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´╗┐Title: The Blue Ghost Mystery
Author: Goodwin, Harold L. (Harold Leland), 1914-1990
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Blue Ghost Mystery" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                              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]



Contents


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

XVI TRAPPED!

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



CHAPTER I

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?"



CHAPTER II

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.



CHAPTER III

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.

[Illustration: _There was no place the Blue Ghost could have gone_]

There was no sign of human handiwork.

There was--nothing.



CHAPTER IV

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!



CHAPTER V

Night Alarm


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?"

"Good question."

"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?"

"Aren't you?"

"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!"



CHAPTER VI

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?"

[Illustration: _"See a way up, Rick?" Scotty called_]

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.



CHAPTER VII

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.



CHAPTER VIII

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."

"That has to be it," Rick agreed. "Now, why try to lead us on like that?
It was only an accident that Scotty and I didn't go in together, because
his shoe needed tying. Otherwise, we'd both have been at the bottom of
the quarry."

Dr. Miller shook his head, in bewilderment, not in negation. "You might
very well have been hurt seriously or even killed. In which case people
would have blamed the ghost. But why did the ghost do such a thing?"

Rick had wondered about this, too. "I can think of only one reason. The
ghost can't stand investigation. He knew we were a menace because Scotty
and I ran right up and tried to catch him that first night."

"But why did he tamper with your plane, or try to?" the scientist asked.
"He couldn't have known about the alarm. You checked the plane, didn't
you?"

"Yes. It wasn't touched, so far as we could see. Anyway, no harm was
done. I can't imagine why he went for the plane, though, unless he
figured on sabotaging us that way."

"You still haven't told us why you suspect the Frostola man," Barby
pointed out.

Rick ticked off the points on his fingers. "He's new. He arrived just as
the ghost started making appearances. But he's not so new that he hasn't
had time to study the area or to make plans to lead nosy people to the
quarry. He was at the picnic ground when there was no chance of selling
much ice cream. He took the cement bags; we don't know why. He's tall
and lean, so he could run fast enough to keep ahead of Scotty and me.
He's also tall enough to qualify for the ghost we chased."

He stopped and took a deep breath. "And one more thing. He carries
something that would make a marvelous mist for a ghost to appear in.
Something that might harm the microscopic animals in the pool
temporarily--although I'm not sure of this--but would be gone with the
mist."

The others stared at him with complete interest.

Dr. Miller said softly, "Of course! Rick, that's brilliant. It fits
perfectly!"

Jan Miller wailed, "What does?"

"Dry ice," Rick said.



CHAPTER IX

The Splitting Atoms


The storm had given way to a fine drizzle of rain by morning. Rick
stared out the window at the drenched land and considered the angles he
had been turning over in his mind.

The dry-ice theory wasn't conclusive, he knew, but it was a strong
indication. It didn't explain the Blue Ghost himself, but it could
explain the mist.

Dry ice is simply solid carbon dioxide, which is a gas at normal
temperatures. It becomes a solid at low temperatures, and because it is
harmless, inexpensive, and clean, it is widely used to keep things cold,
as in the case of ice-cream route men who have no means of
refrigeration.

When the temperature is raised, dry ice passes directly from the solid
to the gaseous state. When dropped into water it seems to boil, as the
comparative warmth of the water turns it to gas, and it creates a fine
white mist.

Rick was reasonably sure the Blue Ghost appeared in a carbon-dioxide
cloud, and he was beginning to have an inkling of how this was
accomplished--in principle, if not in specific terms. There were, after
all, he reasoned, only a few ways of creating a visible image. He was
going through the list of possibilities, eliminating them one by one.

If the Frostola man was connected with the ghostly appearances, it was
only necessary to keep track of that tall individual. This was Rick's
plan, necessarily postponed because of the storm.

"Wish we had a radio," he said. "I'd like to get a weather report."

Scotty grinned sympathetically. He knew that Rick was impatient when
there was detecting to be done.

"We really should have a battery radio," Dr. Miller said. "Power here is
not very dependable in stormy weather. I think I'll get one, although
that won't help now."

"What we need is a radio that doesn't depend on power," Jan Miller said.
"Then it would always be ready."

Rick stared at the girl, not really seeing her. A radio without power.
He remembered a long talk with Dr. John Gordon of the Spindrift staff
about the principles of radio. Dr. Gordon had sketched a circuit that
needed no power, and then had told Rick of how American ingenuity had
produced what soldiers called a "foxhole radio."

"I saw an old transformer in the woodshed," he said suddenly. "May I
have it, Dr. Miller?" At the scientist's nod, he addressed Jan. "I'll
bet you can find me a cardboard tube. Then, if I can have an old razor
blade and permission to take the receiver off the telephone for a while,
I can make a radio!"

The scientist, the girls, and Scotty looked at him with disbelief. "He's
gone off his rocker at last," Scotty muttered. "How can anyone make a
radio out of junk?"

"I'll need a pencil stub, a few screws, and a piece of board," Rick
added. "A safety pin would help, too."

"Rick Brant, you're being silly," Barby said firmly. "This is no time
for practical jokes!"

Dr. Miller held up his hand. "Peace, Barbara. Rick isn't joking. I
believe I see what he has in mind. Rick, I've never heard of this, but I
assume the oxide on the razor blade is to act as a rectifier?"

"That's right, sir. John Gordon told me about it."

The scientist rose. "Then it will work. Come on, gang. Let's build a
radio out of junk."

With many hands to help, the work went quickly. Under Dr. Miller's
direction, Scotty took the transformer out of its case and the girls
went to work unwinding the quantities of wire from its coils.

Rick found a razor blade and anchored it to a rectangular piece of
plywood he found in the woodshed. It was a double-edged blade, and one
small screw from Dr. Miller's junk box served to hold it. He wrapped a
short piece of insulated wire, one of the transformer's connecting
leads, under the screw before he tightened it. He sharpened the lead
pencil with his jackknife, uncoiled the safety pin, and pushed the sharp
end into the exposed lead at the upper end of the pencil, which was a
stub only two inches long.

The safety pin also was screwed to the board, the screw going through
the space in the pin's head. It was placed in such a position that the
sharp end of the lead pencil rested on the razor blade. Another short
piece of insulated wire was wrapped around the screw before it was
tightened. Rick bared the copper end of the wire in order to make a good
contact.

Jan found a cardboard roll that had once held paper towels. Rick cut off
about six inches of it and proceeded to wind it with wire from the
transformer. He wound evenly and tightly, until the roll was full of
wire. Then he stabbed a small hole in each end of the roll and pulled
the wires through to hold the coil in position. The roll--now a
coil--was tacked to the board with thumbtacks.

Dr. Miller, meanwhile, had taken the receiver from the telephone. Scotty
strung yards of wire around the room and handed the loose end to Rick.
That was the antenna. Then Scotty scraped a bright place on a water pipe
with his knife and twisted a length of wire tightly around it. That was
the ground.

Rick and Dr. Miller made connections. Rick gestured to the haywire
apparatus with some pride. "Behold. Where there was junk is now a
radio."

Jan Miller said, "I don't believe it!"

Rick had to laugh. "I'm not sure I do, either. But let's try." He sat
down at the table and held the receiver to his ear. With the other hand
he began the laborious job of locating a sensitive spot on the razor
blade.

Dr. Gordon had told him that only an occasional spot on a blade will
work. Some blades have no such spots. Others have many.

Rick was beginning to think that he had one of the no-spot kind, or that
the whole idea was wrong, when he heard what he thought was a voice. He
hastily concentrated on the spot, and in a few seconds music flooded
into the earphone. He had caught a disk jockey in the process of
introducing a record. For a long moment he listened, then held out the
earphone with a broad grin. "Anyone care to listen?"

Everyone did. They took turns, with each application of the phone to an
ear accompanied by expressions of astonishment.

Barby looked at her brother with new respect. "It's just fantastic! How
on earth does it work?"

Dr. Miller chuckled. "I'm sure you don't want a full course in
electronics, Barby. Actually, it's simple enough. The signal from the
radio station is an alternating current that sets up a corresponding
current in the antenna wire. This current goes through the coil and is
rectified--that is, it's turned into pulsating direct current--by the
razor blade. The receiver then converts it into audible sound."

Barby sighed. "I'll just have to take your word for it. But it's a
miracle!"

"It may seem like one, but it's really the same kind of circuit you find
in a crystal set," Rick explained. "The razor blade acts like the
crystal. That's all."

The young people took turns listening to the station, located in a town
nearby. Within the hour there was a weather report promising clearing
skies before the end of the day. Later, in a roundup of local
announcements, they heard that the annual Sons of the Old Dominion
feast, postponed because of the storm, would be held the next night.

"That means we start keeping an eye on the ice-cream man tomorrow
afternoon," Rick said.

Scotty nodded. "First, we'd better make a survey of the terrain. He has
to approach by the road, but there are a million places he could go once
he got into the mine area."

Rick looked out the window. "The rain has stopped. Maybe we can
reconnoiter this afternoon."

Fortunately, the Miller farm was well equipped with boots and overshoes.
The boys borrowed footgear suitable for any mud left by the rain and
started out after lunch.

The picnic area was washed clean of footprints and it was clear no one
had visited the area since the rain. They made their way to the top of
the hill above the mine and surveyed the cornfield that had been planted
on the hilltop field. The corn was not high. The plants came only to
their knees. Either it was a second planting or a poor crop. Rick
guessed that the second reason was probably the correct one, because the
field hadn't been cultivated recently.

"This isn't Miller land," he mused. "Wonder who is farming it?"

"It must be Hilleboe's property," Scotty returned. "Maybe he rents it to
some local farmer."

They walked to the downstream edge of the cornfield to where the woods
resumed. Rick had a feeling that they were wasting time. The ghost
couldn't be produced from such a distance by any means he had ever heard
of. The apparition had to be created right in the vicinity of the mine.

He spoke his thoughts aloud, and added, "Let's go back."

"Just a minute." Scotty pointed to a pile of brush. "Aren't those more
bags?"

They were, and of the same brand as those the boys had located on the
stream bank. Scotty picked one up and tested it between his fingers.
"Mighty curious. Water cures Portland cement. Turns it hard. These bags
aren't hard, even though some powder is still in them."

Rick examined the bags, his brows creased with bewilderment. "They must
have held something besides cement. But what? Fertilizer for the
cornfield, maybe? And why two caches?"

"If it were fertilizer, the bags near the mine could have been for the
field across the creek where the plane is," Scotty suggested. "These
could have been for this field. But I don't think it was fertilizer.
Isn't fertilizer soluble in water?"

Rick wasn't sure. "We can take the bag along," he said. "Maybe the
microscope will tell us something, or maybe Dr. Miller will know."

He had a feeling that the bags meant something. They had been hidden,
and only the erosion of rain had uncovered them, first at the creek
embankment and now here. The Frostola man had almost certainly taken the
others. Why? Unless they had something to do with the mystery? The bags
were worthless, of themselves.

They finished the survey of the area. It was clear that whoever produced
the ghost would have to enter by the road from town, because there was
no other road on the side of the hill in which the mine was located. To
be sure, the area could be reached by walking a considerable distance,
but Rick couldn't see a man with equipment doing much walking through
cornfields or woods filled with underbrush. He was certain the ghost had
to be produced by equipment of some kind, probably electric
powered--which meant batteries.

The problem was, where did the ghost producer operate? If dry ice was
used to produce the mist, how did it get into the pool? He had no
answers to these vital questions, nor did Scotty.

The dark-haired boy looked at him quizzically as they trudged back to
the farmhouse. "Did it ever occur to you that it's impossible for anyone
to produce the ghost? There is no place within sight of the pool where
anyone could hide, except in a tree, and a man with equipment wouldn't
go undetected by a gang at the picnic grounds."

"It did occur to me," Rick admitted. "But doesn't that put us back where
we started? Either the ghost is a genuine spook, or it's man-made. We're
not making many miles an hour in proving it's man-made, I admit. But if
it isn't, where does that leave us?"

Rick remembered the chase through the woods, ending with a bath in the
quarry. If they had been chasing a real ghost, and the ghost had led
them into danger deliberately, that meant ... He wasn't sure what it
meant except that it gave him goose pimples to think about it.

The electricity and telephone service had been restored by the time the
boys got back. Dr. Miller told them that he had phoned the tenant farmer
and arranged for the man to do a little inquiring in the town.

Rick displayed the bag. "Got a specimen," he told the group. He
explained their interest in the bag and asked Dr. Miller if he could
identify the contents.

The scientist examined the grayish powder from the bag. "It could be any
one of a hundred things," he said. "Let's see what we can find out about
it."

The farmhouse wasn't equipped for any kind of chemical analysis, but the
scientist did what was possible. He tried to dissolve the powder in
water, and failed. He tried vinegar, as the only acid available, and
failed. He tried ammonia, and failed.

Finally he said, "Well, it isn't cement, and it isn't fertilizer. It's
an inorganic substance. I suggest the microscope, Rick. It will at least
give us a clue to its structure, if not its identity."

Rick spread a small amount on a slide, switched on the substage light,
and put the slide on the stage. He focused, using his highest-power lens
combination which gave a magnification of three hundred times.

The powder was clearly crystalline, a mineral of some kind. Rick
couldn't identify it. He turned the eyepiece over to Dr. Miller. The
scientist had no better luck.

Barby asked, "Could it be an explosive?"

"No, Barby. This is powdered rock of some kind," Dr. Miller answered,
his eye at the instrument. "But why anyone should use powdered rock and
then hide the bags certainly escapes me. I can't imagine what the powder
is for. It isn't a powdered limestone, which might be used on the
fields. The crystal structure is wrong for that."

"Wish we had a geologist with us," Rick said. "This calls for an
expert." He stared helplessly at the microscope. There was only one more
test that could be made, and he saw no use in making it.

[Illustration: _"This calls for an expert," Rick said discouragingly_]

Included in the microscopy set Barby had given him was a gadget called a
spinthariscope, like a cone of black plastic with the sharp end of the
cone sliced off. In the wide end of the cone, inset so it wouldn't touch
the eye, was a lens. The small end was composed of a disk of special
chemical that fluoresced when struck by an atomic particle.

The little instrument used a principle dating back to the early history
of atomic energy, when scientists were exploring the nature of the
strange force the Curies had discovered in radium and polonium.

It was only his training in thoroughness of investigation that led Rick
to use the instrument. Since it was necessary for the eye to become
adapted to the darkness before using the instrument, he took it into a
closet and shut the door. As the pupils of his eyes dilated he worked by
touch, spreading a bit of powder on the end containing the special
sulfide screen.

