It must be confessed that Jack was rather sober that night and all day Sunday. He could not get the coming party out of his mind, and he wondered constantly whether Ruth would really accept the invitation which had been extended to her. Along with a number of other cadets he attended church in town, but, owing to the fact that it had begun to snow again, none of the girls from Clearwater Hall were present at the services.
"I guess I might as well call Martha up on the 'phone," he told Fred, Sunday evening.
"All right," was his cousin's reply. "And don't forget to mention May."
When the young captain had his sister on the wire he learned a number of things that surprised him not a little. It seemed that the matter of the coming sleighride party had been rather freely discussed at Clearwater Hall, and a number of the pupils there were divided on the question as to whether to participate in the affair or not. Jennie Mason, Ida Brierley, and four or five others were in favor of accepting, while others had either declined or were noncommittal.
"Some of the girls have gotten almost into a fight over it," said Martha. "It's the liveliest thing that has happened in this school in a long while. I believe if the discussion keeps up none of the girls will be allowed to go, even though two married ladies from the town are to go along as chaperones."
"Did you hear anything further about Ruth or anything about May?" questioned Jack.
"Not a word. Of course, not having been invited myself, I didn't care to question either of them for fear they might think I was just a bit jealous, or something like that."
"Well, I don't think they ought to go to any such party," answered Jack, and then told what he and Fred had learned at the livery stable.
"I've heard of Joe McGuire and also heard of Ted Rosenblatt!" exclaimed Martha. "I certainly shouldn't want to be seen in their company. I'll have to mention this to some of the others." And here the conversation had to come to an end.
On Monday morning Jack met Brassy Bangs in one of the corridors and noticed that the loud-spoken youth looked at him rather speculatively. Nothing, however, was said, and the young captain entered one of the classrooms and was soon deep in his studies. That evening, however, Brassy Bangs and two of his chums were missing from their usual places at one of the mess-hall tables.
"They got permission to go to town. I suppose they went to make further arrangements about that big sleighing party," remarked Randy.
To show that he meant to do his best as captain of Company C, Jack put in a full day on Tuesday drilling his command and in the classrooms. As a consequence that evening found him pretty well worn out from his duties. Yet he had some studying he felt he must do, and so announced he was going to sit up for a while after his cousins, who occupied rooms on both sides of him, had retired.
The young captain was hard at work doing some examples in geometry when there came a sudden sharp rap on his door. Thinking that one of his school chums had come to have a word with him before retiring, he threw the door open and found himself confronted by Brassy Bangs.
"I want to have a few words with you, Jack Rover!" cried the loud-mouthed cadet savagely. And then closing the door he advanced upon the young captain in anything but a friendly manner.
A FIGHT AND A CHALLENGE
Jack Rover could see that Brassy Bangs was laboring under great excitement. The youth who loved to dress in such a showy manner was red of face and his eyes glittered in a manner calculated to make any one quail before him.
But the young captain of Company C was not going to quail, and he stood his ground and looked the other youth squarely in the face.
"You want a few words, eh?" he said coldly. "Well, what is it?"
"You know well enough what brought me here!" cried Brassy. "I've a good mind to wipe up the floor with you!"
"I'm not fighting just now, Bangs. But don't forget that I can defend myself if it's necessary," answered the young captain quickly. And then he added: "Now say what you've got to say or get out."
"I'll stay as long as I please," blustered the showy youth. "It's a fine piece of business you've been in—trying to belittle me and my chums in the eyes of the girls at Clearwater Hall."
"If you came here to talk about the young ladies from Clearwater the sooner you get out the better," answered Jack, his face flushing.
"Thought you were pulling off a fine stunt, didn't you, when you talked to Ruth Stevenson about me?" sneered Brassy.
"I haven't said a word to Miss Stevenson about you."
"I know better, Jack Rover. You went to her and some of the other girls and told them that my chums and I were no good, and that the sleighride party we and some other fellows were getting up was going to be the wildest thing that ever took place at Haven Point."
"You're entirely mistaken, Bangs. And the sooner you get out of here the better it will please me."
"Do you dare deny that you hauled us over the coals with those girls at Clearwater Hall?"
"I decline to discuss the matter any further with you," answered the young captain.
"See here, Rover! you can't ride any high horse like that with me," blustered Brassy. "You and your cousins and some of the other fellows did your best to queer our whole sleighing party, and you've got to take the consequences!" And now Brassy Bangs doubled up his fists and tried to look more dangerous than ever.
"See here, Bangs! if you don't stop your noise and get out of here I'll put you out," returned Jack, in a low but firm voice. "I don't want any fight with you, but I want you to understand that I can hold up my end every time."
"Like pie you can! You put on a big front as a captain, but I know your sort well enough! You can't pull the wool over my eyes! You went to the girls' school and shot off your mouth, and you are going to take the consequences!" and without further ado Brassy Bangs stepped forward and aimed a heavy blow at Jack's face.
Had the fist landed as intended, Jack might have been knocked flat. But the young captain had not been in athletic training for several years for nothing, and he dodged quickly. Brassy was carried forward, so that his arm shot over Jack's shoulder and his body came in contact with the young captain's arm. The next instant Jack had him by the back of the collar and was holding him at arm's length.
"Now you get out of here!" he cried, and tried to drag Brassy toward the door.
Of course the other youth squirmed, and in an instant there was a rough and tumble scuffle. Jack was pushed against the wall, and retaliated by forcing Brassy backward over a chair. Then the two spun around the room, upsetting a stand containing a number of books.
"Hello! what's going on here?" came a voice from one of the side rooms, and Fred appeared. He had been in bed and was attired only in his pajamas.
Jack and Brassy were so wrought up by this time that neither paid attention to the interruption. Nor did they take notice when another door opened and Andy and Randy came into view. Brassy managed to break away and land a blow on Jack's arm, and in return received a crack in the chin which sent his head backward and all but unbalanced him.
"Gee! it's a regular fight," burst out Andy. "I didn't know Brassy was here."
"Neither did I," said Fred. "Why didn't you call us, Jack?"
"He didn't give me time," answered the young captain. "He accused me of getting him into trouble at Clearwater Hall, and then pitched into me."
"I'll fix you!" yelled Brassy, who was now almost beside himself with rage. "I'll fix you!" and he made another lunge for Jack.
But the blow he intended to deliver fell short, and before he could recover the young captain came at him with a crack in the ear, followed by another on the cheek, and these caused Brassy to stagger into a corner where he held fast to a chair.
"Say, you fellows will have Colonel Colby here in another minute," warned Fred.
"I don't care who comes!" bellowed Brassy recklessly. "But see here, I'm not going to fight four of you!" he went on sullenly, as he glared from one to another of the Rovers.
"There won't be any more fight!" cried Jack, who had no desire to be brought up before the master of the school again. "Fred, open that door!" And then, as the youngest Rover did so, he added to his opponent: "Now get out of here before I throw you out."
"You can't throw me out!" blustered Brassy. But then, as Jack advanced on him threateningly, he made a sudden spring for the door and ran out into the corridor. "I'm not going to fight four to one. But just wait—this isn't ended yet," he went on, and then disappeared.
Fred closed the door again, and he and the others gathered around Jack, who was panting from his unexpected exertions.
"Gosh, but he looked mad!" was Randy's comment. "What was it all about?"
In as few words as possible the young captain explained the situation so far as he was able.
"Brassy must have gone over to Clearwater Hall and there got the idea that you were queering that proposed party," was Fred's comment. "Well, I'm glad if the girls are wise to what is going on."
"Better chew this over in the morning," admonished Andy. "The thing now is to get into bed and put out the lights. One of the professors may be up here any minute."
This advice was considered good, and with lightning-like rapidity the room was placed in order and the others retired again, leaving Jack to undress and go to bed as quickly as possible. A little later one of the monitors came through the hall, but none of the Rovers was disturbed.
It was not until two days later that the Rovers heard the particulars of what had occurred at Clearwater Hall. Then they learned that, unknown to any of the girls, one of the teachers had been delegated by Miss Garwood, the head of the academy, to make a quiet investigation concerning the proposed sleighing party. And when this teacher had found out who were on the committee of arrangements, Miss Garwood had forbidden any of the young ladies to participate. When this became known, Brassy Bangs had at once concluded that Jack—and perhaps some of his relatives and friends—was responsible for what had occurred. The party had been called off.
"I'm glad it's called off," said Jack.
"So am I," returned Fred. "But, believe me, Jack, Brassy will have it in for you after this."
"You didn't hear anything about what girls intended to go, did you?" put in Randy.
"I heard Jennie Mason, Ida Brierley, and Nettie Goss mentioned. That's all," answered Jack.
He would have given a good deal to have known what was the real attitude of Ruth and May toward the party. But, as before, neither he nor Fred felt inclined to make any direct inquiries.
"It almost looks as if Brassy had expected Ruth to go with him," murmured the young captain to himself, when he was alone that night. And it must be confessed that the thought made him feel quite gloomy.
After this incident matters ran along smoothly for a week or more at the Hall. During that time the snow commenced to melt and almost before the cadets knew it, it had disappeared entirely.
In the meanwhile there was constant talk of the election for officers that was to take place. Ralph Mason, the major of the school battalion, was about to leave, as was also one of the captains, so there would be first an election to fill these vacancies and then another election in case one or both vacancies were filled by those who were already acting as officers.
