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    Chapter 18

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    Chapter 19
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    A CURIOUS MEETING

    As the cadets were good walkers it did not take them long to cover the distance to Cedarville. They stopped at a shoe store, and at a candy store for some chocolates, and then started for the postoffice.

    "I guess Jack is looking for a letter from his best girl," remarked Pepper, with a grin.

    "Maybe you're looking for a letter yourself," returned the young major.

    "No such luck," and The Imp heaved a deep sigh. "None of the girls ever write to me."

    "Rats!" came from Andy. "I saw you get a letter from Flossie Ford only a few days ago."

    "I am looking for a check from dad," said Jack. "I want it to buy Christmas presents with."

    "So early?"

    "Better early than too late."

    "That's true."

    The three cadets entered the local postoffice. As they did so they came face to face with a big cadet, who was carrying a dress-suit case.

    "Why, see, it's Dan Baxter!" cried Andy.

    "Hello, Baxter, coming back to Putnam Hall?" queried the young major.

    "I am," was the short answer of the bully.

    "Been away quite awhile," put in Pepper.

    "Yes," answered Baxter, shortly, and without another word he hurried out of the postoffice.

    "Not very sociable," remarked Jack, dryly.

    "He acts as if he had something on his mind," said Pepper.

    "I wonder if he will be as bullying as he used to be," mused Andy.

    "If he is, he'll get punched," answered Pepper. He had not forgotten his former encounters with Dan Baxter.

    "It's queer that Baxter and Ritter don't hit it off better," said Pepper, while Jack was asking about letters. "They seem to be two of a kind."

    "They are in some ways," answered Andy. "But, somehow, I think Ritter is the worse of the two."

    In a moment the young major came up. He was smiling broadly.

    "Here's the letter from dad, and what do you think? He sent me a check for ten dollars more than I asked for! Isn't that fine?"

    "Best ever," answered Pepper.

    "I'd like the same kind of a check," returned Andy.

    "While you are wishing, make it double the amount--it doesn't cost any more," chattered The Imp.

    From the postoffice the cadets strolled down the main street of the village, and then turned a corner near which were some new buildings.

    "There is another cadet!" cried Jack, pointing ahead. "Hello, where is he going?"

    He and his chums looked and saw the boy in the uniform of a Putnam Hall student enter an unfinished building. He was accompanied by a heavy-set man wearing a long overcoat and a soft hat. The two were in earnest conversation.

    "That looked like Reff Ritter to me," cried Pepper.

    "It was Ritter," answered Andy.

    "Who was the man?" asked the young major.

    "That is what I want to know!" cried Andy. "Say, I'm going to follow them!"

    The acrobatic youth was plainly excited, and his chums could not help but notice it.

    "What are you going to follow them for, Andy?" asked Jack.

    "I want to see that man."

    "Do you know him?"

    "I don't know--yet. I want to find out."

    "If we follow them Ritter will think it mighty queer," was Pepper's comment.

    "I don't care--I want to get a good look at that man," answered Andy, doggedly.

    The acrobatic youth led the way and his chums felt compelled to follow. Ritter and the stranger had passed between two buildings. They found a side doorway of one structure wide open, and stepped into a lathed but unplastered hallway. Andy bounded up on an unfinished front piazza and stepped through an open casement into a lathed but unplastered parlor.

    "Shall we follow?" asked Pepper of Jack.

    "Might as well," returned the young major. "Andy may get into trouble with Ritter, and if so we want to be on hand to help him."

    Ritter and the man were talking in a low tone, so that what was said could not be overheard. They had stepped into the house to get out of the keen wind that had sprung up. Andy tiptoed his way across the unfinished parlor and applied his eye to a crack where a lath was missing. He watched until the man shoved back his soft hat and turned his face around. Then he uttered a low cry.

    "See anything, Andy?" whispered Pepper.

    "That man--he's the same fellow--I feel sure of it!" gasped the acrobatic youth.

    "What are you talking about?"

    "That man! Don't you remember how the horse ran away with me and I got caught in the tree and was knocked unconscious? Don't you remember my telling how I had seen a man ahead of me just before the accident? Well, that is the man!"

