THE BLUE GHOST MYSTERY
A RICK BRANT SCIENCE-ADVENTURE STORY
BY JOHN BLAINE
BY GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC., 1960 NEW YORK, N. Y.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Printed in the United States of America
[Transcriber's Note: Extensive research did not discover a US copyright renewal]
I A SPOOKY INVITATION
II DEATH AT COSTIN'S CREEK
III THE BLUE GHOST
IV THE OLD MINE
V NIGHT ALARM
VI THE DARK PIT
VII THE FROSTOLA MAN
VIII PLAN OF ATTACK
IX THE SPLITTING ATOMS
X AN ASSIST FROM JANIG
XI THE GHOST REAPPEARS
XII THE DEAD WATER
XIII THE NIGHT WATCHERS
XIV THE COLD, COLD CLUE
XV THE MISSING FACTS
XVII IN DARKNESS
XVIII THE FIRST FACT
XIX THE FINAL FACT
XX DEATH OF A GHOST
List of Illustrations
There was no place the Blue Ghost could have gone
"See a way up, Rick?" Scotty called
"This calls for an expert," Rick said discouragingly
The timber had given way. They were trapped!
THE BLUE GHOST MYSTERY
A Spooky Invitation
Rick Brant moved with infinite care. With one hand he adjusted the focus of his microscope, while with the other he brought the sharp glass tip of the pipette into view. He released his thumb for a fraction of a second and let a drop of blue fluid flow into the field of view.
The microscopic monster shot out its defensive weapons, shuddered, and was still. For a moment Rick inspected his work, then sat back with a sigh. Staining microscopic animals was delicate work, but this specimen had turned out perfectly. At the instant the stain hit the animal, it had shot out its trichocysts, or stinging hairs. Rick hoped they would photograph. He needed a good picture for the science project on which he was working.
To rest his eyes he turned in his chair and looked out over the broad horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. It was a calm day, and the calmness was reflected in the leisurely pace of life on Spindrift Island. The famous island off the New Jersey coast, home of the Spindrift Scientific Foundation, had not always been so peaceful, Rick thought. Many scientific experiments of world importance had taken place, or had begun, in the long, low, gray laboratory buildings on the southeast corner of the island.
Most recently, Rick Brant and his pal Donald Scott, nicknamed Scotty, had taken part in an expedition to the Sulu Sea. The quiet, scientific survey of human and animal life in the area had begun on Spindrift Island, but had ended in a bloody fight on another island, in a far corner of the globe, as told in The Pirates of Shan.
Now, though, all was serene. The scientists were at work on reports, or teaching summer sessions at universities. No major experiments were in progress, and no expeditions were being planned.
Rick grinned. If he came right down to it, one reason for the peace and quiet was the absence of his sister Barbara. Barby, a year his junior, was visiting with the Millers, one of the island's scientific families, at their ancestral home in Virginia. Barby and Jan Miller had a way of making life somewhat frenzied, or at least less quiet than at present.
The sound of a fast-moving motorboat intruded on the quiet and Rick cocked an ear. It was one of the Spindrift boats, judging by the sound. That meant Scotty was returning from the mainland with the groceries and the mail.
Rick stood up and stretched luxuriously. He decided to walk down to the cove and meet Scotty. He could help carry the groceries. Besides, he hoped that Scotty would have a package for him from a biological supply house.
Rick's interest in microscopy had begun with Barby's present of a complete microscope set. It was a beauty, with magnifications up to three hundred times. It had its own light source, a substage illuminator, and even an "atomic energy" stage, which was actually a device for viewing the scintillations caused when radioactivity hit a sulfide screen.
Barby's gift was far more than a toy, and Rick promptly put it to work on a science project, in which he planned to compare the life cycles of two common microscopic animals, the paramecium and the rotifer. His laboratory was a table on the front porch of the big Brant house on Spindrift Island, because the ocean breeze made it a comfortable place to work, and because Barby's absence meant the porch wasn't cluttered with half the female population of Whiteside High School.
As Rick came within sight of the cove, Scotty was already docking. The husky ex-Marine threw a hitch over the dock cleat and jumped to the pier, waving excitedly as he saw Rick.
"Hey! Wait until you see what I have!"
Rick let his long legs carry him swiftly to meet the other boy. When Scotty got excited, something unusual was up. He called, "What is it?"
Scotty yelled, "We're going ghost hunting!"
Rick stopped in his tracks. He waited until Scotty was within normal voice range. "Come on into the house," he invited. "We'll get you some aspirin and put a wet towel on your head. The sun's got you, that's all."
The dark-haired boy shook his head vehemently. "Don't jump at conclusions in this heat, brother Brant. You'll get overheated. Just listen to what's in this letter."
Rick squinted against the glare. "Who's it from?"
"Barby and Jan."
Rick groaned. "Don't you know Barby's been gone on ghosts ever since she started watching that TV program on Sunday nights?"
"This is different," Scotty insisted. "But since you're such a skeptic, you can wait until we've hauled in the food. Come on, scientist. And unless you keep an open mind until you hear the evidence, we'll take your Junior Experimenter badge away."
Rick had to grin. There was justice in his pal's comment. "Okay, we'll play it your way. But the evidence had better be good!"
Mrs. Brant was in the kitchen when the boys arrived with the bags of groceries Scotty had brought. She recognized her daughter's handwriting immediately and pointed to the letter sticking out of Scotty's shirt pocket. "What's the news in Virginia?"
"Barby found a haunted house," Rick said with a grin. "Scotty's all excited."
"He's handing out bum dope, as usual," Scotty added. "He hasn't even read the letter." He grinned widely. "But I have. And he'll eat his words before we're through."
Rick fielded a can of tomatoes Scotty tossed at him and put it on the canned-goods shelf. "Never had indigestion from eating my words yet."
"This time," Scotty said happily, "we'll paint them on an oak plank before you start eating."
Mrs. Brant smiled. "Hurry up and get those bundles unpacked, you two. I want to hear about this mysterious business."
In a short time the three of them had stowed the week's supply of food, and Mrs. Brant produced fresh doughnuts and cold milk.
"Now," she said, "suppose you read the letter, Scotty."
Dr. Hartson Brant, Rick's dad and head of the island scientific foundation, came into the kitchen in time to hear the last remark. "Can I listen too?" he asked. "With milk and doughnuts to help, of course."
Rick personally poured the milk for his father and added doughnuts to the plate, just to save time. He couldn't admit it to Scotty, of course, but he was plenty curious in spite of his skepticism. He knew Scotty, and his pal wouldn't get excited over some silly business that Barby might write about.
Scotty produced the letter. "It's addressed to both Rick and me," he began, "and it's from both Barby and Jan. Shall I read?"
"Go on," Rick said impatiently, and had to bear Scotty's knowing grin. Scotty knew that Rick's bump of curiosity was the largest thing he owned.
"Okay. It starts with 'Dear Rick and Scotty.'"
"Interesting," Rick said. "Unusual."
"Uh-uh. Quiet, please. It goes on, 'You must come at once, both of you, because we have a ghost here. I know Rick will think I'm silly, but it's true.' And Jan put in a sentence in her own handwriting at this point that says, 'Barby is right. It's not only true, it's unbelievable.'"
Scotty continued. "'We heard about the ghost first thing we arrived, from Mr. Belsely, the Millers' tenant farmer. Of course we didn't believe it, but last night we went to a picnic at the Old Mine Campground, and we saw it too! Honestly, we're still both lumpy with goose pimples. It was just ghastly, but it was kind of romantic, too. If Dr. and Mrs. Miller hadn't been along, I don't think we'd have believed we had really experienced such a thing. But they saw it, too, and Dr. Miller says he has never heard of anything like it.'"
Rick waited for more, scarcely breathing for fear of missing a word.
"'So you had better come right away,'" Scotty read on. "'You can fly down and land right at the Millers'. We have shown on the map where to land, and we will put out white towels to make a panel so you can see us from the air. Please hurry. Barby and Jan."
"Sounds pretty urgent," Hartson Brant said with interest. "Anything else?"
"Yes, sir. There's a postscript from Dr. Miller. He says, 'The girls were pretty excited when they wrote the above, and with excellent reason. Apparently this apparition appears fairly often. A number of townfolk have seen it. I don't know what you can do, unless your ingenuity can produce a super spook catcher, but you will enjoy tackling this problem. It is worthy of your best effort. Mrs. Miller and I heartily endorse the girls' invitation."
Rick took a deep breath. "I'll eat my words," he agreed. "Even if you inscribe them in deathless bronze, as the poet says. How about that, Dad? Dr. Miller isn't the excitable type, but he was pretty strong in his statements."
The scientist, who looked like an older version of his tall son, nodded agreement and stoked his pipe thoughtfully. "The letter was obviously written in haste, because neither the girls nor Walter took time for a description. What about it? Think you'll go?"
Scotty spoke emphatically. "I'm going. But I'm not sure Rick can get his nose out of that microscope."
"No need," Rick said, grinning. "I'll just take it with me. Besides, I might pick up a new species or two in Virginia."
Scotty sighed. "Ever since you got that mike from Barby we've seen practically nothing of you but the top of your head."
Rick's mother spoke up. "I agree with Scotty, Rick. I know how anxious you are to do a good job on your project, but you've been at it for weeks now. Your eyes need a rest even if the rest of you doesn't."
"Don't worry, Mom," Rick said. "After that endorsement from Dr. Miller, chains couldn't keep me from going to Virginia. After all, what's a collection of microscopic animals compared to a genuine, one hundred per cent dyed-in-the-ectoplasm spook?"
Death at Costin's Creek
Scotty checked the map and examined the terrain below. "That's Manassas," he confirmed. "Swing to the south now, on a bearing of 183 degrees."
Rick banked the Sky Wagon onto a new course, then settled down to locate the landmarks Barby and Jan had noted on the road map enclosed with their letter.
