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11 The Ghost Patrol
On the following day, when the General Orders were read, the cadets who had been most active in the search for Dorothy were warmly commended. All of the cadets were thanked by the colonel. Then the officers called for three rousing cheers for Cadet Mackson. These were given with a will.

“Mackson again!” hissed Cadet Rowen, under his breath. “It was only an accident and yet he gets a cheer for it. Wouldn’t that make you sick?”

No one being addressed, no answer was given. But Terry himself felt that it was simply an accident.
115

“I just happened to be there at the brook at the right moment and heard her crying,” he told his friends. “If I hadn’t been the one, someone else would have run across her eventually. So I don’t see what the fuss is all about.”

“We make a fuss because you are such an old souse!” laughed Jim. “If you hadn’t gone for a drink it might have been days before the child was found. Lucky thing you like to drink so much.”

“I’ll drink nothing but water all my life, in honor of the piece of service that drink did me,” promised the redhead.

In the mess tent that noontime the colonel rapped on the head table for order. The rattling of spoons and plates became still and the cadets faced him expectantly.

“Gentlemen,” said the colonel. “Since we have been here on the Ridge we have been quite deeply annoyed by this silly ghost that has been playing tricks in the neighborhood. I say silly in the sense that it is silly to play at such small things, but in another sense it may turn out to be something serious. I think that we have all had enough of the business and I promise you that if that ghost comes around the camp we will make short work of him. Now, what I want you to do is this: if you, any of you, learn anything definite about this ghost, either from hearsay or your own observations, I want all facts reported to me at once. Although we haven’t time to go meddling all over the Ridge I think we are duty-bound to lay this ghost if possible, and so let me know whatever you learn about this ghost business.”
116

There was a buzz as the headmaster sat down and the ghost of the Ridge furnished the topic for discussion during the rest of the meal. Drill ended that, and after the afternoon work was over the cadets named on the previous evening reported at the colonel’s big tent. He was waiting for them.

“Sit down anywhere you can, boys,” he told them. “On the bed or the chairs. I guess we can find room for all of us. Will you pull the flap closed, Captain Jordan?”

Jordan obeyed and the colonel faced his interested boys. “Well, you heard what I had to say today at the mess tent regarding the responsibility of each cadet in regard to the ghost trouble on this Ridge. That will do very nicely for the corps at large, for if I gave some of them too much authority some grave mistakes of overzealousness would probably follow. But to you young men I want to give a commission that I’m sure you will handle with care and tact.”
117

He paused and nothing was said. Crossing his knees the colonel went on: “I spoke of the fact that ruining this ghost and his game was our duty as citizens, and it is. Inquiry has revealed that the people hereabouts are very superstitious, and they have taken this ghost on trust for several years. Of course, in a community of sensible men and women the thing would have been run out long ago, but there is just enough fear and superstition in the people around here to imagine this ghost to be the real thing and not some human being who is simply playing on their fears and ignorance. You may have noticed that when we brought that child back to Mrs. Carson she simply said: ‘I’ll never let you out again where that ghost can scare you.’ No question or thought about driving him away, but just a passive resignation to the fact that he is here and belongs here.

“But this ghost does not belong here, boys, and we must see to it that he does not stay here. At school we teach you that every man has a duty to the public, and even here, in a strange country, we have our challenge. We must track down this ghost and expose him. We have the right to do so because he has invaded our camp and stampeded our horses. But I want the whole thing done quietly and steady heads must take up the task. I have therefore picked you young men to tackle this problem.”

“I’m sure we’ll enjoy it, sir!” smiled Jordan.
118

“What I want you to do is this,” nodded the colonel. “I want you six cadets to form yourself into a secret Ghost Patrol. You are to keep it strictly to yourselves, and you are to make every effort to get some trace of this ghost. I give you full liberty to leave camp at any hour, and every hour, to pass sentries whenever it is really necessary, and to cut drill if the necessity should arise. I am not going to tell you how you should go about it, because I really don’t know myself, but I will leave the working out of plans to you. Obviously, it will be out of the question to simply rove over the Ridge in a band, for that would soon advertise itself, but I’m sure you will make a plan that will bring results. If at any time there is a call that the ghost has been sighted around the camp you will dash out and make a thorough search for him. I guess that is all clear, isn’t it?”

