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19. Vench Is Mysterious
The three boys had scoured the entire lake front without obtaining any clues as to the whereabouts of the missing cadet. On the way back a sudden thought occurred to Terry.

“Look here,” said the red-headed boy. “Don was seen to be going in the direction of the boathouse. Perhaps he took out a boat. Hadn’t we better go back there and find out?”

“That’s a good idea,” Rhodes agreed. “I don’t see why he would take a boat ride, but we had better look into it.”

When they arrived at the boathouse they found the keeper of the boats there. Jim asked him if Don had come to him the day before to request the use of a boat.

“No, he didn’t,” answered Ryan, the keeper. “I wasn’t around the boathouse until late in the afternoon. But one of the boats is gone. The one that was in that rack.”

He pointed to the empty rack and went on: “When I got down here yesterday I noticed that boat was gone and I looked around the lake for it. It wasn’t until this morning that I heard Mr. Mercer was missing, and even then I didn’t think that he might have crossed the lake in my boat.”

“I suppose it is useless to think of crossing the lake and making a search in the dark?” Jim advanced.

Rhodes looked out of the boathouse window. “I’m very much afraid that it would be out of the question,” he answered gravely. “It is growing quite dark and it has begun to snow again. But in the morning we’ll ask for permission to cross the lake and search the woods and that old farmhouse over there.”

“That’s so!” exclaimed Terry. “I never thought of that old place. Perhaps it has something to do with the whole thing.”

“It’s possible,” agreed Jim. “What if Major Tireson will not give us permission to skip classes in the morning?”

“If he doesn’t,” said Rhodes, grimly, “we’ll just wire your father to come down here and take charge of things. Then I think he won’t refuse your request.”

Jim chafed against the falling darkness and the snow which had begun to fall. The snow itself would not hold up his search, but the darkness delayed everything in a way that was maddening. There was nothing left to do, however, but to wait until another day.

At supper time Cadet Vench signalled him to wait for him after the meal, and when it was all over the little cadet walked to his room with him. Rhodes was in the room talking with Terry as they went in.

“What did you want to see me about?” asked Jim.

“I wanted to see all of you,” Vench replied. “Look here, Rhodes, can you sleep in Don’s bed tonight?”

“Here, in this room?” asked Rhodes, astonished.

“Yes. I want you three to sleep together tonight and to be right where I can get ahold of you. You don’t need to ask permission to do it. Just wait until the Officer of the Day passes by on his rounds and then come in here, with your clothes. You can get out early in the morning. I want you all together, because I may have some work for you all before morning.”

“What is up, Vench?” inquired Terry.

“Well, I’m not even certain enough to tell you what I have in mind,” confessed the little cadet. “I think I have run across a valuable tip and I’m going to look it up alone. Not because I want to be selfish or anything like that, but it will mean some cold and dangerous work, and as it may be a wild goose chase I want to saddle no one but myself with it. You’ll sleep here tonight, won’t you, Rhodes?”

“Why, yes, I’ll do it,” nodded the cadet captain. “I suppose you must have some very good reason for asking it and I’ll try to help out.”

“Thanks,” said Vench.

“Has all this business got anything to do with Don?” asked Jim, eagerly.

“I think that it has, but I’m not dead sure. As I told you, I received a valuable tip and I want to work on it. Now, we must arrange some kind of a signal. I may be out most of the night, and I want to signal you fellows to join me outside. If I do I don’t want to have to come back inside the building to get you.”

“You may be outside most of the night!” cried Rhodes. “You’ll freeze, Vench.”

“I may be too active to freeze,” grinned the cadet. “Has anyone of you fellows got a long cord?”

“I have a ball of string in my trunk,” Terry offered.

“Fine. Let’s have it.”

Terry procured the ball of string and handed it to Vench. The little cadet looked from one to the other.

“Which of you is the lightest sleeper?” he asked.

“I’m a fairly light sleeper,” said Rhodes.

“All right.” Vench tied the string to the end of Don’s bed and then hid the ball under the mattress. “Now, as soon as the Officer of the Day has made his inspection you drop that ball of cord out of the window and let it hang there. If I want you guys during the night I’ll yank that cord and wake you up by shaking the bed. If I don’t pull it at all during the night pull it up again in the morning. Is that understood?”

“Yes,” the boys nodded, completely mystified.

“All right. Now, if I do pull the cord, you three fellows dress and slip out of the side door and join me there. Is all that clear?”

“Almost,” laughed Terry. “Be a sport, Vench, and tell us what is up?”

“Nothing doing,” Vench returned, firmly. “This may all be a false alarm, and if it is I don’t intend that anyone but myself shall pay the penalty for it.”

“But if it has anything to do with Don we ought to have some hand in it,” urged Jim.

“If it turns out as I expect and Don is concerned in it, you will have a hand, maybe both hands in it,” countered Vench. “Now, I must get back to my room. Don’t forget to drop that string out of the window, and whatever you do don’t keep on sleeping if I pull it. So long.”

“So long,” they returned, and Rhodes added, “And good luck to you in whatever it is you are doing.”

Vench went out of the room, chuckling at Rhodes’ parting shot. Terry looked at his companions.

“Mr. Vench is getting very mysterious!” he said.

“He certainly doesn’t mean to bother anyone else with his ideas,” commented Rhodes.

Mr. Vench returned to his own room and picked up a book. After a few moments he put it down and turned to his roommate, who was studying at the same table.

“I want you to help me out,” he said. “After the Officer of the Day comes around I’m going out of the building on some very special business, something which may keep me out all night. I’ll tell you what it is when it is all over. What I want you to do is simply not to worry your head if I seem to be a bit unusual in my movements tonight.”

“All right,” agreed his roommate in some astonishment.

Before long the warning bell sounded and Vench and his roommate undressed and got into bed. The Officer of the Day visited the room and made his inspection. Then the lights went out and the dormitory became still. In another fifteen minutes the footsteps of the Officer of the Day sounded on his return trip. And when Vench was s............
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