"I really think you ought to try for the majorship," said Gif to Jack. "You certainly have done well as a captain."
"It would be very nice, Gif," was Jack's reply. "But I feel sometimes as if I ought to give some of the other fellows a show."
"But they may not want it," answered Andy. "Look at me, for instance. I don't want to be an officer, and neither does Randy. And Gif here would rather continue at the head of our athletics."
"Yes, but you fellows are not the whole school," declared Jack, with a smile.
"I know lots of fellows who want you to run," declared Spouter. "And you say the word and I'll go around and do a lot of electioneering for you."
The matter was talked over a good many times, and fully twenty of the cadets came to Jack and told him they wanted him to run for the office of major. And finally he consented.
"Hello, here's news!" burst out Fatty Hendry, one day, as he joined his chums. "It's the richest thing ever," and he grinned broadly.
"What's that?" questioned Dan Soppinger, who was present.
"I just heard through Teddy Brown that Brassy Bangs wants to run for major. That he even told one of the professors about it."
"Why, he can't do that!" declared Fred quickly. "That is, not without special permission from Colonel Colby or Captain Dale. The major is always chosen from among the captains and lieutenants, or those who have been officers before. That is, if there is any one to pick. It's only Colonel Colby or Captain Dale who can declare the election open to any one. You can't put a fellow who has just learned to handle a gun to march at the head of the battalion."
"Well, of course Brassy didn't know that, and he wouldn't believe it until Captain Dale explained it to him. And then he said he thought he ought to be able to hold the position because he was one of the best shots in the school."
"Well, he certainly is a good shot," declared Fred. "I saw him shooting at a target one day and he certainly made some marvelous hits."
"He comes from the West—from some place where everybody knows how to shoot," declared Walt Baxter. "I heard him telling some of the fellows about it one day. He said he had learned to ride and to shoot when he was only six or seven years old. And he can ride, all right enough, too. I saw him do it one day when I was on the road back of the Point."
"Well, I think a few of us can do a little shooting," declared Andy. "Don't forget that out of a possible twenty-five points Fred once made nineteen and Jack eighteen."
"Oh, yes, I remember that," put in Ned Lowe. "That was the time Lew Barrow scored twenty."
"Yes, and the time I scored the whole of ten," chuckled Andy. "But I don't care," he added proudly. "I guess I brought down my share of small game when we went hunting."
The talk concerning Brassy Bangs wanting to run for the office of major was true, and the cadet was much disgusted when he found that the regulations of the Hall forbade this.
"I can beat any one of them at shooting," he grumbled to Paul Halliday, one of his particular cronies and the fellow who had aided in trying to get up the sleighing party.
"Of course you can," was Halliday's quick reply. Then he went on: "Say, Lest, why don't you challenge Jack Rover and his cousin Fred to shoot against you? You can show 'em up in great shape. It would be better than fighting them."
"I'll do it!" announced Brassy promptly, for the idea was one that appealed to him. "I'll shoot against them with either pistols or rifles, just as they may choose. I'll show 'em up for a couple of dubs when it comes to handling firearms."
"That's the talk!" broke in Billy Sands, another of Bangs' chums. "You say the word and Paul and I will take the challenge to the Rovers right away."
"All provided Colonel Colby or Captain Dale will permit the contest," said Brassy sourly. "Maybe that's another one of the things their dirty rules won't allow."
The matter was talked over for a while longer, and the three boys went off to interview Captain Dale. He listened to them with a smile, and then nodded.
"Of course you can have a contest of that sort if you desire, Bangs," he said presently.
Following this the challenge to Jack and Fred was promptly issued. It, of course, came as a surprise to the Rovers.
"We ought not to dirty our hands with a fellow like Bangs," declared the young captain to Fred.
"Oh, we can't afford to refuse, Jack!" cried his cousin. "If we did the fellows in the Hall would think we were afraid."
And thereupon the challenge was accepted.
THE SHOOTING CONTEST
It was decided that the shooting contest should take place the next day.
"It doesn't give us much time to practice," grumbled Fred.
"We might as well have it over with," answered Jack. "There is no use of allowing it to interfere with our lessons or with the coming election for officers."
"Do you think we can shoot as well as Brassy?"
"We can try, Fred. From all reports he's quite a wonderful shot. It seems he comes from a place where everybody is used to firearms."
It had been decided to hold the contest on the regular range back of the school grounds. Fred and Jack had been in favor of rifles, but the boy from the West had voted in favor of pistols. As a consequence, Captain Dale had told them the contest would be divided into two parts of a possible fifteen points each, the first part to take place with pistols and the second with rifles.
"Say, you fellows have just got to snow Brassy under!" cried Randy. "Don't leave him a leg to stand on."
"That's easy enough to say, Randy," answered Jack. "But it isn't so easy to do."
"I know it, and I was only fooling. However, do your best and make some kind of showing against that loud-mouthed fellow."
Early on the morning of the contest Jack and Fred received permission to take rifles and pistols and do a little practicing with the firearms. They went out alone, not wishing to be disturbed by any one.
As they were crossing the fields they saw a figure coming from a side road. The person approaching had the cape of his overcoat drawn up tightly around his throat and wore his cap pulled down well over his forehead.
"That fellow looked like Brassy Bangs," declared Fred, as the distant figure leaped over a hedge and disappeared.
"It certainly did look like Brassy," answered his cousin. "But what in the world could he be doing out so early in the morning?"
"Maybe he was practicing a little on his own account."
"He didn't have any gun with him."
"That's right. But he might have a pistol."
"He never struck me as a fellow who would get up so very early. He always appeared to be rather lazy. And besides that, he didn't come from the range. He came from the river road."
"I know it, Jack. Maybe he's been out all night for a good time with some of those fellows from town."
After this the two Rovers lost no time in hurrying to the rifle range, and there practised with their pistols and their rifles until it was time to return to the Hall for roll call and the drill before breakfast.
"Well, we may not win, but we'll make some kind of a showing," remarked Fred.
It was a clear day, the air just bracing enough to put the cadets of Colby Hall in good spirits. When the time came for the contest nearly all of them hurried to the range.
"Now then, Lest, show 'em what you can do!" cried Paul Halliday.
"The Rovers won't have a look-in!" broke out Billy Sands. "It will be a regular walk-away for Lest."
"Don't be so sure of that," answered Gif.
"Brassy may be all right enough with a pistol; but don't forget that Jack and Fred know how to handle a rifle," added Spouter.
A coin was tossed up and it was thereby decided that the contest with pistols should take place first. Each contestant was to shoot three times, the rings on the target counting from 1 to 5. The three contestants were to shoot in rotation, Fred first, Brassy second, and Jack last.
If Fred was a trifle nervous when he went to the front to shoot, he did his best to control it. Taking as careful aim as possible, he fired.
"That's good enough for a starter!"
With a self-satisfied look on his face, Brassy Bangs strode forward, took quick aim, and fired.
"A bull's-eye!" shouted Billy Sands in delight.
"I told you he could do it!" added Paul Halliday.
When Jack came to the front he managed to make a 4.
"That's the stuff!" cried Randy. "You're only one point behind!"
On the second round Fred managed to make a 4, while Jack scored a 3, thus tying the Rovers. Brassy scored a 4.
"Seven to nine in favor of Bangs!"
Then came the third round, and again Fred scored a 3 and Jack did likewise, while Brassy delighted his cronies by scoring another bull's-eye.
"A total of ten each for the Rovers!"
"And fourteen for Bangs!"
"I told you Lest could hold 'em down!" shouted Billy Sands.
"Just wait till they shoot with the rifles. He'll walk away from 'em!" added Paul Halliday.
It must be admitted that the Rovers and their chums were somewhat disappointed that the score stood four points in favor of Brassy.
"Now, Fred, do your best," whispered Andy to his cousin, as the latter went to the front after carefully examining the rifle handed to him by Captain Dale.
The firearm was a light affair, but of approved pattern and supposed to be quite accurate for use at a distance of two hundred yards.
Fred took longer to aim with the rifle than he had with the pistol, and there was a breathless silence until after the report rang out.
"That's the stuff, Fred!"
"Now, Brassy, let us see what you can do!"
As confident as ever, Brassy Bangs came to the front, took the rifle handed to him, and shot rather hastily.
Jack was up next, and to the dismay of many of his friends made only a 2.
Then came the second round with rifles, and in that Fred scored a 4, Bangs a 1, and Jack a 3.
"Hurrah! Fred Rover and Brassy Bangs are tied with eighteen points each."
"And Jack Rover has fifteen points."
Then came the final round, and amid a breathless silence Fred shot and scored a bull's-eye. Then came Bangs, and made a 2. And Jack ended the contest with a bull's-eye.
"Hurrah! Fred Rover wins the match with twenty-three points!"
"Yes, and Jack Rover and Brassy Bangs are tied for second place with twenty each!"
"Hurrah for Fred Rover!"
"Pretty good shooting, I'll say!"
"It was all to the merry, Fred!" exclaimed Jack, as he caught his cousin's hand. "You did fine!"
"The best ever!" burst out Andy.
"Say, Jack, why don't you and Brassy shoot off the tie?" questioned Spouter.
"I'm willing," was the ready reply of the young captain.
"I'll shoot off the tie with pistols," put in Brassy quickly.
"No, let it be with rifles," broke in Randy.
