The Mystery Is Solved

It was a black moment for the two cadets in the grasp of the caretaker.

With the cup in their possession and the task to which they had set
themselves almost successfully completed it was little short of
heartbreaking to miss the mark in this fashion. The man who held them
was a big and powerful man and they knew by the iron grip upon their
shoulders that resistance was out of the question. It was possible for
them to put up a fight, of course, but it would probably take them so
long that the entire effort would be useless.

Terry was the first to recover his wits. The man who held them was not
looking up into the tree; he looked in grim satisfaction at them and
apparently had no knowledge of the presence of Don above him. Terry
realized that the other must be warned quickly.

“Well, Mr. Caretaker,” he said, loudly. “You seem to have taken my
friend and me prisoners. What are you going to do about it?”

“I’m going to run you kids down to the town lockup in a mighty big hurry
and put you behind the bars for housebreaking,” the man replied.

A very slight scraping noise in the tree above them ceased abruptly as
the sound of the different voices could be heard on the night air. For a
second there was an agony of doubt in Terry’s mind, but the man did not
look up.

“You can’t prove that we were housebreaking,” said Jim, the idea
suddenly dawning upon him.

“I can’t, heh?” snorted the man. “Then why else—”

The sentence was never completed. Something big and heavy that closely
resembled a boy in a gray uniform shot down out of the tree, landing
with all force upon the shoulders of the caretaker. Under the impact of
Don’s body the man fell forward, losing his hold on the shoulders of Jim
and Terry. Don went down too, but was up like a shot.

“Beat it as fast as you can!” he cried, seeing that Jim had the box in
his hand.

“The overcoats!” cried Jim, as Terry darted forward.

“Got ’em,” the boy shouted. “Let’s go!”

A roar burst from the man as he scrambled to his feet, slightly dazed by
the force and suddenness of the encounter. At the same time the side
door of the house opened and the butler appeared. But by this time the
three cadets were running like frightened deer over the lawn in the
direction of the street.

“There they go!” shouted the caretaker. “Stop them!”

He began to run in their direction, but he was no match for the fleet
cadets. By the time he reached the street the cadets were turning the
corner a block away and were soon lost to sight. Back at the house
Arthur Gates snorted with rage.

“Wait until I get dressed, Arthur,” commanded the senior Gates. “Order
the car out at once.”

“Where are you going?” the son asked.

“Right up to the school to make the colonel pay dearly for this
outrage!” shouted Melvin Gates, entering the house.

Meanwhile the three were on their way to the school, talking over their
lucky escape.

“Let’s take the back streets, fellows,” Don advised. “There was quite an
uproar at Gates’ house and we don’t want to meet up with any police who
might be suspicious. Of course we could explain things to the chief but
the thing we want to do is to get back to the school as fast as we can.”

“OK,” agreed Terry. “I guess we had better get into our overcoats, Jim.
We’re pretty heated up and we don’t want to catch cold.”

“No, we don’t,” said Jim. “Here, you hold the cup, Don.”

When they had put on their coats Terry chuckled. “I want to compliment
you on being a huge success as a sky rocket, Don! The way you shot down
out of that tree onto that fellow’s shoulders was a treat!”

“I couldn’t have done it if you and Jim hadn’t been so prompt to warn me
of what was going on down there,” said Don. “I had no idea, from up in
the tree, that there was anyone else down there with you.”

“He must have been prowling around and heard us up there,” Jim said. “I
didn’t hear him come up and the first thing I knew about him was when he
grabbed my shoulder. It was a good thing that he thought there were only
two of us.”

“When I dropped out of the tree I saw him, but it was too late to do
anything about it,” explained Terry. “My first impulse was to yell to
Don, but that would have been the worst thing I could have done.”

“Yes,” smiled Don. “As it was, it turned out for the best. He certainly
went flying. Somebody coming fellows, and it looks like a policeman!”

“Had we better duck him?” whispered Jim.

