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17 Breaking Up Hydes’ Party
On the following morning Colonel Morrell had an early and unexpected visitor. He was a fairly good-looking young man, with a handsome smile and a confident air. Without introducing himself he asked the colonel of the cadet corps an astonishing question.

“Well, what luck did you have with the ghost the other night?” the man inquired with a pleasant smile.

There was a pause before the colonel answered him. “Unfortunately we missed him after a considerable chase. Are you the one who—?”

“Yes, I sent you the wigwag,” replied the young man. “I am a scoutmaster over in Rideway and that’s how I happen to know the signals. I’ve been wanting to put this stupid ghost out of business and saw this opportunity to do it.”

“How did you come to find out that the ghost was going to walk, Mr.—?” began the colonel.

“My name is Benson,” explained the other. “Between 1:00 A.M. and 8:00 A.M. I am employed as a telephone operator on the local switchboard. I was suddenly taken ill the other day or I would have been up to see you sooner.”

“Oh, so you’re the night operator. Some of our boys filled in for you in your absence.”

“Mr. Farnsworth has told me about that. It was very kind of you, sir.”

“It is good training for our boys. It makes them realize their responsibility as citizens to help in any sort of emergency which may arise, I believe. But tell me why you warned us of the ghost’s activities.”

“It was really an accident that I heard a conversation that morning which gave me the information. There was a long-distance telephone call made to our local drugstore. I connected the line and rang. Then, forgetting to close my key more than anything else, I listened while the receiver was picked up at the drugstore. I was pretty sleepy at the time, but I was knocked wide awake by hearing the party on the far end of the wire say: ‘What are the latest activities, Rose? I know about the failure to burn Hyde’s farm. Has the ghost walked since?’ That staggered me and I listened closely to what followed.”

Colonel Morrell leaned forward in his chair. The story of the young scout leader was of great interest to him.

Mr. Benson continued. “The voice at the other end was a low, cold sort of voice, and I was trying to catch a clue from it, hoping that the clerk would use a name, but he didn’t. He just kept using the title Sir. This voice at the other end said: ‘I know all about those cadets interfering with the activities of the ghost, and I will attend to them personally very soon. When I do, they won’t have so much as a tent left to them or a single horse! But I don’t want the ghost to stay in just because of those soldiers. Tell him to get moving again, and make it his business not to get caught.’ It was that last statement which caused me to get word to you.”

“And a good thing it was, too,” replied Colonel Morrell. He then proceeded to tell Mr. Benson the facts that the boys had uncovered. When he had finished he said, “Rest assured that we will get to the bottom of this unpleasant business. I will keep you informed of any further developments, too.”

As soon as he left, Colonel Morrell called the Mercers and Jordan together for a conference.

“It seems you are not the only person guilty of listening in on telephone conversations, Jim,” he began. Then he told them of Mr. Benson’s visit. “Now I think the next step is to engage a good private detective and see if we can’t have this man Maul located in Crossland. If we merely arrest the paid ghost and don’t get the big man higher up we will accomplish nothing.”

At the evening meal in the mess tent the colonel addressed his corps.

“Boys, some time ago we pledged ourselves to run down this ghost business that is troubling the inhabitants of the Ridge and to date we have made quite a bit of progress, even more than most of you know. In due time full details will be related to you, but at present it seems best to keep things quiet. But this much I wish to tell you: we have learned that this ‘ghost’ is a hired professional who is planning to wipe out our camp. I do not know just how he proposes to do it, whether by fire or mob violence, but it is planned, and according to the information secured the blow will come soon. I am therefore doubling the number of sentries beginning with tonight. Your orders are to alarm the camp instantly if anything out of the ordinary is seen or heard. The Officers of the Guard will exercise unwavering care and conduct rigid inspection of posts.”

The colonel resumed his seat and there was a buzz of excitement and indignation. The cadets welcomed the prospect for some actual and dangerous service, and the prospect of a mob fight was especially alluring. But the feeling was that any move made against them would be in the nature of a stealthy act, and all of the cadets determined to brace themselves for the stern business at hand.

“If any ghost tries to touch the horses I’ll shoot him on sight,” growled Thompson, who loved the animals.

“All I hope is that they rush the camp with a gang,” Terry said. “Wouldn’t that be a swell scrap! Imagine the corps meeting a crowd of roughnecks in a hand-to-hand battle. That would be something to write about!”

“If you were able to write, Redhead,” said a cadet near by.

“Gee, if the battalion couldn’t lick any bunch recruited around here we ought to go back to the school and play tennis all the rest of our lives,” snorted Terry, who was not good at the sport and therefore did not like it.

“I’m afraid that the attack won’t be an open one,” Don told them. “More likely to be something shady.”

“You ought to know, Mercer,” said Motley. “Wish I had been on that switchboard the other night.”

That night the number of guards was doubled and the greatest care was exercised. The Officers of the Guard visited posts at frequent intervals and checked up on the sentries. But the night went by without anything out of the ordinary happening. In the morning Benson brought news.