He applied his eye to the lens, more as a matter of form than in the
expectation of seeing anything. For an instant he saw nothing, then, as
his eye adjusted, he let out a wild yell. There were hundreds of
scintillations, each caused by a nuclear particle or photon striking the
screen.

The sample was radioactive!



CHAPTER X

An Assist from JANIG


"We're onto something," Rick said grimly, "and we need help."

"I should say so," Barby commented. She eyed the cement bag a little
apprehensively. "After all, radioactivity is dangerous!"

Dr. Miller smiled. "It is, in sufficient quantity. But the sample we
have here is scarcely above normal background, so I don't think we need
be concerned." The scientist turned to Rick. "I wish your instrument
could give us further data, but unfortunately it's pretty primitive. It
tells us the sample is slightly radioactive and that's all. I agree we
need help."

The nearest source of help Rick could think of was JANIG, the secret
security agency in Washington for which the Spindrift scientists had
often worked on special projects. This wasn't a matter for the agency
officially, but Rick was sure Steve Ames, their contact in JANIG, would
help if he could. Since Spindrift had first worked with the agency on
_The Whispering Box Mystery_, Steve and the boys had become good
friends.

Rick suggested to the others that Steve should be called. All of them
knew the young agent. He had been responsible to a large extent for the
Millers joining the Spindrift staff, since he had smuggled them out of
Washington to Spindrift to escape the deadly electronic mind reader that
had imperiled the scientist for weeks.

There was no disagreement. On the contrary, Jan Miller asked excitedly,
"What's the matter with right now?"

"Nothing," Rick said with a grin. He went to the telephone book and
found the long-range dialing code for Washington, then dialed Steve's
special number directly. In less than half a minute he had the agent on
the phone.

"Steve? What a break to find you in! This is Rick." He swiftly outlined
the events of the past few days, ending with the discovery that the bag
contents were radioactive. He concluded, "I know this isn't a case for
you, but we hoped you might help us to identify the stuff from the bag
and get a better measure of how active it is."

Steve considered. "Know where Falls Church airport is?"

Rick had used it for a landmark on the way to the farm. It was a small
private airport west of Washington near the city of Falls Church. "I
know where it is."

"All right. You're only a few minutes flying time from there. It's now
two thirty. Be there at four. I'll have a man meet you. Bring the
sample."

Rick thanked the agent and hung up. He reported that Steve would send a
man to the airport at four o'clock.

Scotty asked, "Is the field dry enough for take-off and landing?"

"Sure. I hope Steve has a real expert he can send. If we can identify
this stuff, it may give us a clue to what's going on here."

At Barby's request, Rick and Scotty took the girls along for the short
ride. Steve's man walked to the plane as they rolled to a stop on the
Falls Church strip. He introduced himself as Don Baxter, then opened the
suitcase he carried. "Let's see what you have."

He produced a field-survey instrument and held it over the bag Rick
carried. The instrument's meter showed a reading at once.

"Gamma," Baxter stated. "Now let's try for alpha and beta." He opened a
shield on the bottom of his instrument and checked the sample again. The
meter failed to respond. "No beta. That's interesting." An inner shield
was slid out of the way and the instrument held to the bag. The meter
responded.

Baxter nodded satisfaction. "Alpha and gamma. No beta. That means this
stuff is not a fission product."

He studied the powder and rubbed a bit between his thumb and forefinger.
He asked, "May I have the bag?"

"Sure," Rick agreed readily. "What is the stuff?"

Baxter took the cement bag and folded it neatly, then he took a plastic
bag from his case and put the cement bag inside. "I can't be sure," he
said. "About its precise identity, I mean. But it seems to be pulverized
ore, and my guess would be carnotite. Don't worry about the
radioactivity. You could live in a house made of this stuff and it
wouldn't be dangerous. The level of activity is very low. I suppose you
have no idea where the sample came from?"

Rick shook his head. "Where does carnotite come from, usually?"

"The Colorado Plateau, for the most part. There are other deposits, but
none around here. This stuff was almost certainly imported. Have you any
idea why?"

"Not the slightest. It's a complete mystery."

Baxter nodded. "Well, that's all I can do for now. I'll analyze the
sample and let Steve Ames know exactly what it is, but I'm betting on
carnotite. If you find a few hundred tons of it, you can sell it to the
Atomic Energy Commission. So long."

The expert tipped his hat to the girls and walked to his car.

"What was that all about?" Barby demanded. "You and Scotty seemed to
know what he was talking about, but it was all Greek to Jan and me."

Rick explained on the way back to the farm. "There are four main kinds
of radioactivity. They're called alpha, beta, gamma, and neutrons. Our
sample has alpha and gamma. That means it doesn't come from either bomb
debris or from a reactor, because fission takes place in both, and there
is almost always beta activity as well as gamma in the products of
fission. But some isotopes of uranium and thorium have little beta, with
some alpha and gamma, so Baxter concluded we had powdered uranium ore.
There are many kinds of ore. Pitchblende is the best, but carnotite,
which is a gray rock with yellowish streaks, is also good ore. Got it
now?"

Jan Miller asked, "How do you know all this, Rick?"

The boy chuckled. "From associating with your father and mine, not to
mention Weiss, Zircon, and the other scientists. They talk and Scotty
and I listen. Also, Dad has a lot of books on atomic energy, and some of
them are simple enough for me to read."

The Sky Wagon was over the Miller farm in a very short time, but before
landing Rick made a swing of the area. The young people readily
identified the mine and picnic grounds, and Rick pointed out the quarry
into which he had tumbled.

Scotty said, "Something's been bothering me. If the Frostola man is new
in this area, how could he have known the terrain well enough to lead us
on that wild-goose chase?"

"He's new, but not that new," Rick pointed out. "He's had weeks in which
to study the lay of the land. Besides, he does his haunting at night--if
he's the one--and he roams the fields near the mine. He must know his
way around."

"You're right," Scotty assented. "Now tell me this: why did he take the
cement bags?"

"To keep us from finding out that they didn't contain cement," Rick
said. "It has to be the reason. That means he knew about the bags, and
maybe he even buried them. He didn't bury them deep, because who would
think anything of a bunch of cement bags, except a pair like us? Then,
when he saw they had turned up, he collected them and took them
somewhere else. The bags we found this morning may even be the same
ones, although I think they're a second set. He'd hide the first set
better than he did at first."

"Your language is confused, but I get your meaning." Scotty grinned.
"Okay, detective. Set us down. It's suppertime."

Rick swung into his landing pattern. "Anyway, we've made progress," he
commented with satisfaction. "We started with just a ghost. Now look
what we've got!"



CHAPTER XI

The Ghost Reappears


Belsely, the tenant farmer, had no difficulty in establishing a
connection between Jethro Collins, real-estate agent, and the Frostola
man. He made a quick trip to town on the morning following the flight to
Falls Church, and reported that the ice-cream vendor was renting a room
from Collins.

"No doubt about that connection," was Rick's comment. Then, because they
had not talked to Belsely at any length, he questioned the farmer about
the appearances of the ghost in the fields nearby.

"I've seen him four or five times, not counting the night you chased
him," the farmer said. "Funny thing about the night he got the alarm
going on your plane."

"What was funny?" Scotty asked.

"He was alone."

"But he's always alone," Rick exclaimed.

"Nope. He's alone at the mine, but when he walks the fields he has some
of his men with him. Sometimes one, sometimes two or three. Only saw him
alone that once--the night you chased him."

This was a new angle. Rick and Scotty looked at each other, puzzled.

"You've seen the others?" Scotty asked.

"Sure have. Not close to, you can bet. Got no wish to tangle with
spirits, not me. But I saw them. They walked in the cornfield on top of
the mine hill, and they walked in the field where your plane is. They
was lookin' for somethin'."

"How do you know?" Rick demanded.

"They'd walk, then stop, and bend over. Like they were searchin' the
ground. Bet one of 'em lost a head and is huntin' for it."

"Did you see where they came from, or went to?"

"Not me. I got curiosity, but not the kind that killed that cat they
tell about. Like I say, me and spirits don't mix, none to speak of."

Rick pondered the information. "Are these ghostly walks at nine
o'clock?"

"No. Mostly around midnight."

Rick turned to Scotty. "What do you make of that?"

"Nothing," Scotty replied. "Not a thing. You say you've seen as many as
three men plus the Blue Ghost?"

"That's correct. None of them shine like the Blue Ghost himself, though.
Most curious thing I ever saw was the night they pulled a wagon,
collectin' the invisible dead from the battlefield."

Rick's hair had an impulse to stand on end. The calm, factual way in
which the tenant farmer piled mystery on mystery was incredible.

"You mean you saw ghosts pulling a ghost wagon?" the boy asked
incredulously.

"Like I said. More a cart than a wagon, I suppose you'd say. They hauled
it back and forth, and the mist trailed out behind it. Once in a while
they'd stop and gather and look at the ground. Must be they were
searchin' for their dead. Don't know why else they'd need a wagon. And
that Blue Thing leadin' the way every time. Up and down, back and
forth."

Scotty asked, "Where were you while all this was going on?"

"In the orchard, scared pink, but not so scared as curious."

A man of real courage, Rick thought. Believed in ghosts, but had the
nerve to watch them in action. "Mr. Belsely, you said none of them shone
like the Blue Ghost. Did the others look solid?"

"They were dark shadows, that's all. No moon to see by, or at least not
enough. Couldn't make out what they looked like."

"Has anyone else seen them in the fields?" Scotty wanted to know.

"Sure enough. Two or three that I know of, maybe more."

The tenant farmer paused, then asked a question of his own. "Why are you
so interested in this new ice-cream man?"

Rick considered. "He interested us," he said finally. "He's not a
Virginian. And he didn't seem to know much about the ghost."

Belsely's comment brought Rick's carefully built up assumptions tumbling
down around his ears. "Oh, he knows about the ghost, all right. He saw
it once that I know of, when he was sellin' ice cream to the girl
campers." The farmer added, "I was standin' right next to him at the
time."

Rick looked at Scotty helplessly. "Thank you, Mr. Belsely," he said
unhappily. "You've certainly given us plenty to think about!"

The boys watched as the tenant farmer walked up the road to his own
house, as solid and dependable as the very earth he walked on. There was
no arguing with what he had seen, only with his interpretation of it.
Clearly, Rick thought, he had seen figures in the fields on several
occasions. But what had the figures actually been doing?

"Don't be too discouraged," Scotty offered. "The ice-cream man seeing
the ghost doesn't mean he isn't involved. Wasn't the girls' picnic the
first time the ghost made a public appearance? He may have been checking
on the way the ghost looked."

"What do you suppose Belsely was doing there?" Rick asked.

"Probably just wandered over to see what was going on. I've noticed
people are pretty casual about the affairs over there. No reason why
Belsely wouldn't take an evening stroll to see how the party was going."

"Well keep our plan," Rick decided. "It's the only lead we have, so we'd
better use it."

By the time the Sons of the Old Dominion started to arrive for the
annual feast, the boys were in their chosen position, upstream from the
mine at a point where they couldn't fail to see all who traveled the
road, but where no one could see them through the thick screen of
foliage.

They had applied insect repellent liberally, but the insects swarmed
around them anyway, although bites were few. They lay quietly and
watched car after car arrive, but without seeing a familiar face.

During a lull in the traffic Rick asked, "Do you suppose we got here too
late? He may have come earlier."

"I doubt it. Besides, where would he have parked his scooter? It isn't
anywhere between us and the mine because we looked, and I doubt that
he'd walk any farther than this."

Rick had to agree that it wouldn't make much sense to park the vehicle
any farther away than the spot they had selected from which to watch.

The traffic ceased. All Sons of the Old Dominion apparently had arrived,
and all were presumably feasting on good food. It was only eight
o'clock; the ghost wasn't due for an hour. Rick thought an hour was
probably more than the ghost producer needed to get ready for his
appearance. Only a few minutes might be needed. That meant he and Scotty
would have to wait until a few minutes before nine, to be sure no one
slipped by.

One late arrival roared past as they waited, and then all was quiet. At
ten minutes to nine Rick admitted defeat. "Either he isn't coming, or he
got there through the fields. Let's go see if he shows up."

As they hiked down the road, ears attuned for a motor vehicle behind
them, Rick explained his theory of ghost production to Scotty. "There's
only one way a transparent spook can be produced, and that's optically.
In the movies they use a double exposure. The only way to produce an
optical image on mist is with a projector of some kind."

"Spook projector," Scotty agreed. "Only where is this projector
located?"

That, Rick pointed out, was the prize-winning question. "All we can do
is keep an eye open for the projector beam."

"Both eyes," Scotty corrected.

It was one minute before nine when they arrived at the mine entrance.
The Sons of the Old Dominion were still eating, but there was a lack of
noise or joyousness that made Rick aware that the Sons knew about the
ghost. He saw groups facing the place where the ghost would appear.

The boys were in front of the mine entrance. By unspoken agreement they
moved to a position directly in front of the pool. If the ghost
appeared, it would be almost over their heads. The shelf was too high
for them to see into the water, but they were in a position where any
human activity couldn't possibly be overlooked.

"On your toes," Scotty whispered. "Let's rush it while the Blue Ghost is
still there."

Rick swallowed hard. In spite of his conviction that a human agency, and
not a supernatural one, produced the Blue Ghost, he didn't care much for
rushing right into the apparition. In fact, he didn't like it at all.
The mist had felt clammy the first time, even though no harm had come to
them. But, he told himself sternly, Scotty was right. They either had
faith in their assumptions or they didn't.

"Wait until the show is almost over," Rick whispered.

A voice from behind them called, "Better get out of there, you two.
That's where the ghost appears."

The boys turned to reassure their well-wisher, and in that moment a sigh
went up from the crowd. Rick heard a sudden splash, and then the white
mist was rising, billowing almost over their heads!

He watched, fascinated and scared, and saw the Blue Ghost appear. The
apparition was elongated from Rick's viewpoint, but the act was the
same. The boy saw no sign of a projector beam, no sign of any human
agency, and the lack of both turned his knees to water. He was
close--very close--yet he could detect no sign of human origin in the
thing overhead. Horror swept through him. Had he been wrong, he and
Scotty?

His pal's hand fell sharply on his back. "Let's get him, boy! Let's find
out for once and all!"

Somehow he got his legs moving. He and Scotty went up the steep slope,
scrambling right toward the thing that was now holding out bloody hands!

