Under canvas; or, the hu.., p.3
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       Under Canvas; or, The Hunt for the Cartaret Ghost, p.3
 

          
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  CHAPTER II

  WHAT HAPPENED ON THE ROAD

  "HOLD her in, Toby!" George was heard to shout, as he floundered aroundin the midst of the gunny sacks, with the other two scouts straddlinghim half the time.

  "Whoop! we ain't in thuch a hurry ath all that, Toby. Get a grip on thelinth, Elmer, and help him pull. Oh! what a quack I got then on my head.I bet you I'll have a lump ath big ath a gooth egg! Quit clawing me,George; I can't help it if I do climb all over you. Look at the way thewagon thwings, would you?"

  Elmer did not need to be told that it was his duty to assist Tobycontrol the runaway animal. No matter what the cause of the beast'sstrange fright might turn out to be, their first business was to drag soheavily on the lines that Nancy would have to moderate her wild pace.

  Accordingly both of the boys pulled and sawed and jerked until the marewas made to come to a full stop. This occurred fully a mile away fromthe wayside grocery, which was long ago lost to sight behind severalbends in the road.

  "Jump out and hold her, some of you other fellows!" gasped Toby, shortof breath after his violent exertions.

  Chatz, George and Ted all hastened to obey. They had been tumbled aroundin the bed of the big wagon at such a lively rate that they were onlytoo glad of the chance to gain their feet. Held by a stout boy on eitherside the mare did not offer to run further, though still acting verystrangely.

  Elmer had once spent some time up on an uncle's ranch in NorthwestCanada; and knew a heap about horses. He had sometimes seen animals actthis way, and had before then guessed what might be the matter.

  "Hold her steady, everybody, and let me look around a little," was whathe called, as he jumped down, and began patting the sweaty back of thetrembling animal.

  A minute later and they heard him give an angry exclamation.

  "I thought as much," Elmer was saying, as he held up his hand; "lookwhat was fixed under her tail."

  "Say, that seems like a bunch of those nasty little sand spurs thatsting and poison like all get-out!" exclaimed George, and it might havebeen noticed that this time he showed no signs of his customary doubtingspirit.

  "Just what they are," Elmer went on to say, indignation in his wholemanner.

  "But how--when--where?" began Ted, when Chatz burst out with:

  "He did it, Elmer, that skunk of a McDowd. Must have thought it'd be afine way to pay back what he believed he owed the Hickory Ridge boys.The low-down coward, to hurt a hoss that way."

  "But why, he might have made some of us get thrown out, and hurt rightbad in the bargain!" exclaimed George, angrily.

  "Much he'd have cared for that," Toby panted; "and didn't I just think Iheard a silly laugh at the time Nancy started to rear up, and prancelike a crazy thing? That must a been Angus. And like as not he's doubledup back there right now laughing over seeing how we got thrown around inthe wagon because of his sand spur trick. For five cents I'd turnaround, and go back to give him the licking he needs."

  "Don't bother thinking about that," Elmer told him. "It was a meantrick, and I've known men to get a halter out on the plains for playingthat same game. But we got out of the hole without any damage, only toour feelings; so let's forget it."

  The others were usually swayed more or less by what Elmer thought ordid. He was a natural leader, and it had become second nature for theother scouts to look to him for advice, whenever an emergency arose.

  "Guess the poor frightened thing'll stand now, fellows, without holdingher any more," Toby suggested; "so climb back on your seat; and be morecareful next time how you let go your hold. It's a wonder none of yougot dumped out when you tilted over backward."

  Just as he said, the animal seemed to have partly recovered from hermad fright occasioned by the pain the little sharp-pointed burrsinflicted. Though still trembling, and acting in a skittish manner, shegave signs of being docile enough to be driven.

  The three scouts hastened to climb in at the back of the wagon, andafter securing the gunny sacks, as well as the large package belongingto Toby, they once more found seats for themselves. George and Chatz,however, it might be noticed, made sure to get a firm grip somewhere onthe side of the wagon; while Ted, being in the middle, threw an armaround each of his chums, as though he depended on them to sustain him,should another runaway occur.

  They were soon going along at a fair clip, though Toby had to "lean"pretty heavily on the lines in order to hold the big bay mare in, for hedid not think it advisable to let her have her head again. The next timeshe made such a mad spurt as that they might not find it so easy to gether to stop.

  "What d'ye reckon possessed that coward to play such a mean trick onus?" Toby wanted to know.

  "Oh! he had it in him, that's all, and when the chance came around hejust couldn't help himself," Elmer told him, for the Assistant ScoutMaster was somewhat of a philosophical boy, and able to figure outthings that might puzzle some of his tent mates.

  "Next time I see that Angus he'll hear my opinion of a sneak who couldplay a dirty trick like that!" continued the driver, vigorously.

  "Thame here!" chirped Ted. "And if he giveth me any thath I'll pull hithred noth for him, thee if I don't."

  "All I can say is, keep your eye out for sledge hammer punches if everyou go to pulling _his_ nose," warned George; "because he's a bornscrapper, and would as soon fight as eat."

