THE MYSTERY AT
The School Chums' Strange Discovery
ARTHUR M. WINFIELD (Edward Stratemeyer)
AUTHOR OF THE FAMOUS "ROVER BOYS SERIES," ETC.
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS Made in the United States of America
BOOKS FOR BOYS
BY ARTHUR M. WINFIELD
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12mo. Cloth. Illustrated
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THE PUTNAM HALL CADET SERIES
THE CADETS OF PUTNAM HALL THE RIVALS OF PUTNAM HALL THE CHAMPIONS OF PUTNAM HALL THE REBELLION AT PUTNAM HALL CAMPING OUT DAYS AT PUTNAM HALL THE MYSTERY AT PUTNAM HALL
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THE FIRST ROVER BOYS SERIES
THE ROVER BOYS AT SCHOOL THE ROVER BOYS ON THE OCEAN THE ROVER BOYS IN THE JUNGLE THE ROVER BOYS OUT WEST THE ROVER BOYS ON THE GREAT LAKES THE ROVER BOYS IN THE MOUNTAINS THE ROVER BOYS IN CAMP THE ROVER BOYS ON LAND AND SEA THE ROVER BOYS ON THE RIVER THE ROVER BOYS ON THE PLAINS THE ROVER BOYS IN SOUTHERN WATERS THE ROVER BOYS ON THE FARM THE ROVER BOYS ON TREASURE ISLE THE ROVER BOYS AT COLLEGE THE ROVER BOYS DOWN EAST THE ROVER BOYS IN THE AIR THE ROVER BOYS IN NEW YORK THE ROVER BOYS IN ALASKA THE ROVER BOYS IN BUSINESS THE ROVER BOYS ON A TOUR
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THE SECOND ROVER BOYS SERIES
THE ROVER BOYS AT COLBY HALL THE ROVER BOYS ON SNOWSHOE ISLAND THE ROVER BOYS UNDER CANVAS THE ROVER BOYS ON A HUNT
GROSSET & DUNLAP, Publishers, New York
COPYRIGHT, 1911, under the title of The Putnam Hall Mystery
GROSSET & DUNLAP
I. AN ENCOUNTER ON THE ROAD 1
II. THE CADETS OF PUTNAM HALL 11
III. SOMETHING ABOUT A RUNAWAY 19
IV. A FRUITLESS SEARCH 29
V. THE FIGHT IN THE GYMNASIUM 39
VI. CAPTAIN PUTNAM INVESTIGATES 49
VII. PEPPER MAKES A DISCOVERY 59
VIII. THE FOOTBALL ELEVEN 69
IX. THE FOOTBALL GAME 79
X. PUTTING OUT A LIVELY BLAZE 89
XI. A MYSTERIOUS HAPPENING 99
XII. AN INVITATION ACCEPTED 109
XIII. THE WORK OF THE ENEMY 119
XIV. AT THE FORD MANSION 129
XV. THE SNOWBALL BATTLE 139
XVI. IN WHICH MORE VALUABLES VANISH 149
XVII. THE TUG-OF-WAR 159
XVIII. A CURIOUS MEETING 169
XIX. ABOUT A SET OF TEETH 178
XX. PEPPER A PRISONER 187
XXI. A GRAVE ACCUSATION 196
XXII. THE MYSTERY GOES ON 205
XXIII. AN ELECTION OF OFFICERS 214
XXIV. ANDY SHOWS HIS COURAGE 223
XXV. THE MAN AT POINT VIEW LODGE 231
XXVI. WHAT THE CONSTABLE THOUGHT 239
XXVII. LOOKING FOR CLUES 247
XXVIII. TO THE RESCUE 255
XXIX. A REAL HERO 263
XXX. THE MYSTERY EXPLAINED—CONCLUSION 271
MY DEAR BOYS:
This story is complete in itself, but forms the sixth volume in a line issued under the general title of "Putnam Hall Series."
As mentioned several times, this line was started because many young folks wanted to know what happened at Putnam Hall Military School previous to the arrival at that institution of the Rover boys, as already related in my "Rover Boys Series."
To gratify this curiosity I wrote the first volume of this series, called "The Putnam Hall Cadets," showing how Captain Putnam organized his famous school, and how it was Jack Ruddy and Pepper Ditmore came to be among his first pupils.
In the second book, entitled "The Putnam Hall Rivals," I gave the particulars of several contests on the field of sports, and also told about a thrilling balloon ride and of an odd discovery in the woods.
Following the second book came a third, "The Putnam Hall Champions," with more bitterly-contested games, in one of which young Major Ruddy's enemies played him a foul trick.
From the opening of the school there had been dissatisfaction with one of the teachers, and when another was engaged who proved to be a man of peculiar whims, the boys went into open revolt, as related in another volume, called "The Putnam Hall Rebellion." The cadets literally ran away, and did not return to the Hall until Captain Putnam came upon the scene to straighten matters out.
The rebellion was followed by a grand outing, as related in "The Putnam Hall Encampment." The cadets marched far away from the school, to the shore of a beautiful lake, and there our heroes managed to have a good time in spite of the mean work of several of their enemies.
In the present volume are related the particulars of a most puzzling mystery which at one time threatened to bring disaster to the whole school. How the mystery was at last solved I leave for the pages which follow to explain.
Again I thank both young and old for all the nice things they have said about my books. I hope the reading of the volumes affords all both pleasure and profit.
Affectionately and sincerely yours, EDWARD STRATEMEYER.
THE MYSTERY AT PUTNAM HALL
AN ENCOUNTER ON THE ROAD
"Here we are again, as the clown says in the circus!"
"Right you are, Pepper. And I'll be glad to get back to Putnam Hall once more," responded Major Jack Ruddy, as he followed his chum from the lake steamer to the Cedarville dock.
"Hello, there is Andy!" cried Pepper Ditmore, as he caught sight of a familiar face in the crowd of cadets, "Andy, where have you been? Why didn't you come on the boat with us?"
"I got in last night," answered Andy Snow. "How are you, anyway?" And he shook hands cordially.
"Oh, I'm as fine as a new-tooth comb," answered Pepper Ditmore, with a grin. "Ready for study and fun."
"Especially fun, I'll wager. How about it, Jack?"
"Oh, Pepper usually manages to get his share," came from the young major of the Putnam Hall battalion. "But, Andy, did you—— Hi, look where you are going, will you, Ritter!" cried Jack, rather angrily.
A tall youth, carrying a big dress-suit case, had forced his way through the crowd, hitting Jack in the knee with his baggage.
"What do you want to block the way for?" demanded Reff Ritter, sourly. "Think you own the dock?"
"I've got as much right here, Ritter, as you have!" retorted the young major, sharply. "Don't you knock me again like that."
"I will—if you get in my way."
"If you do, you'll take the consequences."
"Bah! Don't you try to dictate to me, Jack Ruddy!" growled Reff Ritter. "You got the best of me last term, but you'll not get the best of me this term, I'll tell you that!"
"Phew! Ritter is somewhat peppery!" whispered Andy Snow.
"I guess I know the reason," came from a student named Dale Blackmore.
"What is it?"
"I'll tell you later—too much of a crowd here," rejoined Dale.
About twenty cadets, all bound for Putnam Hall Military Academy, had arrived on the boat from Ithaca, and these, along with some others who had come down to the dock to see the boat come in, gathered around Jack Ruddy and Reff Ritter to see the outcome of the unexpected encounter.
Jack Ruddy had good cause to consider Reff Ritter his enemy. But he had hoped that during the term now opening at the school the bully of Putnam Hall would keep his distance.
"I am not trying to dictate to you, Ritter," answered Jack, as calmly as he could. "But I don't propose to let you hit me with your suitcase."
"Huh! It was an accident!" growled Reff.
"Oh, come on, Reff!" put in Gus Coulter, the bully's close crony. "Let us get good seats in the carryall."
"That's the talk! Let us get in before the others take the seats!" came from Nick Paxton, another crony.
He pushed ahead, and his elbow caught Pepper Ditmore directly in the ribs.
"Not quite so swift, Paxton!" cried Pepper, and he gave the cadet a quick shove backwards. Paxton bumped into Reff Ritter, lost his footing, and fell over the dress-suit case in the bully's hand.
"Hurrah! One down!" cried Andy Snow. "How many yards to gain for a touchdown, Nick?"
"What do you mean by knocking me down!" roared Nick Paxton, as he scrambled to his feet. "I'll not stand for it."
"Then sit down again," answered Pepper, merrily. "And next time keep your elbow out of my ribs," he added. "Come on, we don't want to get left!" he added to his chums.
A bolt was made by many of the cadets for the Putnam Hall carryall, and soon a crowd was inside and on the front seat, talking, joking and cheering, as suited the mood of each individual. Jack, Pepper, Andy and Dale managed to crowd inside throwing their suitcases on the top. Gus Coulter got in also, but when he saw that Reff Ritter and Nick Paxton had been left, he scrambled out again, and his place was taken by Fred Century, another student.
"Hello, Peleg, old sport!" cried Pepper, gaily, to the driver of the turnout. "How have you been for the past fifty years?"
"Oh, I'm very well, thank you," responded Peleg Snuggers.
"Heard you had a fortune left to you," went on Pepper, with a wink at his chums. "Old uncle died and left you half a million."
"Three-quarters of a million," put in Andy Snow, scenting fun. "All in gold, too."
"Isn't that fine!" said Jack. "Peleg, how about lending me ten or fifteen dollars?"
"I could use a five-spot myself," added Dale.
"I'd like to borrow about fifty for a new bicycle," came from Fred Century.
"Don't be modest about lending us the cash," went on Pepper. "Just hand it out as if you had always had it."
"I ain't had no fortune left to me!" burst out the general utility man, desperately. "Who said I had?"
"Why, everybody knows it, Peleg," responded Pepper. "Come, don't be modest about it. Was it really three-quarters of a million?"
"Maybe it was more," suggested Jack.
"If I were you, Peleg, I'd not carry so much around in my pockets," said Dale.
"I ain't had a cent left to me!" shouted the driver of the carryall. "This is some of your jokes, an' I want you to stop it! Oh, dear, now the school's opened ag'in I suppose there won't be no rest fer nobuddy!" And he heaved a mountainous sigh.
"Oh, Peleg! Don't be angry with me!" murmured Pepper, with a trace of tears in his voice. "If you get angry I'll die!"
"You behave yourself, Pepper Ditmore, or I won't drive you to the Hall."
"Peleg, don't you want me to drive?" asked Andy, who was on the front seat. "I'm a cracker-jack at driving."
"Not much! Don't you tech them hosses!" shouted the general utility man in alarm. "That off hoss is a new one an' he's mighty skittish, I can tell you. This mornin' when I was hookin' him up he nigh kicked the leg off o' me!"
"Say, how are we going to get to the Hall?" came in ugly tones from Reff Ritter. He, with six other boys, was standing beside the carryall.
"Captain Putnam said he'd send down some carriages," answered Peleg Snuggers. "There they come now," and he pointed to the turnouts.
"Pshaw! I wanted to go in the carryall," grumbled Ritter.
