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    Chapter 16

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    Chapter 17
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    IN WHICH MORE VALUABLES VANISH

    That night it snowed again, and in the morning the storm raged furiously around Putnam Hall, so that the landscape on all sides was completely blotted out. The cadets had to remain indoors, and it was hard work to keep a path clear to the gymnasium and the stables.

    "We'll be snowbound and no mistake," observed Andy. "Well, I don't care much; it will give me a chance to catch up in my lessons."

    "Very far behind, Andy?" asked Jack.

    "More than I like to think about, Jack. I want to graduate with honor, you know."

    "Oh, we all want to do that."

    "How's the head?"

    "Still sore. But I guess I'll be all right again in a few days."

    "How about you, Pepper?"

    "I'll be all right, too, Andy. But it was a fierce crack!" added Pepper, as his hand went up gingerly to his plastered-up cut.

    "Going to lodge a complaint against Ritter and Coulter?"

    "What good would it do? We can't actually prove that they used stones?"

    "Let it pass. If we make a complaint it will only stir up more bad blood," said the young major. "But in the future I am going to watch Ritter and Coulter pretty closely."

    The boys were kept at the Hall for all of that week, getting no further than the gymnasium for recreation. The wind blew furiously at times, so that the snow was piled up into numerous drifts, one reaching almost to the top of the carriage-shed, and another completely hiding the posts of the gate entrance.

    "This must be tough on some of the farmers," observed Dale. "Think of trying to get the milk to the station in such weather."

    "Well, a farmer usually has enough to eat," answered Stuffer. "That counts for a good deal. Now if a fellow was snowbound and didn't have any grub----" He did not finish but shook his head dolefully. To Stuffer such a fate was beyond words.

    As was to be expected, Ritter and Coulter kept out of the way of Jack and Pepper. Once the young major met the pair on the stairs, but they simply glared at him and passed on before he could say a word.

    During all this time Captain Putnam had been doing his best to solve the mystery concerning the disappearance of Jack's gold watch and chain. But, though all the hired help and the cadets and teachers were watched and questioned, nothing of importance came to light. Peleg Snuggers said he had once seen a strange man near the stables, and Captain Putnam wondered if that individual could have sneaked into the school and committed the robbery.

    "But if he did that, why didn't he take more?" he said, in speaking of the matter to George Strong.

    "I am sure I don't know, sir," answered the teacher. "For the matter of that, why wouldn't any thief take more, if he had the chance?"

    "I give it up, Strong. This thing makes me feel sick."

    "Well, we must keep our eyes open," answered George Strong; and then the conversation changed to the lessons for the next day.

    On Tuesday morning, Pepper chanced to go to a bureau-drawer in which he kept his collars, cuffs, neckties and jewelry. He commenced to look for something and ended by turning out everything in the compartment.

    "What's wrong, Pepper?" asked Jack. "Lost some diamonds?"

    "It's my ruby scarfpin, Jack. Did you see it?"

    "No, not for some time. Did you have it in that drawer?"

    "I did."

    "When did you wear it last?"

    "The night we took dinner with the Fords."

    "Are you sure you put it back when you came home?"

    "Positive. I keep it in this case," and Pepper held up an empty jewelry case.

    "Gracious! This is becoming interesting!" murmured the young major. "First my watch and chain and now your scarfpin!" He looked pointedly at his chum. "Pepper, do you think----" He stopped short.

    "Think what, Jack?"

    "Oh, I'd hate to say it, Pepper," and the young major shrugged his shoulders.

    "Were you going to mention Ritter and Coulter?"

    "I was. But maybe it wouldn't be fair. It's a terrible thing to think anybody a thief."

    "That is true. But maybe they took them as a joke and hid them."

    "That is past a joke."

    Pepper continued to hunt around until it was time to go below. Then he marched straight to Captain Putnam's private office.

    The captain listened with a sinking heart to what the cadet had to say. It was terrible to think that a thief was at large in the school and could not be caught.

    "You are positive that you had the scarfpin when you came home, Ditmore?" he questioned.

    "Yes, sir."

    "And you put it in the case in the drawer?"

    "I did."

    "Was the drawer locked?"

    "Part of the time. Sometimes I forgot and left the key in the lock."

    "What sort of a scarfpin was it?"

    "It was a sort of a clover effect, of gold, with a ruby and three small diamonds."

    "And how much was it worth?"

    "I believe my mother paid thirty-five dollars for it. It was a Christmas gift, so I am not sure about the value."

    "Well, take another look for it and report to me again to-morrow," answered Captain Putnam, with a heavy sigh. Then, of a sudden, he added: "Do you suspect anybody of taking the scarfpin?"

    "I have no clue whatever to the theft," answered Pepper, slowly.

