THE MEDAL LIBRARY
FAMOUS COPYRIGHTED STORIES
FOR BOYS, BY FAMOUS AUTHORS
This is an ideal line for boys of all ages. It contains juvenile masterpieces by the most popular writers of interesting fiction for boys. Among these may be mentioned the works of Burt L. Standish, detailing the adventures of Frank Merriwell, the hero, of whom every American boy has read with admiration. Frank is a truly representative American lad, of fine character and a strong determination to do right at any cost. Then, there are the works of Horatio Alger, Jr., whose keen insight into the minds of the boys of our country has enabled him to write a series of the most interesting tales ever published. This line also contains some of the best works of Oliver Optic, another author whose entire life was devoted to writing books that would tend to interest and elevate our boys.
PUBLISHED EVERY WEEK
|To be Published During October|
|383—Frank Merriwell’s Mascot||By Burt L. Standish|
|382—The Yankee Middy||By Oliver Optic|
|381—Chums of the Prairie||By St. George Rathborne|
|380—Frank Merriwell’s Luck||By Burt L. Standish|
|379—The Young Railroader’s Wreck||By Stanley Norris|
|To be Published During September|
|378—Jack Harkaway at Oxford||By Bracebridge Hemyng|
|377—Frank Merriwell On Top||By Burt L. Standish|
|376—The Rockspur Eleven||By Burt L. Standish|
|375—The Sailor Boy||By Oliver Optic|
|To be Published During August|
|374—Frank Merriwell’s Temptation||By Burt L. Standish|
|373—The Young Railroader’s Flyer||By Stanley Norris|
|372—Campaigning with Tippecanoe||By John H. Whitson|
|371—Frank Merriwell’s Tricks||By Burt L. Standish|
|370—Struggling Upward||By Horatio Alger, Jr.|
|369—Court-Martialed||By Ensign Clarke Fitch|
|368—Frank Merriwell’s Generosity||By Burt L. Standish|
|367—Breakneck Farm||By Evelyn Raymond|
|366—Grit, the Young Boatman of Pine Point||By Horatio Alger, Jr.|
|365—Frank Merriwell’s Fun||By Burt L. Standish|
|364—The Young Railroader||By Stanley Norris|
|363—Sunset Ranch||By St. George Rathborne|
|362—Frank Merriwell’s Auto||By Burt L. Standish|
|361—My Danish Sweetheart||By W. Clark Russell|
|360—The Young Adventurer||By Horatio Alger, Jr.|
|359—Frank Merriwell’s Confidence||By Burt L. Standish|
|358—The Unknown Island||By Matthew J. Royal|
|357—Jack Harkaway Among the Pirates||By Bracebridge Hemyng|
|356—Frank Merriwell’s Baseball Victories||By Burt L. Standish|
|355—Tracked Through the Wilds||By Edward S. Ellis|
|354—Walter Sherwood’s Probation||By Horatio Alger, Jr.|
|353—A Prisoner of Morro||By Ensign Clark Fitch, U. S. N.|
|352—Frank Merriwell’s Double Shot||By Burt L. Standish|
|351—The Boys of Grand Pré School||By James De Mille|
|350—Joe’s Luck||By Horotio Alger, Jr.|
|349—The Two Scouts||By Edward S. Ellis|
|348—Frank Merriwell’s Duel||By Burt L. Standish|
|347—Jack Harkaway Afloat and Ashore||By Bracebridge Hemyng|
|346—Trials and Triumphs of Mark Mason||By Horatio Alger, Jr.|
|345—The B. O. W. C.||By James De Mille|
|344—Frank Merriwell on the Boulevards||By Burt L. Standish|
Frank Merriwell’s Fun
FEARLESS AND TRUE
BURT L. STANDISH
“The Merriwell Stories”
STREET & SMITH, PUBLISHERS
79-89 SEVENTH AVE., NEW YORK CITY
By STREET & SMITH
Frank Merriwell’s Fun
FRANK MERRIWELL’S FUN.
“There’s Frank Merriwell and his set,” said Tilton Hull, with an effort to appear contemptuous.
“A nice lot of chumps they are!” exclaimed Julian Ives, speaking loudly, as if he wished to be heard by the little group of laughing students that was passing down the walk in front of Battell, one of the halls at Yale.
“Don’t nothithe them,” lisped Lew Veazie, turning his back on the passing group. “They are verwy cheap.”
“Be generous, be generous!” said Rupert Chickering, with clasped hands. “We should pity them, instead of speaking of them with scorn. They can’t help being what they are.”
“Your campaign against Merriwell does not seem to thrive?” said Hull, addressing Gene Skelding, who was leaning against the fence and scowling blackly at the passing students.
“I’m waiting,” muttered Gene. “I’ll get him yet.”
“There are others who are waiting,” said Ives impatiently. “That fellow Badger must have given up his ambition to down Merriwell.”
“Don’t mention him!” cried Ollie Lord, standing on his tiptoes in an attempt to look tall and imposing, although he was barely five feet in height. “He insulted me! I felt like killing him on the spot!”
“You mutht westwain your angwy pathions, deah boy,” simpered Lew. “You thould not allow yourthelf to become dangerous.”
The idea of Ollie becoming very dangerous was extremely ludicrous, but nobody in the group cracked a smile. The Chickering crowd took themselves seriously.
“Badger,” said Ives, “is a bluff. But I did think that Bertrand Defarge might take some of the wind out of Merriwell’s sails.”
“Defarge got it in the neck,” muttered Skelding, “and he’s as quiet as a sick kitten now.”
“They say Merriwell played with him after the fashion of a cat playing with a mouse,” spoke Ives, gently caressing his bang, which fell in a roll over his forehead quite to his eyebrows.
The trouble with the Frenchman was that he thought Merriwell knew nothing at all about fencing,” declared Skelding.
“Is there anything in the world that Merriwell knows nothing at all about?” exclaimed Tilton Hull, looking over the top of his wonderfully high collar despairingly.
“Sure thing,” nodded Skelding, scowling. “His weak point will be found some time, and then he’ll go down with a crash. Every man has a weakness, you know.”
“I take extheptionth!” cried Lew Veazie, with great vigor. “I weally defy anybody to dithcover my weak point.”
“Claret punch,” said Ollie Lord.
“Well, you can’t thay a word,” grinned Lew.
Merriwell and his party had passed on. Rattleton had called attention to Chickering’s crowd, but Frank did not even deign to glance at the group by the fence.
“They are not worth noticing,” he said. “Don’t mind them, anybody.”
“I’d like to eat that little runt Veazie!” exclaimed Bink Stubbs.
“Well, he’d make you sick if you did!” returned Danny Griswold.
“We were speaking of the money question,” grunted Browning. “Which side of that question are you on, Jones?”
“The outside,” answered Dismal sadly. “Haven’t received a remittance from the governor since Jonah swallowed the whale.”
“You’re in hard luck.”
“Don’t mention it!”
“Will a tenner help you out?” asked Frank.
“Will it? Ask me!”
“All right,” said Merry; “come up to the room. Come along, all of you.”
“There’s another fellow,” grunted Browning, pointing to a student who was sitting all alone on the end of the fence in front of Durfee, “who looks as if he might be on the outside of the money question.”
The person referred to looked forlorn and dejected.
“I’ve noticed him often,” said Merry. “He never seems to travel with anybody.”
“You mean that nobody travels with him,” said Rattleton.
“It’s all the same. He doesn’t associate with other students.”
“On the contrary, other students do not associate with him.”
“I wonder why.”
“He has a bad name,” said Griswold.
“What is it?”
“You don’t mean to say that that has anything to do with the fact that he has no associates?”
“Well, the name seems to fit him.”
“They say his father has served a term in the jug for larceny.”
Merry was interested.
“And is that the reason why he has no associates here?”
“Then there are others?”
“There is another.”
“His nature seems to fit his name.”
“What do you mean?”
“Things have a habit of disappearing when he’s round.”
“What! Do you mean that he’s light-fingered?”
“Well, nobody’s ever caught him yet, but he has that reputation.”
Frank’s interest increased.
“You say that his father has served time for larceny, and that this poor fellow has a bad name? If nobody has caught him at anything crooked, why should he be ostracized?”
“Well, the fellows here don’t care about associating with anybody who has such a father.”
“Still, I am willing to wager,” said Merry, “that some of the sons of wealthy men in this college are being educated with the aid of money dishonestly acquired by their fathers. Stealing is stealing, whether it’s done in stock manipulations or in some other manner.”
“Yes,” grunted Browning, “but the man who can steal a hundred thousand at a lick is called smart, while the fellow who swipes a paltry hundred is called a fool. That’s the difference.”
“It’s a difference in public opinion, that’s all,” declared Merry. “One is as much a thief as the other. I have heard fellows say they’d never touch a dollar that did not belong to them unless they could make a big haul, and I always set such chaps down as dishonest at heart, though they may be regarded as square and honorable. I’ve even heard old men say, in the presence of young men, that the hungry wretch who stole a loaf of bread deserved no pity, but that the sleek rascal who was able to rob a bank and get out of the country did a good job. An old man who entertains such ideas is a thorough scoundrel, and, by his openly expressed admiration for the broad-gage rascal, he often plants the seed of dishonesty in the heart of some young man and ruins a career for life. I believe a man who expresses such sentiments is no better than the thief himself, and I have nothing but the utmost scorn and aversion for him!”
Frank spoke warmly, for he felt strongly on that point. His sentiments were right.
“Anyhow,” said Rattleton, “nobody here cares to associate with a fellow who is known to be the son of a criminal. That’s why Hooker is an outcast.”
“And by shunning him,” said Merry, “they may be souring his soul and embittering his life.”
“Well, the fellow who has anything to do with him will be regarded as no better than he is.”
They had passed Hooker, who looked lonesome enough. Frank’s heart was touched by his wretched appearance.
“And so no one has the moral courage to give him a helping hand and a word of cheer,” said Merriwell. “I’m glad I’ve learned something about him. Excuse me, gentlemen.”
“Why, where are you going?”
“I’m going back to see Hooker,” said Merry, turning square about.
“Hold on!” exclaimed Harry. “What’s the use to——Well, that’s just like him!”
“Yes,” growled Bruce, with a tired air; “you might have known he’d do it!”
“Well, where does my ten dollars come in?” sighed Jones.
“You’ll have to wait for it till Merriwell gets through with Hooker,” grinned Stubbs.
“And then Hooker may have it,” said Griswold. “You’re up against it, Jones.”
“As usual,” groaned Dismal. “Wish I’d never learned how to play poker.”
“You haven’t,” said Bink. “That’s what ails you. You simply play the sucker, while the other fellows play poker.”
“It’s fate,” declared Jones, with resignation. “I’ve been studying the lines in my hand, and I find I’m destined to be a sucker all my life.”
“By the way,” said Stubbs, “what would you call a paper devoted to palmistry?”
“A hand-organ,” answered Griswold instantly.
“You’re too smart!” sneered Bink.
They watched till they saw Merry walk straight back to the lonely student on the end of the fence. Frank advanced and spoke to Hooker.
“Excuse me,” said Merry, with a pleasant smile, holding out his hand. “I don’t believe we’ve ever met before.”
Hooker dropped down from the fence, a look of surprise coming to his pale face.
“No, I believe not,” he faltered, accepting Frank’s hand hesitatingly, as if in doubt about what was going to follow.
“My name’s Merriwell,” said Frank.
“You don’t have to tell me that. Every man in college knows you. My name is Hooker—James Hooker. Perhaps,” he added, flushing, “perhaps you have heard of me?”
“Nothing much,” said Merry. “I saw you all alone on the fence as I passed along with some friends. You looked rather lonesome, and I don’t like to see anybody look that way, so I came back to jolly you up a little, if I could.”
“That was good of you! I appreciate it, Mr. Merriwell, I assure you, but—but——”
Hooker was greatly confused, but he seemed to force himself to say:
“Perhaps you’d better make some inquiries about me before you permit yourself to be seen with me in such a public place as this.”
It was plain he said this with a great effort, and Frank’s sympathy for him redoubled.
“Why should I do that?” exclaimed Merry. “I am not in the habit of judging my friends by the estimation made of them by others.”
“But—but I’m not one of your friends!”
“Perhaps you may become one—who knows?”
Hooker shook his head with a look of sadness.
“That’s too much!” he declared. “No one here cares to be friendly with me. You don’t know——”
“I know you were in a brown study on the fence, just now, and when a fellow falls into a brown study, he’s likely to get blue. The blues are bad things. Don’t be grouchy, Hooker. What you need is to be stirred up. If I get you into a crowd of good, jolly fellows, it will do you good.”
A look of pleasure came to the outcast’s eyes, but it quickly faded and died away.
“You don’t know,” he said sadly. “They’ll tell you, now that you’ve been seen with me. There’s Chickering pointing us out now, and calling the attention of others to the fact that you are talking with me.”
“Well, if you think for one moment that anything Chickering may say or do will have the slightest influence on my future actions, you are making a big mistake, Hooker. There is no cheaper set in college than Chickering and his gang.”
“But they think themselves too good to have anything to do with me.”
“Which is a mighty good thing for you, old man! You should thank your lucky stars.”
“I’ve never cared to associate with them, but still it cuts a fellow to have such chaps treat him with scorn.”
“Don’t let it worry you, Hooker. As far as that is concerned, they treat me with just as much scorn, and I really enjoy it.”
Frank laughed cheerfully.
“They can’t hurt you, but when a chap has a bad name, everybody seems ready to believe anything evil about him, no matter what its source may be.”
Frank realized that this was true, and his sympathy for the outcast grew.
“I believe you are too sensitive, old man,” he said. “You are inclined to draw into your shell, like a turtle. You must quit that. Come with me to my room, and I’ll introduce you to a lot of fine fellows.”
Hooker looked pleased, but still he seemed in doubt as to Merry’s sincerity.
“Do you mean it?” he asked.
“Of course I do! Come along.”
“It’s awfully good of you!” exclaimed Hooker, his eyes blurring a bit. “I appreciate it, but have you asked your friends if they want to meet me?”
“Certainly not. My friends will be ready and glad to meet any one I choose to introduce to them.”
The outcast shook his head doubtfully.
“I’m afraid not,” he said sadly. “It can’t be that you know about—about my—father?”
He stumbled over the final words, the hot blood surging up to his cheeks.
“I’ve heard,” declared Merry quietly.
“That he—that he——”
“I have heard all about it.”
“And still you are willing to introduce me to your friends?”
“Yes. I do not believe in killing a fellow for something his father did.”
“God bless you!” cried Hooker sincerely, his voice shaking with emotion. “Now I am beginning to understand why you are so popular here. It’s not simply because you are a great athlete, but it is because you are a gentleman and have a noble heart. Let me tell you, Mr. Merriwell, you have given me more pleasure to-day than I have felt before for months! I thank you!”
“You have nothing to thank me for, my dear fellow. I do not believe you have been treated just right here at college, and I’m going to see if the mistake can’t be remedied. I am going to get you in with my set, and I rather think that will give you standing.”
“I think you had better find out if they are willing to meet me. It will be better.”
“Nonsense! My friends are not cads!”
“I know, but——”
“There are no buts about it. You must come along. We were going to my room, and there will be a little gathering there now. Come, Hooker.”
Frank passed his arm through that of the outcast, and thus they left the fence and passed along the broad walk.
“Look at them!” exclaimed Gene Skelding, who, with Chickering and the rest of his crowd, had been watching Merriwell. “By Jove! if Merriwell isn’t walking arm in arm with that son of a thief, I’m a liar!”
“That’s right,” nodded Julian Ives, excitedly slapping his bang. “Merriwell has picked up the outcast!”
“And that,” said Lew Veazie “thows that he ith no better than that cheap fellow Hooker.”
“We ought to be able to spread the report,” observed Tilton Hull, with his chin high in the air.
“Oh, have sympathy,” said Rupert Chickering. “Merriwell is liable to fall from his perch any time. Don’t push him.”
“Oh, no!” grinned Skelding, with his thumbs in the armholes of his vest, thus exposing the expanse of his gaudy shirt-bosom, “we won’t push him—if we don’t get a chance!”
“We ought to be able to get something on him if he associates with Hooker,” said Ollie Lord.
“We’ll do our best, at any rate,” nodded Ives. “We can start some things circulating.”
The friends who had accompanied Frank, seeing him talking earnestly with Jim Hooker at the fence, had passed on and ascended to his room, where they found Jack Diamond and Joe Gamp.
“Hello!” said the Virginian. “Where’s Merriwell?”
“We left him by the fence,” answered Rattleton.
“What was he doing?”
“Guess, and I’ll give you a prize.”
“No, talking to Jim Hooker.”
“What?” Diamond was astonished.
“It’s on the level,” grunted Browning, dropping on an easy chair and producing a pipe. “That’s what Merriwell is doing.”
“Well, why in the world should he talk to a fellow like that?” cried Jack.
“Ask us!” said Bink Stubbs, bringing out a package of cigarettes and sprawling in his accustomed place on a handsome rug.
“Why, that fellow Hooker has a jailbird for a father!” said Diamond.
“And there is a report that he’s light-fingered himself,” said Rattleton.
“Gol darned if I want him around mum-mum-me!” declared Joe Gamp. “I had a pup-pup-pup-pickpocket sus-sus-swipe a watch off me one time, and I’ve steered clear of um ever sence.”
“Did you know when it was done?” asked Griswold.
“Gosh, yes! Feller held me right up with a pup-pup-pistol.”
“What did you do?”
“I hollered for help.”
“What did he do?”
“Why, he just sus-sus-said, ‘Bub-bub-bub-be calm, sir; I dud-dud-dud-don’t need any help; I cuc-cuc-cuc-can do this job alone.’ And he did it.”
The manner in which Joe told this caused them to utter a shout of laughter. When the merriment had subsided, Browning observed, as he lighted his pipe:
“I’m afraid Merry will have this fellow Hooker hanging round after him, now he’s spoken to him.”
“Well, I fight shy of pickpockets and burglars,” said Griswold. “I don’t like ’em.”
“What would you do,” asked Bink, “if you should open your eyes at night and see the dark form of a burglar in your room?”
“I’d shut my eyes again,” said Danny promptly. “Give me a cigarette.”
“Since you’ve taken to drinking again,” declared Bink, flinging the cigarette at Dan, “it’s never dark in your room at night, unless you cover your nose with powder.”
Griswold caressed his red beak.
“That’s sunburn,” he said. “You know I’m going in for athletics of late, and I’m outdoors a great deal.”
“I’m going in for athletics, too,” murmured Bink.
“Going to try the clubs?” asked Dan.
“No; going to try rolling my own cigarettes.”
“Haw!” snorted Griswold. “That’s hot stuff. Have you heard my latest joke? It’s positively Shakespearian.”
“Yes, I’ve heard it,” said Bink promptly; “but I thought it dated back of Shakespeare.”
“Oh, you’re too funny!” snapped Dan. “You ought to match up with Ollie Lord. Hear what happened to him yesterday? He got his cane-head in his mouth and couldn’t get it out.”
“Too bad!” said Bink. “How much was it worth?”
“I met Lord this morning,” said Jones, in his dry way. “I let him have ten dollars last spring, and I haven’t seen it since.”
“He must have been ill after that sad affair with his cane,” observed Rattleton. “How was he looking, Jones?”
“He was looking the other way when I met him,” answered Dismal.
“Well,” grunted Browning, “you know Doctor Holmes says ‘poverty is a cure for dyspepsia.’”
“It may be,” nodded Dismal; “but I’d rather have the dyspepsia.”
They made themselves quite at home till, at last, Frank appeared; but, to their great astonishment, Merry conducted Jim Hooker into the room.
“Fellows,” said Frank, “I have brought along a friend, to whom I wish to introduce you.”
Diamond hastily rose.
“I beg your pardon, Merriwell,” he said, with icy politeness; “but, really, I have an important engagement, and I had quite forgotten it. I’ve lingered overtime already. See you later, you know.”
Then he hurried out.
“By jingoes!” cried Rattleton, “it’s time for me to meet Nash, the tailor. He’s coming round to my room. Excuse me.”
He hastily followed Diamond.
“Tailor?” grunted Browning, dragging himself up with an effort. “Nash? Hold on. I owe him a little bill. I’ll go along and settle up.”
He followed Rattleton.
“By gosh!” exclaimed Gamp, as if struck by a sudden thought, “I’ve gotter go to pup-pup-plugging. I’ve wasted too much tut-tut-time already.”
He was the fourth one to leave the room.
“I must have some cigarettes,” cried Bink Stubbs, scrambling up.
“Hold on,” said Griswold; “I want some, too. I will go with you.”
They escaped in company. Dismal Jones alone was left. Frank Merriwell’s face had hardened, but now he said:
“Mr. Jones, this is my friend Mr. Hooker.”
Jones got up, but did not hold out his hand.
“How do you do, Mr. Hooker?” he said freezingly. “I must be going. Excuse me, gentlemen.”
And even he departed.
As the door closed behind Jones, Frank turned slowly and sorrowfully to Hooker. The outcast realized the full extent of the slight put upon him, and he was pale as chalk. Frank held out his hand.
“My dear fellow!” he said sympathetically.
“I told you how it would be!” cried Hooker hoarsely. “I did not wish to come here!”
“I beg a thousand pardons for bringing you! I did not dream for a moment that such a thing would happen.”
“I knew! I knew! Nobody here will have anything to do with me!”
“But my friends—I thought my friends were different.”
“They’re all alike!” said Hooker. “They believe me a crook, and they shun me! Oh, God! it’s enough to drive any man to crookedness! It’s enough to make a man hate himself and all the world!”
Then he dropped on a chair, buried his face in his hands, and burst into tears. Never was Frank Merriwell more wretched and disgusted than at that moment. As he had said, he had not fancied his friends could stoop to use Hooker so contemptuously, and their actions had filled him with astonishment.
