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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 18
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    THE TUG-OF-WAR

    For several days nothing was talked of at Putnam Hall but the mysterious disappearance of the students' watches and jewelry. The cadets could not get the matter off their minds, and as a consequence recitations became very poor.

    "I shall offer a substantial reward," said Captain Putnam, and one afternoon a notice was posted in the school proper and in the gymnasium, offering one hundred dollars for information leading to the capture of the thief.

    "Say, I shouldn't mind earning that reward!" murmured Dale.

    "A fellow could have no end of a good time on a hundred dollars!" murmured Stuffer. "Think what a spread he could give!" And his eyes sparkled in anticipation.

    "It would be a bad thing for Stuffer to get the reward," came from Andy.

    "Why, I'd like to know?" demanded that cadet.

    "Because you'd eat yourself into a state of acute indigestion."

    "Rats! I don't eat any more than you do," grumbled Stuffer.

    "Well, I don't see any chance of your getting the reward," was Jack's comment. "That thief had hidden his tracks well."

    With the deep snow on the ground, drills had to be held in the gymnasium, and several contests were also arranged. The cadets got up a tug-of-war between one team headed by Pepper and another headed by Dale, and the excitement over this contest waged so high, that the thefts were, for the time being, forgotten.

    The tug-of-war was held late one afternoon in the gymnasium. A line was drawn on the floor and the long rope laid across this. On either side wooden cleats were nailed down, so that the contestants might brace their feet.

    The two teams consisted of eight cadets each. With Pepper were Andy, Jack, and Fred Century, while on Dale's side were Bart Field, Bart Conners and some other cadets already introduced.

    "Now, then, Pepper!" cried one of his friends. "See what you can do!"

    "Don't give him a chance, Dale! Yank him right over the line!" cried one of Dale's friends.

    "I'll bet Pepper Ditmore loses," said Nick Paxton, who was present. Ritter and Coulter had said they did not consider a tug-of-war between such teams worth witnessing.

    Frank Barringer was timekeeper and referee, and at the appointed hour he made both teams line up and catch hold of the rope.

    "All ready?" he asked.

    There was a moment of silence.

    "Drop!" was the cry, and on the instant both teams tightened their holds on the rope and dropped down on the wooden cleats.

    "Hold them, Pepper!"

    "Don't let 'em haul you up, Dale!"

    "Glue yourself down, Jack!"

    "Stone foundation, Fred! Stone foundation!"

    So the cries ran on, as the two tug-of-war teams held on to the long rope like grim death, each team determined not to give in an inch.

    For fully five minutes the rope remained as when the teams had first dropped. Then, of a sudden, Dale gave a hiss and up came his men, to haul in on the rope several inches and then drop as before.

    "Hurrah! that's the way to do it!"

    "Every inch counts, boys!"

    "Watch your chance for another!"

    "Get it back, Pepper! Get it back!"

    There followed another tense strain. Then Dale's team came up once more and brought rope in another six inches.

    "That's the way to do it! Now then, a good, stiff pull and you'll have 'em over!"

    "Wake up, Pepper! It's time you and your men got on the job!" cried Henry Lee.

    "I knew Dale's team would win," said Paxton.

    Hardly had Paxton spoken when Dale's team came up for another haul. But this time Pepper and his men were on the alert, and in a twinkling they commenced to haul in--six inches, a foot, a foot and a half and then two feet--and then they dropped, the strain being as much as they could stand.

    "Hurrah! Look at that!"

    "They got back all they lost and more!"

    "Hold 'em, Dale! Stone foundation!"

    A great many cries arose. Dale and his supporters braced back as well as they could. Then Dale gave the word to come up for another haul.

    Back and forth went the rope, the center knot first on one side of the line and then on the other. For several minutes it looked as if Dale's team might win. But then the tide turned again, and with a strength that was surprising, Pepper's team gave "a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together," and brought the center knot over the winning line.

    "Hurrah! Pepper Ditmore's team wins!"

    "Say, that was a great tug, wasn't it?"

    "My foot slipped!" said one of Dale's supporters.

    "So did mine," same from a cadet on the other side.

    "It was a fair contest," said Frank Barringer. "Pepper Ditmore's team wins. My private opinion is, both sides did well," he added.

    "They certainly did," was Mr. Strong's comment. He had watched the contest with interest.

    After the tug-of-war came a contest on the flying rings. Here Andy was in his element, and the acrobatic youth easily outdistanced all of his competitors.

    "Very good, indeed, Snow," said the gymnastic instructor. "Really, you go at it as if you were a professional."

    "Say, Andy, some day you can join the circus," suggested the young major.

    "Maybe his folks came from a circus," sneered Nick Paxton. "It isn't fair to bring in a professional."

