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13 The Shape in the Moonlight
Great was the astonishment as the cadets made out the signal from the opposite side of the hill. At least nine-tenths of them had read the message accurately, for a knowledge of signaling, both in the Morse code and the semaphore, was required at the school. After the message was received they stood staring toward the hill, looking for some further word. When the same message had been repeated three times the colonel awoke to the fact that the signalman was not going to say anything more.
135

“Mr. Walker,” he called to the best signalman that the corps had. “Get your flags and answer ‘All right.’”

Cadet Walker departed on a run to his tent, to reappear shortly with two white flags. Standing where he would surely be seen by the lone signalman, the cadet began his message. The flags on the other side of the Ridge disappeared at once as the man read their signal, and Walker stopped his rapid arm movements.

“Now, what in the world do you make of that?” Terry asked, in amazement. His question was taken up by all of the cadets and asked without any satisfactory answer. Supper was neglected while the mystery was considered, and the colonel was as much puzzled as the boys were.

When the cadets finally did sit down to supper the tables buzzed with speculative talk. Many were for going over to that hill and finding out who it could have been that signaled them. At the close of the meal the colonel rapped for order and when the tent had become quiet he spoke to them of the future plans.
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“I know as little about that signal as you do, boys,” he said, “but I believe it to be sincere. Someone who is friendly is trying to give us a warning that may stand us in good stead. It is also possible that it may be a hoax, simply designed to fool us or to draw us out of camp. That will not happen, you may be sure, but I feel that we should be ready for duty. I shall split the battalion in half, and one-half of you will patrol the Ridge while the other half remains in camp to guard it against surprise.”

There was a stirring and a ripple of genuine pleasure at the news, for all of the young men looked forward to some exciting times ahead. Each one was wishing that he would be lucky enough to be in the group that would patrol the Ridge.

“I wish to make this statement, which is also an order,” went on the colonel. “There will be no carrying of arms tonight. Some one of you might become excited and fire at the wrong time, so I expressly forbid it. It is not as though you were going out alone, but you are going out in groups and therefore a weapon, in the shape of a firearm, won’t be necessary. I trust that five or six husky young cadets will be a match for the best ghost this Ridge can send against us. It may be that we will have our supreme chance to end this ugly ghost business tonight, and if so I want no slips that will damage the prospect. I wish to see the leaders immediately after the meal.”
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When the colonel met with the leaders he specified which cadets were to go out and which ones were to stay at camp. To their joy all of the friends of Don and Jim were to patrol the Ridge. The colonel had suggested that the Ghost Patrol go in a body, so the members of that secret organization prepared to go out alone. The leaders passed from group to group, telling them where to go and how to act, signals were arranged, and the stage was set.

To the waiting cadets it seemed that evening was unusually slow in coming. No attempt was made to slip out of camp until full darkness had come, for if anyone was watching it would be a risky thing to do.

“Never saw a day last so long in my life,” grumbled Vench, digging his heel into the soft mud.

“It is just about the usual length, I guess,” smiled Don. “One thing is going to be for and against us tonight.”

“What is that?” the others asked.

“There will be just enough of a moon to make us have to be careful, and just enough to help us spot the ghost if he gets out into the open.”

Jordan emerged from his tent and stopped at the various groups to give some sort of an order. When he got to the members of the Ghost Patrol he repeated it finally.
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“When we leave the camp we are to leave by the back way, taking care to keep out of the light of the fires,” he told them. “It is possible that someone is watching the camp and our game would be spoiled if we walked out in such a way that it could be seen. In about a half hour we will be able to get going.”

“The bunch in camp will have to keep their eyes wide open,” said Douglas.

“Yes, and the colonel will be helping them do it. We have to be careful that this isn’t all some tricky plan to pull us out of camp while somebody with kindly ideas rushes in and burns the place out. The colonel has arranged this signal: three rifle shots for a recall. That will mean trouble in the camp, and if you hear it, head for camp as fast as you can go.”

Darkness finally fell and the stars appeared faintly in the summer sky as the slice of the moon cut the distant horizon. One group broke up and disappeared back of the tents and another followed. Jordan got up.

“All right, let’s go,” he announced, glancing at his watch. “Slip out of camp without a sound. Keep to the shadows.”

The group in the tent broke up at once, some of them walking down the company street for a distance of three or four tents and then slipping behind them. Once out of the glare of the several campfires they had no trouble in gaining the shelter of the trees, and after a few seconds they were all together.
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“Which direction now?” Jim asked.