“Don’t give way like this, old man! You’ll live it down in time,” he exclaimed.
“I don’t know,” came thickly from the outcast. “It’s a hard struggle.”
“I will help you.”
“But your friends——”
“Never mind them.”
“It’s plain you’ll have to choose between them and me.”
“I shall choose, and I’ll stand by you, Hooker!”
The fellow lifted a tear-wet face and gazed at Frank wonderingly.
“You do not realize what it may mean,” he said. “You do not wish to be shunned by all your friends. I am nothing to you, and your friends are everything.”
“When they are in the right, they are everything; but when they are in the wrong, like this, nothing. Don’t worry for me, Hooker. I’ll bring them round.”
“How can you?”
“I’ll find a way. They shall accept you as their friend.”
“We shall see. But that is not all.”
“I’ll make them one and all ask your pardon for this slight to-day!” cried Frank. “I promise you that.”
It was astonishing how soon the news that Merriwell had been seen arm in arm with Hooker on the campus became circulated. In some way, also, the report got around that Merry had taken the outcast to his room, but that his set had refused to have anything to do with the student whose father was said to be a crook. Hodge heard all about it, and he was “steaming” when he found Merry alone in his room the next day.
“Look here, Merriwell,” said Bart, confronting Frank, “I’ve got to say something to you.”
“All right,” smiled Merry, closing the book he had been studying, and putting it aside; “say ahead.”
“You’re making an ass of yourself!” exploded Bart roughly.
Frank elevated his eyebrows.
“I must say you are outspoken and far from complimentary,” he quietly observed.
“I don’t talk to you like this often.”
“That’s right. If you did, I’m afraid we might not be such good friends.”
“But I must talk straight now, for I feel it my duty.”
“Always do your duty, my boy. Drive ahead. What sort of a call-down are you going to give me?”
“You’ve been associating with that fellow Hooker.”
“I thought that was what you were driving at. What of it?”
“What of it? Great Scott! Do you know the fellow’s father has done time for larceny?”
“I’ve heard so,” was the calm answer.
“You’ve heard so, and still you walk across the campus arm in arm with him?”
“Hooker cannot be held responsible for the actions of his father.”
“A fellow with such a father is pretty sure to be shady himself.”
“There’s nothing certain about it. He seems like an unfortunate fellow, and I pity him.”
Hodge made an impatient gesture.
“That’s like you, Merriwell; but you can’t afford to associate with him as a friend.”
“Because it will queer you.”
“Then I’m afraid I shall be queered.”
“Hang it all! You don’t mean to say you are willing to give up your best friends for this fellow?”
“I shall not give them up. If there is any giving up, they will give me up.”
“Why, they say you brought him here to your room—you tried to introduce him to some of the fellows!”
Frank rose to his feet, and his manner of speaking showed how deeply in earnest he was.
“That is true,” he said, “and I was astonished to find my friends acted like a lot of cads. I fancied I knew them better, but I was mistaken. I had thought they were above such things, but I found I was wrong.”
“You had no right to attempt to introduce a fellow like Hooker without finding out who was willing to know him!”
“Hadn’t I? Let’s see. It was in this room—my own room—wasn’t it?”
“Hooker came here with me at my invitation.”
“When we entered, we found a number of fellows here, making themselves at home, as I wish my friends to do.”
“What of that?”
“Do you think I was going to bring Hooker, a student at this college, in here and not introduce him to those who were present? What sort of a way would that be to treat him? Under the circumstances, there was but one thing for me to do. I attempted to do it, and the fellows I have called my friends insulted Hooker—yes, they insulted me, and by the Lord Harry, they’ll have to apologize to both of us for it before I have anything more to do with them!”
Now, Bart Hodge knew that when Merriwell was aroused in this manner he felt strongly on the subject, and it would be no easy matter to turn his mind. Hodge was taken aback. He had intended to go at Merry hammer and tongs and quickly convince him that he was making a mistake in having anything at all to do with Jim Hooker, but now he realized that he had a mighty task before him.
“What?” gasped Bart. “You don’t mean——”
“I mean just what I have said.”
“And you will continue to associate with Hooker, for all of his disreputable father?”
“I shall continue to associate with him till I am convinced that he is not worthy of my friendship.”
Hodge gasped at that.
“You know there are some bad stories afloat concerning him,” he quickly said.
“What sort of stories?”
“They say he is following in the tracks of his father.”
“’they say! They say!’” impatiently exclaimed Frank. “’they say’ has ruined many a fair reputation. It is in the mouth of every lying, malicious gossip. It’s a manner of shunning responsibility for slander. Don’t tell me that ’they say.’ Who says? Just what do they say?”
“Why,” said Bart, floundering a little, “it—it’s the—the report that he’s light-fingered.”
“Why, things have been missed from a number of different rooms.”
“Is that so?” cried Frank, with fine scorn. “I don’t suppose such a thing ever happened before Jim Hooker came to college!”
“But circumstantial evidence——”
“Has hanged many an innocent man.”
“Everything has seemed to point to Hooker as the thief,” asserted Hodge desperately.
“By ‘everything’ you mean what? Is there any absolute proof?”
“Why, no, there is no positive proof. If there were, Hooker would have been forced to get out of Yale long ago.”
“Exactly,” nodded Frank. “Suspicion has been turned on him because of his father. That is the plain truth. If it had not been known that his father had done a dishonest thing, no one might have suspected him. Am I right?”
“Perhaps so,” confessed Bart reluctantly.
“Don’t you know I’m right?”
“No, I don’t know it.”
“Well, don’t you think so?”
“I suppose there is something in it.”
Frank laughed shortly.
“You squirm in order to avoid giving me a direct answer, but you must confess that I have you cornered. Now, I want to say something more about Jim Hooker. I have picked him up because my heart was touched with pity by his forlorn and disconsolate appearance. I talked with him, and I found the poor fellow felt his situation keenly. I liked his face. I was sorry for him. I saw that a chap who was struggling hard to get an education and become an honored and respected man might be ruined and driven to the dogs at the very outset by being shunned and scorned. He must have a strong determination to have withstood the strain thus far. He may be tottering on the brink even now, and it is possible that all he needs is the helping hand of a true friend to keep him from going over. My hand has been held out to him, and once Frank Merriwell has offered his hand to another he never withdraws it till that person has proved himself thoroughly and utterly unworthy.”
Bart knew this was true, and he felt like applauding Frank. Then came another thought.
“They say he associates with tough characters in the lowest dives of the city.”
“Again it is ’they say!’” exclaimed Frank. “Where is the proof?”
“Well, I’ve been told that he visits the tough quarter every Saturday night. He might be followed. Say, Merry, I dare you to follow him with me!”
“What! play the spy?”
“If you have so much confidence in him, you should not hesitate. You might be able to prove to me that he’s all right.”
Frank seemed to meditate a moment, and then he said:
“That’s right, Bart.”
“And you’ll do it—you’ll follow him to-morrow night?”
“If I am in condition after the football game—yes.”
“It’s settled then! We’ll see where he goes, and whom he meets.”
Saturday was a day of triumph for Yale, for she won an easy victory on the gridiron against one of the smaller college teams. In the game twenty-one men were used by Yale, in order to give all the better candidates a trial, and Bart Hodge found his opportunity to show what he could do. Hodge improved the opportunity by showing himself a perfect tiger in the rush-line, and thus it happened that, for once, he was in pretty good spirits when he came to Frank’s room early in the evening. To Bart’s astonishment, he found Merry in a “grouch.”
“What is the matter with you, Frank?” he cried. “Don’t think I ever saw you looking this way before.”
“I’m not feeling well,” confessed Frank.
“You’re not looking well. What’s hit you this way? You ought to be jolly after to-day’s work. It can’t be you are depressed because of the game?”
“Not exactly, and yet, to a certain extent, I am.”
Hodge was still more surprised.
“How is that? Everybody else is more than satisfied. It was a walkover for Old Eli.”
“As it should have been. This victory to-day means absolutely nothing.”
“We were not scored against.”
“Nobody expected we would be.”
“And I got a chance for a trial.”
“I congratulate you.”
“But you don’t seem very pleased over it,” said Bart, feeling keen disappointment. “You have been urging me to make a try for the eleven. But for you, I should not have done it.”
“Believe me,” said Merry, “I am pleased. I was glad to see you tear through their line as you did. More than that, I was glad that your work was noticed.”
“Was it?” eagerly.
“Sure thing. It’s being discussed in every quarter of the campus now. I know Birch took particular note of it, and you will stand a big show of playing right along as a regular after this.”
Bart’s face glowed.
“There was a time,” he confessed, “when I fancied I did not care a rap to play on the eleven.”
“I know that,” nodded Frank.
“You changed that.”
“Well, I’m glad of it.”
“You talked to me—you told me it was my duty to play if I could. You told me it was my duty to do everything I could this year to help Old Eli to victory.”
“Do you doubt it now?”
“No. I have begun to taste your spirit, Merriwell. Once I thought I hated Yale, but now I know I was mistaken. I have come to feel such love for her that I am ready to die to carry the blue to victory!”
Frank stepped forward and grasped Bart’s hand, his face lighting up for a moment.
“That’s the right sort of spirit!” he cried. “It is that feeling in the hearts of the defenders of the blue that has made Yale victorious in the past. It is the Yale spirit!”
“Well, I’ve got it now, all right!” Bart almost laughed. “It caught me hard in the game to-day. I never felt before just as I did then. I was ready to break bones or neck to advance the ball a yard. I was ready to die if I could make a touch-down!”
“I haven’t a doubt of it. With such material, Yale should have nothing but a string of victories marked against her this season.”
“Oh, we’re bound to win from start to finish.”
“I hope we may, but I have my fears.”
Now, this was so unusual for Frank that it was not surprising Bart was almost dazed.
“Look here!” exclaimed Hodge; “when I used to talk like that, you told me my liver was out of order.”
“And you feel like telling me so now, eh?”
“I suppose so.”
“What ails you, anyhow?”
“Several things. One thing is that I am not satisfied with the manner in which the eleven is being handled.”
“Not by any means.”
“There is not enough head-work behind it. It takes brains to play football, as well as brawn. We’ve got the timber, if it can be properly handled, but no new play has been developed thus far, and every game has been won by the old tactics of other years. Our fault last season, as all confess, was slowness in following up after kicks. Instead of always being under the ball when it dropped, the men who should have been there were somewhere else.”
“Well, surely the coachers are working to remedy that weakness.”
“They are, and they are neglecting everything else, almost. This year we’ll be strong where the eleven was weak last season; but it’s big odds we are weak in some other spot, and that weakness may prove fatal.”
“Well, something is wrong when you get to looking on the dark side of things!”
“Besides that, the game we have been playing thus far is one of brute force, and it has put our best men in hospital. Badger, Quimby, and Pelling could not play to-day.”
“We can get along without Badger.”
“He’s one of the best men on the team.”
“I don’t understand why you always say that, when he is your enemy.”
“I say it because it is true. Only fools lie about their enemies; wise men keep silent or speak the truth.”
“I guess you’re right about that, though I never thought of it that way before. But Badger will be all right in a week.”
“Perhaps. He hobbled out to the fence to-night with a cane. Pelling is flat on his back, and Quimby is not much better.”
“But I believe there are other men just as good. Look how we slashed through ’em to-day.”
“Twenty-one men were used, and five out of the twenty-one were injured, more or less. How long will it take at this rate to use up every football-player in college?”
“Well, they can be used pretty fast.”
“I should say so. While men are injured they cannot be progressing in practise.”
“But men get injured just the same everywhere. A fellow who is afraid of being hurt a little has no business playing the game.”
“That’s true enough. What worries me is that we are not getting a team together and holding it.”
“Well, how about Harvard? She shifts her men around.”
“But not for the purpose of trying a lot of new men.”
“Then what for?”
“To save her old ones. She has very little important new timber on her eleven this season, but she has all her best men from last year. She is taking care of them, too. While Yale is shifting about and wavering with uncertainty, Harvard is pushing straight forward with a fixed purpose—and that purpose is to drag Old Eli in the dust again this year.”
“She can’t do it!”
“I hope not.”
“Look at what we did to-day.”
“And look at what Harvard did to-day. She was up against a stronger team than the one we played, and she piled up a bigger score, without once having her goal-line in danger.”
“That’s the report, but the papers to-morrow may prove that she didn’t make such a wonderful showing.”
“We get things pretty straight by wire now. I think we’ll find the report is true enough.”
“Are you afraid, Merriwell?”
Frank had turned away, but he turned like a flash on Bart.
“Not afraid,” he said, “only worried.”
“Well, come, don’t think any more about it. You know we are going out to-night.”
Frank started and shrugged his shoulders.
“You have not forgotten?” exclaimed Hodge, not understanding Merry’s manner. “We’re going to follow Hooker, you know.”
“Old man,” said Frank soberly, “I don’t think I’ll go.”
THE MISSING WATCH.
“What?” cried Bart, more than ever astonished; “you don’t think you’ll——Oh, come, Merriwell, what’s the matter?”
Frank flung himself on a chair.
“I told you before that I do not fancy this business of spying on a fellow. I haven’t changed my mind.”
“But you agreed to go along. You wished to convince me that Hooker was on the square.”
“I don’t know that I wish to convince anybody.”
“Hooker was here a short time ago, and I had a talk with him.”
“I don’t suppose you gave him a hint——”
Bart had started up, but Frank motioned for him to sit down.
“Of course not!” he exclaimed. “Do you think I’d let him know that anybody could induce me to spy upon him?”
“I didn’t know but you might let something slip,” muttered Bart–“something to put him on his guard.”
“Not a word. I found him here in my room waiting for me. Why do you suppose he came?”
“I don’t know.”
“It was to tell me that he had learned I was to be cut out by the best men in college for associating with him. Now, how do you suppose he found that out?”
“Give it up.”
“Some unfeeling dog must have flung it at him!”
“Well, is this why you have decided not to follow him to-night?”
“Hodge, that man came to me all broken up. He sat where you are sitting now, and he told me how happy it had made him to know there was one man at Yale who had shown friendship for him.”
Bart moved uneasily.
“How do you think that made me feel?” asked Frank.
Hodge cleared his throat.
“Oh, I suppose it made you feel slushy!” he blurted. “I can’t stand that sort of thing myself. Why didn’t you run away?”
“If ever a fellow seemed sincere, he did.”
“Don’t doubt it.”
“He confessed that he had been tempted more than once, when all the world was against him, but in the future he should have greater strength to resist temptation, knowing there was one who believed in him.”
“That’s all right,” muttered Bart, feeling that he must say something.
“Is it all right? How would it look if I were to play the spy on him to-night? Would it seem to him, if he knew it, that I believed in him?”
“Well, as—er—as Dismal Jones says, ‘By their works ye shall know them.’ In these modern times, faith without proof is regarded as folly. If you were to convince yourself that Hooker did not visit the slums from any evil reason, then you would have all the more confidence in him. A man’s actions prove what he is.”
“You make a good argument, Hodge, but I don’t believe I’ll go, just the same. I should feel guilty all the time I was doing it.”
“Well,” said Bart desperately, “I’m not going to coax you!”
“But you may be doing Hooker harm by not going.”
“Well, I’ve told Browning and Diamond what we meant to do.”
“Now, if you do not go, do you know what they’ll think?”
“They’ll think you actually feared you might discover something that would cause you to change your mind about Hooker. They’ll think that, having picked the fellow up, you are not willing to learn the truth about him, but are going to stick to him, anyway.”
Frank got up and walked across the room. Bart watched him with some anxiety.
“If I could be sure Hooker would not know it,” muttered Merry.
“Why should he know it?” cried Bart instantly.
“I might go along with you for the satisfaction of teaching you a lesson. I believe I will!”
“If such stories are afloat about Hooker, it’s time somebody investigated. If the stories can be proved lies, it may have something to do with giving the fellow better standing.”
“That being the case, it may be my work to take hold of it and show his defamers that he is all right.”
“Come on!” Bart sprang up.
“All right,” said Frank, “I am going. I shall go, because I wish to be able when a man tells a slander about Hooker to say that I know it is not true. I have an interest in the unfortunate fellow, and I shall take chances in helping him; but we must be very careful not to let him catch on that he is being followed.”
“Hurry,” urged Bart. “The evening is beginning to creep along, and we don’t want him to get away from us.”
Frank hustled around and got ready to go. Bart waited impatiently while Merry searched for something.
“What are you looking for?” asked Hodge.
“My watch,” was the reply.
“Can’t you find it?”
“Where did you have it last?”
“In another suit, but it’s not there.”
“Haven’t you left it lying around?”
“Sometimes I do.”
Bart joined in the search.
“It’s mighty queer,” declared Frank.
“It is rather odd,” admitted Bart, in a singular manner.
“It should be right here.”
They looked almost everywhere, and at last, Frank stopped and stood staring about in a perplexed manner.
“That watch hasn’t any legs,” said Bart.
“But it has a pair of hands,” twinkled Merry.
“It couldn’t walk off on its hands.”
“Not unless it’s suddenly developed into a circus acrobat.”
“Somebody must have helped it.”
“Oh, I don’t think that!” cried Frank. “I don’t believe anybody would touch my watch.”
“Well, I’m glad you think so,” came in a significant manner from Bart.
There was a cloud on Frank’s brow as he looked sharply at Bart.
“What are you driving at?” he asked.
“Well, you have a new friend who was here a short time ago.”
“That’s the name.”
“Don’t, Hodge—don’t try to put the blame on that poor fellow!”
“All right. You may think what you like, and I’ll think—what I like.”
“By heavens! I believe you are glad of this opportunity to put suspicion on him! You are like other human beings, ready to kick a man who is down!”
“I have no sympathy with a sneak-thief!” said Bart harshly. “If Hooker has taken your watch, he’s a dirty sneak! You are a man who has shown friendship for him, and he steals from you! What do you think of that?”
“I do not believe he did it!” declared Merry, clearly and emphatically.
“But the circumstantial evidence.”
“Look here, Hodge, have you forgotten that, more than once, you have nearly been convicted of crime by circumstantial evidence, and you were perfectly innocent on every count? You should not forget that everybody turned against you, while I alone stood by you. You should not forget how near you were to giving up in despair because things looked so black against you.”
Bart Hodge flushed crimson, for, of a sudden, he remembered that there had been a time when his position was much like that of Jim Hooker. In that time of trouble Frank had proved to be a firm and trusty friend.
“You’ve not known Hooker as you knew me,” he muttered.
Frank saw that Hodge was stirred by shame, and he instantly said, dropping a hand on Bart’s shoulder:
“Forgive me, old man! I didn’t mean to speak of it, but I couldn’t help it. Let us hope that Hooker is quite as innocent as you were when wrongfully accused. Come, we will go.”
With considerable trouble, they were able to follow Hooker from the campus to a Jew’s little store on a side street in a poor quarter of the city. From a position outside the store they saw the suspected student speak familiarly to the old Jew who kept the place, and pass on into a little back room, disappearing from view.
“Well,” said Frank, “it looks to me as if this is the end of our great shadowing expedition.”
“I wonder what he’s doing in there,” muttered Hodge, nonplused.
“I think we’ll have to guess at it.”
“He seemed perfectly at home.”
“It’s plain he’s been here before.”
Bart meditated, and then he said:
“Merriwell, I have an idea.”
“Do you wish to part with it?”
“I believe this old Jew keeps a fence.”
“You mean a place for receiving stolen goods?”
“What makes you think that?”
“Well, this is a cheap quarter of the city, and—and——Well, I think so.”
“You think so because Hooker seemed quite at home there.”
“Perhaps that is the reason.”
“It’s a pretty slim reason.”
“You do not believe it?”
“Not because Hooker came here. You’ll have to show stronger evidence than that.”
“I suppose we might turn detectives and find out.”
Frank shook his head.
“That is carrying the thing farther than I care to go, old man.”
“Well, are we going to give it up here?”
“All we can do is wait awhile and see if anything will turn up. Now that I have entered into this thing, I have a curiosity to see how it will turn out.”
So they waited, and, in less than twenty minutes, they were rewarded by the reappearance of Hooker. They were watching through the front window of the shop, which was none too clean, and saw the outcast come from the back room, but both were surprised by his appearance, which was greatly altered.
“Great Scott!” muttered Hodge. “What’s he been doing?”
“He’s changed his clothes,” said Frank instantly.
“Changed them! I should say he had! Why, I hardly knew him at first.”
“He looks like a tough now.”
“He looks pretty seedy,” confessed Frank. “What kind of a game is he up to, I wonder?”
Hooker had paused a moment to speak to the old Jew.
“Then it is beginning to dawn on you,” said Bart triumphantly, “that he may be up to some sort of a game?”
“He can’t be going to a masquerade in that rig.”
“He might be going to a poverty ball, but Hooker isn’t the sort of chap to take in balls of any kind.”
The shadowed student had changed his respectable clothing for a ragged suit and a battered soft hat, which was slouched over his eyes. In fact, his appearance had been altered by the change of clothing so that he now seemed decidedly disreputable.
“No, he is not going to attend a ball,” said the dazed Merriwell. “By Jove! this affair is becoming interesting, Hodge! It can’t be that he’s been forced to sell his clothes in order to raise some money, can it, Hodge?”
“Sell nothing!” exclaimed Bart. “Do you think he’d wear that sort of rig back to college? Why, he’d be ridiculous!”
“But some of the men who have money to burn sometimes dress almost as bad as that.”
“But not hardly. They do not look like toughs, and Mr. Hooker now looks like an out-and-out tough.”
