Young Hunters of the Lake/Chapter 29
VISITED BY THE GHOST
For the moment after Snap made his dismaying announcement none of the young hunters spoke. Was it really true—was the hole covered up, and were they buried alive under the mountain?
It was a truly horrible thought, and every one of the lads shivered. They looked at the torch, now burnt so low It was hard to hold, and then gazed at each other.
"Oh, Snap, we must find some way out!" faltered Giant. His voice shook so he could hardly speak.
"Yes, let us get out as soon as we can," added Whopper.
They soon saw that what Snap had said was true—there had been a heavy landslide and the hole beyond the cave was filled up completely. Through the loose rocks and dirt the water was trickling and soon formed a fair-sized stream that flowed over the cave floor and disappeared into a crevice at one side.
"Well, we can't get out this way, that's sure," said Snap, after an examination. "We must find some other opening."
They hurried around, bound to do what they could while the torch lasted. But soon the light flickered up and went out, leaving them in total darkness.
"Let us keep together," said Shep. "It won't do to get separated."
All were willing to follow his advice, and they slung their firearms over their backs and took hold of hands. Then they moved around the cave with caution.
"I see a light!" cried Whopper, when they had reached a far corner of the cave. "Look there!"
He pointed overhead. Sure enough there was a small hole. Through it ran a tiny stream of water.
"That hole won't do us any good," sighed Snap. "In the first place it is too small and in the second place it is out of our reach. We'll have to find something better."
They moved on, and after a long time had passed Giant found a slit between two rocks. They made an examination and found one of the rocks loose. They rolled it away and felt a rush of pure, wet air.
"Here's an opening!" cried the small youth, enthusiastically. "Oh, if only we can make it large enough!"
"We must make it large enough!" cried Shep, and then all went to work with vigor, pulling back such rocks as they could move and digging at the dirt with their bare hands. They had to make a regular tunnel ten or more feet long and it took them over an hour to do it. Their arms and backs ached from the labor, and their hands were scratched and their finger nails torn, but to all this they paid no attention. Their sole thought was to get out of the cave that looked as if it might become their tomb.
At last the opening was large enough to admit of the passage of Whopper's body and he passed to the outside. Then he dug from that end, and presently Shep came forth, followed by Giant and lastly by Snap.
"Thank heaven we are out of that!" murmured the doctor's son, and his chums echoed his sentiment. Never had the outer world appeared so glorious to them. At that instant they were all ready to vow they would never enter a cave again.
It was still raining, and the day was fast drawing to a close. The lightning and thunder had gassed away to the westward, but they knew the downfall would last at least an hour or so longer.
"If we try to get down to our camp now we'll be soaked," said Snap, as they gathered under the semi-protection of a large hemlock tree. "The underbrush is loaded with water, and if there is anything I hate it is to have a wet bough slash me in the face or breast."
"And we don't want to go back without that bear," put in Shep.
"No, indeed!" cried Giant. "It cost us too much trouble to get a shot at him."
"Wonder what became of the other bear?" mused Whopper.
"Oh, he ran away," said Shep. "More than likely we'll never see him again."
"If we could find a place that was half dry, I'd be in favor of staying on the mountain all night," went on the leader of the club. "We could build a fire and broU those quail Giant shot. We'd have a bird apiece, and that would make a good supper, with what is left of the lunch."
"The thing of it is, to find the place," put in Giant.
" Let us hunt around a little."
They moved around with caution, for they wanted to keep as dry as possible. At last they reached a low, overhanging cliff, well sheltered from the rain. Here were some dry brushwood and a number of cedar trees, and they speedily built a roaring fire and began to broil the birds Giant had brought down.
It was not a particularly Inviting spot, but it was better than being out in the open, and they made the best of the situation. They dried their wet coats and took their time eating supper, and none of them thought of retiring until nearly nine o'clock. By that time the storm had cleared away completely and the stars were showing themselves in the blue vault of heaven.
Fearful that some wild beasts might be around, the young hunters resolved to take turns at standing guard. The campfire was kept burning, for nobody wished to remain In such a locality in utter darkness.
Whopper remained on guard first, and about midnight he was relieved by Snap. The leader of the club had just put some fresh wood on the fire when he heard a strange sound some distance from the shelter. Then came a mocking laugh.
"Ha! ha! He is dead! I am dead! Who will bury me?" came to his ears.
"The ghostly voice!" he muttered to himself. He gave a sudden shiver and then steadied himself. "I am going to find out what it means, or know the reason why!" And he gripped his gun tightly.
"Did you speak, Snap?" questioned Whopper, who was just turning in on the pile of dry leaves the leader of the club had vacated.
"Yes—no—I don't know. I just heard something," was, the unsatisfactory reply.
"What did you hear?" And now Whopper sat up.
"I heard that ghostlike voice. "It was—There it goes again!"
Both boys listened and heard a hideous laugh. Then came the words, repeated many times:
"I am dead! He is dead! Who will bury me? See the lights! I am dead. Beware of the mountain! He is dead! The mountain will kill you! See the lights! Who will bury me? Ha ha!" And then the strange voice died away in the distance.
"What on earth can it be?" gasped Whopper. His face was deadly pale.
"Don't ask me," answered Snap.
"What's up?" questioned Giant, who was a light sleeper, and the sound of his voice awoke the doctor's son. Soon he and the small youth were acquainted with what had occurred.
"Where did the voice go to?" asked Shep.
"It seemed to fade away in the air."
"Why didn't you take a shot at it?"
"How can you shoot something you don't see?" demanded Snap, half indignantly. "Just let me spot that ghost and I'll show you what I'll do!"
"Let us keep quiet," suggested Whopper. "Perhaps it will come back."
All sat down around the fire, for further sleep was out of the question. Thus an hour went by, but nothing came to disturb them.
"Looks as if the ghost business was finished for to-night," remarked Shep, glancing around down the mountainside. Then he leaped to his feet. "Oh!"
"What did you see?" demanded the others, leaping up also.
"There—down among those tall trees."
"I don't see anything," said Snap, after a careful look.
"It is gone now. Oh, what a looking thing!" The doctor's son was breathing heavily.
"Didn't you imagine it?" asked Giant.
"No, I saw it as plain as day."
"Yellow or white?" "Yellow, and it had red horns, just as Ham Spink said."
"Which way was it moving?"
"It seemed to be moving towards us, but it disappeared behind some rocks."
After this the four boys were silent, straining their eyes and ears to see or hear the ghost.
"There it is!" fairly shouted Whopper, a minute later.
There was no need to utter the words, for the strange apparition was now in full view of all. It resembled the body of a man, and glowed with a strange yellow light, while the horns of red waved menacingly toward them.
"Away! away! away!" came a deep voice. "Go away from the mountain and the lake!"
And then, raising a warning finger and pointing directly at the four young hunters, the ghostly figure suddenly moved to one side and vanished!