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    Chapter 26

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    Chapter 27
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    PROWLERS IN CAMP

    "Huh! so it's you, is it!" cried Link Merwell, in surly tones.

    "So you are after my mine!" cried Roger, sharply. "Well, I'll tell you right now, if you locate it, it won't do you any good."

    "Bah! We know what we are doing," retorted the youth who in the past had caused Dave and his chums so much trouble. "You can't scare us."

    "Link, you ought to be in jail!" burst out Phil.

    "You'll never put me there," was the quick retort.

    "We have as much right to look for a mine up here as you have," put in Sol Blugg. "If you own a mine, where are your stakes or other landmarks?"

    "You know very well that they were carried away by that landslide," answered the senator's son.

    "We don't know nuthin' of the kind," came from Larry Jaley. "Your uncle claimed to have a mine up here, but I never seen no proof of it--nor did anybuddy else see any proof. Any of us kin locate a claim, an' you can't stop us."

    "This is free land, so far as locatin' a claim is concerned," added Sol Blugg.

    "Well, if you locate that mine before we do, don't you dare to remove any of my uncle's landmarks," returned Roger.

    "Ha! wot kind o' talk is thet!" burst out Larry Jaley.

    "Oh, we know you," put in Dave. "We know just what sort of a bunch you are."

    "Porter, do you include me in that remark?" demanded Job Haskers, drawing himself up as had been his fashion when an instructor at Oak Hall.

    "I certainly do," replied Dave.

    "You are impertinent!"

    "It won't do you any good to act in that way, Job Haskers," returned our hero. "We know you for the rascal that you are. You committed a crime at Oak Hall, and you did what you could to swindle Mr. Fordham. It's useless for you to deny it. Now, let me say this: If you and those with you try to do the Morrs out of their property here, we'll do all we can to put you and Link Merwell in prison for your crimes. And more than that, we'll do what we can to have those men arrested, for that land swindle they tried to pull off when Abe Blower blocked them, and for stealing our horses."

    "You--you----" stammered the former teacher, and for the moment knew not what to say.

    "Don't you call us hoss-thieves!" burst out Sol Blugg, savagely.

    "I can and I will," replied Dave, firmly. "Your crowd tried to take our horses, and the fellow called Staver got shot doing it. I guess that is why he isn't with you now."

    "Bah! I won't talk with you," growled Sol Blugg. He knew not what else to say.

    "I--I will--will settle with you for this another time," came tartly from Job Haskers.

    "Oh, come on, what's the use of talking to them?" growled Link Merwell. "Some day I'll show them what I can do!" And he moved on along the ledge.

    "Some day I shall square up for this gross insult!" stormed Job Haskers, and then he followed Merwell, and Blugg and Jaley came behind them. Soon a turn in the ledge hid them from view of our friends.

    "What nerve!" burst out Phil.

    "That proves they are after the mine," came from Dave.

    "Yes, and if they locate it they will try to prove that it wasn't my uncle's mine at all!" burst out Roger, bitterly. "I suppose they'll destroy all the landmarks--that is, if the landslide left any of them standing--and then what will I be able to do?"

    "I think we had better go back and tell the others of this," said Dave. "After this, it may pay us to keep an eye on that other crowd."

    "That's so," returned the senator's son.

    With care the three chums retraced their steps, and half an hour later found them with Tom Dillon and Abe Blower. The two old miners listened with close attention to the tale of their encounter with the other party.

    "You are right; we must watch 'em," said Tom Dillon. "They are a bad lot and will do what they can to make trouble for us, and keep us from locating the lost mine."

    "I wonder where they are camping?" said Phil.

    "It can't be very far from here," replied Dave. "We can look for their campfire to-night, if you wish."

    "If they don't hide it," remarked Abe Blower. "And by that same token, wouldn't it be a good idee to hide our own fire?" he continued, turning to Tom Dillon.

    "Sure!" was the prompt answer.

    That night the three boys climbed several tall rocks in the vicinity of their camp and looked around with care. But the only lights that they could make out were miles away, and those Abe Blower stated were on the distant railroad. Nothing like a campfire came to view.

    "They are foxy and have put it in a hollow," said the old miner. "Wall, we've done the same thing," he added, chuckling.

    "Oh, if only we could locate that lost mine and put up our stakes!" sighed Roger. "But it looks like next to a hopeless task, doesn't it, Dave."

    "Oh, I don't know, Roger," answered our hero, as cheerfully as possible, for he saw that his chum was much downcast. "We haven't covered the whole of the ground yet. I wouldn't give up hope, if I were you."