To himself Merriwell had reluctantly confessed that the change of clothes had made a most remarkable alteration in the appearance of the suspected student, for he now had a sinister, evil aspect that was awakening strange doubts and forebodings in the mind of his only champion and defender in the college. In his heart, Frank could not deny that Hooker now seemed like a genuine sneak and crook. It was a regular Jekyll-and-Hyde metamorphosis.
The old Jew seemed to be laughing in an evil fashion at the alteration in the student, rubbing his hands, nodding his head and making characteristic gestures.
“Perhaps,” said Bart, as if struck by a new idea, “perhaps Hooker is an out-and-out ruffian. Have you read in the papers how a number of persons have been held up and robbed by a mysterious footpad on the outskirts of the city?”
Frank had read of it, and he was obliged to say so. More than that, a thought of the robberies had entered his head at the very moment Bart spoke of them.
“Merriwell,” came eagerly from Hodge, “we may be able to clear up the mystery of those robberies to-night!”
“I hope not!” came huskily from Frank.
“I know it’s rather hard on you after you had such confidence in the fellow,” said Hodge; “but if he is a thorough scoundrel you want to know it, don’t you?”
“Even though it may shatter all your faith in the natural honesty of human nature?”
“It will not.”
“Not on your life! Even though I may find that I have been fooled in this fellow, I shall not give up my firm belief that there is more good than evil in human nature.”
“Well, I admire you for the way you stick to your pet theory, but your belief must get shaken up sometimes. You have a way of looking on all men as honest till they prove themselves otherwise; I have a way of looking on all men as dishonest till they prove themselves otherwise, and I watch them after that, for fear they may get tired of being honest.”
“You’re a pessimist.”
“Call me what you like, I’ll not get fooled as many times as you do. You must be satisfied by this time that there is something crooked in Hooker.”
“I am not.”
“Well, you’re stubborn.”
Hodge laughed shortly.
“But I can see that you are beginning to doubt. Your manner of speaking shows that. What will you do, Merriwell, if we follow this fellow and he attempts to hold up and rob some stranger?”
“If I can get near enough,” said Frank grimly, “I shall do my best to give Jim Hooker the worst thrashing he ever received.”
“And afterward—will you turn him over to the police?”
“That being the case, I have a fancy that Mr. Hooker’s career in New Haven is pretty near an end. We must not let him see us when he comes out.”
“Wait. I want to watch him. I am trying to make out what the old Jew is saying to him.”
“It looks to me as if he’s telling Hooker where to go in order to make a strike,” said Hodge.
And, strangely enough, that thought had occurred to Frank. Still, Merry was not willing to give up hope that Hooker might turn out right, after all. To be sure, the fellow’s actions were against him, but, as yet, he had done nothing actually bad. For all that he regretted the evident probability that Hooker was not “on the level,” still Merry was glad now that he had consented to come with Hodge and watch the fellow.
“He’s coming out!” exclaimed Bart.
They hurriedly drew back into a dark doorway. The old Jew followed Hooker to the door, where they paused a moment, and the shopkeeper was distinctly heard to say:
“You vant to be careful, my young frient; you may ged indo drouple, you know.”
Hooker said something in a low tone, and then started off, while the Jew turned back into the shop.
“Come,” said Frank, “and we must be careful, too. I want to see this thing through to the end.”
They followed Hooker.
The manner of the outcast seemed changed with his clothes. Up to the time that he entered the Jew’s shop he had not seemed suspicious, but now he had a strange, skulking air, and he sometimes paused and looked round, as if fearing that he was being watched. Fortunately, on every occasion that Hooker looked back Frank and Bart were able to avoid being seen and recognized; but this apparent suspicion on the part of the one they were following caused Merry’s confidence in him to take another slump.
More and more was Frank impressed with the Jekyll-and-Hyde idea. Somehow, Hooker seemed completely transformed. Before the change there had been a kind of desperate independence in his manner, as if he felt himself as good as anybody, no matter what the world might think of him, but now he skulked and sneaked along the streets, and seemed to avoid the gaze of those who would have looked into his face.
“He couldn’t do anything better to draw suspicion upon himself, if he is up to crooked work,” thought Frank.
The quarter of the city which they now came to was the very lowest along the water-front. The buildings were old and dirty, and saloons were frequent. Wretched men and women were afloat on the streets, and sailors were seen frequently.
“This would be a fine locality for a man to be murdered in!” muttered Bart.
“But it doesn’t seem to me,” said Merry, “that it is just the quarter of the city in which a footpad would seek his prey.”
“Oh, I don’t know. There are apt to be more desperate characters here than elsewhere.”
“And for that very reason respectable persons whom it would pay to hold up and rob will keep away from here.”
“This is where sailors get drunk in the dives and are kicked out upon the street. They must be easy victims. A man could go through their clothes without much danger.”
“But they are not likely to have much money after they are kicked out upon the street.”
Hodge knew this was true. He realized that the seafaring man would be used well in a low dive till his money was gone, and then be kicked out.
“Still,” he said, “some of them must escape with money on their persons. Many times they are drunk enough to lie down almost anywhere and go to sleep. A sneak-thief can go through them while they are sleeping without——By Jove! see that! What did I tell you?”
In a dark doorway a drunken man was curled up fast asleep. Hooker was seen to halt suddenly and look sharply at the man. Then he approached the inebriate.
Frank Merriwell’s heart fluttered. What was he about to witness? In a twinkling his fancy pictured Hooker, a student of Yale, disguising himself in old clothes, and coming night after night to this wretched quarter to pick the pockets of the unfortunates of the streets.
Bart had clutched Merry’s arm, and he was pointing toward Hooker, hoarsely and triumphantly whispering:
Hooker bent over the man and seemed about to go through his clothes. Instead of that, he pushed the sleeper’s hat back from his face. Then, as if not satisfied, he felt in his pockets some moments, found a match and struck it. For a single moment he held the match so the light of the blaze fell full and fair on the face of the sleeper. Then, with a flirt, the match was flung aside.
“He was making sure the fellow is too drunk to make trouble when he goes through him,” said Bart.
“Wait!” whispered Frank. “What is he doing now? He seems trying to awaken the man.”
“He’s trying him to find out if he’s dead to the world,” declared Hodge.
“No, see—he’s shaking the man! He’s really trying to awaken him!”
“I don’t believe it!”
“He’s slapping his face!”
Smack! smack! smack—the sound of Hooker’s open-handed blows on the man’s face came plainly to their ears.
“Well, this is a queer piece of business!” admitted Hodge.
Frank was more mystified than ever, and now his curiosity was aroused to an extraordinary pitch. Smack! smack! smack! Hooker continued to apply the flat of his hand to the man’s face.
“There is no fooling about that,” said Merriwell. “He’s really trying to awaken the man.”
Hooker was heard talking earnestly to the unknown, who had been aroused in a measure by the stinging blows. He was seen to be dragging the inebriate to his feet.
“Well, he is getting him up!” admitted Hodge.
Frank was relieved. A few moments before he had felt that Hooker was about to commit an act that would irrevocably brand him as a crook and a criminal, but nothing of the sort had happened thus far, and it began to seem that nothing might happen. The disguised student had no small amount of trouble in getting the man upon his feet. He had applied heroic measures in arousing him, and the stinging blows from his open hand had served to awaken the sleeper to a sense of his position. Now, however, having dragged the man to his feet, Hooker was finding it difficult to keep him from lying down again.
“Look here, Hodge,” said Merriwell, “does it occur to you that Hooker’s purpose may be precisely opposite that with which we have credited him?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why, instead of coming here to rob the unfortunates of the street, it may be that he comes here to give them such friendly aid as he can.”
Hodge caught his breath, and then gave a suppressed exclamation of scorn.
“No,” he said decidedly, “nothing of the kind occurs to me! Don’t be foolish enough to suggest anything of the sort, Merriwell. Hooker is not a blooming idiot, even though he may be a crook!”
“Well, one thing is certain, thus far we have seen him do nothing unlawful.”
“Not yet, but we’re hot on the scent, and you can bet your life on that.”
Hooker was forcing the man to walk, holding him by the arm. The inebriate reeled drunkenly, and then came near falling down. Then, as if losing patience, the outcast forced his new companion up against the wall, held him there a moment, then shook him like a rag.
“He’s bound to shake some of the rum out of the fellow,” chuckled Frank.
“He’ll shake it up so it’ll go to the man’s head more than ever,” declared Bart.
But after this shaking the stranger seemed to make a mighty effort to brace up and walk straight, and he did remarkably well, although Hooker still kept hold of him. Since finding this man, Hooker had seemed to forget to be suspicious and watch behind him, so Bart and Frank had no trouble at all in following along.
The adventure was growing in interest for Frank. It was something new and novel—something to break the regularity of college life.
Another drunken man came singing along and ran into Hooker and his companion. Straightway the man who had been singing attempted to pick a quarrel, while Hooker tried to avoid him and pass on. The belligerent individual, however, as soon as he saw Hooker wished to escape trouble, proceeded to force matters, after the style of a drunken bully. At last, thoroughly exasperated, Hooker suddenly caught hold of the man, kicked his feet from beneath him, and let him drop to the ground in a manner that must have given him a severe jolt. Then he took his companion’s arm again and they went on.
“Well,” said Frank, with satisfaction, “I rather fancy the way he did that.”
They were on the opposite side of the street, so they had no trouble in passing the dazed pugilist, who had struggled to his feet and was looking after Hooker in a bewildered manner that was rather ludicrous. Hodge was not saying much now. Somehow, this adventure had not turned out just as he had expected it would, and, although he did not confess it, he was not a little puzzled by Hooker’s actions. At length Hooker and his companion came to a corner saloon, from the interior of which came the sound of men talking loudly and discordantly. Hooker’s companion seemed to insist on going in there, and, after awhile, the student consented.
“Well,” said Hodge, “we’ve run our game into a fine hole at last!”
“Still,” persisted Frank, “we have seen him do nothing criminal.”
“We’ve seen him do things that are evidence that he’s up to something crooked.”
“Well, what do you want for evidence?”
“I want evidence. Instead of doing anything criminal, Hooker picked up a poor wretch on the street, and——”
“Took him into a saloon—into a low dive!” exclaimed Bart scornfully.
“No, he did not take the man there. The man persisted in going there, and it was plain to me that Hooker accompanied him with reluctance.”
“Well, that was not plain to me, if it was to you. I don’t see how you can hold onto him and pretend to think he is all right after what we have seen. His every movement since entering the shop of that old Jew has been that of a sneak and a crook. We have followed him to the worst quarter of the city, and have seen him enter one of the lowest dens in company with a drunken man. If that is the sort of chap you choose to associate with, Frank Merriwell, I am ready to confess that I don’t know anything at all about you.”
Never had Bart Hodge been more in earnest, and Frank realized that his companion was making a strong argument. Still, Merry was not satisfied, and he refused to throw Hooker over till he learned something more convincing against him.
“I’ll guarantee,” said Bart, “that Hooker is in there drinking with his dopey companion. He prefers to associate with a fellow of that sort.”
“I am going in and see what he is doing,” said Frank quietly.
“And that will be a fine place to get your nut split open!”
“I think I can take care of myself.”
“If you go in there, I shall go with you.”
“I prefer to go alone.”
“And I refuse to permit it!”
“You refuse! My dear fellow, I don’t think you will do that.”
“All the same, I shall. Don’t think for a minute that I will permit you to take such a risk unless I am with you. That may be a regular robbers’ den. In fact, I am inclined to believe that it is, else Hooker would not be going there.”
“If we both go in there, we may attract attention. If I go in alone, I shall do so unobtrusively.”
“You cannot fail to attract attention if you enter that place, old man, and you know it.”
“Your appearance is somewhat different from the customers who patronize this joint, I rather think.”
“But you must remember that I have a way of making myself appear at home almost anywhere.”
“But you wear a ring, a scarf-pin, and you have a watch-chain in view.”
“I shall remove the scarf-pin, take off the ring, and button my coat over my vest.”
“That will not hide your clothes, and you will be conspicuous amid a lot of sailors and bums.”
“Still, I believe I can go in there without attracting much attention to myself. If we go in together, we are far more likely to be noticed by Hooker.”
“If you were to go in there and find out that Hooker really was up to something crooked, what would you do?”
“Get out quietly, and give Hooker the throw-down at the first opportunity. Never fear, Bart, if I discover that you are right about the fellow—if I satisfy myself beyond a doubt that he is what you believe him to be—I shall treat him as I would any other rascal.”
“If you get into trouble, old man, you must give me the signal instantly. I’ll be just outside here, and I’ll come in on the jump. Will you do it?”
“Well, I hate to have you go alone, but I know how set you are when you make up your mind to a thing.”
“Then it is settled! You will wait here?”
“Don’t see but I’ll have to.”
“Now you are sensible, old man. You know I have entered joints quite as tough as this one, and I still live to tell the tale.”
Bart had great confidence in Merry, but he had desired to be with Frank when Hooker was discovered in some crooked or criminal act. Frank removed his scarf-pin and ring and handed them over to Bart. Then he buttoned his coat tightly across his breast and prepared to enter the low saloon.
“Remember,” said Hodge, “if you get into any trouble, just give me the signal. I’ll be with you in a jiffy.”
“But you must stay out unless I do give the signal.”
“Well, I’ll stay out awhile, if I don’t hear a row going on in that place. If I hear that, I shall get inside to see how you are faring.”
This was all right, and so Frank walked up to the door, pushed it open quietly, and entered. He found a lot of tough-looking men drinking in front of a bar, behind which were two dispensers of drinks. The place smelled of liquor. The floor was covered with sawdust, well besprinkled with tobacco juice. Men were smoking vile-smelling pipes and scarcely less vile-smelling cigars. It was a Saturday-night crowd, and the most of them seemed bent on getting intoxicated. Among them were a number of poor laboring men, who were squandering their hard-earned money in that miserable place.
Frank walked in as if it were not the first time he had entered the place, sauntered up to one end of the bar, and stood there quietly.
“What’ll yer have?” asked one of the barkeepers.
“Beer,” answered Frank, feeling that it would not do to call for a soft drink in that place.
A glass of beer that was half foam was slopped out and placed before him. He threw down the right pay for it, and the barkeeper turned his attention to others.
Merry had no intention of drinking that beer. At his feet was a wooden box, two-thirds full of sawdust, which served as a cuspidor when any one cared to use it for that purpose. Into this Merry quietly and unobservedly turned part of the glass of beer. With the half-emptied glass on the bar before him, he proceeded to look around, wiping his mouth. He quickly discovered that neither Hooker nor his companion was standing before the bar. Further inspection disclosed a back room, the door to which stood open. In the back room were three tables, at which men were sitting, drinking and smoking. Hooker and the man he had picked up on the street were sitting at one of the tables. Without trouble, Merriwell changed his position slightly, so that he was able to watch Hooker, while he remained almost entirely concealed by several men who were standing near.
Jim Hooker was talking earnestly to the unfortunate man, who sat on the opposite side of the table. He was not drinking, and Merry observed that no drink sat before him. The other man seemed impatient, and one of the waiters brought him something in a glass. Hooker took the glass and smelled of it, while the waiter shrugged his shoulders and held out his hand. Then Hooker felt in his pocket, brought out a dime, and paid for the drink, which he shoved across to the other man. From the appearance of the drink, Merry quickly decided that it was some kind of a mixture intended to aid in straightening the unfortunate inebriate up. The man took it up, tasted it, and made a face expressive of disgust. Then Hooker urged him to drink it down quickly.
Of course, this was interesting to Frank. What did Hooker mean to do with the man after sobering him off? That was a question that troubled him some. With some trouble, the man forced himself to drink the contents of the glass. Just as this was done, Frank saw the barkeeper catch from off the bar the glass he had half emptied and slop the remaining contents into a washtank beneath the bar.
Merry understood what that meant, and he immediately ordered another glass of beer, which was placed before him. If he was going to keep his place at the bar, he must buy drinks often. It was Saturday night, and any one who did not pan out well could not hold a position at that bar. There were times when Merry felt that it would be an advantage to smoke, and this was one of them. Had he been smoking, it would not have seemed so peculiar for him to stand there at the bar, idly gazing around.
When Hooker’s companion had disposed of the drink, the outcast fell to talking to him again in a most earnest manner. The man was surly, and he seemed to be demanding something. Hooker seemed to argue with him, but he persisted in his demands. After a time, Hooker felt in his pockets and took out a little money, which he placed on the table. This the man eagerly seized, and then it was evident that he demanded more; but Hooker shook his head and appeared to be declaring that he had no more. At this the man grew angry.
“Instead of robbing his new friend,” said Frank to himself, “he is coughing up to him.”
At last, Hooker felt in his pocket and took out something which he had done up in a paper. The paper he stripped off, placing the object on the table before his companion. It was a watch and chain!
“Heavens!” muttered Frank Merriwell, starting violently, “is that my watch?”
Merry felt his heart leap into his throat. Was it possible at last that there was proof of Hooker’s crookedness?
Frank almost staggered, as if he had been struck a heavy blow. The outcast’s companion, a man of at least fifty years, eagerly grasped the watch and chain. Then, without hesitation, Frank Merriwell started forward and strode into that room. He was quickly at the side of the table, and, in a hoarse voice, he demanded:
“Let me see that watch!”
Hooker uttered a cry of astonishment.
“Merriwell!” he gasped, seeming to turn ashen pale.
The other man thrust the watch and chain into his pocket. Quick as a flash, Merry clutched him by the collar, again demanding:
“Let me see that watch!”
At that instant, somebody struck Merry from behind, dropping him to the floor in a dazed condition. He saw that two of the men who had been sitting at another table were on their feet, and one of them had struck him down.
“Give it ter der dude!” snarled one.
“I’ll kick der packin’ outer him!” snarled the other, lifting his heavy foot.
With a cry, Jim Hooker flung himself at the man.
“Stop!” he shouted. “You shall not harm him!”
In a moment a free fight was taking place in that room. Merry managed to get upon his feet, but he was attacked by Hooker’s companion and several others. A shrill, sharp, peculiar whistle came from his lips. It brought Bart Hodge dashing into that room.
“Nail them, Merriwell!” shouted Hodge, his eyes flashing as he struck right and left.
There were eight or ten ruffians present, but they found those two college lads lively fighters. Merriwell had been dazed by the blow he received, but the manner in which Hodge walked into those toughs was an inspiration, and Frank quickly woke up to the work before him. The fight was short and sharp, and Merry and Bart made a dash to get out of the room. The barkeepers and some of those in the other room met them at the door. They attempted to stop them.
“Hold on!” cried one of the barkeepers, clutching Hodge.
“Hands off!” snarled Bart, hitting the fellow a terrible jolt on the jaw.
“We can’t stop now,” Merriwell almost laughed, as he upset the other barkeeper.
They broke through and rushed out of the place.
“We had better get away in a hurry,” said Hodge. “This may bring the police.”
“If there are any police in the neighborhood,” muttered Frank. “I’d like to see that watch!”
“What did you say?” asked Bart.
“Yes, you did. You said you’d like to see something. What was it?”
“I’ll tell you later.”
“All right. Come on.”
They hastily left the vicinity, getting away in safety.
“Well, it happened just as I thought it would,” said Bart, as they walked along.
Frank did not speak. Hodge looked at him, and saw that Merry was walking with downcast eyes, an expression of deep depression on his usually cheerful face.
“I’m sorry, Frank,” said Hodge seriously, “but you insisted on going in there.”
Still Frank said nothing, and Hodge kept on:
“I told you how it would be. I suppose Hooker was furious when he found you had followed him, and he set the gang on you?”
“You’re wrong about that.”
“Then how did it happen? Hooker was mixed in that fight. I’m sure he was trying to do you up.”
“Get out! What was he in the fight for?”
“He was helping me.”
“Oh, come off!”
“No. He kept one of those ruffians from kicking me when I was down. He attacked the man just as he was going to kick me.”
“But how did you happen to get into the fight?”
“I’ll tell you when we get to my room.”
“Why not now?” persisted Bart, whose curiosity was thoroughly awakened. “You wouldn’t let me go along with you, and so——What was Hooker doing in there?”
“He was trying to straighten the other man up.”
“By pouring some kind of a decoction into him.”
“Then Hooker was drinking?”
“The other man was drinking. Hooker was not touching anything.”
“Go on. I don’t know that his not drinking makes him any better. What happened? Go on.”
“Hooker seemed to be talking to the other man seriously. I had a good chance to see him. He was a man about fifty years old, and I have an idea.”
“It is possible that this unfortunate wretch is Hooker’s father.”
“I thought of that myself,” nodded Bart. “I wondered if it wouldn’t occur to you. A fine father he has! He must be proud of him! A criminal and a drunkard!”
“Without doubt, Hooker is not proud of his father,” said Frank. “I believe he is anything but proud of him. Have you ever heard how he happened to get to college?”
“There’s a story that some old aunt of his who has money is putting him through, and that he is helping work his way. Work his way! You can understand what that means. He is working his way with those light fingers of his.”
To Bart’s surprise, Merry did not protest his disbelief of this now. He was silent and sad.
“I believe you discovered more than you have told me while in that saloon!” exclaimed Hodge eagerly. “I believe you are convinced of Hooker’s guilt!”
“Not thoroughly convinced.”
But, by these words, Frank had as much as admitted that he was partly convinced, and that was enough to satisfy Hodge.
“You are weakening!” he cried; “and you would never do that if you did not feel that the fellow was guilty. Now, Merry, I believe you can understand how we felt when you attempted to bring this crooked chap into our set.”
“What bothers me,” said Frank, “is that Hooker could be known so certainly to be crooked and still continue as a student at Yale. It is remarkable.”
“Without doubt, there are other fellows in college who are no better than he, but they have not been spotted.”
“I don’t like to think so! I don’t like to think that any man who is living among us here, with all the refining and ennobling influences of the old college to work for his upbuilding, can be no better than a common sneak-thief.”
