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    Chapter 30

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    Chapter 31
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    THE MYSTERY EXPLAINED--CONCLUSION

    "My watch and chain!" cried the former major of the school battalion.

    "Yes."

    "What did you do about it? Why didn't you report it to me, or to Captain Putnam?"

    "I was so stunned I didn't know what to do. I couldn't believe that Reff had taken them, and that he was guilty of the robberies that were going on. I locked the box up and put the key back in his pocket. That night I accused him of the theft, and we had a quarrel and almost came to blows. He said he didn't take the watch and chain, that he found them in the gymnasium near the lockers. He said he was only keeping them to get square with you, and that he would return them to you before the term closed."

    "Found them in the gym?" repeated Pepper.

    "I don't believe it," came firmly from the former major of the school battalion. "I believe he took them; and I believe he took the other things, too!"

    "And I believe that myself, now!" cried Gus Coulter. "Oh, my eyes are open! I used to think Reff was a pretty good fellow, even though something of a bully, but I am learning that he is bad through and through. Paxton saw him sneaking through the dormitories at night, and he got afraid of him and cut him."

    "And what of Cameron Smith?" asked Jack. "You said he was bad?"

    "He is. I didn't know it at first, but I heard about it during the holidays, when he and Reff went off on what they called a good time."

    "Can you give me Smith's real address?"

    "He claims to come from Boston, but I know Reff once sent him a letter addressed to Springfield, care of the Excelsior Hotel."

    Having once opened his mind, Gus Coulter talked freely of his doings with Reff Ritter. He said the bully had quite some money at times, but the amount was quickly spent.

    Just as Mr. Darwood drove around to the door with his sleigh Andy came back to the farmhouse.

    "I had some hot words with Ritter," he explained. "He was just as bullying as ever, and gave us no credit for hauling him out of the lake, and he said if Coulter was drowned it would be his own fault. Oh, he is the limit!"

    The ride to Putnam Hall was a short one, and on arriving at the school the cadets hurried to their dormitories to change their damp clothing for suits which were perfectly dry. In the meantime Jack asked Pepper to find Captain Putnam and tell the master of the school that he wished to see him on a matter of great importance.

    A little later the former major of the school battalion entered the captain's private office, followed by Pepper and Andy. They found Captain Putnam staring at a telegram that had just come in.

    "Well, what can I do for you?" he asked.

    "I've got something to tell you, sir," returned Jack, and as briefly as possible he narrated what had occurred on the lake and repeated what Coulter had told him. As he progressed Captain Putnam shook his head sadly.

    "It must be true," he said almost brokenly. "It all fits in--this telegram and what you say."

    "The telegram?" repeated Jack.

    "Yes, Ruddy. This telegram is from Mr. Ford. He states that Cameron Smith has been caught and has made a confession that he looted the safe at Point View Lodge. Smith was partly intoxicated at the time of his capture, and informed the detective that some jewelry he had in his possession had come from Reff Ritter. He stated that Ritter took the stuff from the cadets and the others while they slept, and it was Smith's part to pawn the things and divide the proceeds."

    "And Ritter was guilty of all the thefts at the Hall?" cried Pepper.

    "Yes, and he even took some of his own things, just for a blind, according to this man Smith. What Coulter has to say, and Paxton, seems to corroborate his story."

    "What a terrible thing to do!" murmured Jack.

    "Smith had a bunch of pawn tickets hidden away in a drawer, and they represent all the things taken from this school, and they also represent some other things, namely, those lost by you, Snow, at the time the horse ran away with you."

    "Then it was Cameron Smith after all whom I saw, and who robbed me when I was unconscious!" cried the acrobatic youth.

    "Yes. He was a bad man, and I have no doubt but that he was the one to lead Ritter astray."

    "What are you going to do with Ritter?"

    "I cannot do otherwise than have him arrested. But I hate to have such a scandal attached to the school," and Captain Putnam heaved a sigh that came from the bottom of his heart.

    In the meantime, Reff Ritter had come back to Putnam Hall in another sleigh, and had gone to his dormitory to change his clothes. Here he was confronted by Coulter and, a little later, by Nick Paxton, and a hot discussion arose, which ended in blows. Both Coulter and Paxton fell upon the bully together and punished him severely. The pair told Ritter what they thought of him, and each declared that he was going to expose the bully to Captain Putnam.

    "I'll tell all I know about Ruddy's watch and chain, and about you and that Cameron Smith, too!" declared Coulter.

    "Don't you do it!" shouted Ritter.

    "And I'll tell what I know about your sneaking in and out of the dormitories at night," added Paxton. And then he and Coulter went off together.

    They reached the office just as Jack, Andy and Pepper were about to leave. Each told his story, and both were closely questioned by the master of the school.

    "How long ago did you find this out about the watch and chain, Coulter?" demanded Captain Putnam.

    "Only a few days ago, sir."

    "You should have told me before. And you, Paxton, should have told me about Ritter's sneaking around."

    "Oh, I thought it was only fun at first," pleaded Paxton.