    "Sour grapes, Paxton!" cried Stuffer. "You know that Andy Snow's father is a business man in the city. Andy just takes to gymnastic exercises, that's all."

    "Humph! I don't think such an exhibition much!"

    "Just the same, Paxton, you'd give a good deal to do as well," retorted the youth who loved to eat, and turned his back on the other cadet.

    Thanksgiving came and went in another storm. The snow was so deep that getting away from the Hall was out of the question, so those who had planned to go home for the holiday were somewhat disappointed. But Captain Putnam provided good cheer in abundance, with plenty of turkey and cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and nuts. For the evening the boys got up an entertainment in the assembly room, with monologues and dialogues, and also some singing by the school Glee Club, and some very good violin and mandolin playing. Pepper, Jack and Andy took part in the entertainment, and everybody but Josiah Crabtree enjoyed the exhibition. Crabtree did not believe in such "tomfoolery," as he expressed it, and told Captain Putnam the cadets should have given a Shakespearian recital, or something like that, instead.

    "Perhaps so, Mr. Crabtree," answered the master of the Hall. "But as the boys are virtually snowed in, I thought I'd let them have a little fun."

    After Thanksgiving the cadets settled down to the grind once more, counting the days to Christmas, when they could go home for two weeks.

    "I've got to go to Cedarville," said Jack, one afternoon, after the snowstorm had cleared away. "Who will go along? I am going to walk it, just for the exercise."

    "I'll go!" cried Pepper.

    "So will I!" added Andy. "Where are you going?"

    "To the shoe shop and the postoffice."

    The three cadets were soon on the way, Fred Century and Bert Field pelting them with snowballs as they left. It was cold but clear, and all were in the best of spirits.

    "I see they've got a new man of all work around the school," observed Pepper, as the three trudged on. "I hope Captain Putnam doesn't think of discharging Peleg Snuggers."

    "That new man is a sly kind of a fellow," came from Andy. "I was walking through the hallway last evening and he came up behind me as silently as a cat after a mouse."

    "I've got my own idea about that man of all work," said the young major, with a faint smile.

    "What do you mean, Jack?"

    "If I tell you, will you keep it to yourself, both of you?"

    "Sure!" was the prompt answer.

    "Well, I don't think John Smith is a man of all work at all."

    "He isn't?" cried Andy. "Then what is he?"

    "I think he is a private detective."

    "Oh, Jack! can that be possible!" ejaculated Pepper. "But it must be so, for I watched the fellow last evening, and he didn't do much work, and he didn't seem to like it that I had an eye on him."

    "Of course, if he is a detective, Captain Putnam has engaged him to clear up this mystery of the robberies," said Andy. "Well, I don't blame the captain, for this is surely going to give the school a bad name."

    "Don't breathe a word of this to any one," went on Jack. "Of course, if the thief knew a detective was so near he'd be more on guard than ever."

    "I only hope he gets the rascal, whoever he is."

    "Wonder if it can be one of the cadets?" mused Andy.

    "I don't know. It is either some cadet or else one of the hired help. But it is an awful state of affairs," answered Jack.

    "By the way, Jack, how about the new election of officers?" said Pepper, a little later. "Going to try for the majorship again?"

    "No. Why should I? I've been major long enough. I believe in giving the other fellows a show."

    "Who, for instance?"

    "Well, I'd like to see Bart Conners made major. He's one of the best soldiers we have, and he keeps Company B up to the scratch."

    "Bart is all right. But what about the other fellows?"

    "Well, I am not so anxious about the captaincies. Let the best fellows win."

    "I think Reff Ritter would like to be a captain or major."

    "He never will be--he can't get the support. Why, hardly any of the cadets go with Reff any more. Even Paxton seems to have dropped him. About the only close friend he has is Gus Coulter."

    "Maybe the boys have dropped him because his father is no longer rich."

    "No, I don't think that, for quite a number of the cadets are far from rich and yet they are considered good fellows. It's Ritter's ways. He is too domineering. The fellows won't stand for his bullying manner."

    "When does the election take place?"

    "The tenth day of December--a week from next Wednesday."

    "And you are sure you don't want to run again, Jack?"

    "Yes, quite sure, Pepper. You can run if you want to." And the young major smiled broadly.

    "Not for me!" cried The Imp. "I'd rather have my fun. And, by the way, I've got an idea for some fun with old Crabtree," he added suddenly.

    "What is it?" questioned Andy, eagerly.

    Pepper closed one eye suggestively.

    "Just you wait and see," he answered. "Crabtree is going to wake up to a big surprise some morning--and when he does, well, maybe he'll stop chewing his victuals for awhile!"
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