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   Chapter 13 THE HEAD HUNTER

The Phantom Violin / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8733

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


When the searchlight from the water had been switched off, Florence saw the dark gray power boat approaching the camping ground.

"Greta," she groaned, "we should have gone up the ridge at once! There's no peace or privacy anywhere!"

As the boat came nearer they read in large letters across the prow one word, "CONSERVATION."

This brought momentary relief to the startled girls. Conservation men are government men and these, Florence believed, could be trusted.

Pulling in close to shore, the boat dropped anchor. A sturdy, sun-tanned man leaped into the small boat they had in tow, and rowed rapidly toward land.

"Who's the man who went into the bush just now?" he demanded the instant his feet touched land.

"M-man?" Florence stammered. "There is no man."

"So I see," the newcomer grumbled. "There was one, though. Don't try to deceive me! I saw him! He's short, stoutly built, rather dark, with a week's beard. Now then! Does that convince you?"

"Yes." Florence found her knees trembling. "Perhaps," she thought, "these Conservation men have saved us from trouble without knowing it."

"Yes," she repeated, "I believe you are telling the truth. You did see a man. But-but he doesn't belong to us. Truly he does not! Wait! I'll tell you about him."

"Tell me about yourself first. What are you doing here?" The man did not smile.

"Why-we-we-we-" Florence was greatly disturbed. "We came over here from the wreck. We-"

"Oh!" her inquisitor broke in as a smile overspread his face. "You're the girls living out there on the wreck. That-er-I owe you an apology. We've heard of you. You're O. K. You see, we're the Conservation men on the island, Dick and I. Got to see that no game is killed, no trees cut, no fires started, all that.

"But tell me now-" His voice took on an eager note. "Tell me about that man."

Florence told him all she knew. He was, she felt quite certain, the man who had intended murdering Old Uncle Ned, the veteran moose, and the man who had fought with her that battle of oars. She trembled now as she thought what might have happened had not these Conservation men happened along.

"God seems to be keeping an eye on us," she was to say to Jeanne some time later. And Jeanne was to reply reverently, "He notes the sparrow's fall."

"Excuse me," the Conservation man said when the story was done. "My name is Mell. As man to man, I'd like to shake your hand. The way you saved the old moose was keen. You're the right sort. I-I'll get you a job on our force." He shook her hand warmly.

"But this fellow-" his brow wrinkled. "We'll have to look after him. He's a head hunter, beyond a doubt. Fellow can get good money for a fine pair of moose antlers. These rascals come over here and kill our best friends of the wildwood, just for a few sordid dollars. Watch us go after him!"

Leaping into his boat, he was away.

"He's-he's all right." Florence was enthusiastic. "Question is, shall we camp here or try a return trip to the ship?" For a moment all thoughts of the treasure hunt were forgotten.

"Moon will be out by ten o'clock," she said after a moment's thought. "Be safer on the water then. We'll make a fire and have something to eat."

Their evening lunch over, the girls curled up side by side with the wall of their small tent at their back and the glowing fire before them. All about them was blackness. Not a gleam came from the surface of dark waters. Not a break appeared in the wall of bottle-green that was the forest at their back. For all this, they were not afraid. Swen's rifle lay across Florence's knees. Their ears were keen. No intruder could slip upon them unannounced.

"Gold!" Greta whispered. "We found a tiny bit. I wonder if there can be much more."

"Who knows?" Florence murmured dreamily.

Presently the big girl's head fell forward. She slept, as the wild people before her had slept, sitting before the fire.

Greta did not wake her. "I will hear in time if there is any danger," she told herself. She liked the feel of it all, the warmth of the fire on her face, the little breezes playing in her hair, her sleeping comrade, the night, the mysterious forest-all this seemed part of a new world to her. She smiled as she thought of her own soft bed at home with its bright covers and downy pillow. "Who would wish to live like that always?" sh

e asked herself. "Who-"

Her thoughts snapped off like a radio singer who had been cut off. Wind was beginning to come down the bay and, wafted along by it was a sound, faint, indistinct but unmistakable.

"The phantom violin!" she whispered.

This time the sound came from so great a distance that it was but a teasing phantom of sound.

She wanted to slip away into the forest and follow the sound. But she dared not.

* * * * * * * *

Petite Jeanne was with her wild, free friends of other days. In the pale light of Japanese lanterns she danced with the bear the old fantastic dances of those other days. When it was over and she passed the tambourine for Bihari, a great weight of silver coins thumped into it. For a moment she was deliriously happy. When it was all over and she had rowed alone in a small boat out to the center of the narrow bay, her feelings changed. For one short moment she wished herself back on the wreck with Florence and Greta.

"But I must not!" She pulled herself up short. "Bihari and his people have done much for me. I must not fail them now.

"Ah! But this is beautiful!" she breathed a moment later. "And I shall see it all-all this marvelous island!"

The scene before her was like some picture taken from a fairy book. A dark circle of forest with only a pale light gleaming here and there like a star, and at the center of all this the lights of a long, low room casting mellow reflections upon the water.

Figures moved about like gay phantoms in this light. To her ears came the low melody of guitar and violin.

"It is so beautiful!" She felt her throat tighten with the joy of it all. "And yet-"

She was thinking of the black schooner that had slipped away into the great unknown lying away beyond the shrouds of night.

"The diver was on that schooner," she assured herself. "What if they return to our home, our poor wrecked ship! They may set fire to it! They may blow it up with dynamite!" She shuddered. "They came there to look for something. I wonder what it could be? Florence is a famous diver. When we are back at the wreck-if we ever are," she murmured dreamily, "she shall dive into that place and see. She-"

But someone was calling her name. She must return to the shore. Her brief hour of revery was at an end.

* * * * * * * *

On the camping grounds at Duncan's Bay for two hours Florence slept. When she woke the moon was out. The wind too had risen.

"Waves will be too high," was her instant decision. "We must stay here for the night."

"And tomorrow," Greta whispered eagerly, "tomorrow at dawn we will go up the ridge."

"Why so soon?"

Greta told of hearing that faint thread of music.

"We shall see," said Florence, and began preparation for the night.

Their tent was small, only seven feet square. It had a floor of canvas. Once inside with the flap buttoned tight, they were as securely housed as the caterpillar in his chrysalis.

Greta was not slow in creeping down among the blankets. She went to sleep at once.

As for Florence, she drew on her heavy sweater, thrust her feet under the blankets, propped the rifle against the tent wall and, folding her arms across her knees, sat at half watch the night through.

The sun had not cleared the tree tops when the Conservation boat appeared. It had a small black power boat in tow.

"We waited for him all night, that head hunter," Mell explained. "Didn't show up. Hoofed it back into the hills, I guess. The boat was stolen. We're taking it back.

"No good, his hiding in the forest," he concluded. "We'll get him, you'll see. Tell every ship captain to watch for him."

"I hope," said Florence when they were gone, "that they get him very soon."

A half hour later, with packs on their backs, the two girls headed up the rocky slope.

"Treasure hunt can wait," was Florence's comment. "We can go after that when Jeanne is back. Now we're going to explore Greenstone Ridge."

This course, she had thought during the night, might seem a bit dangerous with the head hunter still at large. "But the ridge is a trackless wilderness," she had reassured herself. "He will never come upon our trail." Which, as you will see by what follows, was a fair conclusion.

The events that followed the climbing of Greenstone Ridge on that bright and beautiful day were strange beyond belief.

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