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15 Dawning Light
With this kindly thought in mind Don jumped to the ground and started off. But at that moment Terry appeared in the black doorway.

“Hey, where are you going?” the redhead asked.

“Just going to run down and see if Mr. Vancouver is OK,” called back Don. “Tell Jordan that I’ll be right back.”

“All right, kid,” Terry returned. “If you run into any trouble, just sing out and we’ll come on the double.”

Terry turned back and was lost to sight while Don resumed his journey down the slope. The cabin was not far away and it took him but a moment to reach it. He approached it from the back, hoping to get a look in one of the windows, but they were too high and small in the rear and so he passed around to the front of the cabin. Noiselessly he crossed the porch and tapped on the door, waiting for an answer.

Although he waited there was no response and he wondered if the old man was asleep. Since there was a light showing he rather doubted that and he knocked again, a trifle louder. The light came out from under the door and showed around the windows that opened off the porch, but he was unable to peer in because heavy black shades were pulled down to the bottom. The front door was solid and he found no help in that direction.

“He must be asleep, in spite of the light,” Don decided. “I’ll see if I can see anything through the side windows.”

He made his way around the side of the house and found that he could see in a window there. A ragged shade had been pulled down but the torn edges gave him a limited view of the interior of the large room. It was lighted by a single oil lamp, and in a far corner sat the invalid in his chair, apparently fast asleep. At least he was very quiet and Don was undecided.

“Don’t know as I ought to tap, but I’ll just see if he is awake,” he decided, and tapped with his ring on the glass in the window. The old man stirred, looked toward the window, and wheeled his chair out of the shadow.

“Who is it?” he cried, in a shrill voice.

Don ran swiftly around the porch and placed his lips near the door frame. “It is Don Mercer, one of the cadets who visited you one afternoon,” he called. “May I come in?”

“Sure, you may,” responded the man, instantly. There was a soft sound, like the rolling of wheels, and the catch on the door rattled. In an instant the door swung open to show the frail figure in the chair. Don was bathed in a yellow light that blinded him for a moment.

“Come right in,” invited Vancouver, spinning back from the door. “Close the door and make yourself right at home. What brings you up here at this hour?”

Don entered, closing the door back of him, and looked around the room. A fire snapped in an open hearth and the room was a bit too warm. Vancouver was wrapped in a brown blanket, and he had wheeled himself back into the shadows beyond the lamplight.

“I’ll have to apologize for my late call, Mr. Vancouver,” laughed Don. “But a bunch of us chased the ghost up this way and the rest of the boys are looking for him. I saw your lights down here and just ran in to see if you were all right, or if our noise had alarmed you.”

“You were chasing the ghost!” cried Vancouver, sharply. “Go on!”

“Yes, we saw him walking along the Ridge and we gave chase,” Don explained. “We trailed him into that old house on the top of the hill and we went all through the place but couldn’t find him. While the others were looking I ran down here to see if you had heard anything. Sorry to have bothered you.”

“Wasn’t any bother at all, and I’m grateful to you for your thought,” responded Vancouver promptly. “I didn’t hear anything because I’ve been sleeping here in the chair. Your knock woke me up. So you saw the ghost, eh? What did he look like?”

Don described the appearance of the ghost and the old man appeared to be deeply interested.

“You say you fellows saw him. How’d you come to do that? You ain’t always out of your camp so late as this, be you?”

Feeling that he might some day help them to find the ghost, Don related the story of the mysterious flagman, the search on the hill and the revolver shot that Rowen had fired off.

“Dear, too bad about that shot,” said the invalid, shaking his head. “If it hadn’t been for that you would have nailed this ghost, eh?”

“No doubt of it,” said Don, his attention attracted by something that the man was doing. “Are you too hot, Mr. Vancouver?”

The invalid had been passing a hand jerkily across his forehead several times, and each time after the act he wiped a somewhat dampened hand on the brown cover. Although it was quite warm in the place it did not seem to be hot enough to make a man sweat, unless Mr. Vancouver was the kind who perspired easily. It seemed to Don that the old man was breathing pretty heavily for one who had sat in a wheel chair all evening, and in the boy’s brain a faint idea stirred. He rejected it, at first, but like a gentle knocking it persisted.

“Oh, no, no,” hastily interposed the cripple. “Do you feel too warm?”

“No, but I thought perhaps you might be a little hot, and I’d open a window or the door for you,” responded Don, seating himself on the edge of the table.

“No, you needn’t do that,” said the man, running one thumb absently along the edge of the nearest wheel. The glance that he fixed on the cadet’s face was keen and almost fierce. “I’m so old I got to keep warm, because I don’t move around enough.”

“I see,” nodded Don. He had intended to leave immediately, but found himself suddenly possessed with a desire to remain. “Well, as I was telling you, we chased that ghost into the old house above you. Know anything about the place?”

At the same time Don began a rigid inspection of his host. Most of the man was covered up, but his feet showed under the blanket. Only the toes could be seen, but there was something about them that attracted his attention. They were clothed in socks which seemed to be damp, and he wondered if the man always went without shoes.

