Young Hunters of the Lake/Chapter 31

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It was a strong ladder and put up with care, so the young hunters had no fear of falling. At the foot they discovered a well-defined trail running along the base of the cliff to where gushed forth a small stream of pure, cold water. Near the spring was an empty can, evidently used as a drinking cup. The boys were thirsty and all took a drink. Then they continued on the trail, until they came in sight of a small log hut, almost hidden among the trees and bushes.

"Perhaps that is where Mr. Ghost lives," suggested Whopper, trying to speak as lightly as he could, although his voice trembled slightly.

"We can knock on the door and ask," answered Snap.

"Beware!" came suddenly, from the vicinity of the hut. "Come not a step nearer, if you value your lives!"

And then they saw the ghost like figure in yellow, with the dangling red horns, moving among the bushes.

For just one moment the young hunters were badly frightened and inclined to run. Then they gazed at each other questioningly and stood their ground.

"We want to talk to you!" cried Snap. "We know you are a humbug."

"Yes, and we know all about your parrot," adde the doctor's son. He did not deem it wise to mention that they had killed the talking bird.

"Go away! Go away!" answered the figure in yellow. "This forest is mine! The lake is mine! Go away, ere it is too late!"

"I believe that man is crazy!" whispered Whopper. "Maybe he thinks he owns the earth!"

"He is certainly no ghost," answered Snap. "But if he is crazy, we'll have to be careful how we approach him. He may try to shoot us."

"See here, sir!" shouted the doctor's son, kindly. "Won't you come and talk with us? We don't want to hurt you, or take your property away from you."

"Ha! ha! I know you! You want to rob me of everything!" cried the man in yellow, harshly. They now saw that what looked like horns was simply a yellow cap with two stuffed red appendages on top. The man had his face smeared with yellow clay.

"We'll not harm you in the least," said Giant, and now, attracted by something in the strange man's appearance, he went several steps closer.

When the small youth of the club spoke the man turned to him. A moment later he started and throw up his hands in surprise.

"Who are you, boy? Speak quickly!" he demanded.

"I am Will Caslette."

"Ha! Where do you come from?"

"I come from Fairview, on the Rocky River."

"And your—your mother?" The man in yellow was now greatly agitated.

"My mother is a widow." Giant had now come closer still and was looking the man over carefully. "What is your name?"

"My name? Ha ha! I have no name. I am a wanderer."

"But you had a name once—what was it?"

"My name—I cannot remember. Yes, I had one once—when I was in France—fair France—the belle of all countries! But the name is gone—gone like the great history I was writing. Yes, and it will never come back, never!" And the man in yellow threw up his hands despairingly.

"Was not your name Pierre Dunrot?" asked Giant, quickly.

The strange man staggered back as if shot.

"Pierre Dunrot? Pierre Dunrot?" he repeated slowly. "Yes! yes! That was my name! How—how did you know it?"

"Because you are my uncle!" gasped Giant, coming to the strange man's side. "You are Pierre Dunrot, my long-lost uncle."

"Your uncle?"

"Yes, my uncle. Do you not remember my mother, Kate Caslette, and do you not remember me—your little Guillaume, the boy you used to ride on your knee?" went on Giant, earnestly and looking the man straight in the eyes.

"Yes! yes! I remember now!" cried the man, and now his eyes searched the small youth's face. "You are my little Guillaume indeed!" He took Giant by the hand. "But how is this—my mind is in a whirl! I do not understand!" And he gazed from Giant to the others in simple-minded perplexity.

"You ran away from home," answered Giant. "It was after the storm, when the lightning had burnt up the manuscript of your beloved history—"

"Yes, yes, yes! My beloved history! That is true! Oh, it was cruel, cruel! After I had worked so many years and so faithfully! My beloved history! It is gone, never to return!" And the tears ran down the cheeks of the man.

"Uncle Pierre, you must give up your lonely life here," said Giant, after a pause. "You must come home with me."

At this suggestion the hermit, for the man was nothing less, shook his head vigorously. He was certainly queer—talking sometimes quite rationally and at others in a rambling fashion. He told how he had come to make his home in the mountains, how he had once visited a large city and purchased three parrots and brought them to the wilderness, and how one parrot had died and another had been shot.

"The third is still with me," he continued. "But I am tired of him—he is driving me crazy."

"He shall never bother you again—if only you will come home with me," said Giant. "You must come home—mother wants to see you. All your books are there. Don't you remember how you used to love those books, Uncle Pierre?"

"Yes! yes!" The man's eyes began to glisten. "And so you want me to go home? You look like a good boy, Guillaume."

"Why does he call Giant Guillaume?" whispered Whopper to Snap.

