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    Chapter 27

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    Chapter 28
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    LOOKING FOR CLUES

    Having sent their message to the Fords, the two cadets turned in the direction where the farmer had said the constable lived.

    "I don't think old Plodders will be able to do a thing," said Jack. "He'll look wise and ask a lot of questions, and that's all."

    A block had been covered when they saw the farmer and the constable approaching. On his breast Jed Plodders had pinned a bright, silver star, and he carried a policeman's club in his hand.

    "There they are!" cried Isaac Fasick.

    "Is them the cadets?" queried the guardian of the peace.

    "That's two of 'em. The other two said they'd stay an' watch the house."

    "Stop!" cried the constable, and pointed his club at the cadets.

    "Are you Constable Plodders?" questioned Jack.

    "That's who I be," was the stern reply. "Now then, out with it, young fellers. You broke into Mr. Ford's house, didn't you? Now, don't try to fool me, fer it won't wash! You broke into the house, and Mr. Fasick ketched you at it, didn't he?" And the constable cast what was meant for an eagle eye on Jack and then on Fred. He had made up his mind that he would surprise both of the boys into a confession.

    The two cadets stared in wonder at the constable, and then a smile came into Jack's face. The situation was so ludicrous he felt like laughing. Jed Plodders saw the smile and frowned deeply.

    "This ain't no laughing matter, you scamp!" he bellowed. "You broke into the Ford house an' tried to steal the silverware! Now don't try to deny it, or it will be the wuss fer you! You done it now, didn't you?" And he pointed his club at first one cadet and then the other.

    "No, we didn't do it!" burst out Fred. "You are a great big chump to think we did!"

    "Hi! hi! don't you talk to me like that!" roared the guardian of the peace.

    "Then don't you accuse us of any crime," came quickly from Jack.

    "Didn't Mr. Fasick find you at the house?" demanded the constable.

    "He did, but we didn't go there to steal; we went there to see if everything was all right. He went there for the same purpose."

    "Say, don't you go for to mix me up in this robbery," interrupted Isaac Fasick, hastily. "I didn't have a thing to do with it."

    "No more had we," answered Fred. "We just sailed to the place on my iceboat. We can prove it."

    "We are friends of the Ford family; we can easily prove that, too," added Jack. "Mr. Ford and his wife both asked us, when we were in this vicinity, to take a look and see if everything was all right. We found a strange man in the mansion and we did our best to catch him, but he got away. What we want you to do is to get busy and try to catch that rascal. If you don't do it, we'll make a complaint against you for neglect of duty."

    While Jack had been major of the school battalion he had been in the habit of speaking in an authoritative voice, and now he used the same tone in addressing Jed Plodders. The constable stared at the cadet for a moment and then his jaw dropped and likewise the club in his hand.

    "Well--er--if you're friends o' the family mebbe that alters the--er--the case," he stammered. "Why didn't you say so fust?"

    "You didn't give us a chance," answered Fred.

    "What you want to do is to go to the house and then try to get on the track of that robber," said Jack. "We'll help you all we can."

    "I got to send word to Mr. Ford."

    "We have already done that, and he will probably come as quickly as he can, or send somebody."

    "Did you git a good look at the man?"

    "No, not a very good look."

    "Then you hain't got no idee who he might be?" went on the constable.

    "Well, I think----" commenced Jack, and then broke off short, and at the same time pinched Fred's arm. It would do little or no good to acquaint the constable with their suspicion that the rascal might be the man named Cameron Smith.

    "What do you think?" demanded Jed Plodders.

    "I think I saw the man in Cedarville once. But I am not certain. I rather imagine he was a stranger around here."

    "Thet's what he was," came from Isaac Fasick. "There hain't no thieves livin' in these parts. We are all honest folks."

    Several other men of Cedarville were told about the robbery, and a crowd of half a dozen got on the iceboat and sailed to Point View Lodge. When they arrived at the house they found that Pepper and Andy had brought in some wood and started a cheerful blaze in the big fireplace of the living-room.

    "It was so cold we couldn't stand it," said Pepper. "I don't think Mr. Ford will mind."

    The constable and the other newcomers inspected the damage done to the safe with interest, and walked through the rooms of the house. The cadets showed them just how the thief had made his escape, and Jed Plodders and two of the men went off to see if they could trail the evil-doer.

    "I think at least one of us ought to stay here until Mr. Ford comes," said Pepper.

    "Supposing you and I stay?" suggested Andy. "Fred and Jack can take the iceboat back to the Hall and explain matters to Captain Putnam."

    This was agreed to, and a little later the Skimmer was on the way to the school. It was now after eight o'clock and the cadets were hungry. Andy and Pepper were to have their meals sent to them from the Fasick farmhouse.

    Tying up at the boathouse landing, Jack and Fred hurried into the Hall. As they passed one of the classrooms they came face to face with Reff Ritter.

    "Got back late, didn't you?" said the bully to Fred.

    "Yes," was the short reply.

    The bully passed on without another word.

    Jack was in a quandary. What should he tell Captain Putnam? If he told of his suspicions concerning Cameron Smith he would drag Reff Ritter into the mix-up.

    "I guess I had better wait until something more turns up," he thought. "If I mention this Smith, and he is innocent, both he and Reff will be terribly angry at me."

    As briefly as possible the former major of the school battalion related what had occurred at Point View Lodge. Captain Putnam listened with keen interest.

    "It is a pity you didn't catch that robber," said he. "For all we know, he may be the fellow who has been stealing here."

    "Well, we couldn't get him," answered Jack. "Maybe Constable Plodders will be more successful."

    "I hardly think so, Ruddy. So you left Snow and Ditmore at the Lodge?"

    "Yes, sir. We thought Mr. Ford would like them to remain until he got there, or sent somebody."

    "I see." Captain Putnam mused for a moment. "I don't see that I can do anything. You had better go and get your supper. Tell the head waiter I sent you in."

    "Yes, sir," said Jack, and he and Fred hurried off to the mess-hall. The waiter was inclined to grumble a little at having to serve them at such a late hour, but, nevertheless, he got them plenty to eat, and they pitched in as only hungry boys can.

    On the following morning came word from Cedarville that Mr. Ford had arrived, and Jack and Fred were allowed to take the Skimmer and sail to Point View Lodge. There they met the gentleman, who was somewhat excited over what had occurred.

    "The loss of the silverware is a serious one," said he. "The ware came from my wife's grandfather and she prized it very highly. I meant to take it to the city with me, but forgot to ship it, and so we placed it in the safe here. A couple of gold napkin-rings are also gone, and likewise my old gold watch."

    "Mr. Ford, I wish to tell you something in private," said Jack, and then he took the gentleman aside and related his suspicions concerning Cameron Smith.

    "I think this is assuredly worth looking into, Jack," said Rossmore Ford, slowly. "I shall put a first-class city detective on this case, and I'll tell him about this Cameron Smith. He'll soon be able to find out who the chap is. If he is an honest man, well and good. But if not, we'll round him up and make him give an account of himself."

    "Please don't mention our names," said Jack, gravely, "And please don't mention Reff Ritter."

    "I'll remember that," answered the owner of the Lodge.
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