They were in the mist! Rick sensed the blueness around him, and with
sick horror realized that the ghost continued his act as though they
were not even there.

Scotty yelled, and in the same instant sharp pain swept across Rick's
face. Bitter, terrible cold encompassed him, turned the skin on his face
rigid, seared his eyeballs with cold so intense it was like burning
heat. He staggered and fell, hands clutching his frozen face. He tried
to yell for help and couldn't. He rolled down the hillside that he had
climbed seconds before, and Scotty's falling body crashed into him,
knocked the breath from him.

And overhead, the vision of the Union cavalry officer, face distorted in
agony, faded slowly from sight, leaving only the icy, billowing mist.



CHAPTER XII

The Dead Water


Hands lifted Rick and Scotty to their feet and voices demanded to know
what had happened. Other voices berated them, calling them a pair of
young idiots for rushing a ghost like that.

Rick staggered in the grip of the supporting hands. His heart was
pounding and there was a constriction in his chest. Tears streamed down
his cheeks as his tear ducts spouted fluid to protect his eyes from the
now-vanishing cold. His cheeks felt numb, but sensation was returning.

At last he regained his equilibrium and found his handkerchief. He
mopped his face and suddenly realized that his face was flushed, as
though with fever. The sensation of burning cold was gone. He took a
deep breath, grateful to be nearly normal again.

Scotty was also back to near normal. To the questions from the
surrounding circle of Sons of the Old Dominion they could only say that
they didn't know what had happened.

"Suddenly our faces froze," Rick explained shakily. "At least mine did."

"Same here," Scotty supplemented.

"It was like the cold of ... of ... I don't know, really. It was cold,
but like nothing I've ever experienced before. The shock was so great I
just sort of crumpled and fell."

"Whatever made you rush right into the ghost like that?" a burly man
wanted to know.

Rick shrugged. "We didn't think the ghost was real, and we wanted to see
how it was produced."

"Do you believe it's real now?"

The boy shuddered. "I'm a whole lot closer to believing it," he
admitted.

"At least we won't try football tactics on it again," Scotty added.

Seeing that the boys were all right, the group dispersed. In a few
moments they were alone. Rick shook his head hard, to clear it. "Now
where are we?" he asked.

Scotty laughed mirthlessly. "I'm glad you asked that. I'd be gladder if
you could answer it."

"One thing more and I'm ready to call quits," Rick said. Common sense
told him to beat a path to the Millers, but he was stubborn. He wasn't
giving up yet. He searched until he found a coke bottle, then taking his
nerve in both hands he climbed up to the pool. He let the bottle fill
with spring water then rinsed it. When he was satisfied it was clean
enough, he filled it from the pool--the same pool from which the ghostly
mist had appeared only short minutes before.

Only then did he and Scotty leave the picnic grounds and proceed home to
the Miller farmhouse.

The Millers and the girls were waiting. One look at the boys' faces and
they knew something had happened.

Jan Miller said with quick intuition, "You're hurt!"

"Not permanently," Rick reassured her. "For a while we wondered, but
it's okay now."

The Millers and the girls listened to their recital with mixed horror
and relief that the effect of the cold had vanished so quickly. Dr.
Miller's brows were knit as he tried to puzzle out what had happened.

"You saw no projection beam, I assume?"

"Not a trace," Rick said emphatically.

"You were actually in the mist when this cold effect hit you?" Dr.
Miller asked.

"I was," Rick agreed. "How about you, Scotty?"

"Same. I was groping around trying to find something to get my hands on.
I was actually in the pool of water. Rick was on the edge of it."

Dr. Miller considered. "Even if your assumption about dry ice is
correct, Rick, that wouldn't explain the cold effect. If one touches dry
ice, it is cold enough to cause a burning sensation, but had dry ice
been used on you it would have taken chunks of it in contact with your
skin. You felt nothing solid, I assume?"

Both boys shook their heads.

"Then we can rule out dry ice. I can't imagine what hit you."

"The Blue Ghost," Barby said, and shuddered visibly. "This ought to
prove it, I guess."

Rick admitted it. "Ought to is right, but I'm stubborn enough to keep
looking for a rational explanation. I got some water from the pool.
Anyone want to look with me?"

They all did, and followed Rick to the kitchen. He set up the microscope
and plugged in the substage light, then found a well slide and placed a
drop of water on it. But examine the drop as he would, using the most
powerful magnification, he could see nothing but a bit of brown debris
that seemed to be a thread of withered alga.

He took another drop from the coke bottle and tried again with similar
results. He shook the bottle and placed a third drop on a clean slide.

Rick focused the microscope on the drop of water. Yesterday--or was it
the day before? He couldn't remember clearly he was so tired--the rock
basin had been literally swarming with paramecia and other forms of
life. Today, following the appearance of the ghost, the water from the
basin was as devoid of life as the planet Jupiter.

He moved the well slide from side to side, bringing different parts of
the drop under his lens. There was a tiny wisp of vegetable matter he
recognized as a dead bit of Riccia, and a few black threads of algae.

Rick shook his head in bewilderment. "Whatever the Blue Ghost is," he
stated, "it's a killer. The mob we saw is gone."

Dr. Miller took over the instrument and confirmed Rick's findings. "The
water is dead," he said at last. "I don't know how useful it is to know
that, but I can't imagine that a supernatural agency would bring death
to millions of microscopic creatures. Yet, if it isn't supernatural, how
is it done and who does it?"

"I've never seen such hard people to convince of anything," Barby
declared. "All the evidence points to a real ghost, it seems to me. But
you keep trying to prove something else and you don't get very far."

"We get as far as dead water and radioactive cement bags that don't
contain cement," Rick pointed out. "For a while tonight I was about
convinced that the ghost was supernatural, but I'm still going to be a
doubting Thomas, at least until we run all leads into a dead end!"



CHAPTER XIII

The Night Watchers


Rick couldn't sleep. He kept trying for a comfortable position, but the
hitherto excellent bed suddenly seemed full of lumps. His pillow
wouldn't behave, either. It seemed determined to lump up and deprive him
of sleep.

His body was tired enough, but his mind kept worrying the problem of the
Blue Ghost endlessly, going over incidents and details, searching for a
meaning, a clue that would lead to a conclusion.

What was the reason for the Blue Ghost? If he could only figure that
much out the rest would follow naturally. If the assumption that the
ghost was man-made was correct, there had to be some reason for the
apparition.

So far as he knew, the ghost had had only one effect, and that was to
reduce drastically the use of the picnic ground in front of the old
mine. According to the Millers, the grounds were in constant use most
years, with family parties, group affairs, and young people spending
considerable time in swimming, eating, ball games, and all the other
amusements of people who sought the coolness of trees and water to
escape the Virginia summer heat.

Now use of the grounds was restricted to affairs of long standing that
it would be inconvenient to change or to cancel.

That was a definite effect, he admitted to himself. But who could profit
by it?

There was only one possible clue, and that lay in the midnight prowlings
of the Blue Ghost and his varying number of companions. Turning the
picnic area into a forbidding place, a haunted ground, would give the
ghost and friends ample opportunity to roam the upper and lower fields
without interference.

Only, why roam the fields?

Somehow, the radioactive dust in the cement bags must tie into it, but
Rick couldn't imagine the connection. He thought of a secret uranium
strike and rejected it. Empty bags pointed to something gotten rid of,
not something gained by a discovery.

The thought was intriguing. If he assumed the bags had arrived full,
what had happened to the contents? He tried to think of uses for the
powdered ore and couldn't. Even if he could imagine a secret processing
plant to extract the uranium for some purpose, there wasn't enough. A
sufficient quantity of ore to provide even a gram of uranium metal would
mean literally thousands of bags and they had found less than a dozen.

Of course there was the cart Belsely had seen. Rick couldn't credit the
farmer's notion that the ghost soldiers had been collecting ghost bodies
of the long-dead. But what had the cart been doing? The very idea of a
cart led to the idea of something too heavy to be carried without
mechanical aid. What? Bags of radioactive ore dust?

He was still tossing in his bed and chewing the data fine when the dogs
began to bark. He listened. The barking was far away, probably a mile or
more. There were farms on the road to town, and probably all of them had
dogs.

Scotty spoke in a whisper. "What makes dogs bark at night?"

"Maybe a fox," Rick replied.

"Or a ghost?"

Rick sat bolt upright. "Maybe!"

Scotty swung to a sitting position on the side of his bed. "I've been
listening to you twisting and turning for an hour. If you're going to
keep me awake, it might as well be useful. What say we go look?"

Rick looked at the luminous dial of his watch. It was past midnight. "No
chases ending in quarries?"

Scotty's chuckle was low. "No chases. Listen a minute!"

Rick held his breath, and heard what Scotty's keen ears had detected.
There was the sound of a car somewhere far away. He couldn't tell the
direction, but he was sure it was not the road from town because the
bedroom windows opened on the town side of the farmhouse.

The night was clear and still, and sounds would carry great distances.
The car might even be on the main highway, about five miles away.

"Let's get going," Rick said softly. He fumbled for his clothes on the
chair at the foot of his bed and dressed quietly. Scotty was doing the
same on his own side of the room.

They checked flashlights, then started down the stairs. The treads
creaked noisily, as is the case in old houses, and Dr. Miller's voice
stopped them.

"Going spook hunting?"

"Yes, sir," Rick replied softly. "We're going to see why the dogs are
barking."

"No chases," the scientist warned. "If you should see anything, stay
away from it. Watch from a respectful distance."

"We will," Rick promised.

Outside, the night was lighted only by stars and a crescent moon. Trees
were dark shapes against the lighter darkness of the night as the boys
made their way through the orchard. They headed for the plane, intending
to stop at the edge of the orchard to reconnoiter.

The field before them stretched dark and empty to the trees along the
creek, except for the angular bulk of the plane. Rick watched and
listened with every sense alert. Insects hummed now and then, but that
was all.

"Let's get to the tree belt," Scotty said in a whisper. "We can watch
both fields from there."

"Okay." Rick led the way at a half trot that covered ground rapidly. In
a few minutes they were across the creek and among the trees. They
slowed their pace, stopping now and then to listen. The dogs were still
barking, but the noise came from far away, on the other side of the hill
in which the mine was located.

Scotty took the lead as they approached the picnic grounds. He was
noiseless as a shadow, and Rick tried hard to step exactly in his
footprints to avoid any noise.

Using the great oaks for cover, Scotty moved to the picnic grounds,
among the tables and stone cooking pits. Suddenly he took Rick's arm and
squeezed. Rick stopped instantly, ready for whatever action was
indicated.

Scotty put his lips to Rick's ear. "Look around the tree, on top of the
mine in the upland cornfield. Be very careful."

Rick moved into position, then with extreme caution he peered around the
protecting tree. The first thing he saw on the hill was the Blue Ghost,
not in his apparition form, but as the human-headed light they had
chased. Then he realized that he was also seeing a form under the light,
a human shape silhouetted faintly against the dark sky!

He choked back an exclamation. There were two other shapes, unlighted,
but clearly human. This was what the tenant farmer had seen! But what
were they doing in the cornfield? In a moment it became clear. The three
were coming his way!

Scotty squeezed his shoulder and pointed up. Rick realized suddenly that
they were hiding behind the oak in which they had watched unsuccessfully
for the Blue Ghost. He jumped for the lowest branch and quickly hauled
himself into the protecting foliage. Scotty was close behind him.

Through openings in the foliage they saw the Blue Ghost make his way
down the hillside with his two companions, saw the three pause at the
basin in which the ghost made his public appearances. Rick shuddered as
he heard soft, ghostly laughter. He was convinced that he watched three
men, but the memory of the bitter, burning cold on his face was still
too fresh and green not to feel a reaction.

The ghostly trio continued down the slope to the picnic grounds and
turned to the road that led to the bridge. Rick would have given much
for enough moonlight to see details, but he could see only the three
vague shapes. He thought the figure with the softly lighted apparatus on
his head carried something in one hand, but he wasn't sure.

Not until the trio passed out of sight behind the trees did the boys
descend from the tree, then they paused for a whispered consultation
that couldn't have been heard three feet away.

"They must be heading for the field where the plane is parked," Rick
guessed. "We want to keep an eye on them."

"That we will," Scotty assured him. "Follow me, old son. We're making
real progress tonight!"

Scotty led the way through the tree belt to the bank of the creek. He
paused in the trees long enough to be sure the ghost trio had crossed
the creek, then picked positions behind the earthworks erected by
Confederate soldiers long ago.

Rick watched the ghosts--for he thought of them by that useful term even
though he now knew they were mortal--as they walked slowly across the
field. He saw them pause, and saw the dark figures shorten as they bent
over. He took a bearing on the spot, using the dim shape of his plane
for one reference and the bridge for another. He thought he could locate
the position again by daylight.

In a moment the three moved on again, while Rick watched, puzzled. He
felt Scotty move and put his head close to hear what his pal had to say.
"They had to come from somewhere, and I suspect it was by car. They
didn't come up the road to town, so they must have used the road in the
valley on the other side of the hill. I'm going to take a look. If
there's a car there, I can at least get a license number. You watch 'em.
If I'm not back by the time they cross to this side, don't worry. I
won't get caught. Just go on home and wait for me."

Rick whispered an okay, and Scotty melted into the night with the
noiseless skill that Rick so much admired. Then he turned his attention
to the ghosts once more.

Rick counted five stops in various parts of the field. After the last
one, the trio turned, recrossed the bridge, moving briskly, climbed the
hill, and disappeared into the cornfield. Mission accomplished,
apparently. What had the mission been?

According to Belsely, this happened each time, except for the occasion
when a cart had been used. What were they hunting? Or, if they weren't
hunting, what were they doing? Rick felt frustrated. To be so close, yet
to be unable to see anything but vague shapes in the darkness!

Tomorrow he and Scotty would search both fields in an effort to find
what the Blue Ghost sought, or to try to figure out what he and his
friends were doing.

Scotty caught up with him as he was crossing the field by his plane. The
dark-haired boy was triumphant. "They had a car, all right, and the
registration was in a container on the steering wheel. I've got all the
dope. Probably I shouldn't have done it, but I sneaked a quick look at
the name. Can you imagine what it is?"

"Jethro Collins?"

"Nope. It's Hilleboe. Dr. Miller's next-door neighbor!"



CHAPTER XIV

The Cold, Cold Clue


The boys were late to breakfast the following morning. They had fallen
into bed, pleased and exhausted, and the noise of the household stirring
had failed to waken them.

Mrs. Miller greeted them as they came downstairs. "I hear you were ghost
hunting again last night. Did you find any?"