“Let’s go clear to the top of the Ridge,” suggested Jordan. “From there we can get a comprehensive view of the woods and hills and spot anything that moves.”

They set out for the top of the Ridge, walking with care and listening for every sound that might break the stillness. They had not gone far before there was a noise as though someone was moving before them. Spreading out fanwise they bore silently down on the spot from which the noise had come only to run into another patrol which was lying low and waiting for them to come forward.

“Oh, it is only you guys,” grunted Jordan, as Cadets Perry, Noxan, Dodge and Orlan confronted them.

“Yes, sorry to disappoint you by not being the ghost!” grinned Perry. “But we heard you coming along and we took to cover, so that you would run into us. I’m afraid that we’ll be doing that all evening.”

“Well, then let’s get over it by giving the school whistle every time,” suggested Don. “If we had whistled then you would have replied and we would have passed you in another direction.”
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“A good idea, Mercer,” approved Dodge. “If we give the whistle and fail to receive the answer, we’ll know that the party before us is a suspicious case. We can then go after them in earnest.”

“Yes, that will be OK,” nodded the senior captain. “We are striking off here, boys. See you later.”

With that they left the party and continued their journey to the top of the hill. From there they could look all along the Ridge, and even see the faint gleam of their own campfires in the distance. There was no sign of life on the Ridge, but that was inconclusive, for they knew that directly below them several bands of cadets were moving around.

“For the time being at least we will just stay here and sweep the hills with our eyes,” Jordan said.

For a full hour they sat under a tree, well-sheltered in its shadows, and looked searchingly at the slopes below them. In that time the only life they saw were the forms of several cadets who appeared briefly in the open and then were lost in the darkness. Finally they became highly impatient at the inaction.
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“I guess there is nothing to be gained by sitting here,” Jordan said. “My suggestion is that we split up and move along the top of the Ridge in opposite directions. Suppose Terry, Jim and Don come with me, and Thompson, Douglas and Vench group together and go toward the east of the Ridge? We’ll work back past the camp.”

“Sounds as good as anything,” nodded Thompson. “Most of our cadets are content to stay down on the slopes, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep to the top.”

“Yes, and here’s another thing,” put in Terry. “You three are going toward the town. Why not keep an eye on that side of the Ridge and see if this ghost doesn’t come up from town, if he comes at all.”

“There may be something in that,” said Jordan. “We’ll watch this side of the hill. By the way, have all of you fellows got your cadet whistles?”

All of them had the regular whistles, similar to those used by traffic policemen. “If you get into a scrape and need help, just blow like mad,” commanded Jordan. “If we should run into anything we’ll do the same.”

With this word they separated. They were now so high above the camp that the fires gleamed like little fireflies below them.

“Somebody or something moving in the bushes below!” whispered Jim, suddenly. He pointed into a small gully below them and they looked down. The bushes, clearly seen in the pale moonlight, were moving.
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“I’ll whistle,” said Jordan, and did so. But there was no reply.

“Down we go, and see who it is,” decided the captain, and they crept forward stealthily, careful to make as little noise as possible. But when they dipped down in the gully they found four cadets, one of whom was Rowen. These cadets were standing like statues, evidently a bit scared and waiting to see who it was that moved toward them.

“Didn’t you fellows hear my whistle?” Jordan demanded.

“We thought we heard someone whistle,” replied Cadet Motley. “But we weren’t sure.”

“Well, I whistled,” Jordan said. “Whenever you hear that you’ll know that friends are near by.” Jordan then repeated Don’s suggestion to use their special whistle for recognizing cadets.

“OK,” nodded Motley. “What time have you, Jordan? I’m not sure about my watch.”

Jordan drew out his watch. “I have just eleven o’clock, Motley,” he replied. “I guess——”

Jim gripped his arm. “Siss—s!” he hissed. “Look, on the top of the Ridge!”
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With one accord they looked up the slope and their blood chilled. In a patch of moonlight a weird and terrible figure walked swiftly from one patch of darkness toward another. It looked to be the figure of a man, clothed entirely in white. It glanced neither to the right nor to the left, but strode swiftly along, to all intents and purposes unaware that anyone save itself was on the Ridge. Even the head was muffled in white and showed no trace of eyes, nose or mouth. Quiet and evil and sinister did it look as it glided past the dark background of the sky.


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