    "Are you sure?"

    "I think so. Of course, I didn't get a very good look at him--I had my hands full with the horse. But I think that is the man."

    "Then maybe he robbed you, Andy!"

    "Maybe he did."

    "Don't say that unless you are sure of it," warned Jack. "It's a serious accusation and may get you into trouble."

    "Oh, I know enough to go slow," answered the acrobatic youth.

    Ritter and the stranger had turned to the rear of the house and the watchers saw something passed between them. Then, a minute later, Ritter turned and hurried off by a back way, while the stranger turned to leave by the way he had come.

    Andy was undecided what to do, and while he still hesitated the man came through to the front of the house.

    "Hello!" he cried, as he caught sight of the three cadets. "What are you doing here?"

    "Perhaps we might ask the same question," returned Jack, as he saw that Andy did not know what to say.

    "Have you been following me?" demanded the man, suspiciously.

    "Why should we follow you?" asked Pepper.

    "No reason at all, so far as I know. I only asked the question," and now the man tried to speak as carelessly as possible.

    "I saw you come in here a few minutes ago and I followed, because I want to speak to you," said Andy, shoving to the front and eyeing the fellow closely.

    "What do you wish to speak about?"

    "Haven't I met you before?"

    At these words the man started, but quickly recovered.

    "I don't think so," he answered slowly, looking Andy straight in the eyes. "You see, I am a stranger in Cedarville."

    "Didn't I meet you in September, on the road back of Putnam Hall school?" asked the acrobatic youth, sharply.

    "In September?" The man shook his head slowly. "No, I wasn't here in September--I was in Boston."

    "You are sure about that?" demanded Andy.

    "Certainly I am sure," growled the man. "Do you doubt my word?"

    "If it wasn't you it was a man who looks very much like you," said Andy, pointedly. "Will you tell me your name?"

    "It's none of your business, boy! I never met you, and that settles it. I'm in a hurry now, I've got to get to Ithaca, so I'll thank you to let me pass." And so speaking the stranger brushed forward. Andy put out his hand, as if to detain him, but then changed his mind. In a moment more the man was hurrying down the street. He turned the nearest corner without looking back.

    "I believe he is the same fellow, and I believe he robbed me!" cried Andy.

    "Possibly he is, but you are not sure of it," answered the young major. "And it would be foolhardy to have him arrested when you have no evidence against him."

    "He acted as if he was scared," came from Pepper. "That growl of his was all put on."

    "I wish I had forced him to give me his name and address."

    "That's true."

    "You can get that from Reff Ritter."

    "Providing Ritter will give it," added Jack. "He may be as backward about it as the man was himself."

    "Why should he be, if the man is honest?"

    "Perhaps he won't want it known that he met the man," said Pepper. "He came in here rather sneakingly."

    "Where did Ritter go?"

    "To the Hall, most likely. It's time we got back, too."

    The three cadets left the vicinity of the unfinished buildings and were soon on the way to the school. As they trudged along they talked over what had happened, and also discussed the arrival of Dan Baxter.

    "Baxter will try to stir things up," said Jack. And he was right, the bully did stir up the whole school, but it was not until the next term, after the young major had left.

    About half the distance to Putnam Hall had been covered when the three cadets discovered a crowd ahead of them.

    "Who are those fellows?" asked Pepper.

    "Pornell Academy lads," announced Andy. "And see, they have spotted us!"

    He was right, the other crowd, nine strong, were students from Pornell. They were led by Roy Bock and a fellow named Grimes. They had been good-naturedly snowballing each other, but now they stopped.

    "Three Putnam Hall cadets!" cried Bock. "Come on, fellows, here's a chance for sport."

    "Let's snowball 'em good and proper!" exclaimed Grimes.

    "Everybody on the jump!" yelled another Pornell youth.

    "Let's surround 'em," was the suggestion offered.

    "We'll hammer the daylights out of 'em," came from one lad, who could only be brave when backed up by a crowd.

    "Yes, surround 'em, don't let 'em get away!" cried Bock. "Come on!" And he led the way on the run, making snowballs as he moved.
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