Chapter VII. Who Was Guilty?
 

"Boys, I've had my trunk looted!"

"And I've had my trousers' pockets picked!"

"And the half-dollar I left on the bureau is gone!"

Such were some of the excited exclamations which the Rover boys heard when they went downstairs the next morning. The speakers were the youths who occupied Dormitories Numbers 3 and 4, at the rear of the main upper hall. An inquiry among the lads elicited the information that everybody had suffered excepting one boy, who said he had not had any money on hand.

"I spent my last cent for the spread," he grinned. "I guess I'm the lucky one."

The news of the robberies created a profound sensation throughout Putnam Hall, and both Captain Putnam and George Strong were very much disturbed.

"We never had such a thing occur before," said the captain, and he ordered a strict investigation.

All told, something like thirty-two dollars were missing, and also a gold watch, a silver watch, and several shirt-studs of more or less value. Among the shirt-studs was one set with a ruby belonging to a cadet named Weeks.

The investigation revealed nothing of importance. The robbery had been committed during the night, while the owners of the money and the various articles slept.

"I must get at the bottom of this affair," said Captain Putnam. "The honor of the academy is at stake."

He talked to all of those who had lost anything and promised to make the matter good. Then he asked each if he had any suspicions regarding the thief or thieves. No one had, and for the time being it looked as if the case must fall to the ground.

Those who had been at the feast hardly knew what to say or to do. Should they tell the captain of the strange figure Sam had seen in the hallway?

"I'll tell him, and shoulder the blame, if you fellows are willing," said Sam, after a long discussion. "Fun is one thing, and shielding a thief is another."

"But what can you tell?" asked Fred. "You do not know that that person, was the thief."

"More than likely he was," came from Dick.

"And if he was, who was he?" went on Fred. "If you tell Captain Putnam you'll simply get us all into trouble."

"I vote that Sam makes a clean breast of it," said Frank, and Larry said the same. This was just before dinner, and immediately after the midday meal had been finished the youngest Rover went up to the master of the Hall and touched him on the arm.

"I would like to speak to you in private and at once, Captain Putnam," he said.

"Very well, Rover; come with me," was the reply, and Captain Putnam led the way to his private office.

"I suppose I should have spoken of this before," said Sam, when the two were seated. "But I didn't want to get the others into trouble. As it is, Captain Putnam, I want to take the entire blame on my own shoulders."

"The blame of what, Samuel?"

"Of what I am going to tell you about. We voted to tell you, but I don't want to be a tattle-tale and get the others into trouble along with me."

"I will hear what you have to say," returned the master of the Hall briefly.

"Well, sir, you know it was Dick's birthday yesterday, and we boys thought we would celebrate a bit. So we had a little blow-out in our room."

"Was that the noise I heard last night?"

"The noise you heard was from our room, yes. But that isn't what I was getting at," stammered Sam. "We set a guard out in the hallway to keep watch."

"Well?"

"I was out in the hall part of the time, and I saw a dark figure in the rear hallway prowling around in a most suspicious manner. It went into Dormitory No. 3 and then came out and disappeared toward the back stairs."

"This is interesting. Who was the party?"

"I couldn't make out."

"Was it a man or a woman?

"A man, sir, or else a big boy. He had something like a shawl over his shoulders and was dressed in black or dark-brown."

"You saw him go in and come out of one of the sleeping rooms?"

"Yes, sir."

"And then he went down the back stairs?"

"He either went down the stairs or else into one of the back rooms. I walked back after a minute or two, but I didn't see anything more of him, although I heard a door close and heard a key turn in a lock."

"Was this before I came up or after?"

"Before, sir. We went to sleep right after you came up."

"Who was present at the feast?" And now Captain Putnam prepared to write down the names.

"Oh, sir; I hope you won't -- won't --"

"I'll have to ask you for the names, Samuel. I want to know who was on foot last night as well as who was robbed."

"Surely you don't think any of us was guilty?" cried Sam in sudden horror.

"I don't know what to think. The names, please."

"I -- I think I'll have to refuse to give them, Captain Putnam."