"I'll say we did," Scotty replied. "Where is Dr. Miller?"

"Right here," the scientist said from the living-room doorway. "And I
have news for you. Collins called this morning and renewed his offer. I
told him I'd think about it and let him know later. And Steve Ames
called. The powder is definitely carnotite, and it matches ore produced
on the Colorado Plateau. Steve has reported to the Atomic Energy
Commission, and they'll be able to track down its origin without too
much difficulty, since no two ores are precisely alike. Now, how did you
two do last night?"

The two girls came into the kitchen in time to hear the question, and
Rick almost hated to give the answer, knowing that it would disillusion
them, and particularly Barby.

"We trailed three ghosts," he said. "All human."

Scotty added, "And one of them was named Carleton Hilleboe. At least
that was the name on the registration of their car."

They told the story in detail while Mrs. Miller and Jan fried eggs and
bacon and made toast for their breakfast. Barby listened quietly, but if
Rick had any idea she would be convinced, he was mistaken. When the
recital ended she pointed out, "There's no reason why mortals shouldn't
take advantage of a ghost. You still haven't proved that the ghost at
the mine isn't real, or how the cold almost knocked you out last night."

"True," Rick had to admit. "We're not making much progress there."

Over breakfast Dr. Miller told them about the Hilleboes. "They were one
of the big families in this vicinity two or three decades ago. They had
the biggest house in this part of Virginia, but it burned down about
twenty years ago and the kids moved away. There is no house on their
land now. They rent some of the land to tenants. Carleton Hilleboe is
the eldest son. He's in a business of some kind in Washington. He either
controls or owns the property, I'm not sure which."

"Including the upland cornfield above the mine?" Rick asked.

"Yes, and all the property to the east of ours for a mile or two."

"Could he be the mysterious buyer Collins is acting for?" Rick asked.

"It's possible, although why he would want our share of the mine and the
field opposite is beyond me. I think a talk with Collins is in order. If
you two want to come to town with me, I think I'll beard him in his den.
I've no intention of selling, but I won't tell him that."

On the way to town the boys agreed it would be best for Dr. Miller to
talk with Collins alone. He obviously didn't like young people--at least
them--and he would be more apt to confide in Dr. Miller if the scientist
interviewed him alone.

The scientist agreed. "Why don't you two wait in the drugstore? You can
have a coke or something."

Dr. Miller parked the car in front of Collins' house and the boys
crossed the street to the drugstore. Although it was early in the day,
both ordered a dish of ice cream. They were eating it and exchanging
small talk with the druggist when the Frostola scooter pulled up
outside. Both tensed as the Frostola man came in, but he greeted them
impersonally and turned to the druggist. "I'd like a tin of aspirin,
please."

"That infected hangnail still bothering you?" the druggist asked
sympathetically.

"No, it's okay today," the peddler answered swiftly. "I've got a slight
headache, that's all."

He paid for the aspirin, accepted the druggist's offer of a glass of
water, downed two pills, and left.

"Seemed in a hurry," Rick commented.

The druggist nodded. "Seemed so. He usually stops to pass the time of
day. Had a terrible time yesterday with an infected hangnail. They can
be pretty painful. I tried to sell him a new analgesic ointment, but he
insisted on methyl chloride. He had an old refillable prescription from
some doctor over in Arlington. Said he got it because infected hangnails
bother him all the time. Lucky I had some. It used to be used all the
time for pain from superficial wounds, but it went out of style. He
bought a whole pint. Enough to last for fifty hangnails. Told him he
didn't need it, but he insisted."

Rick said thoughtfully, "His hands seemed to be all right today. No
bandages."

"All he had was a plastic-tape bandage around his thumb yesterday,
anyway. Guess the infection must have cleared up."

"What's methyl chloride?" Rick asked.

"A highly volatile chemical. It's not a painkiller in the usual sense,
like aspirin. You spray it on the area that hurts, and it evaporates in
seconds. You know what that does."

Rick did! And suddenly last night's events were perfectly, transparently
clear.

"Evaporation cools the surface," Rick said for Scotty's benefit. "The
faster the evaporation, the faster the cooling. This methyl chloride
must act pretty fast."

"It does," the druggist agreed. "That's how it kills pain, partly. It
chills the outer layer of skin almost instantly."



CHAPTER XV

The Missing Facts


Dr. Miller's conversation with Jethro Collins was something less than
satisfactory. He told the boys about it on the way home.

"I told him bluntly that I was suspicious about his offer because the
property he wants to buy has little value as farm land and contains no
timber or anything else of commercial value. I told him I wouldn't
consider an offer until I knew what the land was to be used for."

The scientist chuckled. "That was my way of putting him on a spot, of
course. But he refused to be cornered. He replied that his customer
wanted the land for reasons of his own, which it was not Collins' place
to divulge. He assured me the land would not be used for commercial
purposes, so my own property would be quite safe.

"I replied that I needed more assurances than his word, and demanded to
know the identity of his client. I pointed out that the name would
become known during the process of settlement anyway, unless his client
proposed to use a dummy of some sort in which to register the deed to
the land."

"But he wouldn't tell you the name," Rick guessed.

"Correct. My guess is that he would use a dummy of some sort, perhaps
even Collins himself as nominal owner of the land."

Scotty offered, "People don't buy land unless it has some value for
something. Can't you think of any way in which your land has value?"

"I'm afraid not. I've tried to puzzle it out, with no success. The field
itself is all right, if fertilized and limed, but the rest is worthless
for farming. There isn't even an access road. The road leading into the
picnic area and across the creek to the house is my own property. It's a
private road."

Rick kept wondering about the radioactive ore. "Could there be any
minerals worth mining?"

"Not even that, Rick. Except for the igneous outcropping in which the
mine is located, this whole valley is sedimentary rock, probably for a
depth of several hundred feet. Even the foothills are the same kind of
rock. They were moved upward from what is now the valley during a shift
in the earth's crust. The faults in the formation show this clearly."

"The whole business is tied together somehow," Rick said with
conviction. "So far we've been trying to follow threads. We come across
other threads that seem to run crossways, but that's because what we're
trying to see is a whole piece of cloth, not just the threads. So far we
don't know if the cloth is a whole suit or just a handkerchief."

"The metaphor is a little obscure, but I get your meaning, and I agree."
Dr. Miller drew to a stop in the driveway of his home. "Suppose we have
a late morning bit of refreshment and use our heads instead of our
legs?"

At the scientist's request, the girls produced a snack of toast and jam
with iced tea and soft drinks. Mrs. Miller begged to be excused from the
council because of housework to be done, but the others gathered in the
living room to explore the mystery from every angle.

Dr. Miller led the discussion. The scientist was obviously intrigued by
the problem, even though he had let the boys handle things in their own
way. As he explained with a twinkle, "Rick and Scotty have reputations
as detectives to maintain. I'm a poor, simple physicist. No one expects
me to solve this mystery. So the boys have to be given first chance to
bring the ghost to bay."

Barby sniffed. "You're all pretty sure the ghost is a fake."

"And you're not," Rick observed. "I guess we'll have to put him in a
bottle for you before you'll believe it."

"Peace," Dr. Miller interposed. "Each to his or her own opinions. We're
here in pursuit of facts, not fancies. Rick, you're first at bat."

Rick considered. What were the most important facts? They had been
working on assumptions, but assumptions need proof before they can be
accepted as valid.

"Well, I'm not sure I'm listing the facts in order of importance, but
I'll try. First, the ghosts that walk the fields at night are humans."

Barby interrupted. "How can you be certain?"

"They looked human. We saw their silhouettes against the sky clearly
enough to see their shapes, and they were human shapes." As she started
to speak again, he held up his hand. "Whoa! Let me finish. Ghosts also
have human shapes is probably your counterargument. I'm not arguing that
ghosts don't really exist, but if they do, they are supposed to be sort
of nonsolid, aren't they? Like the Blue Ghost at the mine. But the field
ones were solid enough. No light showed through them."

"Not all ghosts are transparent," Barby insisted.

"She's got you." Dr. Miller chuckled.

Scotty spoke up. "Ghosts do not drive cars."

"And you've no proof the ghosts you saw in the field came from the car,"
Barby defended hotly. "Did you see them get in the car and drive away?"

Scotty held up his hands in surrender. "No. I passed them on my way back
from the car."

"Evidence not sufficient," Dr. Miller said with a grin. "The ghosts may
or may not be human. Your first fact needs more proof, Rick. Carry on."

Rick sighed. "All right. I'll start over again. First, we have uncovered
cement bags that contained radioactive ore, pulverized into a fine dust.
I'll amend that. The bags contain a small quantity of radioactive ore,
which gives some reason for believing they were once full of such ore."

The group laughed. "Now you're on the beam," Dr. Miller approved. "State
only what you know as fact and identify what you infer from the facts as
inference or speculation."

"Glad you all approve. Second, we believe the Frostola man was
interested in the cement bag Scotty carried. It is a fact that when we
returned from town the cement bag that we put in the trash can, and the
cement bags we left where we found them, had been removed. Because of
the Frostola man's apparent interest, we are of the opinion he took the
bags."

Jan Miller giggled. "You sound like a lawyer."

"I feel like one," Rick returned with a grin.

"Third, the Blue Ghost led Scotty and me on a wild chase that ended up
with me dropping into the quarry. The facts are that the ghost somehow
triggered the plane alarm. We will not argue whether or not a real ghost
could have set off a purely physical, nonspiritual alarm."

Barby nodded soberly, but there was a twinkle in her blue eyes.

"Continuing with the facts of that incident, the ghost stayed ahead of
us without difficulty. A real ghost could have done that, I suppose, but
so could any person in reasonable physical shape who knew the terrain.
Now, the ghost's light went off as he reached the edge of the quarry, or
somewhere in the vicinity of the edge."

Rick looked at his sister. "I will stipulate that a real ghost need not
have any reason for his actions. But a person imitating a ghost would
have had to turn off his light in order to go around the quarry,
otherwise we would have seen that he made a detour. A ghost would
presumably float right over the quarry."

"Ghosts do float," Barby agreed solemnly.

"Uh-uh. Since this one did not, and since it reappeared--or the light
did--on the opposite side of the quarry, we believe there was a
deliberate attempt to lead us into said quarry."

He paused and took a deep breath. "How am I doing, coach?"

Dr. Miller nodded approval. "Fine. See how easy it is to separate fact
and conjecture?"

"So what do we conclude from this one event? We conclude it is
reasonable to believe that a person, and not a spook, triggered the
plane alarm and led us to the quarry. We speculate that the person did
not know about the alarm and set it off by accident, probably while
inspecting the plane, since we see nothing to be gained by sabotage. We
speculate that the chase was to frighten us, not primarily to harm us,
the reason being that we rushed the ghost during the ghost act and are
therefore potentially dangerous. We reach this conclusion because the
ghost picked a side of the quarry where we would land in the water,
which is plenty deep by the way, and not on the rocks."

"Okay. Scotty, take over. I'm worn out from trying to be precise."

The scientist grinned. "Lack of practice, I'm afraid. If we all sought
precision in our speech many of the world's misunderstandings could be
avoided."

"I don't know what we can say," Scotty objected. "We have few facts. We
have only some observations. We can try to interpret our observations,
but we can't prove them. For instance, there is the fact that we were
given a bath of something by the Blue Ghost that seemed to freeze our
faces. There is the fact that the Frostola man bought a quantity of
methyl chloride. There is the fact that methyl chloride could have
produced the effect we felt. But how can we say that it's a fact that
the Frostola man somehow doused us with chemical?"

"You can't," Jan Miller agreed.

"So if we stick to demonstrable facts, we don't get far," the scientist
concluded. "But can we settle for mere speculation?"

"No, sir," Rick stated. "But let's admit that speculation has its uses.
After all, circumstantial evidence is permitted in court. Speculation
can give us the circumstances that need to be proved, and that tells us
where to put our efforts. I think that's fair enough."

"So do I," Dr. Miller agreed.

Rick arose. "Then we'll continue working the way we've been doing it.
It's not the best way, but at least we're uncovering little items that
can be tied together if we find just two missing facts."

"Like what?" Barby demanded.

"We go back to our assumption that the ghost is man-made. On this
assumption, the things we need to know are _how_ and _why_ is the ghost
produced?"



CHAPTER XVI

Trapped!


It was, as Rick said, time for action and not for words. He and Scotty
set out to track down every possible shred of evidence. They armed
themselves with flashlights, and Rick made sure he had his pocket lens,
and they started out.

The first stop was in the field, to locate the places where last night's
ghostly party had paused.

As the boys walked across the field toward the plane, Rick wondered
aloud. "What did the ghost want with the plane?"

"Sabotage?" Scotty asked.

"Maybe. But if so, why?"

"Because he was afraid of what we might see from the air, maybe."

Rick considered. "It could be, I suppose, but we've examined the whole
area from the plane. I didn't see anything suspicious or particularly
interesting."

"Not a thing," Scotty confirmed. "But it might be a good idea to take
another look."

"Okay. We can do it later this afternoon. Now, according to what I
remember, the first stop the ghosts made was right about here. Let's
work like hunting dogs and see what we can turn up."

Rick dropped his handkerchief on a clump of bachelor's-buttons for a
marker, then he and Scotty walked in ever-widening circles, scanning the
ground for any trace of the ghosts.

Scotty's keen eyes saw the first sign, a heelprint in a bare place in
the grass. The boys examined it. "Doesn't match anyone's shoes," Scotty
said. "Not of our gang. Leather heels, a little worn, run down on the
outside edge. You can see the nail marks. No rubber heels would make
those marks."

There were other prints, now that they were searching closely. Clearly,
three men had walked the field last night. But nowhere did they find a
clue to what the men had searched for. There was no raw dirt, no
impressions left where something had been removed.

"Fact," Rick stated. "Three men were here."

Scotty laughed. "This does not mean there were not also three ghosts who
left no tracks."

Rick had to laugh, too. "Now what do we do?"

"Look in the upland cornfield."

They started the survey of the cornfield directly above the mine
entrance, where they had first seen the three ghosts. Tracks were
visible almost at once.

"We're lucky," Scotty said. "Even with the weeds between the rows
there's enough bare ground so we can do some real tracking. Let's see
how the tracks run."

As Scotty had predicted, the tracking was much easier. A few yards into
the cornfield they came to a gap where a few seeds had failed to
germinate or the plants had died. It was a bare space, sparsely grown
with weeds.

Scotty pointed to the three sets of tracks, and put his own feet in one
set, while Rick did the same with another set. From the position of the
third set it was clear that the three men had faced each other.

