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18 The Last of the Ghost
The Hydes had slunk off and were lost in the darkness. The sheriff had handcuffed Peter Vancouver and now they were on their way to the local jail in Rideway. After putting the light out the colonel and the members of the Ghost Patrol left the cabin and started over the trail to camp.

“I’m very glad we got there in time to prevent any serious injury to that old man,” remarked the colonel, as they walked on. “Did you boys have any trouble with that sheriff?”

“A little bit, sir,” Douglas replied. “He made a lot of noise when we explained things to him. But he did come finally, though he talked so much and made so much noise on the way up that Vench and I felt like rolling him in the mud!”

“I guess it was about time that somebody talked to him,” the colonel said. “The people around here are curious. They haven’t made any effort to run down this ghost and they take abuse from this great blustering sheriff. But I guess this ghost angle of things is about over.”

“All that remains now is to catch Maul,” Jordan reminded him.

“Yes, and we’ll see to it that steps are taken to do that,” the headmaster promised.

The sky was pitch black, and not a star in sight. A leaden sky threatened rain and the absence of the moon and the friendly stars made the world below very dark indeed. Fortunately for them the cadets knew the road fairly well, and they approached the camp through the bushes without having altered their course enough to puzzle them.

“We will be hailed in about a moment,” said the colonel. They were close to the outpost where the sentry was on duty, and they advanced boldly, waiting for the call.

But none came. They reached the line of patrol that the sentry was supposed to make, but they did not run across the man who should have been patrolling. In bewilderment they stopped.

“This is very queer,” murmured the colonel. “What can have happened?”

Terry moved forward and struck his foot against something soft. Without loss of time he dropped to his knees, feeling before him with his hands. The sharp intake of his breath drew their attention.

“What is it?” the colonel asked, quickly.

“Here is the sentry, tied up tighter than a bundle,” was the startling reply. “Something’s fishy around here.”

The others clustered around and a match was struck. They found Cadet Innes, the sentry, lying on his back, bound around with coarse but strong cord. He seemed to be all right otherwise, but perfectly speechless with a thick gag in his mouth. By the way his eyes snapped they judged that he had plenty to say. When the grunts of surprise were over they went to work and soon relieved him of the ropes and the gag.

“Be quiet, on your lives, men!” was his first word, after he had licked his dry lips. “The man who tied me up is in the camp, up to something.”

“Any idea who it was, Mr. Innes?” the colonel whispered.

“No, sir. A man all in black jumped me and did it in a hurry. Muzzled me with one hand and took away my gun with the other. It happened before the Officer of the Guard got around, in fact he is due here now.”

“You say the man went toward the camp?” was the colonel’s next question.

“Yes, sir, and he carried a can of kerosene with him,” was the startling reply. The others wasted not another minute, but jumped to their feet.

“Be very quiet as you approach the camp,” ordered the colonel, leading the way through the bushes toward the camp.

They approached silently and looked at the camp. It seemed deserted. Three fires showed up red before the tents, but the cadets were in their beds. On the other side of the camp the Officers of the Guard could be heard as he spoke shortly to a sentry. Otherwise there seemed to be no movement or life in the place.

Don reached over and pulled the colonel’s arm. Close to the supply wagons a darker shadow showed, and the faint sound of liquid bubbling out of a can could be heard. All of the hidden watchers caught the significance of it at once and crouched down to wait until the man should have come nearer them.

Then, something happened that changed their plans abruptly.

A match was struck. The flare of the tiny blaze showed a set, stern face. The man at the supply wagon bent forward with the match.

Cadet Vench was little. He was also fast and happened to be the nearest one to the stooping man. In three strides Vench left the shelter of the trees, sprang into the air, and landed like a monkey on the back of the man, who had started to straighten up at the sound of Vench’s steps. They both went down, the match dropped on some oil-soaked cloth, and a fierce blaze jumped up in a twinkling.

