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16. Vench Learns Something
Jim and Terry noted with some astonishment that Don failed to attend any of his classes that morning. They were aware of the fact that he contemplated going to the major and asking for a change in his schedule, but why he had not appeared during the course of the first class they did not know. As the second and the third class came and Don had not appeared, they found themselves growing anxious.

After the third period Jim ran up to their room, to see if Don had become ill, but he was not there. His hat and overcoat were both gone, a circumstance which caused some lively speculation. He was not there at dinnertime, and after their last period Jim and Terry hunted up the major and asked him about Don.

The major looked interested and tapped his glasses on his thumb. “He was coming here to see me about a change in lessons, eh?” asked the major. “But, gentlemen, he never did come here. I haven’t seen him at all. You say his overcoat and hat are gone?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Jim.

“How very odd,” commented the major. “He certainly wouldn’t have left the building without permission, and no one gave him that, I’m sure. Wait until I call Captain Chalmers.”

Captain Chalmers had not given Don permission to go anywhere, it developed. The major was more puzzled than ever. He went to their room with them and looked about carefully, but nothing was found.

“This is most unexpected and disturbing,” declared the major. “We must find out from town if any of the cadets were seen there.”

A telephone call to town failed to lead to the discovery of the missing boy. It was with anxious hearts that Jim and Terry went to the supper table that night.

The news of Don’s strange disappearance spread over the school like wildfire and the cadets dropped in to see Jim and express their sympathy and their determination to help if possible. It was on that evening that one lone clue was discovered. A man who worked in the kitchen told Chipps that he had seen Don go out the back door and head for the lake. Jim and Terry went to see this man, but he had no news but what he had told Chipps.

“He had on his hat and his overcoat,” the man told Jim. “And he went down to the boathouse. That’s all I saw of him. I only noticed it because I thought it was funny he wasn’t in class. I don’t know if he went into the boathouse or not.”

The major dropped in to tell them that he had put off his business trip until Don should be found. Jim thanked him for his interest and thought.

“Oh, nonsense,” protested the major, waving his hand. “I’m deeply interested in all of my boys, and of course I wouldn’t rest easily until he had been found.”

The light fall of snow, which the boys had looked forward to with eagerness, was disregarded in their new anxiety. It made the school and its surrounding hills a picture of beauty, but the boys were not in a mood to enjoy it. After a restless night Jim and Terry again attended classes, but they did poorly and the instructors said nothing about it, knowing the strain the young men were under. During noon recess Rhodes, Jim and Terry decided to push a vigorous search as soon as classes were over.

“It seems to me,” argued the senior, “that we might be able to pick up some tracks somewhere in this snow. We don’t know how far he could have gotten before the snow, but if he was traveling after it did begin to come down there are tracks somewhere and we’ll try to find ’em. They may be across the lake.”

“What would he be doing across the lake?” Jim asked.

Rhodes shrugged his Shoulders. “What did he go away for?” he asked. “No one knows, but we do know that he went toward the lake, at least toward the boathouse. The very first thing we’ll find out after classes is whether or not a boat was taken from the boathouse. I don’t know what he would cross the lake for but he may have and we can make a good attempt to find out.”

Every cadet in the school had Don’s disappearance on his mind and no one was more puzzled and interested than Cadet Vench. He turned the problem over and over in his mind and he longed to be of service. Back in his head the idea was firmly seated that he should be the one to find the missing cadet. That would give him a chance to even his score with Jim for his heroic act at Hill 31, and Vench decided to put his whole mind and energy to the problem.

As soon as classes had ended that day Vench put on his overcoat and walked swiftly to the lake. It had not occurred to him to check up on the boats to see if one had been taken, but he planned to scour the edge of the lakefront in both directions. He was now walking along the shore away from the school, wholly absorbed in watching the snow-covered ground, when he heard his name called. Even as he glanced up he knew that the voice was unfamiliar and had a slight accent to it. Then, a few yards before him he saw the man who had cut him dead in the drugstore, Paul Morro.

Instinctively, Vench stiffened and grew cold. Morro had evidently been taking a walk around the lake path and the meeting was quite accidental, and Vench, who knew Morro’s love for nature in all aspects, could readily guess that the Frenchman was walking merely for the sheer pleasure of the day and the prospect of the magnificent view. Comparing the attitude of the man on the previous meeting to his friendly attitude now, there was something to wonder about. Vench was astonished that his friend of former days should so readily hail him. Vench bowed distantly.

Morro strode forward and held out his hand. “How do you do, Raoul?” greeted Morro impulsively. Then, seeing that Vench had no intention of taking his hand the artist hurried on, “My dear friend, forgive me for not speaking to you the last time I saw you. It was so totally unexpected, so much of a shock, that I could not speak or collect my wits. Won’t you forget ............
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