Rick said excitedly, "They paused and bent over. But over what?"

They scrutinized the ground minutely. It seemed normal enough. There was
absolutely no sign that the earth had been disturbed.

Rick picked up a handful of soil and examined it. "Dirt," he said.
"Plain dirt. Why was it so interesting to the spooks?"

"Try your lens," Scotty reminded him.

Rick did so. The lens showed the usual combination of mineral and
organic matter of various sizes and colors. "I can't see anything
unusual," he reported. "Maybe the lens isn't powerful enough. I'll take
a sample and look at it under the microscope later." He found a scrap of
paper in his wallet and folded a bit of dirt into it.

"Let's continue," Scotty urged.

They worked their way across the cornfield, following the tracks. Twice
more they found places where the ghosts had paused to confer about
something, or examine something.

Then, at the edge of the cornfield, they lost the tracks in a rank
growth of weeds. Probably the ghosts had trampled the weeds last night,
but they had sprung up again and left no trace of the passage.

Scotty took the lead. "I'll show you where the car was parked."

They traveled through alternate weeds and hay to where the hilltop
dropped away rapidly to a valley about three hundred feet below. This
marked the end of the igneous outcropping in which the lead mine was
located, Rick guessed. The hill was steep, and overgrown with blackberry
bushes.

"I got caught a thousand times in as many feet last night," Scotty
commented. "It's easy by day, but don't try it by night." He led the way
through clear spaces between the thorny patches, always going downhill.

It wasn't long before Rick saw the road, if it could be called that. It
was two ruts with grass growing between them.

"Doesn't look like U.S. Highway Number 66," he remarked.

"There's a man who thinks it is," Scotty replied.

Rick looked to where his pal pointed. The Frostola man was approaching
on his scooter. The sound of the little motor was just audible, and
Rick's first impulse was to duck, but Scotty said, "Too late. He saw us
just as we saw him. Let's walk down to the road and make it casual."

They did so, and the peddler approached, bumping over the uneven
surface.

"Howdy," he greeted them. "Where does this road go?"

"We don't know," Scotty replied.

Rick added, "We're strangers in the area."

"I'm pretty new myself," the man said cheerfully. "Saw this road and
thought there might be a settlement where I could find some new
customers."

"We don't know of any," Rick said.

"Looks like I might as well go back to town, then. Want a lift? You can
hang onto the step behind me."

"No, thanks," Scotty replied. "We're staying just over the hill."

The Frostola man turned his scooter wagon, gave them a wave, and went on
his way back toward town. The boys watched until he drove out of sight.

"There's an optimist," Scotty said. "Follows a pair of ruts, hoping to
find civilization at the other end."

Rick grinned. "He certainly likes this part of Virginia. There's one
thing about peddling Frostola here--"

"What's that?"

"No customers to bother you. It's easy to commune with Nature."

"Aye-aye. Does he look like a nature lover to you?"

"Now that you mention it, I've seen people who fitted the part better.
We scared him away, that's for sure. But what was he doing here?"

Scotty considered. "If he wanted to reach the mine area without people
noticing him, he could park his scooter here and walk over the hill."

"He could," Rick agreed. "But why would he want to reach the mine area?"

"Not to sell Frostola. That's for sure."

"Uh-uh. My guess is he has to reset the Blue Ghost."

"Reset it?"

"Sure. Think about it. The projector can't go on operating forever when
a clock reaches nine, can it? It must need servicing and resetting."

"And loading with methyl chloride to squirt at us?"

"Too true." Rick had wondered about that. "But how does the chemical
squirter work? Where is it? The projector must be close to the Blue
Ghost, if the chemical came from the same place."

Scotty laughed. "You don't discourage easily, do you? We tried to find a
projector beam the other night, remember? What did we get for it? A
squirt in the face. No projector, no nothing."

"There has to be a projector, or an imagemaker of some kind," Rick
insisted, "unless you're admitting the ghost is real."

"Where would it be located?"

"Very close, I'd guess. Hidden somewhere near the spring pool, batteries
and all. It has to be, and I think we'd better spend some time looking."

"Starting where? Don't tell me--it has to be the mine."

Rick was already walking back up the hill toward the cornfield. "There's
no other underground location in which a projector could be stored, is
there? So let's get at it."

"Glad we brought flashlights," was Scotty's only comment.

They hiked in silence to the cornfield, pausing now and then among the
corn plants to examine footprints. Thanks to the rain that had left the
ground soft, there were plenty of them, but they told the boys no more
than they already knew.

At the top of the hill above the mine they paused to survey the scene.
Belsely was hauling a load of rock through the field near the plane,
using his tractor and a stoneboat. The boys knew he was busy building a
stone fence. He saw them and waved. They waved back, then went down the
hill to the spring and its basin.

Again they examined the entire location with great care, and Scotty
probed seams in the rock with his jackknife blade. The entire hillside
in this location was cracked and seamed and the rock face above the
basin was rough and irregular. Rick wondered if there had ever been an
earthquake in the neighborhood or whether the settling of the earth into
the mine has caused the cracking.

"Nothing here," Scotty said. "At least nothing I can see. We'll have to
try the mine itself."

They had replaced the boards at the entrance, simply pushing the nails
back into the holes from which they had come. They pulled the boards
aside and saw footprints--and not their own!

"Visitor," Scotty said with excitement.

Rick noted the size of the tracks. "And a big-footed one, too. Makes our
tracks look small."

Scotty pointed. "He came out again, whoever he was. Let's see how far he
went in."

The tracks told the story clearly and quickly. The visitor had gone in
about twenty feet, and had then returned to the outside. One glance told
the boys why.

The mine was timbered, with uprights and overhead beams spaced about
every ten feet. Where the visitor had stopped, the mine timbers were
supporting a big piece--or many pieces--of the rock overhead. Rick
guessed that the heavy rain, working through cracks, had loosened a
section and let its weight fall on the overhead crosspiece. It was also
clear that the timbers would not support the weight for very long. They
were rotten, and wet with the constant seepage of water.

"Must have been one of the Sons of the Old Dominion who wandered in for
a look," Rick suggested. "He saw it wasn't safe and went right out
again."

"Something like that," Scotty agreed. "And it isn't safe. Those timbers
would go if anyone breathed hard at them."

"Then let's not breathe hard," Rick said.

"Meaning that we're going in, anyway."

Rick pointed out, with what he thought was complete logic, that the
timbers had held the roof up since the rain, and that collapse surely
wouldn't take place in a minute or two. He concluded, "And if we're
going to find any kind of clue to a projector, it has to be in this mine
somewhere."

"Then let's not linger," Scotty said. "And for Pete's sake don't stamp
your feet when you go by the timbers. A little vibration would send them
down for sure."

Rick asked, "What were the wind and the laughter the last time we were
in here?"

"Imagination," Scotty replied. "Let's keep it under control this time."

"I'm with you. And ghosts don't blow out flashlights, so let's go."

They moved cautiously past the unsafe place, lights probing the tunnel
walls for a sign of anything unusual or worthy of attention. Now and
then they reached a bay where ore had been taken out, or a jog in the
tunnel where the miners had lost the ore vein temporarily. They reached
the spot of their penetration into the mine on their last visit and
found the remains of their torches.

"No change. Thought they might have been chewed by ghosts," Scotty
commented.

"Newsprint doesn't taste good," Rick replied. "Do ghosts have teeth?"

"Nope, just an icy breath. Do you remember any smell, by the way? When
we got hit in our faces?"

"Something sort of sweet?"

"Yes. I wasn't thinking about smelling, and I didn't notice especially,
but I sort of recall a nice odor."

Rick thought he remembered it, too. "We'll look up methyl chloride in
the dictionary," he promised. "That will tell us if it has an odor."

The mine took a sharp turn. "They lost the vein here and had to chew out
some rock to find it again," Rick pointed out. "Notice everything is on
one level? Must have been just one vein. It ran out and the mine closed
down."

"Looks that way," Scotty agreed. "How far have we come?"

Rick hadn't kept track, but he estimated they were perhaps halfway under
the hill. "This must end somewhere," he said. "Notice there isn't any
water at all, not even seepage? I'm still baffled by that spring and the
pipe."

They traversed another hundred yards in silence, flashlights constantly
scanning the mine. There was nothing out of the ordinary, no sign of
ghost, projector, or even of human visitation for dozens of years.

"We're on another wild-goose..." Rick began. He never finished, for
sound suddenly reverberated through the mine, the sound of rock crashing
downward.

Both boys turned and ran back toward the entrance, afraid of what they
would find. Long before they reached it, billowing clouds of dust told
them what had happened.

Their racing legs confirmed it as they came to a stop against rock that
choked the tunnel from top to bottom.

[Illustration: _The timber had given way. They were trapped!_]

The timbers had given way. They were trapped!



CHAPTER XVII

In Darkness


For one despairing instant the two peered at the fallen rock through the
thick haze of dust, then Scotty snapped, "Back into clean air."

They retreated the way they had come. Rick clicked off his flashlight
instinctively. They might need it.

When clean air was reached again they stopped and Scotty swept his
flashlight beam over the rocky floor. "Pick a seat and get comfortable.
We'll be here for a while."

"We won't get out of here by sitting down," Rick replied.

"No, and we won't do much until the dust settles, either. Relax and get
cooled off. When the dust has settled a little, we can go back and see
just how bad the block is."

Rick remembered the tons of rock above the timbers. The block had to be
bad, he thought. There was plenty of rock there. Then, as he thought
about it, he wasn't so sure. A pretty large area had shown cracks, but
perhaps only a layer had fallen. They might be able to dig out. Nothing
to do about it but wait and see.

Scotty switched off his light and the blackness closed in. Rick shifted
uncomfortably. Once before he had been lost in complete blackness like
this, in the Caves of Fear. But that had been different; he hadn't been
exactly trapped in the same way then, and the caves had covered miles
under a Tibetan mountain. At least he knew exactly where he was this
time.

He said, "We should have brought a picnic lunch."

Scotty chuckled, but didn't reply.

Rick said, "Suppose we can't get out?"

"We will. Dr. Miller will be hunting for us sooner or later. He couldn't
miss the mine, especially with the boards off the entrance."

"Then all we need is patience and a tight belt."

"That's it."

The boys fell silent. Rick was cheered by Scotty's estimate of the
situation. He closed his eyes, and for perhaps the hundredth time
started mulling over the chain of events, searching for a clue to the
two things they needed to know: how and why the ghost was produced.

But as he thought about it he wondered if perhaps they didn't know why.
The ghost was a means of keeping people out of the area. It had
succeeded to a considerable degree. There were no more night family
picnics and swimming parties. There were only occasional long-scheduled
events.

He explored the idea. The mine area was private property. To keep people
out one would need only to post "No Trespassing" signs. But in all
probability that wouldn't be suitable, because it would raise too many
questions, and Dr. Miller would have to be let in on the secret of the
ghosts that walked the fields.

But why keep people out of the area? To be sure, privacy for the conduct
of secret operations was an obvious reason, only what were the secret
operations, and why did they have to be kept secret?

He gave up finally. There simply weren't enough data on which to hang a
conclusion.

"Think the dust has settled?" he asked.

"Could be. Suppose we go take a look. I'll use my light. Save yours."

They followed the yellow beam of Scotty's flashlight through the dark
tunnel to the rockfall. There was still plenty of dust in the air, but
it was bearable.

Scotty flashed his light on the timbers, then on the rockslide. One pair
of uprights arose from the sloping pile of rock to a sound crosspiece.

Both boys knew what that meant. Rick put it into words. "If that's the
set of timbers nearest to the ones that were bad, it means at least ten
feet of rock on this side, and probably the same or even more on the
other. A total of twenty feet of rock."

Scotty grunted. "One thing is for sure. We won't dig our own way out for
a few days. I'm not even sure we can. We might collapse from lack of
water if we try working real hard."

"But we can't wait for help from the outside," Rick pointed out. "We can
at least work while we still have our health."

"Can you work in the darkness?"

"I suppose we'll have to. The lights won't last long."

"Then let's get to it."

They retreated to an alcove and put their shirts in a safe place, then
went to work in their T shirts. Lugging rocks would work up a sweat, and
it was chilly underground. The shirts were for use during rest periods.

"Let's see how it goes," Scotty invited, and turned off his light.

Rick groped for a rock and found a good-sized one. He carried it back
and promptly bumped into a wall and dropped it. Keeping a straight line
was going to be a problem. He groped for the rock and found it again,
but this time he tucked it under one arm, using the opposite hand to
guide him along the wall.

"I'm on the right-hand wall," he told Scotty. "I'll return along the
left-hand wall."

"Good system," Scotty approved.

It was, too. They passed each other in the dark and Rick was pleased,
until he tripped on a rock and stumbled into the pile.

"We're going to have to count paces," he said ruefully as he nursed a
bruised knee. "Say twenty paces up and twenty paces back."

"Better make it twice that," Scotty replied. "We can't pile all the
rocks in one place. We'll have to spread them out."

"Forty it is," Rick agreed, and found another rock.

The work went on, gradually assuming the proportions of a dream--or a
nightmare. Pick up a rock, tote it forty paces, drop it. Then
thirty-five paces as the passageway got cluttered. Now and then they had
to join forces to lug a particularly big piece.

Rick's watch showed him that two hours had gone by. "Let's take a
break," he suggested.

"Okay."

Scotty turned on his light. They found their shirts, then went back to
survey what they had accomplished.

One glance told them it wasn't much. They had cleaned out the passage up
to the main slide, and that was all.

They looked at each other in the flashlight's glow.

"Got any earth-moving equipment in your pocket?" Rick asked wryly.

"Not a dragline or a clamshell," Scotty said. "We certainly didn't make
much of a dent, did we?"

"At this rate we'll be here until Christmas," Rick said.

"Not that we'll need a Christmas tree."

"We could use the lights," Rick commented. "Let's keep plugging. I'm not
so sure I need a rest after all."

"Might as well."

"Just sitting on the rocks will sap our strength, anyway," Rick pointed
out. "We might as well work while we're still fresh. We can take
five-minute breaks when we begin to tire."

"I'm with you. Tote those rocks."

"Let's use one light, too. No point in just clearing the tunnel. We want
to break through in as short a time as possible. If we use the light we
can pull rocks from nearer the top of the slide."

"Sensible as usual. I'll prop my light so it shines on the slide."

Scotty did so, then both boys shed their shirts once more.