Vancouver knew the place well. “They used to call that the haunted house, around here,” he chuckled. “This Ridge is a pretty spooky place, the more you hear of it. You don’t know who it was that sent you that flag message, eh?”

“Haven’t the least idea,” answered Don. “All of the cadets were in camp at the time, and I don’t know who around here knows how to use signal flags. And who would know that the ghost was going to walk?”

“You beat me there,” Vancouver said, shaking his head. “That’s a hard nut to crack. Maybe the ghost went in for a little advertising.”

“I doubt it, Mr. Vancouver,” said Don, noting that the fire was consuming fresh wood which couldn’t have been put there an hour ago. “If you had seen the ghost run you’d have known that the thing was utterly unexpected to him. It is a pretty tough problem.”

“I guess most ghost doings are tough problems,” grinned the old man.

“I guess so,” Don smiled. “Nice fire you have there. We don’t see many open hearth fires any more. Have you had it going all evening?”

“Yep, I generally have it going every evening,” responded the man, somewhat absently.

“Well, I’ll have to be running along, Mr. Vancouver,” he said, glancing at his watch. “I don’t want to keep you at an hour like this. I just wanted to run down and see if we had alarmed you, but as long as we haven’t, why, I’ll be moving.”

“I didn’t hear a sound, so I’m all right. It was real nice of you to drop down to see if I was all right, and I sure appreciate that. An old cripple like me doesn’t get much chance to see the world or talk with anyone, so it did me good to have you stop in.”

“That’s fine,” replied Don, his eyes busy at the task of looking around the room in a guarded manner. “Say, Mr. Vancouver, as I told you before, we did quite a bit of running tonight. And gee, I’m just about burning up with thirst. I’m thinking with pleasure that you have some of the finest water I ever tasted here.”

“I’ll get you a drink in just a shake,” promised the man, seizing his wheel.

“Don’t bother. Can’t I get it myself?” asked Don, wishing to gain a look at the kitchen.

“Won’t take me a second,” said the other, and spun around in his chair, aiming at the doorway that led into the back room. With the speed and accuracy of an arrow he passed through it and was gone.

And almost immediately Don thanked his lucky stars that he had not been permitted to go out into the other room himself. For something that had been hidden by the chair of the cripple was now disclosed. In the corner rested a pair of shoes, and these shoes were covered with mud!

Not the slightest doubt about it. Red and black mud, soft and wet, a fact that he could determine without touching them. A band of light from the lamp shone on them and revealed the evidence plainly. That explained the man’s damp socks. Yet Don’s brain was unable to fully take it all in.

“Is it possible that this man is not an invalid after all? Or has the real ghost been here, and maybe is hiding here right now? That may be possible.”

But certain things pointed an unerring hand at his host. His brow was moist, as of one who had been running. His breath had been rapid, and now his muddy shoes betrayed him. For not an instant longer did Don doubt that the man could walk and run, and the crippled state was nothing but a ruse.

“No wonder he pumped me about who it was that sent the wigwag,” he thought, as the sound of water was heard from the kitchen pump. “While I have been sitting here telling him everything he has been measuring me, wondering if I have been playing some sort of a game with him. Maybe I’m lucky that he didn’t jump on me suddenly, but I believe that my straightforward story has convinced him that I don’t know anything. Nothing dumb about him, evidently! My story about running down to see if he is all right must sound pretty flat, though.”

The man wheeled into the room rapidly and in his hand he had a tall glass of water. Don drank it eagerly, keeping a wary eye on the old man, but nothing out of the way happened and he thanked him for the water.

“Don’t mention it,” smiled the man. “Come up again and see me, won’t you?”

“I surely will,” promised Don, as he opened the door. “Good night, sir.”

“Good night, boy, good night,” was the bright and cheery response, as Don went out.

“If he isn’t a cripple, he certainly knows how to run that chair of his,” Don decided, as he ran up the hill.

He found that the others were waiting for him impatiently. “Golly, we thought that you were lost,” said Jordan, impatiently.

“No, just talking with Mr. Vancouver,” said Don. “Didn’t have any luck, eh?”

“Not a bit,” returned the senior captain. “Well, I suppose we may as well head in.”

It did not take them long to make camp, where they found the others awaiting them. Jordan reported to the colonel, who had heard the shot and who knew from Rowen’s own report what had happened. Howes was ordered to blow the bugle as a sign of recall, and before very long all of the groups had returned.

“Too bad we lost him,” said the colonel, shaking his head. “I believe it was entirely due to Mr. Rowen’s disobedience. I have ordered him into permanent arrest, until I decide what to do with him. Sound taps, Mr. Howes.”

Don thought deeply before falling asleep. “I guess I’ll keep things to myself, at least for a time,” he decided. “It all sounds so farfetched that I hate to drag out my discoveries. But that man was surely out of his chair and out of his house this night! Now that I have something definite to work on something tangible may come up before long. The next thing we had better do is to find out who that mysterious flagman was.”


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