckon this 'ere's as fine a piece o' beef as Ah ever stowed," observed
the guest, rolling his eyes up to the assembled Riders.

"It isn't beef. It's--" began Emma, but quickly subsided as Anne pinched
her warningly.

"It's what?" demanded the caller.

"Codfish!" answered Emma lamely.

The stranger shrugged his shoulders and resumed his eating.

"Ahem!" said Hippy by way of clearing his throat. "It is a fine, large
evening. Do you ordinarily have such large evenings in the Kentucky
mountains?"

"Off an' on, Mister. Wall, Ah reckon Ah'm full clear to the gullet. Who
be ye-all?"

"We call ourselves the Overland Riders. May I ask who you are?"
questioned Hippy.

"Ah'm the game constable of this 'ere county. Where's the bear?"

"Some--some of it is--is inside of you," gasped Emma Dean a little
hysterically.



CHAPTER XVI

A JOKE ON THE OVERLANDERS


"Help!" murmured Elfreda Briggs.

"The game constable!" repeated Lieutenant Wingate. "Oh! Glad to know
you, old man. Glad to know you. This is a genuine pleasure, I assure
you. How is business? Are you arresting any game--rabbits, possums, or
anything of that sort?" went on Hippy jovially, to hide his real
feelings.

Grace Harlowe laughed in a low tone.

"Ah may be. Ah asked, where is the bear?"

"Bear, bear?" questioned the lieutenant, glancing about him inquiringly.
"I--I didn't know that you had lost one. What sort of a looking bear was
he, and did he wear a license tag on his collar or--"

"Oh, shet up!" growled the constable. "That was bear meat Ah had fer mah
supper. No one ain't allowed to have bear meat till December."

"Then why did you eat what you say was bear meat?" demanded Miss Briggs
in her severest legal tone. "You say no one is allowed to have bear
meat until December, but it appears to me that you have had your share
of it this evening."

"Whut's that over thar?" he exploded, pointing to where the carcass of
Elfreda's bear was faintly discernible, hanging by its hocks from a pole
suspended between two trees. The constable strode over and peered at
what was left of Mr. Bruin.

"So, that's what yer up to in these 'ere mountings, eh?"

Hippy shrugged his shoulders.

"You win," he said. "What is the answer?"

"Wall, Ah reckons as if you'd pay me fer the bear an'--an' settle fer
the damages, Ah might--"

"Settle nothing!" roared Hippy in a tone calculated to frighten the
visitor, but which failed to have that effect. "Why, I could have you
arrested for trying to accept a bribe from a former United States
officer. You will get no bribe from me."

"Ah'll arrest the whole pack of ye. Officer, eh? Ah reckoned as ye was
that. Ah did, an' seein' as ye admit it, ain't nothin' more to be said
'bout that, but Ah'll take ye in and clap ye in the calaboose jest the
same. Yer under arrest! All of ye is under arrest onless ye'll agree t'
git out o' the mountings t'-night."

Hippy shrugged his shoulders, and the Overlanders, with the exception of
Grace, looked serious. Grace was trying hard not to laugh out loud.

"See here, Mister Man!" demanded Lieutenant Wingate gruffly. "My great
grandfather was from Missouri. You have got to show me. How do I know
you are a constable? Where is your authority?"

"This 'ere's mah authority," replied the mountaineer, patting his
revolver holster.

Hippy stepped a little closer to the constable.

"And 'this 'ere's my authority' for saying that you are no more a
constable than I am!" retorted the Overlander.

_Whack!_

Hippy's fist landed on the point of the mountaineer's jaw, and the
mountaineer went over backwards, landing heavily on the ground
unconscious from the blow.

"Hippy! Oh, Hippy darlin'! What have you done?" wailed Nora.

"Hit him! Hit him again before he can get up!" cried Emma excitedly.

"Be quiet, you little savage," admonished Anne.

"You surely have done it this time, Hippy Wingate. Now we _are_ in for
trouble," rebuked Grace Harlowe.

"Brown Eyes, this fellow is a rank fraud. He isn't a constable, and I
will wager that, were he to think there were such an animal within a
mile of him, he would hit out for the bushes right smart."

"I agree with you. But, Hippy, you shouldn't have done that. The man was
only bluffing. I saw that, or thought I did."

"So was I bluffing. The difference is that he and I do not bluff in the
same way. Wait!" Hippy snatched the mountaineer's revolver from its
holster, removed the cartridges and tossed them away, after which he
returned the weapon to its holster. He then unbuckled the man's
ammunition belt, shook all the cartridges out of that and rebuckled the
belt about the fellow's waist.

"Laundry!" called Lieutenant Wingate.

"Yassuh! Yassuh!"

"Fetch me a pail of water. On the run!"

"I reckon this will wake him up," chuckled Hippy as he dashed the
pailful of water that Washington brought, full into the face of the
unconscious "constable."

It did. The man gasped and choked and struggled, and sat up, brushing
the water out of his eyes with a sleeve. His blinking eyes slowly swept
the camp, finally coming to rest on Hippy Wingate's face.

"Question him," suggested Grace.

"Who sent you here to try to bluff us?" asked Hippy sternly.

"Ah'll show ye." The mountain man's revolver was out of its holster in a
flash as he leaped to his feet, and aimed it at Hippy. He pulled the
trigger, but there was no report, only the click of the hammer as it
struck the rim of an empty chamber of the revolver.

Five times did the fellow pull the trigger of his weapon, but with no
better result, Hippy standing at ease before him, a smile on his face.

"I have a perfect right to shoot you for that, Mister 'Constable.' I may
yet decide to do so. Who sent you here to play tricks on us?"

Uttering an exclamation of disgust, the mountain man thrust his revolver
into its holster, one hand having crept about his ammunition belt and
found it empty. He appeared to be dazed, but whether from the rap Hippy
had given him, or because of the mysterious disappearance of his
cartridges, they were not certain.

"Are you going to answer my question?"

The fellow shook his head.

"Do you know Jed Thompson?"

The mountaineer regarded his questioner sullenly, scowlingly, and
without much change of expression. The scowl had been there ever since
he woke up from the blow on his chin.

"Perhaps you know Bat Spurgeon?" This was one of the two names that
Hippy had heard mentioned when he was the captive of the mountaineers.
The other name was Jed Thompson, the man, undoubtedly, on whose farm the
Overland Riders were then encamped.

A sudden change of expression flashed into the eyes of the "constable."

"So? You do know him, eh?" chuckled Lieutenant Wingate. Hippy drew his
own weapon from its holster, fingering it absently while frowningly
regarding the man before him.

"Why are you ruffians so eager to have us get out of the mountains? What
have we done to you that you should be so dead set on getting rid of
us?"

As before, there was no answer.

"I see it is useless to question you. Of course I could _make_ you talk,
and I would were there no ladies present to criticize my methods.
However, I am going to let you go. You go back to the fellow who sent
you here. Tell him for me that, if he bothers us further, we will take
matters into our own hands. As for you, you poor fish, if ever I see you
hanging about this or any other camp I am in, I'll shoot you on sight."

"Do it now while you have the chance," urged Emma.

Grace rebuked her with a stern look.

"I will give you ten seconds, after you have faced about, to get out of
sight in the bushes," resumed Hippy. "Turn around! Go!"

_Bang!_

Hippy fired a shot over the head of the mountaineer who had fairly
leaped for the bushes and disappeared in them.

"Quick! Follow him, darlin'. He may have other cartridges in his
pockets," urged Nora.

"Anyway, the joke is on us. We fed the man and put evidence against us
right in his stomach," wailed Emma Dean.



CHAPTER XVII

THE DANCE AT COON HOLLOW


Lieutenant Wingate, comprehending instantly, sprang into the bushes
after the man he had driven out of camp.

"Didn't I tell you to get out of here?" demanded Hippy, pointing his
revolver at the mountaineer, who had halted and was feverishly going
through his pockets in search of ammunition.

The man stood not upon the order of his going, and, to speed him up,
Lieutenant Wingate sent two shots over his head, following these up by
chasing the fellow clear out into the open field where the Thompson
cabin stood. The mountaineer made a quick run across the field,
zigzagging, expecting, undoubtedly, to hear a bullet whistle past his
head.

"Whew!" exclaimed the lieutenant, brushing the perspiration from his
forehead as he stepped into the camp. "I am afraid I am not getting
proper nourishment. My wind is not as good as it used to be. Nora
darling, you will have to feed your husband better if you expect him to
live this strenuous life."

"Did you hit him?" questioned Emma eagerly.

"No."

"Fiddlesticks! If I could not shoot straighter than that I think I
should practice until I learned how to shoot."

"No you wouldn't. You would just sit down and 'con-centrate,'" retorted
Hippy Wingate. "What do you make of all this, Brown Eyes?"

"More than I can very well express."

"I wish you might have been willing for me to use on him some of the
methods employed by the intelligence department of the army to make
Boche prisoners talk. He would talk, all right," said Hippy.

"This is not war," reminded Grace.

"No, but it is going to be," answered Hippy briefly. "Well, what do you
dope out?"

"I think that the man who was just here is a Thompson man. Did you
notice his expression when you mentioned Bat Spurgeon? If ever there was
murder in a man's eyes, there was in his."

Hippy nodded.

"From what you overheard the night you were a captive of the
mountaineers, you understood that the Spurgeons were going to start
trouble with Jed Thompson, did you not?"

"Yes. Of course that may have been mere bluff talk," said Hippy.

"I don't think so. They are a bad lot, all of them. I am glad we have
decided to leave this place, for, having assaulted our visitor, we may
look for reprisals from Thompson."

"What's the difference? There is a price on my head, so I might as well
be a lion as a lamb. Is there any bear meat left?"

"None cooked," replied Nora. "The 'constable' ate it all."

"I hope it gives him indigestion for life," growled Hippy. "I will watch
the camp to-night, and, if you hear a rifle fired, don't get excited. It
will be the man-with-a-price-on-his-head taking a pot shot at some
fellow who is trying to earn the reward."

The Overland Riders did not sleep very well that night, for each of them
looked for action from the mountain men. Nothing, however, occurred to
disturb the camp.

Next morning Lieutenant Wingate went to the Thompson cabin to get milk,
hoping to see Jed Thompson and have a talk with him, but Julie said
"Paw" was not at home and might not be for "a right smart time."

While at the cabin, Lieutenant Wingate inquired how to reach the
schoolhouse in Coon Hollow where the dance was to be held that night.
Julie told him in such great detail that Hippy was positive he never
should find his way there, but he promised to do his best to get there.

"Ah'd go 'long and show you-all the way if Ah didn't have t' meet mah
fellow. Bet you-all'll like him. Name's Lum Bangs an' he kin wallop any
fellow in the mountains."

"Do you think he could whip me?" teased Hippy smilingly.

"He shore could. Jist let him lam you-all t'-night and see whether he
kin er not."

"Thank you. I prefer to do the 'lamming' myself. When 'Paw' comes home
please tell him I wish he would call on us to-day, for we are planning
on moving our camp to-morrow. Tell him I wish to have a friendly talk
with him."

Julie shook her head vigorously.

"Paw ain't strong on that kind o' talk. He'd rather fit with a man than
gab with him."

Lieutenant Wingate asked Julie if she would dance with him, saying that
Nora would be glad to have Julie do that.

"Ah will not," she retorted with a fine show of indignation.

"Why not?" teased Hippy.

"'Cause my feller would lam you-all's haid off an' then give me er punch
in the jaw."

"Gracious! Lum is a gentle animal, isn't he?" grinned Hippy.

