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HOME > Inspiring Novel > A Son of Courage > CHAPTER I BILLY WILSON'S STRATEGY
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 Mrs. Wilson lit the coal-oil lamp and placed it in the center of the kitchen table; then she turned toward the door, her head half in a listening attitude.  
A brown water-spaniel from the woodshed into the room, four bright-eyed puppies at her heels, and stood half in the glow, half in the shadow, short tail ingratiatingly awag.
"Scoot you!" commanded the woman, and with a wild mother dog and puppies turned and fled to the friendly darkness of their retreat.
Mrs. Wilson stood with frowning gaze fastened on the door. She was a tall, angular woman of some forty years, heavy of features, as she was when occasion demanded it, heavy of hand. Tiny fret-lines a face which under less trying conditions of life might have been , but tonight the lips of the generous mouth were tightly compressed and the rise and fall of the beneath the low cut gown hinted of a volcano that would ere long erupt to the confusion of somebody.
As a quick step sounded outside, she lowered herself slowly to a high-backed chair and waited, hands locked closely upon her lap.
The door opened and her husband entered. He cast a quick, glance at his wife, and the low whistle died on his lips as he passed over to the long roller towel hanging above the wash-bench and proceeded to dry his hands.
He was a medium sized man, with brown hair and a beard which failed to the glad boyishness of a face that would never quite be old. The eyes he turned upon the woman when she sharply his name were blue and .
"Yes, Mary?" he responded gently.
"I want'a tell you that I'm tired of bein' the slave of you an' your son," she burst out. "One of these days I'll be packin' up and goin' to my home folks in Nova Scotia."
Wilson his face and proceeded to straighten the towel on the roller. His action seemed to infuriate the woman.
Her lips . Her hands unclenched and gripped the table as she slowly arose.
"You—" she commenced, her voice tense with passion, "you—" she checked herself. Unconsciously one of the groping hands had come in contact with the soft leather cover of a book which lay on the table.
It was the family Bible. She had placed it there after reading her son Anson his evening chapter. Slowly she mastered herself and sank back into her chair.
Wilson came over and laid a work-hardened hand gently on her heaving shoulder.
"Mary," he said, "what is it? What have I done?"
"Oh," she cried , "what haven't you done, Tom Wilson? Didn't you bring me here to this lonesome spot when I was happy with my son, happy an' ?"
"But I told you you'd like find it some lonesome, Mary, you remember?"
"Yes, but did you so much as hint at what awful things I'd have to live through here? Not you! Did you tell me that an old 'ud die and his ghost ha'nt this neighborhood? Did you tell me that blindness 'ud strike one of the best and most useful young men low? Did you tell me," she ran wildly on, "that the sweetest girl in the world 'ud be dyin' of a heartbreak? Did you tell me anythin', Tom Wilson, that a woman who was leavin' her own home folks, to work for you and your son, should a' been told?"
Wilson sighed. "How was I to know these things would happen, Mary? It's been hard haulin', I know, but someday it won't be so hard. Maybe now, you'd find it easier if you didn't shoulder everybody else's trouble, like you do—"
"Shut right up!" she , "I'm a woman, Tom Wilson. Do you think I could face God on my knees if I failed in my duty to the sick as calls fer me? Why, I couldn't sleep if I didn't do what little I'm able to do fer them in trial; I'd hear weak voices acallin' me, I'd see pain-wild eyes watchin' fer me to come an' help their first-born into the world."
"But, Mary, there's a doctor at Bridgetown now and—"
"Doctors!" she cried scornfully. "Little enough they know the needs of a woman at such a time. A doctor may be all right in his place, but his place ain't here among us woods folk. I tell you now I know my duty an' I'll do it because they need me."
"We all need you, Mary," spoke her husband quickly. "Didn't I tell you that when I persuaded you to come? I need you; Billy needs you."
She looked up at him, tears filming the fire of anger in her eyes.
"No," she said in low tense tones, "your son don't need me. I'm nuthin' to him. Sometimes I think—I think he cares—'cause I'm longin' fer it, I guess. But somehow he seems to be lookin' beyond me to someone else."