“I think we had,” admitted Don. “He must know that cadets aren’t usually
on the streets at this hour and the least he’ll do is to question us. He
may even want to go up to the school with us, and we don’t want that.”

“No, we don’t,” Terry supplied. “He hasn’t seen us yet, so let’s slide
in here.”

There was a garage close by with a narrow alley running alongside it and
the boys quickly glided into it. But this particular policeman strolled
right by the place and was soon lost in the darkness of the long street.
When they were sure that he was safely out of sight they emerged from
their hiding places.

“Whew, that was close, too,” commented Terry, as they resumed their way.

“It would have been bad for us if we had been caught,” admitted Jim.
“Let’s hustle up to the school.”

The streets were all deserted and the houses black, for the hour was
late. The three cadets met no one else as they hastened on to the
school. They entered the grounds with a sense of profound relief.

“I hope that the colonel is still up,” Don said.

“He will be,” predicted Terry. “He knew what an errand we went on and
he’ll be waiting for us.”

Terry proved to be a true prophet. When they entered the school office
they found the colonel there waiting for them. He was impatiently
tapping a long letter-opener on the desk, and at the sound of their
entrance he sprang to his feet, glancing sharply at the clock.

“We beg to report ourselves back, Colonel Morrell,” said Don, saluting
and smiling at the same time. The others saluted at once and the colonel
somewhat hastily returned it.

“And I’m more than glad to see you back here,” the colonel exploded.
“I’ve been worrying about you. Did you have any luck?”

“Unless I am greatly mistaken we have the cup right with us, in this
box,” said Don quietly. He placed it on the desk.

“We’ll open it and see,” the colonel stated.

A hammer was procured from a nearby closet and with a few swift blows
the colonel broke open the wooden box. As the last board fell away a
somewhat tarnished silver cup was disclosed to view. The colonel raised
it from the box and they looked at the inscription on the side. It read:
“Presented to Woodcrest Military Institute by Melvin R. Gates for
Excellence in Scholastic Effort. Won by Arthur F. Gates of the Senior
Class, April 7, 1933.”

“That’s the cup,” murmured Jim.

Without a word the colonel turned it up so they could all see what was
written on the bottom. All of them craned forward to read the brief
message which had been written deep into the silver by the aid of a pin
or knife.

The message was simple but tragic. It read: “I cheated. Arthur Gates.”

There was a moment of silence on the part of the colonel and his loyal
cadets. Then the colonel said very quietly, “You see what it means,
boys?”

“I think I do,” nodded Don in a low voice. “After Gates had promised
Long that he would confess his dishonorable action he said he would
write it where it would stand for good. Long didn’t know what he meant
by that, but when he had left the room Gates scratched that confession
on the bottom of the cup with a sharp instrument.”

“Yes,” went on the colonel. “Long never knew of that, and during the
night Gates must have experienced a change of heart, so he took the cup
on the following morning. He knew that Long would expose him if he went
back on his promise to confess, so he stole that cup in order to create
an atmosphere that would make Long the butt of ridicule if he ever came
out with the story of Gates’ dishonesty.”

“How can a man with any sense of common decency do a thing like that?”
wondered Jim.

The colonel shrugged his shoulders. “I’m very much afraid that Arthur
Gates was never a shining light of virtue. We have found out that he was
dismissed from at least one school for an offense such as he committed
here. You can see that he would never have the courage to face the
school and say, ‘Gentlemen, I cheated.’ Under Long’s persuasion he
relented long enough to write the confession on the cup, but I guess he
bitterly regretted his act later.”

“The cup was a nightmare to him,” said Jim. “He didn’t have the nerve to
take it to a jeweler, so he kept it hidden in his own house.”

“Things are getting pretty bad,” murmured Terry, staring at the simple
confession on the cup. “A fellow can’t tell a lie without having it come
back after him years later!”

