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    Chapter 11

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    Chapter 12
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    A MYSTERIOUS HAPPENING

    It was a rule of honor among the cadets of Putnam Hall that no student should tell on another. To do that would have been to put one's self down as a sneak, and none of our friends wanted such a reputation.

    "I ask again, who started that fire?" went on Captain Putnam, with increased sternness.

    "I rather think I know the guilty parties," said George Strong, who had walked away on an errand and had just returned, "Ritter and Coulter, what have you to say?"

    The two culprits started, and Coulter turned pale.

    "Why, I--er----" stammered Gus. "I--that is----" He did not know how to proceed. He did not dare deny his guilt, not knowing but what the assistant teacher might have seen him and his crony light the tar-barrels.

    "Well, if you--er--want to know the truth, Captain Putnam, we--er--started the fire," stammered Reff Ritter. "But it was an accident."

    "An accident?"

    "Yes, sir. We were--er--going to roll the barrels down to the lake--going to hide 'em so that Ditmore and his friends couldn't find 'em, you know. Well, we didn't want to get the tar on our hands, so we--er--started a little fire to see by--it was dark under the trees. All of a sudden the barrels blazed up. We--er--didn't expect such a big blaze."

    "That's it," cried Coulter, eagerly. "We just made the fire at first to see by."

    "Then you didn't really want to fire the barrels under the trees?"

    "No, sir," came from both of the guilty ones.

    "It was a rash thing to do, to start such a blaze. In this wind you might have burnt down the whole woods and endangered the school buildings."

    "I don't believe Ritter and Coulter," whispered Andy to Pepper.

    "Neither do I," was the reply.

    "Ditmore, you said the barrels belonged to you?" went on the owner of the school.

    "Yes, sir. I bought them from the tar-roofer in Cedarville and he delivered them. We were going to have a great bonfire--and we did!" And The Imp said this so dryly that even Captain Putnam had to smile.

    "Well, I presume I shall have to drop the matter," said the captain, after a few more questions. "But let me warn you all about fires in those woods in the future. If a fire gained headway here we might burn everything down to the ground."

    So, from an official standpoint, the matter was dropped. Ritter beckoned to Coulter, and they hurried away, followed by Nick Paxton and one or two others.

    "Well, that ends the tar-barrel celebration," said Pepper, rather mournfully. "I really ought to make Ritter and Coulter pay for the barrels."

    "You won't get any money out of Ritter," remarked Bart Conners.

    "How do you know, Bart?"

    "Because he hasn't any. He asked for credit at the store yesterday--to buy some cigarettes--and the shopkeeper refused, saying Ritter owed him eighty cents already."

    "Humph!" mused Pepper, and said no more.

    "Come on--forget it!" cried Jack. "We'll celebrate anyway."

    "We've got other barrels," came from Dale.

    The cadets rushed out and to the lake-shore, and soon several bonfires were blazing merrily. Around these the students congregated, and sang songs and "cut up" generally. Dale had to make a speech, and the boys caught him up on their shoulders and carried him around the campus.

    "Isn't it grand!" murmured Bert Field. "I am mighty glad I came to Putnam Hall."

    "So am I," answered Fred Century. "It's much different from what it was at Pornell Academy."

    "It was a great victory, Fred, wasn't it?"

    "It certainly was, Bert. I am only sorry for one thing."

    "What is that?"

    "That it wasn't Pornell we beat instead of that other club."

    "Oh, well, we'll get a chance at Pornell some day," answered Bert Field.

    The celebration along the lake-shore lasted until half-past eleven. Then the bell was rung, and laughing and singing, the cadets trooped off to their various dormitories.

    "All quiet by midnight!" came the order.

    "Fifteen minutes yet," cried Andy, consulting his watch. "Whoop-la! Here goes!" And in the joyousness of high spirits he turned a handspring over one of the beds. Then he turned another spring over a table and stood on his head on one of the chairs.

    "Hurrah for Snow's Imperial Consolidated Circus!" cried Pepper. "The one and only aggregation of stupendous wonders on the face of the globe! The marvelous twisting and death-defying acrobat! Walk up and see the blood-curdling exhibition! It will cost you but the small sum of a dime, ten cents; children double price, and no grandfathers unaccompanied by their parents admitted. Line will form on the left and everybody will please have his cash ready. Transfers not accepted on this line."

    "Good for Pepper!" came from Jack. "When he fails as a student he can turn dime-museum shouter."

    "On the right you will see our most mysterious wonder, Major Jacobus Ruddonowsky, the royal Russian sword swallower," went on The Imp, pointing to his chum. "He swallows two swords for breakfast, three for lunch and six to eight for dinner, with daggers for dessert. He is wonderfully strong, and can carry on his arms an amount of gold lace that would break a camel's back. As soon as the tent is full he will sing for you that famous ditty, entitled, 'How I Love to Line You Up When I'm Major of the Gang.'"