Wilson sighed and sank into a chair.
"I guess maybe it's your fancy playin' on you, Mary," he suggested hesitatingly. "Two years of livin' in this lonesome spot has kinder got on your nerves."
"Nerves!" she cried indignantly, sitting bolt upright. "Don't you 'er anybody else dare accuse me of havin' nerves, Tom Wilson. If I wasn't the most sensible-minded person alive I'd be throwin' fits er goin' off into gallopin' hysterics every hour, with the things that Willium does to scare the life out of a body."
"What's Billy been doin' now?" asked Wilson anxiously.
She shivered. "Nothin' out'a the ordinary. What's that limb allars doin' to scare the daylights clean outa me an' the neighbors? If you'd spend a little more of your spare time in the house with your wife an' less in the barn with your precious stock you wouldn't need to be askin' what he's been adoin'. But I'll tell you what he did only this evenin' afore you come home from changin' words with Cobin Keeler.
"Missus Scraff—you know what a fidgety fly-off-the-handle she is, an' how she suffers from the —well, she'd come over an' was stayin' to supper. I sent that Willium out on the back to gather some wild thimble-berries fer dessert. He comes in just as I had the table all set, that wicked old coon he's made a pet of at his heels an' that devil-eyed crow, Croaker, on his shoulder. Afore I could get hold of the broom, he put the covered pail on the table an' went out ag'in. The coon follered him, but that crow jumped right onto the table an' grabbed a piece of cake. I made a dash at him an' he to Missus Scraff's shoulder. She was chewin' a piece of slippery-ellum bark fer her asthma, an' when his claws gripped her shoulder she an' like to 'a' choked to death on it.
"It took me all of half an hour to get her quieted, an' then I made to show her what nice berries we got from our back ridge. 'Jest hold your , Mrs. Scraff, an' I'll give you a glimpse of what we're goin' to top our supper off with,' I says, strivin' to get the poor soul's mind off herself.
"She held out her apron, an' I lefted the lid off the pail and pours what's in it into her lap.
"An' what d'ye 'spose was in that pail, Tom Wilson? Four garter snakes and a ; that's what your precious son had gone out and gathered fer our dessert. I spilled the whole caboodle of 'em into her apron afore I noticed, an' she give one an' fainted dead away. While I was busy bringin' her around, that Willium in an' gathered them squirmin' off the floor. I couldn' do more jest then than look him a promise to settle with him later, 'cause I had my hands full as it was. I found a pail of berries on the table when I got a chance to look about me, an' I ain't sayin' but that boy got them pails mixed, but that don't excuse him none."
Wilson, striving to keep his face grave, nodded. "That's how it's been, I guess, Mary. He no more help pickin' up every snake and animal he comes across then he kin help breathin'. But he don't mean any harm, Billy don't."
"That's neither here ner there," she snapped. "He doesn't seem to care what harm he does. An' the hard part of it is," she burst out, "I can't take no pleasure in whalin' him same as I might if I was his real mother; I jest can't, that's all. He has a way of lookin' at me out'a them big, grey eyes of his'n—"
The voice choked up and a tear splashed down on the hand on her lap.
Comfortingly her husband's hand covered it from sight, as though he sought to achieve by this small token of understanding that which he could not hope to achieve by words.
She caught her breath quickly and a flush stole up beneath the sun and wind stain on her cheeks. There was that in the pressure of the hand on hers, strong yet tender, which swept the feeling of loneliness from her heart.
"Mary," said the man, "I guess neither of us understand Billy and maybe we never will, quite. I've often tried to tell you how much your willin'ness to face this life here meant to him and me but I'm no good at that sort'a thing. I just hoped you'd understan', that's all."
"Well, I'm goin' to do my duty by you both, allars," Mrs. Wilson spoke in matter-of-fact tones, as she reached for her sewing-basket. "When I feel you need checkin' up, Tom Wilson, checked you're goin' to be, an' when Willium needs a hidin' he's goin' to get a hidin'. An'," she added, as her husband got up from his chair, saying something about having to turn the horses out to pasture, "you needn't try to side-track me from my duty neither."
