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    Chapter 21

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    Chapter 22
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    A GRAVE ACCUSATION

    "Well, I suppose I ought not to complain," mused Pepper, as he sat down on one of the chairs. "A fellow can't have his fun without paying for it. But just wait till I catch Mumps! I'll give him a piece of my mind, and maybe more!"

    He got up presently and looked out of the window. He could see but little excepting a stretch of snow. The cell-like room was almost without heat, and he had to clap his hands together, and stamp his feet, to keep warm.

    "I think I'd give a dollar for some breakfast," he muttered. "Wonder if I could attract the attention of one of the servants and bribe him to get me something?"

    As he walked around the little room his eyes caught some writing on the wall. There were several bits of doggerel, one running as follows:

    "I am a prisoner of old Josiah,

    I'd feel much better if I had a fire!"

    "I can sympathize with that fellow," murmured Pepper, as he slapped his hands across his chest, trying to get up more circulation. Then he walked around the room, reading another doggerel or two. Finally he drew out a lead pencil.

    "Guess I'll play Shakespeare myself," he murmured, and after some thought, scribbled down the following:

    "And I am jugged Alone in solitude, and by myself Alone. I sit and think, and think, And think again. Old Crabtree, Base villain that he is, hath put me here! And why? Ah, thereby hangs a tale, Horatio! His teeth, the teeth that chew the best of steak Set on our table--those I found and hid; And Mumps, the sneak, hath told on me! Alas! When will my martyrdom end?"

    Having finished his attempt at blank verse, Pepper continued to walk around the room. He was hungry and cold, and inside of an hour grew somewhat desperate.

    "Crabtree has no right to starve me and allow me to catch cold," he told himself. "I don't believe Captain Putnam will stand for it. I'm going to attract some attention."

    He took up one of the chairs and with it commenced to pound on the door. He had been pounding for several minutes when he heard some one on the outside.

    "Pepper!" came in a low voice.

    "Oh, Jack, is that you?"

    "Yes. Stop that noise, or I'll get caught."

    "I want to get out. I haven't had any breakfast, and it is as cold as Greenland in here."

    "If I had a key I'd let you out, but it isn't in the lock," went on the young major.

    "Try some of the other keys, Jack."

    "I will," was the reply, and the young major hurried off, to return with several keys from other doors. But not one of them fitted the lock before him.

    "Too bad!" he murmured.

    "Major Ruddy!" came in the harsh voice of Josiah Crabtree behind him. "What are you doing here?"

    "I came to talk to Ditmore," answered Jack, boldly.

    "Who gave you permission?"

    "Nobody, I came as major of the battalion. When a cadet is placed in the guardhouse the major has a right to go and see him."

    "Hum!" growled Josiah Crabtree. He took but little interest in the military side of the school and consequently did not know all the rules. "Well, I can do the talking here. You are excused."

    "Mr. Crabtree, Ditmore tells me that he is very cold, and he has had no breakfast."

    "Ha! So he is complaining, eh? Well, I'll attend to him. You may go."

    "Are you going to give him his breakfast?"

    "Yes--when he deserves it--not before."

    "How about keeping him in such a cold room?"

    "That is my affair."

    "If he gets sick will you take the blame?"

    "Major Ruddy, I am not here to be questioned by you!" snapped the dictatorial teacher.

    "Pepper belongs to my command and he is my personal friend. I don't think you have any right to starve him and keep him in a cold room in such weather as this. I shall complain to Captain Putnam as soon as he gets back, and, in the meantime, complain to Mr. Strong."

    "I am in charge while Captain Putnam is away."

    "Then, if Pepper takes cold from this, you'll be to blame, and you'll foot the doctor's bill," answered Jack, and walked away.

    He spoke so sharply that Josiah Crabtree became worried, and, a little later, Pepper was served with a cup of black coffee and several slices of bread without butter. It was a meager meal, but it was better than nothing, and The Imp disposed of all there was of it. Then a servant appeared with a couple of blankets used by the cadets when in camp.

    "You can wrap yourself in these if you are cold, so Mr. Crabtree says," said the servant. And he went out again, locking the door as before.

    "Humph! Must take me for an Indian!" muttered Pepper. Nevertheless, he wrapped the blankets around him and then felt considerably warmer.