"So did I," added Gus Coulter.
"Well, this is full, so you'll have to take the carriages," answered Peleg Snuggers. "Everybody hold fast!" he shouted, as he took up the reins.
"We are off!" shouted Pepper, gaily. "Farewell to Cedarville and ho! for Putnam Hall!"
"Wish I had room, I'd turn a handspring for you," came from Andy, who was quite an acrobat.
"Now don't you cut up any monkey-shines," pleaded the driver of the carryall. "That new hoss won't stand for 'em."
"All right, Peleg, I'll keep as quiet as a lamb without a tail."
"Why is a lamb without a tail quiet?" asked Fred Century, quickly.
"Give it up, Fred. Why?"
"Because he has no tale to tell."
"What a joke!"
"Throw him out!"
"Give him some cotton to eat!"
"Say, do keep quiet!" pleaded Peleg Snuggers, as the boys in the carryall commenced to push Fred from one seat to another. "Want these hosses to ran away with you?"
"Better draw it mild," suggested Major Jack. "We don't want any accident on the way to the Hall." He looked back at the crowd left on the dock. "Has anybody seen Bert Field?" he asked.
"Yes, I saw him last week," answered a student named Paul Singleton. "He'll be here to-morrow."
"How about Emerald?" asked Pepper.
"Coming to-night," answered Andy. "He went to Ireland this summer, and his brogue is worse than ever."
"Never mind, Emerald is a good fellow," said Major Jack. "His heart is as big as a barrel."
"Say, but wasn't Reff Ritter mad!" came from Dale.
"Oh, he makes me tired," answered Pepper. "After all that happened last term wouldn't you think he'd behave himself better?"
"It isn't in him to behave himself," answered Fred Century. "He is a bully and always will be."
"Well, he has got to keep his distance this term," said Major Jack, with a firm look on his face. "I am not going to stand for what I have in the past."
"Nor I," added Pepper. "If he doesn't keep his distance he'll suffer for it."
The carryall was now leaving the little village of Cedarville. Soon it came out on a country road that ran in the direction of Putnam Hall.
It was an ideal day in early September, and the cadets returning to the school were in high spirits. One started to sing and the others joined in.
"Hello, there goes the Pornell Academy stage!" cried Pepper, presently.
"And there are some fellows we know!" returned Jack, as the turnout belonging to a rival school came closer. "Roy Bock and Bat Sedley."
"I'll bet they are sore over what happened last June," cried Pepper.
"It was their own fault that they suffered," came from Andy.
"Look out!" sang out Dale, and dodged down in the carryall.
Spat! A half-decayed apple struck the side of the turnout. Spat! came one through the open window. Then the skin of a banana followed, landing in Jack's lap.
"Stop that, Bock!"
"Don't throw things in here, Sedley!"
"Something to remember us by!" shouted Roy Bock, the bully of Pornell Academy, and he threw another soft apple into the carryall. It landed on Pepper's arm, leaving quite a mess there.
"All right, if that's your game!" cried Pepper, and feeling in his pocket he brought forth an orange he had purchased on the boat. Taking careful aim, he let fly with all force. The orange landed fairly and squarely on Roy Bock's nose.
"Ouch!" roared Roy Bock, and clapped his hand to his nose, which began to bleed.
"Here's something for you, Sedley!" cried Andy, and sent a handful of peanut shells into the Pornell student's face.
"I'll fix you fellows!" roared Roy Bock in a rage, and catching up a heavy book that was on the seat beside him he started to throw the volume at Jack and Pepper.
But the volume slipped and went sailing in the air in another direction, catching poor Peleg Snuggers on the cheek. The driver of the carryall was so startled that he let go the reins and fell from his seat into the dust of the road.
As the reins dropped at their heels, one of the horses—the new one—threw up his head in sudden fright. Then he made a mad lunge forward, dragging his mate with him. The carryall gave a lurch and a bound that sent the occupants flying into each other's laps.
"Stop the team!" was the cry.
"The horses are running away!"
THE CADETS OF PUTNAM HALL
It was true, the team was running away. One of the horses was a spirited animal and he now had the bit in his teeth. The boys in the rear of the turnout looked back, to see Peleg Snuggers still lying in the highway. The stage belonging to Pornell Academy had turned down a side road.
"Can't you stop them, Andy?" asked Jack Ruddy.
"I don't see how," was the answer from the youth on the front seat. "I can't get hold of the lines."
"We must stop 'em somehow!" cried Fred Century. "Otherwise we'll have a smash-up, sure!"
"Whoa! whoa!" yelled half a dozen, but these cries only served to scare the team more, and away they shot along the country road, sending the carryall swaying from side to side.
"Look! look!" yelled Andy, suddenly. "The regular road is shut off! They are repairing it!"
The boys gazed ahead and saw that some wooden horses and planking had been placed across the highway. This side of the barrier some bars had been taken from a fence, so that those using the road might drive around, through an orchard belonging to a farmer named Darrison.
"We are going to strike those planks!" cried Dale Blackmore.
"Maybe the team will try to jump them!" came from Fred.
"If they do, they'll smash the carryall sure!" answered Pepper. "Perhaps we had better drop out at the rear."
"Look out!" sang out somebody, and just then the carryall left the highway and turned into the orchard. Then came a scraping, as the top of the turnout hit the low-hanging branches of some apple trees.
"Whoa! stop that wagon!" yelled a man's voice, and Amos Darrison appeared from among the trees. He made a leap for the team, but they swerved to one side. Then came a crash, as one of the wheels caught in a stump. Over went the carryall, with the boys in it. Andy, quick to act, used his acrobatic abilities by leaping into the branches of a nearby tree. Then the farmer caught the team and stopped them.
"Anybody hurt?" was Pepper's question, as he crawled out of the wreck.
"I'm all right," answered Fred.
"I got a twisted ankle, that's all," came from Dale, as he limped out.
"Look at Jack!" cried several. "He's hurt!"
All looked and saw the young major of the school battalion lying flat on his back in the front of the carryall. He had a nasty cut on the temple and his eyes were closed.
"He is dead!" murmured Pepper, hoarsely.
"Oh, don't say that!" said Andy, in sudden terror. He had just dropped to the ground.
"If he ain't dead he's putty badly hurted," said the farmer who owned the orchard.
Pepper caught his chum in his arms and brought him out and laid him on the grass.
"He is still breathing!" he cried. "Get some water and we'll bathe his face. Maybe that will bring him around."
"I'll get the water!" exclaimed Dale, and ran towards a well located at the side of the orchard.
To those who have read the other volumes in this "Putnam Hall Series," the lads already mentioned will need no special introduction. For the benefit of others, let me state that Jack Ruddy and Pepper Ditmore were close chums, living, when at home, in the western part of New York State. Jack was slightly the older of the two and was of rather a serious turn of mind. Pepper was full of fun, and on that account was frequently called "The Imp."
As related in my first volume, entitled "The Putnam Hall Cadets," the lads left home to become cadets at a new institution of learning located on Cayuga Lake. This new school was presided over by Captain Victor Putnam, a retired army officer, who had modeled his institution somewhat after the famous military academy at West Point. It was a large school, ideally located on the shore of the lake, and had attached to it a gymnasium, a boathouse, and several other buildings. On the lower floor of the main building were the classrooms, the mess-hall, and the offices, and upstairs were the dormitories.
Arriving at the school, Jack and Pepper soon made a host of friends, including the acrobatic Andy Snow; Dale Blackmore, who was a great football player; Paul Singleton, who was usually called "Stuffer" because of his constant desire to eat; Joseph Hogan, commonly addressed as "Emerald" because of his Irish blood, and Joe Nelson, who was one of the best scholars the school ever had. They also made some enemies, the greatest of them being Reff Ritter, the big bully, and Gus Coulter and Nick Paxton, his cronies.
Not long after the students learned how to drill and to march they were allowed to ballot for officers. A bitter contest was waged, which resulted in Jack being chosen major of the Hall battalion. A bully named Dan Baxter had wanted to be major, and he bribed Gus Coulter and some others to vote for him, but without avail. It may be added here that Baxter was now away on a vacation, but had written that he was going to return to the school before long.
During their first term at Putnam Hall the chums had several adventures, not the least of which was one in the woods, where they rescued George Strong, one of the teachers, from two of his relatives who were insane.
Mr. Strong's ancestry dated back to the Revolution, and he told the cadets about a family treasure buried in the vicinity of the lake. How the boys went in search of the treasure, and how they had numerous other adventures, was related in the second volume of this series, called "The Putnam Hall Rivals."
With the coming of the next summer, the thoughts of the students turned to various sports, and in the third volume, "The Putnam Hall Champions," I told how the chums entered several contests, both on land and on the lake, and won out. At that time Fred Century was a pupil at Pornell Academy, but Fred became so disgusted at the actions of Roy Bock, Bat Sedley, and some others, that he quit the rival institution of learning and came to Putnam Hall, where he was given a warm welcome.
The encounters that Jack and his chums had with Reff Ritter and his cronies were numerous, and more than once Ritter did his best to get the young major into serious trouble. Once he drugged Jack with some French headache powders, and when he was exposed Captain Putnam would have expelled him had not Jack very generously asked that he be given another chance. For this any ordinary youth would have been grateful, but gratitude did not appear to be a part of Reff Ritter's make-up, and he soon showed himself to be as mean as ever.
For some time matters ran along smoothly at Putnam Hall, but then came trouble of an entirely new kind. Once, during the absence of Captain Putnam and George Strong, the school was left in charge of two other teachers—Josiah Crabtree and Pluxton Cuddle. Crabtree was dictatorial to a degree and Cuddle was a man of queer ideas, one being that boys ate entirely too much.
As told in the volume called "The Putnam Rebellion," the two teachers sought to subdue the boys by starving them and locking them in their dormitories. They rebelled, left the school by stealth, and marched away, to camp in the woods. There the rebels split up, one party under Major Jack and the other under Ritter. At last Captain Putnam put in an appearance, and Major Jack explained matters. As a consequence, the cadets went back to the Hall, and then Josiah Crabtree and Pluxton were called on to explain. Crabtree was retained, after a stern lecture from the master of the school, but Cuddle was discharged.
It was Captain Putnam's custom to take his students out once or twice a year to what was called an encampment—the lads marching to some spot where they could pitch their tents and go in for a touch of real army life, with target shooting, sham battles, and the like. In the next volume of the series, called "The Putnam Hall Encampment," I told how the cadets left the Hall and marched to a distant lake. Their camping outfit was sent ahead by wagons, but the wagons got lost, and were finally found in the possession of Roy Bock and some other students of Pornell, they having made off with them while the drivers were in a roadhouse obtaining refreshments. For this trick, Pepper and some of the others got after the Pornellites and made them prisoners in a cave, from which they could escape only by going out a back way, through some water and mud, and thorny bushes.