“That’s something a man can never escape,” replied the colonel briefly.
“But tell me how you got the cup.”

Don related his share and the other two boys had just finished telling
their part in the adventure when there was the sound of a car stopping
outside the school door. The sound of determined footsteps followed and
then the hall door was opened. Don, guessing what was in the wind,
pushed the cup from sight under the colonel’s desk. A slight nod from
the portly headmaster showed that he grasped the situation.

Melvin Gates strode into the office with his son Arthur at his heels.
The elder Gates was fairly bristling and his son wore a blustering air
that deceived no one. Melvin Gates shot a triumphant glance at the
assembled party and then addressed the colonel.

“Look here, Morrell, do you know that these boys have been breaking into
my house tonight?” he rasped.

“Yes,” said the colonel.

“You do, eh?” shouted the irate man. “Maybe you sent them to do it, eh?”

“No,” the colonel denied. “I only told them to go to your garden, but as
long as they found it necessary to go into your house I’m glad of it!”

The elder Gates became purple in the face and Arthur stepped forward.
“Look here, Colonel Morrell, this is no joking matter. I’m going to have
these boys locked up!”

The colonel only smiled. Melvin Gates rapped the desk with his cane.

“So you teach your boys housebreaking, do you, colonel?” he cried.

“Why no,” said the colonel, thoughtfully. “That isn’t part of the
program. But we do teach them to play the game of life honorably and to
put forth every ounce of their strength to find out the truth and do the
square thing!”

“Oh, what nonsense are you talking now?” growled Melvin Gates.

The eyes of the colonel blazed as he reached under his desk and brought
up the silver cup. “This is the preaching that speaks for itself, Gates.
After you have taken a good look at the bottom of this cup I want to
hear you say that you intend to lock my boys up!”

The faces of the two turned pale when they saw the inscription on the
bottom of the cup. Melvin shot an angry glance at his son.

“I told you to get rid of that thing long ago,” he cried.

“These boys have been after that cup for months, Mr. Gates,” went on the
colonel. “It was for that purpose that they broke into your house
tonight, and I want you to understand definitely that I heartily back
them up, and so will the world in general when it knows the story.”

“But see here, Morrell, you are surely not going to let this thing get
out?” begged Melvin Gates. “I have shielded this boy of mine from his
folly and weakness for years, and it will be perfectly terrible if it
gets out now. Think of our good name in this town, man!”

“How many times have you and your son thought of George Long, carrying
the stigma of a thief all of these years?” blazed the colonel, seeming
to swell up in his honest wrath. “Have you ever given him or his name
any consideration? If it was simply a case of covering up a weak moral
escapade of your boy which had not hurt anyone but himself I would
gladly help you by saying nothing. But you have had no thought for the
burden that George Long has been compelled to carry with him. Under the
circumstances I have no sympathy for you, Mr. Gates, and I warn you that
Long shall be cleared publicly as soon as possible.”

“Colonel Morrell,” said Melvin Gates, putting on an air of cunning that
turned the boys against him even more, “I have a little money in this
world. Now, if we can come to some sort of an agreement on this thing,
I’ll make it well worth—”

But the colonel became red in the face with suppressed anger. He pointed
toward the door.

“Get out of my school, both of you!” he quivered. “I won’t have my clean
young boys insulted by your presence here any longer. If you think you
can buy my tongue with your money you are badly mistaken, Melvin Gates.
Please take your son and leave the school at once, sir.”

Realizing that any more talk would be a pure waste of time the father
and son withdrew, gloom written on their faces. When they had gone the
colonel turned to his grave-faced cadets.

“Boys, your work is over, and you may report to your quarters. If any
discipline officer says anything to you because of absence from your
rooms tonight, refer him to me. I commend you on your interest and
courage in this matter, and Mr. Long shall know the full particulars.
The cadet corps will be proud of you. Goodnight, boys.”

Silently the cadets saluted, returned the colonel’s goodnight and went
to their room.