As Jim afterward said, he staked all on the size of his feet. He landed with both shoes on the cloth, snuffed the blaze out with a single stroke, and saved the supply wagons and the entire camp.

Now all was action. A sentry near by had fired the alarm. Vench and the unknown man were staging a furious wrestling match on the ground beside the wagons as the others dashed up and came to his help. Someone threw more fuel on the nearest fire, Major Rhodes ran up with his revolver in hand, and the whole camp, more or less dressed, came running after him. In the new light which the fire showed they saw Vench and the colonel drag the man to his feet.

“Just got you in time,” said the colonel, holding the man in a tight grip. “Am I right when I say your name is probably Maul?”

“Yes, my name is Jackson Maul,” was the reply, given in a deep voice. He gazed in haughty silence around at the gaping cadets.

“I’ll ask you to spend the rest of the night with us in our guard tent, Mr. Maul,” said the colonel, his revolver in his hand. “I may as well tell you that your ghost game is up, and the ghost of the Ridge safe in the county jail. I think you’ll find yourself in pretty heavy trouble for attempting to fire our camp.”

No reply was offered by the man who called himself Maul and they took him away, where a tent could serve as his place of imprisonment. Major Rhodes himself took the responsibility of watching him for the rest of the night. It was some time before the excited cadets went back to their beds. An examination showed them that the camp had been soaked in oil at a number of points, and had fire been applied to any of these places they would have been totally wiped out. It would have been a lucky thing if they had all escaped with their lives had the camp been fired.

On the following morning the man Maul was marched to Rideway and locked in jail with the man he had paid to play ghost. The full story now spread around the town and the Ridge people found out how they had been terrorized for years by the last of the Maul family in his effort to drive the Hydes away. With this capture of the two men the mystery of the ghost of Rustling Ridge came to an end, and from that time forward the inhabitants had nothing more to fear after dark. In time the two men and the clerk Rose were all given prison terms for mischief with malicious intent. The Hydes kept out of trouble from that time forward and the loud sheriff of the Ridge became softer in his speech, at least as long as the cadets were in the neighborhood. A number of the county newspapers gave high praise to the cadets and to Benson, the night telephone operator, for public-spirited duty.

Soon after these events the colonel called Rowen into his tent. He had been very much displeased with the conduct of the cadet, but as he reflected that things had now settled down, it would be wise to forget the whole thing, he felt sure. So he spoke mildly enough to the cadet, but he was surprised when the sulky one flared back at him.

“Never mind, Colonel Morrell, I don’t want to talk about anything!” was the astonishing statement. “I’m going home right away. Everything has been pushed against me during this whole encampment and I’m sick of it! I don’t want anything more to do with the cadet corps!”

“Very well, Mr. Rowen,” returned the colonel, still mildly. “You say everything has been pushed against you. But you would not believe Mercer’s word about the ghost starting the stampede. Now we have the word of the ghost himself that he started it and that Jim called out to him. Then, against orders, you took your revolver with you and shot it off at an improper time. Under those circumstances, do you still feel that you had everything against you on this camping trip?”

“I feel that I have had enough of this school and this trip,” said Rowen. “I guess I could have more fun with my own friends in a summer camp where a fellow didn’t have to do so much unnecessary work. I’m going home.”

Mr. Rowen did go home. No one was really sorry to see him go, for his surly temper had never made him popular in any way.

From that time onward the summer slipped along without unusual incident. It was a delightful and happy vacation, full of swinging action and invigorating fun, and when the time came to break camp all of the boys were a little bit sorry.

“Back to school again,” said Don, as they struck tents.

“Yes, and our time is getting limited,” said Terry, seriously. “We haven’t a whole lot more time left to us in our school life.”

“Right you are,” Jim agreed. “Next year Don will be senior captain of the school.”

Before the morning was over the cadet battalion was marching toward the school, leaving Rustling Ridge and its many exciting memories behind them.

The End


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