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CHAPTER I A STRANGE PROPOSAL.
 Go to sleep. G-o-t-o s-l-e-e-e-e-e-p.  
The last note of “taps” rang lingeringly through the corridors of The Fortress1 and died away just as a knock sounded on the door of the room occupied by Bob and Jack2 Golden.
 
“Come in,” Bob shouted.
 
The door opened and the aid stuck in his head.
 
“Undressed?” he asked.
 
“No, we have ten o’clock lights tonight.”
 
“Well, you’re wanted on the phone down stairs.”
 
“Thanks.”
 
A moment later and Bob was standing3 before the officer-in-charge.
 
“Pass down to the phone, sir?” he asked.
 
“You are called?”
 
“Yes, sir.”
 
“All right, then.”
 
Bob saluted4 and stepped back into the corridor.
 
“Pass off the corridor, sir: officer-in-charge’s permission?” he asked saluting6 the aid.
 
“Yes, sir.” The aid returned the salute5.
 
“That you, Bob?”
 
He at once recognized the answer to his “hello.”
 
“Sure is, Rex. How’s the boy?”
 
“All to the good. Sorry to pull you out of your downy cot so late.”
 
“If you’d sleep in it once you’d find that it isn’t so very downy but as it happens, I wasn’t in it,” Bob laughed. “Have ten o’clock lights tonight.”
 
“What a fearful dissipation. But I called you up to tell you that a friend of mine, a man by the name of Stokes, is coming down to see you and Jack tomorrow. He’s got a proposition he wants to put up to you. No, I’ll let him explain it himself, but I rather think you’ll bite. What time can you see him?”
 
“Any time between four and six.”
 
“Good! I’ll tell him to get the three forty-five out of Broad Street. That ought to get him up there about half past four. How’s Jack?”
 
“Fine and dandy as usual.”
 
“That’s good. I’ll try and run down in a few days myself. Mighty7 busy just now. Won’t keep you out of that downy cot any longer. Remember me to Jack. Bye-bye.”
 
“Who was it?” Jack asked as soon as Bob had reported his return to the corridor and re-entered the room.
 
“Rex. He says a man named Stokes is coming down tomorrow afternoon to see us.”
 
“What does he want?”
 
“Rex wouldn’t say.”
 
“Then I reckon we’ll have to wait and see.”
 
“Your reckoner is right on the job this time all right,” Bob laughed as he began to undress. “But you’d better get a hustle8 on or you’ll have to undress in the dark. It’s five minutes to ten now.”
 
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Jack grinned as he pulled off his blouse. But before he had time to get into his pajamas9 a light tap sounded on the door and the aid called softly:
 
“Lights.”
 
“Told you you’d get caught in the dark,” Bob chuckled10 from between the sheets.
 
As soon as drill was over the next afternoon the two boys hurried to their room where they changed from service to dress uniform.
 
“We’ll go down by the gate and wait for him,” Bob suggested.
 
They did not have long to wait for they had hardly reached the broad gateway11 to the Castle grounds when a middle aged12 man with a pleasant face turned in from the sidewalk.
 
“Pardon me,” he said as he saw them, “but can you tell me where I can find the Golden boys?”
 
“You won’t have to look very far,” Bob smiled.
 
“Then you are Bob and Jack?”
 
“Yes, sir, and you are Mr. Stokes.”
 
“The same,” the man smiled holding out his hand which they grasped in turn.
 
“We are very glad to meet a friend of Rex Dale,” Bob assured him.
 
“That’s as good a recommendation as one could well wish,” Mr. Stokes smiled.
 
“Indeed it is. Rex is the the best ever,” Jack declared.
 
“A very fine young man,” Stokes agreed. “But may we go somewhere where we can have a talk? Perhaps Rex informed you of the object of my visit.”
 
“No, sir, he only said that you had a proposition you wished to put up to us,” Bob replied leading the way toward the building. “We can go into the reception room. There’s not likely to be anyone there at this time of day,” he added.
 
“Now then,” Mr. Stokes began as soon as they were seated in the cool reception room, “my proposition, as Rex called it, is this. Late last fall I purchased a camp at Chesuncook Lake up in Maine. I suppose you’ve been there?”
 
“A number of times,” Bob replied.
 
“This camp is situated13 on the right side of the lake as you go up and is about ten miles from the Ripogenus Dam. It consists of a large central building containing the office, kitchen and dining-room. Then there are ten log cabins of different sizes each having a sitting room and from two to five bedrooms. There are two log stables or, perhaps, you would call them barns, and a fair sized boat house. I have been going there for a number of years and, having, what I thought, an excellent opportunity to buy the place, I took advantage of it intending to run it as an investment.
 