“You must have seen Hooker rob somebody in the saloon, or you would not admit that he is a common sneak-thief.”
“I did not see that.”
“Well, you saw something that came pretty near settling the matter with you. But there are other fellows just as bad as Hooker.”
“I do not think Rupert Chickering is much better. He makes a bluff at being somebody, but he’s a hypocrite and a sneak.”
“But not a thief.”
“He doesn’t have to be.”
“That’s true. There is no telling what he might become if placed in Hooker’s position.”
“Still, that does not excuse Hooker,” said Bart quickly, as if fearing that Frank was looking for something that might be called “extenuating circumstances.”
“No, that does not, and still, no matter what Hooker may be, I shall feel a pang of pity for him.”
“That’s like you!”
“If he is a crook, it’s because it’s in his blood.”
“That’s it! I tell you I believe with Jack Diamond that ‘blood will tell.’ It is his pet theory. Give a man a father with criminal instincts, and he is bound to have crooked tendencies.”
“But I feel that some fellows fight against such tendencies with all their souls—and conquer! I believe some lads who are tempted to do wrong things set their faces resolutely toward the right and never turn back. At first the battle may be hard for them, but they grow stronger to resist evil as they win victory after victory, till at last the tempter has no strength to drag them from the straight and narrow path that leads to the goal of respect, honor, and happiness.”
“Now you’re talking like a preacher, Merriwell! I don’t like it when you talk that way! One would think you were never tempted to do wrong.”
“But I have been, my friend—I have been! And let me tell you that I escaped by a narrow margin. That is why I can understand and sympathize with others who are tempted.”
“Too much generosity never does them any good. I’ve known criminals to be sympathized with till they actually came to think themselves the ones wronged.”
“I haven’t a doubt of that. Nothing disgusts me so much as the people who carry flowers to murderers. By their folly, such persons are encouraging crime. Some other weak-minded wretch with a murderous tendency sees foolish women and idiotic men making a fuss over a murderer, and he longs to be fawned over and gazed upon with awe and admiration, and straightway at the first opportunity he kills somebody. I have sympathy with those who may be struggling to turn back from the pathway of crime.”
“But do you think Jim Hooker is making any such struggle?”
“I don’t know. He may be.”
“Well, tell me what you saw in that place, and how you came to get into the fight.”
Bart argued till Frank told him everything. When Merry had finished, Hodge said:
“That must settle it in your mind, Merriwell. The fellow was in your room this afternoon before you came. You left the door open, and you found him there when you returned. Your watch was gone after he departed. You saw him turning it over to his wretched old father to-night, and——”
“I am not certain yet that it was my watch. I shall make a thorough search for my watch, and, if I cannot find it——”
“What then?” asked Bart eagerly.
“I am done with Jim Hooker,” said Merry grimly.
Together they returned to Merriwell’s room. On the campus they met some of Frank’s friends, but he passed on with a word of greeting to each. When they were in the room, he said:
“Now, Hodge, for a search. You shall help me. We will look everywhere for that watch.”
“And have all our trouble for nothing,” declared Bart. “You’ll never see your watch again.”
Frank began the search. He went through his clothes in the wardrobe. It was not there. Then he went to his dressing-case in the sleeping-room. Bart made a pretense of hunting, but, being satisfied in his mind that Frank had not a chance to success, it was no more than a pretense. The watch was not in any of the drawers of the dressing-case. High and low they searched, but without avail.
“Now, I hope you are satisfied!” exclaimed Bart.
Frank sat down.
“I am,” he said.
“You are ready to give Hooker up?”
Hodge made a struggle to repress his triumph. All he had worked for was accomplished. Frank Merriwell sat there, staring down at the floor, dark, depressed, dejected.
“Come, come!” cried Bart. “You look as if you had lost your best friend!”
“I feel as if to-night has seen the death of another of my youthful confidences in human nature,” said Merry, in a dull voice. “If this keeps up, I fear for the future.”
“Oh, come off! Fear for the future! What are you giving us!”
“The truth. I have seen old men who were crafty, suspicious, doubtful of all mankind, and I have pitied them, for it has seemed to me that they were the most miserable of human beings. If I thought I might become like one of those I should be wretched now!”
“Bosh! They are the limit. It’s well enough to be on one’s guard against deception and crookedness, but you must know there is such a thing as honesty in the world. You must know there is such a thing as true friendship. There are your own friends——”
“And they fled before me when I——”
Frank stopped, and Hodge quickly picked him up.
“When you attempted to introduce a crook to them. Do you wonder? You cannot blame them.”
Merry rose and walked slowly to the mantel, against which he leaned.
“I suppose not,” he finally said. “They were right and I was wrong. I shall confess my mistake to them. A little while ago I felt that the time would come when I should be able to make them all acknowledge that they were wrong.”
“Is that what’s hit you so hard? Come out of it! You need not say a word about it to any of them, and you may be sure not one of your real friends will ever mention it to you.”
“That is not my way. If I make a mistake, I am ready to acknowledge it no matter how hard it may be for me. The fellow who cannot bring himself to acknowledge a mistake makes himself miserable and gets the reputation of being bull-headed. It is not because I must confess I was wrong that I am feeling bad. It is because an ideal is shattered.”
“You are sorry for Hooker, Merriwell, that’s why you feel so bad.”
Frank was silent.
“Think it over a little,” advised Hodge quickly. “Should you be sorry for a fellow who could do what he has done? You picked him up an outcast, and you attempted to bring him into your set, the best set in college. When your friends turned their backs on him, you stood by him. How did he reward you? He stole your watch!”
Frank nodded slowly.
“He did, poor devil!”
“Poor devil! Poor nothing! He’s a cheap sneak!”
“It is plain that he was compelled to take something to his father, for that man surely was his father. He did not have money, and so he felt that he was compelled to get something.”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, don’t try to excuse him that way! Other things have been stolen. It is certain now that he is the college sneak-thief. It is evident that he takes his booty to his miserable old father, or to this pal of his, and the one to whom he takes it disposes of the stuff and raises the money on it. It is a combination for crime. I do not believe he is deserving of your sympathy in the least, and you make me sick by wasting any sympathy on him!”
Frank was forced to confess that Bart might be right. Hodge talked to him some time.
“I’m tired,” said Merry, at last. “I must go to bed.”
“Then I’ll be going.”
“Wait a little. Wait till I undress. Let’s talk of old times, Bart—of old times at Fardale! Let’s try to forget this! Talk to me of something else, my friend, while I prepare for bed.”
So Bart remained yet a little longer and talked to Frank, who slowly began to undress. The light in the little sleeping-room was turned on, and Bart sat by the door. Frank moved about slowly, as if weary in every limb. It was plain to Hodge that he must pass a wretched night.
After a time, Merry opened the bed, turning down the clothes. As he did so, he paused and uttered a cry. Then he clutched something and held it up, shouting:
“Look here, Hodge!”
“What is it?” cried Bart, starting up.
“My watch!” exclaimed Merry joyfully.
“Good heavens!” gasped Bart, and he sat down again in a helpless, flabbergasted way.
“It was there,” cried Frank, “under the pillow. I remember now that when I changed my clothes I flung it on the bed. It must have slid under the pillow! That’s why I could not find it.”
Hodge was speechless.
AN OUTCAST NO LONGER.
It is needless to say that neither Frank Merriwell nor Bart Hodge related to their friends the adventure of that night. Of course, Merry was overjoyed by the discovery of his watch just where he had left it, and, of course, Bart was completely upset.
“It is quite probable now,” said Frank, “that Hooker gave his own watch to his father, when that person demanded money and he was unable to furnish it. You must respect Hooker for the act, Hodge.”
He pledged Bart to secrecy, and, on the following day, Merry took pains to hunt Hooker up. Of course, Jim was confused and abashed. He wondered how Frank had happened to be in such a quarter. Frank told him.
“Hooker,” he said, “I am going to tell you just what I did last night, and then, if you are too angry to forgive me, you can tell me what you think of me. I am heartily ashamed of the whole affair, and I ask your pardon.”
“Ask my pardon?” gasped Hooker. “What for?”
“I’ll tell you,” and then Merry related the whole story, excepting that he took all the blame on his own shoulders, never once mentioning that Hodge had led him into the piece of detective work.
Hooker listened to the end, his face betraying his changing emotions.
“There,” said Frank, at last, “that’s the whole of it. Now you know why I happened to be in that dive on the water-front. You know that, for all of my protestations of absolute friendship, I did not trust you fully. I am ashamed of it all, and I beg your pardon.”
“I don’t wonder that you did not trust me,” said Hooker. “Nobody seems to do that!”
The words cut Frank to the quick.
“Yet I told you that I did.”
“Well, you wanted to make sure that I was on the level. It’s all right. Anybody in your place would have done the same. The man that I picked up was my father,” he went on, his face flushing and then turning deathly pale. “He was an honest man till convicted of a crime he never committed. When he came out of prison the brand of a criminal was on him, and he found himself regarded with distrust by everybody. Nobody offered him a helping hand, and he could not obtain any position of trust. Then he took to drink and went to the bad. I don’t believe he ever did anything very bad, but he is a fallen man now. He cares for nothing but drink, drink, drink. At times he is ashamed of himself and tries to do better, but it is too late. At other times, when hard up, he becomes desperate. He has found that I am here at Yale, and he has come here that he may be near me. At times he threatens to come here to the campus and show himself if I do not furnish him money. When he is in his cups, I cannot reason with him. I have to furnish him with money. Last night I had no money. I knew he would be expecting me Saturday night, and I knew where I might find him. I left college in my regular clothes and changed them for a wretched suit at the Jew’s store, so that I might be disguised when I went there. A man who is dressed in a decent manner attracts attention there. That was my reason for changing my clothes. As I said, I had no money, not having received any from my aunt on Saturday, as usual. He would not listen, and, as a last resort, in order to keep him silent, I gave him my watch to pawn. That is all.”
Frank grasped Hooker’s hand.
“My dear fellow,” he cried, “you have my sympathy and admiration! If I can help you in any way, you may depend on me!”
“Thank you, Mr. Merriwell.”
“Don’t call me that. You are one of my friends now, if you can forget and forgive my suspicions. Call me Merry.”
“All right,” said the outcast, with a bit of a smile on his face; “but don’t call me Hookie! Let it be Jim, will you, Merry?”
“Sure thing, Jim!”
* * * * *
Frank Merriwell had called together his set in his room. They had gathered at the call, wondering what it meant. They chattered, and joked, and speculated. Browning was the last one to come loafing in.
“What’s this?” he asked; “a riot, or a peace conference?”
“Make yourself comfortable, old man,” said Merry, “and I will tell you. All are here now.”
“Well, they’re pretty thick,” grunted Bruce. “I don’t see how a man is going to make himself comfortable in this jam.”
“Friends,” said Merry, taking the center of the room and looking round, “of course, you know there is some extraordinary reason why I have brought you here to-night. I am not going to make a long talk, but I am coming straight to the point. There is in this college a man who has been maligned, lied about, and disgraced. His worst enemies are Rupert Chickering’s set. Chickering and his gang have done more than anybody else to hurt this unfortunate student. They have put the brand of criminal upon him and made him an outcast. The man I speak about is Jim Hooker.”
“I thought so!” muttered somebody.
Frank went on: “Hooker is believed to be crooked. I saw him and took pity on him. I brought him here to this room, and some of my friends, who were present, fled precipitately, refusing to be introduced to him. It cut me pretty deep, but since then I have taken pains to investigate Hooker and his history. I am not going to tell you how I did it, but I am going to tell you what I found out. I found out that Jim Hooker is thoroughly honest, that his father was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, and other things in the poor fellow’s favor. I have not found one thing against him. I have learned many things that lead me to respect him highly. Now”–Frank looked at his watch–“I have a few more words to say. I have invited Hooker to come here at eight o’clock this evening. He will be here in ten minutes. There is just time for all to get out who may desire. He does not know why I wish him to be present at eight, but it is to meet my friends who remain to be introduced to him and to treat him like a man and a member of our set. Those who remain here will still remain my friends; those who go—will go!”
There was no misunderstanding Frank’s meaning. The assembled fellows looked at each other.
Bart Hodge stepped out.
“Merriwell is right,” he said. “You know what I have thought of Hooker. Well, I was with Merry when he made his investigations. I think now that Jim Hooker is a square man, and the fellow who refuses to meet him to-night will prove himself a cad. I shall meet him and ask his pardon for any slur I may have cast upon him!”
When Bart Hodge spoke like that it meant a great deal.
“Come,” said Frank, watch in hand, “Hooker may appear any moment. Those who wish to go had better get out right away.”
“It seems to me,” said Harry Rattleton, looking around, “that there are not many going out. I shall stay.”
They all stayed, and when Jim Hooker appeared five minutes later he received the surprise of his life.
“Yale is weakening!”
“Brown will score!”
“That’s hot work!”
“Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!”
The spectators were excited. The college men were wild. The rooters of the Providence University were barking like a pack of foxes:
“’rah, ’rah, ’rah, ’rah, ’rah, ’rah!”
Yale was playing Brown on the gridiron of the latter team. It was near the end of the second half. The Providence men had played like fiends, but the sons of Old Eli were out to show what they could do, and they had scored 18 points, while the score of their opponents could still be designated by 0. But Brown was desperate now. Remembering its good work against Pennsylvania, it became furious in its efforts to score on Yale. It bucked the blue line savagely again and again, and each time it seemed that some of the New Haven men were left disabled and carried from the field.
Sitting on the bleachers with the great mass of Yale rooters, Bruce Browning groaned.
“If this keeps up much longer,” he said, “we won’t have a man left who is not disabled. They’re lugging a man off every minute! It’s the ruin of the eleven!”
“Sheep your kirt on—I mean keep your shirt on!” spluttered Harry Rattleton. “Merriwell’s still in the game.”
“Yes, but he’s been laid out twice, and he’s staying by sheer grit. He may be a total wreck when the game is over.”
“Hodge has been carried off unconscious,” said Ben Halliday, his face white and drawn. “And they say Badger has a dislocated shoulder.”
“Don’t mention him!” snapped Jack Diamond. “What if he has a dislocated shoulder!”
“He can play football.”
“Bah! He’s treacherous! More than once he’s tried to hurt Merriwell in the game.”
“Still, it is strange that Merriwell himself declares Badger is one of the best half-backs Yale ever had.”
“Merriwell is too generous!”
A roar went up all round the enclosed field. A double pass had been made, and a Brown man was going clean round Yale’s end, having tricked the defenders of the blue. If he got round, an open field lay before him, and the Providence team would score. Roar, roar, roar—how the sound rose to the dull autumn sky. Flags were fluttering everywhere, while men and women were on their feet shouting at the top of their voices.
The Yale men sat still without breathing, watching, waiting, hoping. Out of the tangled mass shot a man. He was so covered with dirt that it was almost impossible to tell whether he was a Yale man or an enemy. He went at the man with the ball like a shot out of a gun.
“Who is it?”
“He can’t catch him!”
“It’s Thurlow, with the ball!”
“He can run like the wind!”
“So’s t’other fellow!”
“He’s catching him!”
“He’ll do it!”
“He’s caught him and tackled!”
Then the uproar became indescribable, for a Yale man had stopped the swift runner with the ball on the Yale fifteen-yard line. It had been done by splendid speed, although the runner had covered the ground in a queer, awkward, toeing-in manner. Then came the Yale cheer rolling across the gridiron.
Harvard had not permitted Brown to score, but Harvard had scored but twelve points against her. Yale led by six points, if she could keep the Providence team from making fifteen yards more before the finish. Of course, Yale was anxious to defeat Brown by a greater score than Harvard had done, as it would give the sons of Old Eli courage for the coming battle with the crimson. “Battle” is the word, for surely it was more of a battle than a game. According to fixed rules and an established code, the two elevens fought like untamed tigers for the mastery.
Brown’s exultation had been temporary. While it lasted they had seemed frantic, but now the Yale men were whooping it up.
“Who did it?”
“Who stopped him?”
“What’s his name?”
“Anybody know him?”
“One of the substitutes, did you say?”
“Ready—Jack Ready? Well, I propose a cheer for Jack Ready. His name fits him. He was ready that time.”
They cheered again and again. There were plenty of freshmen present, and they nearly split their throats. The glory of this game was coming to their class, for Ready had made the sensational play of the day.
The two elevens were lined up for the final struggle. It must be nearly time for the game to close. Brown was preparing for one more furious onslaught. She must gain fifteen yards to score, or kick a goal from the field. The game was on again, and Brown was bucking Yale’s line. She made a clean gain of five yards before her first down. Only ten yards more and Brown would have a touch-down. Her eleven men seemed like raging fiends, ready to shed their life blood in order to put the pigskin over the goal-line.
“They’ll do it!”
“It looks that way!”
“Our team is too weak now!”
“Too many substitutes.”
“I’d rather give a leg than see them score!”
The Yale men were dejected, although they were doing what they could to cheer their men to hold fast.
Brown men were urging their eleven on. A great crowd of the Providence students broke out singing:
The sound of that song floated across the field, and, it seemed, if possible, to make the Providence players more terrible than ever. Still they were held without a gain for a down. But what might happen in another minute! It was the critical point of the game.
Again Brown bucked.
There was a fumble! Then came a furious mix-up. And then——
Out of the midst of the tangle shot a man with the ball, carrying it toward Brown’s goal. After him came nine panting foes, with two of the Brown men left to recover more slowly. Now the excitement was something tremendous. Realizing that a Yale man had secured the ball on a fumble and was racing for another touch-down, the sons of Old Eli stood up, climbed on each other and thundered their admiration and applause. In the midst of all this uproar nearly fifty students, who were together in a bunch, could be heard shrieking:
“Merriwell! Merriwell! ’rah! ’rah! ’rah!”
It is pretty certain that the man with the ball was recognized by almost every college student within that enclosure. It was Frank. And now Merriwell showed them what running really is. The manner in which he flew over the ground was something marvelous. One Brown man made an awful spurt to catch him. It was the fellow who had been pulled down by Jack Ready. Merry drew away from him with apparent ease.
“Satan can’t stop him now!”
“It’s another touch-down!”
“Is he running, or flying?”
They could not stop him. Over the line he carried the ball, and another touch-down was made. Then a goal was kicked, and the game was over.
Yale had doubled Harvard’s score against Brown.
And in the last moments of the game Frank Merriwell had eclipsed the sensational feat of Jack Ready and robbed the freshman of some of his glory.
Bruised and battered, yet triumphant and rejoicing, the Yale players were returning to New Haven by rail. The train was packed by the students who had accompanied them. They were being praised and congratulated by every one. Bart Hodge, with his head bound up, sat quietly listening, a look of satisfaction on his face. Badger was near, talking to some friends. He winced and showed pain when somebody accidentally hit his right shoulder. Other men had been badly injured, and, but for their laughter, they were a rather sorry-looking lot. But Rattleton declared that, as long as they had won, they’d laugh if every man of them had been killed.
The students were singing and shaking hands with each other.
“Poor old Harvard!” cried Parker, standing on a seat. “How bad she’ll feel! She only made twelve points against Brown!”
“We’ll use her just as bad when we get against her,” declared Rick Powell.
“If we’re not all in hospital when that time comes,” groaned an injured player. “Those Providence fellows are devils!”
“They seemed determined to kill somebody before the game was over,” said Pooler. “I thought they’d do it, too.”
“I believe you are the only man, Merriwell, who escaped without being hurt,” said Fred Birch, with somethink like envy.
“Think so?” smiled Frank.
“Yes. I’ve got a wrenched knee.”
“And I have a knocked-out shoulder,” said Badger.
“And I a sprained ankle,” said another.
“And I a wrenched back,” from another.
“And Hodge has a broken head,” declared somebody, speaking for Bart.
“And every other man but Merriwell is a cripple,” asserted Walt Forrest. “Merriwell is the luckiest dog alive. Why, he couldn’t get hurt! Did you ever get hurt, Merriwell?”
For a reply, Frank held up a hand which he had been keeping out of sight, pulling a handkerchief bandage off his wrist, which was seen terribly swollen. There were exclamations of astonishment on all sides.
“Why, you didn’t say a word about it?” cried Birch.
“What was the good of saying anything?” he asked. “The others were saying enough. I didn’t need to add my plaint to theirs.”
“But you should have had that attended to, old man.”
“I did,” said Frank. “If you other fellows hadn’t been so plastered with linement, you’d smelled the stuff I have on this handkerchief. The doctor told me to keep my wrist wet with it.”
Merry took a bottle out of his pocket and poured some of its contents on the handkerchief. Then, having restored the bottle to his pocket, he bound the handkerchief about his wrist with remarkable ease and skill, and without assistance.
“Well, we are in a bad way!” cried Birch. “Is there a man who did anything worth doing on the team to-day who was not hurt?”
Up rose a round-faced, red-cheeked fellow. He saluted with a flourish.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “behold me! I am the man. I’ll permit you to touch the hem of my garment—if your hands are clean.”
There was a shout. Men crowded forward. The one who had risen and proclaimed himself the only uninjured player folded his arms and struck an attitude, with his hat on the side of his head.
“Napoleon crossing the Delaware,” he cried. “No, I mean Washington crossing the Alps. Am I not real interesting to behold? Look at me carefully.”
“Well, they should put that in a cage!” exclaimed Harry Rattleton.
“Sir, how dare you!” squawked the student. “Are you aware whom you are undressing?”
“Who is he?” asked several, who could not obtain a good view.
“It’s Ready—Jack Ready, the freshman who kept Brown from scoring.”
“He’s all right!”
“He did a good trick!”
“He should be tried again!”
“He will be!”
“Bet your life on that!”
Still with partly folded arms, Ready made a queer little flourishing gesture with one hand.