The Sky Wagon had, until recently, been equipped with pontoons for water landing. Rick had outfitted it originally for a skin-diving trip to the Virgin Islands, an adventure now known as The Wailing Octopus. The pontoons were so useful that he had left them on, until his new science project had made it necessary to go back and forth between Newark and the island for consultation with a laboratory in the city. He was glad now that he had changed back to wheels. It had made it possible for him and Scotty to leave the morning after Barby's urgent letter arrived.
The four-seater plane was actually Rick's second. The first, his beloved Cub, had been bought and paid for by his own efforts, serving as taxi for the scientists and as the island's shopping service. When the Cub was wrecked, as described in Stairway to Danger, the reward for capture of a criminal and his loot had made it possible to buy a larger and more powerful plane.
Rick consulted his watch. "We must be pretty nearly there."
"We are," Scotty confirmed. He consulted the map again. "There's the cluster of buildings on top of the mountain Barby circled. It's either a weather station or a radar installation. Start losing altitude after we go over it. The town of Lansdale should be in sight by then."
Scotty's navigation proved excellent as usual. Shortly after passing the mountaintop Rick saw the town, obviously a very small one, and immediately swung slightly north again. The glint of water caught his eye and he said excitedly, "There's Costin's Creek. It has to be. No other water in sight."
He lost altitude rapidly, finally leveling off a thousand feet above the creek. Scotty, peering ahead, saw the ground signal first. "There's the panel of white towels, ahead and to the right, on my side. Swing and you'll see it."
Rick did so. He spotted the panel at once, with four figures standing next to it. In a moment they were in plain sight, waving as the plane passed overhead. Rick did a wing over that took the plane back over the area. This time he watched the terrain carefully, while Scotty did the same.
"Looks good," Rick said. "See any rough spots?"
"Nope. It's a hayfield, fresh cut, from the looks of it. Should be okay. The leaves on the trees across the creek aren't moving, so wind shouldn't be a problem."
"Okay. Here we go." Rick turned into his landing pattern, losing altitude rapidly. The field was a big one, so he had plenty of room. In a moment the Sky Wagon touched down, bumping only a little as it rolled across the field. He taxied to where the girls and the Millers were waiting, and killed the engine.
Barby and Jan were up on the wing before the boys had a chance even to unbuckle seat belts. Both girls were obviously excited, and both started to talk the moment Rick opened the cabin door.
He looked from one to the other trying to make sense out of the stream of words. Barby's blue eyes sparkled, as did Jan's brown ones. Both were intent on having their say, and as a result, the boys understood neither.
Not until hands had been shaken all around did the excited chatter of the girls begin to make sense. Apparently the very field where the boys had just landed was haunted. The ghost had walked this ground on more than one occasion, the latest being last night, with dogs howling and men running from the ghostly sight.
Dr. Miller finally quieted the two down. "Let's tell our tale in good order, or we'll simply confuse our visiting detectives. Come on, boys. Let's go to the house. We have some lunch waiting."
The boys collected their bags, then set up the plane's alarm system. It consisted of an electrified fence that would set off a loud klaxon horn if touched. The plane itself would also trigger the alarm if touched. The alarm could be stopped only by inserting the key in the locked door.
As the group walked from the plane to the Miller house, Rick checked his impressions with the view from the air. The house, and the field on which he had landed, were on the north side of the creek. A half mile below the house, the dirt road leading to the Miller farm crossed the creek on an old military Bailey bridge. Across the creek the road vanished into a forest that came right down to the creek's edge.
Rick knew from his overhead view that the forest was only a hundred yards wide along the creek. Beyond it were more fields, interspersed with patches of trees and a few uncultivated areas that were too rocky for farming.
It was a lovely countryside, and Rick enjoyed it. The Miller house was in an orchard on which a bumper crop of Virginia apples already was in evidence.
The house itself had once been a large farmhouse. The Millers had remodeled it, keeping the charm of the old while adding the convenience of the new. Rick felt at home right away, and he saw that Scotty did, too.
Over an excellent lunch of charcoal-broiled hamburgers, salad, and iced tea, Dr. Miller asked, "Who's going to tell the tale?"
Both girls started talking at once. Mrs. Miller, an attractive, stylish woman, raised her hands. "Please! Jan, suppose you start with the history of the ghost. Then, Barby, you take over and tell what we saw the other night."
"All right, Mother," Jan began. "The ghost isn't new, you see. We've had a blue ghost here for centuries!"
Rick's eyebrows went up. "A blue ghost?"
"Yes. You'll see why in a moment. Anyway, we all knew about the ghost, sort of, and some people were supposed to have seen it. Only it was the kind of story where you never met anyone who had actually seen the ghost. There were only people who knew people who knew people who had seen the ghost. If you follow me?"
Rick grinned. "We do."
Jan's dark eyes sparkled. "Then, just before we came down from Spindrift, over a hundred people saw the ghost, and it was just as the legend tells."
Scotty asked, "So this isn't just any old ghost, it's a legendary one?"
Jan nodded. "We even know its name. It's Seth Costin. He's the one that the creek was named for. But I'm getting ahead of myself. You see, this region was a battleground in the Civil War. Mosby's Raiders spent a lot of time around here. Well, when the war turned against the South, a squadron of Union cavalry came down under Captain Seth Costin, and they got into a battle with some of Jeb Stuart's men right in our orchard and field. They fought up and down the creek, with the South trying to keep the Union from crossing. Finally, Captain Costin crossed, but the creek was red with blood, the story goes."
"A real gory legend," Scotty murmured.
Both Jan and Barby glared at him. "Sorry," he muttered contritely.
"It's a very romantic story," Barby said tartly.
Rick and the Millers suppressed smiles.
"Anyway," Jan went on, "the creek has been known as Costin's Creek ever since. Well, Captain Costin quartered his men in the town. You know how it was. He stayed at the home of Squire Lansdale, who was by then a Confederate general. The squire had a daughter, whose name was Ellen, and she was perfectly beautiful. The squire also had two sons, who were a little too young for joining the Army, but not too young to cause trouble."
Rick could see where the story led. He asked, "Was Captain Costin a handsome young man, by any chance?"
"He most certainly was," Jan said emphatically. "He was terribly romantic. Wait until you see him."
Rick could hardly wait, but he didn't comment.
"Of course the captain and Ellen fell in love."
Rick could imagine.
"But along came Jeb Stuart's whole cavalry and they pushed Captain Costin's squadron all the way back to Manassas, and then they occupied the area. But Captain Costin couldn't stand not seeing his Ellen, so he somehow got a message to her, to meet him at the mine."
It was the first Rick had heard of a mine. He asked, "Can I ask a question? Where is this mine and what kind is it?"
"The mine is right across the creek, just beyond the bridge," Jan explained. "We could see it from here if the trees weren't there. Anyway, it's where the town picnic ground is located now, on our property, partly. It used to be a lead mine, and during the Civil War a lot of Southern bullets came from there."
From Jan's tone of voice, Rick suspected that her sympathies were with the lost Southern cause, which was natural enough, since her ancestry was pure Virginian for several generations.
"The mine wasn't worked on Sunday, in those days, and Captain Costin asked Ellen to meet him on a Sunday night at nine o'clock. Well, the Lansdale boys somehow found out where their sister was going, and they went, too. And they shot down Captain Costin in cold blood, right at the mine entrance. Just when he was holding out his arms to greet his sweetheart!"
Jan obviously didn't like this part of the legend, Rick thought.
"So that's how the ghost began," Jan concluded. "After making his way through practically the whole Confederate cavalry, he was shot down at our mine before he could even say hello to her! No wonder he haunts the place!"
"How about all the soldiers killed in the fighting?" Scotty asked, straight-faced. "Don't they haunt the place, too?"
"We've heard that some people have seen more than one ghost," Jan said, "but we don't credit secondhand stories much. We only saw the captain."
Rick must have looked pretty incredulous, he suspected, because Barby gave him an accusing glance and stated flatly, "And we did see the captain, Rick Brant! Didn't we?"
The Millers all nodded. "Tell them," Mrs. Miller suggested.
Barby picked up the tale. "We were all invited to a cook-out the other night. It was given by the Lansdale Garden Club and Mrs. Miller is a member. I guess it's planned long in advance, so they couldn't call it off or go somewhere else, so it was held. There must have been at least fifty people there."
Rick made a mental note to ask for elaboration of Barby's statement about canceling the event or holding it somewhere else.
"The barbecue pits are close to the old mine entrance, where the ghost always appears because that's where the captain was shot. Anyway, everything went well until nearly nine, and that was when we all began to get nervous."
Shot at nine, reappears at nine, Rick guessed. Strange ghost. Usually apparitions are supposed to appear at midnight.
"I didn't really expect anything," Barby went on, "because who believes in ghosts anyway?" She shuddered. "At least I didn't then. But at nine someone let out a scream, and we looked, and there was a white mist rising above the mine, and then the Blue Ghost appeared right in the mist, and it was awful." She ran out of breath and paused.
"It really was," Mrs. Miller said quietly. "Go on, Barby."
"Well, the ghost was a handsome young officer in a blue uniform, the Civil War kind. And he held out his hands, and he looked so ... so appealing. And then he suddenly put his hands on his chest, and when he pulled them away they were all ... all bloody."
Barby gulped. Rick shot a quick glance at the Millers. They were nodding. So all had seen the same thing, then.
"Anyway, he faded away then, and only the white mist was left. But honestly, it was ... well, it was so real! And the whole thing was blue, sort of, except for the ... the blood. That was red." Barby finished whitely, "It kind of broke up the picnic."
Rick could imagine. Great galloping ghouls! What had happened? He couldn't believe the ghost was real, but Barby and the Millers were obviously convinced.
"Incredible," Scotty muttered. "That's some yarn!"
Rick agreed. "I want to see this Blue Ghost," he stated.
Dr. Miller smiled. "You both look rather doubting. I must admit that I don't believe in ghosts. My entire scientific training rejects the explanation. But let me assure you, we saw a genuine apparition just as Barby described it, and I can offer no reasonable hypothesis. I have thoroughly inspected the area, and there is no physical evidence I have been able to see."
