Alan Douglas.

Under Canvas: or, The Hunt for the Cartaret Ghost



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Nancy, up to then behaving very well, because quite tired after the long pull, began to prance at a lively rate; and every one of the four scouts craned their necks and stared in one particular direction; it was in that quarter George had just said the haunted house lay; and what had come to their ears was the strangest sort of a cry they had ever heard, a mingling of pain and rage it seemed.

CHAPTER X
IN FOR A GLORIOUS TIME

"A wildcat!" exclaimed Ty Collins, excitedly.

"Mebbe only an old owl," Lil Artha ventured; "because I remember you fellows told us there were some whoopers up here; and when an old house has got bats in its belfry it's likely to have owls too."

"The house is over that way, ain't it?" questioned Landy Smith, showing a mild interest in the matter; but his indifference was more than made up for by the excitement on the part of the Southern scout, whose dark eyes fairly danced with eagerness.

"I should say it was," he told Landy, "and if you think that's only an owl, or even a wildcat, suh, I reckon you've got another guess coming to you."

"Listen to that, would you?" broke from Ty; "our chum from Dixie here believes in ghosts, and he even thinks that was one warning us away from the haunted house. It'd take a dozen of the same to scare me off. I may light out before an enraged bull, but you don't find me sneaking away when there's a white thing waving up and down in the road. Had a lesson once, when I found it out to be just a rag hangin' from a branch, and since then nothing spooky ever faizes Ty Collins."

Chatz looked keenly at the speaker, and nodded his head. Although he made no remark, his manner was that of a prophet, and Elmer, noticing it, could imagine him saying: "Just wait, and we'll see what sort of nerve you've got, Ty Collins. Things seem different at high noon from what they do when it's midnight. And if I have my way you'll get a chance to see a real ghost, for once in your life; because I just believe in the things, make all the fun you want to."

Whatever the strange thrilling cry may have been, at least it was not repeated. Nancy was quieted by Toby, and the other scouts stood there, listening earnestly, for fully five minutes, but nothing developed worth noticing.

Finally Elmer called out to them:

"Here, get a move on, Toby, and come along. We've got lots to do before we can cook our first dinner; and I don't know how you fellows feel, but I'm as hungry as a wolf. Make a sharp turn here, Toby, because we want to push straight into the woods, and reach that spring."

Of all the scouts, George was really the only one who, as they walked on, turned his head and glanced back several times toward the region from which that strange sound had come.

Chatz noticed it, and smiled grimly, as though making up his mind that perhaps he might find a convert in his belief in George, especially if anything remarkable did come to pass, as he felt almost sure would be the case.

Presently they came to the running water, and by following this up a short distance found the spring.

"Hurrah! here we rest! Alabama for mine!" cried Lil Artha, as he turned and surveyed his surroundings, with the eye of one who had camped on numerous previous occasions, and might be expected to know something about such things.

Then ensued a bustle, as the scouts began to unload the contents of the wagon, stake out the mare, and start to get things arranged.

Every fellow had his share of the work apportioned to him, so that there was little real confusion, or getting in each other's way; and it was wonderful how things seemed to almost grow like magic.

Two khaki-colored waterproofed tents soon stood there, facing toward the south, and with the spring only twenty feet away.

Inside these the scouts began immediately to arrange their blankets, though the beds would not be made up until after the coming of night.

Another pair attended to the very important duty of making the cooking range, on top of which they would spread the metal top that was to serve as a gridiron, to hold such utensils as were necessary for cooking purposes.

When this had been constructed to their satisfaction a fire was quickly kindled, for the air was still rather sharp, even for a November day, and all of them felt they would be much better for a warm lunch.

Amidst more or less good-natured chaffing the meal was prepared. There was no lack of assistant cooks to help Ty, who had taken upon himself the duties of chef for the occasion, since long ago he had proved his capacity in that line; everybody seemed only too willing to help, such is the potent effect of genuine hunger.

Even George was bustling around, trying to hurry things along, picking out all the best wood in order to make a hotter fire, and occasionally peeping in under the covers of the two kettles to learn if the contents might not be sufficiently cooked.

It was about an hour after noon when dinner was ready, and all of them admitted the result was well worth waiting for. That frosty November air had given them an enormous appetite, and everything tasted better than it could possibly do at home; so for a certain length of time little was said, since they were too busy in disposing of the meal to talk.

When the edge had been taken from their appetites they fell into a disjointed conversation, and almost every subject under the sun was discussed from the standpoint of scouts.

