Young Hunters of the Lake/Chapter 10
THE STORY OF A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE
The boys were talking about money matters in general and inheritances in particular when Giant mentioned the fact that his mother had some money coming to her, but could not get possession of it.
"You know my mother came from France," said the small member of the club. "She arrived in this country when she was about sixteen years of age, coming with an uncle, who was her guardian. My uncle's name was Pierre Dunrot, and he was by profession a teacher of ancient history."
"No wonder you always get your history lessons so easily," was Whopper's comment. "It must run in the blood."
"You keep quiet. Whopper, and let Giant tell us about this money," interposed Snap.
"After my mother was In this country about six years, she met my father and married him. My uncle approved of the match, although he told my mother he wished she had married a Frenchman instead of an American. They all went to live at a place called Watchville on the seacoast. My uncle was then writing a great work on ancient history to be issued in ten big volumes."
"Phew! I hope he didn't want any fellows to study it," murmured the doctor's son.
"Mother has told me that my uncle was all right in his mind while I was a little boy and when my father was alive. But after my father died Uncle Pierre grew kind of queer in his head. My mother thought it was too much study and she advised him to take a rest. But he said he must get his big history written and he kept on writing and burning the midnight oil as college fellows call it, and it made him queerer and queerer every day.
"One day he went to the post-office for his mail. That was when I was about nine years old. When he got back he began to dance around and he caught me by the hands and rushed around the house like a crazy man. 'A hundred thousand francs! A hundred thousand francs!' he kept calling out, over and over again. Then my mother asked him what he meant. He said a distant relative had died and left him and her a hundred thousand francs."
"How much is that?" asked Whopper, who knew little about French money.
"A franc is worth about nineteen cents," said Snap.
"Yes, and a hundred thousand francs is about nineteen thousand dollars," went on Giant. "My mother tried to get the particulars from Uncle Pierre, but he was so excited she could not, excepting that half the money was coming to himself and half to her. He said he would see about it the next day.
"That night there came a violent thunderstorm and our house was struck by lightning. The only damage done was to one corner in which was located Uncle Pierre's writing desk. The desk was ripped apart by the lightning bolt and some of his precious manuscripts were burnt.
"When my uncle discovered that part of his great historical work had been destroyed he acted as if he was insane. He was almost on the point of committing suicide, but my mother stopped him. She told him to remember about his good fortune in having all that money left to him, but he only shook his head and said he would rather have his manuscripts back. At last she got him to bed, but in the morning he had disappeared."
"Disappeared?" came from the others.
"Yes. He had put on the oldest suit of clothes he had and gone away. Of course my mother sent out an alarm, and men hunted all over for him. But he was not to be found."
"But you found him later," ventured Snap.
"No, he was never found. When folks learned how queerly he had acted all came to the conclusion that he had gone to the river and drowned himself, and after awhile my mother thought so too."
"And what of the fortune?" questioned Shep.
"My mother tried to find the letter Uncle Pierre had received, but that was gone too. Then she wrote to France. She learned that some money was really coming to her and my uncle, but could not get any particulars. She even employed a lawyer, but after a year the lawyer gave up, too. There was a mystery about the whole affair and the solution, it seems, rested with my Uncle Pierre."
"And you never got the money?" asked Whopper.
"Not a dollar of it."
"It's queer you never spoke about this before," said Snap.
"Well, mother doesn't like to speak of it, because she doesn't want folks to know we had a crazy man in our family. But Uncle Pierre wasn't really crazy—he was only queer—and that lightning bolt burning up his beloved manuscripts unset him completely."
"I hope you'll get that money some day, Giant," said Snap. "I wouldn't give up trying for it so easily."
"When I am a man and can afford it, I am going to France and try to hunt it up," answered the small youth.
"Does your mother ever say anything about it?" questioned Shep.
"Not much. She hates to think of my uncle. She was very much attached to him, and to have him disappear like that makes her shudder and feel very bad."
"Were you living over on the coast when he disappeared?"
"Oh, no, we were living at a place called Bartonville, about twenty miles to the north of here. My father used to be cashier of the Bartonville Lumber Company."
"I once heard of a man disappearing and coming home fifteen years later," said Shep. "But he simply ran away because he had some trouble with his wife."
"I heard of a case like that," put in Whopper, with a grin on his face. "That man wanted his wife to make him some gooseberry pie and she wouldn't do it. When he came back he asked her, 'Maria, will you make the gooseberry pie now?' and she answered, 'No.' 'All right,' said he, 'I'll go away again,' and he did."
"That's a whopper all right enough!" cried Snap. "It's about time you turned up. You have been very quiet lately."
"I never tell anything but the strict truth," said Whopper, meekly.
When it came time to retire, Snap asked the others if they should post a guard.
"Oh, I think we are safe enough without one," answered the doctor's son, who was fagged out. "Let's chance it."
"Most of our outfit is on the boat," said Whopper. "I don't believe anybody will carry it off."
"Let us fix the fire so it will burn the most of the night," said Giant. "That will scare off any wild animals that may be prowling around."
Wood was to be had in plenty, and they cut several sticks which were not very dry and would, consequently, burn slowly. They sat up until about nine o'clock and then turned in, resolved to be up at daybreak and on their way once more, directly after breakfast.
It was cozy enough in the tent, which was just large enough to accommodate the four boys. As they were to remain there but one night they had not fixed up any couches further than to throw down some dry brushwood and a few cedar boughs. Giant and Whopper rested at the rear of the tent and Snap and Shep in front, close to the half-open flap.
Snap had been asleep about two hours when he awoke with a start. He listened and heard the bark of a fox not very far from the camp.
"Wish I could bring him down, just for the fun of the thing," he murmured to himself, and then, reaching for his shotgun, he arose and tiptoed his way out of the tent.
The fire had burned low and Snap was wise enough to slink into the shadows, so that the fox might not see him. Just back of the temporary camp was a big rock and toward this he crawled, keeping his firearm before him and ready for use.
Several minutes passed, and then he heard the bark of the fox once more, this time much closer. He strained his eyes to catch sight of the creature, but the darkness under the trees was too great.
After that fully five minutes passed and Snap had about made up his mind that the fox had gotten scared and turned tail, when he heard a cracking of brushwood directly in front of him. With eyes on the alert he watched in the direction from whence the sound had proceeded, and at last caught the gleam of two small eyes as they looked suspiciously at the campfire.
"Now is my chance," thought the young hunter, and raising his shotgun he took hasty aim and pulled the trigger.
Only a sharp click followed, and all in a flash Snap remembered that in the evening he had cleaned the firearm, but had not loaded it. The fox heard the click, caught sight of Snap, and whirling around made a leap for the woods and was out of sight in a twinkling.