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The Mystery at Putnam Hall: The School Chums' Strange Discovery By Edward Stratemeyer Characters: 10584

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"You do not-er-wish me present?" came rather awkwardly from Josiah Crabtree.

"Oh, that won't matter, Mr. Crabtree," answered George Strong. "I did not desire any of the cadets present, that was all."

"I do not care to intrude--" commenced the dictatorial teacher.

"As you please," answered Mr. Strong, with a shrug of his shoulders.

At first Josiah Crabtree was inclined to stand on his dignity and walk off, but his curiosity got the better of him and he followed Captain Putnam and George Strong into another office.

"I went after Coulter and Paxton, as you directed me," said the second assistant teacher, when they were alone, and the door had been closed. "At first I could not find them, but at last I located Paxton and then Coulter. Where do you suppose they were?"

"I have no idea," answered Captain Putnam.

"Paxton was under the window of the office, listening to all that was going on. He was partly hidden behind a bush, so that nobody might see him."

"Indeed! That is not to his credit. And Coulter?"

"Coulter was at another window, talking to Ritter. Ritter was giving him some instructions, and as I came up unnoticed I heard Ritter say, 'Now, don't make a mess of it. Tell the story just as I told it, and be sure to stick to it that Ruddy hit me first, and tell Nick to stick to that, too.' Those were his very words."

"Is it possible! And what did Coulter say?"

"He promised to tell the story as Ritter wanted it, and said he would tell Paxton also to say that Ruddy struck the first blow."

"Then he virtually admitted that he struck the first blow himself."

"I should judge so, from his talk."

"Major Ruddy said he did."

"But Ruddy insulted him by talking of Mr. Ritter's losses--" began Josiah Crabtree.

"We'll look into that, Mr. Crabtree. Is that all, Mr. Strong?"

"No, I waited until Coulter joined Paxton. The two walked out on the campus, so I didn't catch what they said. I told them to follow me, and they are now out in the hall."

"I will listen to what each of them has to say-and then I will examine Century and Ditmore again."

Coulter was called into the main office and asked a great number of questions. Captain Putnam was very stern, and soon had the cadet badly twisted in his statements. Then Paxton was told to come in, and on being questioned he became more confused even than Coulter. Then both were confronted by George Strong, and at last they virtually admitted that Ritter had struck the first blow, and that they knew nothing of the quarrel previous to that time.

"You may go," said Captain Putnam, at length. "Your efforts to shield Ritter do you no credit." And Coulter and Paxton slunk out of the office silently and much worried over the thought of what punishment they might receive for trying to deceive the master of the Hall.

After that Pepper and Fred were again interviewed and cross-questioned. But they stuck to their original story, and as that was the story told by Jack, Captain Putnam felt that it must be true.

"You may go," said the captain, presently.

"Have I got to go back to the dormitory?" queried Pepper.

"No, you may join the other cadets," answered the head of the school.

"But, sir--" commenced Josiah Crabtree.

"I do not see as he merits punishment, Mr. Crabtree," said the captain, coldly. "We will let it pass." And he spoke so firmly that the dictatorial teacher said no more on the subject.

When Jack was again called into the presence of the teachers it must be admitted that he was a good deal worried. There was a strict rule at Putnam Hall against fighting, and that rule had been violated by him. Yet he felt he had been justified.

"Major Ruddy, I have examined several witnesses to this affair and I find that your story of the occurrence is substantially correct," began the head of the school. "Ritter struck the first blow."

"He did. He slapped me in the face. That angered me so greatly that I pitched into him without thinking twice. It was all done in a few seconds. But I guess I'd do it again," added Jack. "I wouldn't let anybody slap me without getting back at him. I guess if I did that I'd make a mighty poor soldier."

At these words Captain Putnam's face became a study. He had been on the point of reading Jack a stern lecture on the disgrace of breaking the school rules, but now he paused. When at West Point a certain upper classman had once pulled his nose and, regardless of consequences, he had knocked the fellow down and dragged him by the heels through the dirt of the road. He had considered himself justified in his actions, and his whole class has stood by him. That being so, he did not have it in his heart to punish Jack, or even to find fault with him. Yet the discipline of the school must be maintained.

"Major Ruddy, do you know what the first duty of a soldier is?" he asked, but his voice was soft and easy.

"Yes, sir; to obey orders."


"But there is no rule about what to do if a fellow slaps your face," added Jack, quickly.

"That is true." Captain Putnam had to turn away to conceal a sudden smile. "And, in one way, let me say I do not blame you for what you did, especially as you acted on the spur of the moment. But fighting must stop. If I dismiss this

case against you, will you promise to leave Ritter alone in the future?"

