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HOME > Short Stories > The Mercer Boys at Woodcrest > 11. Vench Breaks Silence
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11. Vench Breaks Silence
For a time things went on as usual at Woodcrest. The major kept to himself and had almost nothing to do with the cadet corps. He led the morning services and looked briefly on at drill times, but aside from that he paid no attention to them. His attitude, the new boys were told, was directly opposite to that of the colonel, who mixed in with them and shared their life in a spirit of comradeship. The major was not popular and his absence was not greatly mourned.

Once or twice strange men came and talked with the major, men who had the look of police detectives, but evidently nothing new had been learned of the missing headmaster’s whereabouts. The four friends kept a close watch on their own account and several times passed close to Clanhammer Hall purposely to see if there was anything to be learned. But they did not find out anything until Cadet Vench broke his long silence.
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The little cadet was growing more and more popular with the corps and was himself astonished at the change in his own life. He had never before realized that to be respected and liked meant everything in the world, and he was slowly learning what it was to have real friends. He had abandoned his over-wise attitude, was now devoting himself to his studies, and on the whole was living a vastly improved life. The Mercers and their own immediate friends helped him all that they could without being tactless about it, and it was to this circumstance that they owed the fact that Vench told his story.

He found the four of them back of the boathouse one late afternoon enjoying the declining sun and discussing sports. They were seated on the boat runway and the little cadet sat down beside them. They greeted him genially.

“Well, what’s on your mind, kid?” said Terry.

“I want to tell you guys something,” returned Vench.

“Fire away,” invited Don.

“I want to tell you what I saw in Clanhammer Hall that night!” said Vench, unexpectedly.

They sat up in genuine interest. “I wish you would,” said Rhodes. “When you get through we’ll tell you why we are so anxious to know. Perhaps you can help us more than you realize.”
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“I hope I can,” returned Vench, looking around to see that no one was within earshot. “Well, listen, here is the story. As you know, I said I was going to put on a dance that would make history in this school. We were going to start fixing the place up that night when that business came up in the library, the slashing of the picture and all that. We knew that there would be guards around the school and that it would be even harder to try a stunt like that, but I was determined to put it over, so I went ahead and made plans. And my biggest plan was to have it in Clanhammer Hall.

“At first I had planned to have it in the gym, the usual way, you know. But just about then I got the idea that it would add to the romance or thrill or whatever you want to call it by having it in Clanhammer Hall. Some of the fellows told me that it was strictly against the rules to go into that place, it was a sort of mysterious shrine, they said, but that made me all the more anxious to have it there. So we planned it that way and I asked if anybody knew anything about the outlay of the old place. No one did, so I decided to go in myself and look it over.
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“Don was patrolling up and down when I slipped out of the side door and I waited until he got out of sight down along the lake front. Then I sneaked to the back of the old building and pried open a cellar window. I dropped down into the place and looked around—I had a flashlight with me—and I saw that it was an ordinary basement with old ash cans and a big furnace and coal bins, and whatever else goes to make up a basement. After a couple of minutes I found the stairs and went up to the top, where I didn’t have any trouble breaking open the door and getting into the hall. I flashed the light into a room or two downstairs, one an old office and one a classroom that was mighty small, and I decided that upstairs would be the better place to go. We’d be safer, I thought, and so I went up the stairs to the second floor. The thing that puzzled me was this, I smelled cooking in that old place!”

“What!” cried the others, in a breath.

“Yes, real cooking, something with plenty of grease in it. I don’t know just what it was,” said Vench.

“Well, I’ll be darned!” gasped Terry. “I saw evidence of the same thing. Somebody is making a regular hotel of that place!”

“I had half a notion to go down and investigate,” continued Vench. “But I thought I’d take a look around the upstairs before I did. I thought I had a lot of courage to go into the place alone to begin with, but when I got to the upper floor I felt my courage ooze away. One look, I thought, and then I’d go down again and come back with the fellows. There was a small room right off of the staircase and I walked in there. Once inside I turned on the flash, and found to my dismay that it was going out. But in the feeble light that came from it I could see dimly around the room, which seemed to be a small study, with a faded carpet, a desk and a couple of chairs. There was just one small window in that room, rather high up, and as I stood there looking around my light went out.
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“I snapped it a couple of times to see if it would go on again, but nothing happened. The room was pitch black, and I was wondering how the devil I was going to get back to the cellar window. At the time I was bending over the useless flashlight, and then I felt the hair on my head begin to crinkle up and pull. There was a faint light coming from somewhere, and a minute later I saw a beam of yellow light in the hall. It was the light of a candle, and it was coming down the hall toward the room I was in. Although my legs seemed stiff as boards I did manage to somehow drop down behind that desk and watch.

“After what seemed an age someone came to the door. The light had been moving toward me all the time, but I hadn’t heard a sound. Now a candle in a tin holder was thrust around the edge of the door and a minut............
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