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    Chapter 12

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    Chapter 13
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    AN INVITATION ACCEPTED

    Captain Putnam looked very grave when Jack reported the loss of the gold watch and chain.

    "You are certain you left them on the stand when you went to sleep?" he questioned.

    "Yes, sir. Pepper Ditmore saw me put them there, and Dale Blackmore saw it, too."

    "And you have looked everywhere for them?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "I will go up and look around with you."

    "All right, sir. But it will do no good," answered the young major.

    "You say that all your roommates deny taking the watch and chain."

    "Yes, sir. They say they didn't see the watch at all after we went to bed."

    "Major Ruddy, do you suspect anybody of this crime?" demanded the owner of the school, looking Jack full in the face.

    "No, sir," was the prompt answer. "It's a complete mystery to me. All I know about it is, that I left the watch and chain on the stand at the head of my bed when I went to sleep and this morning they were gone."

    "Did any of the other cadets enter your dormitory during the night?"

    "Not that I know of."

    "They may have been skylarking and may have carried the watch and chain off by--accident, let us say," finished the captain, significantly.

    "If anybody came in, nobody who sleeps in our room seems to be aware of it."

    Captain Putnam and Jack passed up to the dormitory, followed by Josiah Crabtree. They were soon joined by Pepper and the other occupants of the apartment. Another search was made, but the gold watch and chain were not found, nor were any clues concerning the timepiece unearthed.

    "What were the watch and chain worth?" asked Fred.

    "I don't know; maybe fifty or sixty dollars," answered Jack.

    "Then if they were stolen, the thief made quite a haul."

    "Do you think they were stolen, Century?" demanded the owner of the school.

    "Doesn't it look like it, sir?"

    "But if they were stolen, who is guilty?" asked Josiah Crabtree, glaring around from one cadet to another.

    For the moment nobody spoke.

    "I don't suspect any of my roommates," said Jack, quickly. "I think it was done by some outsider."

    "Some other cadet?" asked Crabtree.

    "Possibly; or else by some of the help."

    "Gracious, Ruddy, I--er--I hope you don't suspect me!" stammered the teacher.

    "No, sir; I meant some of the servants."

    "Ah, I see!" Josiah Crabtree looked relieved. "You may be right. Perhaps some of the new colored help took the watch," he went on, to Captain Putnam.

    "I will start an investigation," returned the owner of the school.

    Captain Putnam was as good as his word, and over an hour was spent in questioning the help, and the other cadets, but without results. The investigation was continued Monday morning. But not the first trace of the missing watch and chain was discovered anywhere.

    "It assuredly is a mystery," said Captain Putnam at last. "What do you make of it, Mr. Strong?" he asked of his second assistant.

    "It is a very unfortunate occurrence," answered George Strong. "If there is a thief in Putnam Hall we ought to locate him. As long as he remains undetected none of us will be safe."

    "How are you going to catch him?"

    "I don't know. We might try to trace up the watch and chain through the authorities."

    "I hate to let the authorities know anything has been stolen in the school. It gives us a bad name in public." The two men were alone, so they could speak freely.

    "It will give the school a worse name if we don't get the watch and chain back. I am afraid Major Ruddy can hold you for the worth of them."

    "He can, and I expect to pay for them if we don't get them back. I will think it over, and perhaps I'll report the loss."

    Later on, the authorities were notified that a watch and chain were missing. No details were given, but the police were asked to look out for the watch and chain in pawnbroking establishments and elsewhere.

    "I shall also offer a reward," said the owner of the school, and the next day a bulletin was posted, offering a reward of ten dollars for information leading to the recovery of the timepiece and conviction of the thief.

    "It's tough to go without your watch, Jack," said Pepper.

    "Captain Putnam is going to loan me one for the present," was the young major's reply. "It's only a silver affair, but he says it keeps good time, and that's the main thing."

    A day or two after the reward was offered, Jack, Pepper and Andy received an invitation to take dinner at Point View Lodge with the Fords and spend the evening there. The weather was now growing colder and the Fords expected before long to close up their summer home and move to the city for the winter.

    "Say, this is all to the merry!" cried Pepper, as he read the invitation. "Of course we'll go."

    "If Captain Putnam will let us," added Andy, anxiously.

    "I think he will," returned Jack. "He is so cut up over this watch affair I think he will do almost anything for me."

    The three went to the captain and showed the invitation, and were told that they could go to Point View Lodge, but that they must be back at Putnam Hall by ten o'clock.

    "It's lucky we can go in our uniforms," said Pepper. "Otherwise I suppose we'd have to go in full dress, eh?"