"All right, Mary," he agreed, his hand on the door-latch.
"An' if you're agoin' out to the barn do try'nd not carry any more of the barn-yard in on your big feet than you kin help. I jest finished moppin' the floors."
Wilson stepped out into the summer darkness and went slowly down the path to the barn. As far as eye could reach, through the cleared forest, tiny clearing fires glowed up through the darkness, seeming to vie with big low hanging stars. The smoke of burning log and sward pleasantly with the of fern and wild blossoms.
Wilson lit his pipe and with arms folded on the top rail of the barnyard fence gazed down across the partially-cleared, fire-dotted sweep to where, a mile distant, a long, timbered point of land stood darkly against the sheen of a rising moon.
From the bay-waters came the lonely cry of a , from the the booming of night-basking bullfrogs. The of the sounded faintly from the forest beyond; the yap of a fox drifted through the night's stillness from the uplands.
A long time Wilson stood pondering. When at length he bestirred himself a full moon swam above a transfigured world. A silvery sheen swept softly the open spaces; through the trees the white bay-waters ; the clearing fires had to mere sparks with silvery smoke trails stretching straight up towards a starred .
He sighed and turned to glance back at the cottage resting in the hardwood . It looked very homey, very restful to him, beneath its vines of clustering wild-grape and honeysuckle. It was home—home it must be always. And Mary loved it just as he loved it; this he knew. She was a fine woman, a great helpmate, a wonderful wife and mother. She was fair minded too. She loved Billy quite as much as she loved her own son, Anson. Billy must be more careful, more thoughtful of her comfort. He would have a heart to heart talk with his son, he told himself as he went on to the barn.
He completed his chores and went thoughtfully back up the flower-edged path to the house. "There's one good thing about Mary's crossness," he reflected, "it don't last long. She'll be her old cheerful self ag'in by now."
But Mrs. Wilson was not her old cheerful self; far from it. Wilson realized this fact as soon as he opened the door. She raised stern eyes to her husband as he entered.
"You see them?" she asked with calmness, pointing to a patched and clay-stained pair of trousers on the floor beside her chair. "Them's Willium's. He's jest gone to bed an' I ordered him to throw 'em down to be patched."
Wilson nodded, "Yes, Mary?"
"And do you see this here object that I'm holdin' up afore your dotin' father's eyes?"
He came forward and took the object from her hand.
"It also belongs to your dear, gentle son," she grated, "leastwise I found it in one of his pants pockets."
Wilson whistled softly. "You don't say!" he managed to articulate. "Why, Mary, it's a pipe!"
"Is it?"
"Yes, a corn-cob pipe," he repeated weakly.
"Is it re'lly?" she returned with . "I wasn't sure. I thort maybe it was a fish-line, or a jack-knife. Now what do you think of your precious son?" she demanded.
Wilson shook his head. "It's a new pipe," he ventured to say, "and," the bowl, "it ain't had nuthin' more deadly than dried mullen leaves in it so far. Ain't a great deal of harm in a boy smokin' mullen leaves, shorely, Mary."
"Oh, is that so? Haven't I heered you an' Cobin Keeler say, time and ag'in, that that's how you both got the smoke-habit? And look at you old chimbneys now; the pipe's never out'a your mouths."
"I'll talk things over with Billy in the mornin'," promised Wilson as he took the boot-jack from its .
"A pile of good your talkin''ll do," she cried. "I'm goin' to talk things over with that boy with a hickory ram-rod, jest as soon as I feel he's proper asleep; that's what I'm goin' to do! Who's trainin' that boy, you er me?" she demanded.
"You, of course, Mary."
"Well then, you best let me be. What I feel he should get, he's goin' to get, and get right. You keep out'a this, Tom Wilson, if you want me to keep on; that's all."
"It don't seem right to wake boys up just to give 'em a whalin', Mary," he protested. "My Ma used to wake me up sometimes, but never to whale me. I'd rather remember—"
"Shut up! I tell yun, I'm goin' to give him the hickory this night or I'm goin' to know the reason why. I'll break that boy of his bad habits er I'll break my arm tryin'. You let me be!"