Rick digested this statement. His first thought, of course, had been that the ghost was somehow man-made. He still didn't reject the idea, but Dr. Miller's comments made it clear that the source of the ghost at least wasn't obvious.
"When do we see this ghost?" Rick asked.
Dr. Miller replied, "How about tonight?"
A sudden chill of premonition wormed its icy way up Rick's spine. "That will be fine," he said shakily.
The Blue Ghost
Rick, Scotty, Barby, Jan, and the Millers walked leisurely along the slow-moving creek, down the dirt road to the old Bailey bridge. They passed the Sky Wagon and its protecting alarm system, and Rick wondered humorously to himself if the alarm would warn of spirits or only of humans.
The sun had set only minutes before and the sky was still tinged with red. Rick noted that the waters of the creek picked up the color, and for a moment his active imagination peopled the empty fields with blue and gray cavalrymen locked in mortal combat. He could almost hear the thunder of hoofs, the excited neighing of the mounts, even the solid sound of a heavy saber meeting yielding flesh. He shivered. After all, it had been like that for a brief period many years ago.
Scotty moved to his side. "This is the oddest ghost-hunting expedition I've ever been on. No equipment but a flashlight. Not even an electronic spook spotter."
Rick nodded agreement. "Too true. But any experienced ghost grabber knows that you can catch a sackful with only a flashlight and a pair of shoestrings."
"Why the shoestrings?"
"You tie their ectoplasm together top and bottom and they're trapped in it. Like a burlap bag."
The boys had been bringing up the rear of the little procession and the others had not heard the soft-spoken exchange. Rick was just as glad. Weak jokes somehow didn't fit. It was the very lack of preparation, the simple walk after dinner to see the ghost, that made it all somehow very convincing. The Millers, both quiet people, were never much at small talk, but both girls were chatterers. Yet, even the girls were quiet.
"They know," Rick thought. "They know what we're going to see. They're awed and a little frightened, but they're leading us to it, even knowing how it will be. Scotty and I are the ignorant ones. The others feel the weirdness and we don't."
He lengthened his stride and joined the Millers. "Sir, how can you be so sure we'll see the apparition tonight?"
"One can't be sure, of course. But so far as we have heard, the apparition hasn't missed a public gathering in a month. There will be one tonight, a service-club outing from over in Manassas."
"They must not be afraid of the ghost," Rick commented.
"They may not have heard of it," Mrs. Miller explained. "I don't believe any newspaper has carried a story, so word of mouth would be the only way of knowing."
"Or perhaps they have heard but couldn't cancel it," Dr. Miller added. "That's the case with most of the affairs now being held at the grounds. A great number have been called off. Only those scheduled far in advance with lots of guests are still going on, simply because it's too difficult to change them."
Scotty asked, "Then the ghost is having an effect?"
"Definitely. At this time of year the grounds are usually one of the most popular places around. Families come for cook-outs, and the kids swim in the creek. Clubs hold their outings almost every night, sometimes two or three groups at once. But since the ghost came people are staying away, except for the affairs that would be difficult or awkward to cancel or change."
That was what Barby had meant, Rick thought. He asked, "Is this a public park of some kind?"
"No indeed," Dr. Miller answered. "We own part of it, and a family named Hilleboe owns part. But it's not used for anything and we've never objected to the public using it. The local Boy Scout troops have taken on the job of keeping it clean as a regular project, and most people are careful. It's no trouble for us."
Rick glanced at his watch. It was getting dark rapidly now, and the apparition was due in fifteen minutes. The bridge was just ahead. They were in plenty of time.
"Strange," he thought. "The ghost of Captain Seth Costin, late of the Union Army, probably the Army of the Potomac, will perform for all comers promptly at nine. 'We regret there can only be one performance each evening.' Or was that true? Had anyone stayed to see? Maybe the obliging phantom performed every hour on the hour during darkness."
He shook his head as though to clear it of cobwebs. This didn't check with any ghost story he had ever heard. No holding hands around a table, no incantations or strange phrases in forgotten languages, no incense, no nothing. It was bum theater.
The group crossed the bridge and entered the trees, still following the dirt road. Rick saw that the road forked, one branch going to town, the other to the picnic area. The trees around them were huge oaks, and almost certainly most of them had been healthy and along in years when Seth Costin fought among them.
Rick enjoyed the feeling of history, of a definite past. He resolved to do a little reading on the area.
Barby and Jan, who had been walking boldly in the van, dropped back now and the group seemed to huddle more closely together. There were voices among the trees, and here and there the glow of a fire. Then the edge of the tree belt was reached and the group stopped.
There was a clearing beyond the tree belt, and in the clearing were rough-hewn tables and benches. Beyond the clearing a grassy hill rose gently to an upland meadow, except for a section that rose sharply for nearly a hundred feet.
The upthrusting section was barren of grass, and at its base, boards were nailed across what was obviously the opening into the mine.
"Interesting formation, isn't it?" Dr. Miller asked.
It definitely was, and Rick said so. Even to his relatively untrained eye, this was a place where a volcanic fissure had opened ages ago, allowing igneous rock to thrust sharply upward through the sedimentary layers of the older ground. Now the formation had weathered until it was like a barren hill built on top of a fertile one. On the steep slope of igneous rock no grass had managed to get hold, although a few hardy weeds clung to it.
Barby pointed to a shelf, actually a terrace in the rock structure, above and a few yards to the left of the mine entrance. "He appears there," she said.
"Let's get a good position," Rick urged. "It's almost nine."
The sky was still blue in color, but it was already dark on the ground. Fires flared up brightly, but the picnickers were hushed, as though they knew what was coming. They probably had not seen the ghost, and it was likely few believed they would see anything, but the unknown casts a strong web, and they were feeling its effects.
The Spindrifters moved along through groups of picnickers until they were directly opposite the old mine shaft, and took up positions in the shelter of an oak tree.
"There's a pool of water on top of that shelf," Dr. Miller told the boys. "It's from a spring, actually an artesian well. There's a pipe outlet up there from which water flows constantly. It collects in the pool, which overflows into a natural drainage ditch."
The scientist pointed to where the tiny stream made its way down the hillside and disappeared among the trees. "Over the years it has cut a natural channel to the creek. So far as anyone can remember, it has always been here. The pipe was replaced a few years ago, apparently by driving a new one into the hillside. The original well probably was driven during the Civil War."
Rick examined the terrain. "Odd, water coming out of a hillside like that, especially when the hillside isn't part of a mountain."
"The water comes off the Blue Ridge, and it develops a pretty good head of pressure in its underground channels. Whoever drove the original well simply tapped that hydrostatic head, although why they didn't drive the well at this level is beyond me."
A sudden scream from nearby brought the conversation to an abrupt end. Rick turned in time to see a spout of water vapor, or something that made a white cloud, rise from the place where Dr. Miller had said the pool was located.
Rick felt a chill run through him and the short hairs on the nape of his neck bristled in a reaction older than the race of man. "You've got to keep calm," he warned himself sternly. "Be objective. Don't miss a thing!"
Scotty let out a low whistle, and Rick suddenly felt Barby's fingers biting into his arm. For, through the white rising mist, there came an officer in Union blue, and from under the broad cavalry hatbrim, piercing eyes looked straight at them.
Rick swallowed hard. He was vaguely aware of the terrified scurry around him as most of the picnickers departed as fast as their legs would carry them.
The apparition extended hands, as though in welcome to a loved one. The youthful, handsome face smiled.
Rick shook his head to clear it. This couldn't be happening! The apparition was faintly blurred, as though by the writhing of the mists in which he appeared, but details were clear enough. Rick could see the smile vanish suddenly, and shock replace it. He could see the gauntleted hands suddenly clasped to the chest, see red spurt from between the gloved fingers.
Jan Miller let out a long-drawn, soft, shuddering sound from between clenched teeth. Barby's fingers clamped tighter on her brother's arm.
Rick fought to shake off the feeling of horror and dread. "There aren't any ghosts," he tried to tell himself. "This isn't a ghost. There are no ghosts."
Except that he was looking at one!
The apparition began to fade, holding out bloody hands. The phantom officer swayed a little, and the young face was distorted with agony. It grew dimmer and dimmer until only the white mist remained.
Rick was aware of Barby's soft sobs next to him, but his eyes remained riveted on the white mist.
A yell from Scotty snapped him out of his reverie.
"Let's go, boy!"
Without quite knowing how it happened, Rick found himself next to his pal, climbing frantically up the rocky slope to the shelf, hurrying to catch the Blue Ghost before even the mist vanished!
Not even bothering to draw themselves to an upright position, the boys flung themselves forward into the rapidly vanishing mist. Rick felt with horror a thin, icy tendril curl around his face, and he heard a gentle bubbling sound, like phantom laughter.
Scotty's flashlight probed with a bright yellow beam, and Rick saw, in the instant before the mist vanished and all movement ceased, that the surface of the pool boiled gently and then was quiet.
The flashlight beam disclosed solid rock, broken only by the pipe from which water trickled.
There was no ghost.
There was no place he could have gone.
There was no sign of human handiwork.
The Old Mine
Rick, Scotty, and the two girls stood in silence and surveyed the scene before them. They stood on the brow of the hill, looking down at the picnic ground, at the trees under which they had stood and watched a hair-raising apparition the night before.
Even in daylight the place somehow seemed eerie to Rick. The sun was shining brightly and birds came and went without fear or interference on their normal business of gathering food. A slight breeze ruffled the foliage of the oak trees.
It was a fine, normal Virginia summer day, with no trace of the supernormal or weird about it. Yet, Rick felt somewhat less than relaxed, and he certainly felt puzzled.
Directly below them the pool created by the flow of spring water glistened in the sunlight. Between their feet and the pool was solid rock, with only a few weeds struggling for life in an occasional crack.
"This is going to be a tough nut to crack," Rick stated. "Look at that rock wall. Obviously, we'd have seen anything living that tried to climb down it, even in the darkness. If anyone had been standing up here, he'd have been silhouetted against the sky."
"There was no one on the hill last night," Scotty said positively. "I looked at every inch of it."