Afterwards they lounged around for a while, being really too full to think of doing anything strenuous. As this was not supposed to be a regular camping trip of the whole troop, Elmer had not laid out any particular programme looking to their practicing the various "stunts" which scouts are interested in. Under ordinary conditions there would have been all manner of events underway, such as wigwagging classes, tracking advocates, new wrinkles in nature-study unfolded; photography of wild animals and birds in their native haunts undertaken, and many other educational features that make the camping out experience of Boy Scouts so vastly superior to those of other lads who simply go to the woods to loaf away the time, swim, and fish, and eat.

Of course each fellow was at liberty to employ himself as best he thought would give him the most pleasure, only there was no authority brought to bear, and no one felt constrained to do anything that he did not particularly care for.

"Where's Chatz gone?" asked Lil Artha, after they had been knocking around in this fashion for nearly an hour after eating, and several of them showed signs of wanting to be on the move.

"Oh! I saw him slip away a while back," remarked Toby, "and chances are he's prowling in and out of that old shebang over beyond the trees, the haunted house that Judge Cartaret built fifty years or so ago. Chatz is clear daft on the subject of spirits, you know. And from what I've seen of him, it wouldn't surprise me a little bit if the fellow before we left here, tried to get us to make some sort of a ghost trap, to grab that wonderful spook in."

"If he ever did that," Elmer remarked, "it would show that deep down in his heart Chatz didn't believe in any such notion; because if there was such a thing as a real ghost no trap we could manufacture would ever hold it. If Chatz proposed that to us he'd be as much as saying he believed the ghost to be a man, playing a game for some reason or other."

"But," interposed Ty Collins, "what sort of a game would make anybody prance around here night after night, with a sheet wrapped around him, and p'raps luminous paint on his face, like I remember a ghost once did. But in that case there was a good reason, for he wanted to give a bad name to the property so he could buy it in for a song. That wouldn't be the case here with the Cartaret place, you know."

"Well, it's foolish trying to guess a thing when we haven't even seen the ghost," George interrupted the others to say; "and I've got to be shown such a thing before I'll take the least stock in it; though I must say that as a rule Chatz is a long-headed chap, and not easy fooled."

When Elmer heard George say this he fancied that it would only take one mysterious ghostly manifestation to make the doubter an ardent believer in supernatural things. Scoffer that George was, once he saw with his own eyes, he went to the other extreme, and became firmly convinced. It was just like the swing of the pendulum with him every time.

"Oh! let's forget all that stuff about white-sheeted things that walk in the middle of the night!" exclaimed Landy Smith, "and pick up a more cheerful subject. Now just yesterday I chanced to be reading an account that told how three scouts in this very state made a study of hunting for the hives of wild honey bees up in the hollow limbs of trees in the woods. Elmer, do you think we could run across a hive filled with delicious honeycombs around here?"

"Whee! you make my mouth water just to hear you talk about it," Lil Artha arose to say, "and if so be any of you make the try for a hive just count me in, will you?"

"You bet we will," Landy hastened to assure him, "and right now consider yourself appointed commissioner-in-chief, whose principal duty will be to climb the honey tree, after we locate the same, and cause the warm-footed little innocents to vacate, so that we can gather in a store of the nectar. Wow! I'm going right away to see if I can't find the tree. Who'll be my backer? Don't all speak at once!"

Lil Artha and Ted proved to be the most eager for the adventure. Upon making inquiries it was found that Landy had read all about how to locate a bee tree, if by good luck any such happened to be in the neighborhood, and was ready to show his chums how the thing ought to be done.

His talk concerning the subject proved to be so interesting that when a start was made he had gained another convert, being Ty Collins.

"I rather think I'd like to see how that thing's done, myself," this worthy admitted, "so with your permission, Landy, I'll tag along, and if you need any help in carrying the stock of honeycomb home count on me. Right now I feel like I could tackle a few big wedges myself, and enjoy the same."

"All right, come along with us, Ty," Landy told him, cheerfully; "but I'd feel a whole lot easier in my mind if you'd take off that red sweater, and wear something else."

"What for?" demanded Ty, who could be pretty stubborn when he chose. "This is going to be a bee hunt, not a bull fight, that I know of. Why should you object to me going warmly clad, I'd like to know?"

"Oh! well," replied Landy with a grin that told he had only been drawing the other on for a purpose; "there might be an old king bee that had a detestation for red, just the same as a bull does, and he'd make it so warm for us we'd have to get out of the woods in a hurry."

