Next morning Mr. Ames got us out of bed before a rooster had time to crow. He had the wagon all loaded and the horses hitched when we got down-stairs, and all there was for us to do was to pile on.
Ten miles is quite a drive with a heavy load, but it was still early when we pulled up alongside the porch of the big hotel. It made me sort of gasp when I looked at it. It was so big, and we were going to live in it all alone. Mr. Ames said there were thirty- nine bedrooms, and I expect there were about that many more rooms of other kinds. It was a funny-looking place, all bulges and bay-windows. It looked as if it had been built in a dozen pieces by folks whose ideas were a heap different. There were three stories to it, and almost every bedroom opened out on to a gallery or a porch or a balcony.
The whole of it stood on a point going out into the lake. Just off the end of the point was a tiny island with a little bridge across to it, and on that was another big building, where, Mr. Ames told us, there used to be a room for dancing, with bedrooms for the help up-stairs.
And that was all there was to it. As far as you could see there wasn't another building. Mr. Ames said there wasn't a cottage on the lake and that the nearest farm-house was four miles away. The woods came almost down to the shore of the lake, and all around it the hills bulged up a dozen times as high as any hill I ever saw in Michigan.
"Well," says Mr. Ames, "how does she look to you?"
"F-fine," says Mark; and we all agreed with him.
"Boats in the boat-house yonder," says Mr. Ames. "Need paintin' and calkin', I expect. I put the fixin's in the wagon, so if you want a boat you'll have to tinker one up."
"It'll give us somethin' to do," says I, for I like to carpenter or meddle with machinery or mend up things. "That'll be my job."
"I'll see you settled," says Mr. Ames, "and then git back to town."
He helped us carry our things inside. Some of the stuff we piled in the big, dusty, cobwebby office to be taken care of later. The bedding we took up-stairs after we had selected our rooms. We took two bedrooms. Plunk Smalley and I were in one and Mark was in the other with Binney, because Binney was smallest and would leave enough room in bed for all of Mark. The rooms were right over the office and were connected by a door. There was a door out of Mark's room on to a big round porch right on top of the main porch of the hotel. They were dandy, pleasant rooms.
We put in most of the day cleaning up the rooms we wanted to use and fixing up the big range in the kitchen. We expected to cook most of our meals outdoors, but there would be some days when we couldn't and that range would come in handy. It was quite a job, but when we were through our bedrooms and the office and the dining- room and the halls and kitchen were as clean as they ever had been. By eight o'clock we were plenty tired and ready for bed. Then we made a discovery that was going to be important before we got out of that country-mighty important. We didn't have a candle or a lamp or a lantern!
"Better hustle into bed before it gets d-d- dark," says Mark; and up-stairs we scurried.
In about two jerks we were undressed and between the sheets. For a minute everybody was still, and right there I began to feel spooky. I got to thinking of the long halls and empty bedrooms-and the ten miles between us and town. It wasn't comfortable. It seemed like it got pitch-dark in a minute, and then the wind, which we'd been too busy to notice, started to blow around the hotel and make noises.
I reached over and felt of Plunk to be sure he was there, and I caught him in the act of feeling for me. He felt the same way I did.
"Kinda still, ain't it?" says I.
"I wouldn't mind if a brass band was to start up under the window," says he.
In the other room we heard Mark and Binney begin to talk.
"Git over," says Binney; "two-thirds of the bed is yours fair and square, but I ain't goin' to sleep danglin' over the edge."
We heard Mark wallow over.
"Seems to me there's l-lots of things rattlin' and b-bangin' around," says Mark.
"Is the door locked?" says Binney.
"Wasn't any key," says Mark.
"Maybe," says Binney, "if we was to move a chair or somethin' against it it wouldn't rattle so."
I knew Binney wasn't worrying about the rattling, but was doing a lot of thinking about keeping out anything that might be prowling around, and I nudged Plunk. We sort of giggled at Binney, but I guess both of us felt the same way he did.
"Go on to sleep," says Mark.
We were all quiet for a spell, and then Mark began to snore. He wasn't the nervous kind, and even if he had been a mite timid he'd have slept just the same. I never saw such a fellow to eat and sleep.
Well, we laid there in the dark, listening, and after a while I dozed off. All of a sudden I waked up with Plunk clutching the side of my face.
"Hush!" says he.
I hushed all right and listened. At first I couldn't hear anything, but then I did hear a sound. Thump! Thump! Thump! it went. Then it stopped and started over. Thump! Thump! Thump!
"Hear it?" whispered Plunk.
"Sure," says I. "Be still and listen."