Barby listened to the exchange with an exasperated expression on her face. "Can't you two believe the evidence of your own eyes? The Blue Ghost appeared right under where we're standing. You can see for yourselves that nothing could be hidden by anyone to make a ghost appear. Besides, it was too real to be a trick."
"It was a ghost," Jan Miller said with quiet conviction. "Everyone has always known there was a ghost here."
Scotty shook his head. "Everyone has always known there were ghosts in a hundred places, if you want to consider all the folklore about spooks. A few people have even claimed to have seen one. But who ever heard of a haunt that put on nightly performances?"
"You have now," Barby said flatly.
"Maybe," Rick said. He didn't know why he was still skeptical. The apparition had been really blood-curdling in its apparent realness, but he still wasn't ready to buy a supernatural explanation.
Jan Miller replied with an appropriate quote from William Shakespeare. "There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamed of in thy philosophy, Horatio Brant!"
Rick grinned. "That's true. No one knows better than I how ignorant I am. I can only say that I'm trying to learn. Let's climb down and look at the pool."
He led the way down the rocky slope to where the rusted iron pipe jutted from the side of the Hill, a thin trickle of water dripping constantly into the pool below. The pool was actually a catch basin in the rock.
Rick examined the pipe. It was ordinary, rusted but still sound. It held no secrets that he could see. He held his mouth under it and tasted the water. It was cold and good, typical spring water, with the taste of minerals in it. He knew from Dr. Miller that it was good to drink. Picnickers used it regularly.
"Expect evidence to float out with the water?" Barby asked.
"Never can tell," Rick said, unperturbed. His sister, even more than Jan Miller, was an incurable romantic. If the ghost turned out to be something other than the pitiful shade of Captain Costin, she would be bitterly disappointed, Rick knew.
He got down on his knees, Scotty beside him, and they probed in the water of the rocky basin with their hands. There was a layer of brown algae in the bottom, which was to be expected. It looked dead, but when Rick scraped it, there was green underneath the brown.
Scotty took out his jackknife and probed with the largest blade. Clearly, there was nothing in the basin but a solid rock bottom.
The boys' eyes met. "The pool bubbled a little last night," Rick recalled.
Scotty nodded. "I saw it, too. But there's nothing there to make it bubble."
Jan Miller shuddered. "I almost died when you two idiots scrambled up here. You went right into that awful mist!"
Rick remembered the icy tendril that had curled around his face and a little chill went through him. "It was cool," he said. "At least the Blue Ghost isn't warm. Maybe he's blue with cold."
Scotty used his jackknife to probe at cracks in the rocky hillside. It was seamed with them, but he found nothing unusual. "I give up," the dark-haired boy said, his face showing his bewilderment. "There's absolutely nothing here. So where did the ghost come from?"
"Where does any ghost come from?" Rick asked. "Same place." Their inspection should have settled it, but he wasn't ready to quit yet. To give up would mean admitting that the Blue Ghost was really a spook. He might have to admit it eventually, but not until all avenues of investigation were closed.
"Now what?" Scotty asked.
"Let's look around some more."
Barby thought this was nonsense and let them know it. "You two can prowl around all you want to," she said. "But I'm not going to get an overdose of sun spook hunting on the rocks. Coming, Jan?"
"Lunch at noon sharp," Jan reminded the boys. "We'll go help Mother. Good luck."
Rick and Scotty watched them go, then sat down next to the pool.
"What's on your mind?" Scotty asked.
Rick shrugged. "Nothing. I haven't the ghost of an idea about this ghost."
"It was pretty real," Scotty remembered.
"Too true." It was so real that Rick almost believed in it. But he was bothered by a vague feeling that something was wrong.
"Look, Scotty. I've read plenty of ghost stories, and I've read the book by Charles Fort that Dad has in the library. Nothing was ever said about this kind of ghost. I mean, a ghost that went in for public appearances promptly at nine whenever he had an audience. Of course, there's no rule that says a ghost has to behave in any definite way, but this is too ... well, it's too perfect, if you know what I mean."
"I do. It's almost like a show, isn't it?"
"That's it. It's a performance more than an appearance, if there's any distinction. The ghost did exactly what he's been doing. Same act."
Scotty grinned. "Why not? The act is part of the legend, and it's a pretty convincing one."
Rick cocked an eyebrow at him. "Whose side are you on? The ghost's or mine?"
"I have an open mind," Scotty explained.
The phrase rang a bell in Rick's head. Open mind—open mine. Could there be some connection between the abandoned mine and the ghost? After all, the shaft was almost under them. He broached the idea to Scotty.
His pal rose. "Nothing like finding out. Are you for it?"
"I'm for it. Can we get in?"
"We'll soon see."
The boys scrambled down the hill and inspected the entrance. Boards had been nailed across the timbered opening, but the nails were rusted and the boards weathered. They could get in simply by pulling the boards loose.
"How about light?" Scotty asked. "We didn't bring a flashlight."
"We can do that later. Right now let's take a look at the entrance. That will tell us if there has been any traffic around."
The boards came off easily with the screech of old nails pulling loose. In a few moments enough boards were pulled away to allow them to enter on hands and knees. A top board was pulled off to admit light, and they went in together, inspecting the ground closely.
"No sign of visitors," Scotty said. "Look at the dust. It hasn't been disturbed for a half century."
Rick thought his pal probably was right about the length of time. The dust was fine, and thick. No human tracks disturbed it, but the boys saw the delicate tracery where a small animal, probably a field mouse or a chipmunk, had left his spoor.
The tunnel was about eight feet high and wide enough for three people to walk abreast. Probably the lead ore had been taken out in carts when the mine was in use.
The shaft went straight in, past the range of light filtering in from the entrance. Nowhere was there a sign of human occupancy or activity, except for the ancient marks on the tunnel walls made by tools in the hands of miners long dead.
"Nothing here," Rick said, and his voice was lost in the emptiness of the shaft.
Scotty grunted. "Another dead end. Okay, where did the ghost come from?"
Rick didn't know. He couldn't even imagine. He puzzled over it as they walked outside, then suddenly snapped his fingers. "Did you see any sign of water in there? Or a pipe?"
"No. It was dry. No pipes. Why?"
"How was the original artesian well driven? Right into the hillside? If so, why didn't the mine tunnel strike water?"
Scotty scratched his chin. "Now that you mention it, I haven't the faintest idea. Have you?"
"Negative. I can't ever remember having so few ideas. But it's strange. We'll have to ask Dr. Miller about it."
"Maybe the answer is deeper in the mine," Scotty replied. "Let's go back and see."
Rick reminded him that they had no lights. "I suppose we could make torches out of junk from the trash cans."
"Easy, if we can find some newspapers."
There were several trash cans spotted around the picnic area, and it was indicative of the kind of neat people in the vicinity that they were used. There was no litter.
The second can yielded two entire newspapers, one a bulky edition of a Washington paper, the other a ten-page local sheet. The boys split the papers evenly, then rolled them tightly. They frayed one end with a jackknife to make the torch.
"Got a match?" Rick asked.
Scotty looked at him blankly, then grinned. "No, have you?"
"No match, no flint or steel, no ... hey, wait! I've got a pocket lens!"
Rick's enthusiasm for microscopy had extended to the purchase of a twelve-power pocket lens to supplement the microscope Barby had given him. The pocket lens was used for examining specimens before taking them home for closer scrutiny under the more powerful instrument. Rick had not yet gotten used to carrying the small lens and had forgotten it until the need for a burning glass arose.
He took the lens from his watch pocket and unfolded it from the protective metal case. It focused the sun's rays to a pinpoint of intense light and heat, and the charred paper then burst into a tiny flame. Rick blew the flame into life, then put his lens back for safekeeping.
"Nothing like the scientific method," he told his pal. "Who needs matches? Come on. Let's burn that ghost out of there."
Scotty grinned. "Nothing like luck," he corrected. "Okay, I'm right behind you."
They retraced their steps into the mine. Rick noted as they went through the entrance that the old mine timbers were pretty well rotted through. He guessed that the mine had been boarded up because it was unsafe. He and Scotty would have to be careful.
In a few moments they were in deep gloom, only the smoky, fitful flicker of Rick's torch giving them light enough to see by. The newspaper wasn't burning very well, probably because he had rolled it too tightly. They could see only a trace of daylight.
The old shaft turned at nearly right angles where a geological fault had forced the Civil War miners to change directions in order to follow the vein of good ore. The turn cut off most of the light, except for the waning flicker of Rick's torch. Scotty hurriedly held his own torch to the flame to light it.
Rick was never sure what happened at that point, whether Scotty's torch pushed too hard and extinguished his own, or whether a sudden icy wind blew through the mine shaft. He knew only that they were instantly in darkness, while faraway ghostly laughter echoed in their ears!
Rick lathered a hot dog with mustard and took a satisfying bite. It was a down-to-earth hot dog with no mystery, no eerieness about it, for which he was grateful. He hadn't admitted it, but the incident in the mine had shaken him.
Dr. Miller passed the milk pitcher to Rick, then asked, "Are you certain you heard laughter? It wasn't a trick of the wind?"
"I'm sure it was laughter," Barby said solemnly. "Captain Costin was laughing at mortals who dared to enter his tomb."
Rick glanced at his sister, hoping she was joking. She wasn't. "I'm not certain," he admitted. "It all happened at once. I mean, the torch went out, there was a sort of sudden breeze, and we got out of there into the daylight."
He had a mental image of he and Scotty executing that ancient and honorable maneuver known as getting out of there! They had reached the mine entrance in a dead heat, probably breaking several world's records for foot racing.
"We didn't stop to listen," he added with some embarrassment. "We just got."
"Well, I should think so!" Jan Miller said vehemently. "It's a wonder your hair didn't turn white."
Scotty raised a hand and ruffled his dark crewcut. "Didn't it?" he asked ruefully. "I took it for granted that it had."
