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CHAPTER III


A "PEPPER" GHOST


Mrs. Stanhope and Mrs. Laning had been taking a nap, and they were much interested when they awoke and learned of what had occurred.

"Let us be thankful that the raft did not run us down," said Dora's mother, who was a widow.

"It was mean to make us run aground," was Mrs. Laning's comment. "Some folks try their best to get others into trouble."

"That fellow with the long nose got out of sight in a hurry when he saw the shotgun," observed Tom.

"Oh, Tom, you wouldn't have shot him, would you?" cried Nellie.

"I only meant to scare him. But, if they had really run us down, I don't know what I would have done."

It was not long after this that the lumber raft passed entirely out of their sight. Gradually the talk changed, and all began to wonder where they were to tie up for the night.

"I did hope to reach Masterville," said Captain Starr. "But I don't think we can make it."

"Do we need anything in particular in the shape of provisions?" asked Dick.

"I don't think so. You might ask Aleck."

The person referred to was a colored man who was in the employ of the Rovers, and had been with the boys on many of their outings. His full name was Alexander Pop, and he thought the world and all of Dick, Tom and Sam.

"Hullo, Aleck!" called out Dick, going to the cook's galley.

"Yes, sah! Comin', sah!" was the answer, and in an instant Aleck's smiling ebony face showed itself at the doorway.

"Have we got enough provisions on hand until to-morrow?"

"Yes, sah."

"Then we won't have to go ashore for anything?"

"No, sah; less yo' want sumfing very special," and the colored man grinned.

"Are you going to give us a pretty good supper, Aleck?" asked Tom, walking up.

"Lamb chops, sah, an' green peas, sweet potatoes, an' cake an' cut-up peaches."

"That's first-rate, Aleck," said Dick, smiling.

"Any quail on toast?" asked Tom.

"No, sah."

"Any bear steaks, or salmon eggs?"

"Ain't seen none ob dem t'ings yet, Massa Tom."

"How about butterflies' wings on toast?"

"Wha—what's dat?"

"Or milkweed stewed in onion fat?" went on Tom earnestly.

"Gracious sakes alive, sah! I didn't know dat——"

"Or firefly fritters, Aleck. Don't you love firefly fritters, especially when they are rolled in lemon skin and cheese?"

"Say, Massa Tom, ain't you a-foolin' dis darkey?"

"Fooling? Why, Aleck, you know I never fool." Tom gave a sigh. "That's the way of the world, when a fellow is trying to do his best."

And he walked off, leaving the faithful Aleck staring after him doubtfully. But soon the colored man began to smile to himself.

"Dat's some moah ob his jokes, dat's what dat is," he murmured. "Dat boy couldn't lib, 'less he was playin' a joke on sumbody!"

The houseboat had now gained a portion of the river where the shore was lined with a beautiful forest, and, as the sun began to set over the treetops, all came out on the deck to enjoy the scene.

"If it wasn't for the troubles we have encountered, this would be an ideal trip," said Dora, as she stood by Dick's side.

"Let us forget the troubles, Dora," said the youth softly, and gave her hand a little squeeze. "I am so glad you are with us. If you weren't, I think it would be rather lonely for me."

"Oh, Dick, you mustn't talk so," cried the girl, and blushed. But she was pleased, nevertheless.

Just where the forest ended there was a point of land stretching out into the river, and there it was decided to tie up for the night. An early supper was had, and then about half of the party went ashore—Dick and Dora to take a stroll in the moonlight, and Tom, Sam and some of the others to do a little exploring.

"The forest looks a little bit spooky," said Fred, as they walked along.

"Spooky?" came scornfully from Songbird Powell. "Why, it's grand—fairly breathing the essence of poetry," and then he continued:

""Down in the depths of a forest grand,
Where many a hoary tree doth stand,
And many a little babbling brook
Gives music to each shady nook,
'Tis there I love a walk to take——"

"And step upon a rattlesnake."

finished Tom. "Better keep your eyes open. Songbird, or the rattlers will be after you. They love music and poetry, you know."

"Rattlesnakes! Horrible!" shuddered Songbird. "That's enough to drive the poetry out of a fellow for a week."

"Do you think there are any rattlers here?" asked Sam.

"I ton't vos afraid of raddlesnakes alretty," put in Hans. "I vos know a fine vay to kill dem," and his mild eyes began to twinkle.

"What's the way, Hans?" asked Tom.

"First, you got some poison in a pottle."

