Looking out of the window of the hut the cadets saw three men coming
down the swamp pathway toward the hut. They were apparently laborers.
Two of them were big men, the third was short but sufficiently heavy to
be formidable. A single look convinced the boys that the men were coming
toward them for no good purpose.
“I’ll bet those characters mean to take our eagles away from us,” Vench
said in a low voice.
Hudson clenched his fists. “If they do, they’ll be up against one of the
finest fights of their lives,” he promised, his jaw set determinedly.
“We’re not going to give up the eagles now that we have them in our
“That’s right,” Don backed him up. “We’ll put up a fight. Suppose we
spring a surprise on them?”
“How do you mean, spring it?” Terry asked.
“Suppose only three of us go out and start walking away with the eagles?
Then, if they mean to fight, they’ll charge three of us, and the others
can charge them from the rear. What do you say to that?”
“It’s a good idea,” Hudson said, briskly. “Don, Terry and I will go
first, while Doug, Vench and Jim wait, ready to turn the tide if they
should attack us. Are we all ready? Let’s go.”
Carrying the eagles between them Don, Hudson and Terry left the hut in
the swamp and began to cross the open space before the shack. The three
cadets in reserve watched them from their post and waited. When the
three men saw the cadets coming they halted.
“Hey, where you go?” the short man called out, scowling sullenly.
“We’re going back to school with these eagles,” Hudson replied, his
heart beating a trifle more rapidly than usual. “Then we’re going to see
to it that the fellows who stole the eagles go to jail for it!”
A frightened look passed between the men and the short man whispered
something to his companions. One of the taller men growled loudly.
“They’re only chucking a bluff. I’m for beatin’ them up and pitchin’ the
eagles into the swamp. That’s to teach them soldier boys to mind their
“I guess it is pretty much our business when you come and steal our
ornaments off of the front steps!” growled Terry, his cheeks showing a
red that did not appear there very often. “You big overgrown bullies get
out of the way or we’ll put you in the mud instead of the eagles!”
The big man pushed up his sleeves and advanced threateningly. “Let’s
spread a little o’ this nice black mud on these kids,” he invited.
“It’ll take some of the freshness out of them.”
Seeing that they meant business, the cadets dropped the eagles and
waited on the defensive.
Hudson deliberately picked out the biggest man and drove at him,
avoiding his grasping hands and planting a light tap on his chest. Terry
was exchanging lively blows with the other big man and the little man
ran at Don. He did not seem to be as determined about it as the other
two did, and Don, noting the fact, decided to finish him off rapidly. He
ducked under the outflung arm of the short man, allowed him to flop half
across his back, and then, with a well-timed heave, sent him flying over
his back, to land heavily in the mud. Before he could get up Don leaped
on him and a vigorous threshing battle ensued.
The two big men were more than a match for Terry and Hudson and they
were out to deliberately break bones and hurt as viciously as possible.
Under any other circumstances the reserve cadets would have held in for
a time, but realizing the character of the men who were opposing their
friends the three cadets rushed out of the hut and threw themselves on
the men. Vench made a flying tackle at the man who was trying to crush
Terry in his arms and Douglas and Jim rushed Hudson’s foe. Before this
onrush the men went down in the mud.
“The whole confounded school is here!” yelled the leader as he went
“Speaking of dipping us in the mud,” panted Hudson. “Try it yourself!”
And he deliberately pushed the head of the man so that his nose burrowed
into the soft soil.
Realizing that they were in a bad position the two big men exerted all
their strength in the struggle and finally broke away from the lighter
cadets. They wasted no time but fled down the path, leaving the boys
winded and bruised, for the fight, though short, had been determined.
Vench was for chasing them, but Hudson was against it.
“Nothing doing,” he cried. “Those men know the path and we don’t. Don’s
still got his man.”
The short laborer had made a strong effort to get away from Don, but the
cadet had held onto him grimly, knocking him down with each attempt to
get up. The others went to his aid and they hauled both Don and the man
to their feet. The man gave one despairing look around and then,
realizing that he was trapped, whimpered brokenly.
“Please! No send Peter to jail! Peter not a bad man! I not mean to hurt
“Are you Peter Cozoza?” asked Don, wiping the mud from his face and his
The man nodded miserably. “Oh, please, not de jail. Think, mister,
Maretta and de five keeds! What dey do if Peter in jail?”
“You won’t go to jail,” Douglas reassured him. “All we want you to do is
to talk. Did you saw the eagles off up at the school?”
The man nodded. “I was paid to do it, mister! Peter not a bad man, but
he need de money so bad!”