Dr. Miller chuckled. "Put on a few more hot dogs," he called to his wife. "These boys need nourishment. They've been through an ordeal." To Rick and Scotty he said seriously, "You needn't be embarrassed. The fear of the unknown, combined with the fears we have of closed places, almost complete darkness, and our own physiological reactions to the unexpected make us do our thinking with our legs instead of our heads in some situations."
It was neatly put. Rick acknowledged the scientist's statement. "It isn't as though we had been scared away for good. We're going back, equipped with lights a ghost can't blow out."
"And I'm certain you'll find nothing but an abandoned shaft," Dr. Miller replied. "After all, the dust showed no sign of human occupancy, you said."
"Ghosts don't leave tracks," Barby murmured.
Scotty accepted another hot dog from Mrs. Miller. "Thank you. Look, everyone, we can make two assumptions. Either that the ghost is real, in which case we call in the Society for Psychic Phenomena, or that the ghost is a man-made thing, in which case we search for the man."
"I'm still not buying assumption number one," Rick stated flatly. "My hair may be white, or close to it, and I'm ready to admit that the apparition is a mighty convincing spook, but I don't really feel it's a ghost."
Jan Miller spoke up. "Rick's hunches are pretty good. If he doesn't believe in the ghost, it isn't just because he's a doubting Thomas. I think the boys should go ahead with their investigation on the assumption that the ghost is caused by someone."
Barby shook her head, more in sorrow than in anger. "I thought you had more faith than that, Jan."
"It isn't a question of faith," Jan explained. "It's a question of where you start. If we start by accepting the ghost as real, there's nothing we can do. Anyway, we invited the boys down to try to solve a mystery, didn't we? I guess that proves we didn't truly believe in the ghost."
Rick grinned at the dark-haired girl. "Okay, Jan. Now, to carry on where Scotty left off, if we assume the ghost is man-caused, we have to assume it isn't a practical joke, or that it is. What's the vote?"
"No evidence," Dr. Miller said thoughtfully. "It could be a practical joke, although it's an elaborate sort of thing. More complicated practical jokes than this have been pulled by expert jokesters. On the whole, however, I'm inclined to vote against the joke assumption on the grounds that it has been going on too long. Jokesters are not noted for their staying power. By this time the secret would be out, or we'd be having variations. The apparition wouldn't have fallen into a routine."
Dr. Miller had spotted exactly the thing that was troubling Rick. It was routine, but ghosts are traditionally far from routine. That was actually the biggest argument for assuming that it was man-made, and that it was not a practical joke.
He voiced his thoughts aloud, then asked, "If man-made, and not a practical joke, what's the motive?"
No one replied, because no one had a possible answer.
"Find the motive and you find just about everything else," Scotty commented.
"True enough," Rick agreed. "But if we can't guess a motive, let's try another tack. When did the ghost first appear?"
Barby answered. "Right after the Civil War."
Rick was patient. "I know. I mean, when did the ghost start making his recent appearances?"
"About a month ago," Dr. Miller replied. "We first heard about it from our tenant farmer when we arrived here from Spindrift. He was full of the news, as you can imagine. The ghost first appeared at a Girl Scouts' campfire. An annual event. The girls are supposed to camp overnight. Needless to say, they didn't."
Rick had a quick mental impression of uniformed girls scattering like leaves in a hurricane. "The appearances have been regular since then?"
"Yes. So far as we know, the ghost always appears at nine."
Rick scratched his chin thoughtfully. "I wonder if he appears when there's no audience?"
Scotty chuckled. "That's like the question about does a falling tree make a noise if there's no one to hear it. How can you tell?"
"I just wondered if the ghost would appear for a small audience, like one or two people."
"Meaning us," Scotty said with resignation. "When do we try, tonight?"
"Could be. Are there any picnics or meetings scheduled for tonight, Dr. Miller?"
"Not that I know of. The next big affair is two days from now. The Sons of the Old Dominion have their annual steak and crab feast. This is the Old Dominion State, you know. It's a major event in this area."
"Then we'll try tonight," Rick stated, with a glance at Scotty. His pal nodded.
Over a second hot dog, then a third, Rick continued his line of questioning. Not until he began to ask more about details of mine ownership did one interesting fact come to light. Dr. Miller had received an offer to buy his property at a price considerably above the going market rates just before the ghostly appearances started.
"The offer wasn't for all the property," Dr. Miller added. "Only for the portion along our eastern line. It includes the field where you landed, the picnic ground, and our part of the mine property. The house and orchard were not included."
"How valuable is the part asked for?" Rick queried.
"Not valuable at all, except that the field could be used for hay or alfalfa. That's why I was rather puzzled."
"Who wanted the land?" Scotty asked.
"I don't know. The offer came through Jethro Collins, a local real-estate man. He said he was acting as agent for out-of-town interests that preferred to remain unknown for political reasons. It sounded fishy to me, and I refused."
"Because it might be crooked?" Rick asked quickly.
"No. That didn't occur to me. I thought that industrial interests might want the property, and I'm not anxious to have a glue works or something set up as a neighbor. Besides, I don't care for Collins. I'd rather not do business with him."
"Could the old mine have any value?" Rick persisted.
"No. The lead remaining is of such poor grade that it wouldn't be of any use. I'm sure that the mine would have been abandoned even before the Civil War if the South hadn't needed the lead so badly. Of course we're only part owners, anyway. My grandfather owned it jointly with the Hilleboes, our next-door neighbors. They own the property beyond ours, and uphill from the mine. We've never worried over the ownership of the mine itself, because it's worthless for any purpose."
Rick thought it was curious that an offer should be made for worthless property just as the ghost put in an appearance. It required looking into. He wondered how to go about it, and decided perhaps a chat with the real-estate agent might be useful. Dr. Miller readily gave his permission to try.
To Rick's other question, Dr. Miller had no answer—that was the odd location of the pipe from which the spring water trickled. The scientist could make only one suggestion. "Perhaps the hole was drilled vertically, and a horizontal feed put on for convenience. Then, later, the area was covered over by tailings from the mine, leaving only the horizontal pipe. After all, the pipe is not directly over the mine shaft. It is well to one side, perhaps six or eight feet."
That was a reasonable suggestion, and Rick let it drop for the time being. In fact, the boys let the entire subject drop for the rest of the afternoon, although Rick kept worrying the problem as was his way when confronted with a puzzle.
The Millers had a badminton court in the shade of an enormous old oak, and after a short pause to let the hot dogs digest at least partially, Rick and Scotty let themselves in for a series of trouncings by the girls, who had obviously been playing intensively. It was embarrassing, to say the least, but neither boy begrudged the girls their success.
Not until dinner was ended did the subject of the ghost in Union blue come up again, then Rick started his probing once more.
"The business about an offer for the property may not be connected, but it's a curious coincidence. Now, what else happened about the time the haunting began? Any other facts, even unconnected ones?"
The Millers could think of none, but Mrs. Miller suggested that Belsely, their tenant, would know of anything new or unusual. Rick agreed to talk with him.
At eight o'clock, armed with flashlights, the boys departed for the old mine. They approached the area with caution, on the alert for any possible visitors. But the picnic ground was completely abandoned.
A quick inspection of the mine showed only their own footprints. The boards had been left off the entrance during their earlier inspection, and apparently no one had been there since. Then, at Scotty's suggestion, they looked for a place of concealment from which to hold vigil.
Rick found it, high in an oak. It was an easy climb, and from the huge limb they could look through a screen of foliage and see without being seen. Both boys were satisfied that they were unobserved. No humans knew they were in the vicinity.
The Virginia mosquitoes were not so easily deceived. Both boys were promptly located by a scouting party, and mosquito communications went into fast operation. Within a few minutes the entire local mosquito air force had invaded the tree. Rick waved his hands futilely at the whining swarm and muttered unhappily, "There are so many they have to line up for a bite."
"I know," Scotty replied in a whisper. "I wonder if they bite ghosts?"
"We'll soon see. It's a few minutes to nine."
In spite of the insects, the boys concentrated on the catch basin, alert for any sign of the ghost. Their flashlights were ready to probe the apparition if it should appear.
Rick glanced occasionally at the luminous dial of his watch. Then, on the stroke of nine, he whispered, "Now."
Nothing happened. The boys bore the mosquitoes stoically and waited. Not until his watch showed 9:15 did Rick speak aloud. "Let's get out of here. I doubt that the ghost will be any later than this. He's not performing tonight."
They dropped to the ground and scratched luxuriously. Scotty shook his head. "No audience, no ghost. Mighty interesting."
"I'm with you," Rick agreed. "Now, suppose the ghost had known we were going to be there. Would he perform for an audience of two?"
"We'll try for an answer tomorrow night," Rick stated. "Tomorrow we'll spread the word around town that we're going to be watching, and let's see what happens."
Scotty scooped up a pebble and tossed it into the creek as they crossed the bridge. "You're sold on the man-made idea, huh?"
"I would be if I had the slightest clue about how a ghost can be produced. But this one baffles me. No darkened rooms, no ghost trumpets, no knocks on tables, not even a chain clanking. A puff of mist and the ghost appears. How is it done?"
Rick didn't know. He didn't even have an idea. "The pool bubbled," he remembered. "That's our only clue. Why did the pool bubble?"
"Essence of spook," Scotty replied. "Spook essence does that to water. Seriously, we poked in the bottom of the pool and found nothing."
"That doesn't mean there was nothing while the ghost was performing," Rick pointed out. "Only that no trace was left."
"You thinking about chemicals?" Scotty lengthened his stride toward the inviting lights of the Miller farmhouse. "And speaking of same, I need some for these mosquito bites."
"Chemicals can produce a mist," Rick pointed out, "without leaving a visible trace. We didn't taste the water in the pool. I'm going to take a sample tomorrow and see what I can find out."
The girls and the Millers were on the screened porch, waiting anxiously.
"No show," Rick called, anticipating the questions from the four on the porch. "Not a sign of a spook. Only mosquitoes."
"I have something for those bites," Mrs. Miller replied quickly. "The mosquitoes are fierce this year. Come into the kitchen and we'll treat both of you."
Between applications of the aromatic ointment the boys reported on their experience, or lack of it. Rick concluded, "So the ghost performs only before an audience, and then only when notified in advance."