"Of course all the boys who sleep in your dormitory were present?"

"I said I would take this all on my own shoulders, Captain Putnam. Of course, you know I wouldn't have confessed at all; but I don't wish to give that thief any advantage."

"Perhaps the person wasn't a thief at all, only some other cadet spying upon you."

"We thought of that."

"You may as well give me the names. I shall find them out anyway."

Hardly knowing whether or not he was doing right, Sam mentioned all of the cadets who had taken part in the feast. This list Captain Putnam compared with another containing the names of those who had been robbed.

"Thirty-two pupils," he mused. "I'll have the whole, school in this before I finish."

He looked at Sam curiously. The youth wondered what was coming next, when there was a sudden knock on the door. "Come in," said Captain Putnam, and one of the little boys entered with a letter in his hand.

"Mr. Strong sent me with this," said the young cadet. "He just found it on the desk in the main recitation room."

"All right, Powers; thank you," answered the captain, and took the letter. "You can go," and Powers retired again.

The letter was encased in a dirty, envelope on which was printed in a big hand, in lead pencil:

"CAPT. VICTOR PUTNAM.
Very Important. Deliver at Once."

Taking up a steel blade, the master of the Hall cut open the envelope and took out the slip of paper it contained. As he read the communication he started. Then he crushed the paper in his hand and looked sharply at Sam.

"Samuel, was the party you saw in the hall-way tall and slim?"

"Rather tall, yes, sir."

"And slim?"

"Well, he wasn't fat."

"Did you see his face?"

"No; it was too dark for that, and, besides, he had that shawl, or whatever it was, pretty well up around him."

"Did you notice how he walked?"

"He moved on tiptoes."

"And you cannot imagine who it was?"

"No, sir."

"By the way, you of course know Alexander Pop, our colored waiter."

"Why, to be sure! Everybody knows Aleck, and we have had lots of fun with him, at one time or another. But you surely don't suspect him, do you?"

"This letter says Pop is guilty."

"That letter? And who wrote it?"

"I do not know. It contains but two lines, and you can read it for yourself," and the captain handed over the communication, which ran as follows:

"Alexander Pop stole that money and the other things. ONE WHO KNOWS ALL."

"That's a mighty queer letter for anybody to write," murmured Sam, as he handed it back. "Why didn't the writer come to you, as I have done?"

"Perhaps he wanted to keep out of trouble."

"I don't believe the letter tells the truth, sir."

"And why not?"

"Because Aleck is too good-hearted a fellow to turn thief."

"Hum! That hardly covers the ground, Samuel."

"Well, why don't you have him searched?"

"I will."

Without further ado Sam was dismissed, and Captain Putnam called George Strong to him and showed the strange letter.

"Why not look among Pop's effects?" suggested the assistant. "He may have hidden the money and jewelry in his trunk."

"We will go up to his apartment," replied Captain Putnam, and a few minutes later the pair ascended to the attic room which the colored waiter had used for several terms. They found Pop just fixing up for a trip to Cedarville.

He nodded pleasantly, and then looked at both questioningly.

"Pop, I am afraid I have a very unpleasant duty to perform," began Captain Putnam.

"Wot's dat, sah?" asked Aleck in surprise.

"You have heard of the robberies that have been committed?"

"'Deed I has, sah. But -- but yo' don't go fo' to distrust me, do yo', cap'n?" went on the colored man anxiously.

"I would like to search your trunk and your clothing, Pop. If you are innocent you will not object."

"But, sah, I didn't steal nuffin, sah."

"Then you shouldn't object."

"It aint right nohow to 'spect an honest colored pusson, sah," said Aleck, growing angry.

"Do you object to the search?"

"I do, sah. I am not guilty, sah, an' dis am not treatin' me jest right, sah, 'deed it aint, sah."

"If you object, Pop, I will be under the painful necessity of having Snuggers place you under arrest. You know he is a special officer for the Hall."

At this announcement Aleck fell back completely dumfounded. "Well, dat's de wust yet!" he muttered, and sank back on a chair, not knowing what to do next.