    The morning passed slowly, and at noon Pepper was given a bowl of soup and several additional slices of unbuttered bread. The soup was hot and good, and he wished there was more of it.

    "Mr. Crabtree says that is all you can have," said the waiter who served him.

    "Crabbed Crabtree!" muttered Pepper, and said no more.

    In the middle of the afternoon, directly after school was over, Josiah Crabtree appeared. This time he was accompanied by George Strong.

    "Ditmore, we have come to have a talk with you!" cried Crabtree. "And let me say at the start that I want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as they say in court."

    "Are you going to try me for my life?" demanded The Imp.

    "I am going to try you on a very serious charge," snapped Josiah Crabtree.

    "Do not be too hasty, Mr. Crabtree," put in George Strong, mildly.

    "Mr. Crabtree, if you want to know about the teeth, let me confess that I took them and hung them up where they were found," said Pepper.

    "Ha! so you are willing to confess, eh?"

    "I am. I did it for fun--but I suppose you don't see the fun," added Pepper, dryly, so dryly in fact that George Strong had to turn away to hide a sudden smile.

    "It was a low, contemptible trick!" returned Josiah Crabtree. "But I must say I do not think it quite as bad as your other doings."

    "My other doings?" asked The Imp, somewhat mystified.

    "Mr. Crabtree, do not be hasty, I beg of you," put in the under teacher.

    "Ditmore, how did you get the teeth?" demanded Josiah Crabtree.

    "It was very easy, sir, if you must know. I went into the vacant bedroom next to your room, climbed from one window to the other, and the trick was done."

    "Were you alone?"

    "Yes, sir, absolutely alone."

    "Have you been alone when visiting the other rooms in this building?" demanded Josiah Crabtree, sharply.

    "Mr. Crabtree----" began George Strong, but the head teacher motioned for the assistant to be silent.

    "I--I don't understand," stammered Pepper.

    "You have shown your expertness in visiting rooms during the night, and without awakening anybody," went on Josiah Crabtree, coldly. "Some time ago other rooms were visited in this building, and various things were taken--some things of great value--things which have not been returned. Now, Ditmore----"

    "Mr. Crabtree, stop!" cried Pepper, and his eyes flashed with sudden fire. "I know what is in your mind now! But don't you dare to accuse me! Don't you dare!"

    "I want you to tell me the truth."

    "I have told you all I know. I took the teeth as a joke, and I put them where they could easily be found."

    "And about the other things----" The head teacher paused suggestively.

    "I know no more about the other things that have disappeared than you do. Do you think I'd rob myself and my best friends?"

    "In a case of this kind a person might rob himself just to throw the public off the scent."

    "Do you dare to accuse me of these mysterious thefts?" cried Pepper, hotly.

    "I think----"

    "Mr. Crabtree, I beg of you to be careful," cried George Strong. "Why not drop this whole matter until Captain Putnam returns? Because Ditmore played a joke on you does not say that he is a--a criminal."

    "Thank you for that, Mr. Strong," said the cadet, warmly. "I know I had no right to play that joke--I have no right to play any of my jokes--but I only did it for fun. I think it is--is horrible for Mr. Crabtree to even think that I--that--that----" Pepper could not go on for his emotion choked him.

    "Oh? you can't deceive me!" sneered Josiah Crabtree. "I am sure that----"

    "Mr. Crabtree, I insist that you drop this matter until Captain Putnam returns," interrupted George Strong.

    "You insist?" roared the irate instructor.

    "I do, sir."

    "Who is in authority here, you or I?"

    "You are the head teacher, but I feel bound to protect Captain Putnam's interests during his absence. You have no right to accuse any cadet of a crime unless you have proof against him. Have you any proof against Ditmore?"

    "You heard how he acknowledged taking the teeth."

    "And he said it was a joke--and I believe it was that and nothing more. There is a wide difference between an innocent joke and a premeditated crime. Take my advice and say no more until you have consulted with Captain Putnam."

    "Ha! you are against me--just as the cadets are against me!" stormed Josiah Crabtree. "I know I am right. But we can wait, since you insist." He turned towards Pepper. "I'll corner you yet, you young rascal!" he cried bitterly.

    And the two teachers passed out of the cell-like room, the door was again locked, and Pepper was left a prisoner as before.
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