The cadets understood readily. “Sure, we know that, Peter,” Don said.
“You were paid to cut them off. Who paid you to go up to our school and
cut off the eagles?”
The man hesitated, but feeling that the truth would serve him better
than a lie, spoke out. “A man name Mr. Gates, up at the big house, he
“Sure!” nodded Jim, grimly. “Of course, it would be Mr. Gates.”
“But why?” asked Vench.
“Oh, just to make us feel that he was right about his stand against
Dimsdale,” Don answered, wearily. “Just a petty, babyish revenge, that
is all. He got these three men to take away the eagles so that it would
cast reflections on Dimsdale. Maybe he even hoped to plant the eagles on
their property later on, I don’t know. Or, if they were never found he
would allow the suspicion between the two schools to rankle for years to
come. You can’t say anything bad enough about a man like that.”
“You bet you can’t,” agreed the captain. “How did you know we were down
“My wife, she tell me when I stop up there with my two friends,” the
“You just listen here, Peter,” Terry lectured. “In the future you stop
having such kind of friends, do you hear? We’re going to be good to you
and not take you to jail, just because we wouldn’t want to be mean to
your wife and the kids, see? But if we ever catch you hanging around
with bad men like that again, we’ll see that you go away to the big
prison for years and years. See, Mr. Peter?”
“Yes, yes!” the man agreed, eagerly. “I will make good friends always,
“Thanks for the compliment!” laughed Hudson. “Now, we’d better get out
of here. Peter, you show us the way down the path, and no funny
They picked up the brass eagles, which were quite heavy, and following
Peter, lugged them down the path. It was growing dark and it seemed a
long way back, but in time they stood in the back yard of the Cozoza
“Another thing, Peter,” Don said to the laborer, as they prepared to set
out for the village. “We want you to keep quiet about the whole thing.
If you don’t, we’ll have to go back on our promise about the jail. If
Mr. Gates should ask you about the eagles you tell him some of the
soldier boys came and took them away, and that you couldn’t stop them.
Outside of that we want you to keep your mouth closed about the whole
“Yes, sir. I keep ver’ quiet!” the man promised.
They left him and trudged down to the village. The eagles were getting
heavier all the time and Jim proposed that they hire a cab to take them
up to the school.
“Good idea,” approved Douglas. “These things get heavier with every
step. I guess we can scare up a dollar or two between us, can’t we?”
They found that between them they had a few dollars and they hailed a
passing cab. Gratefully they piled in and told the driver to take them
“What you got in them bags, boys?” the driver, a town character, said as
they drove up the hill toward the school.
“Flower pots!” returned Terry, promptly.
“You don’t say!” cried the driver, sending out a cloud of smoke from his
battered pipe. “Must have quite a number of pots in those bags!”
“Oh, we have,” Terry returned. “You see, the colonel is thinking of
relandscaping the whole school, so we’re going to put plenty of flowers
Almost the first one that they met in the hall when they carried the
rescued eagles into the school was the colonel himself.
“Where in the world have you been, boys?” the headmaster cried. “And
where did you collect all that mud?”
“We’ve been putting in a strenuous afternoon getting back the eagles,
sir!” replied the senior captain. “Here they are.”
The story was swiftly told and then the cadets went upstairs to clean
up. Like wildfire the story ran around the building and the six boys
were admired by the others for their work.
It was decided to send a public apology to Dimsdale for holding that
school in suspicion, and this was done and graciously accepted. Then
Dimsdale acted by having a scorching editorial printed in the town paper
in answer to the one suggested by Melvin Gates. The conduct of his son
years ago was broadly hinted at and the good name of the Gates family
was crushed once and for all in that locality.
“Do you think that will drive them out of the town?” Don and Jim asked
the colonel, as they were discussing the editorial with him.
“I don’t know,” the colonel replied, slowly. “I hardly think so, for
they only recently bought the house they are living in and that may be a
big factor in keeping them here. I hope they do stay, for I’m still
hopeful that we’ll find out why young Gates took that cup. Of course,
this editorial practically ruins the family with decent people, but the
Gates’ have money enough to keep to themselves and pass it off.”
“You yourself did not say anything to Melvin Gates, did you?” Don asked.
“No, that wasn’t necessary. As you saw for yourselves, the Dimsdale
editorial was a scorcher and that was enough. Gates’ trick was simply an
attempt at petty revenge that backfired. We’ll just have our eagles
remounted and forget all about the whole thing.”
“OK,” nodded Jim. “Now that the Gates family is well established in
Portville, perhaps we can learn something important about that cup