    "Wow! that is where you caught it, Jack!" cried Dale, with a grin.

    "And here we have a third wonder," went on Pepper, pointing to the football captain. "Commodore Daleo, the leather-ball juggler. The most renowned juggler of the spheroid in the world! You think it is here, but it is not, for lo! he has juggled it over the line and kicked it as high as an airship. He will show you----"

    "Silence in here!" came a voice from the doorway, and Josiah Crabtree appeared. "I will have silence!"

    "Oh, dear!" murmured Pepper. "Anybody got any silence to spare? Mr. Crabtree wants some."

    "You must all be in bed by midnight, and the light must be out," went on the teacher. "This unseemly revel must cease!" And then he walked on, to stop the noise coming from the other dormitories.

    "Say, Pepper, how do you like that?" murmured Fred.

    "I knew there would be frost," sighed The Imp. "Every time old Crabtree appears we get a cold wave."

    "Be thankful he didn't mark you down for extra lessons," said Andy.

    "If he did that I'd rebel," returned Pepper.

    After that the talk was carried on in whispers, and each cadet lost no time in disrobing. A few minutes after midnight all were in bed, and one after another lost himself in the land of dreams.

    The day had been a particularly strenuous one for Jack and the young major slept soundly until the rising-bell rang loudly. Then he rubbed his eyes sleepily and stretched himself.

    "Wish I didn't have to get up just yet," he murmured. "I could sleep another hour without half trying."

    "Same here," responded Pepper.

    "I never feel awake until after I've had a wash," came from Andy, who had just leaped up.

    Soon all of the cadets in the dormitory were dressing, and one by one they washed up and went below. Andy and Jack were the last to leave.

    "What's the matter?" asked the acrobatic youth, as he saw the young major searching around for something.

    "I'm looking for my watch and chain, Andy."

    "Where did you put it?"

    "Where I always do--on the stand at the head of my bed."

    "Maybe it fell on the floor."

    "If it did, it isn't there now." Jack got down on his knees to look around, and then turned over the bedclothes and some other things.

    "Maybe Pepper played a joke on you, Jack."

    "That may be so. I'll go down and ask him about it."

    The young major looked through his clothing and all over the dormitory, and then hurried below. As it was Sunday morning, there was no drill, and the cadets were gathering in the mess-hall for breakfast.

    "Pepper, did you see my watch?" asked Jack, coming up to his chum.

    "Your watch? No," was the ready reply.

    "You didn't?" cried the young major, and now he was more concerned than ever.

    "Saw it last night, when you put it on the stand as usual."

    "You didn't hide it? Come, now, tell the truth."

    "Honor bright; the last I saw of it was when you placed it on the stand when you went to bed."

    "It's gone; and the chain with it."

    "You don't mean it, Jack! Did you look all around?"

    "Everywhere."

    "Did you ask the other fellows about it?"

    "No; but I will, right away."

    The young major walked to one roommate after another and asked about his watch and chain. All denied knowing anything about the timepiece. Several had seen him place the watch on the stand at the head of the bed, but that was all.

    "Well, it's a mystery what has become of it, that's sure," was Jack's comment. "It certainly couldn't walk off by itself."

    "Well, a good watch knows how to run," remarked Pepper, dryly, for he couldn't help having his joke. "But, seriously, Jack, do you think somebody stole the watch and chain?"

    "I don't know what to think."

    "I don't imagine anybody in our dormitory would do such a thing."

    "Neither do I. But the watch and chain are gone. The question is, Where?"

    "Hadn't you better report the matter to Captain Putnam?"

    "I will, after I have taken another look around," answered the young major, and left the mess-room just as the bell rang for breakfast.

    "Why did Major Ruddy leave?" asked Josiah Crabtree, harshly, as he saw that the young officer was missing.

    "He had something of importance to attend to," answered Pepper.

    "Humph! It is his duty to be at the table on time, if he wants his breakfast," muttered the dictatorial teacher.

    Jack did not come back for the best part of half an hour. By that time the breakfast was nearly over.

    "Major Ruddy, what does this mean?" demanded Josiah Crabtree.

    "A matter of importance, Mr. Crabtree," answered the young officer.

    "I cannot permit cadets to come in late to breakfast."

    "This couldn't be helped, sir. I will explain to you and to Captain Putnam directly after I have finished."

    "Very well. If it is of real importance I will let it pass. But otherwise I shall mark you for being tardy," returned Josiah Crabtree, harshly.

    Jack merely bowed and then he sat down and ate his breakfast. While he was doing so, Pepper leaned over to him.

    "Find the watch?" he whispered.

    "No--not the least trace of it," answered Jack.

    The young major did not feel much like eating. The watch was a gold one and the chain was also of gold, and both were valuable. They had been a birthday gift from his parents.

    "Say, Jack, this is as bad as my loss," came from Andy, in a low tone. "What are you going to do about it?"

    "I don't know. I want to talk the matter over with Captain Putnam first," answered the young officer.
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