"I'll tell you what I think would be fair," announced Captain Dale. "Each of you take one shot with a rifle and one shot with a pistol." And after quite a little discussion it was so agreed.
The pistols were used first, and there Brassy made a bull's-eye while Jack managed to register a 4. Then the rifles were used, and here Jack, shooting first, made a bull's-eye while Brassy got a 2.
"Hurrah! Nine to seven in favor of Captain Rover!"
"Some shooting, Jack!"
"If you had shot as good as that in the first contest you might have beaten Fred."
"I'm quite content, even if I didn't beat Fred," announced the young captain, with a smile.
Brassy Bangs was quite gloomy over the outcome of the contest, and he and his cronies lost no time in quitting the range.
"I'm mighty glad you two fellows beat him," announced Gif. "Maybe it will take a little of the conceit out of him."
"Well, Gif, you've got to admit he's a wonderful shot with the pistol," answered Jack.
"Yes. And his rifle work isn't any worse than mine," answered Andy. "Now, I'll promise to make a lot of bull's-eyes for you if you'll let me use a good-sized shotgun or a blunderbuss," and at this there was a snicker.
For the rest of that day Brassy Bangs had little to say. But the next morning he was as loud-mouthed as ever, declaring that he would have won the contest had he been allowed to use his own pistol—a long affair of the old-fashioned western variety.
"Had he done that it might have given him one more point," declared Randy. "Of course that would have put him ahead of Jack in the first contest, but it wouldn't have helped him when it came to the rifle work."
"Oh, let's drop Brassy," said Jack. "I am really getting tired of hearing of him."
"I can't bear him," put in Phil Franklin. "Once or twice he has tried to become chummy with me, but I've always given him the cold shoulder."
It was now drawing on toward the time for the election, and there was a great deal of wire-pulling among the various cadets as to who might run for the offices. Three names were in the field for the office of major: Jack, a Captain Glasby, and a Lieutenant Harkness.
Glasby was a fellow who was very well liked, while Harkness was a lieutenant who at one time had been more or less of a crony of Nappy Martell, Gabe Werner, and others of the crowd that had been opposed to the Rover boys.
"Well, I sha'n't complain if Glasby gets the position," declared Jack. "But I'd hate mightily to see Lieutenant Harkness at the head of the school battalion."
"I never liked Harkness myself," put in Spouter. "He isn't a bit better in many respects than Gabe Werner."
It was soon noised around the school that Brassy Bangs and his cronies were doing their best for Harkness, while another crowd, led by Bart White, were rooting in rather a lively fashion for Captain Glasby.
"We've got to get busy for Jack," said Gif to Spouter. "Come on! Let's sound out all the fellows in the Hall we think we can influence." And thereupon he and Spouter and a number of others set to work to electioneer for Jack as hard as they could.
Several days before the election Andy and Randy obtained permission to go to Haven Point on an errand. It was rather a disagreeable, misty day, and they were tramping along through the mud on the outskirts of the town when they saw Brassy Bangs and a stranger ahead of them. The stranger was a tall, thin individual, dressed in an old-fashioned suit of rusty black and with a big slouch hat pulled well down over his head. He was puffing away at a large black cigar, and seemed to be very much in earnest in what he was saying to Brassy.
"I saw that fellow around the school about a week ago," declared Randy. "He didn't look like a very nice sort, either."
"He certainly has a fierce-looking mustache," was Andy's comment. "And it's as red as his hair."
"I tell you I can't do it, and that's all there is to it," the boys heard Brassy exclaim, in reply to something the stranger had said.
"And I say you've got to do it," returned the man, and his tone was decidedly ugly. "You've got to do it—or otherwise you've got to take the consequences."
"You wouldn't be so mean, Haddon!" pleaded Brassy, and now the Rovers could see that he was more or less scared.
"Wouldn't I?" returned the strange man harshly. "You just try me and see! The best thing you can do is to agree to what I said. If you don't, well——" and here the tall man shrugged his shoulders—"you'll do as I said before—or you'll take the consequences."
"Say, this is rather interesting," remarked Randy in a low tone to his brother.
"That fellow is certainly threatening Brassy," returned Andy. "I wonder what it can be all about."
"He wants Brassy to do something."
The two Rovers kept on behind Bangs and the man called Haddon, and presently saw them turn down a side street where was located a small factory that had been in operation during the war but which was now closed. Both disappeared into a shed attached to the factory.
"Let's see if we can find out what it's all about," said Randy.
"I'm willing," answered his twin. "Maybe that fellow will grow abusive and hurt Brassy."
"Well, a good licking wouldn't hurt him," answered his brother, with a grin.
"Oh, that's all right. But we don't want to see him half killed even if we don't like him."
"You trust Brassy to take care of himself," was the quick reply.
The twins hurried to the shed and there found that the door had been left open and that the man and their fellow-cadet had gone into another part of the low building.
"You know as well as I do that that barn and them hosses was worth at least twelve thousand dollars," the man was saying to Brassy. "That was a big loss for John Calder."
"Please don't say another word about it!" pleaded Brassy.
"I won't if you'll do as I told you to."
"But I've let you have a hundred and ten dollars already! It's every cent I can spare!"
"Well, I've got to have more."
"I'll bet you've been gambling it away, Haddon."
"It's none of your business what Bud Haddon does with his money!" exclaimed the stranger, with a toss of his head and blowing a ring of tobacco smoke toward the ceiling of the shed. "If you don't want me to start things you do as I told you to."
"Do you know what I think!" exclaimed Brassy, after a pause. "I think those tramp cowboys were guilty."
"You can't put that off on no cowboys!" exclaimed Bud Haddon. "I know all about it, and so do Jillson and Dusenbury."
"They don't know anything—at least they don't know anything about me!" cried Brassy. But it was plainly to be seen that he was exceedingly nervous. "Somebody's been cooking up a story against me!"
"Ain't nobody cookin' up nothin'," growled the man. "I know what I'm talkin' about. You'd better get busy if you know when you're well off. If you don't, and your uncle gets wind of this—well, good-night for you!"
"Oh, don't say anything to my uncle! Please don't!"
"Well, then you get busy. I've hung around here about as long as I intend to. I'm goin' back to Chicago in a few days."
At this juncture the Rovers heard a noise outside, and several boys playing hide-and-seek appeared. Not wishing to be discovered by Brassy and his companion, Andy and Randy hurried out into the street and up to the corner. Here they waited for a while, and presently saw Brassy and Bud Haddon come forth. The man sauntered away in the direction of the town while Brassy sped off on the winding road leading to Colby Hall.
"Now what do you make of this?" questioned Randy, as he and his brother continued on their errand.
"It looks rather suspicious to me," answered Andy. "It looks as if Brassy had done something that wasn't right and this man was going to expose him unless Brassy paid over some hush money."
"Yes, and from what Brassy said, he evidently has already paid the man one hundred and ten dollars."
On the way back to Colby Hall after their errand was finished the twins discussed the matter, but could arrive at no satisfactory conclusion. That evening they told their cousins of what they had heard, and also mentioned the matter to Gif and Spouter.
"It looks to me as if that Bud Haddon had a hold on Brassy," remarked Jack. "But whether Brassy is really guilty or not of some wrongdoing remains to be found out."
"I wouldn't put it past him to do something that wasn't right," came from Fred.
"That remains to be seen, Fred. Brassy might do some things that we wouldn't do; but at the same time I doubt if he's so very bad at heart. He's loud-mouthed and has a hasty temper, and he likes to show off, and all that sort of thing, but that doesn't say he's a criminal."
"That Bud Haddon looks like a bad one," announced Randy. "I wouldn't trust him with a nickel."
"It certainly is a mystery," came from Fred. "Just the same as it's a mystery about Professor Duke."
"Gosh, don't mention Duke!" broke out Gif. "I had all I could do to keep from getting into a row with him this morning. He certainly is a tart one at times."
"But he looks troubled," answered Jack. "Ever since Colonel Colby spoke about him I've been watching him carefully. And, believe me, that man has something on his mind that's far from pleasant."
"He certainly comes and goes a good deal," said Spouter. "He was away several hours last night and the night before. And I understand he's going away to-morrow afternoon again."
"Colonel Colby must know it's all right. Otherwise he wouldn't let him go away so much," declared Gif.
On the following morning when the mail was distributed Spouter received a letter from his father that interested him greatly. He read the communication several times, and then, placing it in his pocket, ran off to where he had left Gif.
"Come on, Gif!" he cried gayly. "I've got great news! Come ahead and help find the Rovers."
"What's the news?" demanded the other, as they hurried on side by side.
"Just wait and I'll tell you all about it—maybe." And then Spouter stopped short, struck by a sudden idea. He thought for a few seconds and then his face broke into a broad smile.
The two boys found the Rovers up in Room 20, which the four cousins used as a sitting room. All were busy studying and looked up in surprise as Spouter dashed in with Gif at his heels.
"Glorious news, boys! Glorious news!" sang out Spouter, as he beamed at them.
"What is it?" they demanded in chorus.
"Glorious, I tell you, glorious!" Spouter waved his hands eloquently. "Why remain cooped up here within the dingy walls of a school when the mighty plains, the boundless forests, the leaping streams, and the azure blue of the skies await you? Why snuff the tainted air of the musty classroom when the free ozone of the hills and mountains beckons to you? Why waste time over musty books when rifle and fishing rod can be had, when one can fling himself in the saddle and go dashing madly across the——"
"Jumping crabs and hopping mud turtles!" exclaimed Andy. "Spouter has got 'em again!"