Julie blinked, but made no reply. Hippy said good-bye and went away
laughing.

Late that afternoon Grace sent Washington out to learn the way to the
schoolhouse, for, otherwise, she knew they would have difficulty in
finding their way, for the nights up in the mountains just now were very
dark.

Upon his return, the colored boy was unable to give them clear
directions as to how to reach the schoolhouse, though his conversation
on the subject was voluble, if not specific.

"That will do," rebuked Grace. "Pack all the supplies, except what will
be needed for supper." She then consulted with Lieutenant Wingate as to
where to stow their possessions so that they might not be disturbed by
man or beast during the absence of the party at the mountain dance.
Hippy went out and scouted about for a suitable place for the purpose.
He found it in a hollow in the rocks which he said they could protect by
placing stones in front of the opening.

Much of the equipment was stowed there before dark. After supper the
rest of it was placed in the opening in the rocks.

"Do we take the rifles with us?" questioned Lieutenant Wingate.

"No, indeed," answered Grace with promptness. "It would not look well."

"Nor does it feel well to be held up or shot at without having the means
to defend one's self," answered Hippy. "I shall take my revolver."

"Yes," agreed Grace. "Wear it under your blouse. I will do the same."

They decided to hide the rifles and ammunition in the bushes and trust
to luck that no one stumbled on them. When they had finished with their
preparations, nothing was left in the camp but the tents and a few
blankets, mess kits and provisions being in the cache in the rocks.

One mule was to be ridden by Washington, the other to be left to its
fate, hidden in a dense growth of laurel.

"I suppose he will awaken the whole country with his brays," growled
Hippy.

"There are mules and mules," observed Emma Dean.

Hippy gave her a quick, keen glance, but her face was guileless.

At eight o'clock the Overland Riders set out on their ponies, Washington
Washington in the lead on his pack mule, industriously mouthing his
harmonica, the girls laughing and chatting, Hippy silent, lost in
contemplation of his own problems.

"Which way to the Coon Hollow schoolhouse?" called Grace as they passed
a slowly walking couple a short distance beyond the Thompson home.

"Yer headin' fer it," answered the man.

"If Laundry gives the mule a free rein, we probably shall reach our
destination sooner than if the boy tries to guide the animal," suggested
Elfreda Briggs.

As they neared the schoolhouse they heard the music of the "band," as
Julie had been pleased to call it. Hearing, Washington Washington played
his own musical instrument with renewed vigor.

Many others, bound toward the schoolhouse, laughed and made remarks, or
greeted the Overlanders pleasantly as they passed.

The ponies and the mule were tethered to trees hard by the schoolhouse,
after which the party filed into the building, with Washington trailing
along after them, rolling his eyes and wagging his head in rhythm with
the music of violin and banjo.

The music proved too much for Washington to endure in silence, and the
Overland Riders were amazed when he clapped the harmonica to his lips
and began to play with the two musicians.

Grace started for the boy, but another got to him ahead of her. A young
mountaineer picked up the colored boy and tossed him out through a
window. It was not so roughly done that the Overlanders could make a
protest, and the young fellow who had performed the feat turned from the
window laughing over the neat way he had checked Washington's musical
interference.

The dance already was under full headway. The floor swayed and groaned,
and the building fairly rocked under the rhythmic assault of more than
twenty pairs of stamping, shuffling feet. A smoking oil lamp supplied a
dull, smoky haze so that it was difficult for friends to recognize each
other from opposite ends of the room. All eyes, including those of the
dancers, had been turned to the newcomers as the Overlanders filed in
and took seats on benches at one side of the room.

It was but a few moments later when Hippy and Nora swung out on the
floor and Hippy was soon raising the dust with the best of them.

He then danced with each of the girls of his party in turn. Grace,
watching the unusual scene with keen interest, observed that there was
little or no change of partners. Each young mountaineer danced with the
same girl most of the time, and she concluded that this was the custom
up there in the mountains.

At the end of the first dance after their arrival, Grace called Emma
over to her.

"I brought two boxes of candy with me, Emma," she whispered. "There is
one box left at the camp and I wish to give that to the Thompson
children. Do you wish to pass these two boxes around to the mountain
girls?"

Emma was delighted. It gave her an opportunity to place herself in a
more prominent position than she had occupied on a bench at the side of
the schoolroom.

At first the mountain girls were shy, but they soon overcame their
diffidence and helped themselves liberally--by the handful--to sweets
such as few of them ever had tasted.

"This is Mrs. Gray's treat," explained Emma to each girl.

"Don't Ah git any?" teased the young mountaineer who had assisted
Washington through the window.

"Yes. You get left," came back Emma spiritedly.

"Ah never gits left," he retorted, springing up and grabbing the little
Overland girl.

In a few seconds they were swinging around the room in a waltz, Emma's
face flushed and triumphant, the face of the partner of the man she was
dancing with growing blacker with the moments. The mountaineer would not
release Emma until she had danced two dances with him, and by that time
the girl he had brought to the party refused even to look at him.

Emma made her unsought partner introduce her to other boys, and with
smiles and teasing she won many partners, until the room was bordered
with a ring of blazing and snapping eyes, all resentful at her success
in winning their escorts.

Grace tried to catch her eye to warn her, but Emma studiously refrained
from permitting that very thing. Soon the mountain girls allowed
themselves to be led to the dancing floor by others than their own
escorts.

The atmosphere was becoming highly charged. Even Hippy had swung a
mountain miss out to the floor and was dancing with her, but the
Overland girls, with the exception of Emma, had smilingly declined when
invited by mountain boys to dance.

Men, under the scornful smiles on the faces of their regular partners,
were growing sullen. The laughter was dying from the faces of the
dancers, and it was quite evident that trouble was brewing.

"Call Hippy to you and tell him to sit down by you, Nora," whispered
Grace Harlowe. "I will catch Emma at the end of this dance, if I can.
That child is going to start a riot if she is allowed to go on much
longer."

Hippy got his summons a few moments thereafter. He obeyed it as
gracefully as he could, but rather against his inclinations, for he was
having a jolly time of it, forgetting for the moment that he was "a
marked man."

Grace explained the situation briefly to Hippy, and told him that
between himself and Emma they had created a situation that bade fair to
end in trouble.

"What's the odds? I am a marked man anyway," answered Hippy, shrugging
his shoulders.

"You will be marked in reality if those husky young mountaineers get
after you. Please keep your seat and fade out of the picture," urged
Grace. "You see--"

A voice to one side of her arrested Grace Harlowe's attention. She
recognized it as the voice of Julie Thompson, whom she had not seen at
the dance up to that time, though she had been looking for her.

"Oh, Mr. Hipp," Julie was saying. "Ah wants t' give you-all a knockdown
to mah feller. Oh, here's Miss Gray, too. Folks, this is my feller, Lum
Bangs."

"Sounds like a pain in the back," muttered Hippy.

"Lum, shake paws with Mister Hipp an' Miss Gray. They're the folks that
air campin' down by Paw's cornfield."

"Glad to meet you, Lum, for we all think Julie is a mighty fine--"
Hippy's voice trailed off into an indistinct murmur as he gazed up into
the face of Julie's stalwart escort. He heard Grace give utterance to a
scarcely audible laugh, but at that moment Hippy Wingate did not feel
like laughter, for in Lum Bangs he recognized the "constable" whom he
had knocked down and driven from the Overland camp by the cornfield.



CHAPTER XVIII

AN INTERRUPTED PARTY


"Oh! It's you, is it?" muttered Lieutenant Wingate, rising slowly, his
eyes fixed on the face of the man before him.

"Ah reckons as it's me," agreed Lum, permitting a hand to slip
carelessly inside his coat across the chest, where Lieutenant Wingate
had reason to believe that a revolver hung suspended from a shoulder
holster. This being the case, he considered it inadvisable to reach for
his own weapon.

As yet the drama being played by the two men had not attracted the
attention of those in the schoolroom, with the exception of the Overland
girls who had recognized Lum instantly, and Julie Thompson, who was
gazing open-mouthed from one to the other of them.

"Ah told ye t' git out, didn't Ah?" demanded the mountaineer in a
strained voice.

"And I put you out," retorted Hippy. "This is no place for a fight. If
you wish to see me, come around to our camp in the morning."

"Be careful, Hippy," warned Anne in a low tone.

"Ah'm goin' t' say it agin, once more. You git out o' this right smart
or Ah'll put er hole through yer miserable carcass!"

Hippy suddenly found himself facing a revolver in the hands of Lum
Bangs.

The dancers stopped dancing, a couple at a time, and quickly got out of
range of Lum Bangs' weapon; the music died away, and a heavy silence,
tense with possibilities, settled over the hot, smoky room.

"Are ye goin'?"

"On one condition--that you put down your gun and come outside with me.
We'll have it out man to man. These gentlemen will give us fair play,
and the fellow who is whipped takes his medicine and goes. Are you man
enough to come out and stand up to me?" Hippy thrust out his chin, and
there was a set expression on his face, such as Grace Harlowe recalled
having seen there immediately after he had shot down three German
airplanes on the French fighting front.

"No, no!" begged Nora, not much above a whisper.

"Oh, stop him!" begged Emma of the young mountaineer with whom she had
been dancing. "He's going to shoot. I know he is. Make them fight it
out with their fists. Hippy whipped Lum once, and he can do it again.
I'll be Lum's second and you can be the second for Lieutenant Wingate."

"What's er second, Miss?"

"A--a second is one who fans his fighter with a towel, and wipes up the
blood. Oh, do stop him!"

"Ah reckon Ah will," drawled the mountaineer.

"Are ye goin'?" demanded Lum Bangs.

"No!"

"Drop that gun or I'll drill ye, Lum Bangs!" commanded the cool voice of
Emma Dean's dancing partner, his revolver now levelled at Lum.

The warning came too late.

Lum Bangs, in a sudden impulse of rage, pulled the trigger and fired
point blank at Lieutenant Wingate, but the young mountaineer's warning
to him, at the critical moment, had drawn Lum's thoughts from his aim,
and his bullet missed its mark. Hippy heard it whistle past him close to
his head.

_Bang!_

Barely a second had elapsed between Lum Bangs' shot and a second report.

Lum uttered a howl, and his weapon dropped from his relaxed fingers,
just as Hippy sprang upon him and dealt the mountaineer a blow that
felled him.

"Don't! Don't, Hippy! The man has been shot," begged Anne.

"Jump on him! Stomp on him, why don't ye?" screamed a mountain girl.

The room was in instant uproar, and weapons were drawn and levelled
menacingly at the young mountaineer who had ordered Lum to "drop" his
gun.

"Stop!" cried Emma Dean excitedly. "This man didn't fire that second
shot. He has done nothing, so put away your cannon."

"That's right, folks. Ah didn't shoot, but Ah was goin' t'. Some other
duffer fired the shot that hit Lum. You-all kin look at mah gun." He
held it out with the muzzle toward him.

The men crowded about him, examining the cylinder to see if a cartridge
had been fired from it, and taking a sniff at the muzzle.

"That's right. It ain't been fired," agreed a mountaineer, a puzzled
expression appearing on his face. "Did Lum get his'n?"

"No. The bullet went through his wrist," answered Lieutenant Wingate,
who, having turned up the sleeve of Bangs' coat, was peering at the
wounded wrist. "Men, I'm sorry I struck him, but you see I didn't know
some one was going to shoot him. I had to punch him to save my own
life, expecting that he would shoot again. As it was I nearly ran into
that second shot. Fetch me something--some water."