“Listen,” he said; “hear the multitude murmur its admiration. This—this is fame!”
“Well, what do you think of that?” muttered Jack Diamond, in Frank Merriwell’s ear.
Frank was smiling.
“He’s interesting,” Merry declared.
“Interesting!” retorted Jack. “Why, he acts like a fool!”
“Thanks,” said Ready, who seemed to have wonderfully sharp ears. “It’s my natural way, but if you have it copyrighted for your own use, sir, I’ll try to act differently.”
The face of the Virginian flushed.
“I did not speak to you, sir!” he flashed.
“No; but you spoke of me, and I happened to hear what you said. I don’t mind, as you’re not worth minding.”
“You’re too fresh!” said Diamond.
“You’re not the man to put salt on my tail,” was the instant retort. “What did you ever do? You never made a touch-down in your life. You can’t play football. I don’t believe you can play marbles. You should be silent in the presence of your superiors.”
That was too much for Jack Diamond.
“Of all the swelled heads I ever saw, you are the biggest!” he exclaimed. “Just because you happened to get a chance to play a few minutes to-day, you have an idea that you are something remarkable.”
“I divided the honors with Frank Merriwell,” said Ready. “Any fellow with a sense of fairness will acknowledge that.”
“Oh, go fall on yourself!” retorted Diamond.
“I’m no contortionist, nor yet a magician,” said Ready quickly. “I can’t fall on myself, but I may fall on you some day.”
“Any time you like you may try it!” flared Jack, rising to his feet, his face pale and his eyes glittering. “I’ll give you a reason now.”
But Frank Merriwell got hold of the hot-blooded Virginian and pulled him down.
“Let up on this!” commanded Frank. “It’s a fine time to be picking up trouble! We have won a great victory, and we should rejoice. Don’t both of you be fools!”
“All right,” said Ready; “I’ll leave that privilege to your friend, Mr. Merriwell. I believe he has a reputation as a fire-eater. I shall expect a challenge from him. We will meet on the field of honor—not!”
Diamond felt like attacking Ready then and there, but Frank would not have it.
“He’s an insolent prig!” panted the Southerner. “He has insulted you, Merriwell, by claiming to have divided honors with you on the field to-day.”
“I think I can stand it,” laughed Frank.
Of course the victors were given a reception at the campus. There were no bonfires, but there was plenty of shouting, singing, and speech-making. Merriwell made a speech that aroused great enthusiasm. He compared Yale’s record against Brown with that of Harvard. The score seemed to indicate that the blue was far stronger than the crimson. The time was close at hand when that point would be settled on the gridiron, and Merry promised that Old Eli would put up a fight that would make every Yale man thrill with joy and pride. When this speech was over, a great crowd gathered about Frank near the fence, to congratulate him and shake his hand. He was forced to give them his left hand, on account of the injury to his right wrist.
“We’re going to do just what I said, fellows,” he declared. “Harvard is overconfident. She thinks she is absolutely sure to win, and that’s where she’ll slip a cog this year. All we need is the right amount of confidence and determination, and we’ll give her a splendid trouncing.”
“Hurrah!” cried a voice. “With you on the eleven, we’ll do the trick, Merriwell!”
“Three cheers for Merriwell!”
The cheers were given.
“Now, don’t get the idea that any one man is going to do it all,” laughed Frank. “It will take an altogether fight, and it must be made by every good man we can find.”
“Ready! Ready!” cried a voice from the background. “What’s the matter with Jack Ready?”
“He’s all right!” shouted a score of freshmen.
“Who are those chumps?” growled Browning.
“A lot of freshmen,” said Halliday. “Ready is the only freshman who has done anything worth mentioning this year, and they are making the most of it.”
Frank Merriwell was ready enough to acknowledge ability in another person.
“Ready seems to be all right,” he said immediately. “I don’t know much about him; but I do know he kept Brown from scoring to-day, and——”
“I don’t know about that!” piped Danny Griswold. “I had a fine chance to see everything. I was on Dismal Jones’ shoulders. I think Brown would have scored for all of Jack’s work if you had not secured the ball on a fumble, Merriwell, and broke out of that bunch like a wild steer on the rampage. I believe you are the one who kept Brown from scoring.”
“Shame! shame!” cried a number of voices. “It’s an attempt to rob Ready of the credit that is due him!”
Then there was an uproar, but Frank quieted it.
“No one wishes to rob Ready of the least credit,” he said. “It was plain enough that Thurlow would have made a touch-down if Ready had not overtaken him, tackled beautifully, and brought him to earth. Jack Ready must have the credit of stopping that touch-down.”
Then the freshmen whooped like Indians.
“But hold on!” rang out the voice of Diamond. “That’s not the whole of it. For all that Ready did, Brown would have scored had you not secured the ball as you did. You are the one, Merriwell, who deserves the real credit, just as Griswold says.”
Then there came mutterings low and angry from the freshmen, swelling louder and louder.
“It’s a mean trick!”
“Diamond tried to quarrel with him.”
“Merriwell’s friends are greedy.”
“They want him to have all the glory.”
“He can’t rob Ready!”
“These freshies make me sick!” said Ned Moon. “If one of them happens to do a little something, they raise a great howl over it.”
Other sophomores expressed themselves in a similar manner, and, before long, there was considerable excitement. The sophs gathered swiftly, and the freshmen saw what was coming, so they did not wait, but took the offensive. Locking arms about each other, they made a rush to break up the meeting, and they swept the sophomores down, after a stout resistance. Then the freshmen, in a great body, marched about singing and shouting. Jack Ready was found, and he was placed at their head. Some of them caught him up and carried him around the campus. A poetical freshman composed some doggerel, and soon it seemed that the entire body was chanting:
Of course, the sophomores were exasperated beyond measure. For some time the freshmen had been growing bolder and bolder, despite several lessons administered to them by the sophomores, and they seemed to take this occasion to show their lack of fear and their feeling of perfect independence. Ready sat complaisantly on the shoulders of his classmates, waving his hat on the end of a cane. It was certain that he enjoyed his notoriety, yet he seemed to regard the whole thing from a humorous point of view.
“Behold great Cæsar!” he cried. “I will now give you a faithful and lifelike representation of his entry into Rome, New York. Keep your admiring eyes glued upon me. For this purpose I would recommend LeFarges’ liquid glue, sold everywhere at retail for ten cents a bottle.”
Frank Merriwell and a group of his particular friends saw all this.
“Isn’t it enough to make any one tired!” exclaimed Diamond.
“I don’t know,” laughed Frank. “I believe we used to act like that when we were freshmen.”
“I never did!” declared the Virginian.
“Then you missed a lot of fun,” asserted Merry.
The sophomores had gathered in a body on the walk, blocking the advance of the freshmen. The two classes came together with a fearful crush. The men clung to each other, and the crowding was something awful. Men who were in the middle were unable to breathe, and their eyes bulged from their heads. The upper classmen looked on in placid contemplation of the scene. They had witnessed such things before, and had taken part in similar rushes.
But it was the unexpected that happened. The sophomores, smarting over their treatment of a short time before, had gathered in a body to turn the tables on the freshmen. But the freshmen held the sidewalk, although a few men were picked off on the outside, and the sophomores were fairly crowded out and swept away. It was a fair-and-square victory for the freshmen. Again and again the sophomores returned to the attack, but they were unable to resist the freshmen that night.
“Well, that’s like old times!” chuckled Frank. “It makes me feel just like taking a hand, and the sophs seem to need assistance.”
“They do,” grunted Browning. “They need it bad. The freshmen will own the campus after this. That fellow Ready will be cock of the walk.”
It was some time later, while Frank and his friends still lingered, discussing the rush, that Jack Ready and some chums came up. They were in time to hear Rattleton tell about the matter in which the sophs had walked all over the freshmen the second year of Merriwell’s college life.
“It would be a good thing for the sophomores if they had somebody like Merriwell to help ’em out now,” he observed.
“Well, it would be a bad thing for the freshmen if they had,” flung back Rattleton.
“Oh, I don’t know!” grinned Jack. “I’d enjoy it, I assure you. Merriwell was lucky in his soph year. There is a different freshman class now.”
“Such conceit makes me sick!” muttered Diamond. “What he needs is to have some of it taken out of him. You’d be just the fellow to do the job, Frank.”
“And I’m beginning to think I’d rather like to try it,” nodded Merry.
“Then you’re just the man we’re looking for,” said Phil Porter. “We have decided to give Ready a little hazing Monday night. Are you in?”
“Sure thing,” smiled Frank. “I think I’ll enjoy it.”
MERRY CALLS ON READY.
Frank Merriwell and a number of friends stood outside Mrs. Harrington’s freshman boarding-house that evening about nine o’clock.
“That is his room,” declared Hodge, pointing to a lighted window. “He’s up there with a gang of his friends.”
“A rather bad time to get him out, isn’t it?” asked Danny Griswold. “We’ll have to wait till his friends leave.”
“We can’t afford to wait,” said Halliday. “Time is precious. We must get him out.”
“Go up in a body and capture him.”
“There are seven of us,” said Browning. “We ought to be able to do that.”
“What do you say, Merriwell?”
“Well, we might do it, and we might get into the hottest nest we ever struck. You all ought to know what a freshman boarding-house is when it is aroused.”
“It’s a nest,” nodded Hodge.
“A wasp’s nest,” agreed Griswold. “Some of us would get stung.”
“Another thing,” said Frank, “we can’t afford to let it be generally known that we took a hand in the hazing of a freshman. That kind of business is left for the sophs.”
“And the sophs left us to bring the man.”
“Because they thought he would not suspect us, and we might be able to inveigle him into coming without making a rumpus.”
“I’ll go up and bring him down,” grunted Browning. “I’d rather not tackle the job, but something must be done.”
“Then,” said Frank, “leave the job to me.”
“Will you do it?”
“I don’t know now; but I’ll find a way. I want you to have a closed cab here in about fifteen minutes. Get it here as soon as that, and have the driver onto the game.”
“We’ll do it.”
“Now get out of sight. I’m going in.”
They scattered, and Merry advanced up the steps and rang the door-bell. Mrs. Harrington’s daughter appeared at the door.
“Good evening, Miss Harrington,” said Merry, tipping his hat politely. “Have you forgotten me?”
“I think I have,” said the angular maiden, rather suspiciously. “Be you a softmore?”
“No, indeed,” answered Merry. “I am a junior.”
“’Case if you were a softmore,” said Miss Harrington, “I should give you warning to keep away from here. They have near pestered the patience out of mother.”
“I boarded here once, Miss Harrington. I am Frank Merriwell.”
“Land! Do tell! Come right in! Mother will be delighted to see you.”
Frank entered, and soon he was listening to the woes of Mrs. Harrington, as related by herself.
“Oh, Mr. Merriwell!” said the widow; “it’s not many young men there do be nowadays like you. When you were here peace and quietness reigned beneath this roof, but now it is quite a different story.”
Frank concealed a smile behind his hand, as he thought of the hot times in that house when he boarded there. Mrs. Harrington had repeatedly told him that her boarders at that time were the worst she had ever known. With the good lady, her last lot of boarders always were the worst.
“I understand,” said Frank, “that you have one fine young gentleman stopping here.”
“Goodness knows who it can be!” cried Mrs. Harrington. “To me they all seem a set of ruffians. Will you listen to that?”
Down the stairs came the sound of a freshman song, bellowed by at least a dozen persons, each one of whom seemed trying to roar forth the words louder than the rest.
“They’s a lot of them up there holding some kind of a jollification this minute,” said the widow. “It will be fortunate if they do not break down the doors and smash the windows before they finish.”
It was like a breath of his freshman days to Frank, and it gave him a feeling of pleasure.
“They seem to be lovely singers,” he said.
“I don’t call that singing!” sniffed the boarding-house keeper. “It’s howlin’. Did you ever hear anything like it in all your born days?”
“I think I have,” laughed Frank. “But I was speaking to you of a fine young gentleman who is stopping here, Mr. Jack Ready.”
“Him!” cried the widow. “Oh, he is the very worst! I never saw his match! He don’t do a thing but raise Cain all the time, and he’s the worst practical joker.”
“Is that so?” exclaimed Frank. “Now, I had supposed that he was exceedingly quiet and refined.”
“Why, he plays his senseless jokes on me—me, Mr. Merriwell! He has done so repeatedly.”
“I am surprised!”
“I’ve threckened to turn him out of the house more than once, but he has such a soft way of getting round me that I’ve continnered to let him stay.”
Frank knew what that meant. Mrs. Harrington had a way of being pacified with a V. Whenever she rose in her majesty and asserted herself, she could be soothed by a peace-offering in the way of a collection taken up by one of her lodgers.
“There has been some talk of taking Mr. Ready into the Y. M. C. A.,” said Frank gravely. “I have called to talk matters over with him.”
“I’m afeared you have called at a bad time. Howsoever, I’ll go up and tell him you are here.”
“Stay,” said Frank, “perhaps you had better permit me to go directly to his room. If the friends with him knew my mission, they might object.”
This was true enough. Merry knew there was talk of taking every new student at Yale into the Y. M. C. A., and he had simply stated that he had called to see Ready on “business,” without explaining what sort of business. At first Mrs. Harrington hesitated, but, as Frank was not a sophomore, she finally consented to let him go direct to Ready’s room, and gave him directions for finding it. The directions were quite unnecessary, for the uproar of sounds was sufficient to guide Frank aright.
Having mounted two flights of stairs, Frank rapped on the door from beyond which came the terrible uproar. His first knock was not heard, and he almost cracked the door-panel the next time. Then somebody inside yelled:
Frank turned the knob, pushed open the door, and walked in. As he stepped through the doorway, he was drenched from head to feet by a pailful of water, which had been suspended in such a manner that the top of the door struck the bottom of the pail and upset its contents. There was a shout of delight from the roomful of freshmen as the water descended on Frank.
Then somebody threw a boxing-glove, which struck Merry fairly between the eyes.
“Water surprise!” punned Frank, as he drew out his handkerchief and began to wipe his clothes.
“It’s Merriwell!” cried several.
“Hello, Merriwell!” said Jack Ready himself. “Has it been raining outside?”
“There was a heavy shower just as I came in,” retorted Frank good-naturedly.
The freshmen were delighted, and they showed it by laughing uproariously.
“If I had known you were coming I might have loaned you your umbrella,” chuckled Ready.
“I haven’t a doubt of it,” nodded Frank. “Somebody stole it two weeks ago.”
“I trust you will pardon me, but I have a fondness for silk umbrellas,” said Jack. “I am making a collection of them.”
Frank was perfectly good-natured. He did not seem ruffled in the least by the ducking he had received, and the freshmen admired him for that. The room was full of smoke. Every man present, Ready included, seemed to be smoking like mad.
“I wish,” observed Frank, looking round, “I had thought to bring along a ham. I might have one cured here in a very short time.”
They gathered about to shake his hand, but he begged to be excused on account of his lame wrist.
“I called to congratulate Mr. Ready on his splendid work in the Brown game.”
“Thank you,” said Jack, with a profound bow. “Do I not bear my honors becomingly?”
“Very so-so,” laughed Frank, for Ready had a queer way of saying simple things, a way that was highly ludicrous.
“Um-yum,” mumbled the freshman. “I am exceedingly modest, and I blush and tremble in the calcium-light glare of publicity which has been turned upon me of late.”
“But there are still greater honors in store for you,” declared Frank.
“Refuse me!” cried Jack. “I am afraid I shall be unable to stand the severe strain.”
“Oh, I think you’ll pull through! If you keep up the good work, you’ll get there.”
“Where is there?”
“I half suspected it,” said the freshman meditatively. “I feared that there could not be here. ‘Alas! in this cold world of ours, the soonest fade the fairest flowers!’ I forbid any one present to quote that. It’s original with me, and I have it protected by copyright, patent, and the laws of the United States and New Jersey.”
Mentally, Frank decided that Ready was a rattle-headed fellow, with a heart as big as his whole body, as the saying goes. The freshman had a flighty way of jumping from one subject to another, but Merry fancied that he could be sober enough when occasion demanded.
“I see you have been boxing,” said Frank. “Don’t let me interrupt you.”
Ready caught up a pair of gloves and pulled them on.
“I have been showing them the new uppercut,” he said. “It’s like this.”
He made a false swing at Frank with his right, but struck at Merry’s face with his left. Without lifting his hands, Frank moved his head slightly to one side, just enough to avoid the blow, and Ready’s fist flew past his ear.
Jack was surprised. He came back as soon as he could recover, saying:
“I made a mistake. That was not right. It was this way.”
Then he struck first with his right and then with his left at Frank’s face. Even then Frank did not lift a hand, but by quickly dodging his head he avoided both blows, without stirring out of his tracks. And the assembled freshmen gave a shout of applause.
“Ye gods!” cried Jack Ready. “What have I struck?”
“Not a thing so far,” smiled Frank. “Why, you don’t seem to be much good with the gloves!”
“Is that so?”
“Don’t fool yourself.”
“Not in the least.”
“I can hit you!”
Jack seemed to strike at Frank like a flash of lightning, but once more he hit nothing but empty air, as Merriwell had dodged even a little quicker than the freshman struck. The spectators uttered their approval, some of them urging Jack to keep it up.
“What is it?” grinned Ready, staring at Frank. “Talk about your artful dodger! This takes the plum-pudding!”
“It is the easiest thing in the world,” asserted Frank.
“How do you do it?”
“Why, I know when you are going to strike, and so I’m ready to dodge as soon as you are ready to strike.”
“Well, how do you know so much.”
“I can read you,” asserted Merry smilingly. “You are like an open book to me. Your thoughts are transmitted to my brain fully as soon as they are formed in yours.”
“Well, say, you are a great bluffer! I thought you had a reputation for telling the truth.”
“So I have.”
“Then it’s ruined now.”
“Oh, I guess not. I can prove what I say by standing up for one minute without lifting a hand and letting you strike at my head. You cannot hit me once.”
“What will you bet?”
“I don’t believe I will bet anything in the way of money.”
“You don’t dare!”
“That’s the stuff, Jack!” cried several. “Drive him into his hole!”
“But I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said Frank.
“I’ll bet a pig-pack ride down-stairs and back.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you hit me inside of a minute, I’ll carry you down-stairs on my back. If you do not hit me, you are to carry me down and back. What do you say to that?”
“Done!” cried Ready, in satisfaction, while the rest of the crowd shouted with delight.
“A minute is a long time,” said one. “You’ll be sure to hit him inside of that time, Jack.”
“Remember, that you are to strike at nothing but my head,” warned Merry. “If you hit me anywhere else, it doesn’t count.”
“That’s all right.”
“And I want a space of at least six feet in which I can move about.”
“You shall have it, and I’ll hit you inside of fifteen seconds, for all of your clever dodging.”
Ready was confident. It did not take long to prepare for the affair. In a short time they were ready. One of the spectators had been chosen as timekeeper, and he sat with his watch in his hand. Frank had stripped off his coat, and stood in his shirt-sleeves.
“It will be pretty warm work,” he smiled.
“It’ll be the hottest work you ever went up against,” declared Ready.
Then the word was given for them to start, and the peculiar match began.
Ready went at Frank like a flash, striking with bewildering swiftness, and the spectators, who were aroused to a high pitch of excitement, fairly gasped as they saw Merriwell duck, dodge, turn, twist, jump, and avoid those blows, swiftly though they were rained at his unprotected face. Fully half a minute passed of this work before Frank was hit, but hit he was, at last, and a great shout went up.
Frank paused, breathing somewhat heavier than usual, while he smiled and bowed to Jack.
“You did it,” he acknowledged.
“I knew I could!” shouted Ready. “You could not keep that up a whole minute. I don’t understand how you did it as long as you did.”
“And now Merriwell must carry you down-stairs and back!” cried the freshmen mirthfully.
The very idea of a junior carrying a freshman pig-pack was enough to fill them with merriment.
“That is right,” said Frank. “I am beaten, and I must pay the bet.”
He started to put on his coat.
“Better keep it off,” was the advice he received. “You’ll find Ready pretty heavy, and you won’t need your coat.”
“I think I’ll put it on just the same,” said Frank. “I’m perspiring, you know.”
He also put on his hat, and he took out his watch and looked at it, noting that something more than fifteen minutes had elapsed since he entered the house. The closed cab would be waiting outside. Amid great laughter, Ready climbed from a chair to Frank’s back, and Merry started down-stairs with him. The freshmen flocked out to the head of the stairs and shouted:
“Careful, careful, my beautiful Arab steed,” warned Jack. “I know thou art sure-footed, but there is danger.”
“That’s right,” said Frank, as he reached the bottom of the second flight and saw the front door swing open wide to admit a boarder. “Even an Arab steed may run away with its master.”
Then he bolted out through the open door, carrying Ready along to the street, where Frank’s friends and the cab waited their arrival.
“Hey! hey!” cried Jack Ready, in astonishment. “You are overdoing this thing! You are permitting your enthusiasm to run away with you.”
“On the contrary,” said Frank, “I am permitting my enthusiasm to run away with you. Hello, Browning!”
“Here,” answered the big fellow.
The cab door was standing open. Ready was snatched from Frank’s back and bundled into the cab in a twinkling, almost before he could raise a protest. Frank came leaping in after him. Slam! went the door. Crack! went the whip. Away rolled the cab.
And Ready’s friends had not even been alarmed. Now, however, the freshman boarder, who had been knocked down when Frank bolted through the door with his burden, and who had gathered himself up and looked on in stupefied amazement while Ready was being bundled into the cab, found his tongue and let out a wild cry of alarm. That cry brought a gang of freshmen clattering and tumbling down the stairs, while it filled Mrs. Harrington with dismay, for she had long ago learned to recognize it as the freshman’s battle-cry when assaulted by the dreaded “softmores.”
