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    Chapter 6

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    Chapter 7
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    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.

    "Yes, sir."

    "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.

    "Yes, sir."

    "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."

    "Anybody else?"

    "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.
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    Chapter 7
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