A glass of lemonade was brought, and Nora Wingate threw it into the face
of the unconscious mountaineer. In the meantime, Elfreda was giving
first aid to the injured wrist. Lum began to stir about this time, and,
at Elfreda's suggestion, he was carried to a window where he might get
more free air.

The mountaineers were puzzled. They had, by then, examined every
revolver in the room, including those carried by the Overland Riders,
but not one had been fired.

"Ah wants ter know who fired that shot," demanded one of them. "Somebody
did, an' we're goin' to find the critter that did it. I ain't sayin'
that this feller with the uniform on didn't do all right in hittin' Lum,
but what we wants t' find out is who winged him in the wrist."

"I think, gentlemen, that the second shot was fired through the window.
I am quite certain that it was. I sat near the window and the report of
the weapon seemed to be behind me," Anne Nesbit informed them.

There was a concerted rush for the outer air, leaving the Overlanders to
attend to Lum Bangs, who was now almost wholly restored to
consciousness. Julie Thompson was standing back a little from the group
about him, gazing at Lum, a heavy frown on her forehead. Grace nodded
and smiled to the girl.

"Don't worry, Julie. He will be all right in a few moments," soothed the
Overland girl.

"I ain't worryin' fer the likes o' him," she replied, elevating her chin
and turning her back on her escort.

The Overland girls looked at each other inquiringly.

"Ah hearn somethin' 'bout ye to-night, Lum Bangs, that ye don't know as
Ah does know," she said, whirling suddenly on him.

"You-all ain't goin' back on me, are yuh, Julie?" begged Lum.

"Naw. Ah ain't goin' back on ye, cause Ah already has. Ah don't want
nothin' more t' do with ye. Understand?"

The mountaineer's face reddened.

"Who shot me?" he demanded, sitting up suddenly and feeling for his
weapon.

"You needn't look at me that way," objected Hippy. "I didn't shoot you.
I punched you, that's all. Some one on the outside of the building fired
the shot that hit you. I--"

A commotion at the door interrupted Hippy. The mountaineers came
crowding in dragging Washington Washington with them. Washington's eyes
were rolling, and he was trembling from fright.

"Is this heah your niggah?" demanded one, glaring at Hippy.

"No, he isn't my 'niggah,' but he belongs to our outfit. Why?" replied
Lieutenant Wingate.

"'Cause we found him hidin' in the bushes, an' reckoned as mebby he is
the feller that shot Lum."

"What, Wash?" laughed Emma Dean. "Why, Wash couldn't hit the side of a
barn with a shotgun. Besides, he has no revolver, and it was a revolver
that fired the shot you refer to."

"Let me talk to him," urged Grace. "Washington, were you outside near
the building when the shots were fired?" she asked in a soothing tone.

"Yessah--yes'm."

"Did you see any one near the window?"

"Yessah--yes'm. Ah--Ah sawed er man hidin' in de bush dere."

"Did you see him shoot?" asked Elfreda.

"Ah did not, but Ah heard him shoot, den w'en Ah looked, Ah didn't sawed
him no moah."

"Who was it?" demanded a mountaineer.

"Ah doan know. Ah didn't sawed him close 'nuf, an' den Ah didn't sawed
him at all."

"He oughter be strung up anyway," suggested a voice.

"Don't get excited! Don't get excited," urged Lieutenant Wingate, when
it became plain that the mountaineers were determined to make further
trouble.

"Gentlemen, Lieutenant Wingate has given you good advice. That colored
boy is not to be blamed for what has occurred here," declared Miss
Briggs, getting to her feet. "It is not necessary for you to take my
word for that, nor the boy's. You can prove it for yourselves."

"How?" demanded several voices.

"Go outside and examine the bushes that grow by the window through which
the shot was fired, and look at the ground carefully for foot-tracks. I
am amazed that you didn't think of it yourselves. You see when one is
angry he does not reason and--"

The men did not give her opportunity to finish. They again bolted from
the schoolroom. Their voices and their exclamations were heard under the
window a moment later.

"That was fine, J. Elfreda," glowed Grace.

"If they fail to find tracks there I am sorry for Wash, that's all,"
replied Miss Briggs with a shrug.

"Yer right!" cried a mountaineer, entering the room at that juncture.
"We seen where the critter was standin' when he shot Lum. We seen the
mark o' his boots, and the bunch is startin' to follow his trail. Reckon
you gals might as well go home, fer they'll be a different kind o' a
party if they kotch him. Won't be no more dancin' t'-night."

"Ladies, I am sorry if we were the cause of trouble here," began Grace.

"You-all ain't," protested Julie.

"Thank you." Grace favored her with a radiant smile. "What I was about
to say, is that we expect to break camp and go on to-morrow morning. If
we do not, we should like to have you young ladies come and call on us.
It is always open house in the Overland camp. Julie, I hope we shall see
you in the morning."

"Ah don't reckon as you-all will be goin' away in the mornin'. Ah
s'ppose Ah ought t' tell you-all what Ah knows, but Ah reckons
you-all'll find out for yourselves soon 'nuf."

Julie's words did not impress the Overlanders at the moment, but while
on their way to camp they pondered over them, discussed them and
wondered what she may have meant.

The answer to the question in their minds Grace and her friends found
awaiting them when they reached the camp.



CHAPTER XIX

A CALL FOR HELP


"Hippy, did you know that I saved your life to-night?" asked Emma Dean
as the party neared their camp.

"You--you saved my life?" questioned Lieutenant Wingate in amazement.

"Uh-huh."

Hippy laughed uproariously.

"You poor child, you got us all in Dutch, that's what you really did."

"With your assistance, Hippy," interjected Anne. "How did you save his
life, please, Emma?"

"I con-centrated. When Lum pointed the revolver at Hippy, I put my mind
on making him miss his aim. He did, didn't he?"

"Yes," agreed the girls, Hippy saying nothing at all.

"Then, I con-centrated on him that he might not shoot again. He didn't,
did he?"

"Of course, you are right in what you say," agreed Nora. "He did miss
and he did not shoot again, but I think you are drawing the long bow,
darlin', in taking all the credit to yourself. What do you say, Hippy?"
she asked solemnly.

"Nothing! Nothing at all. After I have had an opportunity to consult a
dictionary perhaps I may make a few appropriate remarks."

The party, with the exception of Emma, after a hearty laugh, fell to
discussing the incidents of the evening, particularly the mysterious
shot that, perhaps, had saved Lieutenant Wingate's life. They were still
discussing that mysterious occurrence when they rode up to their camp.

Washington Washington, who had been silent all the way home, perhaps
thinking over the narrow escape that he had had from rough handling,
suddenly set up a wail and began to chatter so fast that they were
unable to make a single thing of what he was saying.

"Stop that!" commanded Hippy. "Have you gone crazy?"

"Something is wrong here, darlin'. Don't scold the boy," begged Nora
Wingate.

"The tents are down. Washington, build a fire. Be quick about it,"
directed Grace, leaping from her pony.

Anne, who had reached what had been her own tent, uttered an exclamation
of dismay.

"Girls, this tent has been slit into ribbons!" she cried.

"So has mine," cried Elfreda. "What has happened here?"

"That is what I am wondering," replied Grace. "Washington, please hurry
with that fire."

Hippy ran over and assisted the colored boy, who was fumbling about and
not accomplishing anything. In a few moments Hippy had a fire snapping.
By its light they looked about in amazement. The camp was a wreck. Every
tent in their outfit had been slit to pieces, tent poles had been broken
up, and such other equipment as they had left out, including three
blankets, which had been overlooked when they hid their belongings, had
been practically destroyed.

A sudden thought occurring to her, Anne ran on fleet feet to the place
where their provisions and equipment had been secreted. She found the
stones torn away from the opening and their supplies scattered about.
The ground about the opening to the hiding place was littered with them.

Her next move was to look for their rifles and ammunition. A moment
later she ran breathlessly into camp.

"The equipment has been scattered, but the rifles and ammunition are as
we left them," panted Anne. "This is a fright."

"There! Why didn't you 'con-centrate,' Emma Dean?" demanded Hippy. "Old
Con-centration is never on the job when he is really needed."

"How could I when I didn't know anything about this?" returned Emma,
with a sweeping gesture that took in the entire camp. "What are we going
to do now? Where are we to sleep, I ask you?"

"Sleep standing up just as the ponies do, my darlin'," suggested Nora.
"Who do you suppose could have done such a thing? Why--"

Washington, who had gone out to tether the horses, set up a howl that
called the Overlanders to him on a run.

"Dey done got de mule! Dey done got de mule!" he wailed. "What Ah gwine
do now? Ah doan like dis nohow. Ah sure gwine took er frenzy spell if
dis doan stop right smart."

"The mule?" gasped Anne. "Why--wha--"

The pack mule that had been left at the camp, they saw laying stretched
out on the ground, its halter still tied to a sapling. Hippy was now
standing over it, peering down at the animal. Stooping over, he examined
it briefly.

"Somebody has done it this time. The mule is dead, folks," he announced,
standing up. "Shot through the head. It seems our _friends_ have not yet
deserted us."

"This is an outrage!" muttered Elfreda.

Grace turned on her lamp and went over the ground about the mule,
examining the dirt for footprints as carefully as possible. Next she
visited the hiding place of their provisions and equipment, there to
make the same careful, painstaking search of the ground.

"Hob-nail boots. I find the imprint of the same boots in both places.
One man apparently did all of this," was her conclusion.

"Such as all these mountaineers wear," added Anne.

"Perhaps, but I do not believe it. These boots had a horseshoe of
hob-nails on each heel. Look at the footprints in the morning and see
for yourself."

"Wait!" exclaimed Miss Briggs. "I have a thought."

"Hold it," called Hippy. "We need real thought this very minute."

"Have you forgotten what Julie said to us?" asked Elfreda. "I believe
this is what she meant by her remark that we would find out for
ourselves soon enough."

"She knew, then!" exclaimed Nora.

"I believe she did, though how, I am at a loss to understand," answered
Elfreda.

"Girls, girls! Don't waste time talking," urged Grace. "We have work to
do, unless you folks prefer to sleep in the open to-night. I believe we
can mend enough of this canvas to use as a big blanket. We can then
sleep together and keep each other warm underneath it, I think.
Washington, please go out and gather up all of the stuff that you can
find. Some of our provisions have been destroyed, but there may be
enough for a few meals. Fetch everything here so we can look it over by
the campfire."

All hands set to work to make the best of their disaster, and as they
worked they discussed the problem uppermost in the mind of each. They
were busily engaged when a shout brought instant silence to the group.

"Miss Gray! Miss Gray!" some one called from the darkness.

"Yes," answered Grace.

A woman came floundering along the trail at the edge of the cornfield.

"It's Miss Thompson. Ah wants Miss Gray."

"She seems excited," observed Emma.

"What is it, Mrs. Thompson?" called Grace, stepping out to meet the
mountaineer's wife.

"The chilern has took a frenzy, an' Ah don't know what t' do," cried the
woman, wringing her hands.

Slipping an arm through hers, Grace led the woman up to the campfire.

"Compose yourself. Now what is the trouble? Are the children sick?" she
asked.

"Yes'm. An' Jed's gone away an' Ah don't know what t' do. Ah thought as
mebby ye'd come up to the house an' see."

"I surely will. Miss Briggs, who was a nurse in the war, will be of more
assistance to you than I could be, so I will take her with me."

Jed Thompson's wife heaved a deep sigh. A load already had been lifted
from her mind.

"Ah didn't think ye'd come, but Julie said as you'd come right smart."