"I will if he leaves me alone. If he attacks me, I'll defend myself to the best of my ability."

"He won't attack you-I'll see to that," answered the captain, grimly. "You may go. But remember, no more fighting."

"Thank you, sir," answered Jack, and lost no time in leaving the office.

"Well, how did you make out?" questioned Pepper, eagerly, when Jack joined him on the campus.

"Case dismissed, Pep."



"Hurrah! That's the best news yet. I was in fear that you would at least be cut off from your holidays."

"What about Ritter?" asked Fred.

"I don't know what Captain Putnam is going to do with him."

The fight and the doings in the office had put Jack out of the notion of taking a sail, and the crowd of boys took a walk instead, that lasted until it was time for the evening parade.

"Wonder if Ritter will show up for drill?" came from Dale.

"We'll know soon," answered Jack.

In a few minutes the drums commenced to roll and out on the parade ground poured the cadets and their officers. Jack had buckled on his sword, and so had Henry Lee and Bart Conners. The cadets had their guns, that is all but the band, who carried their drums and fifes, and the color sergeants, who carried Old Glory and the Putnam Hall banner.

"Battalion, attention!" came firmly from Major Jack Ruddy, and all the young soldiers stiffened up in their places.

He ran his eyes over the two companies, to see that every cadet was "toeing the mark." He did not see Reff Ritter.

"Present arms! Carry arms! Shoulder arms!" came the various commands, and the cadets made the movements with their guns. The drilling was so well done that Captain Putnam, who always looked on, nodded in approval.

"By column of fours, forward march!" came the next command, and then the drums struck up once more, the fifes joined in, and four abreast the cadets moved off, down the parade ground. They marched up and down several times, and executed various movements, and then marched into the mess-hall, or dining-room, put away their guns, and took their seats.

"Ritter isn't here," whispered Pepper to Jack.

"So I see," was the reply.

"I'll bet he caught it from Captain Putnam," put in Dale.

"Silence at the table!" came harshly from Josiah Crabtree. "I want less talking at meals!"

"My, but he's a cheerful beggar!" muttered Dale.

"Imagine him at the head of the school," observed Pepper.

"Ditmore, did you hear me?" snarled the teacher. "I want you to keep quiet."

"All right, Mr. Crabtree; sorry I spoke," answered The Imp, cheerfully.

"Then remember to keep your mouth closed after this."

"Ahem! how am I to eat if I keep my mouth closed?" asked Pepper, innocently.

"Ha! I want none of your jokes, Ditmore! Leave the table!" thundered Josiah Crabtree.

"I'm not through yet."

"Never mind, leave the table at once!" And the teacher glared at Pepper as if to eat him up.

"Just my luck!" muttered The Imp, and got up.

"Here's a sandwich for you," whispered Dale, who sat near, and he passed over two slices of bread with some cold meat between.

"And here's a piece of cake," added Jack, and slid it along, under the edge of the table. Then Pepper got up and left the room. He did not know where to go and so walked slowly in the direction of the boathouse.

As he neared the building, he saw a boy come out of the structure and hurry across the float to where the Alice and the Ajax were tied up. The boy was Reff Ritter.

The bully of the school was in a great rage. Captain Putnam had given him a stern lecture and told him if he did not behave in the future he would be dismissed from the school. The captain had also cut him off from all holidays up to Christmas, and added that he must expect to take no part in Putnam Hall athletics. The latter was the hardest blow of all, for Ritter had hoped that Fall to make the football team.

"Now, what is he up to?" Pepper asked himself, and stuffing the napkin that held the cake and sandwich into his pocket, he moved forward on a run.

Reff Ritter had crossed the float and now he stood beside the sloop that was Jack's property. As Pepper came closer he saw that the bully held an ax in his hand, the handle shoved up the sleeve of his jacket.

"He is up to no good," thought Pepper. "I'll watch him and see what he does."

Pepper stepped out of sight behind the boathouse. Looking through a window and a door, he saw Ritter walk up and down the float. Evidently the bully wanted to make certain that he was not being observed. Then, with a swift movement, he leaped aboard the sloop and crouched down out of sight.

"Guess it's time I got busy!" muttered Pepper to himself, and ran around the boathouse and out on the float. He was soon at the side of the Alice. He heard a blow sound out. Ritter was using the ax, apparently in an endeavor to chop a hole in the bottom of the sloop!

"Of all the mean things!" muttered Pepper to himself. "I'll soon stop that!" And he made a leap over the guard-rail of the craft. The ax was raised for another blow, but before it could be delivered, Pepper caught the bully by the shoulders and sent him sprawling on his back.

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