Pretty soon I was sure I heard something soft-footed come sneaking along the hall. I held my breath and listened with all my might. Whatever it was, it came along, breathing so you could hear, and stopped by our door and sniffed. Then it sounded just as if somebody said, "'Shhh!"
"I'm goin' to see," says I. "Layin' here waitin' to be bit is worse 'n bein' up and gettin' bit."
I jumped out of bed, with Plunk right after me, and rushed across the room. Right in the middle of it I ran into somebody coming from the other way, and down we went in a kicking, punching heap. Scared? Say, I thought I'd just naturally scream. I guess maybe I did let out some kind of a yell. Whatever I'd run into was pretty lively and thrashed around considerable. All of a sudden I realized it was fat-mighty fat.
"Mark Tidd," says I, "is that you?"
"Wough!" says he. "What you wanderin' around at night like this for?"
"Same to you. This is our room, ain't it? Was that you sniffin' outside our door?"
" No," says he. "I heard it and g-g-got up to see."
"Come on, then," says I.
We untangled and made for the door. I grabbed it open and looked out. The hall was as dark as a pocket. The only light was a window at the far end that seemed about half a mile away. If anything had been between us and that window we could have seen it, but nothing was there. We listened. There wasn't a sound.
"Huh!" says Mark. "Guess it was imagination."
"Imagination nothing'," says I. "We wouldn't both imagine at once, would we?"
"P-p-probably the wind, then."
"Wind don't thump," says I.
We stood there and argued about it. Of a sudden Mark turned toward the stairs that led down to the office. "Feels like a d- draught," says he. "I shut the outside door."
"Maybe it blew open."
"It c-couldn't. I fixed it."
"Let's see, then," says I; and all four of us in our nightgowns and bare feet went traipsing down. The door was wide open.
Mark just stood looking at it without a word; then he took hold of his ear and began to jerk at it like he always does when something happens that puzzles him more than ordinary. He went close to the door and looked at the catch as well as he could in the dark. It was all right.
"I shut the d-door and p-pushed the bolt," says he.
"Then nobody could have got in from outside," says I.
"Not through the door," says he. "B-but it looks like somebody went out of it."
"What I heard was an animal," says I, "and animals can't push bolts-at least not outside of a circus."
"S-s-somebody pushed that bolt," Mark says, stubbornly.
"All right," says I. "Who was it?"
"I'd give a dollar to know," says he.
"Sure you locked it?" Plunk asked.
Mark looked at him like he does when somebody's said something ridiculous.
"That b-b-bolt was pushed," he stuttered.
"Well," says I, "we'll lock it now, anyhow," and I slammed the door shut and pushed the bolt. "Now let's git back to bed."
"I don't like the idee of somebody sneakin' around this place while we're asleep," says Binney.
"Nor me," says Plunk.
I didn't exactly grin with joy at the thought of it myself, but what could we do about it?
"Let's set a watch," says Binney. "Take turns."
"Shucks !" says Mark.
But Binney stuck to it, and Plunk sided with him. So did I. We drew matches to see who would watch first and I got the short one. The other fellows piled into bed and I wrapped myself up in a quilt and sat in a chair, shivering and pretty lonesome, I can tell you, especially after the others went to sleep.
It wouldn't have been so bad if I'd had a light of some sort, but there wasn't any light-not even moonlight. So I just sat and wished it was time for Mark to get up and take my place. I almost dozed off when, way back in the woods, I heard a whistle. At first I didn't really know whether I heard it or not, but in a second it came again, and there was no mistaking it. Somebody was out there among the trees and he was whistling to somebody else. What did he whistle for, I wondered, and who was he whistling to?
I shoved up the window and stepped out on the balcony. The wind almost whipped my blanket off of me, but I hung on to it and looked all around. Right in front of me was the lake as black as a great big ink-blot; at the right was a bay; at the left was the shore and the road with the woods stretching back. I couldn't see a thing alive; in fact, I couldn't see very much of anything. Then I heard the whistle again, a little plainer than before.
I strained my eyes in the direction it came from and waited. I kept on waiting, and then almost before I realized it some kind of an animal rushed out of the woods and ran up on the porch and jumped against the door. Twice it jumped. Then it ran down on the grass and tore around to the back of the hotel where I couldn't see it. I couldn't tell what kind of an animal it was because I could scarcely see it at all, but it was big. It looked almost as big as a calf.
I got back into the room and shut down the window, because it felt safer to be inside when animals as big as calves were rampaging around outside. Just as I got in there was a whopping-big slam down-stairs and at the far end of the hotel. Just one slam, and then everything was quiet.
I wrapped up tighter in my blanket and sat out the rest of my watch. Then I called Mark and told him what I'd seen. I was tired and sleepy and cold, so, in spite of being pretty nervous, I fell asleep in a couple of minutes.