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4. The Sunlight Message
 The week drifted on with no word of the colonel and the cadets ceased to talk about his disappearance. Each one of them thought constantly of the missing man but the subject had been talked out, especially since there were no additional details. On Saturday the cadets always enjoyed a half holiday, and on that day Don, Jim, Rhodes and Terry went rowing on Lake Blair.

Inspection took up most of Saturday morning, but there was no drill and no athletic training, although all of the football games and baseball games were played on Saturday afternoons. In between seasons the cadets spent Saturday afternoons amusing themselves as they saw fit, some of them going to town, or swimming when it was warm enough to swim, or finding other amusements. The four friends had been to the village and had bought some things, and now, upon their return to the school, Don proposed that they go rowing.

“Can’t keep you off the water, I see,” Terry grinned.

Don shrugged his shoulders. “I do love it, to tell you the truth. However, going rowing will be slightly different than sailing the Lassie, if that is what you are referring to.”

“That’s what,” nodded Terry. “I haven’t been on the water as much as you have, but I won’t be sorry to go out myself.”

They went down to the boathouse on the lake and dragged out a large flat-bottomed rowboat which the cadets used whenever they liked. After launching it Rhodes and Jim took the oars and the other two sat in the stern. The two at the oars sent the boat out from the shore.

“Where away?” inquired Rhodes, looking at the two in the stern.

“I don’t care,” returned Don, lazily. “You might as well row around the lake and back. We haven’t seen all of it yet.”

“Do you expect to sit back and see me do all the work?” demanded Jim.

“Hadn’t thought much about it!” grinned Don. “Aren’t you?”

“Like heck I am,” retorted Jim.

They rowed down the lake to the point where it narrowed into a mere creek and then started up the opposite side, across from the school. Lake Blair was a body of blue water about three miles long and a half mile wide, deep only in the center, and it made a fitting setting for the old school. Thick trees ran down to the shore, and now that autumn was at hand the leaves on the trees had turned a multitude of brilliant colors.

“This is certainly one swell place,” commented Terry enthusiastically.

“Yes,” nodded Rhodes. “I love it. I don’t think there is any place I’d rather be.”

“Then you’ll be sorry to graduate,” observed Don.

Rhodes smiled. “No, I won’t. I’ll let you fellows in on a little secret of mine. After I have graduated Colonel Morrell, provided everything is all right, is going to make me permanent drill commander. So I will stay here for some years to come.”

“That’s great,” said Jim, heartily. “I hope, for your sake, that the colonel turns up all right.”

“I hope he turns up all right for his own sake. You fellows like this lake? Well, so do I, but even as beautiful as it is now, there is a time when I like it better. I like it in the winter, when it is a sheet of ice, and we have the best skating in the world. At night we build big bonfires along the shore and have a heck of a good time. That’s when you will like it.”

When they had rowed to the other end of the lake, which was little more than a brook, the boys changed places and Don and Terry took the oars. They rowed back toward the boathouse, keeping over near the further shore, away from the school. On the bank directly opposite the boathouse a fine tree bent over the water, and the boat drifted under this. The boys pulled in the oars and sat there talking.

The sun was going down in the west and the back of Woodcrest was bathed in a reddish-yellow light. All three of the main halls and old Clanhammer shared the light of the declining sun, and a pretty picture was created. After they had admired it for a time and had talked of many things, Rhodes looked at his watch.

“It isn’t exactly what you would call late, but maybe we had better be getting back. We can take our time about it and maybe get in a little fun in the gymnasium before suppertime. Shall we go?”

“All right,” agreed Jim, picking up an oar.

But Don held up his hand. “Wait a minute, you guys. Don’t pull out from under these trees, yet.”

“Why not?” inquired Rhodes. “What’s up?”

“Look toward Clanhammer Hall,” returned Don, who had been looking in that direction. “Look at that upstairs window, over to the right.”

The boys looked in the direction indicated by their chum. For a second they did not see anything, then suddenly a flash of light came from the window which Don had mentioned. It disappeared immediately and a second came, which was steadier than the first, then other flashes followed.

“Wonder what that is?” asked Terry.

“Don’t ask me,” shrugged Rhodes. “I thought there was no one in that place.”

Don turned to Jim. “Doesn’t that look to you like the Morse code?” he asked.

Jim nodded. “I think it is. Let’s see if we can catch anything.”