Dr. Miller smiled. "A pretty sweeping conclusion from a pretty small sample, Rick. One experiment doesn't do more than give a single point on the curve. You need more evidence than tonight's failure."
"We'll try again," Rick answered. He outlined the plan to let it be known that they would be watching.
"That will be added evidence, but not conclusive," the scientist warned. "But you're on the right track, I'd say. Now, let's leave ghosts and go on to something more tangible. I have an interesting device made up of alternate black and red squares, on which various carved pieces, resembling royalty ..."
Rick held up a hand. "Say no more. I will be delighted to take you on for a game of chess."
Barby and Jan returned to their own project, creating monograms to be embroidered on their summer clothes, while Scotty and Mrs. Miller settled down with books.
Rick knew from the start that he was no match for Dr. Miller, but he resolved to give him as good a game as possible. An hour passed before it was clear that Rick would be checkmated in two moves. He sighed. "You've got me, sir. I guess ..."
The sentence was never completed. The quiet was abruptly shattered by the strident blasting of the plane's alarm system!
Rick and Scotty were on their feet and running on the instant. Rick reached the door first and threw it open, almost upsetting Belsely, the tenant farmer.
The man's eyes were wide, and his face was pale under the tan.
"It's the ghost!" he shouted. "It's him! In the field, by the plane!"
The Dark Pit
The plane's klaxon horn wailed through the night with a noise audible for miles. The boys pushed past the tenant farmer and ran through the screen door on the porch. The plane was not yet in sight and it was very dark out. The moon was hidden by a bank of low-lying clouds, a precursor of rain.
Rick ran as fast as his long legs would carry him, which was fast enough to hold a track record or two at Whiteside High. Scotty, in spite of his greater weight, was not far behind.
At least one question was answered, Rick thought as he sped through the trees, ducking now and then as he caught a glimpse of a low branch. The ghost could set off an alarm system! He fumbled in his pocket to be sure that he had the keys to the plane, and wondered if he would be in time to keep the apparition from causing damage.
In the next instant he burst through the fringe of the orchard and broke stride as he saw a pale-blue light dancing in the air around the dark shadow of the Sky Wagon!
Scotty was right behind him. He, too, paused for an instant as he saw the light, then both boys were moving at their best speed again.
Rick tried to control his breathing. The spurt was taking its toll, but if he kept going he would get his second wind. He had to get to the plane! He wondered briefly if a supernatural being could do physical damage, then discarded the thought. He wasn't ready to accept that anything supernatural could trigger purely physical alarm systems!
The light seemed almost to have features as Rick drew closer, like a pale-blue jack-o'-lantern, but it was soon clear that this was no hollowed pumpkin head. It was like a human head illuminated from within by some ghastly luminescence.
"It's moving," Scotty called, his voice shaky. Rick saw at the same time that the apparition was retreating, slowly, away from the plane.
It kept the distance constant, always retreating as the boys neared. Their own pace had slowed; the initial sprint couldn't be kept up.
Rick ran directly for the plane, jumped the low wire fence, and inserted his key in the door. He turned the key and the deafening blast of the horn cut off, leaving a deep silence. He turned the key back again, resetting the alarm system, then he jumped the fence once more. "Where is it?"
"There." Scotty pointed to the bank of the creek. The ghostly blue light was swaying, as though in invitation, but it was no longer retreating.
"What is it?" Rick asked. "It looks like a human head lighted from within. But it's too far in the air to be at head level, unless this Union bluecoat was seven feet tall."
Scotty replied with conviction. "It has to be someone carrying a light."
"Can you see anyone under it?"
"No, but that means nothing. The trees make a dark background. I thought I caught a glimpse of a body under it while we were running, but I can't be certain."
"There's one way to find out," Rick said, and was astonished to find that he didn't get cold chills at the thought. "Let's catch him!"
Scotty's reply was to take off in a racing start toward the blue light. Rick had to stretch his legs to catch up, and saw the ghost begin its retreat again, always maintaining the distance between itself and the boys. It danced in the air like a will-o'-the-wisp, as though inviting the boys to hurry.
The pace was slower now, because the relatively smooth surface of the field had been left behind and the course led through bunch grass with an occasional clump of brambles. The ghost danced along the creek bank. Whatever might be under the light was constantly invisible against the fringe of trees. Then it vanished among the trees for a moment, only to reappear.
Rick thought grimly that it was going to be a long chase. Once he stopped in his tracks and whispered to Scotty to do the same. Both listened, but there was no sound other than the normal night noises. Rick knew their own passage had been noisy, marked by the crunching of dry bunch grass, the crack of an occasional small twig of brush, and other sounds of hurrying feet, but the ghost moved with the silence of a—well, a ghost!
In spite of himself Rick felt a moment's chill, then he pressed his lips tightly together and hurried on. It was no ghost, he told himself. It was no ghost! Someone was carrying a light, that was all. Ghosts do not carry lights.
The chase led into the trees, and onto rising ground. There were rocky outcroppings now, and Rick knew they had reached the foothills. The creek cut its way through the foothills for a short distance, then turned to follow an easier path on its way to the sea.
The underbrush was thicker now. This was typical Virginia second-growth forest, full of low brush and creepers. Rick knew it only by feel, however, because it was so dark he could only sense the presence of trees before crashing into them. The blue light vanished periodically behind trees, only to reappear again as though urging them on.
Then, as they broke into a denser thicket, the light vanished completely. Scotty muttered under his breath. Rick peered through the blackness eagerly, taking deep breaths. He had thought they were actually gaining for a moment.
He stood still, his chest heaving. Scotty stopped beside him. There was no sound. Even the night noises of the forest had ceased. There was a weird feeling of hollowness in the air, as though they stood in some great cavern. Rick whispered, "Where did it go?"
"Don't know," came Scotty's breathless reply. "Keep an eye out while I tie my shoe."
Rick sucked in his breath. The blue light! It was closer, tantalizingly close. He suddenly realized he stood on the edge of a clearing, and the blue light hovered on the opposite edge. It danced mockingly.
"Come on!" Rick bounded away from Scotty, and crashed through a dozen feet of underbrush, intent on the light. It wasn't moving! It hovered, as though waiting. For an instant his determination faltered. One thing to chase an object, another to have it wait for you!
He charged on, and his foot slid on soft dirt. He lost balance and his arms flailed to regain his footing, too late! He slid, his back striking painfully as he flew into blackness!
Rick fell, turning slowly through the air. He had time for one brief yell of fear and warning before the wind was smashed out of him. He plunged deep into icy water and struggled frantically as he plummeted into the depths.
It seemed to Rick as though he plunged downward for an eternity. He had no breath; it had been slammed out of him from impact with the water. But he resisted the terrible temptation to breathe and drove his arms downward to check his plunge. In a few seconds he was shooting to the surface again, his chest an agony from lack of air. His arms and legs worked as he literally clawed his way to the air once more, and he shot high into the blessed atmosphere as he broke the surface.
Rick floated, lying on his back, breathing deeply and grateful just to be alive. He heard Scotty calling his name, but had to wait for several breaths before he could manage a weak yell.
He didn't know what had happened, except for one clear thing: they had been mousetrapped. The ghost had lured them on, waiting until the pit was reached before pausing in flight to give them a chance to catch up. And the chance had turned out to be the trap.
"Rick! Can you hear me?"
"I hear you." Scotty seemed terribly far away. Then Rick saw his friend's silhouette, as a dark shape against the lesser darkness of the sky. At a guess Scotty was fifty feet up.
"Hang on while I get a light!"
Rick wondered if his pal was going all the way back to get one of the flashlights they had left behind in the precipitous chase. He wasn't worried about his ability to stay afloat.
He had his breath back somewhat now, so he paddled slowly to a point on the wall of the pit under Scotty's position. He bumped gently into rock and felt with his hands while treading water. The rock surface was rough, but the roughness was regular, the wall flat. Then his fingers felt a groove and his mind created the image to match it. A drill hole! He was in a quarry!
It made sense, Rick thought. This was good limestone country. The ghost had simply led them to an abandoned limestone quarry, and he had obligingly fallen in! A miracle he hadn't broken his neck.
Yellow light cut the darkness and he looked up. Scotty apparently didn't intend to be caught without matches again, for in a moment he appeared, a torch of dry twigs in his hand. It blazed brightly. Scotty placed it on the quarry's lip and added more fuel. The flames mounted higher as the wood caught. Only when the flames were high enough to see by did Scotty look down.
"See a way up, Rick?"
Rick was already searching. On the side to the right of where he had fallen in was a shelf about two feet above the water. It led to another shelf. He swam for it and pulled himself out, shaking water from his clothes. The second shelf was easily reached, but then he was stuck. It was easily twenty feet to the rim. The flickering light showed a sheer wall that could not be climbed without a rope.
Scotty could see the problem, too. "I guess it's us for a rope. I'm sure glad you didn't fall on that side."
"Amen." Where Rick had fallen was a sheer drop into the water. On any other side he would have landed on a shelf.
"Will you be okay?" Scotty asked. "I'll leave the fire burning."
"Take off," Rick replied. "I'm happy as a cliff swallow on my little shelf. Don't be long."
"Okay." Scotty was gone, leaving only the yellow glow of the fire for company.
Unless, Rick thought, the Blue Ghost was hovering nearby, snickering at the success of his efforts.
Thankful that it was a warm night, he removed his garments one at a time and wrung the water from them. The surface of the quarry pool caught the yellow light of the waning fire as he poured water from his shoes. He was very thoughtful. What was the meaning of the night's events?
His wringing out finished and his damp clothes back on, he sat down on the limestone shelf to be as comfortable as possible while waiting.
He had set out at top speed to catch a ghost, but the ghost had caught Richard Brant. He wasn't sure what that meant, but he was sure it meant something. He shivered, as much from reaction as the dampness. Maybe time would tell.