“The man of whom I bought did not manage it himself and I thought I was fortunate to secure the services of the same man who had run it for a number of seasons. He is a half-breed but a most capable man and thoroughly14 knows his business. Jacques opened the place early in May as quite a number of patrons like to come there for the early spring fishing.
 
“I left everything to him as he knows much more about the place than I do. But three weeks ago I received a letter from him which was so startling in its import that I left at once. I found the place almost deserted15 although Jacques assured me that he had opened with a much larger number of guests than usual.”
 
“What was the matter?” Bob asked as Mr. Stokes paused.
 
“You’ll probably laugh at me when I tell you but the truth of the matter is the guests were scared away by a ghost.”
 
“A ghost!”
 
Bob and Jack uttered the exclamation16 in the same breath.
 
“Yes, it seems that the camp is haunted.”
 
“But—” Bob started to ask a question but Mr. Stokes interrupted:
 
“No, of course, I don’t believe in ghosts, but there’s something mighty strange going on up there.”
 
“Such as what?” Jack asked.
 
“Well, this ghost is a most accomplished17 one it seems: does about all the tricks you ever read of ghosts doing: groaning18 in a most frightful19 manner, pulling the bed clothes off one in the middle of the night, banging doors and all the rest of the stunts20. I spent nearly two weeks trying to catch it or him and couldn’t learn a single thing. A number of guests came while I was there but the bravest stayed only two nights. Now you can easily see that unless a stop can be put to it my investment is ruined. I can’t keep guests and I doubt if I could give the place away as things are now.”
 
“It’s too bad, that’s a fact, but I hardly see where we come in,” Bob said as he paused.
 
“You will in a minute. What I want is for you two boys to go up there and solve the mystery.”
 
“But if you couldn’t—’ Bob began, but Mr. Stokes interrupted:
 
“Remember I’ve talked with Rex Dale about you boys and he has told me some of the things you have done, so it seems to me that getting the best of a few ghosts ought to be a simple matter for you.”
 
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Bob shook his head. “Rex is very apt to exaggerate about some things but, of course, we’ll be glad to do what we can for you, eh Jack?”
 
“What you say goes for me,” Jack grinned.
 
“Then that’s settled,” and Mr. Stokes heaved a huge sigh of relief. “Now I’ll tell you what I think will be best. You can go up there as boarders paying the regular rates which, of course, will be returned to you, and not let anyone know that you are working for me. You’ll find the fishing good, as you probably know, even in the summer, and I don’t think the time will hang heavy on your hands. Now as to terms, how will this suit you? I’ll engage you for one month and will pay you five hundred dollars whether or no and if you succeed I’ll give you a thousand.”
 
“That’s altogether too much,” Bob declared and Jack nodded his head in agreement.
 
“Please let me be the judge of that,” Mr. Stokes smiled. “I am ashamed to say that I’m a pretty rich man and the money doesn’t count. Buying the place was just a fad22, but I hate to fail at anything I undertake, so we’ll say no more about the money end of it.”
 
“If that’s the case we’re more than satisfied and we’ll do our best to earn the thousand,” Bob said.
 
“I’m sure of it and I certainly hope you will succeed.”
 
“But have you any suspicion as to who’s at the bottom of it?” Bob asked.
 
“Not a glimmer,” Mr. Stokes declared. “Of course someone is at the bottom of it, as you say, and I think I know why even if I do not know who.
 
“Why, then?”
 
“What would you consider the most likely reason? I’d like to see if your idea agrees with mine.”
 
“Well, I should say that someone wants to get hold of the place cheap and thinks that he’s taking a good way to do it.”
 
“My idea exactly. I hardly think there can be much doubt about it as I have no enemy in that part of the world who might be trying to injure me.”
 
“How about the man who’s running it? Jacques, I believe you said his name is,” Jack asked.
 
“Yes, Jacques Bolduc. Of course, I’ve considered him, but I’m pretty sure he’s not guilty. In the first place he’s run it for several years and has always been perfectly23 honest so the man who sold it to me assured me. And then, when I bought it, I offered to let him have a half interest in it and pay for it out of the profits.”
 
“And he turned down an offer like that?” Bob asked.
 
“Yes. He thanked me very prettily24, but said he’d always worked for wages and would rather keep on that way. I thought it rather strange but you know those fellows well enough to understand that there’s no accounting25 for the way their minds run.”
 
“That’s true too,” Bob declared, “but it seems strange that he should turn down so good an offer as that.”
 
“And there’s no one else you suspect?” Jack asked.
 
“Not a soul, and mind, I didn’t mean that I suspect Jacques. It was only an idea. You see, although I’ve been going up there for some years I really know but a few people, almost no one you might say.”
 