"What is this, Spouter?" demanded Randy. "A moving picture, or just a plain everyday nightmare?"
"Ha, ha!" continued Spouter, prancing around. "Whoopee! Bang! Bang! Let her go, boys! Lasso him quick before he gets away!" and the talkative cadet made a movement as if throwing a lasso.
"Say, Spouter, come down to earth, will you?" cried Jack, grabbing his chum by the shoulder. "What's the matter with you?"
"Maybe he swallowed a few yeast cakes by mistake," remarked Andy.
"It's the best news ever, fellows!" went on Spouter. "I got it this morning."
"All right! Let's have it," came quickly from Fred.
"I've been waiting for this news for several weeks."
"News from where?" came from the others.
"News from home."
"From your dad?" questioned Randy.
"What has he done now—bought you an automobile?" questioned Gif.
"Better than that!"
"For goodness' sake, spill out what you've got to say!" returned Fred, in exasperation.
"When we went to Cedar Lodge on our grand hunt we were Gif's guests," resumed Spouter. "This summer the tables are to be turned, and all of you are to be the guests of yours truly."
"Gee, that sounds interesting, Spouter!" cried Randy.
"Where do we go and when?" questioned his twin.
"You're to go just as soon as school shuts down and you can get ready."
"And where to?" questioned Jack curiously.
"Ha! that's the deep, dark and delightful secret," returned Spouter. "You're all to be my guests, and I'll promise you the time of your lives. Oh, boys, but this is going to be something great!" And the cadet playfully pounded one and another on the shoulder with his fist.
"But how can we go if we don't know where we're going?" asked Fred.
"You'll know, Fred, before you're on the way," was the mysterious answer. "And, believe me, after you've found out you won't want to turn back."
"What! do you mean you're not going to tell us where we're going?" demanded Jack, in astonishment.
"Exactly, Jack. That's going to be my little secret until this school shuts up," and Spouter folded his arms calmly and grinned at all his chums.
They looked at him in blank amazement. This was a proceeding that had never happened before. Suddenly Gif made a dash forward.
"Let's pound it out of him!"
"That's the talk! We'll make him tell!"
"Pull him down and sit on him!"
"Pull off his shoes and tickle his feet! He's got to tell!"
"Poke him in the ribs!"
"He got a letter this morning. I'll bet the news is in that!" shouted Gif. "It's in his pocket now!"
All attempted to pounce upon Spouter, but he was too quick for them, and, dashing across the room, he shot into Fred's bedroom, banging the door after him. Then, as the others followed, he ran out into the corridor and then sped for his own room, where he locked the door behind him. Then he hid the letter in a place where he was sure none of his chums would find it.
"Well, this takes the bakery!" announced Randy, after all of them had pounded on Spouter's door in vain. "What do you suppose it means?"
"It's simple enough," remarked Jack. "Spouter is going to invite us on some sort of outing this summer, but he doesn't want to tell us yet what sort it's to be."
"He spoke about mountains and rivers and horseback riding," said Randy. "That looks like some sort of outdoor affair," and his eyes glistened.
"Come on out, Spouter, and let us love you a little," called Fred through the keyhole.
"You go on down and I'll meet you downstairs," was the reply. "And remember, you're not to know another word about this until vacation comes."
"Going to take us away in a submarine, Spouter?" demanded Andy.
"No, he's going to take us in an airship to the south pole," declared his twin.
"Never mind where I'm going to take you," answered Spouter. "You just keep calm until vacation time comes, and then you'll learn fast enough in what direction you're going to travel. And, believe me, we'll have some outing, or else I'll miss my guess."
And with this statement the Rover boys and Gif had to be content.
THE ELECTION FOR OFFICERS
"Company attention! Shoulder arms! Forward march!"
Boom! Boom! Boom, boom, boom!
The drums rang out clearly on the morning air and the Colby Hall battalion swung into line on a march that carried it around the school buildings and then to the lake shore. Here Colonel Colby and Captain Dale inspected the three companies. Then the retiring major, Ralph Mason, was called on for a little speech which brought forth many cheers, and after this the command was dismissed.
It was the day for the election, and there was to be no school session until the afternoon.
At the last election there had been a total of 111 votes cast. But now there were one hundred and twenty-five cadets at the institution. There had been some talk of organizing a new command to be known as Company D, but so far this had not materialized.
As was the custom, the election was held in the main hall of the school and was presided over by Captain Dale and Professor Brice.
"I see they expect a hundred and twenty-five votes," remarked Randy. "That means sixty-three will be necessary to a choice."
"Well, I'm sure Jack will get at least forty on the first vote," returned his brother.
"I hope he gets the whole sixty-three," put in Dan Soppinger. Dan had once run for a captaincy, but had dropped out and turned most of his attention to athletics.
As at other elections, it was decided by Colonel Colby that each officer should be voted for separately.
"We'll try for a new major first," announced the head of the Hall.
The ballot box was placed on the table, and after a short intermission during which there was some very active electioneering among the various groups assembled, a bell rang and the cadets were formed in one long line and told to march up and deposit their ballots in the box.
It must be admitted that Jack was rather anxious, although he did his best to conceal it. He smiled at Captain Glasby, who smiled back. Then he smiled at Lieutenant Harkness, but that under-officer only favored him with a scowl.
"Harkness will never win anything with that look on his face," was Gif's comment, as he noticed the scowl. "The fellows like an officer who can take things pleasantly."
It did not take the cadets long to vote, and as soon as all of the ballots had been cast Captain Dale, assisted by Professor Brice, began to tabulate the vote. In less than ten minutes they had finished. Then a bell rang and Captain Dale came forward to read the result.
"Total number of votes cast . . . . . . . 125 Necessary to a choice . . . . . . . . . . 63 Louis Glasby has . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 Jack Rover has . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 Darrell Harkness has . . . . . . . . . . . 24"
"What do you know about that!" exclaimed Fred. "Jack and Glasby are within one vote of each other!"
"I'll say that's getting pretty close," answered Randy.
"As no cadet has received the number of votes necessary to a choice, I will give the school a recess for fifteen minutes. Then we will vote again—for the same cadets or for new ones if you feel so inclined."
After this brief announcement by Captain Dale came a hum of voices and there was some strenuous electioneering in all parts of the hall and also in the corridors and out on the campus.
"Glasby is stronger than I thought he was," remarked Gif to Jack. "We'll have to do some tall work to overcome his vote."
"I think we can get some of the Harkness fellows to come over to us," put in Spouter. "I don't believe he's as popular as he thinks."
"Maybe we can get him to withdraw," suggested Andy, with a grin.
"Withdraw, not!" broke out Fred. "He's not that sort."
While the conversation was going on somebody touched Jack on the shoulder, and turning he found himself confronted by Paul Halliday.
"Say, see here, Rover! I'd like a word with you," whispered Halliday somewhat excitedly.
"All right, shoot!" answered the young captain.
"This is a little private matter," went on Halliday. "You can bring your cousins along if you want to," he added.
Wondering what Halliday had in his mind, Jack, along with Fred and Andy who happened to be close by, followed him to an out-of-the-way corner of a corridor.
"We want to know if you're willing to make a deal with us," said Halliday in a low, nervous tone of voice. "You know Harkness got twenty-four votes. Well, he's willing to throw those votes to you if you are willing to back him for the new captain of Company C."
"I can't do that," answered Jack quickly. "If I get to be major I'm going to back Fred here for the captaincy."
"Oh, but, Jack, I could drop out of that!" put in his cousin quickly.
"Not much, Fred! I said I was going to do it, and I'm going to stick to my word. Besides that, I might as well tell you, Halliday, that I don't believe Harkness is the best fellow for the position."
"Then you won't consider my offer?" demanded Halliday sourly.
"I don't believe you can control the Harkness votes," put in Andy. "I believe Jack will get a whole lot of them on the next ballot."
"He won't get a one of them, and he'll lose some of his own!" answered Paul Halliday. "You just wait and see!" And then he walked away.
"Jack, that move might have given you the majorship," said Fred.
"If I've got to get it that way, Fred, I don't want it," was the prompt reply. "I wouldn't vote for Harkness under any circumstances. He's in hand and glove with Brassy Bangs, Halliday, Sands, and that whole bunch; and I don't believe he ought to be an officer."
A few minutes later came a commotion near the main entrance of the Hall. A cadet named Gibson who was doing some electioneering for Glasby had knocked Paul Halliday down, and there was every prospect of a fight when the two cadets were separated by a number of friends.
"He offered to sell the Harkness vote if our crowd would vote later on the way he wanted us to!" declared Gibson. "You would think he had half the vote of the Hall in his pocket," and he glared at Halliday, who thereupon lost no time in sneaking out of sight.
The report that Halliday, Sands, and even Brassy Bangs were trying to sell the Harkness vote in exchange for some votes for a captaincy soon spread, and a number of the cadets who had voted for the lieutenant became disgusted and promptly said they were going to change. A lively discussion followed, in the midst of which the bell rang for the second ballot.
"Gee, Jack! if some of those fellows do change their votes I hope they come to you," murmured Gif.
"Well, I must confess I'm hoping that myself," answered the young captain, with a smile.