The rock hauling went faster even with the rays of the single
flashlight. They took turns climbing the slide and throwing rocks down.
The boy taking a turn at the bottom moved them out of the way.

"Watch it!" Rick yelled suddenly, and jumped away from a slide of rock.
Scotty, who was back in the tunnel disposing of a big rock, asked
anxiously, "Are you hurt?"

"No. Hand me that light, will you?"

Scotty carried the light to where Rick waited. Rick took it and shone it
upward to where the slide had come from. He whistled. There was solid
ceiling, but it was a yard higher than the rest of the tunnel ceiling.

He calculated quickly. "If this is typical, we have rock three feet
thick, ten feet wide, and twenty feet long piled up in front of us. That
makes six hundred cubic feet of rock."

"But it can't be typical," Scotty disagreed. "If three feet had fallen
uniformly, it wouldn't have filled the tunnel. It must be much thicker
right over the broken timbers."

"Not a very cheerful prospect, is it?" Rick had a vision of yards of
rock ahead.

"I've seen happier prospects. But what can we do? Keep plugging is all,
and hope it doesn't take long for Dr. Miller to locate us."

Rick looked at his watch. "No chance of that yet. It isn't even
suppertime. It may be morning before Dr. Miller gets really worried."

Scotty chuckled grimly. "Our own reputation for being able to take care
of ourselves is not helping us, either."

"I'll never go into a place without two entrances again," Rick promised.

There was a moment's shocked silence while the boys stared at each
other. They spoke simultaneously.

"How do you know this has only one entrance?"

"How do we know this hasn't two entrances?"

They had never reached the end of the mine. For all they knew, it might
only be necessary to walk out!

"We'll go see," Rick stated. "Right now."

"Didn't we ever ask about another entrance?" Scotty demanded.

"No, now that I think of it, and no one ever said anything about it."

"Maybe they never said anything because there isn't anything to say."

"No more assumptions," Rick said. "We can find out for ourselves. Get
your shirt on and let's go."

They quickly dressed and hiked down the long tunnel to the point they
had reached when the cave-in occurred. Rick paid more attention to the
formation than before, and found it was easy to trace the ore vein.
Pockets in the walls showed where offshoots of the main ore vein had
been located and dug out, but mostly the mine bored through the hill in
one continuous tunnel.

"Funny they didn't take more ore out of the top," Scotty commented.
"Looks like fairly decent stuff overhead and to the left."

"Not good enough, I guess. Refining was pretty primitive in those days.
Techniques are better now, but there probably isn't enough good ore here
to make new operations worth the expense of getting it out."

"Look ahead," Scotty said.

Rick had been examining the wall of the tunnel. He turned and looked to
where Scotty pointed, and his heart sank. It was another rockslide.

"Funny," Scotty commented. "The tunnel goes uphill to the slide."

Rick saw that his pal was right. But the change in elevation of the
tunnel didn't seem important compared to the prospect that now faced
them. They simply had to go back and resume their rock hauling. There
was no way of knowing whether the tunnel continued beyond the slide, or
whether the slide itself was the reason the Civil War miners had gone no
farther.

"I need a rest," Rick said, discouraged. "Let's sit down and take a
breather before we start back."

"Okay. Douse the light?"

"Might as well. Your battery's getting low."

Scotty switched the light off and they sat down on the hard rock floor.
Rick closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Plenty of hard work ahead. He
might as well rest while he could.

Scotty spoke suddenly. "Plenty of good fresh air down here. Isn't that a
little odd?"

Rick stirred. "Is it? I hadn't thought much about it. But I suppose the
air ought to be stale and smelly."

"Wet your finger."

"Huh? Oh, okay." It was the ancient trick of using the cooling caused by
evaporation of moisture from a damp finger to show the movement of air
currents. Rick let out an exclamation. The air in the tunnel was in
motion!

Scotty said with suppressed excitement, "Close your eyes. I'm going to
light a match."

Rick did so, and saw the light even through closed eyelids because his
pupils were fully dilated. He opened his eyes cautiously, squinting
against the glare of the match. As the pupils contracted he saw that the
paper match burned brightly, and that the flame flickered!

Scotty jumped to his feet, switching on the flashlight. "The breeze is
coming from the slide!"

With one accord they rushed to the slide and began pulling rocks away.
Clearly, the tunnel sloped upward at this point. The question was, did
it emerge in a real opening, or only in a hole driven through for
ventilation?

There was only one way to find out: move rock!

They sought for key rocks, those that would allow other rocks to tumble
down and out of the way.

Rick thought it was at least to their credit that they learned from
experience. Then, as he jumped frantically to escape a sliding boulder,
he had to grin at his own thought. They had learned, but not enough.

There was no doubt about it, a current of air came through the slide.
They could feel it, cool and fresh, and redoubled their efforts.

Finally they had to slow down from sheer exhaustion.

"Take a break," Rick said huskily. "We'd be foolish to wear ourselves
out."

"You're right." Scotty slumped down where he was and wiped his face.
"That air current is getting stronger. We're making progress."

"Wish I knew toward what," Rick said.

"Air, anyway. And where there's a source of air is also daylight."

"I'd feel better if I could see some."

They rested in silence for five minutes by Rick's watch, then resumed,
working as close to the top of the pile as they could get.

Scotty suddenly let out a yell, and Rick dodged to escape another rock,
then leaped down as the whole pile crumbled. The rocks didn't fall far.

"Look," Scotty said breathlessly.

Rick turned on his own light to supplement the dim beam of Scotty's.
Blackness yawned at the top of the slide!

Scotty was first through the hole, but Rick was right behind him. They
emerged in a continuation of the tunnel, but on a higher level. Their
lights showed that the tunnel continued.

They followed it for perhaps fifty feet, and found themselves in a cross
tunnel in which their tunnel ended.

Scotty looked at Rick in the beam of the flashlight.

"We're somewhere," he said. "But where?"

Rick grinned. There was a definite breeze blowing, and he knew the
outside and safety were not far away. "We're in the mine, under the same
old hill. Soon as we find the source of that breeze, I'll identify our
position within two feet."

Scotty returned the grin. "What are we waiting for? Let's go!"



CHAPTER XVIII

The First Fact


Rick said, "Hold it a minute. Which way do we go? If we assume the
tunnel we came out of was fairly constant in direction, we should turn
right to come out on the side of the hill where we saw the Frostola man
a while ago. If we turn left, we go deeper into the hill."

Both boys saw the implication the moment the words left Rick's lips.
"Right it is," Rick added quickly. "First thing we have to do is see if
there really is a way out."

They turned right into the cross tunnel, and met the breeze head on. So
long as they followed the direction of the breeze, they were approaching
the outside air.

Within a hundred feet they saw a glimmer of daylight and broke into a
run. The glimmer became an opening, irregular in shape, but obviously
big enough for an entrance.

"We made it!" Rick exulted. "Let's get a good look at that sunshine!"

"Careful," Scotty cautioned. "We'll have to let our eyes adjust fully or
the glare will hurt. Besides, it may not be a good idea to go barging
out into the open. Might be some ghosts hanging around."

"You're right. Anyway, let's take a brief look. What's blocking the
opening?"

As they approached he saw that it was the trunk of a fallen tree,
festooned with blackberry bushes. When they looked through the entrance,
blinking in the light, they saw that the tree wasn't really a block,
because there was plenty of room to crawl out of the tunnel.

"That trunk makes a mighty good shield," Scotty said thoughtfully. "Bet
this entrance is invisible ten feet away, except from the air!"

"And I'll add my own bet, that the entrance is very close to where we
met the Frostola man this morning, and that he wonders if we spotted it
from the plane."

Scotty shook his head. "No betting on sure things. This explains the
interest in the plane, all right. Stand by, old son. I'm going to make a
quick recon and be sure the coast is clear."

"Okay. Eyes adjusted?"

"Enough." Scotty went through the entrance on hands and knees. Rick saw
his legs as he stood up and surveyed the scene.

"Come on out," Scotty called. "We're alone."

Rick joined him. The fallen tree trunk came above their knees. As Scotty
had said, it made an effective shield for the mine entrance.

Rick studied the entrance itself. Probably it had once been a regular
timbered entrance, like the one on the other side of the hill, but it
had fallen in, the rocks wedging to form a low passage into the tunnel
inside. The whole hillside was overgrown with brambles, down to the
two-rut road below them, almost at the place where they had met the
peddler.

"We were within fifty feet of this entrance," Rick said, "and never
suspected it."

"The Frostola man knew it. Do you think he thought we knew it?"

"Possible, I suppose. I'm not so interested in what he thinks as I am in
what he was doing here. Where would we have ended if we had taken the
left-hand turn, do you suppose?"

"Why suppose? Unless you've had enough of mines for one day, we can go
back in and find out."

"I've had enough, but not enough to miss a chance like this. My
flashlight is still strong and it shouldn't take more than a few
minutes."

"Then let's go. No telling when a spook may visit the mine from this
end. Of course there's no telling about Uncle Frostola, either. He may
be inside."

That hadn't occurred to Rick. He thought it over, then shrugged. "We
might as well take the chance. If he is inside, that proves something,
and we're two to his one. Besides, it's late, and any sensible man is
eating his supper. Come on."

He led the way back into the cave, but because of the peddler's possible
presence, he wasn't as headlong in his traversing of the tunnel as he
might otherwise have been.

They passed the side tunnel from which they had emerged a short time
before and entered entirely new territory. It wasn't unlike the rest of
the mine, consisting of a main bore with some alcoves indicating either
deviations of the ore vein or niches cut to allow ore carts to pass.

Walking rapidly, but alert for either sound or light, they traveled
through the tunnel at a good speed.

"We've been walking quite a while," Rick said finally. "How long do you
suppose this shaft is?"

Scotty thought it over. "It can't be any longer than the hill is wide,
because we're traveling through the hill. It must be about the same
length as the lower tunnel."

"Why two tunnels?" Rick asked. "I doubt that there were two veins of
ore."

Scotty reminded him of the good ore they had seen in the ceiling of the
lower tunnel. "There might have been just one vein, about two tunnels
high. They were limited to pick and shovel for tools in those days,
remember, maybe with a little powder for blasting. It would have been
more convenient to work within range of tools like shovel and pick. So
the ceiling is as high as a man with a pick can reach, and as wide as
the ore vein was wide. That's a little confused, but I'm sure you follow
me."

"Sounds reasonable," Rick agreed. "Only this tunnel can't go on much
farther, or we'll be in the middle of the picnic--Hey! Scotty, take a
look!"

Ahead in the tunnel was a box, and on the box was metal that reflected
the flashlight's beam. In a second the boys stood over it.

Rick's heart pounded rapidly. Here was the proof. Here was Missing Fact
Number One. Here was verification of at least part of their speculation.

An eight-millimeter motion-picture projector!

Rick motioned to the front of the machine with a trembling hand. "Look,
there's a film in place, and it's a continuous loop. Once it's threaded
it will repeat over and over unless cut off."

Scotty was probing into the box. "Batteries. Two of them, twelve volts
each. And I'll bet the motor in the projector is designed to operate on
twelve volts. There's even a hydrometer for testing the batteries."

Rick took a look. As Scotty had said, there were two automobile
batteries, their cables running up into the projector.

"Simple enough," he commented. "Let's see what's on the film."

He opened the film gate gingerly and removed the film from the
sprockets. Then, without disengaging the spindles, he put the flashlight
behind it and bent close. The eight-millimeter frames were pretty small,
but not so small that he and Scotty couldn't make out the image.

The scene had been shot against a black background, that was clear. Only
the central figure was illuminated, the figure of a Union cavalry
officer.

"Meet the Blue Ghost," Rick said happily.

"Delighted," Scotty said emphatically. "I suppose I shouldn't admit it,
but deep down, way back in the primitive part of my thick head, I was
sometimes guilty of wondering about this creature."

Rick held out his hand. "Shake hands with another superstitious
chucklehead. So was I. But let it be said to our credit that neither of
us was so scared we were afraid to move."

He chuckled. "Of course there were times when I just had to keep my poor
icy spine from freezing solid." He replaced the film on the sprockets
and closed the gate with great care.

"The projector is aimed at the wall," Scotty pointed out, "right at the
end of the tunnel. How does it get to where people can see it?"

"There has to be a way," Rick said. He swept the beam of his light
around and it steadied on an iron pipe. "Hey, look!"

The pipe entered through the end of the tunnel, threaded into a
right-angle pipe fitting, and disappeared into the tunnel floor!

"So that's how the water comes out of the hillside!" Rick exclaimed.
"The well was originally driven straight down, as a well should be, and
the horizontal pipe was added later. It misses the lower tunnel by about
six feet."

"That's not the only interesting thing about this end of the tunnel,"
Scotty added. "This whole end is artificial, including part of the roof
over the well. Take a look. It's mortarless stonework. No wonder the
face was so seamed on the outside. Whoever did this was a terrific
mason, because he selected rocks--probably from the mine itself--that
duplicated the contour of the hill. But why go to all the trouble?
That's what puzzles me."

"Maybe this is the reason," Rick said. He pointed to rusty iron
projecting from the wall. The iron supported a block of stone, by means
of an iron pin that ran from the bottom of the stone through a hole in
the iron piece projecting from the wall. At the top of the stone was a
similar arrangement. It was an elementary but effective hinge, long ago
rusted to disuse.

Rick studied the wall, and directly in front of the projector lens he
found another of the same arrangements, but with a difference. This one
was modern, and it had been painted to prevent rusting. There were
traces of graphite or graphite grease where the pins went through the
iron supports.

Clearly, the block of stone supported by the iron pins formed a
porthole, the pins allowing the stone to be swung inward. The old,
rusted one had been unused for decades, but the port in front of the
projector had been repaired and lubricated. The comparison between the
two gave Rick his clue.

"This is a sniper nest built by the Confederates," he guessed. "Probably
to protect the mine. The upper mine tunnel opened out here, too, and
then war came and the people sealed the upper one to give protection to
the troops working the lower level. That means the upper level was dug
out first."

"It's speculation, but it sounds good," Scotty agreed. "These are gun
ports, very likely. I don't know what other purpose they could have
served."

Later they learned from Dr. Miller that the ports had also served as
ventilation for slaves using the mine to hide on their way North to
freedom, but that was after the North had the area partly in its grip.
They also found that from these same ports the Lansdale brothers had
fired the shots that killed Captain Seth Costin, for the legend was
almost entirely true.

"We open this port in front of the machine and we'll be only inches
above the pool," Rick said. "Look at the location of the pipe. So, to
produce the ghost, the Frostola man slid open the port, dropped a piece
of dry ice...."