"Julie was right," smiled Grace, "even though we are in rather bad shape
here. Some one nearly destroyed our camp while we were at the dance. I
will be back before long," she added, speaking to her companions. "Come,
Elfreda."

On the way to the Thompson cabin the two girls questioned Mrs. Thompson
as to what ailed Lizzie and Sue, those being the names of the two sick
children. They were able to make but little out of her description of
the children's condition.

The sick ones were babbling when Grace and Miss Briggs entered the room.
Elfreda sniffed the air.

"I smell fever. Open the windows, Mrs. Thompson. You must have air in
this room."

Julie, her face wearing a frightened look, sat regarding the children,
both of whom were delirious. A look of relief flashed into her eyes as
Grace and Miss Briggs entered and Elfreda stepped directly to the bed on
which both children lay. She felt the pulse of each, looked into their
mouths, and listened to their breathing.

[Illustration: "High Fever?" Murmured Grace.]

"High fever?" murmured Grace questioningly.

"Yes. Very high. I wish I had a clinical thermometer. Make her throw
those windows open as far as they will go, and, if that doesn't give
enough air, open the door."

The entire family lived, ate and slept in the one room of the cabin, and
the air, normally bad enough, was infinitely worse now.

"How long have they been this way, Mrs. Thompson?" questioned Elfreda.

"They was took that-away t'-night. They ain't been right smart fer some
little time."

Miss Briggs and Grace consulted aside. At the conclusion of their
consultation, carried on in low tones, Elfreda turned to the mountain
woman.

"These children must have a doctor without delay, Mrs. Thompson. Where
is the nearest doctor to be found?"

The woman said the nearest one was at Holcomb Court House.

"We passed through there on our way here, did we not?" asked Elfreda.

"Yes," replied Grace. "It must be twenty miles or so from here. Have you
any one that you can send there for the doctor?"

Mrs. Thompson shook her head.

"Mah man's gone awa' an' won't be back till t'-morrow. Ain't no one else
that Ah knows 'bout."

"Do you think it would be safe to wait until morning, Elfreda?" asked
Grace.

"No. The little one's heart is not acting right. We must have treatment
for her as soon as possible."

"Very well. I will hurry back to camp. Hippy must go after the doctor,
though I really hate to ask him. What do you think is the matter with
them?" nodding toward the bed.

"Frankly, I don't know. I do know that they are very sick children."

"Poor Hippy," murmured Grace, a faint smile on her face, as she hurried
from the mountain cabin and started at a run towards the Overland
Riders' camp.



CHAPTER XX

HIPPY AS A ROUGHRIDER


Reaching her camp, Grace quickly acquainted the girls with conditions at
the Thompson cabin. She then turned to Hippy and told him that he must
ride to Holcomb Court House and fetch a doctor.

"All right. I'll get an early start in the morning and--"

"No! To-night! Now, Hippy. To-morrow may be too late," urged Grace.

"Of course, if it is so bad as that. Why don't you have Emma Dean
'con-centrate'?"

"This is not a matter to make light of, Hippy Wingate," rebuked Nora.
"Of course you will go."

"Laundry, get my pony, and be lively about it," ordered Lieutenant
Wingate.

While this was being done, and Hippy was looking to his rifle and
revolver, Grace was explaining to him how to reach Holcomb over the
broad wagon trail that they had followed during the last day of their
journey. Nora, in the meantime, was packing her husband's kit with
sufficient food, that had been picked up from the scattered remnants, to
see him through the trip. Twenty minutes later they had started Hippy on
his way.

"If I don't come back, remember that I had a price on my head," he
called back to his companions.

"Pack up!" directed Grace. "We must move up near the Thompson cabin. It
won't do for you girls to remain here alone."

"Where shall we camp?" asked Anne, a worried look on her face. "We have
no tents fit for use."

"I don't know just yet, but they have a barn. Perhaps you might sleep
there. I must stay with Elfreda, at least until the doctor comes."

All the girls began to prepare for moving, and finally their possessions
were strapped in packs, some of which they placed on the backs of
ponies, for they were one mule short, and moved up to Thompson's.

Bidding her companions wait outside, Grace went in and consulted with
the mountaineer's wife.

"Yes, you folks will have to sleep in the barn," Grace informed them.

"I never thought I should have to sleep with the pigs and the cows,"
declared Nora. "Bad luck to the man that spoiled our fun."

There was an old haymow overhead in the barn, and there the girls
decided to make their bed for the night.

"If there are mice up here I shall die of fright, I know," groaned Emma.

"'Con-centrate' on the mice," advised Anne teasingly. "Once they bump
against that 'imponderable quantity,' the mice will trouble you no
more."

"Why can't we go into the cabin and lie down on the floor? It can't be
worse than the barn," urged Nora.

Grace firmly refused to permit it. Not knowing what the two children
were suffering from, she knew that it would be inadvisable for her
companions even to enter the cabin.

The girls found their way to the hayloft, after many bumps and falls
accompanied by smothered cries and loud protests from Emma, and after he
had tethered the horses and the mule just outside the barn, Washington
Washington was put to bed on the barn floor. Grace then returned to the
cabin.

The children were still delirious and Elfreda said that their
temperature seemed to be rising. She decided to give them a sponge bath.
This occupied some time, but it had the effect of reducing their
temperatures somewhat.

Julie watched every movement of the Overland nurses, following them
with eyes in which wonder was not unmixed with admiration, but Mrs.
Thompson seemed helpless to do or think, and sat regarding them with
expressionless eyes, now and then heaving a troubled sigh.

Along towards morning the children ceased their babbling and sank into
an uneasy sleep. The mother, soon after, dozed off in her chair.

"Julie, get some water and soap and help us clean this place. It's a
fright," declared Miss Briggs.

This Julie did, so far as getting the water was concerned, but she took
so little interest in scrubbing the floor that Grace and Elfreda were
obliged to take that task into their own hands. They were down on their
knees scrubbing away, when Mrs. Thompson awakened.

"What you-all doin'?" she demanded blinkingly.

"Cleaning house," replied Elfreda briefly.

"'Tain't no use. It'll git dirty ag'in. Ah reckon Jed won't like it,
neither."

"We don't care whether Jed likes it or not," retorted Grace. "Leave him
to us, Mrs. Thompson."

Early in the morning Grace and Elfreda went out to the barn to see how
it had fared with their friends. They were a "frowzy lot," as Miss
Briggs characterized their appearance. Their heads were full of hay,
their eyes were red, and their faces showed much loss of sleep.

"You folks go down to the brook and wash, and by the time you return we
shall have breakfast cooked for you," offered Elfreda.

The breakfast they cooked on Mrs. Thompson's stove, but in the
Overlanders' utensils. Nor would they permit any of the girls to come
into the house for the food. Handing the breakfast out to the eagerly
waiting hands of their companions, Grace and Miss Briggs soon followed
and joined the girls at breakfast in the open.

It was not a particularly enjoyable meal. Not once during the breakfast
had one mentioned Hippy Wingate and his mission, and it was not until
they had finished and sat back that Nora broached the subject.

"When should Hippy be back?" she asked.

"If he found the doctor at once he should have been here two or three
hours ago," replied Grace.

"Don't get excited, Nora," begged Elfreda, as Nora's face paled ever so
little. "A number of things may have occurred to detain him. Hippy is
not one to be beaten when he starts out with a definite purpose in
view."

"Especially when I am con-centrating on him," spoke up Emma.

This brought a laugh and put all the girls in instant good humor. They
were interrupted by Julie who came out rubbing her eyes, after a few
hours' sleep on a blanket on the floor of the cabin.

"Maw wants to know what she'll give Sue and Liz fer breakfast?" she
asked.

"Breakfast?" exclaimed Elfreda. "Not a mouthful until the doctor gets
here and advises what is to be done. They may have all the water they
wish, but nothing of solid food. You won't forget, will you?"

Julie shook her head.

"This is the first opportunity I have had to speak with you quietly
since last night, Julie," said Grace. "You made a remark as we were
about to leave the dance, indicating that you knew something had
occurred at our camp. Julie, you knew what had been done there, didn't
you?"

The mountain girl nodded.

"How did you know?"

"Er feller an' girl comin' t' the dance seen it," she answered with some
hesitation.

"And you know who did it?"

"Uh-huh," nodded the girl.

"Who was it?"

"Ah shan't tell you-all!" exclaimed Julie, a challenge snapping in her
black eyes.

"That is all right, my dear, if you do not wish to speak. How is your
friend, Lum Bangs, to-day?"

"He ain't no friend of mine. Ah don't know nothin' 'bout how he is, an'
Ah don't care." Julie blazed as she said it.

The Overland girls smiled. Grace's question, they thought, had been
answered.

"Thar comes somebody," cried Julie, distracting the attention of all
from the subject.

A man on horseback was seen pounding up the trail at a fast pace.

"It's the doc!" announced the mountain girl.

"Hippy! Where's Hippy?" gasped Nora.

"Keep steady," urged Grace, as they got up and walked out to meet the
doctor in front of the cabin.

"Are you the doctor?" asked Elfreda as he rode up and swung a hand to
them.

"Yes."

"Where did you leave Lieutenant Wingate?" asked Grace.

"About ten miles down the trail. I got here as quickly as possible. To
be brief, we were attacked from ambush. The lieutenant's horse was shot
from under him. We both began shooting, but he yelled to me, 'Go on,
Doc. They need you at Thompson's. I'll get out of it somehow.'

"Well, I saw that he was right, so I rode for keeps till I got out of
range of the bullets. Lively neighborhood up here, eh? I'll see the
patients, if you please."

Elfreda conducted the doctor into the cabin, Grace remaining to comfort
Nora and to consider what was best to be done in the circumstances. Nora
was urging her to start out in search of Hippy, but Grace pointed out
that they were as likely to miss as to find him, and that the best
course appeared to be to wait until later in the day, then, should
Lieutenant Wingate not return, a searching party must be organized to go
out for him. Grace then entered the cottage and the girls led Nora out
to the shady side of the barn where they consoled her as best they
could.

"I will sit right down here and con-centrate," promised Emma. "You will
see that it will fetch him back. If it doesn't never, never again will I
con-centrate on Hippy. The trouble is that he resists the instant he
feels the magnetic current, which makes con-centrating very difficult
and takes so much of the imponderable quality out of one--"

"Emma! Emma!" cried Anne. "For mercy sake come up and get a breath of
air. You will drown if you stay down another second."

Nora laughed heartily.

In the meantime Grace and Elfreda were leaning over the bed watching the
doctor's diagnosis. Elfreda told him what had been done for the two
children, naming the few home remedies that she had been able to find
and administer to them.

"Good, Miss Lizzie might have been dead by this time if you had not done
what you did. Susie is not in quite such bad shape."

"What is the matter with them?" questioned Grace.

"Scarlet fever--both of them," was the terse answer. "Have your party
all been exposed?"

Elfreda informed him that, not knowing what the children's trouble was,
they had thought best not to permit the Overland Riders to enter the
cabin.

Grace questioned the doctor further on the attack that had been made on
himself and Hippy, and asked him to indicate, as nearly as possible, the
spot where the attack was made.

The doctor was giving them the details when the door of the cabin was
roughly thrown open and a man stepped in.

"It's Paw! Hello, Paw. The Doc is here."

Jed Thompson carried a rifle under his arm, and his face was as black as
a thunder cloud.

"Here's a squall," murmured Miss Briggs, just loud enough for Grace to
hear.

"What you-all doin' here?" he demanded, eyeing the two Overland Riders
sternly.

It was plain that Thompson's anger was rapidly getting the best of him.