“That ghost showed up in South Plains last night,” he reported. “Some farmers saw him over that way. That is some distance from here and the ghost is following orders to the letter. I didn’t hear a thing last night, though I listened to every conversation. Tonight he may come back this way. But I don’t know whether you will have to fear him or not, for if you’ll remember Maul promised to do the job himself.”

“We’ll be on the lookout for both of them,” promised the colonel.

That afternoon was a warm one and the boys went swimming. Terry had developed a slight summer cold and so he did not go. He was sitting in front of the tent on a box whittling a piece of wood industriously. The camp was quiet and the shouts of the cadets in the swimming hole drifted to his ears.

There was a voice near Terry and he looked up. The little Carson boy was approaching down the company street from the direction of the woods and Terry waved to him.

“Hi, Jimmie,” greeted Terry. “How are you today?”

“OK, Terry,” smiled the boy. “Why aren’t you in swimming?”

“Got a little cold and the company doctor told me to stay out for a while,” answered the whittler, gravely. “What’s on your mind today, anything in particular?”

“I want to tell you something,” said Jimmie Carson, sitting down on the edge of the box as Terry made room for him. “You know that old man over in the cabin? The man named Vancouver?”

“Yes, I know who he is. Why?”

“Well, what do you think, Mr. Mackson? He isn’t lame at all!”

Terry stopped his whittling abruptly and looked keenly at Jimmie. “How do you know that?” he demanded.

“I heard the Hydes say so,” was the reply. “They are going over there tonight and kill him or something!”

The whittling ceased for good. “The Hydes!” ejaculated Terry. “How did they know?”

“Listen, I was over at the Hydes with my father this morning,” said the boy, his eyes serious and grave. “While Pop was talking to old man Hyde I heard the sons talking in the barn. They didn’t know that I was right outside on our wagon, and I heard them plainly. They said that one of them had seen the man sneak into his cabin late last night, and they found out that he wasn’t any cripple. Seems that one of the Hydes was driving home from some place and he saw the ghost sneak into the cabin. Then he looked in under a window and saw the ghost get back into his chair, so they knew that old man was playing ghost. Can you imagine that, Mr. Mackson?”

“No, I can’t,” returned Terry gravely.

“So they said they was going to go to the cabin tonight and just about kill that old man. I thought at first I’d tell Pa, but I was scared to, so I come up here to tell you fellows about it. I don’t think that old man ought to be hit by those big bully Hydes, do you?”

“No, sir,” said Terry, with emphasis. “Jimmie boy, I’m glad you told me this. Come along to the colonel; we must tell him.”

The colonel was keenly interested in the news. “Thank you for telling us this, my boy,” he smiled down at the rugged lad. “This old man is a wicked fellow to go around scaring people out of their wits, but just as you say he shouldn’t be hit by those Hydes. Mr. Mackson, pass the word to the special patrol to be ready to go with me to the cabin as soon as darkness comes tonight.”

“Very well, Colonel,” said Terry. “I’m glad you are going along, because I feel that this is likely to be a fairly tough situation.”

They left the tent and Terry went to hunt up the other boys, first swearing little Jimmie to secrecy. “Don’t breath a word of it,” he told the boy. “We want to save this old man from a severe beating and we also want to capture him for his part in the business that has been going on around here. So it will be the best thing if you keep very quiet about it.”

“I will, Terry,” promised the lad.

The others soon knew what was expected of them. Just before they started out they met in the tent of the colonel.

“Mr. Vench and Mr. Douglas, I want you to start right away for Rideway and get the sheriff,” ordered the colonel. “We can’t arrest this man ourselves, but he must do it. It may be that we shall have trouble with the Hydes, and anyway, the sheriff is always saying that we interfere with his affairs on the Ridge. You may have trouble with the sheriff, but if you do just tell him that your colonel requests him to come to the cabin.”

“Very well, sir,” Douglas responded, and he and Vench went out.

“We will take side arms with us,” said the colonel, buckling on a revolver belt. “We won’t have to use them, I trust, but at least we’ll be prepared.”

When the others of the Ghost Patrol had equipped themselves they set out with the colonel for the cabin over the hill. Those in the camp saw them go and much speculation went around as to the purpose of the expedition. The camp itself was in order for any emergency, with double guards posted and the major in charge.

Vench and Douglas had obtained a good start and they felt it would not be long before they returned with the sheriff, if he could be persuaded to come. The others swung on toward the little cabin at a rapid pace, topping the rise and bearing down on it.

“Somebody’s at home,” Don said, as they came in sight. “There are lights in the windows.”

“Yes, but look! There are the Hydes!” cried Terry, pointing.

Into the patch of light from one of the small windows a burly figure stepped and another joined it. A third figure proclaimed the father. There was a word of planning between them and then one of the sons raised his foot and kicked the window deliberately out. With that action he jumped right through the opening and landed in the room. A moment of silence followed and then the front door was opened. Promptly the father and the other son walked in and the door was shut.