The Frostola Man
Rick Brant was filled with cold anger. It showed in the determined set of his lips as he swung Dr. Miller's car around the turn leading to the bridge across the creek. He was no longer content to wait for developments. After last night's episode, he and Scotty intended to take the war to the enemy—for war it had become, the moment the Blue Ghost had led them on the wild-goose chase ending with Rick in a deep quarry.
It was pure luck that Rick had not been hurt by the drop into the quarry. True, the ghost had led them to the side that dropped sheer into the water, but impact with the water after a fifty-foot drop was enough to cause damage if one landed in the wrong position. Rick had hit feet first, simply by chance.
Scotty looked at him as the car turned toward the picnic grounds. "Aren't we going to town?"
"Sure. But I want another look at the landscape."
"What do you expect to see?"
"I don't know," Rick admitted. "I'm just hoping for an idea."
He drove through the trees, across the picnic ground, and came to a stop before the mine shaft. There was no one in sight, and the grounds were just as they had left them.
Rick studied the scene, searching for anything offbeat, any anomaly. There was nothing, except for the iron pipe from which spring water flowed. That bothered him. Dr. Miller's explanation might be the right one, but he didn't really think so. If tailings from the mine had been dumped there, the hill would not be so steep or so regular. The years would have weathered the rock debris, but not to such a natural-looking formation.
"If they didn't dump the tailings there," he thought aloud, "where did they dump them?"
"Tailings?" Scotty prompted.
"Rock from the mine. Stuff with no ore in it, or such low-grade stuff that it was worthless."
"I see. Well, they didn't dump it in sight. But they couldn't have dumped it far from here. It wouldn't be sensible to cart worthless rock away any distance."
They hadn't used the tailings for roads around the mine. The roads were natural dirt, with good drainage and no sign of rock ballast. Rick tried to imagine another use, but couldn't, until Scotty spoke.
"Suppose they used up all the rocks throwing them at the Yankee soldiers?" Scotty asked whimsically.
The question started a train of thought that gave Rick the answer in a few seconds. "You've hit it. They didn't throw the rocks, but they used them against the Yankees. I'll bet on it. Come on."
He got out of the car and led the way through the trees to where the creek flowed on its quiet way. There were low embankments a few yards back from the water's edge. "There are the rocks."
"Where?" Scotty couldn't see them. "I don't see nary a rock."
"In the embankments, covered with dirt. See? There's a place where the dirt cover has been washed away by the rain. I've seen defenses like this before. They used rocks as a base, filled in the cracks with clay, then put dirt on top and planted grass to hold it. That gave them a permanent earthwork."
"Why plant grass?" Scotty wanted to know.
"To fool enemy reconnaissance, I guess. I can't think of any other reason, except to prevent erosion. In those days scouting was done by cavalry, and from the other side of the river these look like natural grassy banks."
Inspection of the embankment disclosed that Rick had guessed right. Scotty inspected the place where the rain had washed the topsoil away, probably because some careless picnicker had ruined the grass in that spot. The rocks were clearly of the kind in the mine.
Suddenly Scotty bent lower and began to pry at something. "Rick, there's something buried here."
Rick hurried to help out, and in a moment they had lifted away enough rocks to disclose a considerable amount of moldy cloth.
Scotty took a piece and shook it, then chuckled. "The answer is in the writing on the bag. Wilbur's Premium Portland Cement." He grew serious. "Only where was it used? I've seen no construction around here."
"Maybe someone brought picnic supplies in the bags and buried them with the garbage," Rick said.
"I doubt it. You can't get all the cement out of a bag, because the powder sticks in the fabric. If you try to wash it out, it only sets the cement."
Rick thought his pal probably was right. No one would use a cement bag for supplies, now that he thought about it. He looked up suddenly as a sound came through the trees. It was a motor, but a small two-cycle kind, like a scooter or a small motorcycle.
"Someone coming," he said. "Let's go see who it is."
Scotty held onto the bag. They walked back through the trees and into the camping ground in time to see a lanky, white-clad individual on a three-wheeled motor scooter—the kind where the driver sits on a cargo box—come to a stop. On the box were blue letters, dripping with white frost, that spelled FROSTOLA. Underneath the letters was a list of products: cream pies, frozen cones, cream sandwiches, icicles, and quarts and pints.
Although Rick had never heard of Frostola, it was immediately clear that this was an ice-cream vendor, of the kind that appears in swarms in warm weather with ringing bells and tooting horns, in trucks, on scooters, and even on bicycles.
The Frostola man gave them a cheery wave and tilted his white cap to the back of his head. "Hi! Where's the crowd?"
"We're it," Scotty answered. "Were you expecting more?"
"Wasn't expecting anything," the man retorted. "It's a nice day for a swim, so I thought I'd come sell refreshments to the swimmers."
"They're afraid of ghost fish," Rick said. "The place is haunted."
The man grinned. "I heard about the ghost. If he shows up I'll sell him a cream pie."
"Sell me one," Rick invited, and Scotty echoed the thought.
"Pleasure." The man got off the seat and Rick saw that he was over six feet tall, and built like a sapling. The boy also saw that he wasn't as young as he at first appeared. That was odd, because the peddlers on scooters were usually either very young or old.
The Frostola man opened the seat box and the boys looked in, at neat stacks of ice cream packaged in various ways. The stuff was kept frozen by slabs of dry ice wrapped in brown paper.
The cream pies were on a stick, and coated with chocolate, butterscotch, and vanilla with coconut. Rick paid for his selection and Scotty's, then commented, "It's a long way out here from town."
"Sure. But I enjoy the ride. It's a chance to get away from howling mobs of kids."
A strange comment from one who made most of his sales to kids, Rick thought. He noticed that the peddler was eying the bag Scotty had picked up, and was trying to be surreptitious about it. Anyone would be curious about someone carrying a moldy bag, but why try to conceal that curiosity? On impulse, Rick said, "There's a trash can, Scotty. Throw the bag away and let's go." To the peddler, he added, "We're doing our bit to keep the place clean."
"Good thing to do," the man admitted.
The boys got in the car. Rick turned it around and headed for town. The rear-view mirror told him that the Frostola man watched them until the trees hid them from view.
Rick said thoughtfully, "If you were anxious to make your fortune selling Frostola, where would you go to do it?"
Scotty grinned. "My thought exactly. I'd go where there are people. I'd either go up streets ringing my bell, or I'd park at an intersection where cars could stop. I wouldn't go to a deserted picnic ground—if I knew it was deserted."
"If he didn't know, he's a stranger here. Could he be a new man?"
Scotty shook his head. "A new man wouldn't know the way out here, and if he asked, he'd be told that people are staying away because of the ghost."
"True. Your thoughts are as lucid as Costin's Creek, ol' buddy. Also, he is not the typical ice-cream salesman, and he's not from around here. He's a little old for riding a scooter cart, and the look on his face and the way he carries himself are wrong. He doesn't fit the part. Besides, his speech isn't local. He's no more a Virginian than you are."
"He sounds more like a Yankee," Scotty agreed.
Rick sighed. "Well, we've got something, although I don't know what. Cement bags where there is no construction and an ice-cream man who doesn't fit the part. What do you make out of that?"
Scotty chuckled. "Simple. The Frostola man is building a secret ice-cream stand. A modern one, out of poured concrete walls. He's not building it where anyone can see it, because he doesn't want to be bothered by customers."
Rick grinned. "Okay, Hawkshaw. That's enough deduction for one morning. Take a look at that sky. Have you heard a weather report lately?"
Scotty glanced upward to where mare's-tails were making streaks across the sky. "Looks like a storm brewing. Why not turn on the radio?"
Rick did so, but there was only music from a nearby station, interspersed with local commercials. Before there was a chance to get a weather report they were rolling into town.
Lansdale was too small even to be called a "whistle stop," because no trains came near it. An interstate bus route passed through on the main highway, and that was the sole link with the towns to north and south, except for private cars.
Rick drove right up the main street. He saw a drugstore, an independent food market, a hardware-and-farm-supply store, a variety store, and two gas stations. On the outskirts of town was a huge farmers' market open only on Fridays and Saturdays.
The market was obviously the main center of trade for the farm people of the area. Lansdale would be very busy on Fridays and Saturdays, and just about abandoned, except for the few hundred people who lived in town, for most of the week.
He turned the car at the edge of town and drove back down the main street. Opposite the drugstore he found the sign he wanted. Jethro Collins, Real Estate and Notary Public. He parked in front of the house.
Collins had his office in what had once been the parlor of his own home. Rick could see him through the window, an enormously fat man in a white shirt and red suspenders. As Rick rang the bell, he yelled, "Well, come on in!"
Once inside, the bull voice was reduced in volume to fit the room, a small one, cluttered with photographs of houses.
"What can I do for you, kids?"
The question was not courteous. The tone said Collins was impatient at the interruption, that he was sure these kids would only waste his time, and that he hated kids and everyone else.
Rick thought he looked like a Chester White hog, only meaner, but he answered politely. "We've come from Dr. Miller's place, sir."
"So? Does he want to sell?"
"No, sir. Not without more information. If you could tell us the name of the purchaser ..."
"I can. I won't. None of your business. If Miller wants to talk business he can come see me. Now get out."
The boys lingered. "You must admit that it was an unusual offer, sir. The price was rather high for worthless land."
Piggish eyes surveyed them. The bull voice grated, "Get out!"
They went. There was nothing else to do.
Scotty started to get into the car, but Rick stopped him. "Let's go to the drugstore. I want to get a spray can of insect repellent."
"Okay." Scotty chuckled. "You can see why Dr. Miller is not fond of Mr. Collins."
"I'm going to join the anti-Collins club as soon as we get back. Look, druggists know everything about their town. Let's see if we can find out if the Frostola man is new."
Rick opened the screen door and they went into a drugstore that had not changed substantially for half a century, except for the addition of modern sales items. The druggist, a wisp of a man, was friendly. They sat down at the marble-topped soda fountain and Rick asked, "Got any Frostola cream pies?"
"Don't carry them," the druggist replied. "They're sold only by the route man."
"I see you have a new man in this territory," Rick said casually.
Bright eyes inspected him through rimless glasses. "Fairly new. Seems all right."