Once more the boys lined up and deposited their ballots. Then came some anxious waiting, and finally Captain Dale announced the result:
"Total number of votes cast.....125 Necessary to a choice............63 Jack Rover has...................67 Louis Glasby has.................46 Darrell Harkness has..............9 Peter Floyd has...................3"
"Hurrah! Jack wins!" cried Fred enthusiastically, and was the first person to grab his cousin by the hand and shake it warmly.
"That's great, Jack!" exclaimed Gif, slapping him on the shoulder. "Let me congratulate you!"
"It's just the result I was looking for!" burst in Spouter, his face wreathed in smiles.
Of course, Louis Glasby was much disappointed, but he took his defeat in good part and came up bravely to shake Jack by the hand.
"It was a fair and square contest, Jack," he said. "And I congratulate you." And then turning to the other cadets he called out: "Three cheers for Major Rover!" They were given with a will; and then Colonel Colby, Captain Dale, and many of the older persons came forward to congratulate the newly-elected head of the school battalion.
"Speech! Speech!" came the cry from the students. "A speech from the new major!" and almost before he was aware of it Jack was escorted to the platform.
"I don't know what to say to you," he said, as he faced his fellow-students. "I thank you very heartily for your support and I will do my best to deserve it. I want to say that I am particularly pleased at the nice manner in which Louis Glasby has taken his defeat. He's a fine fellow and I hope I shall always have him for my friend." And following these words there was more cheering.
"Evidently the Harkness combination went to pieces," remarked Randy. "He polled only nine votes."
"And that was nine too many," murmured his brother.
Following the election for major, Captain Dale announced that they would next vote for a new captain for Company A.
"I don't know what you fellows are going to do, but I know I'm going to vote for Louis Glasby," announced Jack.
"I think a whole lot of fellows will do that," answered Fred. "He'll probably get every one of his original fifty-one votes."
Again there was an intermission of a quarter of an hour, and then the boys were lined up for the vote to fill the vacancy in Company A. On the first ballot Glasby got 60 votes while Fred poled 18 votes, the rest being scattering. Then on the second ballot Glasby was declared elected with 69 votes in his favor.
"Three cheers for Captain Glasby of Company A!" called out Jack quickly, as he shook hands with his late rival, and the cheers were given with as much of a will as they had been for the newly-elected major.
"Well, I got thirty-two votes on that last ballot," announced Fred. "That shows I've got some friends in this school. I don't want to be the captain of Company A. I'd rather remain a lieutenant of Company C."
"But we've got to have a new captain for Company C now that Jack has stepped out," put in Phil Franklin.
A quarter of an hour later the balloting began for a new captain for the company Jack had commanded. Here developed a spirited rivalry, and it was not until the fifth ballot that the final vote was taken. Then Fred won by 64 votes with the other votes scattered among eight contestants.
"Three cheers for Captain Fred Rover!" shouted Phil Franklin enthusiastically, and threw his cap high in the air. He had electioneered as hard as anybody for the youngest Rover.
Then Fred was called on for a little speech, and after that there was another election for lieutenants and a number of minor officers.
"It certainly was our day, Fred," said Jack, as he and his cousin shook hands.
"Right you are, Major Rover," and Fred saluted in the most precise military fashion.
"Bonfires to-night, boys!" sang out Andy. "And we'll have some big doings, believe me!"
"Right you are!" declared his twin.
It was the custom at Colby Hall for the officers of the battalion to take dinner with Colonel Colby on the day of an election. This was quite a formal affair and the cadets to participate made it a point to look their best.
"Say, Jack, you're going to make a stunning looking major," remarked Fred, as he watched his cousin dressing.
"How about yourself as captain?" was the reply.
"Just wait till Ruth Stevenson sees Jack in his new uniform!" cried Randy.
"Say, Jack, why not have a life-sized photo taken and give it to her to hang over her dressing table?" put in Andy, with a grin.
"You beware, Andy," admonished his cousin, waving a finger severely at him. "Remember, as the commandant of the battalion, I can throw you into a dungeon cell if I feel so inclined," and Jack strutted around grandly in the privacy of the Rovers' sitting room.
"I'll be good, oh, Most Noble One," answered the fun-loving Rover, bowing down until his head almost touched his feet.
Jack and Fred had already sent word to Martha and Mary, and they, of course, had told Ruth and the others. It is needless to say that the Rover girls and their chums were almost as much pleased over the results of the election as the boys had been.
"I'm just dying to see them on parade with Jack at the head," confided Martha to the others.
"Yes, and Fred in command of Company C," added Mary. "Just to think of it! And he so much younger than the others!"
"I hope I'm on hand to see their first parade," said Ruth, her eyes beaming with pleasure.
"I thought you were going to write Jack a letter about that party," said Martha in a low tone.
"I am. To-night. And I'll let him know that I've wanted to do it ever since the party was talked of," went on Ruth.
The officers' dinner was a great success. Every one present made a little speech and Colonel Colby and Captain Dale made addresses to which the cadets listened with keen attention.
"It is my desire to make this military academy one of the best in the country," declared the colonel earnestly. "And I cannot do that without the sincere cooperation of every cadet attending the institution. As many of you know"—and here he glanced at Jack and Fred—"when I was about your age I attended Putnam Hall Military Academy. I am sure the training I received there did me much good, and I am also sure that I made many friends who will stand by me as long as I live.
"I want this institution to be one of good-fellowship all around, and I am relying upon all of you to do your best. At Putnam Hall in many respects we followed the honor system which I have put into operation here. That honor system did not fail there, and I do not look for it to fail here. I want you all to have a good time; but there is a limit, and every one of you knows what that limit is just as well as I do. In the late war the training which some of our soldiers had received at Putnam Hall stood them in good stead. And I want the training received here to be of equal benefit if any of my cadets should ever be called upon to fight for our country."
"Three cheers for Colonel Colby!" came from Jack a minute later, and the boys assembled nearly split their throats trying to do justice to their feelings.
While this dinner was going on the other cadets had their repast in the mess hall and then flew off in all directions to prepare for the real festivities of the evening. They had gotten together several piles of barrels and boxes, as well as brushwood from the forest behind the school, and these were soon heaped up along the river bank into great bonfires, the light of which could be seen a long distance.
"It's going to be some night, believe me!" sang out Andy merrily. "We'll tear the woodpile down, as the old saying is."
"We want to be a little bit careful or else we'll have Snopper Duke or some other professor calling us down."
"Snopper Duke is going away. I heard him tell one of the other teachers that he had had a sudden call to go somewhere out of town," answered Randy.
"Going away again, eh?" questioned Gif, in surprise. "He certainly is getting to be a regular Man of Mystery."
The greater part of the cadets were wildly excited over the prospects of a good time that night. A few of them, however, including Lieutenant Harkness, Paul Halliday, and Brassy Bangs, looked far from pleased.
"They make me tired," was Brassy's comment. "You'd think that being major of the school battalion was next to being president."
"If I can't be anything better than a lieutenant I think I'll resign altogether," returned Harkness. "I'd rather go in for athletics."
"You'll have a pretty good chance if you do," announced Paul Halliday. "I understand they're going to try to divorce the officers from participating in baseball and football as much as possible. A fellow can hold a commission and be on a team at the same time only when it seems absolutely necessary."
"Then Jack Rover and Fred Rover will have to give up playing baseball," put in Brassy quickly.
"More than likely. Although, of course, they'll hate to lose such good players as they are," put in another cadet who was present.
When the officers' dinner was at an end Jack and Fred lost no time in hurrying to their rooms, where they donned their old uniforms. It was what was termed a "holiday night" at the Hall, which meant that for the time being the cadets were all on an even footing and must treat each other as if such a thing as an officer was unknown.
By the time Jack and Fred joined the crowd along the river bank the fun was at its height. Many of the cadets were running around indulging in all sorts of horseplay while others were dancing around the bonfires singing the songs they had learned in the school and while at the encampments. Several of the boys, including Andy, were in clowns' costume with big slapsticks which they used vigorously on everybody who came within their reach.
"Hurrah, boys, let her flicker!" cried Fred, as he rushed forward. "Everybody join in!" he added, and then boomed out with this well-known Hall refrain:
"Who are we? Can't you see? Colby Hall! Dum! Dum! Dum, dum, dum! Here we come with fife and drum! Colby! Colby! Colby Hall!"
"That's the stuff!" cried Jack. "Let's have it again!" And then the refrain boomed out louder than ever.
"Come on! Let's march around the school," came from Gif, and he caught up a firebrand as he spoke.
A number of others were quick to follow his example, and in a minute more a torchlight procession was in progress, winding along over the campus, around the school, and through the edge of the woods beyond. Then the boys came back by way of the barns and sheds in the rear.
"Look out that you don't set something on fire," warned Jack.
"Something is on fire already!" burst out Andy suddenly.
"You don't say!" queried Spouter.
"Where is the fire?" demanded half a dozen others, looking around anxiously.
"Right down there," declared the fun-loving Rover, and pointed to the bonfires along the river.
"Wow! Let's duck him for that!" cried Phil Franklin.
He made a dive for Andy and so did several others, but the agile Rover was too quick for them and danced out of their reach, having no desire to take an involuntary bath in the river, which at that time of the year was very cold.
In the past the cadets had had considerable fun with Job Plunger, the school janitor, who was quite deaf and who was often called Shout because everybody had to shout at him to make him hear. But this time Plunger was wise and kept out of sight, as did also Pud Hicks, his assistant, and Bob Nixon, the chauffeur. The only person the boys could get hold of was Si Crews, the gymnastic instructor.