“What is it, Peggy?” shouted the freshmen, as they came tumbling down stairs, ready for the sanguine struggle. “Where is Ready?”
“Scooped at the door!”
“How, you fool—how?”
They shook the bewildered witness of the kidnaping till he was more muddled than ever. At last he managed to say:
“Fellow came tearing down-stairs with Ready on his back.”
“That was Merriwell!” cried the freshmen.
“I was just coming in. Had the door open. He rushed out with Ready. Knocked me down.”
“Go on! go on!” was the shout.
“Sat up and saw them fling Ready into a cab.”
“Saw who?” came the question.
“Don’t know. There were five or six of ’em.”
“Did Jack fight?”
“Started to, but he didn’t have time. They slammed him into the cab too quick.”
“Some of ’em went in after him. The door slammed. Some went onto top of cab. The whip cracked. They went down the street on the jump. That’s all.”
A furious roar went up from the excited freshmen.
“Tricked!” they shouted. “Frank Merriwell did it! He’s taken up Ready’s challenge!”
“What challenge?” asked one, who did not seem fully enlightened.
“Why,” explained another, “Ready said he’d like to have Merriwell the leader of the sophs. He’s said publicly that he’d like to see Merriwell try to haze him.”
“Merriwell has started to do it!”
Mrs. Harrington’s “respectable boarding-house for students” was in a fearful uproar. The excitement had brought every freshman who lodged there into the lower hall and onto the stairs. They were all talking to one another. Their faces looked wild and wrathful. They flourished their fists in the air and uttered dire and awful threats. Their oaths of vengeance were blood-curdling in the extreme.
In an adjoining room, Mrs. Harrington herself clasped her hands and shuddered, while her daughter was on the verge of taking refuge beneath the haircloth sofa. The frightful things they heard made them stop up their ears in terror.
“The sophs are behind this!” shouted a frenzied freshman on the stairs, his football head of fiery-red hair and his rolling eyes making him look like an anarchist.
“We’ll get even!” shouted another man, climbing on the shoulders of his companions and waving his clenched fist in the air. “We’ll make the sophs shed tears of blood!”
“We’ll murder every soph we can catch!” thundered a fellow with a hoarse voice. “We’ll decorate our rooms with their skins!”
“I’ll have a door-mat made of soph scalps!” shrieked yet another.
“Revenge! revenge! revenge!” they all howled in chorus.
No wonder Mrs. Harrington was alarmed, even though she had known considerable of such outbreaks on former occasions.
“Where have they taken Ready?” snarled one man, shaking the fellow who had witnessed the kidnaping.
“Why, hu-hu-how dud-dud-do I kuk-kuk-know!” chattered the one who was being shaken.
“You saw it!”
“You saw them bear him away!”
“Which way did they go?”
“That way.” The frightened freshman pointed.
“See here, fellows!” yelled the one who had elicited this information; “while we’re raising all this row, they are carrying Ready off. We must follow!”
“We are ready!”
“To the end!”
Out through the door tore the leader, yelling for them to follow him, and they came pouring after, still seething with fury, still uttering awful threats. The cab that contained Ready and his kidnapers had passed out of view some time before, but the leader of the freshmen pointed down the street, crying:
“They went that way—in a cab! We must scour the city! We must alarm every freshman and turn him out to search! Come on! Make a hustle now!”
It did not take long to turn out a great gang of freshmen who were frenziedly searching everywhere for the kidnapers and their victim. But Ready had been carried away in a hurry, and it was no easy thing to get track of him.
Jack Ready was gasping when he was flung into the cab and found himself clutched and held fast by somebody within it.
“What—am—I—up—against?” he feebly uttered.
He made a slight effort to break away, but a mild voice said:
“Take my advice, sir, and be placid and calm. It will avail you nothing to struggle, and you may damage your clothing.”
By the time this was said, others had come piling into the cab, the door slammed, and the horses started up with a jump.
Ready took advantage of the sudden starting of the cab, which jerked him over toward the man on the opposite seat. He bent down his head and drove it with great force into that individual’s stomach, nearly butting the fellow, out through the rear of the cab.
“Refuse me!” said Jack apologetically.
The person who had been butted gasped, coughed, and groaned, being doubled up like a jack-knife.
“You should caution your driver to start more carefully,” observed the freshman. “Such fellows become very careless if you do not keep them well in hand.”
“Confound you!” gasped the one who had been butted. “You’ll have to settle for that!”
“Just make out your bill,” said Jack, “and I’ll pay it on the spot. I never like to have standing accounts.”
“You’re pretty flip, but you’ll get over it before morning.”
“That will be sudden—even more sudden than what has lately happened. I do not appreciate suddenness—really I do not. As you can see, I am quite flustered.”
“Well, you are the coolest flustered person I ever saw!”
“Can you see me?” inquired Jack. “Dear! dear! what excellent eyes you must have! I can hardly see a thing. Now, if I wished to hit you on the nose, it’s very likely that I might hit you somewhere else—about there, for instance.”
Jack’s fist flew out, and, whether he could see or not, he planted it fairly on the eye of the man opposite, who was Ben Halliday. Ben uttered a howl, and struck back, but Ready dodged, and the person in whose lap he was sitting at that moment was struck by Halliday.
“Dut the whickens—I mean what the dickens are you doing?” squawked this individual.
“Refuse me,” snickered Ready. “I did not do it, I assure you. Is Mr. Frank Merriwell present?”
“Yes,” laughed Frank, “I’m here.”
But as he said the word Frank moved suddenly to one side, and thus he avoided the blow which Ready aimed at him. Jack’s fist struck against something hard, and his knuckles were skinned.
“Merriwell,” he said, “you are awfully hard. I’d like to pound you awhile with a club, just to see if I could not mellow you up a bit.”
“Refuse me!” said Merry, catching up Ready’s favorite expression. “I am afraid I’d not enjoy it. How did you like your trip on the back of a fiery Arab steed?”
“It was excellent—as far as it went.”
“I’m thinking you may fancy it went too far.”
“In one direction, yes. You are a very clever person, Mr. Merriwell, but there is such a thing as being too clever.”
“On my word of honor. What do you think you are doing?”
“Giving you a little drive for your health.”
“My health is very good, thank you. You are exerting yourself without cause.”
“Oh, I think not! You are such a jolly fresh freshman that I couldn’t resist the temptation, don’t you know.”
“Jolly fresh! I like that—I don’t think! I demand, sir, to know your reason for those words!”
“You have proved your exceeding freshness since the football-game. Nobody ever heard of you before that game. Since then you have been strutting about the campus like a peacock with its tail spread. You have been crowing over yourself till it has become a trifle wearisome, but, even at that, I should not have troubled you had you kept silent about me.”
“Now we are getting at facts—hard, cold, stony facts,” said Jack. “Proceed.”
“I do not in the least mind anything you may have said about the game,” declared Frank; “but when you vauntingly declared that you’d love to have me back in the sophomore class so that you could make it interesting for me, I was touched.”
“Not by me,” declared Ready quickly. “I had good money staked that Brown would not score, and I shall not need to touch anybody for another week.”
“I was touched,” Merry repeated, “and I resolved to teach you a little lesson free of charge. You need it. You are altogether too Ready—with your mouth. You must learn to keep it closed. A man with his mouth always open is liable to get bugs in his throat.”
“Your words move me to tears,” said the freshman, sniffling.
“You’ll be up against something besides words before long,” said Halliday, as the cab tore round a corner and flung its occupants from one side to the other.
“You’ll be highly entertained before morning,” promised Rattleton.
“Who is this other gent in the corner who keeps so persistently silent?” inquired Ready, reaching out and poking Bart Hodge in the eye with his forefinger, nearly gouging the optic out of Bart’s head.
Hodge shouted forth an exclamation of pain.
“Refuse me!” chuckled Ready, once more. “It is very difficult to judge distances here in the dark. Besides that, the carriage lurches violently when it is least expected.”
“We’ll have to chain the creature, Merriwell,” said Halliday, “or he’ll have us all used up before we arrive at our destination.”
“What, ho!” cried Ready. “Wouldst place shackles upon me throbbing limbs! Avaunt! base creatures, get thee gone! Attempt but to place the weight of a finger upon me, and the fire of Jove shall strike thee dead!”
He flung his hands about in a reckless manner, jerked one elbow backward and nearly knocked Rattleton’s head from his shoulders.
“Whoop!” shouted Harry, pitching the lively freshman across the cab and into Halliday’s arms. “Somebody else hold him awhile! I’m getting tired of the job!”
“Mr. Ready,” said Frank, “I trust, for your own general welfare, that you will not cause us to resort to extremes.”
“Oh, you wouldn’t do anything cruel when we are enjoying ourselves like this—I know you wouldn’t! Why, this is the best time I’ve had in a year!”
“You’ll have a better time before we are done with you!” yelled Hodge.
“How lovely!” squealed the freshman, apparently in a fit of intense delight. “How good it is of you to be so thoughtful of me! I cannot tell you how I appreciate it!”
“Wait awhile! wait awhile!” snorted Rattleton. “You will appreciate it a great deal more before we are through.”
“The other gent made practically the same observation. Why not be original in your remarks? It may cost you an effort, sir, but you’ll cut a great deal more frost in this hot world.”
“Oh, shut up!” shouted Halliday. “You make me sick! Give your mouth a rest, and give us a rest.”
“My dear boy, if you’ll stop for me to call a policeman, I’ll gladly see that you get arrest,” chirped the irrepressible freshman.
Somehow, Frank’s admiration for Ready was increasing. Plainly, the fellow had plenty of nerve, but would it last him through to the end? Frank knew it was sure to be sorely tried before the sophomores were through with Jack. The cab was continuing on its way at a great rate of speed, for the kidnapers knew the freshmen would raise an alarm and start on a hunt for Ready without much delay, and it was necessary to get the fellow under cover in short order.
Thus far, Jack had raised no great disturbance, and it seemed that he had decided that it was best to get what fun he could out of the adventure, without attempting to escape. All this time, however, Ready was simply lulling their suspicions and getting them off their guard. He bounced about in the cab, and, whenever he could, he was feeling for the catch to the door.
Ready had a general good opinion of himself, and he believed he could hold the four men who were with him in that closed carriage pretty good play in a fight. He could strike out right and left, in a reckless manner, without the least danger of hitting anybody but foes, but they would be liable to thump each other unmercifully if they attempted to return his blows.
Jack took pains to locate Merriwell, toward whom he had the greatest grudge. He felt that it was his sacred duty to thump Merry and thump him “good and hard.” He had tried it once and injured his knuckles, but he was determined not to make that kind of a slip a second time. Lurch—the cab threw them over to one side, and there was a general changing of seats as they scrambled back. Ready was still in their midst.
“Mr. Merriwell,” he called, preparing to hit out hard and swift.
Frank was a clever ventriloquist, and he made his voice seem to come from the opposite corner of the cab, as he asked:
“What do you want?”
“Will you ask the driver to please be a little more cautious?” asked Ready.
“Oh, don’t get nervous,” retorted Frank, still making his voice seem to come from the farther corner.
Now, like a flash, Ready struck into that corner, and he soaked Halliday on the chin, shouting:
“I’ll teach you to refuse the polite request of a gentleman!”
The tussle that ensued in that cab cannot be described. The freshman attempted to hurl Rattleton out through a window, and, although he did not succeed, he broke the glass. After a time, they got him down and sat on him to hold him. Then the cab drew up, the door was opened, and Browning announced that they had reached their destination.
IN THE SCARLET CHAMBER.
“Thank you, gents,” said Ready, as they rose from his body. “You sat upon me so hard that I fear you have fractured my wish-bone. It seems to be damaged.”
“Say, will you let up on this ‘gents’ business?” grated Halliday.
“My dear sir—my dear, dear sir!” purred the freshman; “what can you mean?”
“It’s all right for you to address your own class as ‘gents,’ but we distinctly object to it!”
“Refuse me!” murmured Jack. “I addressed you as I thought you deserved. I could not call you gentlemen, you know.”
“Oh, come out here and stop that wind!” grunted Browning, as he reached into the cab, fastened on Ready, and snatched him forth.
As the freshman was dragged out by the muscular student, he humbly observed:
“I am coming, sir, as fast as the law permits.”
The moment he struck the ground they closed about him, holding fast to his arms and collar, and he was rushed into a dark doorway so quickly that he did not have time to get his bearings.
“Why this unseemly haste?” he inquired.
“Shut up!” growled Bruce, once more.
“Indeed, sir, you are imperious, and you awe me exceedingly much,” chirped the queer freshman.
They forced him up a flight of stairs and along an alley. At a door they were halted. A hollow, solemn voice demanded:
“Who is it that thus riotously invades this quiet retreat? Speak, I command you!”
“Oh, Great Unknown,” said the voice of Frank Merriwell, “it is We, Us & Co., formerly devoted and servile attendants of His Extreme Muchness.”
“Seek you admission to the scarlet chamber?” inquired the strange voice.
“What bring you as a sacrifice?”
“Is he fat?”
“Well, he is in excellent condition.”
“Ye have done well. Enter.”
The door swung open before them, and Ready was pushed in, the others accompanying him. With a bang, the door closed, and there was a sound like the turning of a bolt in a lock. They were now in the most intense darkness, so they could not see each other, but several hands kept hold of the freshman.
“Well, this is a jolly go, I de——”
Ready was cut short by a hand that was pressed over his mouth, and a voice hissed in his ear:
“If you wish to leave this place alive, keep silent and wait!”
“Refuse me!” murmured Jack.
Suddenly there was a sound like thunder, and at the instant a hideous demon face glared out before them, with eyes of fire, wide-open mouth, fearful fanglike teeth, and a forked tongue. From the lips of this creature seemed to come the words:
“If there be one unworthy among you, let him confess it and accept this last opportunity to escape with his life. All who enter will be tested, and the unworthy shall receive no mercy.”
“We are worthy, faithful friend,” declared Frank Merriwell. “The only unworthy one is the freshman, who is to be offered as sacrifice on the altar of hilarity.”
“Do you google?” asked the fiend.
“Whenever we cannot goggle,” soberly answered Merry.
“Is it also?”
“It is likewise.”
After this apparently foolish series of questions and answers the fiery face vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and a door swung open before them, permitting light to shine in from a room beyond, and they were invited to advance.
With Ready in their midst, they walked through the doorway, and a great shout went up as they entered the chamber beyond, the walls and ceiling of which were stained bright scarlet. The chamber was a long room, in the midst of which was a long table, and at the table sat more than a hundred students, nearly all of them sophomores. The table was covered by a scarlet cloth, but on that cloth was spread a splendid lunch, consisting of all kinds of cold meats, canned stuff, hard bread, crackers, cheese, bottled drinks, and so forth.
The students were dressed in an ordinary manner, much to the surprise of Ready, who had expected to see everything on the grotesque.
The master of ceremonies rapped on the table, crying:
“Arise, brothers of the sacred order.”
They stood up.
“Salute,” directed the master.
“Mr. Merriwell,” said the master, “you have faithfully kept your promise, and you shall be decorated with a leather medal.”
“I thank you, most noble master,” bowed Frank.
“We have waited patiently,” said the master. “Your places are reserved for you.”
On both sides of the table midway were a number of seats, being just enough to accommodate Frank’s party and the captive freshman. In short order they were ready to sit down, and then, at an order from the master, all did so.
The moment they were seated, a clatter and uproar began. A hundred questions were fired at Frank, and the students were like a lot of boys on a spree. No one spoke to Ready, and he looked around with interest, keeping his surprise well concealed. This was not what he had expected, but he did not let on that he was startled or astonished by anything. The students fell to eating of the lunch, and it seemed plain that some of them were pretty hungry. They joked and laughed.
“It’s like old times to be back here,” declared Frank. “I did not know that the order still existed.”
“It will always exist as long as freshmen exist,” declared Ned Noon. “It exists on freshmen.”
Seeing all the others eating, Ready, who was feeling rather hungry himself, reached out and took a sandwich from a pile on a plate before him. This he lifted to his mouth, but, without a word, his neighbor on the right took it from his hand and put it back on the plate.
“Refuse me!” gasped Jack. “What is the matter with it?”
No one seemed to give him any further attention. The eating went on, amid a chatter of talk and laughter.
Again Jack reached out and took a sandwich, lifting it to his lips, meanwhile keeping his eye on his right-hand neighbor. The fellow on his right did not seem to observe him.
“Here’s where I fill my sack,” thought Jack.
Just then the fellow on his left took the sandwich from him and again restored it to the plate.
“Hello!” exclaimed the freshman. “I didn’t notice you.”
Again he captured the sandwich, determined to be on his guard for both of them. With considerable haste he lifted it, but he did not get a bite, for a man on the opposite side of the table reached across and rapped him on the knuckles with a cane, so that he dropped the sandwich.
“Wow!” whooped Jack. “What kind of a game is this? How much do those sandwiches cost? I’ll buy one of them!”
The lunch continued as if they were not aware of his presence at the table. Some one moved the sandwiches farther along, so they were not within easy reach, but a plate of tempting-looking tarts took the place of the sandwiches.
“Well, hanged if they don’t mean not to let me have anything to eat!” muttered Jack. “The mean devils! But they can’t keep it up. Here is where I get something!”
He grabbed a tart off the plate and thrust the whole of it into his mouth. The tart had been piled high with what seemed to be very tempting and delicious jelly, but Jack had barely begun to chew upon it when he turned and ejected it from his mouth, uttering a howl of surprise and agony.
“Whoop!” he roared. “I’m killed! Wow! Fire! fire! My mouth—oh, my mouth!”
He seemed to be having convulsions. Of a sudden, all the men at the table seemed greatly concerned over him.
“What’s the matter?” they asked.
“Matter?” howled Jack. “Ghost of Cæsar! that thing was red-hot! It’s burned the lining out of my mouth!”
“It could not be hot,” was the answer.
“Well, it had some kind of stuff on it that was hotter than the hottest red pepper! Woosh! Oh, my mouth! Water—give me water, or I perish!”
Tears were running down his checks and he was gasping for breath. Somebody handed him what seemed to be a glass of water. He seized it and took two big swallows. Then he flung the glass and its contents crashing against the wall, with another howl fully as loud as the first.
“Gods of the Egyptians!” he almost shrieked. “What is that stuff? I’m poisoned!”
“Poisoned?” they cried, in apparent alarm.
“I guess so! That stuff was bitter as the bitterest gall, and it has puckered my mouth so I can hardly get it open to speak!”
“Bitter—he says it was bitter!” cried one man. “Where did it come from?”
“I brought it from the black chamber,” answered one of the students.
A chorus of groans and shrieks went up.
“Then he is poisoned!” roared the master. “It is the fatal drink which every candidate swears to take if he reveals any of the secrets of our sacred order! Good heavens! gentlemen, this matter is serious! If that liquid is not removed from his stomach within five minutes, he dies!”
Jack Ready uttered a groan and dropped down on his chair, his mouth seeming puckered and drawn up.
“Death,” he said thickly, and with a great effort, “I shall welcome as sweet relief! Let it come!”
“Bring the stomach-pump!” thundered the master.
Somebody came rushing from another room with a queer-looking arrangement in his hands. Another fellow brought a huge bucket. A rubber tube was thrust into Ready’s mouth, while he was held and kept from struggling by half a dozen persons.
“Work fast if you hope to save his life!” shouted the master. “Even now the poison seems working upon him! He is turning black in the face! He is about to have convulsions! If he dies, we are in an awful scrape!”
Everybody seemed wildly excited. They packed about the chair upon which Ready was being held, climbing upon each other’s shoulders to get a good look at him.
“How fearfully pale he is about the mouth!”
“See his eyes glare!”
“He is frothing!”
“The poison is griping him!”
“By heavens! I believe he is dying!”
These exclamations came from their lips, and they were not calculated to soothe the feelings of the struggling freshman. Ready succeeded in spitting out the rubber tube.
“Let me die!” he implored. “Death will be sweet relief!”
“He must be saved!” roared the master. “Hold him fast! Don’t let him wiggle an eyebrow! Now insert the tube again!”
They pried Jack’s jaws apart and thrust the tube into his mouth once more. Then the master made a frantic gesture, and the fellow with the pump, to which the rubber tubing was attached, began to work it, while the bucket was held as a receptacle. Something poured from the nozzle of the pump and spurted into the bucket. There was a rattling sound. Slop, thud, smash—what did it mean?
The assembled sophomores looked on with astonishment, as it seemed.
“Remarkable!” they exclaimed. “He must have a stomach like a goat!”
Despite his agony, Ready began to feel curious. What was happening? He tried to look into the bucket, but he was held fast by the hair of his head, so that he could not do so.
In a few moments the man with the pump said:
“It is over, gentlemen. I have drawn everything out of his stomach. I believe it will save him!”
Then the tube was removed from Jack’s mouth, and he was permitted to sit up. He looked down into the bucket at his feet and blinked. It was full of old tin cans, shoes, broken bottles, cigar stubs, bread, meat, and water!
“That was a frightful load for a man to carry on his stomach,” said Frank Merriwell, who had been looking on and enjoying this frolic.
“It was rather heavy,” murmured Jack Ready faintly; “but it’s not half the load you have on your soul.”
He was asked how he felt. Everybody seemed intensely solicitous about him now. Some of them placed their hands upon his head and declared that his temples were hot and throbbing. One tried to hold his wrist and count the beating of his pulse. Another offered to bring one of Doctor Bishop’s sermons and read it.
“I hope you are enjoying yourselves!” said Jack, with a great effort, for his mouth was still puckered and his throat tasted bitter as gall.
“He seems to be slightly demented, poor fellow!” sighed Roger Stone.
“But we saved his life,” said the master, “and therefore we should be happy and rejoice exceedingly.”