While they were playing a certain trick in Cedarville, Jack and Pepper fell in with a youth named Bert Field. He was a queer lad, but did the chums a good turn, and in return they promised to help him. He was trying to locate a certain old man who was defrauding him out of some property. The old man was discovered during a visit to a mysterious mill said to be haunted, and by the chums' aid Bert Field got what was coming to him. It was thought best to send Bert to school, and he said he wanted to go to Putnam Hall.
"We'll be glad to have him with us," said Jack, and so it was settled.
Following the encampment had come the regular summer vacation, and the cadets had scattered far and wide, Jack and Pepper going for a cruise around the Great Lakes, and Andy and Dale going to Asbury Park and Atlantic City. Reff Ritter had started for a summer in the Adirondacks, but unexpected word from home, of which more will be said later, had caused him to give up the outing.
SOMETHING ABOUT A RUNAWAY
While Dale and Andy ran off to get the water, the other boys gathered around Jack. The young major still lay with his eyes closed, breathing faintly.
"He got a bad crack on the head," remarked Fred Century.
"He certainly did," whispered another cadet. "If he doesn't come around what shall we do?"
"How did the team happen to run away?" questioned Amos Darrison.
"Some fellows from Pornell Academy threw things at us," explained Pepper. "We'll have an account to settle with 'em for this," he added grimly.
"Wonder how poor Snuggers made out?"
"Here he comes now," was the answer, and looking back toward the highway, the cadets saw the driver of the carryall approaching on a swift limp.
"Did ye stop 'em?" he gasped. "Oh, dear, what a bust-up! But it wasn't my fault—you boys can prove that, can't ye?"
"We can, Peleg," answered Pepper. "Much hurt?"
"I got a nasty twist to my back when I tumbled. Say, what's the matter with Major Ruddy?" And the general utility man forgot his own pains as he gazed at the motionless form of Jack.
The cadets told him, and in the midst of the explanation Dale and Andy came back with a bucket of water and a tin dipper. The major's face was bathed, and a little water was put into his mouth, and with a gulp he opened his eyes and stared around him.
"Oh, my head!" he murmured. "Who hit me?"
"You were in the carryall smash-up, Jack," answered Pepper. "You got a bad one on the head."
"Oh, yes, I remember now." Jack sat up and placed his hand to his forehead. "Bloody, eh? Say, that was a crack, all right!"
"It's lucky you weren't killed," said Andy.
"Better take it easy for a while," advised Dale. "Maybe we had better get a doctor."
"Oh, I guess I'll be all right after a bit, Dale," answered the young major, who had a horror of being placed on the sick list. "The knocking around stunned me, that's all."
"Let me tie a handkerchief over that cut," said Pepper.
"Here, I've got some court-plaster," said Fred, producing a little package. "Let us bind it up with that."
This was done, and after he had had a drink of water, Jack said he felt much better. But when he got up on his feet he was rather shaky in the knees.
"I—I don't think I can walk to the Hall," he said, with a faint smile.
"We'll get a carriage," answered Pepper. "Maybe Mr. Darrison will let us have one. We'll pay for it, of course," he went on, knowing that the old farmer was a close person.
"I'll let you have my three-seated carriage and a team, if you want them," answered Amos Darrison. "But it will cost you two dollars. I can't afford to let you have 'em for nothing, because I'm a poor man, and taxes are heavy, and so many things wanted on the farm, and my wife wants——"
"Never mind, we'll pay the two dollars," interrupted Pepper. "Everybody who rides can chip in," he added to the surrounding cadets.
While the lads were waiting for the farmer to hook up his horses, some of them and Peleg Snuggers examined the carryall. A wheel had come off, and the glass had been broken, but otherwise the turnout had suffered but little.
"I am glad it is no worse," said Andy. "I'd hate to see that old carryall put out of business. I've had so many nice rides in it."
"The axle will have to be mended before we can use it again," announced Peleg Snuggers. "We'll have to leave it here until the wheelwright can come fer it. I'll take the hosses back to the school."
"Look out that they don't run away with you," warned Pepper.
"Let me ride one of them!" cried the acrobatic Andy. "Give me the new one. I'll wager he won't get away from me."
"You'll break your neck!" answered the carryall driver.
"Not at all. Peleg, let me do it. I'm used to horses!" pleaded Andy.
Now, if the truth must be told, Peleg Snuggers did not relish taking the runaway team back to the school alone. He was a little afraid of the new horse, remembering how he had been kicked in the morning.
"Well, if you want to go, I'll let ye!" he said at last. "But, remember, 'tain't my fault if ye come back killed."
"Don't you worry; no horse will ever get the best of me," answered Andy.
A little later Amos Darrison brought out his three-seated carriage and all of the cadets but Andy got in. The baggage was left behind, the farmer promising to deliver it by wagon.
"See you later," cried Pepper to Andy. "Be careful!"
"Don't worry; we'll get there before you do," answered Andy.
Two blankets were arranged as saddles on the runaway team's backs and a few minutes later Andy and Peleg Snuggers started after the carriage.
"Let us catch up to them," cried the acrobatic youth, and urged his steed forward on a gallop.
"Be careful, I tell you!" cried the general utility man. "Be careful! He'll run away with you!"
But Andy was too light-hearted to pay heed to the warning, and soon he was well in advance of his companion. Then he sighted the carriage in the distance, and urged his horse to greater efforts.
"Whoop-la! Here we come!" he yelled, and set up a great shouting.
"It's Andy!" cried Pepper. "My, but he is riding some!"
"He always was a good one on horseback," said Fred.
"He wants to be careful; that horse is an ugly one," came from Jack. "I heard a man at the dock say he wouldn't own the beast at any price."
Soon Andy ranged up beside the carriage.
"You're too slow for me!" he sang out merrily. "I'll have to go ahead and tell Captain Putnam you are coming."
He slapped the horse on the neck. Hardly had he done so when up came the animal's hind hoofs, almost unseating him. Then the horse made a mad leap forward and started down the highway at top speed.
"My, see him go!"
"He is running away!"
"Andy, look out for yourself!"
"If he throws you he'll kill you!"
So the cries rang out from the carriage as horse and rider sped over the highway leading to Putnam Hall.
Andy paid no attention to what was said. Of a sudden he had his hands full trying to keep on the horse's back. The steed was galloping along with a peculiar motion.
"Whoa! whoa, Jim!" yelled Andy, but Jim paid no attention. He was off for a run and did not care what happened.
The blanket had not been securely fastened and before long it commenced to slip towards the horse's tail. Andy tried to haul it back. His efforts were but partly successful, and with an end of the blanket trailing around one of his hind legs, the steed became more unmanageable than ever.
On and on went horse and rider, until, in the distance, Putnam Hall loomed up. On one side of the highway were the woods lining the lake shore; on the other the broad campus leading to the school and other buildings.
"He'll slow up now," thought Andy. "Unless he bolts right into his stable. If he tries that I'll have to jump for it."
In front of the school building the roadway widened out into several curves. Andy thought Jim would take to one of the curves, but he was mistaken. On kept the steed, directly past the institution of learning.
On the campus were a score or more of cadets, who stared in amazement at the sight of the runaway horse with the boy clinging desperately to his back.
"It's Andy Snow!" cried Henry Lee, the captain of Company A.
"So it is," responded Bob Grenwood, the quartermaster of the school battalion. "How in the world did he get on that horse?"
"It's the one that was hitched to the carryall," put in Billy Sabine, another cadet. "Something is wrong."
"Let's tell Captain Putnam," said another.
"Whoa! whoa!" yelled Andy, frantically, when he realized that the horse was not going to pass into the grounds. "Whoa, I say! You've gone far enough!"
The only effect his words had was to make Jim travel a little faster. Away they went, past the gymnasium and the stables and then along the country road leading to the farms back of the lake.
"Well, if you won't stop, go on," said Andy, presently. "You'll get tired sooner or later, old man. But, remember, you've got to bring me back, no matter how tired you are."
A good half-mile was covered, and then horse and rider reached a sharp turn in the highway. Here the trees were thick and some of the branches hung low.
Andy bent down that he might avoid the branches. But he did not get quite low enough. He looked ahead, saw a man standing on one side of the roadway staring in astonishment at him, and the next instant he found himself caught by the throat in a tree-limb and carried off the horse. Then Jim bounded on riderless, and poor Andy, kicking and thrashing wildly, sprang free of the tree-limb and landed on his shoulder in the roadway.
The man who had seen him coming leaped to one side, and just in the nick of time, for the runaway horse passed within a foot of him. The man gasped in astonishment, and for several seconds did not know apparently what to do.
"Looks like he was killed," the man muttered to himself, as he took a few steps forward. Andy had rolled over on his back and lay stretched out, with his eyes closed, very much as poor Jack had been stretched out only a short while before.
The man looked up and down the roadway and saw that nobody else was in sight, that part of the highway being but little traveled. Then he came closer to the unconscious boy and bent over him.
"Only stunned, I reckon!" he muttered to himself. "Wonder if he belongs around here?"
As the man bent over Andy he saw the lad's watch dangling from its chain, fastened to a buttonhole of the youth's vest. Then his ferret-like eyes caught sight of a fine ruby pin in Andy's necktie.
"He could easily lose that watch on the road, riding like that, and the pin, too," he muttered to himself. "It's a fine chance to make a little haul!"
He straightened up and took another look around. Not a soul was in sight. With dexterous fingers he unfastened the watch and chain and transferred them to his pocket. The stickpin followed. Then he slipped his hand into a vest-pocket and brought out a five-dollar bill and three one-dollar bills.
"Eight dollars!" he muttered. "Not so bad but what it might be worse. I reckon the watch, chain and pin will bring me another twenty or thirty. Sparrow, you are in luck to-day."
He lingered, wondering if Andy had anything more of value about him. The youth wore a ring with a cameo in it, but it looked tight and hard to get off.
"Might try his other pockets," mused the thief. Then a distant shouting came to his ears.
"Somebody is after him," he muttered. "I reckon it's time I cleared out. It won't do for me to be seen in this neighborhood."
He looked around for an instant. Then he walked to the roadside, ran in among the trees and bushes, and disappeared from view.
A FRUITLESS SEARCH
"How are you, Fred?"
"My, here's the old bunch back again!"
"Well, Henry, did you have a good time during the summer?"
"How about that trip out West, Bob? Did you kill any bears or Indians?"
"Getting high-toned, hiring a carriage to bring you."
So the cries rang out, as the three-seated carriage driven by Amos Darrison rolled up to the front of Putnam Hall. A crowd of cadets had rushed forward to greet the newcomers.
"Where is Andy Snow?" asked Pepper, as he leaped to the ground.
"He went past on horseback like a streak!" cried Bob Grenwood. "Some of the fellows just went off to tell Captain Putnam about it. What did it mean?"
"Tell you later, Bob. Just now somebody had better go after Andy. That horse was running away with him."
A hubbub arose, in the midst of which Captain Putnam, the owner of the school, appeared. He was a fine-looking gentleman, with a face that was at once kindly and firm.
"What is this I hear about Andrew Snow?" he said anxiously. "A horse ran away with him?"
In as few words as possible Pepper and some of the others related the particulars of what had happened to the carryall. Just as they were finishing, Peleg Snuggers came up on the other horse.
