Chapter V. Bert's Ghost
 

BERT felt relieved to learn that Mr. Ringley did not know who had broken the store window, but he was still fearful that the offense might be laid at his door. He was afraid to trust Danny Rugg, and did not know what the big boy might do about the matter.

"He may say I did it, just to clear himself," thought Bert. "And if Mr. Ringley comes after me, he'll remember me sure."

But his anxiety was forgotten that evening, when some of the neighbors dropped in for a call. There was music on the piano and some singing, and almost before Bert and Nan knew it, it was time to go to bed. Freddie and Flossie had already retired, worn out by their play.

But after Bert had said his prayers and found himself alone in the small chamber he occupied, he could not sleep. The talk of the folks below kept him awake at first, and even after they had gone to bed he could not forget the happening of the day, and he could still hear the crash of that glass as the chunk of ice went sailing through it.

At last he fell into a troubled doze, with the bright light of the moon shining across the rug at the foot of the bed. But the doze did not last long, and soon some kind of a noise awoke him with a start.

He opened his eyes and his gaze wandered across the moon-lit room. Was he dreaming, or was that really a figure in white standing at the foot of his bed? With a shiver he ducked down and covered his head with the blankets.

For two or three minutes he lay quiet, expecting every instant to have something unusual happen. Then, with great caution, he pushed the blankets back and took another look.

There was nothing there!

"But I saw something," he told himself. "I am sure I saw something. What could it have been?"

Ah, that was the question. For over an hour he continued to lie awake, watching and listening. Nan was in the next little chamber and he was half of a mind to call her, but he was afraid she would call him a "'fraid-cat!" something he had always despised.

Bert had heard of ghosts and now he thought of all the ghost stories he could remember. Had the thing in white been a ghost? If so, where had it come from?

After a while he tried to dismiss the thing from his mind, but it was almost morning before he fell asleep again. This time he slept so soundly, however, that he did not rouse up until his mother came and shook him.

"Why, Bert, what makes you sleep so soundly this morning?" said Mrs. Bobbsey.

"I--I didn't get to sleep until late," he stammered. And then he added: "Mamma, do you believe in ghosts?"

"Why, of course not, Bert. What put that into your head?"

"I--I thought I saw a ghost last night."

"You must have been mistaken. There are no ghosts."

"But I saw something," insisted the boy.

"Where?"

"Right at the foot of the bed. It was all white."

"When was this?"

"Right in the middle of the night."

"Did you see it come in, or go out?"

"No, mamma. When I woke up it was standing there, and when I took a second look at it, it was gone."

"You must have been suffering from a nightmare, Bert," said Mrs. Bobbsey kindly. "You should not have eaten those nuts before going to bed."

"No, it wasn't a nightmare," said the boy.

He had but little to say while eating breakfast, but on the way to school he told Nan, while Freddie and Flossie listened also.

"Oh, Bert, supposing it was a real ghost?" cried Nan, taking a deep breath. "Why, I'd be scared out of my wits--I know I'd be!"

"Mamma says there are no ghosts. But I saw something--I am sure of that."

"I don't want to see any ghostses," came from Flossie.

"Nor I," added Freddie. "Sam told about a ghost once that was as high as a tree an' had six heads, to eat bad boys and girls up. Did this have six heads, Bert?"

"No."

"How many heads did it have?"

"I don't know--one, I guess."

"And was it as high as a tree?" went on the inquisitive little fellow.

"Oh, it couldn't stand up in the room if it was as high as a tree," burst out Flossie.

"Could if it was a tiny baby tree," expostulated Freddie.

"It was about as high as that," said Bert, putting out his hand on a level with his shoulder. "I can't say how it looked, only it was white."

"Perhaps it was moonshine," suggested Nan, but at this Bert shook his head. He felt certain it had been more substantial than moonshine.

That day Danny Rugg came to school as usual. When questioned about his absence he said he had had a toothache. When Bert looked at him the big boy merely scowled, and no more words passed between the pair.

Directly back of Lakeport was a long hill, used during the winter by all the boys and girls for coasting. After school Nan and Bert were allowed to go to this hill, in company with a number of their friends. They were admonished to come back before dark and promised faithfully to do so. It was a much larger hill than they had been on before and with a larger crowd.

Among the boys there was a great rivalry as to who could go down the hill the fastest, and who could make his sled go the farthest after the bottom was reached.

"I'll try my sled against yours!" cried Charley Mason to Bert.

"Done!" returned Bert. "Are you going down alone, or are you going to carry somebody?"

"You must carry me down," insisted Nan.

"Then I'll take Nellie Parks," went on Charley.

Nellie was close at hand and soon the two sleds were side by side, with a girl on each. Bert and Charley stood behind.

"Are you ready?" asked Charley.

"Yes."

"Then go!"

Away went both lads, giving each sled a lively shove down the hill. Then each hopped aboard, and took hold of the rope with which to steer.

"A race! A race!" shouted those standing near.

"I think Charley will win!" said some.

"I think Bert will win!" said others.

"Oh, let us win if we can!" whispered Nan to her twin brother.

"I'll do my best, Nan," was the answer.

Down the long hill swept the two sleds, almost side by side. Each was rushing along at a lively rate of speed, and those aboard had to hold on tightly for fear of being jounced off.

"Whoop!" roared Charley, "Clear the track, for I am coming!"

"Make room for me!" sang out Bert. "We are bound to win!"

The bottom of the hill was almost reached when Charley's sled began to crawl a bit ahead.

"Oh, Bert, they are going to beat us after all," cried Nan disappointedly.

"I knew we'd beat you," cried Nellie Parks. "Charley's is the best sled on the hill."

"The race isn't over yet," said Bert.

His sled had been running in rather soft snow. Now he turned to where the coasting was better, and in a twinkling his sled shot forward until he was once more beside Charley and Nellie.

"Here we come!" shouted Bert. "Make room, I say! Make room."

On and on they went, and now the bottom of the hill was reached and they ran along a level stretch. Charley's sled began to slow up, but Bert's kept on and on until he had covered a hundred feet beyond where Charley had come to a stop.

"We've won!" cried Nan excitedly. "Oh, Bert, your sled is a wonder."

"So it is," he answered, with pride. "But it was a close race, wasn't it?"

When they same back to where Charley and Nellie stood they found Charley rather sulky.

"Nellie is heavier than Nan," said he. "It wasn't a fair race. Let us try it alone next time."

"I'm willing," answered Bert.