"Rats!" the other shot back at him, "bees don't bother about what they see; I've been told by an old bee man that it's sounds they get mad at. And then there ain't such a thing as a king bee anyhow – queens, drones and workers make up a colony. Oh! I ain't quite such a ninny as some people think. So I guess this beautiful red sweater goes along."

"All right, if you're willing to take such a terrible risk it's nothing to the rest of us, is it, fellows?" Landy told him, with a chuckle; and then went on to add: "Now, we'll carry a little sugar water along to use if we happen to run across any bees flying around, which at this late day ain't likely. Best we can do is to watch every tree-top and try to hear the buzzing of a swarm of young bees. They come out every fine day as long as the weather lets 'em, around noontime, and try their wings. An old bee hunter can get on to the little hum far off and locate the hive that way. Let's see if we've got ears worth anything."

"The best of luck go with you!" called out Elmer, who was busy with something or other; "and if you need any help come back after the rest of the bunch. I see you're carrying our camp ax, Lil Artha; be careful and don't lose it, because we need that same thing right along."

"Don't worry about that, Elmer," the elongated scout shouted back. "I wouldn't let that get away from me for all the honey in seven counties. But in case we do find a tree that looks good to us I'm ready to swing the ax for all I'm worth," and so saying he strode away after the other three.

That left just Elmer, Toby and George in camp.

"I'd be tickled half to death if they did find a tree, and got a lot of honey," Toby remarked, grinning in anticipation, and licking his lips at the same time; "and I can just see that Lil Artha whooping things when the tree drops, and he rushes headlong in among the branches to scoop up some of the sweet stuff that bursts out of the crack, with a million bees swarming around his ears. If I was you, Elmer, I'd get some witch hazel ready to put on stings, for they'll need it right bad."

"Time enough for that when they report a find!" declared Elmer, who evidently did not have a great deal of confidence in the ability of Landy Smith to locate a hive, especially at that time of year, when the little insects were apt to be lying more or less dormant.

An hour passed by. Then Elmer began to wonder what could be detaining Chatz so long, for he several times looked in the direction where he knew the old deserted Cartaret house must lie, as though half expecting to see the Southern boy come on the full run, with some wonderful story of sights he had seen, or imagined he had, which was the same thing.

When Chatz did appear he was walking slowly, and his face had an expression of subdued disappointment resting on it. Apparently, then, all his prowling in and out of the building could not have met with any particular reward. In other words the Cartaret ghost was not very accommodating, and respectfully declined to make its appearance at such an unheard of hour as three in the afternoon; when every one knew that all respectable spirits only manifest themselves around the midnight hour.

"You didn't run across anything new, did you, Chatz?" Elmer asked him, as he came into camp, took a drink of cool water, and threw himself on the ground to rest.

"Not a single thing, suh; but then I didn't really expect to in broad daylight. Wait till to-night, and I reckon there may be something doing," and then Chatz allowed his brow to show three wrinkles that told of perplexity, for he had heard Elmer chuckle; and all at once it struck him that on the former occasion the scout master had gone back into the house after he and the other comrades had left; and once more the Southern boy who had the vein of superstition in his make-up asked himself what Elmer could have seen on that occasion to make him look so knowing, and have that queer smile cross his face whenever the ghost was mentioned.

But Elmer did not offer to explain, and so Chatz had to content himself with the thought that perhaps on the coming night the veil of secrecy might be lifted from the mystery.

CHAPTER XI
SACKING THE FOREST STORE-HOUSE

Toby had insisted upon stowing that wonderful aeroplane appendix which he called an "aviator's life-saver parachute," in the bottom of the wagon when starting out on this camping trip. He was working at it while helping to keep camp the first afternoon after their arrival.

"All I hope is," he went on to say, when Elmer chanced to come around close to where he straddled a log, and did some heavy sewing with the toughest waxed string he could use, "that I find a chance to try out this thing again while we're in this region. If no other place shows up I might climb to the top of the tower on the old house, and jump off there. How high would you guess, off-hand, that might be, Elmer?"

"Oh! perhaps thirty-five or forty feet," replied the other, carelessly, and hardly noting what Toby was saying, because just then he had caught a peculiar sound that came from some little distance away.

"Do you hear that, Elmer?" called out George.

"Yes, and I was trying to make out what it was when you spoke," replied the scout master. "I reckon it must be some one busy with an ax, for the blows are repeated as regular as clock-work."

