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    Chapter 25

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    Chapter 26
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    THE MAN AT POINT VIEW LODGE

    At first it was an even race. Reff Ritter knew how to handle an iceboat to perfection and brought his craft up in the breeze in a manner that won considerable admiration.

    "Take care that he doesn't beat you, Fred," said Pepper. "If he does, he will never get done crowing over you."

    "This race isn't over yet," answered the owner of the Skimmer. "Wait till we round the bend yonder."

    When the bend mentioned was gained the Rosebud was a good three lengths in the lead.

    "Good-by!" shouted Coulter. "Here is where we leave you behind!"

    "Your iceboat isn't in it with this," added Mumps.

    "We'll tell them you are coming by-and-by!" came from Ritter.

    "Don't answer them," whispered Jack. "Fred, can we do anything to help the boat along?"

    "Just shift a little more to the left--that's it," was the reply. "Now we'll soon get the breeze and then we'll do better."

    Fred's words proved true. As the Skimmer rounded the bend, a good, stiff blast struck her sails and away she started after the Rosebud.

    "Now we are going some!" cried Andy, his face brightening.

    "Make her hum!" cried Pepper.

    Slowly but surely the Skimmer crept up on the Rosebud, until the bow of the second craft overlapped the stern of the first.

    "Not walking away so fast now, are you?" questioned Pepper, cheerily.

    "Just wait, we'll beat you, see if we don't!" growled Coulter.

    "Swing the mainsail over!" cried Ritter.

    His order was obeyed, and the Rosebud commenced to pick up again. But the Skimmer kept on steadily, and at last, when the turning-point was reached, was several lengths ahead.

    "Now for the homestretch!" cried Jack.

    "I hope we win by about a mile!" was Andy's wish.

    The turning-point was a well-known rock, and the Skimmer came around this in fine style. But, just as this was accomplished, Ritter allowed the Rosebud to swing around out of the proper course.

    "Look out, you'll run us down!" yelled Fred, in alarm.

    "Clear the track!" yelled Ritter, angrily. "Clear the track!"

    "The clown!" muttered Jack. "Does he want to run into us?"

    Fred worked quickly, assisted by all the others and the Skimmer was thrown out of her course. On rushed both of the iceboats and the Rosebud slid by the other with less than six inches to spare.

    "Ritter, that wasn't fair!" shouted Fred. "I won't race with a fellow who won't sail fair!"

    "You go to grass! I don't care about the race anyway!" howled the bully.

    "You are beaten and you know it," cried Pepper.

    "In a regular race such actions would disqualify you," was Jack's comment.

    "Oh, don't preach! I know what I am doing!" grumbled Ritter, and then he steered off in another direction and out of hearing.

    "What a mean bully he is getting to be!" said Fred. "It seems to me he is much worse than he was when I first came to the Hall."

    "He is slowly but surely losing his grip here and that is souring him," answered Jack. "Before he knows it he won't have a friend in the world. As it is, about the only fellow who is really friendly with him is Coulter. Paxton doesn't have much to do with him, and Mumps merely toadies to him the same as he toadies to Dan Baxter and some of the rest."

    "Where shall we go now?" asked Fred.

    "Anywhere you please," came from the others.

    "Shall we take a run up to Point View?" and Fred looked quizzically at first one and then another of his friends.

    "Might do that," answered Jack. "But the Lodge is shut up, you know; the Fords are at their city home for the winter."

    "Well, we can run up that way anyway," said Pepper. "One place is as good as another."

    The course of the iceboat was slightly changed, and in less than a quarter of an hour they swept up to the dock attached to Point View Lodge. The sails were lowered and they went ashore to stretch their legs, for sitting on the iceboat rather cramped them.

    "Might as well take a look around the Lodge while we are here," suggested Jack.

    "Is there a caretaker here?" asked Andy.

    "I don't think so, but there may be."

    The four youths walked through the snow in the direction of the mansion, which was set among some heavy trees.

    "Hello, what is that, an animal track?" asked Jack, pointing to a trail among the trees.

    "Looks more like human footprints to me," replied Pepper.

    "Then somebody must be here."

    "Funny the trail leads from the side fence," came from Andy. "If it was some person who belonged here why wouldn't he come from the road or the dock?"

    "Maybe it was easier to come that way than by the road, right after the snow fell," suggested Pepper.

    They walked forward to the mansion and saw that the trail led to the back door and then around to a side window.

    "Hello! I don't like this!" exclaimed Jack. "What would a person be doing at the side window?"

    "Try the window?" suggested Fred. They had already tried the door, to find it locked.

    Jack stood on a flat rock that was handy and took hold of the lower sash. Much to his surprise it went up with ease.

    "It's open!" he exclaimed. "Do you know what I think? I think somebody came here and got into the house by this window!"

    "A tramp, perhaps," said Fred.

    "Or a burglar!" vouchsafed Andy.

    "Do you think he is in the house now?" asked Pepper.

    "That is something for us to find out. If he is, we must catch him and turn him over to the authorities!"

    "Have we a right to enter the house?" questioned Andy.

    "I am sure Mr. Ford would want us to do so, Andy."

    "I guess you are right. But be careful, Jack, that fellow, whoever he is, may be a desperate character."

    "Perhaps he isn't here now," said Fred. "He may have looted the place and skipped."

    "I'll soon see," cried Jack. "Pepper, do you want to go in with me? You other fellows might stay on guard."

    "Sure, I'll go in," answered The Imp.

    In a moment more the two cadets stood in the sitting-room of the mansion.

    "Better not make too much noise," whispered Jack. "If he is here we may be able to take him unawares."

    As the sky was overcast that afternoon it was rather dark in the mansion, and the cadets could see but little as they made their way from one room to another. They were just entering the dining-room when Pepper's foot struck something and sent it spinning across the floor.

    "What's that?" asked his chum.

    "I don't know--sounded like a spoon or a fork," was the reply. Pepper walked forward, bent down, and felt around. "Yes, it's a silver fork!"

    "It made as much noise as if it was a dozen of 'em!" murmured his chum.

    "Hark!"

    Pepper put up his hand and both listened intently. They had heard a noise, as of footsteps overhead.

    "Somebody is up there!" whispered Jack.

    "It must be the fellow we are after!" returned Pepper. "What shall we do next, go after him?"

    "Yes, but we had better try to arm ourselves."

    "I've got the fork."

    "I'll take this," said Jack, picking up a bronze ornament from the mantelpiece.

    Hardly daring to breathe, the two cadets stole from the dining-room to the hall and prepared to mount the stairs. As they did this they heard more footsteps, this time in the rear of the upper floor of the mansion.

    "There he goes, Jack!"

    "Sounds as if he was going to try to get out the back way!"

    "Hi, there, stop!" called Pepper, at the top of his voice. "Stop, you rascal!"

    "Don't you try to stop me!" was the reply from the upper hallway. "If you do, it will be the worse for you!"

    "Who is he?" asked Pepper, quickly. "I've heard that voice before."

    "I think I know," answered his chum. "Come on, and we'll soon see if I am right."
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