"Give us a song, won't you?" asked several of the boys at once, for Si Crews was known to be quite a singer.
"I will if Lowe will play the mandolin or the banjo," answered Crews.
"That's the stuff, Ned!" called Fred. "Go on and get your mandolin."
Ned Lowe, who was also a good singer, was willing, and at once ran off into the school to get the musical instrument mentioned. When he came out he tuned up hastily and then played while Si Crews sang one or two old-time songs. Then Ned gave the crowd one or two funny songs and a dozen or more of the cadets joined in the chorus.
"Here's a chance to get square with Codfish!" cried Fred, as the sneak of the school showed himself in the crowd.
"Oh, we might as well let Codfish drop," answered Jack.
But before this could be done Andy and Randy caught hold of Stowell and pushed him forward through the circle of merry cadets around one of the fires.
"We're going to initiate you in the Ancient Order of Cornmeal," declared Andy.
"I don't want to be initiated," answered Codfish. "You let me alone!"
"Oh, but this is a first-class Order, Codfish," returned Randy. "If your reputation is bad it will render you almost spotless."
"You let me go!" burst out Codfish in sudden fear, as Andy and Randy and several others came close to him. "I don't want any horseplay to-night. I'm tired out."
"To be initiated in this Order you've got to lie down," continued Andy, and, motioning to his brother and some of the others, they suddenly caught poor Codfish and stretched him out on the grass in front of the fire.
"Are you ready to be initiated?" questioned Randy solemnly, as he stood over Codfish with a small paper bag in one hand.
"You let me——" began Codfish.
"He says 'let me!'" burst out Randy quickly. "So go to it, Most Potent Sower of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Cornmeal! Go to it, I say!"
And thereupon without further ado Randy overturned the paper bag he held in his hand and there descended upon Codfish several pounds of finely-ground meal which the lads had purchased in town a day or two before.
"Hi! Hi! What's this? You let me go!" cried Codfish, and then began to splutter as the dry cornmeal got into his mouth and nose.
"My, Codfish, you'd make a regular muffin now," declared Andy, as the whitened youth struggled to his feet.
"Give us a song, Codfish."
"Make it a regular corncake hoedown," put in Randy.
"You let me go!" shrieked Codfish, and then in commingled rage and fear he suddenly caught up a long firebrand from the bonfire and whirled it around rapidly before him.
"Get out of my way—all of you!" he screamed, and the next minute made a movement as if to dash the firebrand directly into Randy's face.
A STARTLING DISCOVERY
"Drop that, Codfish!" exclaimed Randy, and backed away so suddenly that he tripped over some brushwood and came down flat on his back.
"I'm not going to be tormented any more," stormed Codfish, and swung the firebrand around again, this time so the flames brushed Andy's shoulder and also Fred's arm.
"Drop that, you imp!" exclaimed Ned Lowe. "Do you want to put out somebody's eyes?"
"I don't care! You've got to let me alone!" screamed Codfish.
"We won't let you alone until you learn how to behave yourself and act like the other fellows do," answered Andy. "You're the worst sneak this school ever had, and you know it!"
"Yes, and see how you acted after all we did for you when we were at Cedar Lodge," added Randy, who had scrambled to his feet.
"I—I didn't mean to say anything about those snowballs," whined Stowell. "They made me do it!" And thereupon, pitching the firebrand back on the bonfire, he pushed his way through the crowd of cadets and disappeared in the darkness in the direction of the school.
"Gee, he certainly is a pill!" was Dan Soppinger's comment. "I think none of us would weep if Codfish left the school for good. How about it?"
"Never mind—don't let it spoil the festivities," cried Andy gayly. "Come on! Everybody join in! A fine of one suspender button for the fellows who don't sing!" And thereupon he began a ditty he had composed during the war.
"Johnny get your musket! You must get your musket! Johnny get your musket! You must get it now!"
And this ditty the lads sang over and over again as they leaped and swung in a circle around the bonfires.
But all gala occasions must come to an end, and by eleven o'clock the bonfires were nothing but heaps of smouldering ashes, and then one by one the cadets returned to the Hall and retired.
"Well, Jack, it will seem kind of funny, won't it, to be at the head of the school battalion to-morrow morning?" questioned Gif, as he and the newly-elected major turned into the corridor leading to their rooms.
"Yes, Gif. But it won't be so very strange either, because you know I had to command the battalion two or three times when the other officers were away."
Their activities during the whole of the day had made the cadets sleepy, and nearly all turned in without much ado. Here and there there was an exception, and these included Fatty Hendry and Dan Soppinger.
"I've got to get out some sort of a composition on City Improvements," declared Fatty. "I don't know much about 'em, but if I don't get the paper in by nine o'clock to-morrow morning there's going to be trouble."
"And I still have some examples in algebra to work out," answered Dan. "So I think I'll go at them before I retire."
All of the Rovers slept soundly and did not awaken until they heard an unexpected knock on their door some time before the rising bell.
"Let me in," came in the voice of Dan Soppinger. "I've got news."
Jack opened the door and Dan came in, followed by Fatty.
"Say, what do you know about this!" exclaimed Dan. "Colby Hall has been robbed!"
"Robbed!" ejaculated Jack. "What do you mean? What did they take?"
"What did they take!" burst out Fatty. "I guess they took about everything they could get their hands on that was easy to carry off. I lost my stickpin and my watch."
"And I lost two old stickpins and two rings that I haven't been wearing," put in Dan.
"When did you find this out?" questioned the newly-elected major.
"I made the discovery just when I was going to bed after doing some examples in algebra," answered Dan. "It was about half-past twelve, so I didn't want to wake anybody up—that is, none of the other fellows, although I did call on Fatty because I knew he was writing a composition. He looked around his room then and found he had been robbed, too. Then, as Professor Duke was away, we called on Professor Watson. He made an investigation and then said he would report to Colonel Colby the first thing this morning."
The talk in Jack's room had brought Fred to the scene, and a few minutes later Randy and Andy came in, rubbing their eyes sleepily.
"What was your stuff worth, Dan?" questioned Fred.
"I think the rings were worth about fifteen dollars each, and the stickpins almost as much."
"My stickpin was worth thirty-five dollars," groaned Fatty. "And the watch was a gold one given to me by my grandfather, and I wouldn't lose that for a good deal."
"Hark! What's that commotion?" put in Jack suddenly.
There was a murmur of excited voices in the corridor, and, throwing open the door, the Rovers and their friends came out to see what was up.
"My room has been robbed!"
"My watch is gone and a whole lot of other jewelry!"
"I lost three dollars!"
"Huh, that isn't anything! I lost fourteen dollars and a half!"
So the talk ran on as an excited group of cadets, some fully attired and some still wearing their pajamas, crowded forward.
"Say, what do you know about this!" exclaimed Fred.
"Is anything belonging to us gone?" questioned Jack suddenly.
"I'm going back to find out," came from Randy. "I was so sleepy last night that I just tumbled into bed and let it go at that."
Without further ado the four Rovers ran back into the rooms they occupied and began a search of their chiffoniers and the other places where they kept their things of value.
"My stickpin is gone and also one of my rings," groaned Randy.
"I had a brand new five-dollar bill tucked away in one of my drawers," said his brother. "I can't find it anywhere. And, yes, my wrist-watch is missing!"
"My watch and chain and stickpin are gone, and likewise all my badges!" cried Fred. "Oh, this is the worst ever!"
"Well, I'm out a ring and three stickpins," announced Jack, "including that brand new pin I got last year."
As quickly as possible the four Rovers dressed and then joined the other cadets in the corridor. From all sides were heard excited exclamations as one pupil after another came forward to announce that either his jewelry or his money—and sometimes both—were gone.
Colonel Colby and several of the professors had already been notified, and they quickly appeared on the scene and tried to interview the cadets. This, however, was a hard thing to undertake because nearly all the boys wanted to talk at once. There was so much excitement that for the time being the morning parade and breakfast were completely forgotten.
"This is certainly a terrible state of affairs," remarked the colonel to Captain Dale. "Have you any idea who can be guilty?"
"No, Colonel. I have always thought that every one connected with this school was honest."
"It may be the work of some of the hired help," mused Colonel Colby. "But I hate to think that. Every one who is here came highly recommended."
"We might make inquiry and see if any strangers were in the school last night during the celebration," suggested Captain Dale. "There was so much excitement that some one might have slipped in and out without our noticing."
Finally Colonel Colby told all the cadets to go below for breakfast, dispensing with the early morning drill.
"As soon as you have finished eating I wish each cadet to make a thorough search of his room and make out a written list of everything that is missing and sign the paper. Take careful note of everything when you are making your search, and if you find any clues to the perpetrator of this outrageous affair, let me know. The lists can be left at the office as soon as they are made out." And then, after a moment of thought, he added: "There will be no session of the school this morning."
"Shall we notify the Haven Point authorities?" questioned Professor Brice.
"Not at present. I wish to make my own investigation first," answered the head of the school.
It did not take Jack and his cousins long to swallow their breakfast, and this finished, they hurried back to their rooms and began the search Colonel Colby had advised.
"Well, I'm shy that gold fountain pen Aunt Martha gave me," announced Jack presently. "I'd forgotten about that because I didn't usually use it. I use the one mother gave me."
