Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Mystic Owls in Mystery

By Philip Hart

The Mystic Owls is an informal boys' club. The boys, most of whom have just graduated from high school, are off on summer vacation together. One of the boys, Dorsey, has invited the others to spend a few weeks at a house his father recently purchased. The house dates back to pilgim days and has been sitting empty for many years and has a reputation for being haunted. Of course, the boys dismiss the ghost stories.
The house is situated on a large, wooded estate on the coast of Maine. On the road leading into the place, the boys had a strange encounter. A man, hidden in the brush, started shooting at them. Fortunately, the boys had brought their guns along and shot in the air back at him, at which point the man claimed to be a game warden.
The house wasn't in great condition, but some of the rooms were sound and dry and so the boys settled into them instead of camping outside as planned. But their slumber was disturbed by strange noises and crashing sounds, just as predicted by the ghost stories they had heard about the place. So they decided the next night they would stay up and try to get a glimpse of the ghosts, but to no avail. They heard the ghostly noises but never caught sight of any apparitions.
As the days passed, with more disturbed nights, their frustration grew and led to a thorough investigation of the house, attic to cellar. It soon became clear that the ghost noises were not of supernatural origin at all, but of mechanical origin. At watch was set up outside and a man was observed climbing by ingenious means up to the attic with the nighttime ghostly sounds soon commencing.
The Mystic Owls are not easily spooked and now they know that someone is using the old house for some nefarious purpose. It may be time to take what they know to the authorities and let them deal with the nighttime ghost makers.

The Mystic Owls was apparently a series of adventure stories for boys, written in the 1920s and 1930s and maybe even further back than that. I wasn't able to find out much about the series. This particular book that I read was published in 1939 and it makes brief reference to a previous adventure out West where the boys got themselves Western get-up that they sometimes like to wear on occasion.
Even though the boys travel with their guns, they also like to observe and track birds and to fish, swim, boat, hunt for berries and camp out. This group of boys is a pretty peaceable lot and they befriend a wounded collie that was shot, they think, by the outlaws hanging around the old house. They are a bunch of really nice boys, not destructive, not rambunctious, if anything, they are a little too calm and rational for boys in their late teens. Maybe the author was more interested in being uplifting than true-to-life.
Their adventures in the old house are also pretty tame. There are no confrontations with the criminals using the house, no confrontations with dangerous wildlife and the boys are kept completely out of the way when the police finally move in. Boys today would find this story very tame, I think. The ending certainly was. The author doesn't even describe the capture of the criminals beyond a few sentences: "...without a shot being fired. 'It was as easy as that,' said Dorsey in telling the other boys, after they were summoned to the house. 'There was some struggling when they got the main ghost, of course, on his way down the ladder, or at the foot of it, but that was all. Mr. Connor [a detective] came in to tell me that they got them all, including two or three men in town.'" And that is all the author has to say about the capture of the criminals.
So even though I enjoyed reading about the boys' gentle adventures, the rather flat ending was quite a disappointment. And this book would have been a lot more fun if there had been at least one real ghostly happening.

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