"I'm not findin' fault with your methods of trainin' boys, Mary," her husband hastened to say. "You're doin' your best by Billy, I know that right well. And Billy is rather a tough stick of first-growth timber to smooth and straight, I know that, too. But the gnarliest hickory makes the best axe-handle, so maybe he'll make a good man some day, with your help."
"Humph! well that bein' so, I'm goin' to help him see the error of his ways this night if ever I did," she promised grimly.
Something like a came from behind the stairway door, but the good woman, intent on her , did not hear it. Wilson heard, however, and let the boot-jack fall to the floor with a . He picked it up and carried it over to its accustomed peg on the wall, whistling softly the which he had whistled to Billy in the old , astride-neck days:
Oh, you'd better be up, and away, lad.
You better be up and away!
There is danger here in the , lad,
It's a heap of trouble you've made, lad—
So you'd better be up and away!
Over beside the table, Mrs. Wilson watched him from eyes.
"That's right!" she sighed. "Whistle! It shows all you care. That boy could do anythin' he wanted to do an' you wouldn't say a word; no, not a word!"
Wilson did not answer. He was listening for the stairs to creak, telling him that Billy had left his eaves-dropping for the security of the .
Billy had heard and understood. When his dad sent him one of those "up and away" signals he never questioned its significance. He didn't like listening in secret, but surely he reasoned, a boy had a right to know just what was coming to him. And he knew what was coming to him, all right—a from the hickory ramrod—maybe!
Up in the roomy loft which he and his step-brother, Anson, shared together, he lit the lamp. Anson was sleeping and Billy wondered just what he would say when he woke up in the morning and found his pants gone. Their mother had demanded that a pair of pants be thrown down to her. Billy needed his own so he had thrown down Anson's.
But how in the world was he ever going to get out of that window with Anson's bed right up against it, and Anson sleeping in the bed? Anson would be sure to hear the ladder when Walter Watland and Maurice Keeler raised it against the wall. He must get Anson up and out of that bed!
Billy placed the lamp on a chair and reaching over shook Anson's long, regular snore into fragments of little . He shook harder and Anson sat up, sandy hair and pale blue eyes blinking in the light.
"What's'amatter?" he asked sleepily.
"Hush," cautioned Billy. "Ma's downstairs wide awake and she's awful cross. What you been doin' to rile her, Anse?"
Anson frowned and scratched his head. "Did you tell her ' my lettin' the pigs get in the garden when I was tendin' gap this afternoon?" he asked suspiciously.
"No, it ain't that. I guess maybe she's worried more'n cross, an' she's scared too—scared stiff. Well, who wouldn't be with that awful thing prowlin' around ready to claw the insides out'a people in their sleep?"
Anson sat up suddenly.
"What you talkin' 'bout, Bill? What thing? Who's it been clawin'? Hurry up, tell me."
Billy glanced at the window, poorly protected by a cotton mosquito screen, and shivered.
"Nobody knows what it is," he whispered. "Some say it's a and others say it's a big lynx. Ol' 's the only one who saw it, an' he's so clawed and bit he can't describe it to nobody."
"Great Scott! Bill, you mean to say it got ol' Harry?"
Billy nodded. "Yep, last night. He was asleep when that thing climbed in his winder an' tried to suck his blood away."
"Ugh!" Anson and pulled the bed clothes up about his ears. "How did it get it, Bill! Does anybody know?"
"Well, there was a tree standin' jest outside his winder same as that tree stands outside this one. It climbed that tree and jumped through the mosquito nettin' onto ol' Harry. He was able to tell the doctor that much afore he caved under."
Anson's blue eyes were staring at the wide unprotected window. Outside, the moon swam above the forest; shadows like huge, misshapen monsters prowled on the sward; sounds floated up and died on the still air.
"Bill," Anson's voice was shaking, "I don't feel like sleepin' longside this winder. That awful thing might come shinnin' up that tree an' me up. I'm goin' down and ask Ma if I can't sleep out in the shed with Moll an' the pups."
Billy a new danger to his plans. "If I was you I wouldn't do that, Anse," he advised.
