A Mystery Uncovered

That night Don settled himself in his chair to study. Jim was across the
room intent on history and Terry was visiting down the hall. The
redheaded boy was unusually bright in his studies; he was going through
Woodcrest on a scholarship which he had won, and he seemed to get along
with very little study. So he was able to do a little visiting, while
the others found that they must bury themselves in their books.

Don and Jim studied for some time and then Don felt that he had his
lesson clearly in his mind. He glanced around the room and his eyes fell
on some back numbers of the _Bombardment_, copies of which had helped in
the search for the trophies. This copy at which he was looking was dated
1933, and Don idly looked through it, scanning the school and athletic
notes of the period.

Presently a particular notice attracted his attention. It was an item in
the school notes department, and read as follows: “John Mulford, our
efficient and pleasant janitor for the past six years, left us quite
unexpectedly this past week. We were unable to learn just why he left
us. For the next few days the students will do well to thank their lucky
stars that it is the spring and not the winter of the year.”

Don passed the notice off lightly, wondering what it was that interested
him in it at all. His eyes swept up the column and something else drew
his attention. It was also a brief paragraph, but it started an idea in
his mind.

“There has been a let-down to the social activities of the senior class
since the regrettable affair of the Gates Scholarship Cup, but we hope
that such a condition of affairs will soon mend.”

His eyes narrowed slowly. Carefully he read the first note and then the
second and tried to construct a picture in his mind. He placed the
magazine back on the table and sat back in his chair, his eyes half
closed. Jim looked up from his book.

“Better go to bed, instead of falling asleep there, kid,” he advised.

“I’m not falling asleep, Jim,” Don answered. “Listen here, I’ve got
something on my mind, and I want your advice.”

For some time he talked to Jim, who forgot his lessons in his interest.
At last Jim slowly nodded his head.

“It sounds good to me. Are you going to tell the colonel in the
morning?”

“Yes, the first chance that I get.”

Just before his first class the next morning Don found Colonel Morrell
in his study. The colonel motioned him to a seat.

“What is on your mind this morning, Don?” asked the headmaster.

“I was reading one of the back numbers of the _Bombardment_ last night,”
Don replied. “And in it the distressing affair of the Gates Cup was
mentioned. Right underneath it was mentioned the fact that a janitor by
the name of John Mulford disappeared, or rather left the school for some
unknown reason. Wasn’t he suspected?”

“Yes, he was,” returned the colonel, promptly. “In fact, I had him
watched, but he didn’t take a thing out with him.”

“I see. Could it have been possible that he came back and got something
later on?”

“Possible, but I don’t think so. No, I’m pretty sure that he didn’t have
anything to do with it, in spite of his oddly abrupt leaving.”

“My thought is that Mr. Long was never guilty, Colonel Morrell,” Don
went on. “I feel that something strange was connected with that whole
case, and that your former captain suffered a grave injustice. I wonder
if you’d allow me to do something?”

“What do you want to do, Mercer?”

“Do you know where this former janitor went?” Don asked.

“When he left here he went to live in Ashland, a small manufacturing
town seventy miles east of here. I had to write to him once to send him
some money due him, so I know that much. But whether or not he lives
there now I don’t know, of course.”

“I see. Can you find that address and will you allow me to go to Ashland
and talk to this man Mulford?”

For a brief instant the colonel studied Don’s earnest face and then he
nodded shortly. “Yes, I can do all of that,” he said. “You will want to
go on a Saturday afternoon, won’t you?”

“Yes, sir. You have faith in my idea, colonel?”

“Not as much faith in your idea as I have in you,” returned the colonel.
“I know what you are capable of. I too have never believed Long guilty,
and I’d like to see him cleared.”

“Thank you,” said Don, as he left the room. “I’ll go next Saturday,
Colonel Morrell.”

Nothing more was said on the subject until the following Saturday
morning, at which time the colonel gave Don a slip of paper with the
name of a street in Ashland on it. While the other cadets were out on
the field waiting for a football game to begin Don left the school and
boarded a train for Ashland.

“I don’t know that this isn’t a wild goose chase for fair,” he
reflected, as the swift train bore him across the country. “But I’m
willing to make an attempt to find out what happened to that cup.”

It was late in the afternoon when he reached the manufacturing city, and
after some inquiries he located the street on which the former janitor
had lived. Don finally found the house, a narrow affair of red brick,
sandwiched in between high rows on either side. He rang the bell and at
last it was answered by a tall, thin girl.

“Does Mr. Mulford live here?” Don asked, raising his hat. He was not
dressed in his uniform, as that would have attracted too much attention,
but was clad in a plain everyday dress suit.

“Yes, he does,” was the gratifying answer. That was all the girl said,
and she seemed to be waiting for something else.

“Can he come to the door?” Don went on, seeing that she did not intend
to say anything more.

“No, he can’t. He ain’t walked for seven years,” was the startling
answer. “He’s crippled!”

“Oh,” exclaimed Don. “I’m very sorry to hear that. Then I suppose I
can’t see him?”

“Sure you can, if you’ll come upstairs,” the girl said. “On business, is
it?”

“Yes,” answered Don.

The girl led the way up a flight of dark stairs into a small room which
was hot and in which a variety of cooking odors hung in the air. An old
man was sitting in a wheel chair near a window, looking out into the
gathering darkness of the street below. He had a pale face and white
hair, and Don could see that his lower limbs were thin and gathered up.

