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16 Listening In
The following day the camp was vibrant with excitement as the cadets relived the events of the night before. Everyone, of course, lamented the fact that Rowen had unwisely frightened the ghost away, but the boys realized that there was nothing to do but wait for the ghost to walk again.

During the afternoon some of the cadets noticed a stranger enter the colonel’s tent. The caller stayed a short time and then left, taking the road which led to Rideway. Later Jordan, Don and Jim were ordered to the colonel’s tent. Having seen the visitor, they wondered if their summons was in any way connected with him.

“Come in, come in,” invited the colonel as the boys approached his quarters. “I have a job for you to do, that is, if you are willing.”

“Anything you say, Colonel,” Don replied, speaking for the group.

“Perhaps you noticed that I had a visitor this afternoon.” He looked at the three cadets before him expectantly and they nodded to affirm this. “That was Mr. Farnsworth, the superintendent of the local telephone exchange in Rideway. It seems that his night operator was suddenly taken ill this morning and will be unable to go on duty tonight. He has no extra help at this time and thought perhaps one of the cadets knew how to operate a switchboard.”

“I have run our switchboard at school a few times,” said Jim, hesitantly. “However, I imagine this one in Rideway is far more complicated.”

“Splendid!” said the colonel. “I thought I remembered correctly that you had, Jim. You will have no trouble at all with this local exchange. Mr. Farnsworth assured me that it was a simple board, else he would not have approached me. You see, this exchange is a small one and does not require a complicated system such as those one finds in large cities.”

“Well, I’ll do my best, sir,” promised Jim.

“I’m sure of that. Now, Don and Jordan, I want you to accompany Jim. You are to be at the exchange from midnight until seven o’clock, so perhaps three of you can keep one another awake for that period. Mr. Farnsworth will meet you there and show you what to do. Now, I suggest that you try to get some sleep before midnight. You will be awakened at the proper time and when you get to Rideway go to the building on the left of the town hall.

“You never can tell,” the colonel continued with a wink, “but what this job may be far from dull. Remember that you are still members of the Ghost Patrol. Be alert!”

The three lucky cadets went immediately to their tents to talk over the piece of good news. They ate supper and after an hour turned in to sleep. Terry wailed at the fate that had left him out of it.

“Some guys have all the luck,” he whined in a voice imitating Dick Rowen’s. “I can’t stand these Mercer boys, anyway. Besides, I’ve got the biggest ears and the colonel should have sent me.”

The Officer of the Guard awakened the boys at the proper hour and they left the camp, passing the sentries safely. It did not take them long to cross the Ridge and strike down into Rideway. They found the streets totally deserted. Alongside the town hall they found the proper building and at their knock they were admitted by Mr. Farnsworth. He wore a telephone headset, consisting of one phone, a curved mouthpiece that fastened to the soundbox which rested on his chest, and a long, detachable plug.

He showed them the switchboard bearing scores of small white buttons that lighted up when the calls came in, and rows of multiple holes into which the plugs were inserted when calls were connected. He explained things in brief detail to them.

“This is what they call a manual board, as against a dial board,” he said. “We have five girls working here in the daytime, but one operator is sufficient at night. Now, unless you have some questions, I’ll be leaving.”

“I think I understand this sort of system,” answered Jim promptly. “It shouldn’t cause us any trouble.”

Thus assured, Mr. Farnsworth left. Then the three boys got a fair insight into the night telephone operator’s job. There was complete silence until two-thirty when a call was received. Jim handled it expertly. There were few calls after that and the time went by much too slowly for the three active boys.

“This certainly is a lonely job,” remarked Jordan, around a quarter after three.

“Yes, but I imagine you get used to it after a while,” answered Don.

Just at that moment the switchboard buzzed twice. “Hmm, long distance,” murmured Jim. “Mr. Farnsworth mentioned that two short rings was the signal for a long-distance call.”

He plugged in below the lighted signal. At his answer a dull voice said, “Let me have Main 7200.”

Jordan was about to speak when Jim sat bolt upright and signaled to the others to be silent. His eyes grew as big as saucers as he listened intently. Don and Jordan were mystified by his actions, but they said not a word. It seemed an interminable length of time before Jim closed the key and plugged into another line.

“What is it? What’s the matter?” Don questioned his brother eagerly.

“I’ll tell you all about it in a minute. I’ve got to do something first!”

The others listened impatiently while Jim held a short conversation with someone who seemed to be another operator. At last Jim removed the headset and turned to his companions.

“That was a call to the drugstore and it was about the ghost!” Jim said breathlessly.

“What!” exclaimed Don and Jordan together.