"Well, I'm goin' to do it." Anson sat up in bed and peered onto the floor.
"Where the dickens are my pants?" he whispered. "See anythin' of 'em, Bill?"
"Anse," Billy's voice was sympathetic. "I see I have to tell you everythin'. Ma, she's goin' fo give you the canin' of your young life, jest as soon as she thinks we're proper asleep."
"Canin'? Me? Whatfer?"
"Why, seems she was up here lookin' fer somethin' a little while ago. She saw your pants layin' there an' she thought maybe they needed patchin', so she took 'em down with her."
"Well, what of it?"
"Oh, nuthin', only she happened to find a pipe in one of the pockets, that's all."
"Jerusalem!" Anson's teeth . "Well, I'm goin' down anyway. I don't mind a hidin', but I'm derned if I'm goin' to lay here and get clawed up by no gorilla."
"Anse, listen," Billy put a detaining hand on his brother's shoulder. "You don't need to do that, an' you needn't sleep in this bed neither. I'll sleep in it, an' you kin sleep in mine. That gorilla, er whatever it is, can't hurt me, cause I've got that rabbit-foot charm that Tom give me. I'll tie it round my neck."
Anson reflected, as a long low came from the forest.
"That's the boys," Billy told himself. "I've gotta move fast."
Aloud he urged: "Come on, Anse. Get Out an' pile into my bed. I ain't scared to sleep in yours, not a bit. Besides," he added, "it'll save you a canin' from Ma."
"How will it, I'd like to know?"
"Why this way. Ma'll come creepin' up here in the dark, when she thinks we're asleep an' she'll come straight to this—your bed. She'll turn down the clothes an' give me a or two, thinkin' it's you. I'll let her me some—then I'll speak to her. She'll be so surprised she'll ferget all about whalin' you. She's that way, you know. Like as not she'll laugh to think she me—an' she'll be good-natured. You needn't worry any about a lickin', Anse."
"Well, I'll take a chance, Bill."
Anson got out of bed, his white legs gleaming in the yellow lamp-light as he tiptoed softly across to Billy's cot and lay down.
Billy blew out the lamp and went through the motions of undressing. He removed one shoe, let it fall on the floor, waited an and let the same shoe fall again. Then he put it back on. By and by he lay down and gave a long, weary sigh. Then he held his breath and listened.
Below his window sounded a whippoorwill's call. From the opposite side of the room came the long, regular snores of Anson. Billy sat up in bed and started to remove the from the window screen.
Something fell with a thud against the wall outside, and brushed against the boards. A cat mewed directly beneath the window. Gently Billy rolled the bed quilts into an oblong shape resembling a human form, then silently made his way out of the window.
His feet struck the top round of a ladder. A moment more and he was in the shadow of the wall, two shadowy forms beside him.
"All hunky?" a voice whispered in his ear.
"All hunky," Billy whispered back.
"Then come on."
But Billy plucked at the speaker's sleeve. "Wait a minute, Fatty," he urged. "Anson's up there asleep, an' he's goin' to have a wakin' nightmare in about four seconds. I jest heard Ma goin' up."
Silence, deep and brooding, fell. Then suddenly from the loft came a long wail, followed by a succession of shorter gasps and , and above the swish of a hickory ram-rod a woman's voice exclaiming angrily.
"I'll teach you to smoke on the sly, you young , you!"
"Now let's get while the gettin's good," whispered Billy; and the three crept off into the shadows.
Down through the night-enshrouded woods the boys made their way noiselessly, Billy leading, Walter Watland, nicknamed Fatty on account of his size, close behind him and Maurice Keeler, Billy's sworn chum and confidant, bringing up the rear. Occasionally a soft-winged owl fluttered up from its kill, with a muffled "who-who." Once a heavy object from the trail with a snort, and the boys felt the flesh along their creeping. They kept on without so much as a word, crossing a swift on a fallen tree, holding to its bank and making a into the woods to avoid passing close to a dilapidated log cabin which in the moonlight bore evidence of having fallen into disuse. As they skirted the heavy of pines, which even in the summer night's stillness sighed low and mournfully, the leader halted suddenly and a low fell from his lips.