"All properly sized to give the right amount of mist for the right
time," Scotty added.

"... and turned on the machine. With only the small port for the sound
to go through, it wouldn't be audible to anyone in the picnic grounds."

Scotty agreed. "And since the projector is so close to the mist we
wouldn't see a beam. That lens must have a mighty wide angle, by the
way. What's more, the projector must be slid closer to the opening when
in use."

"True. You know, in a way we were unlucky. If we had chanced to climb a
tree when the ghost was actually appearing, we would have seen the
projection lens through the mist as a bright spot of light, and that
would have given the show away before this. But because of the angle,
only someone in a tree could see it."

Rick shook his head in admiration. "Rear-screen projection with a
wide-angle lens. That's really using movie technique for all it's
worth."

"Rear-screen projection?" Scotty queried.

"Sure. Movies and TV use it all the time. When the hero is supposed to
be watching dinosaurs fighting it out, he's actually standing in front
of a big screen of special plastic or ground glass, with the picture
projected on it from behind. The mist acted as the screen, so we saw the
image but not the projector beam. That's rear-screen projection."

"I know how it works," Scotty said. "You can tell in a movie when they
use it, because the definition of the background isn't as sharp as real
photography, but I didn't know the name of the process."

Scotty turned and studied the location of the port. "He must place the
projector right on the tunnel floor, tilted upward to shine through the
port. That's why the ghost was so tall. It hit the mist at an angle."

Rick bent over the port. "Not hard to smack us in the eyes with methyl
chloride from here, either. There we were, on our knees, faces in good
range. And I'll bet he chuckled while he was doing it. Simple weapon,
too. A water pistol. Or any plastic squirt bottle."

He tugged on the port and it failed to move. Something wrong here. He
studied it carefully and saw the reason. It had to be slid sideways for
a quarter of an inch, a safety-lock feature. No wonder their examination
of the rock face outside had shown nothing.

"Open it," Scotty said. "Let's look."

Rick did so, and instantly closed it partly shut again. "Get down here
and look," he commanded. He had seen at once what had happened during
their absence and his quick mind had caused him to react.

There were men outside, several of them, and they were watching a small
power scoop move into position in front of the lower mine entrance.
Among them were Dr. Miller and Belsely. Away from the group, sitting on
his tricycle scooter, was the Frostola man!

"We forgot about Belsely," Rick said softly. "He saw us, and may even
have seen us go into the mine. Anyway, that's the first place he'd look
when we turned up missing."

Scotty drew back and closed the port gently. "That power scoop can go
right into the tunnel, scoop up a yard of rock and back out and dump it.
It will have the tunnel cleared in no time. We'd better get out there
and let them know we're safe."

"If they were breaking their backs with hard manual labor to get us out
I'd yell through the port," Rick said gleefully. "But they aren't. So
we'll let the scoop operate. It will remove that stuff in an hour. And
when they open up, they'll find us."

Scotty looked at him suspiciously. "The tone of voice tells me you're
whomping up something that will make someone unhappy. What is it?"

"Well, if we rush out and tell the world about this, everyone will know
the ghost is a fake. But that won't help us much, because we'll still
need to know the answer to the biggest question of all. Why do this? So
we go back, use the time covering up the break between the tunnels so no
one will suspect we know, and let ourselves be rescued. The ghost
continues to operate, and so do we! Then, when we have the answer, I
have a great idea for unmasking the ghost."

[Illustration]

Scotty saw the reasoning at once. "Besides," he added, "if the Frostola
man doesn't see us come out, he'll know the jig is up right now. So
let's go."

They checked carefully to be sure no trace of their presence remained,
then hurried back to the lower tunnel. Working carefully, they fitted
rocks into the opening until a casual survey by flashlight would not
reveal that the block between the tunnels had been removed. Then they
spent the remaining time clearing more rocks from the original rockfall
that had sealed them in.

When the power scoop finally broke through, the glare of headlights,
turned on when darkness fell, revealed two dirty, disheveled, exhausted
young men who were too fatigued for anything but a quick bath, a meal,
and bed.



CHAPTER XIX

The Final Fact


Rick and Scotty slept late the following morning and were awakened for
brunch by Dr. Miller. The boys took advantage of the few moments alone
with the scientist to give him the complete story of their adventure in
the tunnel, after which they pledged him to secrecy.

"It's one thing to tell people a ghost is a fake," Rick explained. "It's
another to dramatize it. I'm working on an idea that may do it, but only
if we keep quiet and make our plans carefully."

"I'll keep the secret," the scientist assured him. "And I won't even
scold you for going into an obviously unsafe mine because I hope the
hours before you found your way out were lesson enough. By the way,
Belsely wants to talk with you. Call him when you've eaten."

"Yes, sir. And thank you."

During their combination lunch and breakfast, the boys had to put up
with comments from Jan and Barby. Dr. Miller had refrained from scolding
them for foolhardiness, but the girls were not so reticent. The boys
bore it stoically, but Rick resolved not to divulge their secret to
Barby at any cost. Let her get a shock with the rest of the ghost
fanciers.

Belsely was out when they phoned, but he called back a short time later.
"Meet me at the edge of the orchard," he requested. "Got to talk with
you."

The boys excused themselves and went to keep the rendezvous.

"Didn't get a chance to talk with you last night," the farmer said.
"Didn't you wonder a little at how fast rescue got to you?"

"We did at first," Rick explained. "Then we realized you had seen us. We
waved at you and you waved back. So we guessed the mine was the first
place you'd look."

"True, true. But that's only part of the story. I saw you go in the
mine, you see. Then I went back to fence makin'. Pretty soon I heard the
put-put of that scooter and along came the ice-cream man. He parked the
scooter and sort of sniffed around here and there, and then he walked
over and went into the mine. I did some sneakin' myself, to where I
could see what he was doin'. He was looking at footprints, like he was
an injun trackin' the hero on a Western TV show."

"Those must have been his tracks we saw on the way in," Scotty
interjected. "Big feet, which he has, and a reason for wanting to know
how far into the mine we'd gone the first time add up to Mr. Frostola."

"I suppose. Well, he went in a ways and stayed a bit, then he came out
and went back to his scooter and just sat on it. Pretty soon there was a
rumble, and a cloud of dust came pourin' out of the mine. I knew right
away you was trapped in there. Had to be, from the noise. Don't know how
he did it, though. There was no explosion."

Rick explained about the rotted timbers. "He could have done a little
pushing, or even cutting into the rotten wood with a knife. That would
have done it. Maybe he pushed until the beams started to crack and then
hurried out, only it took a few minutes for the beam to let go all the
way."

"That could have been it. Well, I wandered over and asked what the dust
was, and he said cool as you please that he didn't know. Probably a
cave-in inside somewhere. Well, I put on an act about you two poor lads
goin' in and he pretended to get excited, too. We went in, and I tell
you it looked bad."

"Looked bad from our side, too," Rick said.

"I believe it. It was a job for machinery, all right. I hurried to the
house and told Dr. Miller, and we phoned town, but the man with the
scoop was out on a job. The Frostola man was still hangin' around when I
started for town, and he hadn't moved when I got back. I did nothin'
about him because I wanted to talk to you first. Took some time for the
scoop to get there, but it certainly did the job."

"And we're mighty grateful," Rick told the farmer. Scotty echoed him.

"By the way, Mr. Belsely, was anything ever said about a second tunnel
in the mine?" Rick asked.

The farmer considered. "Seems to me there was some mention about such a
second tunnel, back when I was a boy, but I never heard about it since.
I was born and brought up in this town, and I've never seen a sign of
one. Course that doesn't mean there never was, because it might have
fallen in."

Rick made a quick decision. "It didn't," he stated. He went on to tell
Belsely what had happened the day before, pledging him to quiet for a
few days at least to give them a chance to solve the puzzle that
remained.

The farmer was delighted. "This will give me a tale to tell from now on!
Once you say I'm free to talk, that is. Well, whaddaya know! That spring
pipe has been there since Hector was a pup, and no one ever wondered
about why it went in the hill sideways until you came along! Of course
Collins must have known--him and Hilleboe, because they were the ones
who replaced the pipe a few years back."

Rick remembered that Dr. Miller had spoken of the pipe being replaced.
If Collins and Hilleboe had put in the new pipe, they may have driven it
into the hill as Dr. Miller had said, but they had most certainly
connected it with the vertical pipe inside the tunnel.

"Likely," Belsely agreed. "One more thing. We got a daylight ghost
today. Saw him arrive by car about half an hour ago. He went up to the
cornfield with a suitcase of some kind. Thought you'd like to know."

They were delighted to know! The chance to see someone operating by
daylight was too good to miss. They said a quick farewell to Belsely and
hurried off across the field.

There was no one in sight as they crossed the picnic grounds, but when
they climbed to the top of the hill and stood on the edge of the
cornfield, they could see a man in khaki clothes bending over something
between the rows of corn plants.

"Just what the ghosts were doing," Rick exclaimed. "Let's hurry and find
out what he's up to!"

They walked swiftly down the rows of corn, making no attempt at
concealment. This was a frontal attack. The stranger saw them coming and
stood up.

Rick looked him over. The man was about forty, tanned and clean-shaven,
with horn-rimmed glasses. Not at all a ghostly type.

The boys walked right up to the man and gave him a cordial hello, which
the stranger returned.

"We couldn't help being curious," Rick said. "Do you mind if we watch?"

"Not at all." He indicated the open suitcase at his feet. It contained a
built-in instrument with a meter and earphones. There was also a tubular
attachment on the end of a thick wire.

Rick recognized it at once and a thrill shot through him. The stranger
was somehow connected with the mystery.

"Isn't that a Geiger tube?" he asked.

The stranger answered casually, "That's what it is. This is called a
survey meter. Most people know it as a Geiger counter. It's very
sensitive."

Rick knew better, but he wanted to probe for more information. "Are you
in Civil Defense by any chance?" he asked.

"Nope. I'm a geologist. My outfit is making a routine survey of the area
for radioactive ores. We don't expect to find any, but there was a
discovery in Maryland recently and we don't want to overlook any bets."

Rick was sure now that no bets were being overlooked. Any geologist
would eliminate the area simply on the basis of its rock formations with
no need of making a field survey.

He operated largely by instinct when there was a need, and this was
clearly the right occasion. The man looked clean cut and respectable,
and the daylight operation separated him from the nightly prowlers.

"You might find some Janigite around here," Rick said casually, and
watched sharply for the reaction.

"Possibly. Saw an interesting sample of it yesterday." The stranger was
offhand in his reply, but his eyes twinkled behind the glasses.

"So did we. It was wrapped in a cement bag."

The response was quick. The stranger held out his hand. "I'm Roger
Bennett from the Atomic Energy Commission. You're the boys who notified
JANIG about the cement bags."

Rick and Scotty identified themselves, and Bennett nodded. "I know John
Gordon of the Spindrift staff. We worked together on a test project a
few years ago. Now, what's the story?"

The boys told him what they knew, ending with yesterday's discovery.

The AEC man nodded. "This field is 'hot,' did you know that? It's
obvious that powdered carnotite was spread here before the corn was
planted. And from your story, it was spread in the field across the
creek, too."

Ghosts with a cart had marched up and down the fields, hunting for the
ghostly dead ... the image flashed through Rick's mind and he exclaimed,
"The cart! That was why the ghosts needed the cart! They were lugging
bags of powdered carnotite and spreading it around the fields when
Belsely saw them!"

"You've hit it," Scotty agreed.

Rick explained to Bennett about the ghosts and the cart, and then added
Belsely's reports on the times when two or three ghosts had walked the
fields without a cart. "Scotty and I saw three of them once, and it's a
cinch they were using a survey meter to check the ground for
radioactivity. But why? That's what has us going around in ghastly,
ghostly circles. Why spread carnotite and then come back to measure it?"

Bennett smiled. "I think I know, but I'd like to see this mine of yours.
Can it be arranged?"

Scotty said swiftly, "I'd better act as a lookout to intercept the
Frostola man if he comes. I'll delay him while you two go into the
mine." He was gone at a ground-eating pace.

Rick led the AEC man to the hidden mine entrance. "I don't have a
flashlight with me."

"No need. What we want will be right at the entrance, I'm sure."

They crawled in on hands and knees, the AEC man pushing his bag before
him. Inside, he looked around and selected several small pieces of rock.

"We'll check the samples, but it's just a formality. I recognize this
stuff. It's carnotite. You can see the yellow streaks clearly. That's
the uranium color. Of course the rock is mostly gray, so that's the
color of the powdered ore."

"Then the mine really contains radioactive ore?" Rick asked eagerly.

"Only what was put here, I'm afraid."

With this cryptic comment Bennett opened his case and checked the
samples. Rick watched the meter climb. They were radioactive, all right,
but of low ore level, not at all dangerous.

"We'd better get out of here," Bennett said. "I'd rather not be
discovered at this point. When your friend Scott comes back I'll tell
you what has happened."

Scotty rejoined them as they reached the cornfield again. They walked
with Bennett to his car, and listened to an explanation that made
everything clear.

"This is a game as old as mining," Bennett told them. "It has happened
before, and it will happen again. Uranium is the treasure metal now,
where gold used to be. So the game uses uranium. The game is known as
salting."

"Salting?" Scotty asked. "I've heard it in connection with gold mines,
but I can't remember exactly what it means."

"It means putting evidence of high-grade ore in a likely place, but one
which actually contains no real pay dirt. For instance, in country where
gold may be found, the technique for salting used to be firing gold
nuggets into the ground with a shotgun, by replacing the buckshot with
the nuggets. Then, when the victim was allowed to try panning gold for
himself, he'd come up with the nuggets and think he was getting natural
gold."

"And in this case, powdered carnotite was used in the fields, and chunks
were put in the mine, to make victims think uranium was present," Rick
added. He could see the picture pretty clearly now. "The carnotite was
put in and then the field was planted with corn to make it look as
innocent and natural as possible, I suppose."

"That's how I figure it. There's no uranium around here, except for the
very small percentage that one can often find associated with some
varieties of lead. We'll find that someone has been pulling a very cute
confidence game, bringing clients here by night, showing them the
radioactivity--by letting them hear the clicks in the earphone of a
counter, probably--and then selling them either shares in a mine or
pieces of property."

"And using the ghost to scare the townspeople away so there would be no
interference," Rick finished. "But how can we prove all this?"

"You won't have to. I brought a man with me, and dropped him off in
town. His name is Joe Taylor, and he's an FBI agent."