"And our chums took the camp ax away with them?" suggested Toby, looking up, an eager glow commencing to show in his eyes.

"Yes, and they went off in that direction, too," added George.

With that the four camp keepers smiled at each other.

"Can it be possible they've found a bee-tree, after all?" asked George, who, despite his yearning for a honeycomb, could not overcome his skeptical disposition, and believe that such a delightful consummation of the bee hunt had come about.

"Listen to that whanging, will you?" cried Toby; "nobody but Lil Artha could use an ax like that. As sure as you live they must have struck something. Tell me about the babes in the woods, will you; some people wade in good luck every time they start out!"

"Another fellow has taken hold, because the sound changes," George observed, sagaciously; "and p'raps Ty Collins is swinging the ax now. He can hew close to the line; fact is, I never saw a scout who could chop as evenly as Ty. Wow! did you hear that crash, fellows? A tree went down that time, whether there's any honey in the same or not. I'll only believe it when I see, smell and taste the nectar."

A short time afterwards they heard some one coming on the run. Then a figure broke out of the brush, waving excitedly.

"Hi! get your buckets, and come along to help gather the harvest!" Lil Artha was shouting as he approached, half out of breath.

"Then you sure enough did find a bee-tree, and it isn't any joke?" demanded the incredulous George.

"Take a look at me, and then say if I show up like a joke!" demanded the long-legged scout, indignantly.

Everybody laughed as he twisted his face up, and tried to look serious. It was an utter impossibility with that lump ornamenting the end of his nose, others gradually swelling his cheeks, while various suspicious signs behind his ears marked the places where the angry little bees had left their stings.

"No hurry, Lil Artha," said Elmer; "let me rub your face with this witch hazel, and put a little ointment on to relieve the pain and reduce the swelling. You're puffing out under the eyes right now, and if something isn't done you'll have to be led around for a while."

While Elmer was doctoring the battered comrade George kept plying him with questions, as though he had great difficulty in believing the glorious truth.

"I hope it isn't only an old hornet's nest you've struck," he went on to say, doubtfully; "but then there wouldn't be any at this time of year, I guess. Sure you saw real honey, did you, Lil Artha?"

"And smelled it too!" cried the afflicted scout. "Why, the old tree burst open when it fell, and you just ought to see what gallons of the stuff fills the hollow trunk away up near the top. My! but the bees are mad, and swarming around there by the million! I ran in among 'em, thinking to snatch a comb, and get away with it, but they swooped down on me, and I had to cut for it like fun. Elmer, however, can we get some of that honey without being stung to death? Oh! if only I had one of Daddy Green's bee head-nets that he loans to people when he's showing them the inside of a hive in his apiary, wouldn't it be the boss; and rubber gloves to go with the same."

"Perhaps I might rig up a net somehow," Elmer mused; "I've got a piece of mosquito netting in my bag that I use for a minnow seine, and that ought to make several head-nets. Let's see if we can find any gloves that'll help keep our hands out of danger."

After a hunt through all the traps the boys managed to secure enough coverings to answer the purpose after a clumsy fashion. Meanwhile George and Toby had hastily gathered what utensils they had with them capable of holding some of the honey. Everybody was wildly excited, for they had never really passed through an experience of this sort. Bee trees they had heard of many times, but that one should actually be discovered when they were camping out, and yearning for something of a sweet nature, seemed almost too good to be true.

"All ready here, Lil Artha!" exclaimed George; "and now lead us to your wonderful wild honey hive. I just want to see it with my own eyes, that's all."

Lil Artha looked severely at him, that is, as well as he could with those half-shut eyes of his, and then remarked sarcastically:

"Well, if you ain't the limit, George; I sure hope you do see the plain evidence, yes, and feel some of 'em too, like I did. They say the poison of bee stings is used in medicine, and it's mighty good for some things. P'raps a dose of the same'd cure you of your questioning everything there is. But come on, everybody."

Elmer did not know whether they were exactly wise in abandoning the camp, even for a brief time; but he felt that it would be hard to keep any one there; so he concluded to take the slight risk.

Lil Artha was a pretty good scout. He had noted directions as he went forth on the expedition, so that in returning to the camp he had made what might be called in more senses than one a "bee-line"; and now the trail was so plainly marked that even a fellow with one eye, or half-closed ones, could follow it back to where the other three scouts awaited their coming, hiding behind the brush so as not to attract too much attention from the buzzing horde of insects.



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