"This is very unfortunate!" murmured Captain Putnam. "We'll have to follow poor Snow at once. Mr. Darrison, will you drive me?"
"Why—er—yes, but it will take time, Captain Putnam, an' my wife wants me to——"
"I'll pay you for your time, sir," interrupted the owner of the school quickly.
"Yes, sir? all right, sir. Jump in an' we'll go right after the runaway."
"Can I go along?" asked Pepper.
"I'd like to go, too," came from Stuffer Singleton.
"So would I," added Bob Grenwood.
"Very well, you three cadets can go along," replied the captain. "It is possible you may be needed—if poor Snow has been hurt." He turned to Jack. "How do you feel, Major Ruddy?"
"Oh, I guess I'll be all right after I have rested up," answered Jack, with a faint smile.
"You have a cut on the forehead."
"Yes, sir, but it doesn't hurt like it did."
"Better bathe it with warm water and put something on it," said Captain Putnam, and then leaped into the carriage, and Pepper, Stuffer and Bob followed.
"Hope they find Andy all right," said Joe Nelson, as the turnout moved off in the direction the runaway had taken.
"Yes, it would be too bad if Andy was seriously injured," answered the young major. "Come on, I'm going in and wash up and put some witch hazel on my forehead."
"Glad to see you, young gentlemen," said a pleasant voice, when the newcomers entered the school building, and George Strong, the second assistant teacher, stepped forward to shake each by the hand. "I hope you all had a nice time this summer." And then he asked about the broken-down carryall and looked at Jack's wound.
Although he did not say so to his chums, Jack was glad enough to get upstairs to his dormitory and rest. The room was a large one and was occupied not only by the young major but also by Pepper, Andy and several others. While some of the boys busied themselves in arranging their things, Jack rested in an easy chair near the window.
"Quite a few new fellows here this term," said Fred, who was present. "I understand that all of the new dormitories that were built in the wing this summer will be filled up."
"That shows the school is growing popular," answered the young major.
"Jack, aren't you afraid somebody will try to get your position away from you?" went on Fred.
"What do you mean, Fred? Try to be elected major?"
"Well, some of the fellows deserve the position. Bart Connors, the captain of Company B, would make a fine major, and so would Henry Lee, the captain of Company A. And Sergeant Dave Kearney is a good fellow who deserves promotion."
"Then you don't care so much for the position?"
"Oh, yes, I do care. But I realize that it isn't fair to be major all the time. I'm willing to step down and give the other fellows a show."
"But not a fellow like Reff Ritter, or that Dan Baxter you told me about."
"No, I couldn't stand for those chaps."
"Reff is as sore as he can be over what happened last term."
"I know it."
"Dale says he knows something about Reff."
"I do," came from Dale Blackmore, who had entered a moment before. "Do you know, in one way I am sorry for Ritter," he added.
"What is it you know?" asked Fred.
"I don't suppose I ought to speak about it, but it is bound to get out sooner or later. It seems Mr. Ritter, Reff's father, was a rich stock broker and promoter of various mining companies. Well, this summer he got himself tangled up in some mining companies that were trying to make money too fast. As a consequence he lost the most of his wealth, and some folks who had bought mining stock from him came close to having him arrested for fraud. It was that state of affairs that made Reff give up his trip to the Adirondacks and go home. I got it from some close friends that the Ritters were almost cleaned out, and that Mr. Ritter wanted Reff to give up school and go to work. But Mrs. Ritter was too proud and insisted that Reff be returned to Putnam Hall. So he is back."
"Well, that certainly is hard luck," returned Fred. "I wonder if Coulter and Paxton will stick to him, now he is poor? My notion of it was, Coulter stuck to him mainly for what he could get out of it, he not having much spending money of his own."
"Well, I shan't throw it up to Reff that he is poor," said Jack, quickly. "All he has got to do is to behave himself and I'll treat him as well as anybody." And then the young major left the dormitory, to bathe his head in the bathroom, and wash up generally.
In the meantime those in the carriage had driven along the country road until they came upon the unconscious form of Andy. All leaped out and gathered around while Captain Putnam made an examination.
"He has had a bad fall," said the master of the school. "But I doubt if any bones are broken."
They raised the sufferer up, and presently Andy stirred and opened his eyes.
"Whoa!" he murmured. "Whoa!"
"He must think he is still on horseback!" cried Pepper, and but for Andy's pale face he would have laughed outright.
"Snow, are you hurt much?" asked Captain Putnam, kindly. "The horse is gone. You are safe."
"Oh!" gasped poor Andy, and then he stared around in bewilderment. "I—I was hung up in the—the tree, wasn't I?"
"If you were, you must have dropped down," answered Bob Grenwood.
"Yes. I remember now. I got caught by the throat and then I dropped—and that's all I know. Where is the horse?"
"Went on, I guess," answered Stuffer Singleton. "He was streaking it like an Indian when you passed the Hall."
"Shall we help you to get up?" asked Captain Putnam.
"I—I suppose so," faltered Andy. "Oh, dear, but I'm weak!" he added, as he tried to rise.
"Let us carry him to the carriage," suggested Pepper, and this was done, and he was made as comfortable on the cushions as possible.
"I wonder did anybody catch the horse?" asked the acrobatic youth, as the turnout was on its way to Putnam Hall.
"I don't know. I'll find out after you have been taken care of," answered Captain Putnam. "You cadets are certainly arriving this term in an unusual manner," he added grimly.
"You can lay the whole trouble at the door of some Pornell students," returned Pepper. "They pelted us with soft apples and other things and that started the team to running away. If it hadn't been for them we would have come to the school in the carryall all safe and sound."
"I shall investigate," answered Captain Putnam, briefly.
"Hello!" cried Pepper, a moment later. He was gazing at Andy's clothing. "Weren't you wearing a watch and a stickpin?"
"Of course," replied the sufferer. He put up his hands and felt around. "Both gone, I declare!"
"Did they jounce off when you were riding?" asked Stuffer.
"They must have! Oh, this is the worst yet!"
"Did you lose anything else?" questioned the young quartermaster.
"I don't know." Andy felt in his pockets. "Yes, my money is gone—eight dollars in bills!"
"Where did you have the bills?" asked Captain Putnam.
"In this vest-pocket. It must have jounced out during the hard riding. Oh, what luck! Captain, I'll have to go back and look for my property."
"You are in no condition, Snow, to do that."
"I'll go back," said Pepper. "Stuffer and Bob, will you go along?"
"Sure thing!" cried Stuffer.
"And if we can't find your things where you fell we'll look along the road all the way back to the Hall," added the young quartermaster.
"Thank you," answered Andy, and then, feeling a curious fainting spell coming over him, he laid back on the cushions and closed his eyes.
The three cadets sprang from the carriage and made their way back to the spot where Andy had been found. They made a thorough search, but, of course, failed to find any of the acrobatic youth's belongings.
"He must have lost them farther back," said Pepper. "Let us look with care as we walk along."
This they did, but arrived at the school without finding anything but a coat-button and a yellow lead pencil. Then they walked past the school in the direction of Cedarville.
"Might as well give it up," said Bob. "It's getting too dark to see very good, anyway."
"Yes, and I'm getting dead hungry," added Stuffer.
"Was there ever a time when you weren't hungry?" asked Pepper, with a grin.
"Aw, now, quit it," cried the lad who had a reputation as an eater. "Don't start so early in the term."
"I must confess I'm a bit hungry myself," said the young quartermaster. "I had an early dinner."
When they got back to the school they learned that Andy had been put to bed and that a doctor had been summoned. The acrobatic youth had been much shaken up and it was thought best to make him keep quiet for a few days.
"Better not say anything about his loss for the present," advised Captain Putnam. "I will have a man sent out to make another search."
The accidents to Andy and to Major Jack put something of a damper on the arrival for the term, and a jollification that had been scheduled for that night was indefinitely postponed. Captain Putnam questioned the cadets concerning the actions of Roy Bock and his cronies, and then sent a stiff letter to the head of Pornell Academy.
When Reff Ritter heard about the accidents he shrugged his shoulders and tossed his head.
"That's what they get for crowding us out of the carryall," he said to Coulter and Paxton, who roomed with him.
"Yes, and it serves 'em right," grumbled Coulter.
"That's what!" chimed in Paxton.
THE FIGHT IN THE GYMNASIUM
It was not until two days later that Andy Snow felt like himself again. No bones had been broken, but the acrobatic youth had received a shaking up that was severe.
So far he had not been told of his loss, and when he asked for his belongings he was much depressed by the news.
"Couldn't find them anywhere?" he repeated, to Pepper. "Oh, are you sure you made a good search?"
"We certainly did, Andy," returned Pepper. "We went back the next day, early in the morning."
"And you didn't find a thing?"
"Only this button and lead pencil, and this buckle."
"The pencil is mine, but not the button and the buckle." Andy heaved a sigh. "Then I am out my watch and chain, the stickpin, and eight dollars! Was there ever such luck!"
"Andy, was anybody near you when you had the tumble?" asked Pepper.
"Near me? Why, yes, there was a man on the road just ahead of me! I had forgotten all about it until now."
"Who was he?"
"I don't know. A tall fellow, with a thin, leathery face."
"No, he looked more like a city man. He had on a regular sack suit and a derby hat."
"I was thinking that possibly somebody robbed you while you were unconscious."
"Perhaps that is so, Pep. I'd like to see that man."
"You never saw him before?"
"Not that I can remember."
"Would you know him if you saw him again?
"I don't know about that. I didn't have much time to look at him. I was busy trying to escape being hit by the tree branches."
"You must have been lying on the road five or ten minutes before we found you," pursued Pepper. "If that stranger was a rascal he would have had plenty of time to go through your pockets. I don't see how riding could make you lose all those things at once."
"If he robbed me, I'd like to get hold of him," cried Andy.
"More than likely, if he did rob you, he'll take good care to keep out of your reach."
"What of the horse? Did they catch him?"
"Not yet. Most likely he left the road after he got tired of running and wandered into the woods. He was a valuable animal and Captain Putnam is worried about him."
"Will he hold me for that loss?"
"I don't think so—you didn't run away with him—he ran away with you."
The report of the loss of Andy's valuables was thoroughly circulated around Putnam Hall and Cedarville, and a reward of ten dollars for the return of the things was posted.
The next day a farmer named John Lane, who lived not far from the school, appeared there, riding on the back of the runaway Jim. The horse looked much subdued and was covered with burrs.
"I was out in the woods with my son Bill, when we ran across the horse," explained John Lane. "I knew him right away as the animal that had belonged to Jerry Toller. I asked Jerry about it and he said he had sold the horse to you, so I brought him here."
"You are very kind, Mr. Lane," replied Captain Putnam. "I'd like to pay you for your trouble."
"Oh, that's all right, Captain Putnam," responded the farmer. "Glad to do you a good turn."
"Thank you very much. Any time I can do you a good turn, let me know."
"Well, you might buy some of my extra hay, and extra potatoes. I've got some prime hay, and the best potatoes ever grown in these parts, and I'll sell 'em at regular market prices."