A whoop went up, and then round the chair on which the unlucky freshman sat those rollicking jokers danced wildly and grotesquely.
It was all over in a few moments, and the master rapped on the table, calling for them to return to the interrupted lunch. Jack was carefully placed in his former position at the table, and all the delicacies of the board were heaped up before him. The jokers resumed their feast, as if nothing had happened. They joked and laughed and ate and drank. Jack recovered and sat up. He was game. They were having fun at his expense, but he was not going to squeal.
“I’d like something to eat,” he thought, “but I’m hanged if I know what is fit to eat!”
After a little, however, the contents of his stomach seemed to roll over, and the sight of food began to make him feel ill. He could not have eaten anything then had he tried, and it was with a mighty effort that he forced himself to sit there and watch the others enjoying the good things before them. He afterward confessed that he suffered intensely while the rest of the lunch was going on. At last, when everybody seemed satisfied, it appeared that the jokers observed for the first time that he was not eating. Then they began passing him different things, politely inquiring if he would not try this, or that.
“I am afraid you have not enjoyed your lunch,” said the fellow on Jack’s right, “and we got it up expressly for you.”
“You’re too kind!” retorted Ready, with a fearful smile. “I shall try to remember your generosity.”
Frank Merriwell laughed at the freshman’s woful appearance, and Jack feebly shook his fist in return.
“I know I owe all this to you!” he said. “I’ll get even with you before long, see if I don’t!”
“It’s too bad to use him so,” said Merry, as if genuinely regretful. “I think we’d better let up now and not carry it any farther.”
“Oh, go on!” gasped Ready. “You may as well go through with it! I’ll not let you off any easier, Merriwell, if you stop here.”
“Thanks! Don’t mind me. I shall not worry about you at all.”
“You may not worry,” said Jack; “but I’m going to keep my word. I’ll get even with you!”
“My dear sir,” said one of the sophomores, “we cannot permit this. Mr. Merriwell is not one of us; he is simply a guest. He shall say just what we’ll do with you now that you have insulted him.”
“Well,” laughed Merry, “as long as we are not going to push this thing any farther, I propose that we let him off if he sings us a song. I understand he is a lovely singer.”
“A song! a song!” shouted the students.
“Rise, Ready,” commanded the master, “and sing us a song.”
Jack felt that the best thing he could do was to make no resistance, so he stood up, asking:
“What shall I sing?”
Jack began to sing an Irish song, the chorus of which was as follows:
Just as he finished the chorus, the fellow across the table lifted a siphon bottle of seltzer, aimed it at him, and sent the stream full and fair into his mouth, knocking him backward upon his chair, amid great applause.
A TEST OF NERVE.
Jack Ready usually had something to say when anything happened, but now he could not say a word. He choked and strangled and coughed, while the students hammered on the table and shouted with laughter.
“Great!” they cried; “simply great! Give us more! Hurrah! hurrah!”
Ready continued to cough. With the table-cloth he wiped some of the seltzer out of his eyes, but he could not speak.
“Ha! ha! ha!” roared the students. “That was a fine climax to the song!”
Jack nodded grimly, and the queer expression on his face provoked another burst of laughter. Surely he was the queerest freshman any of those present had ever seen. The man who had squirted the seltzer seemed to feel that he had done a very fine trick, for he screamed with laughter, hanging onto his sides.
On the table was a plate of salad. Of a sudden, Jack reached out, grasped the plate, and, with a swift flirt, flung its entire contents into the face of the man who had squirted the seltzer.
“Refuse me!” he said, as he did the trick.
The salad spattered over the joker’s face and shirt-bosom. He was a spectacle. But Ready had made a mistake. He had aroused the resentment of the sophomores, and they caught up anything in the way of food that their hands could find, and “soaked him.” It seemed that every other fellow at the table flung something at the freshman, and almost everything hit him. It was impossible for him to fling something back at them all, so he rounded up and took his pelting with a grin on his flushed face.
“Things seem to be coming my way,” he observed cheerfully.
“He’s a better man than I thought he was,” said Bart Hodge to Frank.
“I like the fellow,” acknowledged Merry. “He knows how to take a joke, and I believe he knows how to give one.”
“I don’t fancy he likes you much.”
“I suppose not. He wants revenge for the manner in which I tricked him when I got him out of his room.”
“And he swears he will have it.”
“All right. There have been so many dirty fellows trying to do me an injury that it will be a relief to have an enemy of a different class.”
“Gents,” said Ready, as he brushed the remains of the lunch from his person, “you do me proud. You have made me very, very happy this evening by the warm reception you have given me. It was an unexpected pleasure, and a great honor. In time I shall do my best to retaliate on some other freshman—when I become a sophomore.”
“Then you hold no hardness against us?” inquired one of the hazers.
“Not at present, but I’d like to hold a hardness against you—something like a good club, for instance.”
“That would be cruel.”
“Oh, well, I’m a cruel devil occasionally.”
“You’re a cool devil all the time.”
“Thanks. You have made it hot for me.”
“Won’t you sing some more?” asked Chan Webb. “You must do something to entertain us.”
“Is that so? Then I’ll give you an imitation of you. I am great on imitations.”
With that, Ready rose once more, humped himself into a peculiar position, drew up his face, made a queer sound with his mouth, and gave an excellent imitation of a monkey. Indeed, he looked so much like a huge monkey that the imitation was almost startling.
The students roared.
“That’s one on you, Webb!”
“It’s simply immense!”
“How do you like it, Webb?”
Webb did not like it. He scowled and tried to laugh, but showed his anger and chagrin.
“Oh, you’re too smart!” he sneered. “You look like the missing link, freshie.”
“That’s what makes it such a perfect imitation of you,” returned Jack instantly.
They were not getting much the best of the freshman, although they had treated him roughly.
“I’d like to punch his head!” muttered Webb, who was sitting quite near Frank.
“You would show a very nasty disposition if you did,” said Merry, at once. “If he can stand us and hold his temper, we ought to be able to take anything he can give.”
“You say that now, but wait till he gets at you,” growled Webb. “He’ll have the whole freshman class after you, see if he doesn’t. A junior who helps haze a freshman is likely to get into hot water.”
“Don’t let that worry you, Webb,” said Frank.
Ready was laughing now. Addressing the fellow into whose face he had thrown the salad, he said:
“I hope I didn’t hurt you, old man. I am very quick at times. It was only last week that I attempted to frighten a waiter in a restaurant by flourishing a knife in front of his face. Unfortunately, I struck too near the waiter’s nose and cut off the tip.”
“What did you do then?” innocently asked the man across the table.
“Why,” said Jack, “I gave the waiter another tip, and that made it all right.”
The students shouted:
“That’s one on you, Dillingham!”
“If I could reach you, I’d give you a tip—out of your chair,” he said.
Frank Merriwell called some of the party around him, drawing back from the table, and proceeded to unfold a scheme to them. They received it with approval. When Ready did not seem to notice, two or three of them slipped into another room, closing the door tightly behind them.
Bruce Browning came over and offered Jack his hand. “Ready,” grunted the big fellow, “you’re all right! I believe you have plenty of nerve.”
“Thanks,” said Jack. “So have you.”
“You have nerve to offer to shake hands with me.”
“All right,” grinned Browning. “You don’t have to shake hands.”
“Thanks,” said Ready, again. “I won’t.”
“I do not call it nerve at all,” said Phil Porter. “He has had no fair test of his nerve.”
“Then I don’t care for the test,” said Ready. “I am satisfied to let it drop where it is.”
“But you must actually prove your nerve,” asserted Halliday.
“That’s right! that’s right!” cried others.
“If you say I must,” grimly spoke Jack, “I suppose that settles it. I’m not fool enough to say I won’t. What am I to do?”
A sudden air of mystery seemed to fall on the party. There were strange looks and awesome whisperings.
“He’ll die with fright,” muttered one.
“Better find out if he has heart trouble,” whispered another.
“You know what happened to the last freshman,” said a third.
“It is a terrible test,” declared a fourth.
Jack’s curiosity was aroused.
“Gents,” he said; “pardon me for calling you gents, but it seems so appropriate—gents, I am ready for any old thing. While you are having fun with me, you may as well have lots of it. Go the limit, and never mind the result.”
“But this is a pretty severe test,” whispered Halliday. “All the same, I believe you are a fine fellow, and I want to see you come through with flying colors.”
“You are so awfully good—not,” grinned Jack.
“Oh, but I am in earnest!” solemnly said Halliday.
“If you are ready to meet the test,” said the master solemnly, “you must permit yourself to be blindfolded.”
“Well, get into gear,” invited the freshman.
Then they securely blindfolded him, Halliday hovering near all the while.
“Now,” said the voice of the master, whom Ready could no longer see, “you are about to encounter a fierce and terrible monster. If you have the courage to attack this monster and conquer him, well and good. If you have not—the matter of nerve will be settled.”
“How am I to fight the monster?” asked Jack.
“With this deadly knife,” answered the master, putting something into Jack’s hand. “Are you ready?”
“I’m always Ready,” punned the freshman.
Then he was led slowly forward. As they moved along, going toward the door through which some of the members had slipped a few minutes before, Halliday whispered in the ear of the blindfolded victim:
“The monster you will meet is made of sheet-iron, and there’s a fellow inside to operate it. The so-called deadly knife in your hand is simply wood. To prove your nerve, all you have to do is attack the monster when the bandage is removed from your eyes and strike him with the knife. You can’t hurt him, but it will show you have plenty of nerve, and the gang will let up on you then.”
Ready said not a word.
The master knocked loudly on the door at the end of the room. The instant he did so a fearful sound came from beyond that door—a sound like the roaring of a pack of lions.
“It is the monster!” muttered several, seeming filled with fear.
“Well, this is the tamest thing in the way of a nerve-shaker that I ever struck,” thought Jack Ready. “I pity the fellow that would be frightened like this.”
The door opened, and the roar that followed was fiendish, indeed. Then the freshman was pushed forward into the room, and the blindfold was stripped from his eyes.
He found himself face to face with a creature that seemed half alligator and half tiger. Part of its body was covered by a scaly substance, while its head was like a tiger’s, and its neck was hairy. It had gorillalike arms, with long, shining claws. Its eyes gleamed like living coals, while it was gnashing its jaws, which seemed covered with foam, like those of a mad dog. With a snarl, it rose up on its hind legs and sprang at Jack.
Ready stood his ground and struck at the creature with the knife. To his surprise, the knife seemed to penetrate the creature, which he had expected would he covered by an iron armor, as Halliday had said. Then there was a terrible scream, and the “monster” fell to the floor, writhing in agony. Instantly a number of students rushed into the chamber, apparently horrified and excited.
Ready stood looking down in surprise at the easily vanquished “monster.” They caught hold of him and pushed him back into the room from which lately he had come. Somebody took the knife from his hand and held it up. It was stained crimson to the hilt!
“Good heavens!” gasped a pale-faced student. “We gave him a real knife instead of the wooden one! How did it happen?”
“Somebody must have placed a real knife in the place of the wooden one,” said another. “You know the wooden knife was made to look perfectly natural.”
“This is horrible!” hoarsely groaned a third. “Who was inside the monster?”
“Is he badly hurt?”
“He is, if he got the length of this knife.”
Jack Ready stood still, drops of perspiration starting out on his forehead.
“Rats!” he muttered. “It’s a part of the joke.”
Then he pushed his way into the other room, where a lot of breathless students were gathered about one who was stretched on the floor. The framework of the “monster” had been partly stripped off, and Frank Merriwell, in his shirt-sleeves, lay in the midst of the group, his face ghastly pale.
But what filled Jack Ready with horror was the sight of a great crimson stain on the bosom of Merriwell’s shirt, and the crimson seemed to be spreading around a slit in the bosom of the garment!
“He’s dying!” whispered several.
“He was stabbed close to the heart!” came faintly from one chap, who then covered his face with his hands and reeled into the other room.
Bart Hodge was supporting Frank’s head. Harry Rattleton was sobbing. Ready turned away. Some of them grasped him.
“What shall we do with him?” said one.
“We’ll have to turn him over to the police,” said another.
Ready said not a word.
“Well, we can put him in the dissecting-chamber till we find out if Merriwell really is dying.”
“That’s right. He’ll be safe there.”
They hustled him along to yet another door, yanked it open, pushed him into a room, and closed and fastened the door. It is certain that Ready was startled when he saw before him the luminous outlines of a human skeleton, which seemed to stand upright, pointing an accusing finger at him.
He caught his breath and stared at the thing before him, feeling his hair seem to rise on his head. He did not know that, the moment he was safely within that room, the signal was given and Frank Merriwell, who had seemed to be mortally wounded, sat up and laughed, while his companions joined in the merriment.
“If we didn’t shake his nerve that time, he must be made of iron!” chuckled Ben Halliday.
“It was great!” snickered Rattleton; “simply great! Why, Merry looked so much like he was dying that I actually shed real tears!”
“He did look like a dying person,” nodded Roger Stone. “The gash in his shirt and the stain of red ink was a great piece of artistic work.”
“It’s a good thing the front of the monster was well padded,” smiled Frank, “for Ready sunk his knife for fair.”
“Well, he’s having a fine time in there with the skeleton now!” grinned Ned Noon. “Say, if his hair doesn’t turn gray, he has got nerve!”
“He’s a pretty good sort of fellow, anyhow,” said Frank, putting on his cuffs and coat. “He has a way about him that makes me take to him all right.”
“If he takes a fancy to blow about this night, he can get us into trouble,” observed a timid sophomore. “I was for doing the job masked.”
“The man who blows about a little mild sport of this sort is a cad,” asserted Mat Mullen.
“If you call this mild sport,” said Merriwell, “what would you designate as the other kind?”
“He ought to be pounding on the door and yelling to get out of that room by this time,” grinned Ned Noon.
“Well, let’s go see if we can hear anything from him,” suggested Bart Hodge.
So they left the chamber of the “monster,” and stole silently to the door of the room into which Ready had been thrust last, where they listened at the door.
Not a sound could they hear.
“You don’t suppose he has fainted?” suggested one.
A strange sound came from within that room.
“By the Lord Harry!” grunted Bruce Browning, in wonder, “I believe the fellow is singing!”
All listened: Sure enough, a sound like some one singing in a low tone came from within the room.
“Well, there is nerve for you!” muttered Lib Benson. “Open the door and let the fellow out. It’s no use to fool longer with him.”
“Wait,” directed Frank. “It’s mighty queer he is singing. Bring a light.”
Somebody placed a lighted lamp in Frank’s hand. He started to open the door. As he did so, a sudden burst of laughter came from within the room, stopping him with his hand uplifted, and causing a chill to run along his spine.
The students looked from one to another. Their faces were a study just then. It is certain that the most of them appeared rather frightened.
Frank dreaded to open the door, but he did so after a moment, and stepped into the room with the light, while several of the others crowded after him.
The sight that met their gaze was startling and terrible in the extreme. At the farther end of the small room stood the skeleton, and just before the fleshless thing crouched Jack Ready. But the person crouching there did not much resemble the gay and careless freshman Frank Merriwell had kidnaped from his boarding-house that very evening. His coat and vest had been ripped off and flung aside. The collar of his shirt was torn open, and his hair seemed to bristle. His eyes protruded from their sockets, while his features were contorted in a frightful manner, and there was a froth upon his lips. This frightful apparition flung up one hand and pointed at the horrified students in the doorway, literally shrieking:
“There they are! The fiends have come for me! Ha! ha! ha! They have come to drag me down, down, down!”
“Boys,” said Frank Merriwell, his voice far from steady, “we have driven the poor fellow mad!”
JACK READY’S TURN.
“Avaunt, foul creatures!” shrieked the freshman furiously. “I’ll not go with ye! Have you not done enough? You have stained my hands with human blood! You have made me do murder—murder! murder! murder!”
The blood ran cold in their bodies as they heard him scream forth the words. Some of them retreated precipitately.
“Come out, fellows—come out!” they said. “He’ll do you damage! Close the door!”
“Out on you!” snarled Ready, leaping to his feet. “Leave me—leave me with my only friend!”
Then he put an arm about the skeleton, as if embracing the grisly thing!
Frank passed the lamp to Hodge.
“Hold it,” he said.
“What are you going to do?” asked Bart breathlessly.
“I’m going to attempt to talk to the poor fellow. I may be able to straighten him out now.”
“Better let him alone. There’s no telling what he may do.”
“Keep away, Merriwell!” advised several.
Frank did not heed them. He advanced toward Ready, but, of a sudden, it seemed that the freshman recognized Merry, and he fell into a fit of terror that was awful to see.
“Don’t touch me!” he screamed, cowering and shaking in every limb. “You are the one I killed! Your blood is on my soul! Don’t touch me with your hands!”
“I am not dead, Ready,” said Frank, as mildly as he could, seeking to give the fellow confidence.
“Yes, you are!” panted the freshman. “I know, for I killed you! I drove the knife into your heart! Oh, but I didn’t mean to do it—I didn’t mean to! I swear I didn’t! They told me the knife was wooden! They told me I could not hurt you! Oh, they are the ones who did it!”
Ben Halliday groaned.
“I’d give ten years of my life if I’d had nothing to do with this wretched piece of business!” he said sincerely.
The maniac dropped on his knees before Frank, his hands outstretched in a pitiful appeal.
“Say you forgive me!” he pleaded. “Oh, please say that! My soul will be tortured forever and forever if you do not!”
“There is nothing to forgive, old man,” said Frank, stepping yet nearer. “I am not dead at all. It was nothing but a joke. Can’t you see that I am alive?”
Ready began crooning a song, as if singing to himself. It was a strange, weird sound, and it gave the listeners a creepy feeling. Frank attempted to touch him, but he leaped away, a frightful laugh breaking from his lips.
“Devil!” he snarled. “I know what you are! You are a devil! You are trying to snare me! I can see your cloven hoof and your horns!”
“Well, I feel like the devil,” said Frank, “whether I have any cloven hoof and horns or not!”
“You planned it all! You alone are guilty! You brought it on yourself!”
“I guess that’s right,” admitted Merry repentantly. “Come, old man, I won’t hurt you. Let me talk to you. You are deceiving yourself. Nobody has been killed.”
“Liar!” screamed Ready. “Get thee gone! I will destroy you!”
Then, before their eyes, he leaped at the skeleton, clutched it, tore it to pieces, and one after another he flung the bones at them! In his hands he seized the ghastly skull, sprang past Frank, who had not retreated, and pursued the others from the room. Frank quickly followed out into the banquet-chamber, and there he found the hazers huddled at the farther end of the room, while Jack Ready was sitting on a chair by the table and laughing till the tears actually streamed down his face.
“Oh, ha! ha! ha!” shouted the freshman, in a paroxysm of mirth. “Oh, I don’t know when I have had so much fun! I don’t think I ever had so much fun in all my life! Oh, ha! ha! ha! Ha! ha! ha! Why, you gents are the easiest things I ever saw! Oh, ha! ha! ha!”
Frank stopped and stood staring at Ready, who had dropped the skull of the skeleton on the table. The freshman saw Merry, and he screamed with mirth.
“I said I’d get even with you!” he shouted. “I’ve done it! I am more than even! I’ll bet I’m the first fellow in college who ever fooled you, and I fooled you good! You’re just as soft as the rest, and they’re mush!”
“Say!” cried Frank.
“Got a gun?”
“I want to commit suicide!”
“Oh, ha! ha! ha!” shouted the freshman. “I’ll tell the whole college of this to-morrow! I’ll have everybody laughing at you! Now I know I never did have so much fun in all my life! This has been a perfectly delightful evening!”
“You’re not mad?” asked Frank.
“Not a bit.”
“Well, I am!”
The way Frank said that made Ready shout once more. By this time the others had caught on that they had been fooled, and they came down the room slowly, looking very sheepish.
“I always did say you sophs were a lot of guys,” said Ready, “but I didn’t think Merriwell and his chums could be fooled so easily.”
“Ready,” said Frank, “you can make your mark on the stage. That was one of the finest pieces of acting I ever witnessed.”
“Thanks,” laughed Jack. “It was a little trick.”
“Will somebody please kick me?” grunted Bruce Browning.
“I’d like to be nit on the hut—I mean hit on the nut!” came from Rattleton. “Never felt so foolish in all my life!”
“And you all look foolish enough to kick,” said Frank. “I expect I look just as foolish. I feel worse than you chaps look, if possible. Why, we thought we had it on him, and he turned the tables on us. Talk about nerve!”
“He’s got it!” they cried.
“How did you catch on?” asked Ned Noon.
“Catch on!” chuckled Jack. “What was there to catch onto?”
“Well, wasn’t you fooled for a minute?”
“Perhaps so,” confessed the freshman; “but when I came to think it over, when I remembered how it felt when I drove the knife into your ‘monster,’ I knew I had not stabbed anybody. I knew you were soaking me, and I got back.”
“Fellows,” said Frank, “he’s turned the tables on us, and we can’t squeak out of it. All we can do is grin and bear it.”
“I’ll bear it,” said Browning; “but I’ll be blowed if I’ll grin!”
Frank offered Ready his hand.
“It may be a case of nerve,” he said, “but I wish you’d take it, old man. You may say what you like about this affair, I’ll always swear you are a man of nerve.”
Jack accepted Merry’s hand, and then Frank called the others up.
“Shake hands with a fellow who was clever enough to fool us all at our own game,” he said.
They did not refuse.
“Say,” said Ned Noon, “if you’ll keep still about it, Ready, we’ll blow you off to a great spread.”
Jack shook his head.
“I’m not to be bribed,” he said. “You brought it upon yourselves, and you’ll have to stand the laugh.”
“Well, you destroyed a splendid skeleton that cost us eighty dollars,” said Roger Stone. “You ought to pay for that.”