    "But have you any suspicions, Ditmore?" And the master's voice grew a trifle stern.

    "Only in a general way."

    "Please explain yourself."

    "I--er--I hardly know what to say, sir," stammered Pepper. "There may be nothing in it at all."

    "In what? Come, out with it."

    "Why, you see, sir, some of the cadets in this school are not good friends with me and Major Ruddy, and maybe they thought they would play a trick on us by taking his watch and chain and my scarfpin."

    "Humph! a mighty poor trick! Who are those cadets?"

    "I don't want to accuse them, Captain Putnam."

    "I understand. But who are the cadets?"

    "Reff Ritter and Gus Coulter."

    "Oh, yes, I remember now. You and Major Ruddy have had quite some trouble with them in the past."

    "Yes, sir. But I'd hate to think they did such a mean thing as this," added Pepper, hastily.

    "Well, take a look around and report again to-morrow," returned Captain Putnam; and then closed his desk slowly and thoughtfully.

    Pepper did take a look around, but it was of no use. Not a trace of the missing scarfpin could be found.

    "This certainly beats the nation!" remarked Dale, when the cadets were talking the affair over. "First Andy loses his jewelry, then Jack, and now Pepper. Wonder if I hadn't better put my cuff-links in the captain's safe?" And he cut a wry face. "They cost me a dollar and a quarter."

    "I'll wager Captain Putnam would give a good deal to catch the thief," remarked Stuffer. "Say, Pep, I hope you don't suspect anybody in this dormitory?" he added anxiously.

    "No, Stuffer," was the quick answer. Then Pepper broke into a grin. "Of course, if it was a doughnut, or a pie, I'd suspect you right off!"

    "Huh! It's no crime to take something to eat!" grunted Stuffer.

    "I'd hate to think any cadet was guilty," came from Emerald. "'Twould blacken the character of the whole school, so it would!"

    "Well, Jack and Pepper have some bitter enemies," said Dale, significantly. And all present knew to whom he referred.

    "Well, you can't always tell," said Dale, and shrugged his broad shoulders.

    At that moment Fred Century came hurrying into the dormitory.

    "Have you heard the latest news?" he cried.

    "No, what is it?" questioned Andy.

    "Maybe we are going to have an extra holiday," suggested Pepper.

    "Better yet, maybe old Crabtree has resigned," added Jack.

    "Perhaps Fred is going to give us a spread," came from Stuffer. "I'd like that first-rate."

    "No, the news is more important than all that," came from Fred.

    "Well, what is it, Fred?"

    "Don't keep us on pins and needles any longer!"

    "Well, the news is, that there have been more robberies committed here," answered Fred.

    "More robberies!" came from half a dozen throats.

    "Yes. The teachers were going to keep the thing quiet, but it leaked out through Mumps and Nick Paxton.

    "What has been taken now?" asked Jack, curiously.

    "A watch, a scarfpin, and a five-dollar gold piece."

    "And who was robbed?" burst out Andy.

    "The watch was taken from Paxton, the scarfpin from Ritter, and Coulter lost the five-dollar gold piece."

    "Is it possible!" murmured the young major, and then he looked meaningly at his chums. Here was news indeed!

    "When did you learn of this, Fred?" asked Dale.

    "Just a few minutes ago. Mumps told me, and Paxton told Frank Barringer. Ritter, Coulter and Paxton went to the office to report. Mumps said Ritter was as mad as hops. Ritter's watch was only a silver affair, but he says it came down to him from his grandfather and was valuable as an heirloom."

    "Well, this is certainly getting interesting," was Pepper's comment. "If that thief isn't caught he'll end up by cleaning out the whole school."

    "After this, I am going to hide my valuables," said Dale.

    "Ditto here," cried Stuffer. "I haven't got much, but what I own I want to keep."

    A little later the cadets filed out of the dormitory, leaving Jack, Pepper and Andy together.

    "Well, I am mighty glad I didn't accuse Ritter and Coulter," said the young major. "This puts something of a different light on the subject."

    "But who is guilty, do you think?" asked Andy.

    "I don't know what to think," answered the young major.

    "This will drive Captain Putnam wild," came from Pepper. And he was right; the master of the Hall was worried as he had never been worried before. He made a rigid investigation, but it brought nothing new to light. According to the stories told by Ritter, Coulter and Paxton the articles stolen had been taken from their bureau-drawers, and that was all those cadets could tell about the mysterious affair.

    "We must set a strict watch, Captain Putnam," said George Strong.

    "And we must catch that thief," added Josiah. Crabtree, sourly. "I--I shall be almost afraid to go to sleep after this!" he added nervously.

    "If these thefts keep on I don't know what I am going to do," said Captain Putnam, and his voice had a sound of despair in it.
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