"Then I'll take all I can use, Mr. Lane," answered the captain, and a little later a bargain was struck, not alone for the hay and potatoes, but also for some turnips, cabbages, and table celery.
"What that horse needs is exercise," said John Lane, on departing. "Give him a few miles every day and he'll be as mild as any of 'em. He's too full-blooded to remain standing in the stable."
"I'll see to it that he gets the exercise," answered Captain Putnam.
On the day that the horse was returned Jack, Pepper and Fred walked down to the boathouse, to look over the boats. As my old readers know, Jack owned a sloop called the Alice, while Fred possessed a similar craft named the Ajax. Besides these sloops, there were numerous boats belonging to the Hall.
"Well, our sloops look natural," said the young major.
"I was wishing this summer I could go out in the Ajax," answered Fred. "What do you say if we take a little sail now?"
"In which boat, Fred?" asked Pepper. "We can't go out in both."
"Make it the Alice!" cried Jack.
"No, the Ajax!" came from Fred.
"I'll toss up for it," went on Pepper and produced a cent. "Head you win, tail you lose." And up into the air spun the coin.
"Head!" cried Fred.
"Head it is, and we go out in the Ajax."
"All right, but you'll have to go out in the Alice next time," cried the young major.
"By the way, did you hear about Tom Rollinson?" asked Pepper, as he walked into the boathouse to inspect his locker there.
"What of him?" asked Fred.
"The family were burnt out this summer and lost everything."
"Lost everything?" queried Jack. "That's tough luck. I shouldn't want to lose all I had."
"Well, it will happen sometimes," said Fred.
"Well, some lose by fire and some lose in other ways," went on the young major. "You have heard about Ritter. His father——"
"You shut your mouth about my father!" roared a voice from behind a dressing-room door. "My father is just as honest as anybody, and I won't have you or anybody else running him down!" And then Reff Ritter appeared, minus his coat, vest and collar, and his face distorted with rage.
"I didn't say your father was dishonest, Reff," returned Jack, as calmly as he could. "I was simply going to state——"
"Oh, you needn't try to smooth it over, Jack Ruddy," fumed the bully. "Don't imagine that I don't know all about the mean stories you and others are circulating about my family. You'd like to make out that my father is the worst swindler that ever lived, and I won't stand for it."
"Reff, that isn't true," interrupted Pepper. "Jack hasn't said a word against your father."
"Oh, you can't bluff me, Pep Ditmore. I know better."
"What Pepper says is true—I haven't said a word, Reff, truly I haven't. I heard that you had lost some of your money, and I said I was sorry to hear it—and I am sorry. I know how I'd feel if my father lost money. You——"
"Don't smooth it over, I tell you!" roared the bully. "I know you! You and your cronies have been down on me ever since I came to this school, and now you think you can crow over me, and maybe get me to leave Putnam Hall. But I am not going to leave, and if you dare to open your mouth against me I'll punch your head."
"You'll not punch my head, Reff!" answered Jack, and now his tones grew stern. "If you don't want to believe me, you needn't. But I'll not let you threaten me."
"Humph! You can't boss me, even if you are major of the battalion."
"I don't want to 'boss' anybody. You behave yourself and leave me alone, and I'll leave you alone."
The loud talking had attracted the attention of a number of cadets, and they commenced to crowd around Jack and Ritter. Among the number were Gus Coulter and Nick Paxton.
"Why don't you fight him, Reff?" suggested Coulter.
"That's the talk," added Paxton. "Show him that he can't talk about you and your father as he pleases."
"He won't fight; he is afraid," answered Reff Ritter, with a sneer in his tones.
"I am not afraid, Ritter, and you know it," answered Jack, trying to keep his temper. "But you know the rules, and I, as major of the cadets, am bound to uphold them."
"Hit him one!" whispered Coulter, in his crony's ear. "I'll stand by you."
"So will I," added Paxton.
"Well, if you won't fight, take that for your impudence!" cried Reff Ritter, and with a quick step forward, he slapped Jack on the cheek.
The blow was but a light one, yet it seemed to sink deep into Jack's very heart, and on the instant all thoughts of prudence and rules were cast aside. His face went white and his eyes flashed fire. Reff Ritter stepped back to guard himself, but before he could do so, Jack's arm shot out and a heavy blow landed on the bully's chin, sending him staggering into Coulter's arms.
"That's the way to do it, Jack!" came from Pepper.
"He started it, now give him what he deserves!" added Fred.
"That's for the slap in the face, Reff Ritter!" said Jack, in cold tones. "Now mind and keep your distance."
"Wait—I'm not done yet!" yelled the bully, and doubling up his fists he hurled himself on the young major.
Several body blows were struck and then the two clinched. As Ritter was partly stripped for battle, while Jack had on his stiff uniform, the bully had a little the better of it from the beginning. Around and around the gymnasium floor they struggled.
"Break away!" cried several cadets. "Break away!"
"I'll break if he will," answered Jack.
"All right," answered Ritter, and the hold of each youth was loosened. But as they broke the bully tried to land his fist on Jack's ear.
"Hi, that isn't fair, Ritter!" cried Fred.
"You keep out of this, Century!" was Coulter's warning.
"I'll not keep out, Coulter. Make Ritter fight fair."
Again the two cadets faced each other. Now Ritter was on his guard, and cleverly ducked a blow aimed at his face. Then he hit Jack on the chest and in the shoulder.
"That's the talk," came gleefully from Paxton. "Pummel him well while you are at it."
Again Jack struck out, and this time landed on the bully's arm. But then Ritter swung a heavy left-hander that took the young major in the ear and sent him staggering against Pepper.
"Follow him up! Follow him up!" screamed Coulter. "You've got him going, Reff! Finish him!"
Thus encouraged, Ritter leaped in and another blow landed on Jack's ear. He was a bit dazed, but shut his teeth hard and ducked under Ritter's arm. Then both sparred for an opening, circling around the gymnasium floor once more, the crowd of cadets around them growing larger and larger.
"It's a great fight, all right!"
"Say, I hope none of the teachers come to cut it short."
"They are about evenly matched aren't they?"
"I don't know; we'll soon find out."
So the talk ran on, but to it neither Jack nor Ritter paid attention. The bully was in a fierce rage, while Jack tried his best to keep cool. Suddenly Ritter leaped forward and two quick blows were delivered.
Jack knocked one blow aside and dodged the second. Then he let drive, right and left, as quick as lightning and with all his strength. One blow took the bully in the nose and the second in the mouth. Over he went against one of the wooden horses. Then his eyes suddenly closed, and in a limp mass he slid to the floor.
CAPTAIN PUTNAM INVESTIGATES
"Reff Ritter has been knocked out!"
"My, what blows they were!"
"Well, he brought it on himself," said Pepper.
"That's what," added Fred. "He struck Jack after Jack told him he didn't believe in fighting."
"He couldn't save himself because he was too close to the wooden horse," came from Coulter, who felt bound to stick up for his crony. "It wasn't fair to run him up against the horse."
"Coulter, a poor excuse is worse than none," answered Dale.
"Ritter was knocked out fair and square," came from Bart Connors.
While the talking was going on, Paxton had rushed off for water. Now he returned with a pailful and a sponge, and commenced to bathe the fallen one's face. Ritter soon opened his eyes and gave a groan.
"Le—let me al—alone," he muttered.
"Get up, Reff," said Paxton. "Go for him again."
"I—I can't," mumbled the bully, and now it was seen that two of his front teeth were loose. He stared around in a helpless fashion. Paxton put some more water on his face.
"Has he had enough?" demanded Jack, stepping up.
"You go away," answered Coulter, surlily.
"You wouldn't hit him when he's down, would you?" snapped Paxton.
"I asked you if he had enough. If he has, I'm going for a sail."
"I'll—I'll finish this some other time," mumbled Ritter, as he glared at the young major.
"No, Ritter, you'll finish it now if you finish it at all," answered Jack, coldly. "You started this fight, and now you must take the consequences. Get up, if you want to go at it again."
"I don't want to fight—now."
"Then you acknowledge yourself beaten?"
"No, I don't."
"Then get up. I don't want to wait here all afternoon for you."
"He has all he wants," said Pepper. "He won't get up."
"It's your fight, Ruddy," cried Joe Nelson.
"So it is," put in half a dozen cadets.
"Ritter is beaten and he knows it," added Harry Blossom, the first lieutenant of Company A.
"I—er—I won't fight any more now," mumbled the bully. He got up slowly and then, staggering to a bench, sank down heavily upon it. Evidently his punishment at Jack's hands had been heavy.
"Boys! Boys! what is the meaning of this?"
It was a loud and harsh voice from the doorway of the gymnasium that startled all of the assembled cadets. The next instant Josiah Crabtree, the head teacher, strode in.
"Skip, Jack, here is old Crabtree!"
"Run for it, Reff!"
"I demand to know what is going on here?" went on Josiah Crabtree, in his high-pitched voice. "Who is fighting?"
There was no reply. The assembled cadets looked at each other. No one felt like saying a word.
"Ritter, have you been fighting?" went on the head teacher, noticing the bully's condition.
"I was—er—that is, Ruddy attacked me, and I—er—I defended myself," stammered the defeated one.
"Ruddy? Do you mean Major Ruddy?" questioned Josiah Crabtree, in astonishment.
"Mr. Crabtree, what Ritter says is untrue!" burst out Jack. "He hit me first."
"But you have been fighting? You, the major of the school battalion! Disgraceful!"
"Wouldn't you fight if somebody slapped you in the face?" demanded Jack, hotly.
"You know the rules, Ruddy—and as major you ought to be the first to obey them."
"I am willing to do that, sir. But I won't allow anybody to slap me in the face."
"I didn't slap him," put in Ritter.
"Yes, you did," came from Pepper.
"It is true—I saw it," added Fred.
"So did I," added a cadet named Brown.
"If you were struck, Major Ruddy, it was your duty to report the occurrence at the office," said Josiah Crabtree, loftily. "Such actions as these will most likely cost you your command."
"Oh, what a shame!" burst out Pepper.
"Ditmore, I want no words from you!" roared the head teacher, savagely.
"But it wouldn't be fair to make Jack suffer for something like that," went on Pepper, bound to stick up for his chum.
"Ha! you dare to talk back to me, Ditmore! Go to your room at once, and stay there until to-morrow morning."
"But, Mr. Crabtree——"
"Not another word. Go to your room. And you, Ruddy and Ritter, report to me and to Captain Putnam at the private office at once."
There was no help for it, and with an angry look on his face, Pepper left the gymnasium and walked over to the school building.
"I'll report as soon as I have washed up, Mr. Crabtree," said Ritter, sullenly.
"So will I," added Jack.
"I'll give you both ten minutes, no more!" snapped the teacher, and then he strode from the gymnasium as swiftly as he had entered it.
As soon as Josiah Crabtree had departed a lively discussion commenced between the followers of the young major and of Reff Ritter. Only a few had seen the start of the quarrel and knew that it had been provoked entirely by the bully.
