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13. Vench Is Astonished

Jim and Don hurried down the road in the direction which the old man had indicated. They knew that haste was necessary for the sun was sinking rapidly and they were a long way from home.

“We’ll have to ride back somehow,” said Don, as they talked it over. “If we don’t the others will think that we were lost in the woods and will be anxious about us.”

“That’s true,” agreed Jim. “But this is an important clue.”

“Thanks to the station agent, yes. I was lucky to get the card away from him when I did, for I could see that he regretted it as soon as he had let it go. You can’t blame him. It came into his head that he could turn it over to the authorities and make something out of it when the colonel was found. I suppose he’s been working hard all his life and a little wealth would mean a new world to him.”

“Sure,” Jim nodded. “Well, if we learn anything important we’ll see to it that he gets what is coming to him. I’d like to see him get it.”

They came to the crossroads and found Blackberry Lane, a rutted road that ran back to the thick woods and came to an abrupt end there. A short way down the road they could see two old country estates, one of which was open and the other closed. They passed the first and walked into the yard of the deserted place. It was a large mansion in rather bad repair, with sagging porches and boarded-up windows. Weeds grew in the front and bushes in the back. They tried to see something from the front porch but failed, and they made their way around to the back. Here everything was boarded up.

“There is certainly no one in the place now,” observed Jim. “Mr. Morton Dennings may be a wealthy man, but he isn’t particular to show it up here.”

“Somebody coming,” said Don, jerking his head toward the house next door.

A man was coming across the grass toward them, looking them over as he came. He seemed to be of the type between a retired businessman and a small farm owner, and the boys felt no alarm at his coming. He hastened up to them and spoke briskly.

“Well, boys,” he said, “are you looking for anyone? No one lives here now.”

“Is this the summer home of Mr. Dennings?” asked Don.

“Yes. He hasn’t been here since last September or early October. Do you boys know Mr. Dennings?”

“Not directly,” said Don. “He is a friend of Colonel Morrell, who is our headmaster at Woodcrest School, and we were just looking the place over. You say that Mr. Dennings left here early in October?”

“Yes,” nodded the man. “You come from Woodcrest School, eh? Seems to me I read in the paper that your headmaster had disappeared.”

“He has,” said Don. “We knew that Colonel Morrell was a friend of Mr. Dennings and we wanted to look at his house.”

“Mr. Dennings left here rather unexpectedly,” supplied the man. “One early morning in October, around the fourth or fifth, I believe, my wife and I heard a car drive out of the yard here and when we got up in the morning the place was empty. He came back later in the day and asked me to keep an eye on the place for him until next summer. No one has been near the place since.”

“I see,” said Don. “Well, we’re much obliged to you, sir. We’ll have to be running along now. I might explain that we were out on a paper chase and lost our trail near here.”

When they had left the man and were near the station Jim said, “I think something of importance will come from what he told us. As far as we know the colonel went there and then this Dennings left early in the morning, probably with the colonel. I hope we won’t find any evidences of foul play.”

“I sincerely hope not,” replied Don. “I didn’t want to say much before the man, because I didn’t know just how friendly he really was. Now, Jim, we’ll have to see to getting back to the school.”

It was dark and they went to the station, to learn that a train was due in a few minutes. Between them they had just enough to get them to Portville, and when the two-car train puffed in they piled gratefully aboard. When they arrived at Portville they were fortunate enough to get a ride to the school, and upon arriving at the campus they found the cadets all assembled around a bonfire. At sight of them the students set up a cry and Terry fairly threw himself upon them.

“Gosh, I thought you two were surely lost,” greeted the red-headed one, in relief.

“Well, we did lose our trail,” explained Don, as they walked up to the fire. “Who won?”

“It was a draw,” Rhodes answered. “We were lucky enough to split this year. An equal number of hounds captured an equal number of hares and brought them in. For awhile we hoped you had been successful, but when Powers and Cranmer came in we knew that you had been left behind. You’ve got just time enough to prepare for supper. Let’s go, and we’ll have a real bonfire after supper.”

Later in the evening Don and Jim related to Terry and Rhodes the events of the afternoon. They were............
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