"It's the French for William," answered the leader of the club. "Say, but doesn't this beat the Dutch!"

"If giant can get this uncle of his to go home perhaps they'll be able to get possession of that fortune of one hundred thousand francs," was Shep's comment. "I hope they can get it, for Mrs. Caslette certainly deserves the money and needs it."

Giant continued to talk to the hermit, and gradually the other boys joined in the conversation. The young hunters soon saw that Pierre Dunrot's mind was very hazy on some matters while clear on others. Since running away from the Caslette home he had lived in the mountains near the lake and he had taken every precaution to keep other folks away from him. He had taught his parrots to scare newcomers, and had played ghost by rubbing phosphorus and other shining substances on his clothing and cap. He said he owned several canoes, hidden along the lake shore, and in these he sometimes went fishing, usually at night.

"Well, this solves the mystery of the ghost anyway," said Snap. "Won't folks around Fairview be astonished when they hear of it?"

"I don't believe we ought to let folks know all the details," answered the doctor's son. "It would hurt Giant's feelings and also his mother's. We can simply say we caught the ghost and he proved to be a harmless old man with a talking parrot, and that we shot the parrot and the man left the vicinity of the lake after his parrot was dead." And so it was agreed. Of course the boys' parents heard the real story, but that was as far as the tale circulated.

The boys went into the log hut and there saw how the hermit had been living in his primitive way. In a corner he had a box filled with ammunition for his gun and also a large collection of hooks and lines. He had a plate, a cup, and a kettle and pan, and that was all. He ate from a block of wood and slept on a heap of cedar boughs. His clothing was almost worn to rags.

It took a great deal of talking to get him to consent to return to civilization, but finally Giant accomplished his purpose. Then the young hunters told about the dead bear, and the hermit showed them how to get the carcass down to the lake front without much trouble. Once at the camp, Pierre Dunrot was given some clean garments, and before donning them he took a bath in the lake. When he had put on the clean clothing he looked like a different individual.

Of course Giant was anxious to get home at once, and his chums could not blame him. The others wanted to take the bear to town, and so it was decided that the return home should begin the next morning.

The journey to Fairview took three days, the boys pushing along as rapidly as circumstances would permit. The companionship of the lads appeared to brighten Pierre Dunrot's mind wonderfully, and it was only now and then that he relapsed into his former simpleness.

Fairview reached, Giant lost no time in hurrying his uncle to his home. Mrs. Caslette was sitting by a window sewing when the pair appeared.

"Why, Will!" she called out and arose. Then she looked at the man. "Can it be possible? Pierre!" And she stood still, staring at her relative.

"Yes, it is really Uncle Pierre!" cried Giant.

The next moment the man and the woman were kissing each other. Mrs. Caslette was bewildered and it took some time for Giant to tell his story. Then Pierre Dunrot had his say. He was greatly excited over coming back, and that night had to be placed in a physician's care. Dr. Reed attended him, and came to see the former hermit for a week. Pierre Dunrot had quite a severe spell of sickness, mostly due to his weak brain, but when he got over it he was clearer-minded than he had been for years.

"The past is like some awful dream," he said. "I do not understand how I came to run away."

Later on he spoke of the fortune that was coming to Mrs. Caslette and himself. He remembered all the details, and through the efforts of a lawyer the hundred thousand francs at last came into possession of the rightful owners.

The bringing in of the big bear by the boy hunters caused something of a sensation in Fairview. The bear was put on exhibition for a day at one of the stores, and then cut up and the meat distributed. The skin was properly cured, and to-day forms a rug in the Reed parlor. How the doctor came to gain possession of it will be told in another story. Of course Ham Spink and his cronies were very envious of the young hunters' luck, and they tried to circulate a story that Snap and his friends had bought the dead bear from some old hunter, but nobody would listen to the yarn.

"We know they can hunt," said one man. "They are the best shots in this town," and his opinion was the opinion of the majority.

"Shall we go back to the lake and the woods?" asked Snap, one day. "Remember, the vacation is not yet half over."

"My father wants us to go back," answered the doctor's son. "He's got a plan he would like us to carry out." And then Shep told what the plan was. The others instantly agreed to it, and what they did will be related in the next volume of this series, to be entitled, "Out with Gun and Camera; Or, The Boy Hunters in the Mountains." Taking photographs of wild animals is both exciting and dangerous, and in the new book we shall learn much concerning this new fad.

"Well, we had a dandy time," observed Snap.

"Yes, and we cleared up the mystery of the ghost in great shape," replied Shep.

"I'd like to bring down a few more bears," put in Whopper.

"And I'd like to get a shot at a moose," came from Giant.

"All in good time," answered Snap. "For the time we were out I think we got our full share of game."

"We certainly did!" cried the others.