"I'm afraid I am in for it," said Jack, dismally, to Fred. "Ritter will do his best to make out that it was all my fault."
"Well, I can testify that Ritter hit you first, and Pepper and Brown can do so, too," answered Fred.
"Reff will get Coulter and Paxton to back him up."
"But they weren't on hand when the quarrel started."
"That is true—but they'll stick up for Reff, see if they don't."
"I sincerely trust that Captain Putnam doesn't take away your majorship, Jack."
"If he does that, I'll—well, never mind what I'll do."
"If he did it to me, I'd feel like leaving."
"I was going to say that. But I'll not do anything hastily," answered the young major, and heaved a deep sigh.
"Want me to go along?"
"No, since Crabtree didn't ask any one. But I wish you'd hang around, so I can call on you."
"I'll go to the library."
"All right—and take Brown, if he'll go."
Jack washed up and brushed his uniform, and then made his way to Captain Putnam's private office. He found that Reff Ritter had hurried and gotten ahead of him, and was telling his story, both to the head of the school and to the first assistant teacher. Ritter's mouth, nose and one eye were swollen, and he looked anything but happy.
"You may remain in the hallway until I call you, Major Ruddy," said Captain Putnam, when Jack appeared, and the young major had to go outside, closing the door after him.
The telling of Reff Ritter's story took some time, and he was asked several questions by Captain Putnam and Josiah Crabtree. He said that he had just been getting ready to take some gymnastic exercise when Jack and some of his chums had come in and begun to talk about his father, saying that they had heard he was dishonest.
"Ruddy said he knew my father was dishonest," went on Reff Ritter. "That made me mad and I ran out of the dressing-room and told him he ought to be ashamed of himself, that my father was as honest as anybody. Then he got on his high-horse and told me to shut up or he would knock me down. I told him it was a shame for him to speak so of my father. Then he got mad and all of a sudden he jumped at me and hit me in the mouth and the eye and then in the nose. Then I went for him, and we had it hot and heavy, until we bumped into one of the wooden horses and I went down. He tried to hit me after I was down, but Coulter and Paxton hauled him back. Then Mr. Crabtree came in."
"A most disgraceful proceeding!" cried Josiah Crabtree. "And evidently Major Ruddy's fault entirely."
"You are quite sure Ruddy started the quarrel?" questioned Captain Putnam, gravely.
"And he told the other cadets that your father was dishonest?"
"Yes, sir. That is what made me so mad. But I didn't hit him until he attacked me," added Ritter, hastily.
"Who was present at the time?"
"Pepper Ditmore and Fred Century were with Ruddy, and Gus Coulter and Nick Paxton were With me."
"I didn't see anybody."
"You got the worst of the fight."
"Yes, sir. You see, he took me unawares. I guess I could whip him if we were to meet on equal terms," added Ritter.
"You may retire to the next room, Ritter, while I question Major Ruddy."
"Don't you believe me?" cried the bully, in alarm.
"One side of a story is only one side," answered Captain Putnam, non-committally.
"I believe Ritter tells the truth," put in Josiah Crabtree. "When I appeared Ruddy was very insolent and so was Ditmore. I sent Ditmore to his room as a punishment."
"You may call Ruddy in," answered the head of the school, briefly. He understood Josiah Crabtree's dictatorial manner perfectly, and he only retained the man because of his unusual ability as a teacher.
Jack came in and was told to sit down in the chair Ritter had just vacated. Then Captain Putnam asked him to tell his story, and he related everything just as it had occurred.
"Are you quite sure that you have told the plain truth, Major Ruddy?" asked Captain Putnam, after he had finished.
"Yes, sir," answered Jack, and looked the head of the school fairly and squarely in the face.
"Your story does not agree with that told by Ritter."
"I believe Ritter," broke in Josiah Crabtree. "It was an outrage to drag in the boy's father simply because he has made some—er—unfortunate speculations. If I were you, Captain Putnam——"
"Wait a moment, Mr. Crabtree," interrupted the owner of the Hall. "I am conducting this investigation. Now that we have heard the stories of the principals we'll hear what the witnesses have to say."
"Fred Century was there, and he is in the library now," said Jack. "Pepper Ditmore was there, too, but Mr. Crabtree sent him to his room."
"I will question Century and Ditmore, and also Coulter and Paxton," answered Captain Putnam. "You may retire to Classroom Three, Major Ruddy, until called."
Jack bowed and withdrew and walked to the classroom named. It was empty and he threw himself down on a seat and gave himself up to his reflections.
Fred was next called, and he was followed by Pepper. Both told practically the story related by Jack. In the meantime George Strong, the second assistant teacher, was sent off to summon Coulter and Paxton. He was gone the best part of a quarter of an hour, and when he came back his face was a study.
"Captain Putnam, I have just made a discovery," he said. "I would like to speak to you alone."
"Alone?" queried the head of the school, somewhat astonished.
"Yes, sir, alone."
"Very well, then, come into the next room," answered Captain Putnam.
PEPPER MAKES A DISCOVERY
"You do not—er—wish me present?" came rather awkwardly from Josiah Crabtree.
"Oh, that won't matter, Mr. Crabtree," answered George Strong. "I did not desire any of the cadets present, that was all."
"I do not care to intrude——" commenced the dictatorial teacher.
"As you please," answered Mr. Strong, with a shrug of his shoulders.
At first Josiah Crabtree was inclined to stand on his dignity and walk off, but his curiosity got the better of him and he followed Captain Putnam and George Strong into another office.
"I went after Coulter and Paxton, as you directed me," said the second assistant teacher, when they were alone, and the door had been closed. "At first I could not find them, but at last I located Paxton and then Coulter. Where do you suppose they were?"
"I have no idea," answered Captain Putnam.
"Paxton was under the window of the office, listening to all that was going on. He was partly hidden behind a bush, so that nobody might see him."
"Indeed! That is not to his credit. And Coulter?"
"Coulter was at another window, talking to Ritter. Ritter was giving him some instructions, and as I came up unnoticed I heard Ritter say, 'Now, don't make a mess of it. Tell the story just as I told it, and be sure to stick to it that Ruddy hit me first, and tell Nick to stick to that, too.' Those were his very words."
"Is it possible! And what did Coulter say?"
"He promised to tell the story as Ritter wanted it, and said he would tell Paxton also to say that Ruddy struck the first blow."
"Then he virtually admitted that he struck the first blow himself."
"I should judge so, from his talk."
"Major Ruddy said he did."
"But Ruddy insulted him by talking of Mr. Ritter's losses——" began Josiah Crabtree.
"We'll look into that, Mr. Crabtree. Is that all, Mr. Strong?"
"No, I waited until Coulter joined Paxton. The two walked out on the campus, so I didn't catch what they said. I told them to follow me, and they are now out in the hall."
"I will listen to what each of them has to say—and then I will examine Century and Ditmore again."
Coulter was called into the main office and asked a great number of questions. Captain Putnam was very stern, and soon had the cadet badly twisted in his statements. Then Paxton was told to come in, and on being questioned he became more confused even than Coulter. Then both were confronted by George Strong, and at last they virtually admitted that Ritter had struck the first blow, and that they knew nothing of the quarrel previous to that time.
"You may go," said Captain Putnam, at length. "Your efforts to shield Ritter do you no credit." And Coulter and Paxton slunk out of the office silently and much worried over the thought of what punishment they might receive for trying to deceive the master of the Hall.
After that Pepper and Fred were again interviewed and cross-questioned. But they stuck to their original story, and as that was the story told by Jack, Captain Putnam felt that it must be true.
"You may go," said the captain, presently.
"Have I got to go back to the dormitory?" queried Pepper.
"No, you may join the other cadets," answered the head of the school.
"But, sir——" commenced Josiah Crabtree.
"I do not see as he merits punishment, Mr. Crabtree," said the captain, coldly. "We will let it pass." And he spoke so firmly that the dictatorial teacher said no more on the subject.
When Jack was again called into the presence of the teachers it must be admitted that he was a good deal worried. There was a strict rule at Putnam Hall against fighting, and that rule had been violated by him. Yet he felt he had been justified.
"Major Ruddy, I have examined several witnesses to this affair and I find that your story of the occurrence is substantially correct," began the head of the school. "Ritter struck the first blow."
"He did. He slapped me in the face. That angered me so greatly that I pitched into him without thinking twice. It was all done in a few seconds. But I guess I'd do it again," added Jack. "I wouldn't let anybody slap me without getting back at him. I guess if I did that I'd make a mighty poor soldier."
At these words Captain Putnam's face became a study. He had been on the point of reading Jack a stern lecture on the disgrace of breaking the school rules, but now he paused. When at West Point a certain upper classman had once pulled his nose and, regardless of consequences, he had knocked the fellow down and dragged him by the heels through the dirt of the road. He had considered himself justified in his actions, and his whole class has stood by him. That being so, he did not have it in his heart to punish Jack, or even to find fault with him. Yet the discipline of the school must be maintained.
"Major Ruddy, do you know what the first duty of a soldier is?" he asked, but his voice was soft and easy.
"Yes, sir; to obey orders."
"But there is no rule about what to do if a fellow slaps your face," added Jack, quickly.
"That is true." Captain Putnam had to turn away to conceal a sudden smile. "And, in one way, let me say I do not blame you for what you did, especially as you acted on the spur of the moment. But fighting must stop. If I dismiss this case against you, will you promise to leave Ritter alone in the future?"
"I will if he leaves me alone. If he attacks me, I'll defend myself to the best of my ability."
"He won't attack you—I'll see to that," answered the captain, grimly. "You may go. But remember, no more fighting."
"Thank you, sir," answered Jack, and lost no time in leaving the office.
"Well, how did you make out?" questioned Pepper, eagerly, when Jack joined him on the campus.
"Case dismissed, Pep."
"Hurrah! That's the best news yet. I was in fear that you would at least be cut off from your holidays."
"What about Ritter?" asked Fred.
"I don't know what Captain Putnam is going to do with him."
The fight and the doings in the office had put Jack out of the notion of taking a sail, and the crowd of boys took a walk instead, that lasted until it was time for the evening parade.
"Wonder if Ritter will show up for drill?" came from Dale.
"We'll know soon," answered Jack.
In a few minutes the drums commenced to roll and out on the parade ground poured the cadets and their officers. Jack had buckled on his sword, and so had Henry Lee and Bart Conners. The cadets had their guns, that is all but the band, who carried their drums and fifes, and the color sergeants, who carried Old Glory and the Putnam Hall banner.
"Battalion, attention!" came firmly from Major Jack Ruddy, and all the young soldiers stiffened up in their places.
He ran his eyes over the two companies, to see that every cadet was "toeing the mark." He did not see Reff Ritter.
"Present arms! Carry arms! Shoulder arms!" came the various commands, and the cadets made the movements with their guns. The drilling was so well done that Captain Putnam, who always looked on, nodded in approval.
"By column of fours, forward march!" came the next command, and then the drums struck up once more, the fifes joined in, and four abreast the cadets moved off, down the parade ground. They marched up and down several times, and executed various movements, and then marched into the mess-hall, or dining-room, put away their guns, and took their seats.