Outside of this the Rovers could find nothing more missing nor did they locate anything in the way of a clue that might lead to the robber. They sat down and made out their brief lists, signed them, and then walked together down to the office.
Here a crowd of cadets were coming and going. It was learned that twenty-two cadets in all had suffered losses which ranged from seventy-five cents to one hundred and twenty-five dollars. In all it was figured that the loss would amount to at least twelve hundred dollars.
"This is about the worst thing that ever struck Colby Hall," announced Jack.
"Who do you suppose did it?" questioned Randy.
"Don't ask me, Randy. I'd hate to suspect any of the fellows."
"Oh, I don't think any of the fellows did it!" burst out Fred.
"Well, what about the hired help?" questioned Andy.
"I don't know any of them that I'd suspect," said Jack promptly. "Every one looks like a pretty good sort."
Only two cadets came forward with objects that might possibly be a clue to the robbery. One boy had picked up a handkerchief in his room that he said did not belong to him, and another boy had found the marks of muddy footprints over his window sill and on a fire-escape outside.
"Say, that looks as if somebody had come up the fire-escape and got into the rooms that way," said Jack, when he heard of this.
"They say the handkerchief that was picked up is not marked in any way," said Gif.
"Well, every handkerchief used by the cadets is marked," returned Spouter. "They've got to be that way or they'd get all mixed up in the laundry."
"How about the help?"
"Their stuff is all marked, too. One of the teachers told me so," put in Dan Soppinger.
"Say, Ned! you came upstairs for your mandolin," cried Jack suddenly. "Did you see anybody up here?"
"I don't remember that I did," answered Ned Lowe. "I was in such a hurry to get the instrument that I didn't pay much attention. And, besides that, it seemed pretty dark in here after coming away from that big bonfire."
"A robber would be sure to keep out of Ned's sight," put in Fred.
"I remember seeing some fellows in the lower hall—Major Mason, Bart White, and one or two others. But I can't seem to remember seeing anybody upstairs—and yet, somehow or other, it seems to me I did pass somebody just before I ran into my room," and now Ned looked perplexed.
"Can't you think who it was?" questioned Andy quickly.
"No, I can't."
"If it was a stranger you would have remembered, wouldn't you?" asked Jack.
"I think I would, Jack. I'd think right away what that person was doing upstairs." Ned scratched his head. "No, if I did meet somebody, I'm sure it must have been one of the cadets. But who it was, I can't think."
A little later Colonel Colby continued his investigation by asking all those who had been inside the building during the celebration to come forward and tell anything they could that might be of advantage. It developed that not only Ned but also Ralph Mason, Bart White and two of the older cadets named Lawrence and Philips had been upstairs some time between eight and eleven o'clock. The most of these cadets said they had seen no one else upstairs in the building. But Bart White declared while at one end of a long corridor he had seen some one slip around a corner out of sight. He was not sure whether the person had been a cadet, one of the hired help, or an outsider.
"It was either a man or a big boy," said Bart. "But he moved so quickly and it was so dark I didn't recognize him, even if I happened to know him."
"And what time was this?" questioned Colonel Colby.
"Some time between half-past nine and ten o'clock."
Bart was asked to show the colonel where the disappearance of the stranger had taken place, and it was proved that this was at a point just around a corner from the room where the footprints leading to the fire-escape had been discovered.
"Perhaps you saw the person just at the time he was making his escape," was Colonel Colby's comment. "We will look for footprints below the fire-escape."
This was done, but the cadets the night before had tramped around the school building so much that the footprints were hopelessly mixed. Then the boys were questioned as to whether or not they had seen any one dropping from the fire-escape to the ground, and all answered in the negative.
"We will question the hired help and see what they have to say," announced the master of the school.
The inquiries made among the hired help of Colby Hall produced little results. Some of the servants were rather scared and declared to Colonel Colby that they were innocent of any wrong doing.
"I am not accusing any one here," declared the master of the Hall. "I only want to find out, if possible, who was guilty of this outrageous proceeding."
It was found that two men with wagon loads of supplies for the school had visited the place during the evening, but neither of these men had gone any further into the building than the storeroom, and both had departed as soon as their errands were finished. Outside of that, so far as the servants could remember, no outsiders had been on the premises.
"And yet those footmarks on the window sill and the fire-escape look as if it had been done by an outsider," said Captain Dale to the head of the school.
"It's just possible that it may have been an inside job and an outside job combined," ventured Professor Grawson.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Somebody in the institution may be in collusion with some outsider—some professional thief. The inside person may have given the outsider a tip as to when the coast was clear and may even have stood on guard while the rooms were being looted."
"That is possible, Professor. But is there any one in the place that you suspect?"
At this Professor Grawson shook his head.
"No, sir. So far as I can imagine they are all thoroughly honest."
"We might institute a general search of all the buildings," announced Captain Dale. "We can call all the cadets out on the campus and all the hired help into the mess room and request them to remain while the search is going on."
"Some of the hired help may object to that," came from Professor Watson.
"If they did it would throw suspicion on them," answered Colonel Colby quickly. "I think the idea had better be carried out."
All the persons in the school were assembled as mentioned, and then Captain Dale explained to the cadets what had been proposed and Colonel Colby did the same to the hired help.
"They're certainly welcome to search our rooms," declared Major Jack promptly.
"And mine, too," added a score of others.
"I'm sure I haven't anything to conceal," put in Lieutenant Harkness.
"And I haven't anything to conceal either," came from Brassy Bangs. "They can search my room all they please." He had announced the loss of a stickpin and six dollars and a quarter in cash.
Among the hired help there was more or less murmuring, one of the old cooks, an Irish woman who had been in the place since it had been opened, shaking her head dubiously.
"Sure an' I didn't think yez would take me fer a thief, Colonel Colby," said Bridget, gazing at the head of the school severely.
"I'm not taking any one for a thief, Mrs. Mulligan," he answered. "But it would not be fair to search any of the rooms without searching all of them."
"Sure an' that's true fer yez," announced the cook, nodding her head in assent. "An' if that's the way ye're after lookin' at it, go ahead and search me room all ye please. Only don't be disturbin' them trinkets I have from me dead mother."
The search was made without delay, all of the teachers and the cadets who had lost their belongings taking part. It occupied the rest of the morning. Every room was gone over carefully, and when anything in the way of jewelry or other such articles as had been reported missing were discovered all those who had suffered were asked to look on and see if they could identify anything.
"Gee! there's a fountain pen that belongs to me," cried one of the boys presently. And then he added in a crestfallen manner: "It's all right. I lent that to Bill Latimer a couple of weeks ago and forgot all about it."
Outside of this incident the search came to an end with nothing out of the ordinary happening. Not an article that had been taken was discovered in any of the rooms occupied by the cadets or the hired help. Nor was anything discovered in any of the other rooms or closets of the institution.
"It certainly is puzzling," declared Colonel Colby, after the search had been called off. "It looks to me as if a thief had gotten away with everything he took."
"Either that or he has some hiding place which we as yet haven't unearthed," answered Captain Dale.
After that the hired help were told they might go, and as soon as possible dinner was served to the cadets and the teachers. Then, when the pupils were told to go to their afternoon classes, Colonel Colby and Captain Dale held a conference in the office and notified the local police authorities.
"I hate to do it," said Colonel Colby. "But there seems to be no help for it. It will certainly give our institution a black eye."
"But I do not see how anyone can hold you responsible for this affair," returned Captain Dale. "We are as watchful at this institution as they are anywhere."
"Of course I shall not permit our cadets to lose anything by this," went on the master of the school quickly. "I shall ask each of them to value carefully what they have lost, and then, if the things are not recovered before the end of the term, I will make the loss good."
"That would be very nice on your part, Colonel Colby. And I think it would be a good investment too," added Captain Dale. "It will prove to the parents of the cadets that you consider yourself responsible while they are under your care."
When the local authorities came to the school they went over the ground carefully with Colonel Colby and some of the others and asked innumerable questions.
"We have a number of strangers stopping in town, mostly traveling salesmen," announced the chief of police. "I'll look 'em up, and also look up any tramps or any other suspicious characters that may be hanging around." And that for the time being was all he could say. Soon he and his men departed.
That evening Jack found a letter in his box which had been mailed early that morning at Haven Point. It was from Ruth. There was also a brief note to Fred which had been sent by May.
In her communication to the newly-elected major Ruth congratulated him heartily on his success and said she hoped soon to see him in a parade at the head of the battalion. After that she wrote as follows about the sleighing party that had been called off:
"I received an invitation to that party from Lester Bangs and May received an invitation from Paul Halliday. Jennie Mason, Ida Brierley and several of the other girls had invitations and they wanted us to go very much. But, of course, I did not want to go with such a fellow as Bangs. Then he came to me and started a report that all of you Rovers were going to another party with some of the girls from the town, and that the party was to take place the same night as our party. Of course, I did not want to say anything about it, because I realized that you could do as you pleased. But I told Bangs positively that I would not go with him and May told the same thing to Halliday. Then both of them got quite ugly and accused you and your cousin of trying to spoil his outing. I told him you had had nothing to do with it, but he declared that you had and that you had better look out or you would get into hot water. So, Jack, please look out for him and tell Fred to look out for Halliday and the others."
There was more to the letter, and Jack read the communication with great interest. He felt greatly relieved to think that Ruth had not intended to accept Brassy's invitation, and later on he dropped her a note thanking her for her kind congratulations and telling her that the report of another party in which the Rovers and some girls from Haven Point were to participate had been faked up.