    "He is undoubtedly guilty, and there remains nothing to do but to have him arrested."

    It was not long after this when he and George Strong went on a hunt for Reff Ritter, to place him in the guardroom until an officer of the law could be summoned. Ritter could not be found, and it was not until some time later that Peleg Snuggers brought in the information that the cadet had been seen leaving the Hall, dress-suit case in hand, by a side door.

    "He has run away!" cried George Strong.

    "If so, perhaps it is just as well," murmured Captain Putnam. "To prosecute him in court would create a terrible scandal! I would rather pay for the stolen things out of my own pocket!"

    Reff Ritter had indeed run away. By some means unknown he managed to get to a town at the end of the lake and there boarded a midnight train bound West. He was traced as far as Chicago, but that was the last seen or heard of him until many years later, when it was learned that he had gone to Alaska with some gold miners. He got very little gold for a large amount of hard work, and drifted from place to place, picking up odd jobs that offered themselves.

    The announcement that Ritter was the fellow who had perpetrated the many thefts at Putnam Hall created strong excitement in the school. But the matter was hushed up as much as possible by Captain Putnam, and the master saw to it that every cadet got back the things that belonged to him, and also squared matters with the teachers.

    In due course of time Cameron Smith was tried for the robbery of Point View Lodge and was sent to prison for a term of years. He admitted robbing Andy after the runaway, and the acrobatic youth got back from the pawnbrokers the things taken on that occasion.

    After the excitement had passed, Jack, Pepper, Andy and their chums of the senior class buckled down to hard work for the rest of the term. As a consequence, Jack graduated at the head of the class, with Joe Nelson, second; Andy, third; Stuffer, fourth; Pepper, fifth; Henry Lee, sixth, and Fred Century, seventh.

    "I must congratulate you, Ruddy," cried Captain Putnam, warmly. "All through your term at this school you have made a record to be proud of. And the other graduates have made fine records, too. I shall hate to part with all of you."

    "And I shall hate to leave Putnam Hall," answered the former major of the school battalion. "I have had the time of my life since I have been here."

    "So have I!" put in Pepper.

    "The best ever!" chimed in Andy.

    "I shall never forget Putnam Hall, no matter where I go," came from Stuffer.

    "The best school there ever was!" added Joe Nelson.

    * * * * * * *

    And now, kind reader, let me add a few words more and then bring this story of "The Putnam Hall Mystery" to a close. As I promised some years ago, when I gave you "The Putnam Hall Cadets," I have now related in detail the most important events that transpired at the military school during the first years of its existence. What took place there after Jack Ruddy and his chums left will be found set down in another line of books called "The Rover Boys Series," starting with "The Rover Boys at School." In that volume you will not only meet the three jolly Rover brothers--Dick, Tom and Sam--but also learn more concerning the doings of Bart Conners, Harry Blossom and Dave Kearney, and again meet that dictatorial old teacher, Josiah Crabtree, and the bully, Dan Baxter, and his toady, Mumps. The Rover boys went to Putnam Hall for a number of years, and had just as good a time as did Jack and his friends.

    The graduation exercises at Putnam Hall were that year very elaborate, and many visitors were present, including the parents and brothers and sisters of the graduates, and Mr. and Mrs. Ford, and Laura and Flossie.

    "Oh, I am so glad that you came out at the head of the class, Jack!" cried Laura, as she came up to shake his hand.

    "Thank you very much, Laura," he answered, and then, as he took her hand he looked full into her clear eyes. "I'd rather have your congratulations than anything else," he added.

    "Oh, Jack!" she murmured, and then she gave him a glance that thrilled him through and through. Heretofore, they had only been friends, but from that moment a deeper sentiment seemed to stir them both, and, years later, when Jack became settled in business, pretty Laura Ford became Mrs. Ruddy. In the same year, Pepper, who went into the insurance business with his father, married Flossie; and all were very happy. Andy remained a jolly bachelor, to visit one or the other of his chums, as suited him. He went into business with Jack, and the firm prospered greatly.

    The fun, when the school broke up for the term, was of the never-to-be-forgotten variety. Great bonfires were lit along the lake-shore, and around these the cadets gathered, to sing and "cut up" generally. Some of the boys caught Peleg Snuggers and made him ride a wooden horse, while others captured Mumps and made the sneak dive head-first into a barrel that contained several pounds of pulverized charcoal. When the cadet came forth he was a sight to behold. One bonfire was made up of discarded schoolbooks.

    "Farewell to thee forever!" cried Pepper, as he cast in an old grammar and a volume of Cicero's works. "Never again shall I need thee, thank goodness!" And this speech brought forth a roar of laughter.

    "Everybody in a grand march!" shouted Andy, a little later. "Jack, as our old major, you must lead off!"

    "So I will," answered Jack, with a happy smile. "Battalion, attention! Present firebrands! Forward, march!"

    And then the cadets marched around and across the campus, waving their firebrands, and singing and cheering lustily. And here let us wish them all good luck and say good-by.

    THE END.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *
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