"Ritter isn't here," whispered Pepper to Jack.
"So I see," was the reply.
"I'll bet he caught it from Captain Putnam," put in Dale.
"Silence at the table!" came harshly from Josiah Crabtree. "I want less talking at meals!"
"My, but he's a cheerful beggar!" muttered Dale.
"Imagine him at the head of the school," observed Pepper.
"Ditmore, did you hear me?" snarled the teacher. "I want you to keep quiet."
"All right, Mr. Crabtree; sorry I spoke," answered The Imp, cheerfully.
"Then remember to keep your mouth closed after this."
"Ahem! how am I to eat if I keep my mouth closed?" asked Pepper, innocently.
"Ha! I want none of your jokes, Ditmore! Leave the table!" thundered Josiah Crabtree.
"I'm not through yet."
"Never mind, leave the table at once!" And the teacher glared at Pepper as if to eat him up.
"Just my luck!" muttered The Imp, and got up.
"Here's a sandwich for you," whispered Dale, who sat near, and he passed over two slices of bread with some cold meat between.
"And here's a piece of cake," added Jack, and slid it along, under the edge of the table. Then Pepper got up and left the room. He did not know where to go and so walked slowly in the direction of the boathouse.
As he neared the building, he saw a boy come out of the structure and hurry across the float to where the Alice and the Ajax were tied up. The boy was Reff Ritter.
The bully of the school was in a great rage. Captain Putnam had given him a stern lecture and told him if he did not behave in the future he would be dismissed from the school. The captain had also cut him off from all holidays up to Christmas, and added that he must expect to take no part in Putnam Hall athletics. The latter was the hardest blow of all, for Ritter had hoped that Fall to make the football team.
"Now, what is he up to?" Pepper asked himself, and stuffing the napkin that held the cake and sandwich into his pocket, he moved forward on a run.
Reff Ritter had crossed the float and now he stood beside the sloop that was Jack's property. As Pepper came closer he saw that the bully held an ax in his hand, the handle shoved up the sleeve of his jacket.
"He is up to no good," thought Pepper. "I'll watch him and see what he does."
Pepper stepped out of sight behind the boathouse. Looking through a window and a door, he saw Ritter walk up and down the float. Evidently the bully wanted to make certain that he was not being observed. Then, with a swift movement, he leaped aboard the sloop and crouched down out of sight.
"Guess it's time I got busy!" muttered Pepper to himself, and ran around the boathouse and out on the float. He was soon at the side of the Alice. He heard a blow sound out. Ritter was using the ax, apparently in an endeavor to chop a hole in the bottom of the sloop!
"Of all the mean things!" muttered Pepper to himself. "I'll soon stop that!" And he made a leap over the guard-rail of the craft. The ax was raised for another blow, but before it could be delivered, Pepper caught the bully by the shoulders and sent him sprawling on his back.
THE FOOTBALL ELEVEN
"Hi! Let go of me!" spluttered Reff Ritter, as he found himself flat on his back, with the ax up-raised in his two hands.
"Ritter, you leave this boat alone!" exclaimed Pepper.
"Humph! so it's you, Ditmore," muttered the bully, and now he turned over and arose.
"Going to chop the boat to pieces, I suppose," went on Pepper, "Well, not if I can prevent it."
"I'll chop you to pieces!" roared the bully, and swung the ax so suggestively that Pepper leaped back in alarm. "You've got no right to interfere with me!"
"This is Jack Ruddy's sloop; you have no right to touch her."
"Aw, you shut up."
"I'll not shut up, Reff Ritter. If you make another mark on this boat I'll have you locked up!"
"Humph! you think you've got the best of me, don't you?" sneered the bully, but his manner showed that he was considerably disconcerted. He had imagined that all the cadets were at supper and that no one would see his foul actions.
"I want you to get off of this boat."
"Supposing I won't?"
"Then I'll call help, and advise Jack to have you arrested."
"Going to run the whole school, aren't you?"
"I am going to run this affair, Ritter. Now leave the boat."
"Oh, I'll leave," muttered the bully, and walking to the side, he sprang down to the float. Then he ran to the boathouse and placed the ax inside. "Don't you dare to mention this to anybody!" he shouted as he reappeared. "If you do, you'll get yourself in hot water. My word is as good as yours." And then he turned and ran towards the school building.
Pepper watched him out of sight.
"No use of reporting this to Captain Putnam," he reasoned. "Ritter would, of course, deny everything. Wonder if he did much damage?"
Pepper made an examination. Luckily the bully had not had time to get in his nefarious work to any extent, and the bottom of the sloop showed only two slight ax cuts, not deep enough to do harm.
"Caught him just in time," thought Pepper, and then he sat down on the stern seat and munched away at the sandwich and cake, washing the stuff down with a drink from the cooler in the boathouse.
By the time he had finished, the other cadets were coming from their supper, and soon he was joined by Jack, Dale and several others. In private, he told the young major of what had occurred.
"The rascal!" cried Jack. "If he hurts my boat he shall pay for it!"
"Captain Putnam must have given him a good dressing down to make him so ugly."
"Well, he deserved it."
"Say," put in Dale. "That was mean of old Crabtree to send you away from the table."
"Never mind, I'll pay him back," answered The Imp, grimly.
Several days passed and during that time Reff Ritter kept his distance. The bully was in a bitter mood, and even his cronies could get little out of him.
The reason for this was twofold. He was smarting over the treatment received at the hands of Jack and Captain Putnam and he was also disturbed because his father had written to him, stating he could allow him hardly any spending money for the term. He had already borrowed a small amount from Paxton and he was wondering how he was going to pay it back. Added to this, he had gambled with some racetrack men during the summer, and one of those fellows now held his IOU for forty dollars.
"Dad has got to let me have money, that is all there is to it," he told himself. "If he won't, then I'll write to mother. She'll raise it for me somehow; she always does." Which shows how foolish an indulgent mother can sometimes be.
In the meantime, Andy had recovered from the accident and was now around as usual. Another hunt had been instituted for his belongings, but without success. A report came in that a strange man had been seen on the road just previous to the accident, and the cadets and Captain Putnam wondered if that individual had picked up Andy's things and made off with them.
"Maybe he was the fellow I saw," said Andy, and then he heaved a deep sigh, thinking he would never hear of his property again.
Jack and Pepper were glad to see Bert Field again, and also to see their old friend, Joseph Hogan. Emerald came back wearing a smile that was sunniness itself.
"Sure, an' it does me heart good to be here once more, so it does," he said, in his rich Irish brogue. "I traveled all over the ould sod this summer, so I did. But Putnam Hall an' the States fer me every toime!"
"Is this your last term here, Emerald?" asked Dale.
"I think so—if I am lucky and get through. How about you?"
"I hope to graduate next June."
"And so do Jack and I," added Pepper. "But you can't always tell. I'll be sorry to leave Putnam Hall."
"That's so; such good times as we have had here," added Jack.
As soon as the cadets were settled down at the Hall, and the excitement over the runaway, the loss of Andy's things, and the fight between Jack and Ritter, was at an end, the talk of the boys turned to football and other Fall sports. As in the past, the cadets hoped to have a good eleven and win some substantial victories.
"Wonder if we'll be allowed to play Pornell," said Jack.
"I don't know," answered Dale. "I rather think the captain is sore over the reply he got from the head of that school, over the carryall affair, and maybe he won't let us play them." And in this Dale was correct. Pornell was cut out that season, but it played Putnam Hall the year following.
Dale Blackmore was at the head of the football eleven, and, as before, he organized a fine team. Jack, Andy, Hogan, and Bart Conners were in their usual places.
"And I want you, too, Pepper," said Dale.
"Oh, I can go on the sub-bench," was the answer, for Pepper did not care very much for football. "Give Fred Century and Bert Field a chance."
"I know what Pepper wants," said Andy. "He wants us to play, while he sits in the grandstand, having a good time with the girls."
"Sure thing," answered The Imp, coolly. "Somebody has got to entertain 'em."
"They ought to be entertained by the game," came from Dale.
"Girls make me tired when they are at a football game," put in the cadet named Brown. "I took one once, and she said she knew all about football. After the game was half over she asked me how many runs and base hits had been made, and what they had done with the bats!"
Reff Ritter felt extra sore when the football eleven went out for practice. He wanted to play, but Captain Putnam would not allow it, and the bully went off by himself, up the lake-shore, where he sat down on a rock to smoke cigarettes and brood over his troubles. While he sat there he took from his pocket a letter and read it over several times.
"Twenty dollars by Saturday! I don't see how I am going to raise it," he muttered to himself. "I guess I'll have to send mother a telegram for a remittance."
The first football game of the season was arranged to take place between Putnam Hall and an eleven from Cedarville called the Dauntless. The Dauntless players were made up of former college boys and some all-around athletes, and the cadets were told that they would have a stiff time of it trying to beat the aggregation. The game was to take place on the grounds at Cedarville. These were roped off and an admission fee was charged, the entire proceeds to go to a local Old Folks' Home.
"I've got news!" cried Pepper, a few days before the game was to come off. "Some of the Pornell students are coming to the game, and I understand they are going to try to make trouble for our team."
"Is it the Roy Bock crowd?" questioned Jack.
"Then it is up to you to keep an eye on them, Pepper. We can't do it while we are playing."
"I'll keep an eye on 'em, don't fear," was the answer.
The eleven practiced every afternoon, under the direction of Mr. Strong, who had once been a player on a college team. Josiah Crabtree took no interest in the sport, declaring it was a waste of valuable time.
"I've got a plan to outwit the Pornellites, if they try any funny work," said Pepper, the day before the game. And then he took about a dozen cadets aside and told them what his plan was. All agreed to help him, and did what he asked of them without delay.
The day for the game dawned clear and bright, and promptly on time the eleven started for Cedarville in the carryall, which had just come from the repair shop. Some of the cadets went on their bicycles, and Captain Putnam and some of the teachers drove over in carriages.
When the cadets arrived at the grounds they found quite a crowd assembled. Horns and banners were in evidence, and from a flagpole floated the Stars and Stripes. On one side was a grandstand and this was about three-quarters filled.
"I see some friends of mine," cried Pepper, and advanced to the stand.
He had caught sight of Laura Ford, and her sister, Flossie, two young ladies who lived on the lake-shore at a place called Point View Lodge. In the past Pepper and his chums had done the Ford sisters several valuable services, for which Laura and Flossie were profoundly grateful.
"Oh, how do you do, Pepper?" called out Laura, on catching sight of him.
"Aren't you playing?" questioned Flossie.
"No, I'm merely an onlooker to-day," answered Pepper, and he raised his cap and shook hands. "How have you been since I saw you last?"
"Very well, thank you," answered Laura.
"We hope Putnam Hall will win," came from her sister.
"You can't hope it any more than I do," answered Pepper, and then he introduced several cadets to the young ladies, and all sat down to enjoy the game.
Pepper has his eyes open for the appearance of the students from Pornell. At first a few came in and took a stand in a corner, out of the way. They did not belong to the Bock crowd and seemed to be content to behave themselves.