The note received by Fred was on lines similar to the communication sent to Jack. He sent word to May clearing up the situation.
"It was a mean thing for Bangs and Halliday to do," declared the newly-elected captain of Company C. "We ought to pitch into them."
"We can't afford to do it, Fred, now that I'm a major and you're a captain," was Jack's reply. "Remember what Colonel Colby said: We must be models for the other cadets."
"Great Scott! does that mean we can't stick up for our rights?" demanded the youngest Rover indignantly.
"Not at all, Fred. If those fellows say anything, give it back to them. And if they start to fight, defend yourself just as well as you are able."
As mentioned before, Snopper Duke had been absent from the Hall during the election for officers and the celebration which had followed. When he returned he looked much worried, and this worry was far from dispelled when he visited his room.
"Colonel Colby, I, too, have been robbed!" he exclaimed, as he came rushing down to the office. "I've had a silver cardcase taken, and also a gold watch which has been in our family for several generations, a watch that belonged to my father and my grandfather."
"It's too bad, Professor Duke," answered the master of the Hall seriously. "May I ask what the articles were worth?"
"I don't suppose the cardcase was worth more than a few dollars, but the watch was of gold, and I presume it must have cost fifty or sixty dollars. It was an heirloom and I treasured it highly."
"I am doing my best to find out something about the robbery," said Colonel Colby. "But so far all my efforts have been in vain. I intend, if the articles are not recovered by the time the school session comes to an end, to pay for everything that has been stolen." And that was all the master of the Hall could say.
It must be admitted that both Jack and Fred felt quite proud when the first regular parade of the battalion took place that spring. The cousins had, of course, sent home word of the election and had received permission to purchase new uniforms. Both looked spick and span as they marched out at the head of their respective commands. It was a clear, warm day, and Colonel Colby announced that the cadets could parade through Haven Point to Clearwater Hall and return if they so desired.
"Hurrah! That's the stuff!" cried Fred.
And so it was arranged, and one of the teachers telephoned over to the girls' academy, to let those at that institution know what they might expect. Then one of the cadets telephoned to Felix Falstein, the owner of the Haven Point moving picture theater.
"Falstein always hangs out his flags for us," said this cadet. "And he'll do it this time, I'm sure."
Colby Hall now boasted of a drum and fife corps of twelve pieces, and they made merry music as the battalion marched away in the direction of Haven Point. All but three or four of the cadets were in the best of spirits.
"I think marching over to Clearwater Hall is punk," declared Brassy Bangs, with a snarl. "Why can't they march some place worth while or just go around the town and let it go at that?"
"I guess Jack Rover wants to show off before those girls," grumbled Paul Halliday.
"I wouldn't go if I could get out of it," growled Brassy.
"Oh, don't squeal," returned his crony quickly. "If you do they'll only laugh at us and make us go anyway."
"Attention there, Bangs!" cried the captain of Company B, the command to which Brassy belonged. "No talking in the ranks!" And thereupon the cadets became silent.
As had been anticipated, when the cadets reached Haven Point they found that Felix Falstein had outdone himself in the way of decorations. Not only were several flags displayed across the front of his theater, but he had strung two big flags across the street, and between them placed a banner which he had had painted some time before and which read:
WELCOME TO COLBY HALL
"That's very nice of him," remarked Jack, who was marching at the head of the procession with Captain Dale on horseback close beside him.
"Very nice, indeed, Major Rover," answered the military man.
"I wonder if we can't come to a halt here and go through the manual of arms?" went on the newly-elected major.
"Certainly, if you wish to do so."
"Battalion halt!" called out Jack, turning around and the three companies came to a stop.
Soon the three companies of the Colby Hall battalion were in a long line in front of the moving picture theater. At once a crowd began to gather until several hundred people were assembled. Then the cadets were put through the manual of arms, after which followed some fancy evolutions in the street in front of the show house.
"Very good! Very good, indeed!" shouted Felix Falstein, who was present.
His face was beaming and he clapped his hands loudly, and, taking this hint, the crowd applauded with vigor. Then the march through Haven Point was resumed and soon the cadets came in sight of Clearwater Hall.
They had good reason to feel proud of what those at the girls' school had done in their honor. The big flag was flying from the flagstaff on the campus and other flags were displayed from the front of the building. In addition to this the classes had been dismissed for the time being and nearly all the girls were out at the front of the school, many carrying small flags which they waved vigorously as the cadets approached.
"Oh, don't they look grand!" cried Mary.
"Superb!" added Martha ecstatically.
"I do believe Jack has a brand new uniform," came from Ruth, and then she began to cheer and all the girls joined in.
The cadets had been cautioned to preserve true military discipline, and they did their best not to smile and make eyes at their admirers. But it was hard work, and many a face broke into a grin impossible to control.
Opposite the school the command came to a halt, and then Miss Garwood and a number of her teachers came forward to greet the cadets and those with them and invite them to the campus. Here another drill was given, the girls applauding louder than ever as each movement was executed with a precision that would have done credit to the cadets at West Point.
"I'm sure that's as good as our fathers did at Putnam Hall," declared Mary to her cousin.
Colonel Colby had come along with Captain Dale, and during the drilling had been in earnest conversation with Miss Garwood. Then came a surprise as the cadets were asked to march into the dining hall of the girls' school. Here they found generous plates of cake and ice-cream, as well as glasses of refreshing lemonade, awaiting them.
"Gee, this is the best ever!" declared Andy, smacking his lips.
"Yes. And what a surprise!" returned Randy.
"Some day we'll have to return this compliment," came from Jack. "My, wouldn't it be a lark to have the girls in our mess hall and treat them?"
"I suppose we'd have to give 'em regular soldiers fare," was Andy's dry comment. "Salt pork and baked beans and things like that," and he grinned.
"Nothing doing!" declared Fred. "We'll feed 'em toasted marshmallows and angel cake," and at this sally there was a laugh.
Following the refreshments the cadets were allowed fifteen minutes in which to walk around the school campus and mingle with the girl students. Jack, of course, at once sought out Ruth to tell her personally how much he appreciated the letter she had sent.
"I hope, Jack, you haven't had any more trouble with Lester Bangs," the girl said anxiously.
"Oh, he's growling around a little, but that's all," answered the young major. "I'm not paying any attention to him, Ruth. I'm mighty glad that you didn't accept his invitation," and he gave her a warm glance.
"It was awful for him to get up that report about another party," answered the girl. "Of course I didn't think it was true—that is, not what he said about you and your cousins."
"Suppose we let the whole matter drop, Ruth, and forget Brassy Bangs and his crowd."
"I'm sure I'm willing to do that, Jack." And then the girl added quickly: "You've had some terrible doings over at the Hall, so I have been told."
"You mean the robbery, I suppose?"
"Yes. Have they discovered anything?"
"Not a thing. It certainly is a mystery."
When the gathering of boys and girls broke up nearly every one was in the best of humor, the only exceptions being Brassy Bangs and Paul Halliday. These two unworthies had done their best to get on friendly terms with some of the girls, but had been snubbed in such a manner that it made them much crestfallen.
"I'll be glad when we start back," grumbled Brassy to his crony.
"Come on, let's take a walk outside," answered Halliday, and thereupon the pair left the school grounds.
"What about baseball this spring, Jack?" questioned his sister just before the cadets were ready to start.
"I'll be out of that this year. There is a new ruling that officers must step aside and let the other cadets have a chance on the baseball nine and the football eleven, as well as have a chance in the rowing and other contests. Colonel Colby has an idea that not enough cadets have filled these various places in the past. He wants to give every fellow a chance if possible."
"Well, you can't blame him for that."
"Not at all, Martha. I'm quite content to step aside so far as baseball is concerned, and so is Fred. We want to do our best as officers and also do our best with our studies. You know the folks at home are expecting us to make real records in the classrooms."
"I know that only too well, Jack. Mary and I are working day and night on our lessons here. We're going to do our best to come out either at the head of our classes or very near to it."
"How is Ruth making out?"
"She's doing very well. Of course, she had a hard struggle to catch up on account of the time lost because of her eyesight."
Following the parade to Clearwater Hall the cadets settled down to the usual routine of drills and studies. But soon there came a call for aspirants to the baseball team, and then talk of the coming matches with Columbus Academy, Hixley High, and Longley Academy filled the air.
"Gee! it makes my hands tingle to think about baseball," sighed Fred, when talking the matter over with Jack.
"I feel the same way," answered the young major. "But remember, Fred, we can't have everything in this world, and I'd rather be major of the school battalion—at least, for one term."
"Of course! And I'd rather be captain of Company C."
"Gif tells me there are going to be a number of important changes on the nine," went on Jack. "A lot of new fellows are clamoring to get on. They're going to have their try-outs in a day or two."
What Jack said was true, and the following Saturday afternoon a somewhat patched-up first team played a scrub team. On the scrub, somewhat to the Rovers' surprise, were Brassy Bangs and Paul Halliday.
"They both claim to know a whole lot about the game," explained Gif. "So I'm bound to give them a try-out."
"Why, I thought Brassy Bangs came from a ranch in the West?"
"So he does. But he told me they frequently played baseball on the ranch and that some of the cowboys were really good players. He said one of the fellows had once played on one of the Midwest Leagues."