"You-all! Git out o' mah house afore Ah throws ye out!" he roared.

"Be quiet, Paw," urged Julie weakly, Mrs. Thompson being too frightened
to utter a word.

"When we have finished with our work, Mr. Thompson, we will leave. Not
one second sooner," retorted Elfreda Briggs coolly, as she stepped
forward and faced the irate mountaineer.

"Then Ah'll throw ye out! The pack of ye git out afore Ah fergits
mahself and shoots ye out."

Jed started for Miss Briggs, his anger now beyond all control.

"Stop where you are, Jed Thompson!" commanded Elfreda Briggs.

The mountaineer halted abruptly. He was facing J. Elfreda's revolver,
which was leveled at him, held in a steady hand.

"Let your rifle drop to the floor," she directed sweetly. "Drop it! My
hand is a little nervous to-day and this revolver might go off."

The rifle clattered to the floor, but Elfreda Briggs still held her
position, her eyes narrowly watching the angry mountaineer.



CHAPTER XXI

AN APOLOGY AND A THREAT


"Here, here, here!" roared the doctor in a commanding voice. "What
you-all trying to do here? Haven't you got trouble enough on hand
without looking for more, Jed Thompson? Give me that gun."

The doctor recovered the fallen rifle, drew the cartridges from its
magazine, dropped them in his pocket and stood the gun in a corner.

Elfreda lowered her weapon, but did not immediately return it to its
holster under her blouse.

"Thank you," she said, smiling over at the doctor.

"Listen to me, Jed," ordered the doctor. "These young women came here to
see what they could do for Sue and Liz. If they hadn't, Liz probably
would be dead this minute. They saved her life, Jed Thompson. Now what
have you got to say for yourself?"

"That right, Doc?"

"It's the almighty truth. That isn't all. Lieutenant Wingate, one of
their party, rode all the way to Holcomb after me last night and nearly
killed his horse. On the way back we were attacked from ambush and the
lieutenant's horse was shot from under him. I tried to stick and help
him fight the critters off, but he told me to 'get!' Said I was needed
here. He's down there yet, maybe dead. Jed Thompson, you ought to get
down on your knees and apologize to these women folk. I've half a notion
to whale you if you don't."

Jed fumbled his hat.

"Who do you-all reckon did the attackin'?" he stammered.

"I don't know. You ought to know more about it than I do. You folks up
here in the hills are altogether too sudden--too handy with your guns.
One of these days you will meet some one who is more so."

"Ah reckons that young woman's kinder sudden, too," answered Jed, with a
sheepish grin at Miss Briggs. "Do you-all say that some critter shot at
that feller when he was fetchin' you-all here for Liz an' Sue?"

"Yes. They may have got him before this."

"Gi' me that rifle!" demanded the mountaineer sternly.

"Wait, Jed. What do you propose to do?" questioned the doctor.

"Ah'm goin' t' fetch the loot'nant, an' Ah'm goin' t' git the feller
that shot you-all up if Ah kin kotch him."

"Take the rifle, Jed, and the best of luck," bowed the doctor, handing
the weapon to the mountaineer, and reaching into his pocket for the
cartridges he had taken from it. "We'll now see what we can do for the
sick."

Jed was out of the house and across the field at top speed by the time
Elfreda had reached the door, after stowing her revolver.

"He is right," nodded Grace, regarding Elfreda with sparkling eyes. "You
_are_ sudden. I did not think it was in you to be so quick."

"Huh! I was scared half to death. It is a wonder I didn't--"

"Of course we take that for granted," twinkled Grace.

The doctor announced that he would stay until the children got better,
all day and night if necessary. There being nothing more for them to do
for the time being, Grace and Elfreda joined their companions outside.

They had not been outside the cabin very long before Emma uttered a
little cry of delight, and excitedly pointed down the trail that led
past the cornfield.

"Look! Oh, look! There comes Hippy and Mr. Thompson. Didn't I tell you I
would fetch Hippy back?" she cried.

"Why, Emma, how is that?" wondered Grace.

"I con-centrated on him, I did, and--"

"She did," glowed Nora, running forward to meet her husband.

"You should open an office when you get home," advised Miss Briggs. "Let
me see, your business sign should read, 'Miss Dean, Imponderable
Concentrator.'"

"Make all the fun you wish. I know now what I can do, and you know what
I have done, only you folks are too stubborn to admit it." Emma elevated
her chin and stamped around behind the barn out of sight.

After Hippy had embraced Nora and greeted the other girls he shook hands
with the doctor, who had come to the cabin door to wave a hand at Hippy.

"They didn't get you after all, I see," chuckled the doctor.

Hippy grinned.

"Now you-all is back, Ah wants t' talk t' ye," said Jed.

"Just a minute, Jed. What's that, Doc?"

"I say, what happened after I left you?"

"We took a few pot shots at each other from the bushes. The bullets got
rather thick, so I decided upon a retreat. Came near having another
set-to with Jed. We both were stalking each other down the trail a
piece, but Jed got the drop on me and, when he found out who I was, he
told me that he had come after me and why."

The doctor chuckled and returned to his patients, whereupon Hippy nodded
to the mountaineer, and the latter led the way to the rear of the barn
where they found Emma sunning herself and "con-centrating" on something.
Hippy waved her away and turned to Thompson.

"What's the big idea, Jed?" he asked jovially.

"That's what Ah wants t' know, Jim Townsend."

"Eh? Townsend! I don't get you."

"We uns up here ain't no fools even if we hain't got edication. We uns
knowed you-all was comin'. If I'd seen ye before ye did this fer Liz an'
Sue, I'd a plugged ye shore."

"Just a moment, please. Let me get this straight. Who is it you think I
am?"

"Yer Jim Townsend. Ah knows you-all, cause you-all was pinted out t' me
one time down t' Henderson, 'cept ye didn't have on them togs you-all is
wearin' now."

"Who is Townsend?" questioned Hippy. "If he looks like me, he is a very
fortunate man."

"You be he. What Ah wants t' know is what--jest what's yer game up
here? As Ah've said, you-all, and the wimmen, has done me a favor an' no
man kin say Jed Thompson ever fergits a favor. But it kain't last.
You-all got ter git out. What Ah ain't goin' t' do now, an' what some
other folks might do, is two different things. Ah tell ye it ain't safe
fer ye t' stay up here in these hills at all."

"Listen to me, Thompson. I don't know who this man is that looks like
me, but I have every reason to believe that my name is Wingate. The
record in the family Bible at home says I am, and what I read in that
book I believe. You're wrong, Buddy. I am Wingate. I was a lieutenant in
the flying corps during the war with Germany. These young women were
over there too, as nurses, ambulance drivers and in other wartime
occupations. When we returned to the United States, we decided to take a
vacation in the saddle each season until we tired of it. The first
season we rode over the Apache Trail in Arizona. Last year we crossed
the Great American Desert in the west. This season we decided to come up
here and combine business with pleasure."

Thompson's under jaw, Hippy observed, was sagging a little.

"An uncle, among other things, left me some mountain property on White
River Ridge. I have never seen it, but I am now on my way to look it
over and see if it is worth anything. That is the business to which I
referred, and is the only business I have in the Kentucky mountains. Are
you satisfied?"

"If Ah ain't, Ah'll give you-all warnin' that somebody'll shoot ye till
you-all's daid!" warned Jed Thompson.

"That is a game two can play at. I have played at it myself," chuckled
Lieutenant Wingate. "You have given me a timely warning, and I'll return
the compliment, old dear."

"What's that ye say?"

"I have not said it; I am about to say it. Listen, Jed! Bat Spurgeon's
gang has planned to come over here on the twenty-third and shoot up you
and your crowd until you-all are 'daid,'" was Hippy Wingate's solemn
warning. "Put that in your pipe and smoke it."



CHAPTER XXII

JULIE BRINGS DISTURBING NEWS


"Is that right, Loot'nant?" demanded the mountaineer, leaning forward
and peering searchingly at his informant.

"It is my information."

"Whar you hear it?"

"I overheard it one night. Another thing. That friend of yours, Lum
Bangs, I should not trust too far were I in your place. Mind you, I
don't speak with any knowledge that he isn't your friend, but I should
advise you to keep your eyes on him."

"Ah reckons you-all ain't such a fool as ye look," grunted Jed Thompson,
turning abruptly and striding away.

"Whew! That was a blow below the belt," muttered Hippy. "I am glad that
Emma Dean didn't hear that."

Lieutenant Wingate heard Thompson getting his horse from the barn, and,
a moment or so later, saw him riding away, rifle thrust in the saddle
boot. Jed did not return until late that night, after all were asleep.
The doctor had decided to remain all night with his patients, so
Elfreda and Grace made up their beds in the barn for a much-needed
night's rest.

Before they were awake next morning, the mountaineer had again ridden
away, and soon after breakfast the girls began work on their equipment,
patching up the tents and sewing the blankets that had been cut. The
doctor reported that Lizzie and Sue were considerably improved, and
decided that, if their improvement continued, he would return to Holcomb
that afternoon.

This he did, leaving medicine and explicit directions after extracting a
promise from the Overlanders to remain with the patients until he came
up later in the week.

Three days later the Overland Riders, having finished their mending,
pitched their camp in the open near the barn, where they felt much more
comfortable.

During the days that followed the departure of the doctor, the girls and
Julie came to know and understand each other better. Julie would sit for
hours watching them at their sewing or knitting, as they in turn watched
over the sick children. Elfreda told Julie of their work in France, of
the bravery of Grace Harlowe and Hippy Wingate; of the little orphan
that Grace had taken from a deserted French village one night and later
adopted; of her own little Lindy, the hermit's daughter, and of many
other things that deeply interested the black-eyed, fiery mountain girl.

In return, however, Julie told very little of the affairs of the
mountaineers. Like all of her kind she was close-mouthed, as the
Kentucky mountain people had learned from bitter experience was the only
way to safety, for an indiscreet word might be passed along and bring
the revenue officers down on the moonshiners, which most of the mountain
men were.

While nursing the sick girls, Grace wrote to Tom at Hall's Corners,
asking him to wait there as the Overland outfit undoubtedly would be
late in reaching the rendezvous. Hippy, in the meantime, with Julie's
assistance, had found and bought a horse to take the place of his lost
pony.

The doctor came up on Saturday, and after looking the patients over
announced that they were now wholly out of danger.

"Then, I suppose we are no longer needed here," suggested Miss Briggs.

"Well, I shouldn't exactly say that, but it will be safe to leave them.
Julie must have learned something from your attention to her sisters,"
said the doctor.

"She has learned to be helpful, at least," interjected Grace. "We would
not go, but it is important that we start as soon as possible. However,
Doctor, if you think we should stay longer, we will do so."

"Go on. You young women have done more than any one else has ever done
for these people. Jed is a queer fellow, but I know he appreciates it,
though he is diffident about saying so. Where is Jed, by the way?"

"We have seen him only once since you were here," Hippy informed him.
"By the way, Doc, do you know a fellow named Jim Townsend?"

The doctor gave Lieutenant Wingate a quick, keen glance.

"Can't say as I ever met him," reflected the medical man, stroking his
chin. "Why?"

Hippy shrugged his shoulders, but made no reply.

"Were I in your place, Lieutenant, I shouldn't mention that name up
here. It might not be safe," he warned. The doctor changed the subject
and began giving Julie explicit directions for the care of the sick
children. Elfreda added some suggestions of her own regarding their
food, which suggestions the doctor approved, and left after shaking
hands and beaming upon each Overland Rider.