"Maybe Roy Bock got cold feet and stayed away," said a cadet named Melmore.
"No, here he comes!" cried Bob Grenwood. "And Sedley and four others are with him."
Pepper looked in the direction pointed out and saw Roy Bock and his cronies approaching. All had big tin horns and immense wooden rattles, and their pockets bulged with apples and peanuts.
"Whoop her up, Dauntless!" yelled Roy Bock, as soon as he reached the grandstand. "Whoop her up, and wipe up the ground with Putnam Hall!" And then he swung his big rattle, and his cronies did likewise. Then the Pornellites crowded into the grandstand and took seats near Pepper and his fellow cadets and the girls. They talked in loud voices and said a number of things that caused the faces of the girls to burn, and made the cadets thoroughly angry.
"They ought to be put off the stand!" cried Bob, indignantly.
"And they will be put off if they keep this up," answered Pepper. "They can cheer all they please for the Dauntless eleven, but they have got to act like gentlemen."
As soon as the two elevens appeared, the practice commenced, and then there was a toss-up for goals, which Dauntless won. They took the south goal and Putnam Hall took the ball. Then came the kick-off, and the game was on.
THE FOOTBALL GAME
At first the playing was rather tame, but inside of a few minutes both elevens warmed up, and from that moment the work became fast and furious.
The Dauntless team had the advantage of weight, but the eleven had not played together as much as had the majority of the Putnam Hall cadets, consequently some of their combination efforts were decidedly ragged. One move resulted in a bad fumble on the part of the left end. The ball was captured by Jack, and he carried it forward fifteen yards before downed.
"Oh, my, isn't it rough!" screamed Laura Ford, as the young major hit the grass with great force, two of the Dauntless men being on top of him.
"Oh, that's all in the game," was Pepper's comment. "But I shouldn't want to see anybody get his ribs stove in," he added.
Putnam Hall got the pigskin to within ten yards of the Dauntless goal line, and then came an unexpected turn of affairs. The leather was lost by the Putnam Hall center, and carried around the right end and up the field for thirty yards.
"Hurrah! that's the way to do it, Dauntless!"
"Keep it up!"
"Dauntless to the front!" yelled Roy Bock. "Everybody in the game!" and then, in the midst of the excitement, he drew back with a soft apple in his hand and threw the half-decayed fruit at Jack. It just grazed the young major's shoulder.
Pepper was on the watch, for he had expected just such a dirty trick. He leaped up, and reaching over, caught the Pornell student by the ear.
"Ouch!" yelled Bock. "Let go!"
"You get out of the grandstand!" cried Pepper. "If you don't I'll get a crowd to mob you."
"See here, Ditmore——"
"Don't talk—get!" interrupted Pepper.
"Let Roy alone!" sang out Bat Sedley. "If you don't, I'll crack you one!"
"Hello, you rascals!" came unexpectedly from nearby, and a farmer named Baker showed himself. "You here? Jest wait till I git my paws on you!" And he started in the direction of Roy Bock, Bat Sedley and two of their cronies.
"Great Scott! It's that farmer!" ejaculated Roy Bock, and he started to scramble out of the grandstand in a hurry, and after him went the others.
But they were not quite quick enough for Darius Baker, and at the foot of the stand the farmer caught Bock in one hand and Bat Sedley in the other. Then he swung the two together until their heads cracked.
"Will steal my apples and pears?" he shrilled. "Will talk sassy to my darter, eh? I'll teach you!" And then, letting go suddenly, he cuffed Roy Bock on the ear and thumped Bat Sedley in the jaw so hard that that student howled outright.
"Please don't hit me again!"
"It was all a mistake!"
"No mistake!" bawled Darius Baker. "Git out o' here before I call the constable an' have ye locked up!" And then Roy Bock and his cronies lost no time in hurrying away, without so much as looking behind them.
"Guess you know 'em?" remarked Pepper, when the farmer came back into the stand and resumed his seat.
"Guess I do!" was the snorted-out reply. "They came around to my place yesterday, and stole my apples and pears, and talked sassy to my darter an' the hired man. I saw 'em, but they ran, away before I could git my hands on 'em. I vowed I take 'em down a peg when I met 'em, an' I guess I done it," added the old farmer, with evident satisfaction.
"You did, Mr. Baker," answered Pepper. "And you've done us a service in the bargain."
"Those fellows came here to make trouble for our eleven, the Putnam Hall team."
"That so? Well, then, I'm mighty glad I cleared 'em out. I like to see a game now an' then, but I want it clean—no rowdy work."
There was no time to say more, for everybody was interested in the game. The Dauntless eleven had worked the pigskin up to within a few yards of the Putnam Hall goal line, and now over it came.
"A touchdown for Dauntless!"
"Great work! Now make it a goal!"
The ball was brought out, and the Dauntless quarterback kicked a beautiful goal, amid a great cheering and tooting of horns.
"Eight minutes more to play," said Dale. "Boys, let us tie the score if nothing else."
Again the battle was on, and now Dale made a beautiful run, being aided by some fine interference by Jack and Andy. Then Hogan got the pigskin and worked it up to within five yards of the Dauntless goal line—and then the whistle blew and the first half of the great game had to come to a close.
The Putnam Hall eleven were a sober lot when they filed into their dressing-room to be rubbed down and to talk it over.
"Well, they've only got a touchdown and goal to their credit," said Jack, cheerfully. "That's not such a terrible lead to overcome."
"We must have more snap and ginger!" cried Dale. "Now, I want everybody on the job from the word go."
"Try that left-end play," suggested George Strong. "It may surprise them—and, anyway, it can do no harm."
The play he mentioned was something of a trick they had been practicing for a week. It was rather intricate, but Dale promised to take his advice and use it at the first opportunity.
The Dauntless eleven scented a victory, and went into the second half of the game with renewed vigor. But Putnam Hall stood up manfully, and Andy got the pigskin in a manner that elicited much applause. He carried it down the gridiron for eight yards and passed it over to Jack. Then, on the next down, Dale signaled for the trick play. Across the field came the ball and then back to center. Here a quick turn was made that bewildered the Dauntless eleven. On came the pigskin, and almost before anybody knew it, Jack kicked a goal from the field.
"Hurrah! a field goal for Putnam Hall!"
"Talk about clever work, wasn't that great?"
"It sure was!"
"Never mind," came from a Dauntless supporter. "That doesn't count as much as the goal from a touchdown."
"Well, it's blood for Putnam Hall, anyway."
Again the leather went into play, and once more each eleven did its level best to force the pigskin over the opponents' line. The Dauntless aggregation were now wary of more tricks, and they tried a trick of their own, massing at the left and then running the ball up center. But this did not work. The ball was lost to Andy, who passed it over to Dale.
"Go it, Blackmore!" was the cry.
"Down him, Cressy!"
On and on sped Dale with the rival left end at his heels. Hogan and Jack were pounding on behind, and they stopped Cressy from blocking the Putnam Hall captain. Over the line came Dale, to drop flat an instant later, out of breath.
"Hurrah! a touchdown for Putnam Hall."
"Now for a goal!"
The wind was blowing strongly, yet Andy measured the distance well and kicked the goal, amid a cheering that could be heard half a mile.
"Oh, wasn't that grand!" murmured Flossie Ford.
"Perfectly lovely!" added Laura.
"It's what we wanted," answered Pepper. "Keep it up!" he yelled, and blew his horn with all his might.
With nine minutes more to play, both elevens went at the game with great vigor. The Dauntless team wanted at least to make a field goal—to tie the score. But Putnam Hall held them back, and two minutes before the whistle blew made another touchdown and kicked the goal. When the game was ended the pigskin was on the Dauntless forty-five-yard line.
Putnam Hall had won!
What a cheering followed, and what a tooting of horns and sounding of rattles! The cadets cheered for their opponents and were cheered in return, and then all filed off the field.
"A dandy game!" cried Pepper to his chums. "Simply great!" And he fairly hugged Jack and Andy.
"A splendid game," was Mr. Strong's comment.
"I am proud of our cadets," added Captain Putnam.
"They are an honor to the school, sir."
"Yes, Mr. Strong, they are."
Some of the boys remained in Cedarville for the rest of the afternoon. As soon as Jack and Andy had put aside their football outfits, they joined Pepper and the Ford girls, and all went to meet Mr. Rossmore Ford, who had just arrived in his carriage.
"I am sorry I missed the game," said the rich gentleman. "It must have been fine."
"Oh, papa, it was lovely!" cried Laura.
"I was so pleased to see Putnam Hall win!" added Flossie.
"Were you?" said Mr. Ford, and laughed good-naturedly. "Now, I imagined you came to encourage the Dauntless boys."
"Papa, you know better!" cried both girls.
"How would you young gentlemen like to drive home with us and dine at the Lodge?" asked the gentleman.
"Oh, yes, come!" cried Flossie.
"Do!" urged Laura.
"Well, I don't know," answered Jack, slowly. "The eleven is going to celebrate to-night, and they want us. Otherwise, I'd like it very much."
"Then come some other time," answered Rossmore Ford.
"Thank you, we will," answered Andy; and after a few words more the Fords drove off and the cadets walked away to join their fellows.
It was a jolly crowd that returned to Putnam Hall late that afternoon, and Captain Putnam was willing that they should have all the sport the rules of the institution permitted.
"Bonfires to-night!" cried Andy.
"Biggest ever!" returned Pepper. "I've got a surprise."
"What is it, Pep?" asked several in a chorus.
"If I tell you, will you keep it to yourselves?"
"Sure!" was the ready answer.
"Well, you saw those tar-roofers at work on the new top of the dock at Cedarville?"
"I bought three empty tar-barrels from the foreman. He is going to leave them in the woods yonder for me at seven o'clock. They'll make the finest bonfires you ever saw."
"That's the cheese!" cried Dale, slangily. "Do you know what we can do? Place one barrel on top of another and touch them off. They'll make the greatest blaze you ever heard of."
"But mum's the word until the right time comes," warned Pepper. And then the crowd dispersed for the evening drill.
Two boys had been listening to the talk from behind a nearby clump of bushes. They were Reff Ritter and Gus Coulter.
Neither of the cronies had gone to the football game, having preferred to walk to a cabin in the woods, where they could smoke and play cards. The victory of Jack and his friends had put them in a particularly bad humor.
"I suppose they expect a great celebration with those tar-barrels," muttered Coulter. "Say, I tell you what let's do!" he cried. "Let us sneak to the woods before they arrive and roll the barrels down to the lake!"
"I'll do it," answered Reff Ritter. "Anything to put a damper on that celebration."
"Well, water will dampen the tar-barrels," added Coulter, grimly.
PUTTING OUT A LIVELY BLAZE
Pepper was so full of high spirits that at the supper table he could not resist the temptation to play a joke. He saw Joe Nelson using his handkerchief and, on the sly, took up the pepper-shaker and dosed the cloth liberally with pepper.
Poor Joe caught the full benefit of the pepper, and in the midst of the meal commenced to sneeze loudly.