“I was just on the point of closing the key, after making sure that the connection was correct, when I heard someone say, ‘Those cadets chased the ghost into the old Furmen house and very nearly caught him.’ That’s when I motioned to you not to talk. Then the other voice said, ‘Those meddling cadets again, was it?’ and the person at the drugstore, who gave his name as Rose, answered, Yes, Mr. Maul.’”

“Maul!” shouted Don. “Why, that’s the name of the family the Hydes had a feud with!”

“Then there is one of them still alive,” Jordan said thoughtfully.

“That’s the same conclusion I reached,” Jim said. “I just checked the origin of the call with the operator and she told me it was from a pay station in Crossland.”

“Golly! Wait until the colonel hears about this. I’ll bet he never dreamed we would really come up with something tonight,” Jordan said excitedly.

“But I haven’t told you everything,” Jim interrupted. “The man named Maul gave the clerk instructions to relay to the ghost. He is to go to him this afternoon and tell him to start prowling on the far side of the Ridge. In about a week he said he would send orders referring to another attempt to burn the Hydes out. His final word was, ‘First I will get rid of those schoolboy soldiers.’”

“That means another chance to catch the ghost!” exclaimed Jordan. “Say, we ought to trail that clerk when he goes out this afternoon.”

“And I’ll tell you just where he will go, too,” said Don calmly. He had been unusually quiet during the conversation between his brother and Jordan, because he had been thinking things out.

“Where?” the others demanded.

“To the cabin of Peter Vancouver,” returned Don.

“Why to him?” asked Jordan. “He’s lame and can’t get about.”

“My best uniform that he isn’t,” Don laughed. “Let me tell you what happened the night we chased the ghost.” With that he related the story of his visit to Vancouver’s cabin. “I’m positive that he had been out that night, and I don’t think for a minute that he is an invalid at all.”

“Without arousing suspicion, let’s try to find out from Mr. Farnsworth how long the man has been living in that cabin,” Jim suggested.

The others agreed to the idea and waited impatiently for seven o’clock to come. At last it did and Mr. Farnsworth was prompt.

He thanked them earnestly and inquired whether they had had any difficulties. Jim assured him he had not. Mr. Farnsworth was a friendly person and was very interested in the cadets’ activities. He kept the boys there for a few minutes, asking them questions concerning their camp life.

The superintendent’s interest enabled the boys to describe their hikes through the countryside and, in passing, Jim told him of their visit to Peter Vancouver. He then casually asked Mr. Farnsworth if Vancouver was a native of the region.

“Oh, no,” was the man’s reply. “He moved here only a few years ago. No one knows much about him. He keeps to himself, though of course that’s natural since he’s confined to a wheelchair.”

After a few minutes of further conversation the cadets departed.

They struck the trail for camp at a rapid pace.

“Good golly, I am hungry,” sighed Jim, as they topped the rise.

“I guess we all are,” replied Jordan. “But we have made splendid progress in the last few hours. What a rare piece of luck that you listened in on that call, Jim!”

They arrived in camp while drill was going on and reported at once to the colonel. He was interested and pleased beyond measure.

“That is splendid work, boys,” he approved, heartily. “Now, some of you must do some active trailing. I suppose you three feel equal to the observation task, don’t you?”

“We will after we have had some breakfast, sir,” Don smiled back.

“Of course. Report to the mess tent at once. Pack something up to take with you and then get your field glasses and find a post from which you can watch the cabin of this supposed cripple. I compliment you on your fine powers of observation regarding this Peter Vancouver, Don.”

“Thank you, sir,” acknowledged Don. “It is a clever game all the way through, and only lucky accidents have put us in touch with the truth.”

“Yes, the kind of accidents that you boys always seem to have,” said the colonel, dryly. “Well, run along to your breakfast.”

“We’re having all the fun,” grinned Jim, as they hiked once more to the top of the Ridge a short time later. “Won’t old redhead pull his hair out in handfuls when he hears of this!”

A small clump of bushes on a high hill gave them a good view of Vancouver’s cabin when sighted through the glasses and there was no danger that they would be seen in turn. The morning passed without any sign of anything moving and they ate their lunch under a hot sun.

“He surely ought to show up this afternoon,” Jordan thought.

“If he waits until nightfall we’re licked,” said Jim.

The afternoon dragged until four o’clock, and then Jordan uttered an exclamation. He had his glasses pointed at the cabin.

“Here he comes now,” he announced, and the others raised their glasses. Sure enough, a man was wending his way up the slope, straight for Vancouver’s cabin, and Jim called their attention to a white package that he had in his hand.

The clerk stayed in the cabin for an hour and departed at the end of that time. When he had gone, Jordan closed his glass.

“That makes the case complete,” he announced. “Now we can go back and report to the colonel. Who wants to bet that I don’t stay up until taps tonight?”

“Not I,” returned Jim, promptly, “I’m so dead on my feet right now that I won’t know whether you do or not!”


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