The four boys in the boat sat silently and watched the flashes from the house across the water. They knew that the signals were being made with a mirror, into which the descending sun was pouring its last rays. Flash followed flash, some of them long and some of them short. To Rhodes and Terry they meant nothing, but to the Mercer brothers, who had once been very familiar with the telegraph code, it was plain that two words were being repeated. When the flashes had ceased they looked at each other, startled.

“What did you make out of it?” asked Don.

“Why—why, it seemed to me, if I was reading correctly,” stammered Jim, “that whoever it was was signalling the words ‘No progress.’ Is that what you got?”

“Yes,” his brother nodded. “That is just what I got. ‘No progress’ is right.”

“But what in the world can ‘no progress’ mean?” asked Terry.

“I don’t know,” answered Don. “But it means that something is going on in that old hall.”

“But there is no one in the place,” objected Rhodes.

“Tell Charlie what you saw the day you got here, Terry,” suggested Jim.

Terry told his story and Rhodes was very interested. “That certainly is queer,” he commented, when Terry had finished. “It has always been understood here that no one was in the place. What an old man with a plate of food and candle could be doing in there is more than I can see.”

“I wonder where that signal was going?” mused Don, who had been watching the building intently. “It must have been directed to some point in the woods directly back of us. The message was in reality going right over our heads. Is there any kind of a building in the woods near here, Charlie?”

“As I remember it, there is an old farmhouse just back of us in the woods,” said Rhodes, after a moment of thought. “I recall seeing it on one or two hikes we took. That signal might easily have been directed to the farmhouse, at least to the upper windows of it. That is the only building anywhere within a radius of five miles.”

“Then that was the place where the message was received,” declared Jim, with conviction. “Can’t we hike over there now and take a look at the place? Is it very far?”

Rhodes shook his head. “Not very far. We can get there in fifteen minutes, and we can land from the boat here without being seen, thanks to the overhanging trees. Want to go?”

The others agreed at once and the boat was pushed to shore, where they got out and tied it firmly. Then, under the leadership of the upper classman, they took their way through the thick trees that grew back of the lake front.

They walked on for fifteen minutes through the dusk of woods, until, coming to a slight rise in the ground, they came in sight of the farmhouse. It was an old clapboard house, but kept in order nevertheless. The doors were in place and the windows were unbroken. A few unpainted boards of lighter color showed some attempt at repairs had been made. Weeds grew about the back yard in profusion. Standing in the rough yard near the back door was an expensive looking car. The boys halted in the shelter of some large trees to consider, well out of sight of anyone in the house.

“Look at the upper back windows,” directed Rhodes. “They are above the level of the tree tops, and from them anyone could plainly catch a signal from Clanhammer Hall. What shall we do, now that we are here?”

“I don’t see that there is anything to do,” returned Don. “We can’t go up to the place, and we know that it isn’t deserted. Perhaps——”

Jim grabbed his arm. “Pipe down,” he whispered. “Someone is coming!”

The back door of the house opened and a man came out. He was tall and thin and was clothed in a dark suit, long light overcoat. He wore a hat pulled down over his eyes. He looked all around as he stepped out of the door and then closed it behind him with a resounding slam. Reaching into his pocket he took out a key and placed it in the lock, turning it and trying the knob. This done he walked to the car, started his engine and rolled out of the yard.

The boys waited until he was well out of sight and then discussed further plans. Jim was cautious about going to the house but was overruled.

“It will be all right to go up and look in the windows,” Terry argued. “The man locked the door, and that’s a sure sign that no one is in the place.”

They approached the house carefully and looked in the back windows. The place was almost bare of furniture, but they did see a table and two old chairs in the kitchen. The rest of the house, at least downstairs, was totally empty. When they had made a tour of the place they gave it up.

“I doubt if there is anything upstairs,” said Don. “I imagine this man, whoever he is, simply comes here to receive messages from the hall. Perhaps at night they send them by flashlight. It certainly is a puzzler.”

Rhodes looked at his watch. “Boys, we’ll have to get going. We’ve got just time to make it for supper. I suppose we won’t accomplish anything by standing here wondering, so we may as well beat it.”

They retraced their steps hastily and rowed across the lake, where they put the boat away and went inside to wash up for supper. After the evening meal the four of them spent some time talking things over. Just before leaving them the senior said:

“Well, we’ll keep this to ourselves. Whatever is going on may be all right, but I have my doubts. I think there is a mystery right here under our own noses, and let’s hope we can run it down. Suppose we all keep our eyes peeled and see what we can do.”

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