"The FBI?" Scotty looked puzzled. "But bunco games or con games,
whatever you call them, aren't a federal offense! How does the FBI get
in on it?"

"Because the carnotite was federal property. It was stolen from a
loading platform at our Grand Junction facility. We know this, because
there is no record of any transaction, and we can identify the source by
the chemical composition of the sample."

"But how could anyone steal stuff from AEC?" Rick asked.

"Easily, in this case. There is no purpose in protecting ore with the
same security we give the processed stages, like green salt, for
example. No one could possibly steal enough ore to do any good, because
it takes many tons to produce even a gram of uranium. Ore moves by
carloads, on normal railroad or truck bills of lading, from private
companies who mine it. No security is required, you see, because no one
has the capability of getting out the metal even if they could steal
thousands of tons of ore."

Rick understood this. He had seen the plant at Oak Ridge where uranium
was extracted by the gas diffusion method. The plant covered acres. Only
a government could afford such a facility.

"But couldn't the carnotite have been stolen from a privately owned
mine?" he asked.

"Possibly, but we will assume it was in our hands when it was taken.
This is because we want to discourage this kind of thing, and the FBI
taking action is very discouraging to thieves."

The boys appreciated this viewpoint. "I hope the FBI doesn't interfere
with Rick's plan for exposing the ghost," Scotty said.

"I don't think you'll find Taylor hard to persuade. I'll suggest he stop
by and hear your story. It will help him. Then you can outline your own
plans."

"We'll be waiting," Rick assured the AEC expert. "Before you go, what's
your idea about the changing number of ghosts? Was that when the clients
were brought to see the Geiger counter work?"

"That would be my guess," Bennett agreed. "You'll probably find that the
ghost took them on a conducted survey of the mine and the fields to show
them what valuable property he was offering for sale--or for shares in a
mine."

Scotty objected, "But the ghost wore the luminous blue head. Any clients
would think that was mighty peculiar, to put it mildly, unless they knew
they were being parties to something illegal."

Bennett chuckled. "It's one of the key factors in a really big con game
to make the client think he is getting something for nothing, or maybe
even a shade outside the law. Confidence men say that everyone has a
'little larceny in his soul.' I'm sure that's not true, but enough
people do so that they can be swindled by an illegal offer."

Rick snapped his fingers. "Dr. Miller's property, and the fact that
Hilleboe owned only part of the mine! That's the reason for the ghosts
that walked by night. It has to be! The swindlers would tell their
clients only part of the land was available and they needed funds to buy
the rest of it--but the inspection had to be held by night to keep the
owner from suspecting he had a uranium mine on his property."

Bennett asked, "Was Dr. Miller actually approached with an offer to
buy?"

"Yes," Scotty replied. "It was a good offer, too. That must mean the
swindlers were doing a good business and needed more land to sell."

"Not necessarily. They probably wanted the Miller property more as a
safety factor than anything else, in case someone got wind of what was
going on and tried to horn in. They probably didn't actually sell land,
only speculative shares in a mine to be developed. That's the usual
technique. The secrecy and mystery, and having a phony ghost for a
guide, were just added elements of drama to help with the selling. The
clients thought they were in on a great big secret."

Rick grinned. "They were. We've just managed to untangle it, with your
help."

"Delighted," Bennett said. "But you'll find Taylor much more of an
expert than I. See you later, boys, I'm sure."

They watched as the AEC man drove off. "I'm pretty sure we have the
answers," Rick said happily. "Hilleboe probably is the boss, since he
owns the property, but Collins is in on it to some extent because he
knew about the upper mine tunnel, and acted as agent for Hilleboe. And
our pal the Frostola man is in it up to his hip pockets."

"He's the ghost," Scotty agreed. "Both in the tunnel when the machine is
run, and at night when the ghost walks. At least he is part of the time.
Of course there's no reason why someone else couldn't be the ghost, too,
maybe two or three different people."

"Someone else was the ghost the first night," Rick remembered, "because
the Frostola man was watching."

"Good thing we don't have to prove any of this," Scotty concluded. "The
FBI is on the job. They'll get the proof."

"But we're the ones who'll bury the ghost for good," Rick promised.



CHAPTER XX

Death of a Ghost


Dr. Miller planned a large cook-out and picnic party in the mine area,
and he issued invitations to people from the town of Lansdale, to the
staff of Spindrift Island's scientific foundation, to Mr. Bennett of the
AEC, and to a number of folks who preferred for reasons of their own to
remain anonymous for the time being.

The reason, Dr. Miller said, was to get all his friends together for one
big shindig before he and his family returned to Spindrift Island where
a new project was waiting.

Even Jan and Barby knew no other reason than this.

Meanwhile, the boys were busy preparing to "bury the ghost for good."
What made the plan difficult was that it had to be done publicly, and in
such a way that it wouldn't interfere with police activities.

The boys met with Taylor, the FBI agent. He was a good-natured young man
who might have been a lawyer, but under the attractive grin and ready
chuckle, Rick could sense that Taylor could be a very tough man indeed
if need be. The agent listened to their plans and laughed outright.

"I like it," he said. "We must do this, if only for the effect on the
Frostola man when he sees what has happened. It's turning the tables on
that joker, and he deserves it."

Rick sensed more than met the ear in that statement. "You know something
about him?" he asked.

"Quite a bit. He's not exactly Public Enemy Number One, or even Number
Fifty, but he's well known to the police of most large cities. He
specializes in confidence games with a technical angle. He's quite
original. You can bet he dreamed this whole thing up and planned it down
to the last detail, then sold the others on it. I don't know how he met
Hilleboe, but we'll find out. Of course he met Collins through
Hilleboe."

"Does the Frostola company know he exists?"

"Sure. He wouldn't slip on a detail like that. He got the job without
difficulty, since the route was vacant. If it hadn't been vacant, he'd
have worked out some other kind of cover."

Rick made a telephone call to a friend in New York, and as a consequence
had to fly to Washington National Airport in two days to pick up a small
package.

Mr. Belsely let it be known around town that Dr. Miller didn't really
want to hold the party at the mine area because of the ghost, but had no
other place large enough--and he had to give the party for professional
reasons; his scientific friends had long wanted to see his Virginia
home. The farmer made sure the Frostola man heard the story.

There was only one final step necessary on the day of the big event.
With Belsely watching one road and Scotty watching the other, Rick went
into the upper mine tunnel for the last time. He had with him equipment
and a specially made item that was essential to his plans. He worked
swiftly, sure that the Frostola man wouldn't notice the slight change,
which involved only a foot of film on the continuous strip.

He finished and called Belsely and Scotty off their posts. Now all was
in readiness.

There were gallons of potato salad and coleslaw, mountains of rolls,
barrels of punch, and enough hot dogs to feed a small army. Wood was
piled for the fires, paper plates were stacked high. All was in
readiness.

Rick flew again to Washington and made connections with the plane that
brought his parents and Julius Weiss, the little mathematician. The
other Spindrifters were out of town, so couldn't come.

It was a gala occasion, enjoyed by everyone. Rick ate half a dozen hot
dogs himself, while Scotty maintained his reputation as a good
trencherman with two on top of that. They consumed salad until the
bursting point was near, and so was darkness.

Then Rick wandered casually over to a parked car where one man, replete
with picnic chow, was listening to his radio.

It wasn't a broadcast receiver, however. The man was a lieutenant of the
Virginia State Police. His car was radio equipped, although not
identified as a police car. It kept him in touch with his men.

"Your boy went into the mine a few minutes ago," he reported.

Rick breathed a sigh of relief. Now, if the ghost producer didn't
examine things too closely ... but he wouldn't. Everything looked
normal, and the extra film wasn't prominent.

It was almost nine o'clock.

Rick found Scotty. "Let's get grandstand seats."

"Okay."

Barby, Jan, and the Millers had a table directly under the tree in which
the boys had waited in vain for the Blue Ghost, and had hidden from the
night prowlers. This was no accident. Rick's mother and father were with
the group. Weiss was off at another table with Bennett of the AEC, deep
in a discussion of some obscure point of nuclear physics.

A car drove up and Rick waited to see who emerged. One person who was
missing had arrived just in time. Rick walked over and told the FBI
agent to get a good location from which to watch the show.

"Just got in from Washington," Taylor said. "We picked up Hilleboe and
three associates. They talked freely when they saw we had 'em cold. Been
actually selling pieces of the land, through Collins, at fantastic
prices. We'll pick up Collins on the way back tonight."

Rick saw him to a good location and rejoined Scotty. They hurriedly told
the folks at the table that they wanted grandstand seats and went up
into the tree. Besides having a good seat, Rick also wanted to see if he
was correct about being able to see the bright projector lens from the
tree.

Now that they knew what to look for, it was absurdly simple. They
couldn't see the port open, but they saw the white flash of dry ice as
it dropped from the port into the pool.

The mist rose.

The party group was silent now. Only a very few knew what the outcome
would be; most knew only that the Blue Ghost was about to appear.

The mist thickened, expanded.

The Blue Ghost materialized. He held out his hands to an invisible loved
one. He looked appealing.

He recoiled, then put hands to his chest. They came away bloody. He
stretched them out ...

And then a new sequence materialized in the mist, a sequence of words in
stark red against the icy white of the background.

    BE PREPARED!
        BUY
    BLUE GHOST
 HEALTH INSURANCE

For a long breath there was shocked silence, then the crowd below
dissolved into laughter.

"Let's go," Rick shouted.

He would have given much to see Barby's expression, but time was running
out and he and Scotty had ground to cover. They dropped from the tree,
scrambled up the hill past where the white mist was fading, and dashed
across the cornfield.

"Hurry!" Scotty exclaimed.

"I'm hurrying," Rick assured him, but made his legs go faster.

They went across the hilltop with great strides, broke into the open
beyond the cornfield, dodged thorns, and panted to a stop just above the
opening of the second tunnel.

The fast sprint had gotten them there in time.

The Frostola man spurted from the tunnel as though a real ghost was
after him.

Four state troopers grabbed him so fast that his legs continued to make
running motions even after his feet were lifted off the ground.

Rick caught a glimpse of blue light from the corner of his eye and
whirled to see the Blue Ghost approaching! For a moment he thought a
real ghost had somehow appeared to be in on the capture of the phony
one, then at close range he saw that the ghostly head was nothing more
than a transparent plastic head of the kind used to display men's hats.

The apparition walked up to the speechless Frostola man and said calmly,
"Boo!"

Taylor, the FBI agent, removed the apparatus from his head; Rick
recognized him in the blue glow. "We found your other head underneath
the ice cream in your scooter," he said conversationally. "In the false
bottom. We also found your Geiger counter. Any comments?"

The Frostola man had recovered somewhat from the shock of his capture.

"What can I say?" he demanded. "When I saw that wordage on the mist, I
knew someone was onto the act. I only delayed long enough to read
it--backward--from where I was. Then I got out and ran into troopers.
All right. You found the secret of the ghost, and that I have a Geiger
counter. So what? Practical jokes aren't illegal, and anyone can own a
survey meter."

"But selling shares in a nonexistent mine with intent to defraud is
quite a different matter," the agent said. "We've been collecting
evidence for a few days, including some from clients of yours who were
interested in knowing the field had been salted. And we've picked up
Collins and Hilleboe."

The Frostola man sighed. "Well, it was good while it lasted. I suspected
things were getting risky when those two kids charged into the mist, but
I hoped maybe the cold spray had cooled them down a little. When it
didn't, I tried to scare them off by trapping them in the mine. No
intent to harm, either. I knew they'd be dug out in short order."

"We were," Rick agreed. "Only while the rescuers were digging in, we
were busy finding the upper tunnel. After that, it was easy."

"I saw the rescue," the Frostola man said. "You came out the same way
you went in. That fooled me completely; I just figured you hadn't gone
beyond the pile of rocks between the tunnels."

A trooper sergeant pointed to the police car waiting on the dirt road.
"Come on. We'll take a ride to town and get you booked. Don't worry
about your scooter. It will be taken care of."

"Eat all the ice cream you want," the Frostola man said grandly. "Be my
guests. I won't be needing it."

"Not for some years," Taylor agreed. "Come on, lads. Let's get back to
the picnic."

"We're with you," Rick said. "Lead the way." He chuckled suddenly. "It
was a pretty good effect, wasn't it? The lab did a good job, and the
Frostola man didn't see that a new chunk had been spliced in."

"A very good effect," Scotty agreed. "Only stand by for misery and woe.
Barby and Jan won't like this! After all, we destroyed a historic
romance."

The picnic crowd was eating again when the boys returned. They located
the family and Rick strained to see the girls' faces, but it was too
dark.

Barby's voice said sternly, "Is that you, Rick Brant?"

He admitted it, rather meekly. "Uh-uh."

"Rick Brant! You knew all the time ... I mean, while Jan and I were ..."

Barby's voice was trembling. He thought she was in tears. He hoped not;
she shouldn't take legends so seriously ...

Agent Taylor joined the group and chuckled. "You should have seen that
Frostola man come out of the tunnel! I guess that final commercial
shocked him silly."

"He wasn't the only one," Barby said swiftly, and to Rick's amazement
she and Jan Miller burst into peals of laughter.

This wasn't the reaction Rick had expected. "But the romance," he said
doubtfully. "I mean, you should be brokenhearted ..."

"I'll never understand girls," Scotty said darkly.

"It was like sitting through the same movie too many times," Barby
explained.

Jan added, "Really, we were getting a little bored with the same act. If
the ghost had only changed his routine a little ..."

There was real pride in Barby's voice as she declared, "And how do you
get rid of a boring ghost? You get my brother Rick to turn him into a
commercial. Rick Brant's Sponsored Spooks!"

Rick was so relieved at Barby's reaction that he let her have the last
word. Besides, there were new events to think about, for Hartson Brant
had brought word of a new project the Spindrift Foundation had agreed to
undertake, one that would shake the very earth to its depths, and one in
which Rick Brant and Scotty would play a major part.



_The_ RICK BRANT SCIENCE-ADVENTURE _Stories_

BY JOHN BLAINE

THE ROCKET'S SHADOW

THE LOST CITY

SEA GOLD

100 FATHOMS UNDER

THE WHISPERING BOX MYSTERY

THE PHANTOM SHARK

SMUGGLERS' REEF

THE CAVES OF FEAR

STAIRWAY TO DANGER

THE GOLDEN SKULL

THE WAILING OCTOPUS

THE ELECTRONIC MIND READER

THE SCARLET LAKE MYSTERY

THE PIRATES OF SHAN

THE BLUE GHOST MYSTERY





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