"Look!" he whispered. "Look! There's a light in the ha'nted house."
His companions crept forward and peered through the trees. Sure enough from the one unglazed window of the old building came the twinkle of a light, which bobbed about in weird, uncertain fashion.
"Old Scroggie's ghost huntin' fer the lost money," whispered Walter, "Oh, gosh! let's leg it!'
"Leg nuthin'!" Billy removed his hand from his trousers-pocket and waved something before two pairs of fear-widened eyes.
"'No ghost kin harm where lies this charm,'" he recited solemnly. "Now if you fellers feel like beatin' it, why beat it; but so long as I'm grabbin' onto this left foot of a rabbit I don't run away from no ghost—not even old man Scroggie's."
"That's all right fer you, Bill," returned Walter, "but what's goin' t' happen t' Maurice an' me, supposin' that ghost takes a notion to this way? That's what I want'a know!"
Billy turned upon him. "Say, Fatty, haven't I told you that this here charm protects everybody with me?" he asked cuttingly.
"There's never been a ghost that ever roamed nights been able to get near it. You kin ask Tom Dodge er any of the other Injuns if there has."
"Oh it might lay an Injun ghost," said the Fatty, "but how about a white man's? How about old man Scroggie's, fer instance? You know yourself, Bill, old man Scroggie was a tartar. Nobody ever fooled him while he was alive an' nobody need try now he's dead. If he wants to come back here an' snoop round lookin' fer the money he buried an' forgot where, it's his own funeral. I'm fer not mixin' up in this thing any—"
"Keep still!" cautioned Billy, "an' look yonder! See it?"
He through the trees to an open glade in the grove. The full moon, riding high in the sky, threw her light fair upon the fern-sown sod; across the glade a white object was moving—drifting straight toward the watchers. Billy, tightly gripping his rabbit's foot charm in one sweaty hand and a rough-barked sapling in the other, felt Walter's hands clutching his shoulders.
"Oh Jerusalem!" the terrified Fatty, "It's the ghost! Look, it's sheddin' blue grave-mist! Fer the love of Mike let's git out'a this!"
"Wait," Billy, but it was plain to be seen he was wavering. His feet were getting uneasy, his toes fairly biting holes through his socks in their eagerness to tear up the sward. But as leader it would never do for him to show the white feather.
The approaching terror had drifted into the shadow again. Suddenly, so near that it fairly seemed to the frowsy top of the sapling to which he was hanging, a weird blue light twisted upward almost in Billy's eyes. At the same moment a tiny hoot-owl, sleeping off its early evening's feed in the close beside the boys, woke up and gave a ghostly cry. It was too much for overstrained nerves to stand. Billy felt Fatty's form quiver and leap even before his howl fell on his ears—a cry which he and Maurice may have echoed, for all he knew.
They were a mile away from the place of terror before sheer forced them to their wild speed and tumble in a heap beneath a big elm tree, along the trail of the forest.
For a time they lay and quivering. Maurice Keeler was the first to speak. "Say, Bill," he shivered, "is it light enough fer you to see if the hair is off one side o' my head? That—that ghost's breath shot blue flame square in my face."
"It grabbed me in its bony fingers," whispered Fatty. "Gosh, it tore the sleeve fair out'a my shirt. Look!" And to prove the truth of his statement he lifted a fat arm to which adhered a sleeve.
Billy sat up and surveyed his companions with disgust.
"A nice pair of scare-babies you two are," he said, scathingly. "A great pair you are to help me find old Scroggie's will an' money. Why, say, if you'd only kept your nerve a little, that ghost would'a led us right to the spot, most likely; but 'stead o' that you take to your heels at first sight of it. Say! I thought you both had more sand."
Maurice squirmed uncomfortably. "Now look here, Bill," he protested, "Fatty an' me wasn't any scarter than you was, yourself. Who made the first jump, I want'a know; who?"
"Well, who did?" snapped Billy, at his two bosom friends.
