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   Chapter 29 A REAL HERO

The Mystery at Putnam Hall: The School Chums' Strange Discovery By Edward Stratemeyer Characters: 8108

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

It was a desperate plunge to take, for the former major of the school battalion ran the risk of getting a chill that would kill him. But Jack was a hero, and he could not bear to see Gus Coulter drowned before his eyes.

As the icy waters closed over him, he struck out boldly for the spot where he had last beheld the struggling youth. Then his hand came in contact with Coulter's body and he caught the cadet by the arm.

As soon as Coulter felt himself touched, he swung around, and the next instant had Jack by the shoulder, in a grip like that of death itself.

The former major of the school battalion realized only too well that he must not let the drowning boy catch him by the neck, otherwise both would go down to rise no more. He shoved Coulter as far off as possible and at the same time struck out to regain the surface of the lake.

When the pair came up they were some distance from the iceboat and also some distance from the edge of the ice.

"Help! help!" yelled Jack to Pepper and Andy.

The latter had succeeded in getting the sapling free of the snow, and were dragging it to the ice on the lake-shore.

"Hello, Jack's in, too!" cried Andy, in horror.

"Hurry with the tree!" yelled Jack, as he commenced to swim for the edge of the ice. "Quick now, or we'll both go down again! This water is frightfully cold."

A few strokes brought Jack and Coulter to the edge of the ice. Coulter was still holding fast, but his strength was rapidly growing weaker. His head shook so that his teeth rattled like castanets.

Luckily Jack reached a spot where the shore ice was tolerably firm. More than this, the water was somewhat shallow, so he could stand on the bottom while Pepper and Andy shoved out the end of the sapling to him.

"Here, I'll lift Gus out!" he called, his own teeth chattering not a little. "He ca-can't hel-help hi-himself!"

He lifted the other cadet as high as he could and with a shove sent him rolling on the ice beyond. Andy and Pepper caught Coulter by the feet and immediately dragged him out of harm's way. Then Jack caught hold of the end of the sapling and was hauled up by his chums.

"How in the world did you fall in?" gasped Andy.

"I didn't fall in-I ju-jumped in!"

"Oh, Jack!" came from Pepper. "Talk about nerve! But come, you had better get to shelter as soon as you can."

"Yes, I fe-feel as if I wa-was turning to i-i-ice!" chattered the other.

"The Darwood farmhouse is just over the hill, let us run to that," suggested Andy. "Here, put on my sweater!" and he stripped off the garment in an instant.

"Do-don't leave m-me!" came from Coulter. He was on his knees, being too weak to rise to his feet.

"I'll carry you on my back!" cried Pepper. "Come, take hold."

Coulter was too far gone to aid himself, and Andy had to place him on Pepper's back. Then off the whole party started, Andy holding Jack by the arm and thus giving him some support.

"Where did Ritter go?" asked Jack, as they sped over the hill in the direction of the farmhouse mentioned.

"I think he went up the lake, in the direction of the Saldy farm," answered Andy.

The Darwood farmhouse set back from the road, among some cedar trees. Rushing up to the back door, the boys pounded vigorously.

"Who is there?" demanded a man's voice, and then Mr. Darwood showed himself.

"Please let us in, we are nearly frozen!" cried Jack.

"Hello! been in the water, eh?" cried Samuel Darwood. "Come right in and I'll stir up the fire!" and he stepped aside that the cadets might enter.

When Pepper deposited his burden in a chair it was seen that Gus Coulter was in a bad way. His eyes were closed, and he was shaking as with convulsions.

"Here, we'll strip off some of his wet clothes and rub him down!" cried Andy. "And can you get something hot to drink, Mr. Darwood?"

"Sure I can," cried the farmer. "But I'll pile some wood on the fire first!" he added.

He was as good as his word, and soon the fire was roaring, and the kitchen got thoroughly warm. The farmer was hom

e alone, but he knew how to make some hot coffee, which he speedily offered to all of the cadets. Coulter could hardly drink, and it was a good half-hour before he felt at all like even speaking. He was propped up in a big rocking-chair directly in front of the fire, and Andy and Pepper took turns at trying to restore his blood to circulation. Jack was not so far gone, and soon felt quite like himself. The wet uniforms were hung up to dry, Mr. Darwood in the meantime lending the lads some other garments. He had been the one to cut the ice from the lake at that spot, so he felt in some measure responsible for the mishap, even though he had put up several danger signs, to which Ritter and Coulter had paid no attention.

"I don't know that we will care to skate back to the Hall," said Pepper. "Mr. Darwood, could you take us back in your sleigh, if we paid you for it?"

"I'll take you back, and it shan't cost you a cent," answered the farmer, quickly.

"Hadn't we better find out what became of Reff Ritter?" questioned Jack.

"I'll run over to the Saldy farm and see," answered Andy, and set off without delay.

While Andy was gone, Samuel Darwood went to the barn to hitch up his team. Jack, Pepper and Coulter remained in the kitchen. Coulter sat staring at the fire, but occasionally his eyes wandered to Jack. Suddenly, while the others were silent, he spoke.

"Say, but you're a fine fellow, Jack Ruddy!" he said. "A fine fellow! And I'm a-a skunk! That's what I am, a low-down, mean skunk!"

"Never mind now, Gus," answered Jack, kindly. He hardly knew what to say at this outburst.

"You-you jumped in and saved me from drowning, didn't you?"

"Yes. But anybody would do that, Gus, for a schoolmate."

"No, they wouldn't; Reff Ritter wouldn't. He would have left me to drown!" And Coulter shuddered. "You're a real hero, Jack Ruddy! And I'm a-a skunk; yes, a mean, low-down skunk-and I always have been!" And now Gus Coulter buried his face in his hands.

"Jack certainly deserves great credit for jumping in after you," said Pepper, warmly. "It was a mighty cold plunge for anybody to take."

"Oh, let's drop it!" came modestly from the hero of the occasion.

"I am not going to drop it!" retorted Gus Coulter, with spirit. "You saved my life, and I want everybody to know it, especially Reff Ritter. He would have left me to drown!"

"Reff had to save himself. He was chilled to the bone when we got him out," answered Jack.

"If you had been Reff you wouldn't have run away and left me to drown," went on Coulter, stubbornly.

At this Jack was silent.

"You don't know it all, Jack Ruddy. Reff and I had a quarrel. He said he-he didn't want to have anything more to do with me. I believe he-he would have been glad to have me drown!"

"Oh, don't say that, Gus!" burst out Pepper.

"But I will say it!" flared out Gus Coulter. "After this I am going to cut Reff Ritter! And I am going to tell what I know about him, too! And I am going to get Nick Paxton to tell what he knows, too!"

"What do you know about him?" asked Jack, with sudden interest.

"Oh, I know a good deal."

"Coulter, answer me honestly. Do you know anything about his dealings with a certain man named Cameron Smith?"

"Oh, do you know that fellow?" questioned the other cadet, and he stared wonderingly at Jack.

"I know a little about him."

"Don't you have anything to do with him, Jack! And don't you have much to do with Reff! They are both bad! Oh, you don't know how bad!" And Gus Coulter shook his head to emphasize his words.

"What did you and Reff quarrel about, Gus?" asked Pepper.

"We quarreled about-about-- Oh, I don't know how I can speak of it! But I suppose I've got to, if I want to remain honest. We quarreled over something I found one day in his private box. I got suspicious of him, and when he was taking a nap I took his key and opened the box. And in the box what do you suppose I found?"

"What?" came simultaneously from Jack and Pepper.

"Your watch and chain, Jack."

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