The next day being Sunday, the entire party rode to the little mountain
church, three miles from the Thompson cabin, and attended services. The
devoutness of these queer mountain folk, moonshiners and feudists
included, interested them deeply.

Early the next morning, their equipment having already been packed, they
bade good-bye to the Thompsons. Julie cried a little, and the sick
children clung to Grace and Elfreda as if they could not let them go.

Before leaving, Nora slipped some money into Julie's hand.

"This is for new clothes and shoes for yourself, the children and your
mother," she whispered. "My Hippy wished me to give it to you." Giving
Julie an impulsive kiss, Nora ran out without giving the mountain girl
opportunity to recover from her surprise, and, after Julie had
recovered, her amazement at the amount of money held in her hand left
her altogether speechless until the Overland Riders had jogged away and
were out of sight.

They were short on equipment and provisions, but knew that they could
replenish their supplies at the general store at Hall's Corners.

Although they might have made the journey in two days' hard riding, it
was decided to make camp early in the afternoon and rest up and enjoy
the scenery, and on the following day camp about five miles from their
destination, going on to Hall's Corners on the third day. After their
idleness at Thompson's all hands were thoroughly enjoying being back in
the saddle, and even Emma was enjoying herself so keenly that she forgot
to be petulant or to "con-centrate" on anything at all.

In the two days' ride, which they made without incident, meeting very
few persons, and not being annoyed by any one, they had come to hope
that they had left the troubled area of the mountains behind them and
that only peaceful scenes lay before them. Hippy, however, still
insisted that he was a marked man.

It was some time after the evening meal of the second day when they
heard a horse galloping along the wagon trail that they had followed
ever since leaving the Thompson place.

Hippy held up a hand for silence, and the Overlanders sat listening
intently.

"Some one is in an awful hurry," observed Emma.

"Going for a doctor, perhaps," suggested Hippy. "That's the way I rode
when I went after old Doc Weatherby."

"Only one rider," announced Grace. "Otherwise we might have reason to
feel disturbed."

The horse suddenly slowed down, its rider probably attracted by the
light of the campfire.

"Hulloa the camp!" shouted a voice.

"A woman!" exclaimed Nora.

"Hulloa! Come on in so we can see who you are," called Emma.

"Howdy," answered the rider, picking her way towards them from the
trail.

"Julie!" cried the Overlanders, as Julie Thompson rode into the
flickering light of the campfire.

"What is the matter? Has something gone wrong, Julie?" begged Grace,
running forward, her companions following close at her heels.

"Ah reckons somethin' is goin' t' right smart," answered the girl,
slowly dismounting.

Washington was summoned to take her horse, with directions to water and
groom it, for the animal was wet with sweat.

"See here! Where did you come from to-day?" demanded Hippy.

"Ah come from home, an' Ah been er ridin' ever since sunup, Ah have.
Ah'm sore an' Ah'm hungry, folks!"

Nora and Anne ran to prepare food and coffee for their guest, while
Grace and Elfreda led her to the fire and made Julie sit down.

"Is anything seriously wrong at home?" begged Miss Briggs.

Julie shook her head.

"Not yit. Thar may be. Liz an' Sue is feelin' fine. Paw ain't home, but
he tole me t' find a hoss an' git to you-all as fast as Ah could. Ah
didn't have no horse so Ah helped mahself t' one o' Lum Bangs' an' rid
him right here."

They did not press Julie for the reason for her long hard ride until she
had gulped down a cup of coffee, then Lieutenant Wingate suggested that
she tell them what it was all about.

"Ah come t' warn you-all," she said. "Paw said as ye oughter know 'bout
it right smart."

"Yes? What is it?" urged Grace.

"You-all got t' turn aroun' an' go back, 'cause Bat Spurgeon an' his
gang is waitin' fer you-uns on the White River Ridge," announced Julie
unemotionally.

Hippy uttered a partly suppressed whistle.

"That is where they are going to collect the price on your head,"
suggested Emma Dean.

"Sh--h--h!" rebuked Anne. "This is news to me. Who is Bat Spurgeon? Is
there something you have kept back from us, Grace?"

"I don't know much about him except what Hippy told me after his capture
by the mountaineers. I don't wish to speak of it here," with a
significant glance at Julie. "How do you know this, Julie?" she asked,
turning to the mountain girl.

"Paw! Don't know how Paw knowed 'bout it. Paw knows nigh everything
'bout what's doin' up here. Reckon you-all'll have er right smart time
gittin' to the loot'nant's property ever, 'cause that's where Bat an'
his bunch make their hangout."

"Do they live there?" asked Hippy.

"Reckon they do now an' ag'in."

"They carry on their business there? Is that what you mean, Julie?"
questioned Elfreda.

"Don't know nothin' 'bout that."

The girls exchanged significant glances. True to her type, Julie would
not even expose an enemy. The Spurgeons and the Thompsons were feudists,
and had time and again made war on each other for several generations,
and it was their policy not to talk, but to let their rifles talk for
them.

"What you-all goin' t' do?"

"We are going on, of course," announced Lieutenant Wingate.

"You-all shore'll git lammed if ye do," warned Julie.

"No we won't, 'cause I'll con-centrate. I think I will begin this very
night, and by the time we reach that Ridge place all will be sweet
peace," bubbled Emma.

Hippy Wingate shook his head and sighed.

"We must go as far as Hall's Corners, Julie. You know I have to meet my
husband there. We shall, from then on, have one more man in the party
and ought to be able to protect ourselves from those Spurgeon people,"
said Grace. "However, we will take up the question with Mr. Gray upon
arrival at the Corners and decide upon what is best to be done."

"It is very fine of you, Julie," complimented Miss Briggs, laying a
friendly hand on Julie's shoulder. "It really is wonderful that you
should do all this for us."

"It has helped us a lot, Julie," added Anne. "You see we now know what
to look out for. Otherwise we probably should have innocently walked
right into trouble."

"And out again as fast as horseflesh could carry us," muttered Hippy.
"What is your father going to do about the Spurgeons?"

"Ah don't know. 'Bout what?"

"Oh, most anything," answered Hippy lamely.

"Well, Ah reckon Ah'll be gittin' back home," sighed Julie.

"No, no!" protested the Overlanders in chorus. "You will remain here
to-night. Your horse is tired out and so are you," added Grace.

It required considerable persuasion to induce the girl to stay, but she
finally consented. Grace and Elfreda arranged to have Julie use their
tent, for they wished to talk with her, and the result of that chat in
the seclusion of the patched-up tent was that Grace and Elfreda gleaned
considerable information. They learned from Julie, indirectly, that it
was her father who sent Lum Bangs, in the guise of a game constable, to
threaten the Overland party and drive them out of the mountains, her
father having heard the story of the bear when he got home that day.

As to why Jed Thompson was so eager to be rid of the party, Julie had
not a word to say, though her questioners had their own suspicions.

It was late when the three girls finally dropped off to sleep, but Julie
was up with the break of day. Hearing her, Elfreda and Grace also got up
and made a hurried breakfast, and assisted her in saddling her horse.
Julie rode away waving her good-bye, happy in the thought of a good deed
performed, for her brief association with the girls of the Overland
party had opened her eyes to many things.

After breakfast the Overlanders held a consultation over what Julie had
told them about conditions on White River Ridge, but deferred their
decision as to what should be done until they had talked the situation
over with Tom. Soon after that they packed up and rode away, reaching
Hall's Corners about ten o'clock in the morning. They halted at the
general store, which also was the post office, hitched their horses to
the tie rail and hurried in for their mail.

"I have a letter from Tom," whispered Grace to Elfreda. "I must talk it
over with the girls. Get them outside as soon as they can be induced to
lay aside their letters."

"Not bad news, Loyalheart?"

"It may be," answered Grace. "Tom finished his government contract a
week ago and went on to the Ridge to make the survey of Hippy's property
before we got there, and leaves directions as to where we may find him.
Elfreda, I don't like this at all."

"That means that we start for the Ridge and more trouble. Good! Let's
go!"



CHAPTER XXIII

THE GATHERING OF THE CLANS


"How long has Tom's letter been here?" asked Anne, after Grace had
explained their situation to her companions.

"Ten days. Every one seems to be issuing warnings, and Tom is no
exception. Listen to this, will you? 'Be vigilant! The white moonlight
reigns supreme up here.'"

"What does he mean by that? Is Tom growing sentimental?" questioned
Emma.

"He means there are moonshiners on this ridge of Lieutenant Wingate's,"
answered Miss Briggs.

"Huh! Brown Eyes, don't you worry about Tom. Any fellow who is slick
enough to say a thing without saying it, is slick enough to outwit the
whole breed of feudists and others up here."

Grace said she was not worrying, but that they must start as soon as
they could replenish their stores. This they set about doing at once.
New canvas with which to patch up their tents, cartridges for rifle and
revolver, and provisions were purchased and lashed to the back of the
remaining pack mule, or carried by the Overlanders in small packs on
their ponies. As soon as possible, after studying the marked map that
Tom Gray had left them to show the party where to look for his camp,
they set out at a jog-trot, with which Washington and his mule had
difficulty in keeping up.

That night they camped near the wagon trail, and at daylight resumed
their journey. Late in the afternoon they halted for rest and to study
their map and the contour of the mountains at that point.

"It should be somewhere hereabouts," declared Miss Briggs. "The
landmarks appear to agree with Tom's markings on the map. It is my
judgment that the wise thing to do would be to make camp near here."

After consultation it was decided to do this.

The part of the mountains where they were about to camp was the wildest
and most rugged of any that they had seen since reaching Kentucky.
Everywhere one saw caves, large and small, and unless one were vigilant
he was quite likely to fall into one, for many were mere holes straight
down through the rocks, and vine-covered at the top. The rocks
themselves were misshapen, and in some instances hideous when the light
of the day faded.

"Hippy, is this your property?" questioned Emma as they sat down to
their supper.

"Yes. Why?"

"You ought to come and spend the rest of your days here. What a lovely
spot over on that knoll for a bungalow. I think--"

A distant rifle shot interrupted what Emma was about to say. It was
followed by several others in quick succession, but, while apparently
not very far away, no bullets were heard, so the Overland Riders felt
that they were not the object of the shooting.

"Beginning already," muttered Elfreda.

Grace said nothing. She was listening and wondering if Tom were out
there, and if so, if he were in trouble. However, there was nothing to
be done except to wait until morning before pushing their search for him
further. The camp was well guarded that night, but nothing occurred to
disturb them.

Shortly after daylight a systematic search was begun for Tom Gray's
camp, the Overlanders separating and going out for individual search,
keeping the landmarks near their own camp well in mind.

It was Elfreda Briggs who made the discovery. She called to Grace, who
was near by, to come to her. Grace uttered an exclamation as she ran up
to Miss Briggs, who stood pointing to a little tent nestling at the
base of a rocky peak.

"Is that Tom's tent?" asked Elfreda.

"No, but we will have a look at it."

The two girls ran eagerly to the little tent, proceeding more cautiously
as they came up to it. The blankets, they found, were rolled neatly, and
a pair of boots stood in one corner, while some clothing hung from hooks
on a tent-pole.

"This _is_ Tom's tent. Oh, I am so glad," cried Grace.

"Yes. But where is Tom?"

"It is all right. He may be away from here for days, sleeping in the
open, living as only a woodsman knows how to live. You know he is making
a survey of this tract, and, I presume, doesn't find it convenient to
take his equipment with him. Now I am content to settle down and wait
for him. In the meantime we can do some exploring on our own account. I
wonder who Tom has with him?"

"What do you mean?"