"You did," Maurice affirmed. "An' you grabbed Fatty by the arm an' pulled his shirt sleeve out. I saw you. And you can't say you didn't run neither, else how did you get here same time as Fatty an' me?"
"Well, I didn't run, but I own I follered you," compromised Billy. "There wasn't anythin' else I could do, was there? How did I know what you two scared rabbits ud do? You might'a run plumb into Lake Erie an' got drownded, you was so scared. Somebody's had to keep his head," he said airily.
"Well I kept mine by havin' a good pair of legs," groaned Fatty. "I'm not denyin' that. And by , if they had been good enough fer a thousand miles I'd've let 'em go the limit. Scared! Oh yowlin' wildcats! I'll see ghosts an' smell brimstone the rest o' my life."
"Boys," cried Billy in tones. "It's gone!"
"What's gone?" asked his companions in a breath.
Billy was feeling in his pockets. "My rabbit foot charm," he groaned. "I fell over a log an' it must'a slipped out'a my pocket."
"You had it in your hand when th' ghost its blue tongue in our faces," affirmed Maurice. "I saw it."
"You throwed somethin' at the ghost afore you howled an' run," Fatty stated. "Maybe it was the rabbit foot?"
"'No ghost kin harm where lies this charm,'" Maurice.
Billy turned on him. "If you want'a make fun of a charm, why all right, go ahead," he said coldly. "Only I know I wouldn't do it, not if I wanted it to save me from a ghost, anyway."
Maurice looked frightened. "I wasn't pokin' fun at the charm, Bill, cross my heart, I wasn't," he said earnestly.
"All right then, see that you don't. Now, see here, I'll tell you somethin'. I did throw my rabbit's foot charm but that was to keep that ghost from follerin'. Maybe you two didn't hear it snort when it got to that charm an' tried to pass it, so's to catch up to us; but I heard it. Oh say, but wouldn't it be mad though?"
"An' that's why you throwed it," exclaimed the admiring Maurice. "Gosh, nobody else would'a thought of that."
"Nobody," echoed Fatty, "nobody but Bill."
"Well, somebody has to think in a case o' that kind," admitted Billy, "an' think quick. It was up to me to save you, an' I did the only thing I could think of right then."
Just here the whistle of bob-white sounded from a little distance along the trail.
"That's Elgin Scraff and Tom Holt comin' to look fer us," cried Maurice.
"Answer 'em," said Billy.
Maurice up his lips and gave an answering call. It was returned almost immediately. A moment later two more boys came into the moonlight.
"We wondered what kept you fellers, so came lookin' fer you," spoke Tom Holt as they came up. "Thought you'd be comin' by the tamarack swamp trail, an' we stuck around there fer quite a while, waitin'. Then Elgin said maybe you had come the ha'nted house way, so we struck through the bush an' tried to pick up your trail. Once we thought we saw the ghost, but it turned out to be old Ringold's white yearlin' . It had rubbed up ag'inst some will-o-the-wisp an' it fair showered sparks of blue fire. If we hadn't heered it bawlin' we'd have run sure."
Somewhere behind him Billy heard a , which was immediately suppressed as he turned and looked over his shoulder.
"Yep," he replied, "we saw that steer, too. We've been waitin' here, hopin' we'd hear your whistle. I wonder what time it's gettin' to be?"
Tom Holt, the proud possessor of a watch, consulted it. "Ten twelve an' a half," he answered, holding the dial to the moon-light. "Sandtown'll be sound asleep. Come on, let's go down to the lake an' make a haul."
"I s'pose we might be goin'," said Billy. "All right, fellers, come along."
Arriving at the lake the boys learned after careful reconnoitering that everything was clear for action. Not a light from the homes of the fishermen, to show that they were awake and .
The white-fish run was on and when the boys, launching the big flat-bottomed fish boat, carefully cast and drew in the long seine it held more great gleaming fish than they knew how to dispose of.
"Only one thing to do," reasoned Billy, "take what we want an' let the rest go."
And this they did. When they left the beach the moon was low above the Point pines, the draw-seine was back in its place on the big reel and there was nothing to show the lake fishermen that the Scotia Fish Supply Company had been operating on their grounds.

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