    "I didn't think it was going to be such a job when we started," went on the senator's son. "My, what rocks we have climbed over!" And he rubbed a shin from which some skin had been scraped that afternoon.

    "I knew it would be a hard hunt," answered our hero. "And why not? If it was an easy matter to locate that lost mine, Abe Blower or some of those old prospectors would have done it long ago. If we do the trick I think it will be a great feather in our cap--in fact, I think it will be more of a lucky accident than anything else."

    "Just my way of looking at it," agreed Phil. "It's a regular hide-and-seek game, this locating a mine among these rocks."

    For a long time the three boys sat by themselves, talking about days at Oak Hall, and about the folks left at home and about those now traveling through Yellowstone Park. It seemed a long time since they had received letters.

    "I suppose there are letters at the hotel in Butte," said Dave, with a little sigh.

    "I'd give something to have them here," added Phil.

    "If only I knew how dad was making out," murmured the senator's son. "I suppose he is waiting every day to hear from me!"

    "I hope the folks in the Park are having a good time," said Dave, after a pause. "I suppose the main body of tourists have started for home by now."

    "Yes, they went yesterday, according to the advertised plan," answered Phil.

    "I've got an idea," said our hero, after another pause. "Do you see that hollow just below here? Well, we haven't looked around that much. Why not try it to-morrow?"

    "Abe Blower and Mr. Dillon both seem to think the opening to the mine was above that, Dave," said Roger.

    "True, but the landslide changed things, remember. We may now find an opening down there,--not the opening your uncle made, but another, made by the slide."

    "It won't do any harm to look down there. While we are here I am going to look in every spot I can reach."

    "Sure thing!" cried Phil. "But say, if we are going to climb around these rocks all day to-morrow I am going to bed and get a good night's rest."

    "I guess we all need a rest, so we'll turn in at once," answered Roger.

    Their camp was located between the rocks and not far from the trail by which they had come to the vicinity. The horses were tethered at a point where a patch of coarse undergrowth gave them something to nibble at. The animals were of no use to them, now they were in the district where the lost mine was supposed to be located.

    It was a little after nine o'clock when the boys turned in, and a few minutes later the two old miners followed them. So far they had not deemed it necessary to have a guard, for none of their enemies nor wild beasts had come to annoy them.

    Roger and Phil were soon sound asleep, and it was not long before their snoring told that Abe Blower and Tom Dillon were likewise in the land of dreams. But Dave, for some reason he could not explain, was restless, and he turned over several times, sighing heavily.

    "If I were at home I should say I had eaten too much supper," he told himself. "But here rations are too scarce. I don't know what keeps me awake, unless it is that I'm too tired to go to sleep."

    The campfire had burned so low that the spot was almost in total darkness. There was no moon and only a few stars shone in the sky, which was partly obscured by clouds. A gentle breeze was stirring, but otherwise all was quiet.

    At last Dave thought that if he had a drink he might go to sleep with more ease, and he turned over to sit up and get to his feet. A bucket of water was close at hand, so he would not have to go far for what he wanted.

    Just as Dave sat up he saw something that startled him. A dark figure was moving at a distance from the camp, coming closer slowly.

    At first the youth could not make out if the figure was a man or an animal. He strained his eyes and then made out the form of a person.

    At once our hero thought of Link Merwell and those with him. It must be one of their enemies, and if so, what had brought him to this spot at such an hour of the night?

    "Maybe he is after our horses," reasoned the youth, and then he dropped down again and rolled over to where Roger was lying. He shook his chum and at the same time placed a hand over the other's mouth.

    "Roger! Don't make any noise!" he whispered. "Somebody is coming here in the dark."

    The senator's son awoke and heard what was said. Then, as Dave took away his hand, he whispered:

    "Where is he? Who is it?"

    "There he is," and Dave pointed with his hand. "I don't know who it is, but I guess it is one of Link's crowd."

    "I'll wake up Phil, and we can watch the rascal," said Roger, and this was done, although not without difficulty, for the shipowner's son was inclined to give a yell when aroused from such a sound slumber.

    "Who--who is it?" he stammered. "Say, maybe we had better get our pistols ready!" And he felt for his weapon.

    "I've got mine all ready," answered Dave.

    "And here is mine," whispered Roger. "If that fellow thinks he is coming here unseen, won't he be surprised!"

    "Hush!" came softly from Dave. "Look behind him! There is a second fellow coming!"

    Our hero was right, a second figure had emerged from the shadow of some rocks. The two persons were coming along slowly, as if to make certain that they were not being observed.

    "I know that second fellow!" whispered Dave, a moment later. "See how tall and thin he is. It's old Haskers!"

    "Yes, and the other fellow is Link Merwell," replied Roger, a second later.
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