Young Hunters of the Lake/Chapter 30
THE SECRET OF THE MYSTERIOUS VOICE
"What do you think of that?"
Such was the question which several of the boys put to each other simultaneously.
"Why didn't somebody shoot at the ghost?" asked Snap.
"Why didn't you, Shep?" queried Giant.
"I—er—I forgot about it."
"The ghost vanished too quickly," said Snap. "But keep on guard—it may come back."
"If it does it will get something from me sure," murmured the doctor's son, and raised his shotgun.
"What do you think it was? " asked Whopper, after a painful pause of several minutes.
"A man," answered Snap, promptly.
"A man!" cried Giant.
"Yes, a man—and I don't know whether we ought to shoot at him or not," continued the leader of the gun club. "We certainly don't want to commit murder."
"But if it's a man what is he playing ghost for?" queried the doctor's son.
"That remains to be found out."
"Your theory is all well enough," said Whopper, "but it doesn't account for the ghostlike voice."
"I know that. Nevertheless, I think that ghost is a man."
The young hunters continued to discuss the situation from all possible points of view. Snap's positive declaration that the ghost was a man made all feel less frightened, and they were anxious to get better acquainted with the apparition.
"If it's a man I'd like to capture him and give him a piece of my mind," said Whopper. "What right has he to roam around like this, frightening everybody he meets?"
"He ordered us away from the mountain. Most likely, if it is a man, he wants this territory to himself," answered Giant.
"That's the way I figure it," said Snap. "He may be crazy and may think he owns the mountains and the lake."
"It couldn't be that old hermit, Peter Peterson, could it?" queried Shep, suddenly.
"That's who it is!" almost shouted Whopper. "It's a trick of his to keep folks away from here."
"But why should he come to us with that story of his?" questioned Giant.
"He told us that just to scare us. He thought we might go away from the lake at once."
Again there was a lively discussion, and the young hunters agreed that, if the ghost was indeed a man, more than likely it was Peterson.
"A fellow who would play such a trick ought to be tarred and feathered," was Whopper's comment.
"If it proves to be Peterson we'll have him driven out of this neighborhood fast enough," said Snap.
Another hour went by, and as the ghost did not reappear the young hunters grew heavy-eyed, and one after another took a short nap. Thus the night passed, and at last the sun showed itself over the mountain top to the eastward, heralding another day.
With the coming of sunlight the boys were inclined to treat the coming of the ghost as a joke. They could not explain the ghostly voice, however, although Snap said he imagined the man playing ghost might be a ventriloquist.
"Some of those ventriloquists are very clever," he asserted, "and they can throw their voices almost anywhere."
The sun soon dried the grass and bushes, and after eating what was left of the quail, and the lunch brought from the camp, the young hunters struck off in the direction whence the bear they had shot had disappeared. They traveled with extreme care, for none of them wished to risk a tumble down the mountainside.
"Look! look!" yelled Snap, presently, and pointed some distance ahead.
"Wolves, and they are at some game," returned Whopper. "I do believe it is our bear!"
"That's just what it is," put in Giant. "What gall! Let us open fire on 'em!"
The wolves were at least a dozen in number, all big and powerful fellows. They had just come on the bear, that was dead, and were quarreling among themselves over the carcass.
With great care the four boy hunters took aim at the wolves, and at a command from Snap, let drive. As the reports died away two of the beasts were seen to be dead and two others were wounded. The other wolves turned and retreated a few paces, then paused and glared at those who had molested them.
"They are coming for us!" shouted Whopper, and the statement proved true. With wild yelps and snarls the wolves leaped forward.
It was a moment of great peril and the young hunters fully realized their critical condition.
"Shoot and jump for the nearest trees!" yelled Snap, and then let drive again. The others discharged the remaining loads in their shotguns, and three more of the wolves were hit, and one killed. Then one after another the young hunters scrambled up into the nearest trees.
The boys thought they would have a hard fight with the remaining wolves, but evidently the pack had had enough of the encounter, for those that were wounded limped off growling savagely and the others followed, leaving the dead where they had fallen.
"We came up in the nick of time," said Snap, as he reloaded and leaped to the ground, followed by his chums. "A few minutes later and those beasts would have torn this bear limb from limb. I suppose they thought they were going to have the feast of their lives."
The body of the bear was cold and stiff, showing that it had died shortly after being shot. It was a good-sized creature, and the young hunters felt justly proud of their quarry.
"I knew we'd get plenty of small game, but I was afraid we wouldn't get a bear," said Whopper.
"A bear always tops off a hunt," said Snap.