"He's pleasant enough," Rick assented. "Has he been on the job long?"
"Six weeks, more or less."
The boys settled for cokes, then drove back to the Millers. Rick was pleased. They hadn't made much progress, but at least they had uncovered an interesting character in the new Frostola man. His arrival, according to the druggist, coincided with the appearances of the Blue Ghost. He traveled to the mine area when no customers could be found there. He was curious about a cement bag. He didn't fit the character of an ice-cream route man.
Rick headed straight for the picnic ground. There was no sign of the Frostola scooter, which meant the man had left right behind them, otherwise they would have met him on the road on the return trip.
On a hunch, Rick got out of the car and walked to the trash can where Scotty had put the cement bag. The bag was gone.
Plan of Attack
Rick awoke to the sound of wind, a sign that the storm traveling northward from the middle south was approaching. He groaned. If the storm arrived before nightfall, the annual Sons of the Dominion affair would be postponed.
After yesterday's events he had decided to drop the idea of spreading the word that he and Scotty were ghost watching, in the hope the ghost would appear for just the two of them. His new plan wasn't completely worked out, but it would be before long.
Scotty grinned at him from the other bed. "No night alarms last night. Guess the ghost couldn't find anyone to play with."
"Maybe tonight," Rick replied. "Come on, sack hound. Rise and shine. We have things to do."
Scotty glanced through the window at the sky. "We'd better do 'em quick, then. Barring a shift in the weather system, we're due for some fine squalls."
After an excellent breakfast of pancakes and genuine pepper-cured Virginia ham, Rick borrowed an empty jar from Mrs. Miller, checked all the flashlights available, and explained to the Millers the purpose of the trip.
"I'm going to get a sample of the water from the pool and try to see if there's anything strange about it, then I thought we'd take a closer look at the mine to see if we can trace that water pipe. It still worries me."
To his surprise, Barby and Jan hurriedly finished their breakfasts and announced they were going, too.
"You're going into that mine," Barby explained. "We're going to be waiting outside, and if you're not out within ten minutes, we're going to come home for help."
Rick was touched. Both girls believed in the ghost, Barby more than Jan, while he and Scotty were convinced that it was man-made in some way they didn't yet understand. It took courage for the girls to accompany them, even if they only planned to wait at the mine entrance.
"Okay," he agreed. "Let's go."
Dr. Miller offered, "Take the car. I don't like the looks of the weather and there's no point in your getting caught in the rain."
Rick accepted and in a moment the four young people were on their way. He saw that the sky was filled with haze, with only a glimpse now and then through the haze of flying scud. Something was on the way, all right.
"It's a tropical storm," Jan explained. "The morning weather report from Washington said it would strike northern Virginia this morning."
"And not long from now," Scotty commented.
By the time Rick had collected his first sample, a jarful of water from the pool mixed with a scraping of algae from the bottom, there was an ominous line of black clouds on the horizon.
He hurried to the embankment where Scotty had found the cement bags, his pal close behind him. The girls had waited in the car.
To his surprise there were no bags. Raw earth showed where they had been dug up.
"What do you make of that?" he asked.
Scotty shook his head. "I don't know. The Frostola man must have taken them, but I can't imagine why. Come on. Let's get out of here. This is no time to stand around wondering. That storm is close!"
"No mine for us this morning," Rick said. "Wonder if the rain will last long enough to cancel out the Sons of the Old Dominion, or whether we'll just have some thundershowers?"
"Time will tell. Let's go."
They beat the storm to the house by minutes. It arrived with a rattle of windows and the flash of lightning, followed by thunder that reverberated among the mountains endlessly. The rain came in blinding sheets, covering the windows with a steady flow of water that blocked all vision.
Rick set up his microscope on the kitchen table and plugged in the substage illumination. Then, while the others watched, he selected a well slide, took his pipette, and captured a drop from the jar of pool water. The drop went into the well slide. He put on a cover glass, then applied his eye to the ocular.
After a moment of focusing and shifting the well slide, the drop of water suddenly turned to a strange aquarium populated by fantastic animals. He watched, counting the species aloud. "Lots of paramecia. A Volvox. Two Stephanoceros. One hydra. Not bad for a single drop. Want to look, anyone?"
Everyone did. Rick waited while the girls exclaimed over the microscopic creatures, and Mrs. Miller remarked to her scientist husband, "And we drink that water?"
Dr. Miller smiled. "No, dear. We drink the water from the pipe. This sample came from the pool."
"But if the animals are in the pool, they must have come from the spring!"
The scientist shook his head. "The spring water is pure. It probably has a lower bacteria count than our well. But the pool water is exposed to the air, and provides an excellent breeding place. Most of these animals propagate from spores, which are in the air."
Rick added, "That's right, Mrs. Miller. When I want a culture I just put some water with a little broth in it out in the open for a day or so, then put it out of direct sunlight. Within seventy-two hours I have a bigger mob of animals than this in every drop."
"Then the Blue Ghost didn't hurt the water of the pool?" Scotty asked.
"Can't tell," Rick explained. "There was no permanent harm done by any chemicals. We can say that much. But you can get a collection like this in three days, and it's been that long since the ghost appeared. So these animals would be in the pool by now, even if the Blue Ghost had done something to adulterate the pool temporarily."
The storm punctuated his remarks with a gust of wind that rattled the windows.
"It's getting worse," Mrs. Miller exclaimed. "I do hope that it doesn't damage the little apples on the trees. They're so good. We're planning to have bushels shipped to Spindrift when they ripen."
Jan Miller brought them back to the subject. "How could chemicals be harmless to the little animals, Rick?"
"Chemicals might kill off those in the pool, but the constant dropping of spring water would soon dilute the solution. Or, some chemicals would combine with the oxygen in the water to form harmless salts. I can't be sure, of course. I'm just trying to think of ways the ghost might be produced."
Barby sniffed. "You're a long way from an answer, I'd say. Even if your old chemicals could make the white mist, they couldn't make the Blue Ghost appear and go through the business of getting shot!"
"Too true, Sis. I'm not claiming a thing. So far we have only some pretty wild speculation, plus an interesting ice-cream man, an offer to buy part of this property, and some missing cement bags. Old ones, too."
Barby had to smile. "If you can tie all those things together into a ghost, I'll type up your science project for free, and as many copies as you need!"
Rick grinned. "And if I don't?"
"I won't be surprised, but you can get me a new record album."
"Done. You've got a bargain." Rick turned to Dr. Miller. "There's one bit of information your tenant farmer, Mr. Belsely, can get for us that none of the rest of us can get. That is, do the real-estate agent and the ice-cream man know each other, and in particular, are they friendly? He could ask around town without causing suspicion."
"I'll ask him right now," Dr. Miller replied. He went to the telephone in the big farm kitchen and dialed. After a moment he said, "Clara?... Is Tim there?" He waited, then said, "Tim, I have a little job for you.... No, not that. Just asking a casual question around town.... Tim.... Hello ..." He hung up and turned to the others. "The phone went dead."
Rick saw that his substage illumination was out, too. "So did the electricity."
Dr. Miller frowned. "It's unusual for both the phone and current to go out at once. That must mean a tree is down across the lines. Both lines cross the creek within a few feet about half a mile upstream."
There was nothing for it but to wait the storm out.
Rick and Dr. Miller resumed their chess tournament. Scotty spent the time making an improvised game of Yoot, an ancient Korean game that can be played almost anywhere, under nearly any circumstances. At its simplest, the Yoot board can be scratched in the dirt with a stick, and the Yoot throwing sticks that take the place of dice—or a spinning arrow—in similar Western games can be cut from a twig. Scotty sketched the board on a piece of cardboard from a box in which groceries had been carried and made the throwing sticks by splitting a piece of cane from an ancient cane chair in the woodshed. Checkers were used as counters, where in the outdoors pebbles would have served.
"It's like parcheesi," Scotty explained to the girls. "You try to beat your opponent around the spaces on the board. The four sticks get thrown into the air, and you can move one space for every stick that lands flat side up. If all four land flat side up, that's a 'yoot' and you get another throw on top of the four moves. You start, Barby, and I'll show you the other rules as we go along."
At lunchtime Mrs. Miller broiled hamburgers on the charcoal grill out in the woodshed, which connected to the kitchen. Then she used the glowing coals to make coffee in the old-fashioned way, putting the grounds directly into the pan of boiling water. Since the family coffeepot was an electric percolator, this was the only means she had.
Rick would have enjoyed it thoroughly were it not for his impatience to put his plan for catching the ghost into operation. It was certain by now that the affair at the picnic grounds was called off, but with radio and TV silent, there was no way of checking.
The storm continued through the afternoon and into the evening. Dinner was broiled steak, with a tossed salad. If the storm continued for a week, Rick told the group, they'd all get as fat as Collins from Mrs. Miller's charcoal cooking.
Over coffee he outlined the plan that had been stirring in his mind.
"We don't know the motive for the ghost's appearance yet. We don't know how he appears, either. But unless I'm way off, the Frostola man has something to do with it."
"I don't see how you can say that," Barby objected.
"It's an assumption," Rick admitted. "But what else have we but assumptions? We assume the ghost is man-made. All right. Who's the man? I give you Frostola, the product that produces ghosts.
"Seriously, we have to make some assumptions about our chase of the ghost. If it was a man, it was a tall one with some kind of lighted thing on his head. That wouldn't be hard to rig. Plastic comes in all shapes and sizes and colors, these days, including human heads that are used in store windows. It would be a cinch to rig up a flashlight bulb and battery inside one. Wouldn't take me five minutes if I had a little wire and a soldering iron."
"That's true," Dr. Miller agreed. "Making the Blue Ghost the boys chased would be absurdly easy."
"But leading us on took someone who was a good runner," Rick continued. "He also had to know his way around."
Jan Miller pointed out, "But he floated right over the quarry and you fell in."
"It wasn't like that," Scotty corrected. "We stopped because the ghost had vanished. It's not hard to see why. He switched off the light, walked around the edge of the quarry, then switched on again."