"Tracks of two different persons right there," answered Grace, pointing
to the ground. "Where are your eyes, J. Elfreda?"

"Let's go back," suggested Miss Briggs, sighing deeply. "We must let the
girls know at once."

All the Overlanders, except Nora Wingate, were quickly rounded up and
told the good news. Nora was nowhere in sight, but Hippy said she was
picking mountain berries about a quarter of a mile to the south of the
camp, and that she had probably forgotten what she had been sent out
for. He said, however, that he would go out and look for her.

In the meantime, Nora had been sitting eating the hatful of berries that
she had gathered, gazing off over the rugged landscape and enjoying the
mountain scenery bathed in the early morning sunlight. The mountains, in
that softening light, lost their hideousness and were really beautiful
to look upon. Nora's eyes, slowly absorbing the scene before her,
suddenly paused in their roving and fixed their gaze on a point some
twenty yards below her. Nora was looking down on the crown of a
sombrero. Below it, the figure that the hat belonged to was invisible in
the dense growth of vine and bush.

"Faith, and what's that?" murmured Nora, half humorously. "I know. It's
that husband of mine wanting to give me a scare. Wait! I'll make the
rascal jump."

Nora Wingate groped for and found a small piece of rock, chuckling
softly to herself. Rising cautiously she aimed the rock to fall several
feet to one side of the man below her, then reaching her hand far back
she let fly, just as she had seen bombers do in France when practicing
bomb-throwing.

Nora stood shaking with silent laughter at the fright she was going to
give Hippy Wingate. To her horror, the rock, instead of landing to one
side of the man, dropped fairly on the top of his head. As the stone hit
him, the man uttered a grunt, but the Overland girl was too shocked to
utter a sound.

The fellow leaped to one side, threw a hand to his head and knocked off
his hat in his effort to find out what had hit him, then quickly looked
up.

Nora Wingate found herself gazing down, not into the face of Hippy, but
into the scowling, rage-contorted features of Lum Bangs. At that moment,
Nora, of her own volition, could not have moved to save her life, but
Lum speedily furnished the incentive for her to do so. Without an
instant's hesitation he fired his rifle from the hip. The bullet from it
cut the leaves not many inches from Nora's head.

"Hippy! Oh, Hippy!" she screamed and ran, bullets clipping the leaves
close by, which served to lend speed to her flying feet.

Nora, as she ran, kept on shouting for Hippy. He heard her faintly and
started at a run to meet her.

"They are shooting at me. Hurry! Run!" urged Nora as he neared her.

"Run? I guess not," retorted Hippy. "Where are they?"

"Up the mountain. There was only one, but there may be more." Nora
grabbed her husband's arm and both started at a brisk trot for the camp.
Reaching there, Nora hurriedly told her companions what had occurred.

"Lum Bangs!" exclaimed Miss Briggs. "What is he doing here? The
Thompsons must be here."

Grace shook her head and said she doubted it.

"Julie warned us against the Spurgeons and said they were waiting for us
on this ridge," reminded Grace. "Still, that doesn't explain Lum's
presence here, unless he has followed us, seeking revenge."

"Lum may have turned traitor," observed Hippy. "Folks, it is my opinion
that we had better prepare for trouble. I smell it in the air."

"Don't you think that it would be wise to protect our equipment?"
suggested Anne.

Grace pondered, then announced that for the present they would do
nothing beyond looking for a place not only to stow their belongings,
but to safeguard themselves in case of trouble. They found such a place
in a cave that Hippy had discovered that morning, the opening to which
was on a slight rise of ground, commanding a wide view across the valley
below it.

The party investigated the cave, and, finding it suited to their needs,
began to move into it. Tents, mess kits, some food and a few blankets
were all that were left in the nearby camp. Hippy then assumed the duty
of guarding the party, but not a sign of life did he discover, nor was
there a disturbing sound to be heard. Supper was eaten in camp before
dark and the cook fire then extinguished.

Grace was troubled about Tom, and, as the hours wore on, the thought
that perhaps he might have come to some harm, grew upon her. She got up
about midnight, and, leaving her tent, sat down on a rock, chin in
hands, more nervous than she remembered ever to have been before.
Hurried footsteps aroused her to instant alertness.

"Is that you, Hippy?" called a low-pitched voice off to the right of
her. It was Nora Wingate's voice. Grace had not known she was awake.

"Yes. Wake the girls, but be quiet about it. The woods are full of
them."

"Of whom?" demanded Grace, getting quickly to her feet and hurrying to
Hippy.

"I don't know, but I saw several men about two hundred yards from here.
They are creeping up on the camp. Hurry! Get the girls into the cave. I
will keep watch here until you get safely to the cave."

It was but a few minutes later when the Overland girls filed silently
from their camp and headed for the cave. Hippy, rifle in hand, halted
just outside the camp and waited. He did not have long to wait. A burst
of rifle fire woke the mountain echoes, but, being out of the range of
fire, he merely crouched down and waited to see what the attackers would
do.

In the cave, the Overland girls were peering from the opening, but, by
agreement, not a shot was fired by them or by Lieutenant Wingate.

The shooting kept up briskly for several minutes, then died away, and
silence settled over the scene. Hippy remained near the camp so long
that the girls began to feel concerned for him. This was dispelled
nearly half an hour later when they discovered him, well bent over to
hide his movements, running towards them.

"Whew! They didn't do a thing to our tents. Shot them full of holes," he
exclaimed. "They are going through everything and they're getting
worried, judging from what I overheard. We played a neat trick on them,"
chuckled the lieutenant.

"Don't crow," advised Emma Dean. "It isn't daylight yet. I will
con-centrate. I con-centrated all the time you were away, and you came
back, didn't you?"

"'Con-centrate' on those ruffians and drive them away; 'con-centrate' on
Tom Gray; 'con-centrate' on the Mystery Man--'con-centrate' on anybody,
but for the love of Mike don't let loose any of that 'imponderable
quantity' on me," begged Lieutenant Wingate.

Hippy advised the girls to lie down on their blankets and try to sleep,
saying that he would keep awake and watch at the cave entrance, but none
of them felt the slightest desire for sleep, especially when the rifle
fire opened up again. They wondered if the attackers were shooting at
shadows. Not more than a dozen shots were fired and these at intervals,
after which there was no more shooting during the rest of the night.

At daybreak Hippy dozed off, first nodding to Nora to take the watch for
him, which she did. The others of the party were sitting on the rocky
floor of the cave leaning against the wall, also dozing. Nora, for a
short time, sat watching her husband who was snoring loudly; then she
got up and peered out at the reddening sky. Unthinkingly, she stepped
from the cave and stood inhaling deeply of the fragrant morning air.

Nora suddenly uttered a cry and clapped a hand to her left cheek. At the
same instant, it seemed, the report of a rifle woke the echoes.

Hippy, awake and on his feet in an instant, jerked Nora back into the
cave, but not before a bullet had flattened itself against the rocks
close to his head.

"Lie down and keep tight to the sides of the cave!" he commanded. "They
know where we are now. Fine! Fine! Emma Dean could do no worse."

No more shots were fired for fully an hour, then suddenly bullets began
to pour into the cave, some hitting the sides and, ricochetting, wailed
on into the dark depths of the cavern, making any part of the gloomy
place unsafe. The best the Overlanders could do was to keep down and lie
close to the wall.

Nora had had a narrow escape from death at the first shot, though, while
she had not been hit, the bullet had grazed her cheek, leaving a red
mark across it.

Frequent volleys into the cave, after several hours, set the nerves of
each of the Overland Riders on edge. Hippy was eager to take a hand in
the fray, but the girls forbade it, advising him that he would merely be
making a mark of himself, whereas it were doubtful if he could see a
single one of their assailants.

"Yes, but suppose they keep us here for days?" objected Lieutenant
Wingate.

"We have plenty of food," answered Anne.

"And precious little water," added Grace Harlowe. "My advice is to wait
and watch. At night they are certain to come up closer to the mouth of
the cave. Perhaps we may be able to get a shot at them then without
exposing ourselves. Surely, if they try to enter here we can quickly
drive them back."

The rest of the afternoon up to three o'clock was spent in dodging
bullets. Exactly on the hour of three there came an interruption that
startled every one of the cave dwellers. A rattling fire sprang up, but
no bullets came their way. Hippy held up his hand for silence, and
listened.

"Two gangs are at it and they must be shooting at each other. I'm going
out to have a look!" cried Hippy.

"Look! Look!" cried Emma, whose curiosity had led her to follow
Lieutenant Wingate.

Men were seen running down below them. On the opposite mountainside,
just across the narrow valley that lay a short distance from the mouth
of the cave, they saw skulking figures. Now and then one would drop to
his knees and shoot at the fleeing figures in the valley.

The fleeing men in the valley, after reaching the positions they were
seeking, faced their adversaries on the mountainside and began firing up
at them.

"It is the feud!" cried Miss Briggs.

"That's right. I have it!" exclaimed Hippy. "This is the twenty-second
of the month. The Spurgeons were going to sail into the Thompsons on the
twenty-third, but Jed Thompson has beat them to it by a day, and
attacked them on the twenty-second. Good generalship!"

"I call it terrible," murmured Anne Nesbit.

From their elevated position, the Overland Riders were able to observe
the battle in all its details, and it was a thrilling sight. They saw
men fall, but whether from bullet or from stumbling the Overlanders did
not know, for, in most instances, the fallen ones soon got to their feet
and joined in the fight. Now and then, however, one remained where he
had dropped.

"I think the party on the mountainside is the Thompson party," announced
Grace, who had been observing through her binoculars. "I am positive
that I recognize Jed."

"Then the Spurgeons are on the run. Look at that, will you!" cried
Lieutenant Wingate.

The supposed Spurgeons were now dashing down the valley, here and there
making a stand and shooting up at their enemies, who were pouring down a
hot fire on them. The shooting soon began to die down, with an
occasional shot from the Thompson feudists, probably long-range shots at
the fleeing figures of the Spurgeons.

"All over," announced Hippy. "We can now safely go out. I am going over
to see what the camp looks like."

The girls said they too would go. They did not believe that their
presence had been discovered by the Thompson fighters, but in this,
however, they were mistaken. Keen eyes had espied them watching the
battle from the mouth of the cave, and even then some of the Thompson
party was on its way to look the Overlanders over.

Washington Washington, who, during the firing on the cave, had remained
flat on his stomach on the floor, a finger in either ear, trembling with
fright, now assured that he had nothing more to fear, darted on ahead,
eager to get to his mule. He gained the camp a few minutes ahead of the
Overland party. They saw him coming back, wide-eyed, his feet barely
touching the ground as he ran.

"What is it, Laundry?" called Hippy.

Washington's lips refused to frame the words that he was trying to
utter. The Overlanders started forward at a run, bringing up abruptly as
they gained their camping place. Not a vestige of it, save the ashes of
their cook fire, remained. Everything was gone.

"De hosses!" exploded Washington.

"They're gone!" cried Emma Dean, who, following Washington's warning,
had run to the tethering place.

They were not all "gone," however. The Overland Riders found that one
pony had been, shot through the head, and that the mule had shared a
like fate. The other animals had disappeared, probably driven away by
Bat Spurgeon and his gang of ruffians.

"Howd', folks," greeted Jed Thompson, fairly bursting into the camp.
"You-all don't know whether that critter Spurgeon has been heyeh, does
ye?"

"Just cast your eagle eyes about and see if you don't think it looks as
if somebody had been here, old top," answered Hippy Wingate, taking in
the camp and the tethering ground with a wave of the hand.

"Our ponies are gone. Now we've got to walk all the way home," wailed
Emma.