“I think so, sir,” replied Jordan. “We’ll do the best that we can for the community in this case. I have heard that in the last few years a number of good, honest families have left the Ridge simply because of this silly situation, and a thing like that has no business to be.”
119

“You’re right, it has no business to be,” retorted the colonel. “Not when an individual rolls a blazing hay wagon downhill and burns up a man’s barn, and then scares a child away from her home. To say nothing of stampeding our horses.”

“What do you think of that theory regarding the Maul and Hyde feud, colonel?” Don asked, from his seat on the cot.

“I think there may be something in it,” was the answer. “I can’t find out what the feud was all about, and probably the present families don’t know, so stupid are such things. It is much like those you hear about in the Kentucky mountains, where families kill each other off for generations over causes that never touched them personally. But I gather that the last of the Mauls was supposed to have been drowned and his body was never found. That points to only one thing.”

“You think that he is alive and doing all this ghost business?” Jim asked.

“I wouldn’t be surprised. As far as I can learn no one but the Hydes have ever been actively molested. Numbers of persons have been scared by the sight of the white shape, but only the Hydes have been harmed. If it had not been for the heroic work done by you cadets the other night Hyde would have been burned completely out of house and home.”
120

“Now that every sentry has been told to promptly report any trace of the ghost we may have an even chance of nailing him,” Douglas observed.

“Yes, though you may have to work fast. Well, that will be all. You will kindly keep that to yourselves and consider yourselves as a special Ghost Patrol.”

When they had left the colonel the cadets separated and went to their tents. While preparing for the evening meal they talked things over.

“If you notice, the colonel spoke about the ghost starting the stampede,” Jim said, as he washed vigorously. “That shows that he believes my story.”

“I guess there is no doubt of that,” responded Don. “He simply can’t doubt Rowen’s word on the face of it.”

Before the evening meal was ready it began to rain. The cadets had been fortunate in the weather during their stay in camp, and up to the present time only showers had occurred occasionally. But tonight the rain meant business, for it settled in for a long spell. Before long the company streets were a mass of mud. It was necessary to make a dash for the mess tent, and all the time they ate the steady pouring of the rain could be heard on the canvas overhead.
121

There were no campfires that night and the cadets clustered in their own tents. The sentries looked forward to a bleak and joyless patrol, but the colonel knew that a sample of army life under all conditions was good for the young soldiers. As long as they were well-shod and amply protected from the rain there was no danger of sickness, and a taste of duty under stern circumstances was beneficial rather than harmful to the cadets.

Jordan, Vench and Douglas slopped their way over to the tent occupied by the three friends. This tent was the end one on the rear company street, backed up against the woods. The tent light made the place seem homelike, and it was warm inside.

“Fine night, if anyone likes it,” grinned Vench, as he took off his wet raincoat. “We didn’t have anything else to do so we came over.”

“Glad to have you,” smiled Don. “It looks like a particularly dull evening. I’ll bet we’ll harp on the one subject, though.”

“On the glories of the Ghost Patrol, eh?” laughed Jordan.

“How did you guess?” Don retorted.

“This is something new,” Douglas said. “Early in the year the Mercers, Terry and I were on the beach patrol, but this is the first time I ever heard of a Ghost Patrol.”
122

“All I hope is that we get some results out of this new organization,” Terry said.

They talked of the task ahead of them for some time. Suddenly Jim held up his hand, signaling for silence.

“Did you fellows hear anything?” he asked.

No one had. “What was it like?” Jordan asked.

“I thought I heard someone close to the back of the tent,” said Jim, slipping on his raincoat. “Wait’ll I take a look.”

“Who would sneak around a tent on a night like this?” scoffed Vench, as Jim slipped out.

“Didn’t see anything,” Jim said, returning and shaking the rain off his coat.

“We hope you don’t hear anything else tonight,” grumbled Terry. “Might as well bring a dog in here to shake himself!”

Long before taps the visitors had gone and the friends turned in. In the morning the rain had stopped, but a gray sky hung over the camp. Just as assembly was breaking up the Officer on Inspection reported to the colonel.

“Something to show you on a tree at the end of the camp, sir,” he reported.
123

The cadets swarmed around the colonel as he took a heavy piece of cardboard from a tree not far from the tent occupied by the Mercers and Terry. In large, crude letters this warning was written:

    YOU DURNED TIN SOLDIERS KEEP YOURE NOSE OUTN THE GHOST BUSINESS.


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