  "Let's forget about that little affair," suggested Elmer; "no use cryingover spilt milk, and what's done can't be undone. Toby, suppose you tellus a little more about this nut grove up at the old Cartaret place;because if I remember rightly you said you'd been asking everybody allabout the estate."

  "Why, old Judge Cartaret, the rich man who built up the place, meaningto live there with his young and handsome wife, went crazy, they say,after he'd found her dead in her room. The mystery never was cleared up.To this day some people say she was murdered by a man she once promisedto marry before the millionaire judge came along; another lot seem tobelieve she committed suicide because the judge was so cruel, andwouldn't let her leave the place; and one man told me he always hadbelieved ever since he was a boy that the judge struck her down in a fitof passion. But of course those things don't cut any figure with us."

  "On the contrary," interrupted Chatz, who had been listening to allthese horrors with wide-open eyes, and a look of intense interest onhis dark face, "they strike me as being decidedly interesting, suh. If Ihad a chance I'd like to investigate this queer thing, and perhaps learnwhat did happen in that big house ever so many years ago."

  "But how about the nut treeth, Toby, did the judge plant the thame whenhe wath trying to make a thut-in paradith for that pretty bride ofhith?"

  "That's just what he did, boys, so they told me," Toby continued,readily consenting to be squeezed for information; "he planted a wholelot of chestnuts, walnuts and shell-bark hickories that have beengrowing for several dozen years. They're busting big trees, and justbreaking down with the finest crop ever known, and with never a singlefellow brave enough up to this time to go there and gather the harvest.Why, when I heard what that man had to say about it, I was fairly wildto be off. And believe me, boys, we'll make the eyes of the otherfellows stick out of their heads like fun when they see what an enormoussupply of nuts we've gathered for next winter around the fire. Yum! yum!I always did say that a plate of red-cheeked apples, a dish of freshpopped corn, and a pocketful of nuts beats all creation on a stormynight, winter times."

  "Believe it when I see it!" muttered skeptical George, who undoubtedlythought this wonderful harvest was too good to turn out to be true;after they had arrived on the ground, very probably it would only be tofind that the trees had been stripped of their burden of nuts by somehardy souls who did not place much credence in the stories of the ghostsaid to haunt the place; something was always on the eve of turning upto keep George from reaping success, it seemed.

  "No use talking," observed the disgusted Toby, "George never will beconvinced till he begins to load up the wagon with bags running overwit
h nuts. And even then he'll expect some white-sheeted ghost to stepup, and demand that we throw every one of the same back again where wefound them. You couldn't convince him of a single thing till he's had achance to prove it over and over again."

  "Learned that in school when I was doin' problems," George declared withone of his most exasperating grins; "which was why I always passed withsuch a high percentage in arithmetic and algebra. They said I'd make afine carpenter, because I'd always measure my boards again and againbefore I cut 'em, and that way there never'd be any mistakes about mysawing."

  "And a great carpenter you'd make, George," chuckled Toby; "why, you'dtake everlasting and a day just to get your foundation started. Thefolks would all die off waiting for you to finish your job. Acarpenter--whew! excuse me if you please from ever employing a mechanicwho spends all his time figgering out how things could be so and so."

  "But we must be within a mile or two of the place by now, fellows,"Elmer told them about that time, "so if you hold up a little we'll soonknow the worst or the best. I'm of the opinion myself that what Tobysays is going to turn out true; for nobody ever goes near the Cartaretplace these days. Lots of boys around home never even heard about it;and others couldn't be coaxed or hired to explore around a place theycall haunted."

  "Yes, I'm not the only silly believer in ghosts," Chatz told them,looking pleased at what Elmer had just said, "for misery always likescompany, and you'll remember, suh, how the sly old fox that had falleninto a well told the goat looking down that it was a lovely place todrop in; and when Billy had taken him at his word he hopped on thegoat's back and jumped out. But if I have half a chance I expect toprowl around more or less while we're up heah, and see if the storiesI've heard about this queer old rookery could ever have been true. Why,they even say the judge had the house built so that it was like a bigprison, or some sort of asylum."

  Chatz was full of his subject, and might have wandered on still further,once he got fairly started, only for a sudden movement on the part ofElmer. Sitting alongside the driver it was the easiest thing going forthat worthy to seize the reins and with a quick strain on the same bringthe mare to a full stop.

  "Why, what under the sun!" began the astonished Toby, when Elmer clappedhis hand over his mouth and immediately said:

  "Hush! be still! Look what's coming out of that side road ahead there!"and at the same time he pointed with his disengaged hand.

  All of the others hastened to do as he requested. There, in plain sight,though their own vehicle was partly hidden by the foliage still clingingto the bushes that jutted out at a bend of the road, was a two-horsewagon, containing four boys, in whom they readily recognized some of thetoughest elements around the town of Hickory Ridge.

  As the other wagon rattled into the main road, and went speedily onwithout the occupants once looking toward them, Elmer and his chumsexchanged troubled glances.

 
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