“Somebody here to see you on business, pa,” said the girl, and to Don’s
relief she quit the room at once.

Mulford looked curiously at Don, who was not certain what to do. He had
not expected to find the former janitor a cripple and he wondered if he
should question a man in this condition. Mulford spoke up in a voice
that was full and strong.

“What did you wish to see me about, young man?” he asked. “Sit down,
won’t you?”

Don sat down facing the man. “I am from Woodcrest School, Mr. Mulford,”
he began. “I understand that you were once janitor there, and I came to
see you about something that happened years ago. But perhaps I had
better not say anything about it. I didn’t expect—didn’t——”

“You didn’t expect to find me a cripple, eh?” finished Mulford, quietly.
“I wasn’t one when I left the school. So you are one of the cadets
there? I’m glad to know you. I liked all of those boys when I was there.
What can I do for you?”

“Well, it’s rather a delicate subject,” began Don. “Mr. Mulford, if you
feel that I’m prying into any of your private affairs you just tell me
to get out of here and I’ll go. But first let me tell you a story. You
remember George Long and Arthur Gates, don’t you? They were students
there when you left so unexpectedly.”

Mulford’s face was a study. He looked fixedly at Don and was silent for
a moment. Then he said something that astonished the cadet.

“Yes, I knew them. I’m glad you came here, young man. I’ve had something
on my mind for a number of years and I want to get it off. I haven’t had
the nerve to write to Colonel Morrell about it myself, but I have wanted
to. You want to know about that silver cup, don’t you?”

Don was staggered. He nodded.

“As soon as you mentioned the name of Gates and George Long I knew what
you had in mind,” the man said. “You want to know what I know about that
cup. I’ll tell you right now that I didn’t take it myself, and if you
had come to me some years ago I would have driven you out of the door.
But this ailment of mine has tamed me down a whole lot and I’ve had
nothing to do but think for several years. Do you people at the school
think I took it?”

“Colonel Morrell doesn’t,” Don answered. He went on to tell of the
search for the trophies of the past and the story of the missing cup.
“For years George Long has been suspected of having taken that cup,” he
went on. “He graduated under a cloud and has never come near the school
since. What we are trying to find out, even at this late date, is
whether he did take it or not.”

“I thought something like that would happen,” the former janitor said,
closing his eyes. “I’m responsible for it, too. No, young man, George
Long didn’t take that cup. Arthur Gates stole that cup himself, on the
morning it was to have been presented to him!”

“What! He stole his own cup!” cried Don, open-mouthed.

“Yes, and I saw him do it. He came out of Long’s room with it in his
hands, trying to get it under his coat, and I saw what was going on.
There was only one thing to do, and Gates did it. He paid me a handsome
sum to keep quiet and leave the school, and I did it. At that time I was
very poor, and the money which I earned in such an easy manner came in
mighty handy. But as years went on I found it wasn’t easy. The thing
weighed me down, and today I’m glad to get it off my chest.”

“But why in the world should Gates have stolen his own cup?” asked Don.

“That I don’t know; I can’t help you there, Mr.——”

“Mercer,” supplied Don.

“Mr. Mercer, that you must learn from someone besides me. I don’t know.
I only know that he paid me to keep quiet and to leave. He even got me a
good job here in Ashland. But after a while I bitterly regretted the
fact that I had ever seen him come out of the room, and I hated myself
for taking the money. Dishonesty is a heavy, dragging burden, Mr.
Mercer.”

“It must be,” Don admitted, dazed at his success. “But you needn’t
regret the fact that you saw Gates come out of that room. If you hadn’t,
we would never have found out that Arthur Gates took the cup, and Long
would never have been cleared. As it is now we can clear him.”

“How about me?” demanded the man. “Am I to be dragged into the light at
this late day? Can’t you cover me up some way?”

“I don’t know,” said Don, frankly. “I think that before we ever clear
Long we’ll make a great effort to find out why Gates took his own cup.
If we don’t things will be pretty cloudy. Tell me this, have you ever
heard of or from Gates since?”

“No, and I never made any effort to. When he paid me my money and got me
the job I had nothing further to do with him. As I told you before, I
was in pressing need of both the money and the job, but now, as I look
back, I’d sooner have been poor and at the same time honest. That is all
I can tell you about it, Mr. Mercer, but I’m glad to get that off of my
chest.”

Don rose to go. “I sincerely thank you, Mr. Mulford. I think I can see
how we can clear up everything without involving you any further. I
guess if we go to Gates and tell him what we know he will be glad to
confess without allowing any such disgraceful story to get into the
newspapers. He is a very prosperous businessman now, and he would be
willing to keep things quiet.” He extended his hand and Mulford shook
it.

“Good luck to you, Mr. Mercer, and whatever you do in life, keep away
from anything shady,” the former janitor said, in parting.

The daughter of the man came in at that moment and at her father’s
command she showed Don to the door. He went directly to a restaurant and
ate a hearty supper, turning the amazing disclosure over and over in his
mind. Before very long he was again on the train.

“Well, this is turning into a royal mystery,” he reflected on the way
back to school, “I certainly would like to know why Arthur Gates should
have taken the trouble to steal the very cup which was to be turned over
to him!”