"Yes."

"Den you go py der voots till you come py Mr. Raddlesnake."

"All right, proceed."

"Den you got dot Mr. Raddlesnake py der neck, oben his mouth und put der boison on der insides. In an hour, Mr. Raddlesnake vos so dead like tiefer vos alretty."

"Sold! That's the time Hans caught you, Tom!" exclaimed Sam, and set up a roar.

"Yah, I vos chust vaiting to cotch you, Tom," and now the German youth joined in the hilarity.

"All right, that's one on me," said Tom. "My move next," he added, but under his breath.

"There's a rattlesnake now!" yelled Fred a moment later, and all gave a jump, Hans as lively as the rest. But it was only a small reptile, and harmless, and quickly disappeared from view.

In a clearing, the boys built a fire, and sat around this, telling stories and talking over the events of the day.

From one thing and another the conversation gradually drifted around to ghosts, and Fred told a ghost story that was thrilling in the extreme.

"Don't you believe in ghosts, Hans?" questioned Sam.

"Not much, I ton't," answered the German youth. "Da vos all humbugs alretty."

"Then you wouldn't run if you saw a ghost?" queried Songbird.

"Not von sthep," said Hans positively.

This talk set Tom to thinking, and on the way back to the houseboat he called Sam to his side.

"I've got an idea."

"What is it?" questioned his brother.

"You heard what Hans said about ghosts?"

"To be sure I did."

"Well, I've got an idea for some fun."

"Good for you, Tom."

"We'll fix up a ghost."

"Oh, that's old."

"So it is; but this particular kind of ghost isn't old."

"What is it to be?"

"One full of pepper."

"Pepper?"

"Exactly. And when Hans hammers it—why, look out, that's all."

The matter was talked over for a few minutes, and Sam readily fell in with his brother's ideas. Reaching the houseboat, the pair went to one of the staterooms and procured a sheet and a bolster.

Then Tom ran off to the galley and obtained a box full of pepper. The pepper was sprinkled over the sheet and the bolster.

"Now, we'll take the outfit to Hans' room," said Tom, and this was done without the German youth being aware of what was taking place.

The others were then let into the plot, and just before retiring Tom called Hans to one side.

"Hans, I want to give you a tip," he whispered tragically.

"Vot for?"

"Some of the fellows are going to scare you. They have fixed up a ghost in your room."

"Is dot so?"

"When you go to bed, don't be frightened."

"Not much I von't pe, Tom. Maype I vos hammer dot ghost, hey?"

"That's the talk. Take a switch along and lock your door. Then you can switch the ghost good." "Ha! ha! dot's a goot blan," roared the German youth. "Maype somepody ton't cotch him!"

A few minutes after that, the boys and the others separated for the night, and Hans retired to his own stateroom.

As it was bright moonlight, no lights had been lit, nor did the German youth make any.

Tom had deceived him completely, and behind his back he carried a heavy switch. He intended to "lather" the ghost good before giving the joker, whoever he might be, a chance to get away.

As he closed the door, he caught sight of something white and ghost-like standing near the head of his berth. He shut the door softly and locked it.

"Oh, my!" he cried. "A ghost! a ghost!" And then he raised his switch and brought it down on the white object with all his might. Blow after blow was delivered in rapid succession, for he wanted to get in as many cracks as possible before the joker should expose himself.

"Dere you vos, you pad ghost!" he cried. "I dink you vos——"

At this point Hans stopped short. Something had entered his nose—something that tickled exceedingly.

"Ker-chew! ker-chew!" he sneezed. "Vot is—ker-chew! I dink—ker-chew! Oh, my! I vos schneeze mine head—ker-chew! Stop dot, somepody—ker-chew! Oh, dear—kerchew! Oben der door—ker-chew!"

Blinded, and sneezing violently, Hans dropped his switch and made for the door. Throwing it wide open, he ran out to get some pure air, for the stateroom was filled with floating pepper.

"I fix somepody for dis—ker-chew!" he roared, "Chust vait, you chokers!"

Then he caught sight of Tom, who stood nearby, grinning.

"Dot vos your drick!" he went on. "Chust you come here!"

"Thank you, not to-night, Hansy, my dear boy," said the joker, keeping at a safe distance.

"Veil, den, you go 'long mit your old ghost," went on Hans, and, picking up the peppered bolster and sheet, he threw them into Tom's room, where the fun-loving youth had the pleasure of disposing of the mess as best he could.