“Just in time,” proclaimed the colonel, grimly. “Let us hustle, boys.”

They ran down the rest of the slope, the doughty colonel in front, and came to the cabin in a short time. The colonel threw himself against the door, which had not been very well secured, and it opened under his impact. Followed by Don, Terry, Jim and Jordan, the colonel shot into the room.

In one corner crouched the supposed invalid, his face pale and his hands grasping a stout stick. Facing him, with brutal expressions on their surly faces, stood the Hydes. The oldest son held a heavy horsewhip in his hands, and it was evident that he was just going to use it when the cadet party burst in.

At sight of the cadets the expressions on their faces changed. Surprise gave way to eager gladness on the face of the old man and spiteful anger on the faces of the Hydes. As yet no blow had fallen and the relief party was in the nick of time.

“What do you want here?” the father said, a snarl in his voice.

“We want that man, for playing the part of a ghost and stampeding our horses,” said the colonel evenly. “And we want to see to it that you don’t touch that man with your whip.”

“You do, heh?” grunted the son with the whip. “You all can have this old man if you want him, but you can’t stop us from whipping the daylights out of him. This is the dog that burned our barn down.”

“I know all about that,” nodded the colonel. “But you won’t horsewhip him. You can turn him over to the proper authorities; in fact, I have already sent for the sheriff and he will be here any minute now. But you can’t take the law into your own hands, not while we are here, certainly.”

“Look here, you soldier captain, or whatever you are!” bellowed the senior Hyde. “You mind your own business. Putting this fellow in jail won’t do us any good, and we’re going to beat the hide off him. You keep out. Josh, go ahead and wallop him.”

The Hyde boy raised his whip but the colonel reached up, jerked it from his hand and threw it into a far corner. The Hydes grew red and clenched their fists.

“Let’s give them a good beating, Pa,” said the younger son, and he advanced. But the colonel drew his revolver and covered the three of them. The other cadets dropped their hands to the butts of their guns.

“Come a step nearer me and I’ll shoot you right through the leg,” promised the colonel, simply.

The threat stopped them in their tracks. Sullenly they fell back, hatred showing in their faces. The old man whooped faintly.

“That’s handling them,” he said, stirring eagerly. The colonel looked at him.

“You stay where you are, too, Mr. Vancouver,” he said. “We’ll have to turn you over to the law for punishment.”

“I ain’t the only one in this game,” blustered the old man.

“We know all about Mr. Maul,” said the colonel. The Hydes snapped to attention.

“Maul!” cried the father, harshly. “Old Maul is dead!”

“Old Maul is very much alive,” retorted the colonel. “He is the one who is directing this whole campaign. Did you think this old man was doing it for fun? He has been paid by Maul to keep this thing going, and he planned to burn you out of your house pretty shortly.”

“Then you ought to let us whip this sneaking skunk!” shouted the elder Hyde.

“Brutality won’t do any good,” returned the headmaster.

“Here comes the sheriff,” announced Jordan, as a heavy step was heard outside the door.

The door opened to admit the sheriff, followed by Vench and Douglas. The two cadets looked grave and a trifle angry and the sheriff was his usual blustering self.

“What’s going on here?” he roared, looking around. His angry eyes fastened themselves on the colonel. “I hear that you requested me to come up here. Requested me! Who are you, sir? I never saw you in my life!”

“I never saw you either,” retorted the unmoved colonel.

“What is the trouble here, anyway?” sneered the sheriff.

The trouble was explained by the colonel, but the sheriff shrugged his shoulders. “I think you would have done well to have minded your own business, sir,” said the officious man. “This man needs a sound horsewhipping. If it had been your house he burned you would be the first one to whip him. What am I supposed to do?”

“You will arrest the old man and put him where he will be safe,” said the colonel. “As for the Hydes, you can’t do anything but send them home.”

“Look here, colonel, are you giving me orders!” bellowed the loud sheriff, his face a dull red. “If you are, I won’t even listen to them. Where you get the nerve to order me around is more than I can see. I’ve got half a mind to run you in for pointing a revolver at the Hydes.”

“Sheriff,” said the colonel, hotly. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do with you. I’m going to let the world know how a ghost terrorized the Ridge here for years, right under your nose, and you never found out who it was. I’m going to relate how my boys discovered the whole thing, and if you ever get another job with responsibility to it, I don’t know what the people of this county are thinking of!”

There was a total silence in the room while the colonel and the sheriff glared at each other. The whole frame of the sheriff shook with suppressed rage and his breath came fast. Calmly the colonel looked him straight in the eye. But the sheriff was beaten and he knew it.

Instead he vented his fury upon the Hydes. “Get out of here and get home,” he snarled. “Don’t ever let me catch you in any trouble again as long as I’m sheriff on this Ridge! You, Peter Vancouver, come here while I put the handcuffs on you.”


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