"'Con-centrate,' little one," advised Hippy.

"Never mind 'bout the hosses. We-uns'll fix ye up. Spurgeon and Lum
Bates got er-way. They come this-a-way an' Ah reckon they're hidin' in a
cave. Shore they ain't in that place where you was?" demanded Jed.

"If ye ain't sartin, better look an' see. We'll be goin' through t'other
holes right smart. Mah men is doin' it now!"

"Bates?" wondered Hippy.

"The houn' went back on we-uns. It was this-a-way. Lum opined as we
ought ter follow ye and clean yer outfit up, but Ah said as after
you-uns had done what you-all had done fer Liz an' Sue, there wan't
nothin' doin'. That was the last Ah seen of the houn' dawg. Ah know he
was with Spurgeon 'cause Ah put er bullet through his shoulder ter-day."

"Sorry I couldn't have had a crack at him myself," muttered Hippy.

"It was Lum that pestered ye so. Ah set him on ye an' put up that bear
story, but you-all didn't swaller it," he added, nodding to Hippy. "Say,
Loot'nant, are ye sartin you-all ain't Jim Townsend?"

"Well," reflected Hippy, "I may say I am reasonably certain that I'm
not."

"You folks wait here till we-uns come back. Mebby 'twon't be till
mornin', fer we've got t' git that houn', Lum, an' Bat Spurgeon, else
they won't be no livin' round heyeh. This yer property?" with a sweeping
wave of the hand.

Hippy nodded.

"Good thing we-uns cleaned out the Spurgeons then. Won't be none o' 'em
'round when you moves up heyeh. Bye." And Jed left them at a trot.

"I am going to investigate our cave. You can come along if you want to,
but if that fellow with the explosive name--_Bangs_--should chance to be
there I'll tell you in advance you better make tracks lively, for there
surely will be some shooting," warned Hippy.

Torches were prepared and Washington reluctantly led the way into the
cave with one, Hippy walking behind him with drawn revolver, the
Overland girls bringing up the rear a few yards from Lieutenant Wingate.

Not having explored the cave very far, they were amazed at its depth; in
fact they had gone on, it seemed, a good mile and were still looking for
the end.

"I don't believe there is any one in here," Hippy was saying. "We might
as well go back."

"Ahem!"

"Who said that?" demanded Hippy.

"Ahem!"

Washington Washington uttered a yell and bolted back for the opening of
the cave, taking his torch with him, leaving the Overlanders in the
blackest darkness they had ever experienced.

"I make the near blind to see, and the seeing to see in the dark as in
the daylight. I am the benefactor of all-uns of the mountains. Specs,
ladies and gentlemen--fit you with specs that will enable you to
penetrate even the darkness of the under-earth. Nick-nacks, threads,
needles, but principally specs and good cheer," announced a voice that
seemed to come right up out of the earth before them.



CHAPTER XXIV

TRAIL'S END


"The Mystery Man!" shouted the Overland Riders.

"Oh, Mr. Long, where are you?" cried Grace.

"I am here, bound over to keep the peace. If you will kindly release me
I will stretch myself, fit you with specs and proceed to break the peace
as soon as I can catch sight of the fellows who put me here. Specs,
folks? If you cannot wait, fetch my case. It is here somewhere, and I'll
fit you before you untie me."

Hippy struck a match, and by its light they saw Jeremiah Long, arms
pinioned to his sides with rope, and a rope about his neck, fastened to
a stake driven into a crevice in the rocks.

The Mystery Man was quickly released.

"Do you not wish to hear what has occurred here?" asked Nora.

"Ah know what occurred, up to the time some one hit me over the head and
put me to sleep."

Hippy then briefly told him the story of their arrival at the Ridge, and
of what followed. Grace added that they were disturbed, very much
worried about Tom Gray, and asked Mr. Long if he would assist them in
finding him.

"To be sure. Here! Place these specs on your nose and I promise you that
through those magic lenses you shall see your husband this very night.
Do they fit you?" questioned Jeremiah Long.

"The bows fit perfectly, but I cannot see a thing through the lenses,"
answered Grace laughingly, as a match flared up in the hands of Nora
Wingate and was held before Grace Harlowe's face.

"That is as it should be. So long as the bows fit, it matters not about
the lenses. Hold your positions, please, and light no matches until I
tell you to, lest you destroy the magic spell."

The Mystery Man left them, but returned in a few moments.

"I will throw a gleam from my magic lamp, and through your magic lenses,
Mrs. Gray, you will see that my spell has worked," announced the
strange character. He flashed an electric pocket lamp on the face of a
man standing facing the party.

The Overlanders gasped.

The circle of light drew the face of Tom Gray out of the darkness.

"Tom!" cried Grace, snatching off the spectacles and running to her
husband. "Oh, Tom, how could you keep silent so long when you knew how
disturbed we were?"

"I could not well do otherwise, Grace, seeing that I was bound just as
Mr. Long was, but with the added burden of a gag in my mouth. He came in
after I did, and we managed to get acquainted despite my gag. I could
mumble and he got the mumble. After you released him he freed my mouth
of the gag and cut the rope that held me helpless."

"You see my magic specs saw that Captain Gray had been clubbed and
kidnapped, and I was trying to find him when I was put to sleep and
dumped in here to await further disposition. Have the specs fulfilled
all that I promised, Mrs. Gray?"

"A hundred fold," laughed Grace happily.

"No charge, thank you. We aim to please our customers. Having an
appointment late this evening to fit a pair of specs of another variety
than you have seen me display, I will bid you good-evening. If I do not
see you again in reality, I shall many times smile at you ladies with my
eyes and my heart, and, should you at such times chance to be wearing
the magic specs, you will see the smile and recall the smiler."

"Won't you shake hands?" asked Miss Briggs.

"Thank you. I have said my good-byes."

"At least, Mr. Long, before you leave us, please tell us who and what
you are," urged Nora.

"With pleasure. I am Jeremiah Long, the Mystery Man, and spectacles is
my line. All hay is grass and grass is hay. I'm here to-morrow and gone
to-day." His voice seemed to fade away in the darkness, the last words
sounding far away and barely heard. The Overland Riders did not know
whether he had gone out or plunged deeper into the cave, to emerge from
some exit the existence of which they were unaware.

"What a queer man," murmured Anne Nesbit. "He almost gives one the
creeps. I wish we knew who and what he is."

"I think Tom knows," spoke up Grace. "Let's get out of this horrid
place."

"Yes, I do know. To-night he expects to accomplish what he has been
working towards for many months, a round-up of the leading moonshiners
of this district. I have seen Long before I came up here, and he
confided in me, because I possessed some information, gleaned from
hiking over this property of yours, which he wished to have, and that he
could not very well ask for without giving me some information in
return. Long is Dick Whitfield, the head of a corps of mountain sleuths,
probably the shrewdest man in his line of work who ever came into the
Kentucky hills. It was he who wounded the mountaineer in the bushes that
night by your camp. It was he who protected you in many tight places,
including some that you did not know about."

"And shot Lum Bangs through the wrist at the dance," suggested Nora.

"No, that was Jim Townsend, his principal assistant."

"That's the fellow I want to know about--the fellow who ought to be the
proudest man in the world because he looks like me," cried Hippy
Wingate.

As the party strolled out towards the mouth of the tunnel, Tom Gray told
his companions that Hippy's resemblance to Townsend had been quickly
seized upon by the Mystery Man, Jeremiah Long, and used as a cloak to
cover the operations of the real Townsend, trusting to their skill and
watchfulness to keep the moonshiners from collecting the reward that had
been offered for Townsend. Either Townsend or the Spectacle Man had kept
the Overland Riders under observation a good part of the time. It was
Townsend who rescued Hippy from the Spurgeon gang, who conducted Hippy
back to his camp, and who left the mysterious notes for the Overlanders.

"Yes. But why did they mark me for the slaughter?" demanded Hippy.

"Don't you understand? They thought you were Jim Townsend. In fact, the
mountain men had been informed that Townsend was on his way here as a
member of the Overland Riders, to get evidence against the moonshiners.
As a matter of fact, Townsend was already here and had been, in
disguise, for some time. That belief involved our entire party, you see,
and it is a wonder that the mountaineers did not get one of you, at
least. When they caught me, knowing that I was in Government service, I
thought it was all up with me, but I believe they thought best first to
settle their feud with Thompson.

"One thing that possibly saved all of you people, and surely saved
Hippy," resumed Tom Gray, "is that you are women. They were eager
enough to put Hippy out of the way, but you girls made them hesitate.
They didn't like the idea of committing a cold-blooded crime like that
in the presence of a group of pretty girls."

"What about that survey you were to make for me?" questioned Hippy.

"I have made it," replied Tom. "That is, I have gone far enough with it
to convince me that you have a wonderful coal deposit here. It will make
you a richer man than you ever dreamed of being, but it will be at least
two years before you can work the veins. A survey has been made for a
railroad spur that will go through your property, and I believe the
railroad people are going to begin work on it next spring. You will,
therefore, have plenty of time to mature your plans for the big splash."

"Hippy Wingate, don't you dare go and get enlargement of the head,"
warned Nora, after his companions had crowded about Hippy and
enthusiastically congratulated him.

"Never mind, Nora. If he does, just let me know. I'll con-centrate on
his head until it gets so small that he can wear a charlotte russe cup
on it instead of a sombrero. Didn't I con-centrate on everything?"
demanded Emma triumphantly.

"You did," agreed Hippy in a guttural voice.

"And didn't everything turn out just as I con-centrated that it should?"

"It did," rumbled Hippy.

"Then there is nothing more to be said," finished Emma amid the laughter
of her companions.

That night, having no tents to cover them, the Overland party slept in
the cave. Tom Gray sat with Hippy on guard at the mouth of the cave all
night, but their watchfulness was not needed. The Spurgeon gang that had
been annoying them had been soundly whipped, and, one by one, those that
were left were being arrested by revenue men. Spurgeon himself, as the
Overlanders learned later, succeeded in getting away. Lum Bangs, too,
managed to avoid the revenue agents, but was later hunted down and
driven out of the mountains by Jed Thompson's friends.

Late on the morning following the fight, Jed and some of his men rode
into the camp with the Overland ponies and also turned in one belonging
to his own outfit to take the place of the animal that the Spurgeons had
shot.

The Overland Riders spent a week longer in the mountains, during which
Tom and Hippy went over the latter's property in detail and laid plans
for the future.

Before leaving the mountains, Hippy succeeded in inducing Captain Gray
to go into partnership with him and share in Hippy's good fortune. At
the end of this happy week the Overlanders packed up what was left of
their equipment and rode away towards home, stopping for a day for a
visit with Jed Thompson's family, and incidentally to warn Jed that it
might be wise for him to raise and use other crops than corn, lest the
revenue men take him in as they had done with the Spurgeon gang.

In a way, the Overland girls were glad to start on their way home. None,
however, was quite so happy to be homeward bound as was Washington
Washington, who frankly admitted that he had had enough, and that he
"didn' want no moah."

The further adventures of the Overland Riders will be related in a
following volume entitled, "GRACE HARLOWE'S OVERLAND RIDERS IN THE GREAT
NORTH WOODS." Battles with the timber pirates, the fight for the
Overland claim, the faithfulness of the Indian, who helps Hippy and Tom
on to victory, and the Christmas dinner in the depth of the forest amid
thousands of scintillating Christmas trees, makes a story of adventure
and achievement second to none that Grace Harlowe and her companions
ever have experienced.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

   Obvious punctuation errors corrected.





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