“That’s not strange seeing it’s a pretty wild and unsettled country,” Bob suggested.
 
“And how soon can you get up there?”
 
“Let’s see,” Bob mused26. “Commencement is day after tomorrow, which will be Wednesday. We’ll start for home early Thursday morning and we ought to get there Friday night or Saturday at the latest. We’re going to make the trip on our motorcycles which we had shipped to us a few days ago.”
 
“You run them with an electric cell. I think Rex told me,” Mr. Stokes broke in.
 
“That’s right. We’ll have to spend a few days with the folks and it’ll probably be about the middle of next week when we get there.”
 
“That’ll be all right. I don’t want to hurry you although you can, of course, understand that the sooner the matter is cleared up the better it will suit me.”
 
“Well, as I said before, we’ll do our best but I hope you haven’t got your expectations up too high. We may fall down on the job, you know, and I’d hate to have you disappointed,” Bob smiled.
 
“If you do I’ll know it’s not your fault,” Mr. Stokes assured them. “But I’m betting you won’t. And now I’ll not keep you any longer, only I want you to know that my mind’s at rest now that you’ve taken the job.”
 
“What do you think of it?”
 
They had accompanied Mr. Stokes as far as the gate and were walking slowly back to the building. It was Jack who asked the question.
 
“That’s a hard question,” Bob replied slowly. “You see we haven’t much of anything to come and go on so far. It may be a simple thing and then again it may not.”
 
“And I’m rather inclined toward the latter view,” Jack declared decisively.
 
“Why?”
 
“How did Mr. Stokes strike you?” Jack asked instead of answering Bob’s question.
 
“Like a pretty keen business man.”
 
“Well, that’s the answer. He impressed me about the same way and I figure that if he couldn’t find out who’s cutting up those monkey shines, it’s not going to be a very simple problem.”
 
“Your reasoning’s good all right: no doubt about that,” Bob assured him. “I reckon we’ll have our work cut for us fast enough. But, tell me, do you think it’s that fellow, Jacques?”
 
“Hardly. What do you think?”
 
“Same thing.”
 
“Well it won’t be the first time we’ve had a run in with ghosts,” Jack laughed.
 
“But not just this kind,” Bob reminded him.
 
“I reckon we’ll find that this or these are not so much different from the others,” Jack insisted.
 
“Maybe not. If we’re successful I believe I would write a book entitled, ‘Ghosts I have met’.” Bob laughed as they mounted the steps at the front entrance.
 
“What did you think of my friend Stokes?”
 
The last taps following the sham21 battle of commencement day had sounded and Bob and Jack had hurried to greet their friend Rex Dale whom they had spied in the stand. They had not seen him for several weeks and had hurried him up to their room and he was sitting on one of the “downy cots” while they were getting into “cits.”
 
“He impressed me as being a mighty fine man,” Bob replied.
 
“Same here,” Jack added.
 
“I’m very glad to hear that,” Rex told him. “He is a fine man, one of the best and, if you’ll turn your heads so as to hide your blushes, I’ll tell you that he was very favorably impressed with you.”
 
“I wish you were going up with us,” Bob declared a little later, after they had talked over the matter of the “ghost.”
 
“Don’t I? But it’s impossible just now. You see we’re tremendously busy at the office and father’s not at all well and I’ve simply got to stick for awhile. Maybe in a couple of weeks I can get away for a few days and if I can be assured you’ll see me just as quick as I can get there. I can smell the spruce and the pine right now to say nothing of the fun of hunting down that ghost.”
 
“Mr. Stokes said he was a rich man, is that right?” Bob asked.
 
“He’s worth several millions. Why?”
 
“Well, you see, he offered to pay us a thousand dollars in case we are successful and five hundred if we’re not and it’s a pretty big sum of money to pay a couple of boys and—”
 
“Don’t you worry about that,” Rex interrupted laughingly. “The money’s nothing to him and you needn’t hesitate to take it. I fancy he’d pay a million right this minute to have the mystery cleared up.”
 
“That’s all right then. I just wanted to be sure about it.”
 
“I suppose Sherlock has the matter all figured out,” Rex laughed nodding at Jack. “You notice that he hasn’t said much. Regular ‘still waters run deep’ sort of fellow.”
 
“But when he does talk it usually makes sense,” Bob declared with a proud look toward his brother.
 
“I’ll tell the world it does,” Rex said hitting Jack a resounding27 whack28 on the back.
 
“My natural modesty29, of course, prevents me from taking part in the conversation at this point,” Jack said soberly.
 
Rex had insisted on taking the boys up to his Philadelphia home for supper and afterward30 to the theatre so it was after twelve o’clock when they got back. They were to leave early so they lost no time in getting to bed after setting the alarm clock for four o’clock.

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