"That or a moose," put in Giant. "I'd like to get a crack at a good, big moose."
"I am afraid you want too much in this life," answered Snap, with a laugh.
The problem of how to get the carcass down to their camp was a serious one. They did not want to cut the bear up just yet, nor did they want to spoil the skin by dragging it over the rocks.
"Let us make a good, strong drag of tree limbs," suggested Whopper. "We can bind the limbs together closely, so the skin of the beast won't touch the ground after we have tied the bear on top. Then we can all haul it down between the trees."
"Maybe the bear will go down quicker than we anticipate," said Snap. "But I reckon your suggestion is as good as anything."
It took the best part of the morning to make a drag that was satisfactory and pry the big bear on it. Then the carcass was bound down with vines and cords.
"Now, everybody be careful," cautioned Snap. "Some of these rocks are very loose, and it will be the easiest thing in the world to take a tumble and break an ankle or your neck."
Then the trip down the mountainside began. It was truly hard work, for the drag caught on some rocks and slid altogether too fast over others. Then, at one point, they came close to running into a nest of hornets. One of the wicked creatures stung Whopper on the hand and another stung Shep on the neck, and there followed a wild dancing and yelling, while the boys allowed the drag to tumble over and over down the rocks and ran for safety.
"Look out for the hornets!"
"We'll be stung to death!"
"Did you ever see the match!" groaned Whopper, after the excitement was over. "Just gaze on that hand—as big as a baseball mitt!"
"And look at my neck!" came dolefully from the doctor's son.
A few of the hornets were buzzing around the fallen carcass of the bear and the young hunters did not dare to approach until the pests had departed. Then the drag was righted and the journey down the mountainside was continued.
"Who ever thought so many things would happen on this trip," was Snap's comment. "First we shot the bear, then we tumbled into the hole, then we were buried alive, next the ghost came along, and then followed the wolves and the hornets."
"Yes, and we are not back to camp yet," sighed Giant. "I think I'll rest for a week after this."
"We ought to send this bear down to town," said Whopper. "I'd like to put it on exhibition, just to show Ham Spink and some other folks what we can do."
"Well, we might send it down in some way," answered Snap. "But come on, I am getting hungry, and we're a long way still from the lake shore."
"We are coming to a cliff of some sort," announced Giant, who was in advance. "Take it easy now, or the drag will drag you where you don't want to go."
They advanced with caution, and presently saw the cliff. Below were some thick cedar trees, the tops reaching just above the cliff.
"Listen!" cried Snap, and put up his hand for silence.
For a full minute they heard nothing, and the others were just going to ask the leader what he had heard when there came a shrill laugh from the cedars.
"Ha ha! I am dead! He is dead!" said a ghostly voice. "Who will bury me? See the lights! I am dead! He is dead! Ha ha!"
"The ghost!" gasped Giant, and made a movement as if to retreat.
"Don't run," commanded Snap. "It is broad daylight. Let us investigate this matter."
"I am dead! He is dead! Ha ha!" came the voice again, and then followed a laugh that chilled them to the backbone. By this time all of the young hunters had their firearms around in front of them, ready for use.
"Well, if this isn't the queerest—" began Shep, when there was a fluttering in the tops of the cedars and a big bird flew directly over their heads. As quick as a wink. Snap took aim with his rifle and let drive. The bird uttered a shrill cry, almost human, and fluttered down at their feet. Then Shep struck at it with his gun barrel, and it fell over lifeless.
"Yes, and he's the one who made the ghostly sounds!"
"Did you ever see the beat!"
"No wonder we couldn't locate that voice in the dark!"
Such were some of the comments of the young hunters as they gathered around the dead parrot. Snap picked the creature up, made certain it was dead, and opened its mouth.
"Yes, he was a talker right enough," he said. "But I'd like to know who taught him to say such awful things and nothing else?"
"Most likely the fellow who is playing ghost," answered Whopper.
"Yes, and that fellow must be close by," ejaculated Giant. "He and the parrot probably traveled together."
"In that case, let us try to find Mr. Ghost," said the doctor's son. Now the mystery of the ghostly voice was explained he was no longer afraid.
"What will we do with the bear?" asked Snap.
It was voted to leave the carcass where it was, and this decided upon, the young hunters looked around for some way of getting down the cliff.
"Here's a rope ladder!" cried Snap. "Boys, do you know what I think?" he added.
"I think we are near to where that ghost lives!"
"Then let us pay him a visit and ask him what he means by his outrageous conduct," answered the doctor's son.
Then all commenced to descend the rope ladder, which led to the bottom of the cliff.