    "Sure thing."

    "How are we going to get to the Lodge? We can't walk."

    "Might hire a carriage for once."

    "Too slow. The Lodge is so far off. We could make better time on our bicycles."

    "But if it rains--or snows?"

    "Then we'll have to take a carriage."

    The three cadets watched the weather anxiously. It remained clear and cool up to the afternoon of the day they were going and then grew cloudy.

    "Looks like rain or snow to me," announced Jack.

    "Oh, don't croak!" cried Andy. "It's a bit cloudy, but that's all. I guess it will hold off until morning."

    "Got your bicycle ready for the trip, Andy?" questioned Pepper.

    "Sure, I oiled up this morning. How about you?"

    "Ready since yesterday, and Jack's wheel is ready, too," was the answer. "Oh, say, don't you anticipate a dandy time at Point View Lodge?"

    "Yes, indeed! The Ford girls are just all right."

    "Best ever!" chimed in Jack.

    "Don't forget to fill your lamps!" cried Andy, as he turned away.

    "Mine is full," answered Jack.

    "I'll see to mine," came from Pepper. "Glad you mentioned it. It will be quite dark on the road to-night, and I don't want to run in a hole and take a header."

    "None of us want to do that. We'd look fine going into the Lodge with our faces and hands all dirt and our uniforms torn."

    The cadets hurried away in various directions. They had been talking in the gymnasium, near one of the dressing-rooms, and they did not know that anybody else was near. But Mumps, the sneak, had overheard every word. As soon as they had gone, the younger cadet hurried off toward the boathouse. Here he found half a dozen students assembled, including Ritter and Coulter.

    "Say, do you fellows know that Ruddy, Ditmore and Snow are going out to-night?" he said. He always loved to tell the news, and thought himself quite important in so doing.

    "Where to?" asked one of the cadets.

    "To Point View Lodge--the place where the Ford family live. They've got an invitation to dinner."

    "Lucky dogs!" came from another cadet. As he spoke he looked at Reff Ritter, but that individual merely scowled, and took surreptitious whiffs at a cigarette he was smoking.

    "How are they going to Point View?" asked another who was present.

    "Going on their bicycles," answered Mumps. "It's quite a ride, isn't it?"

    "Oh, not for them. They can make it in half an hour if they try. But they'll find it pretty dark to-night, I'm thinking," added the cadet, with a glance out of the boathouse window at the leaden sky.

    The talk continued and Ritter listened closely to every word. Then he arose and motioned to Coulter, and the two walked outside.

    "Did you hear what Mumps said?" he asked of his crony.

    "About those chaps going to the Fords' home?"

    "Yes."

    "What of it?"

    "I was thinking we might spoil their fun."

    "And get caught, as we did with the tar-barrels," grumbled Gus Coulter.

    "We'll take good care that nobody sees us this time."

    "What are you thinking of doing?" asked Coulter, curiously.

    "Come with me and I'll tell you," answered Reff Ritter, and took his crony by the arm. Slowly they walked across the campus, and as they did so Ritter unfolded a plot that had just then come into his head.

    "What do you think of it?" he asked, after he had finished.

    "Very good; if it will work, and we are not caught."

    "We'll not get caught if you'll do as I say. Listen, Gus, all you need to do is to stand on guard, to give me warning if anybody comes. I'll do the rest."

    "When do you want to get to work?"

    Reff Ritter looked around anxiously. It was cold on the campus and growing darker rapidly. Only a few cadets were in sight.

    "Come on now," he answered. "We'll see if the coast is clear."

    They walked to the end of the gymnasium building, where, in a long room, the bicycles of the students were kept. It was pitch dark inside and not a soul was in sight.

    "Now, you remain outside," said Ritter. "If you see anybody coming begin to whistle 'Yankee Doodle,' as loud as you can. Don't wait for me, for I'll go out the back way."

    "All right. But let me know when you are through," answered Coulter, somewhat nervously.

    "Sure."

    Coulter took his stand outside of the building and peered forth eagerly in the darkness. Only three cadets were in view and they presently entered the school building. Then ten minutes went by--a long wait for the youth who was aiding Ritter in his plot. Then Reff came quickly from the gymnasium.

    "Anybody around?" he asked hurriedly.

    "No."

    "Good enough."

    "Have you finished, Reff?"

    "Yes."

    "Did you get at all three of the wheels?"

    "I sure did. Say, they will have their own troubles, see if they don't!" chuckled the bully. "But come on before anybody sees us," he added, and stalked away in the darkness, with his crony beside him.
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