“Charge it to accidental loss,” advised Jack. “You’ll never get a penny out of me for it.”
And they did not blame him. They would have thought him a chump had he paid anything.
He did spread the story, and set the whole college laughing at Merriwell and his friends. Frank took it gracefully, not once denying the story. He showed that he could stand it when the joke was on him, which is something most practical jokers are quite unable to do. Jack Ready became famous through this adventure and the work he did in the Brown football-game. While he did not assume any mock modesty, he had a humorous way of accepting his glory, and he became popular outside of his own class, although nothing but a freshman.
“Here, here, what in blazes do you think you are doing—catching balloons? Use your hands, you chump! What are your hands made for, anyway?”
“You fall on the ball like a lobster! Don’t sprawl all over yourself! Drop flat and quick! You won’t break!”
“Well, do you call that a drop-kick? Where did you ever get the idea that you could kick?”
“Oh, wake up! You’re sleeping! You are the deadest man I ever saw breathing! Come to life!”
“You won’t do at all! It’s wasting time to fool with you!”
A dozen different coachers were at work on the Yale football eleven and the substitutes, and they were working the men like slaves. Each coacher seemed to have a particular man to whom he was giving his attention, and he was expressing himself in vigorous language. It was an absolute relief to hear a word of praise now and then.
“That’s better, Ridley; you’re coming.”
“Well done, Hodge! You’ve got the idea now.”
“That’s first-rate, Ibbson.”
“Do it like that—do it like that, Spofford!”
It was a scene of the greatest activity. All over the field men were punting, running, dropping on the ball, tacking, and doing other things required of football-players in practise. They seemed possessed by a frenzied determination, and it mattered not how severely they were criticized, they kept at it till told to stop. No man seemed to get discouraged.
Yale was working into shape for the great game with Harvard. Thanksgiving day was at hand, and sportlovers of the country were waiting for the great contest that was to take place on Soldiers’ Field. In a few days the eyes of the whole nation, figuratively speaking, would be turned on the chief gladiators of these two representative colleges of the country. It almost seemed that already the public at large was waiting breathlessly for the hour of battle to arrive.
Harvard was confident, being flushed with repeated victories, and remembering the glorious manner in which she had trounced Yale a year before. It was said that never had a better team represented the Cambridge college. Already betting had begun, and Harvard was the favorite by long odds. Old sports predicted that Harvard would win. They demonstrated that Harvard was at least a third stronger than Yale. Then men on the two elevens were compared man for man, and the comparison seemed to indicate that Harvard could not lose.
The newspapers said that Yale had one great player, and that one was Frank Merriwell. That is, some of the papers said so; but there were papers that persisted in declaring that Merriwell had deteriorated in a frightful manner since his former days on the gridiron. They declared that the year he had lost had been his ruin, as he had not been able to get himself back to his old-time form.
There were plenty of men at Yale who believed these papers were right—or pretended to believe it. There were a few men at Yale who found a way to send out reports that Merriwell was entirely out of condition, and that he had never fully recovered from injuries received in other games. These men took care that the reports reached the ears of newspaper men, and they rejoiced when they saw them published broadcast by the papers. Merriwell saw these reports and kept still. He smiled grimly to himself, and did not take pains to deny anything. Even his most intimate friends found it difficult to induce him to say anything about himself.
Frank was on the field this day, and he had been working hard with the others. Now he was standing with some friends, enfolded in a sweater and blanket, talking.
“What’s your opinion of our chances with Harvard?” asked Stubbs. “I have confidence in you. If you say we’ll win——”
“We’ll win——” began Frank.
“Hooray!” cried Bink.
“Oh, there’s an if!” gasped Bink.
“——we are not worked out of condition,” finished Frank.
“What do you mean?” asked another man. “Do you think the fellows are being overworked?”
“They are being driven hard at a time when they should be handled with the utmost care,” declared Merry. “It will make men slow to overwork them, just as it will make spirited horses slow.”
“But undertraining is worse.”
“That’s all right, and it’s true enough. Still, if we are going into the fight in the best shape, we should be handled with the utmost care just now. I believe I have been doing too much lately, and I do not feel at my very best.”
That was enough to cause one member of the group to prick up his ears. Frank had not thought he had an enemy in the bunch around him, but there was one present who quickly found an opportunity to slip away, his heart filled with satisfaction. It is astonishing how soon the report spread over the field that Merriwell had said the men were being overworked. His actual words were twisted and distorted, and they were made to seem even more than they actually did. The word was being passed around in a very short time that he had criticized the management of the eleven in the plainest language.
All unconscious of this, Frank continued to talk with his friends. He pointed out Harvard’s weak points, and told how he believed the crimson might be defeated. He also spoke of Yale’s strength in certain lines, but, outside of his remark about overtraining, he did not mention any special weakness. Observing this, one of the party made bold to ask him pointblank where the blue was weak.
Frank smiled, as he slowly replied:
“If we have a weakness in our play, and I don’t say that we have, the man who talks about it is a chump. In the past, we’ve managed to get the report abroad that we were weak just where we were strongest. This year such a piece of strategy has been neglected till it is too late for such a misleading yarn to do us much good.”
“Would you dare bet even money that Yale wins?” was fired at him.
“I am not a betting man,” he answered. “I never bet from choice, although I don’t like to have a fellow flourish a roll under my nose and tell me I haven’t sand enough to cover it. However, if I bet, I shall back Yale, not from principle or sentiment, but because I believe she will win.”
“Harvard says we haven’t a chance. You know there are Harvard men who are saying Yale has seen her day.”
“There have always been Harvard men who made such talk.”
“That’s all right, but you must remember that she defeated us in all lines last year.”
“Except debating,” spoke up another.
“Debating is outside athletics.”
“But not outside gymnastics,” laughed Stubbs.
“I am glad,” said an enthusiast, “that we have Merriwell back at his old position as full-back.”
“That’s where he belongs!” cried several. “He’s a better punter than Birch, and he can run faster.”
“But Birch is jealous.”
“Stop that!” exclaimed Frank sharply. “Fred Birch is not that kind of a man. He is a corking player, and he’d get off the team if he thought it could be strengthened by a better man. It’s not at all certain that I shall be played at full-back, although I have been tried there.”
“Well, what do you think of this shifting around of the men?”
“There has been very little shifting of late. The team is pretty well settled down. Of course there must be shifts when men are hurt, but I think we have some substitutes who are fully as strong as the regulars.”
At this moment two persons approached the group. They were Captain Birch and Steve Lorrimer, the manager. There was a serious look on their faces. In fact, Lorrimer seemed decidedly angry. The group parted for him, and he stopped before Frank, with Birch slightly in the background.
“Look here, Merriwell,” said the manager sharply, “what is this I’ve heard that you are saying?”
“I don’t know, sir,” said Frank quietly. “What have you heard?”
“Have you been saying that you thought the team was overworked so that it was not in condition?”
Frank’s lips came together for a moment. He saw there was a storm rising.
“I believe I did make some such remark,” he answered.
“Well, you are making altogether too much talk! Why the devil did you say it?”
“Because it is true?”
Lorrimer turned pale.
“Which means that I am an ass!” he retorted. “Are you overtrained, Merriwell?”
“Well, I think I’ve been pushed over the mark a trifle.”
“Very well, sir; I’ll give you a chance to recuperate. There are plenty of good men who are not overtrained, and we shall not need you any more this season! You are retired from the team!”
This came like a thunderbolt from a clear sky. Frank Merriwell dropped from the eleven! Those present, with the exception of Frank himself, seemed turned to stone by the astonishing words. Frank lifted his eyebrows a bit, as if somewhat surprised, and then he said:
“Very well, sir. You are the manager of the team.”
“Perhaps,” said Lorrimer, “this will teach you not to talk so much!”
Birch did not say a word, but turned and walked away with the manager. Bink Stubbs dropped limply into the arms of the fellow nearest him.
“My heart!” he gasped. “I don’t think it will stand the strain! Merriwell dropped from the eleven! Wow!”
Then there was excitement. They crowded about Frank, expressing themselves freely.
“It’s a shame!”
“I believe it’s a put-up job!”
“Why, Merriwell is the hope of the eleven!”
“We can’t win without him!”
Frank was the least ruffled among them.
“Don’t talk foolishly, fellows,” he said. “Of course, Yale can win without me. I’m not the whole team.”
“Well, you are a big part of it,” asserted Stubbs.
“I told you Birch was jealous!” cried the fellow who had made the assertion. “He’s had Merriwell kicked off.”
“I can’t think that,” said Frank, shaking his head. “Fred Birch would not do it.”
“Somebody did it.”
“Somebody has carried the report that I said the men are being overtrained. All right. It will not do any harm. Somebody had to say so, for it is true. It may serve to open Lorrimer’s eyes, so he’ll not push the fellows so hard. If it does that, I’ll have performed the greatest possible service for the eleven, even though I am dropped.”
“It can’t stand!”
“Lorrimer can’t drop you that way!”
“Why don’t you appeal?”
“His word’s not law!”
“Yes, you can appeal,” said Stubbs eagerly. “You must do that, Merriwell. Lorrimer has done this thing without authority. He’ll get called down for it if you make a fuss.”
“I shall not make a fuss,” said Frank. “I’m not going to raise a row just now. It might be the ruin of the eleven. It is a bad time to have anything of the kind occur.”
“But it’s better to raise a row than to be unjustly kicked out.”
“Not better for Yale.”
“Well, there will be row enough,” declared one fellow. “Wait till this news spreads. Why, you’ll hear the worst howl ever raised.”
“My friends will not raise any trouble,” said Frank.
“They will, just as hard.”
“But I object to it.”
“That won’t make any difference.”
Frank turned and left the field. He saw some men getting onto a car as he came out, and he recognized two or three of them. He did not catch that car, but he took the next one. Stubbs accompanied Merriwell. The little fellow was exasperated, and the more he thought about it the angrier he became. He actually swore.
“It will all come out in the wash,” laughed Merry.
“It’s a dirty trick!” snapped Bink. “You must know that your enemies have been working to hurt you.”
“Well, I have seen something of it.”
“Sure thing. Take the newspaper stories. They’ve been saying you had a bad knee, a lame shoulder, and all that sort of guff. Those yarns have come from Buck Badger and Chickering’s set.”
“How do you know they came from Badger?”
“Badger is your enemy.”
“But he has been keeping pretty quiet of late.”
“He’s been waiting. How he’ll rejoice now when he knows you have been thrown over! Oh, say, it makes me so thundering mad that I can’t keep still!”
Bink was rather comical in his rage. It seemed that he must be ludicrous, no matter what he did.
“I feel just like thrashing the ground with Buck Badger!” he declared.
The idea of little Stubbs “thrashing the ground” with the burly Westerner made Frank laugh outright.
“Oh, laugh!” shouted Bink, drawing the attention of the passengers on the car. “I don’t know what you are made of if you will laugh now!”
“Well, I’m not going to cry. I have done my duty for Old Eli, and my conscience is clear.”
They left the car on arriving at the college. A group of students hailed Frank as he appeared on the campus. It was cold weather, and the college men were warmly dressed, so they did not mind gathering in the open air to “talk it over.” In the group Frank saw the same men who had boarded the car ahead of him.
“Come here, Merriwell!” cried Puss Parker. “Is it true?”
“Yes, it is true,” chorused the others.
“Is what true?” asked Frank.
“That Lorrimer has dropped you from the eleven.”
“I think it’s true.”
There was a shout of rage.
“The man is a lunatic!” snarled Parker.
“He ought to be shot!” roared Roger Stone.
“If Harvard beats us without Merriwell being given a chance on the team, Lorrimer ought to have a coat of tar and feathers!” declared Phil Porter.
“Merriwell will be on the team!”
“Of course he will!”
“They’ll have to take him back!”
“Look here, old man,” said Parker to Frank, “we stick by you, and we’ve got to do what we can to see you back onto the team. Here is my hand.”
He grasped Frank’s hand and shook it. The others crowded about and shook hands with Merry, also. Every man of them expressed his confidence in Frank and admiration for him. It stirred Merriwell and touched his heart.
“Boys,” he said, with genuine feeling, “it’s worth being kicked off the eleven just to find out how stanch my real friends are!”
WHAT THE COLLEGE THOUGHT.
Rattleton and Diamond came up and joined the crowd. They had heard of Frank being dropped from the team, but neither of them would take any stock in it till they heard it from Merry’s lips. Rattleton was wildly excited.
“Who’s been telling this lundering barn about you?” he cried. “No, I mean who has been telling this blundering yarn? Of course, it is a wretched lie! They say Lorrimer has laid you off.”
“Well, it strikes me that the yarn is true,” said Frank.
“True?” gasped Jack.
“Whee jiz!” spluttered Harry.
Then they were speechless.
“Lorrimer is daffy,” declared Puss Parker.
“He must have a grudge against Yale,” said Phil Porter.
“Merriwell,” hissed Diamond, his cheeks flushed and his eyes flashing, “are you going to stand it?”
“I’ll have to,” said Frank.
“Not by a blame sight! We’ll get up an indignation meeting. We can make it mighty hot for Lorrimer. We’ll show him that he can’t carry things with such a high hand.”
“Don’t!” exclaimed Frank. “I wouldn’t have you do that.”
“It would be raising a rumpus at the wrong time.”
“Everything must go peaceably till the game with Harvard is over, or Yale gets it in the neck again this year. We can’t have that.”
“Are you willing to be a sacrifice just——”
“I am willing—for the good of Old Eli.”
“But it’s not for the good of Old Eli! It means our defeat, and anybody knows that!”
“Oh, come off! Somebody else who can play football just as well as I will fill my place.”
“Lot on your knife—I mean not on your life!” exploded Harry. “They don’t grow!”
“That’s all foolishness,” said Frank. “There are plenty of men just as good.”
“Well, why don’t they make the record?” put in Diamond, his indignation making him look handsomer than ever. “Tell us just how it came about, Frank.”
“Well, I suppose Lorrimer will say I was talking too much. What I said was for the good of the eleven.”
“What did you say?”
“I said that the men were being overtrained, and it was making them heavy and slow, which is the absolute truth, but a fellow on the eleven is supposed to keep his mouth shut and play ball. That’s why I was jumped on.”
“There is something behind this. There was another reason for it.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well,” said Merry, “if it will open the eyes of Lorrimer so that he’ll treat the men with more judgment, Yale will stand a better chance of winning, even though I am not on the team. It is ruin to put a lot of overworked men into a game like the one coming.”
“If Yale wins, there will be some chumps who will swear that it was because you were put off the team,” said Harry. “That will be a splendid thing, now, won’t it?”
“There always are men to say nasty things, no matter what happens,” observed Frank.
“Well,” said the Virginian, “if you are not on the team, I’m going to hedge my bets.”
“Have you been making bets?”
“Put up much?”
“Well, I’ve staked something, and I got odds, too. I considered it like finding money; but now I have changed my mind.”
“Wait!” Merriwell advised. “There will be plenty of time to hedge before the game.”
“Don’t fool yourself! By the time it gets abroad that you’re not going to play, the odds will be five to one on Harvard. And it will be known all over the country to-morrow.”
While they were talking a poorly dressed old woman came along the slippery sidewalk. As soon as they noticed her, some of the students cried:
“Here is Mother Muggs, fellows.”
Instantly the body of the group shifted their attention to the old woman. They began making observations about her, and she gave them a look of rage.
“You are a pack of young reprobates!” she cried shrilly. “You are learning the ways of criminals and ruffians!”
“Mother Muggs loves us—not!” laughed Parker.
The old woman was well known to the students. She had taken a strong aversion to them, and she did not hesitate to express herself on any convenient occasion. Her flow of language was sharp and stinging, and she had brought the college men to the point of guying her unmercifully whenever occasion offered. Frank Merriwell said nothing. He did not believe in taking part in the guying of the old woman, even though he knew of her hatred for the students and the manner in which she sometimes seemed to go out of her way in order to snarl at them.
“Are you promenading for your health, Mother Muggs?” asked one laughing fellow.
“Or are you displaying the latest style in Parisian clothes?” said another.
“Dogs! vipers! whelps!” cried the old woman, shaking her fist at them.
Then her feet flew from beneath her on the slippery walk, and she fell with a thud that must have sorely shaken her old bones. The thoughtless fellows laughed at the unfortunate woman, with the exception of Merriwell. He did not laugh. Instead of that, he hurried from the crowd to the side of Mother Muggs, who seemed to be in pain.
“I am sorry, madam,” he said, with the utmost politeness, as he aided her to rise, fairly lifting her to her feet, doing it as tenderly as if she had been his own mother. “I hope you are not hurt?”
The poor woman groaned and seemed unable to stand. She would have fallen, but Frank Merriwell placed his arm about her and supported her.
“Oh, my hip!” she gasped.
“I’m afraid you are hurt!” he cried, genuine concern in his voice.
“What do you care?” she faintly said.
“I do care! I’m sorry! What can I do for you?”
“Let me alone!”
“But you cannot stand. I must assist you. Please permit me to, madam.”
Never before had one of those saucy college men spoken to her in such a manner, and she was filled with wonder.
“Arc you one of them college scamps?” she asked.
“I am a college man,” answered Frank, “but I hope I am not a scamp.”
“They’re all scamps! Oh, my hip!”
“I’m afraid you cannot walk. I will call a cab to take you home.”
“A cab! I can’t pay for a cab! I can’t ride in a cab!”
“I will attend to the paying for it. Here, Rattleton.”
Harry came out from the group of students, who were not laughing now, but were looking on in wonder, which was not unmixed with shame.
“Call a cab, Rattleton,” directed Frank. “This poor woman has hurt herself, and she cannot walk.”
Harry hastened away to procure a cab, with which he quickly returned. Then Frank Merriwell actually lifted the withered old woman in his strong arms and placed her inside the cab. She seemed almost as light as a feather to him, and he felt his heart throb with pity for her.
“Don’t put me in there and leave me to pay!” pleaded the woman. “I ain’t got no money, and the driver would have me arrested.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Frank. “I will attend to it. Where do you live?”
She told him, and he gave the driver directions, after which he turned to Rattleton, saying:
“Come, let’s see her home, old man. Get in.”
They both got into the cab with Mother Muggs, the door slammed, and the cab rolled away, leaving a dozen college men staring after it, silent, shamefaced, awed.
They had been given a glimpse of Frank Merriwell’s heart!
There was excitement on the campus late that frosty November afternoon. At the fence a great crowd of men had gathered, and the topic they were discussing was the dropping of Frank Merriwell from the eleven. Of course, Rupert Chickering’s set was delighted. Chickering himself, with his usual double-faced hypocrisy, pretended to be grieved.
“I know Merriwell does not like me,” he said; “but I am very sorry for him, just the same. He has worked hard to get onto the eleven, and it does seem too bad for him to be put off just before the great game of the season, even though there may be better men.”
“Rats!” exclaimed Gene Skelding, who did not hesitate to show his dislike for Merry. “You know you are satisfied over it.”
“Indeed, now!” protested Rupert, posing with his cane. “Why should I be? If Merriwell is a good man to have on the eleven, if he could materially assist us in defeating Harvard, I should like to see him play, regardless of any personal spite he may hold against me.”
“Well, I’m glad he’s got it in the neck!” laughed Julian Ives, pushing his hat back in order to more fully expose his flowing bang.
“And I am not breaking my heart over it,” said Tilton Hull, who seemed to have found a collar that was even higher than the wonderfully high ones he wore habitually.
“He is a big, wude cwecher,” lisped Lew Veazie, “and he hath met with hith jutht reward.”
“It came just when we least expected it,” put in Ollie Lord, rising on his toes, so that he might be observed. “Everything seemed going Merriwell’s way.”
“I wonder who will be given Merriwell’s place?” speculated Hull.
“I have heard,” said Skelding, “that Birch will take that position, while that freshman Ready will be taken onto the team.”
“He’s little better than Merriwell,” declared Ives. “He has a swelled head.”
“That’s because he fooled Merriwell and made him the butt of a joke, you know,” said Hull. “It was a pretty clever thing. It was lucky for us that we were not invited to take part in the hazing of the freshman.”
“I should think,” said Chickering, “that they would try Badger at full-back. He’s a great man.”
“Don’t speak of that fellow!” snarled Skelding. “What ails you? Have you forgotten that he has repudiated us? He won’t have a thing to do with us now! I don’t think much more of him than I do of Frank Merriwell!”
“Well, I’m right glad of that!” said a voice that made them jump, and they saw Badger standing near, regarding them with an expression of contempt. “You’re a rank lot, and I haven’t any use for you whatever.”
“You were glad enough to be friends with us once,” said Chickering, with a show of resentment. “You have even borrowed money of me.”
Badger took two steps that brought him face to face with Rupert.
“Did I pay it?” he demanded fiercely.
“Why—yes, of course!” exclaimed Chickering hastily.
“Well, if you ever mention it again, I reckon I’ll have to soak you!” came from the Westerner. “I’d hate to hit a thing like you, but there is a limit. Keep your mouth shut!”
“Don’t let him bully you!” cried Skelding. “He’s the kind of fellow to pretend to hate Merriwell, but, now Merriwell has got the best of him a few times, he’s ready to crawl round and bow down before his conqueror.”
“You’re a prevaricator, by the clock!” said the Kansas man promptly. “Because I cut clear of you does not make it that I’m ready to pick up with Merriwell. We are enemies still.”
“You’re the one who is still,” chuckled Ollie Lord, dodging behind Skelding. “You don’t dare open your mouth to Merriwell any more.”
“You’re not worth noticing, you imitation of a man!” broke from Badger. “If there is anything in the world that can make me cease to hate Merriwell it will be because you chaps hate him so much.”
Badger’s words had been spoken rather loudly, and now Chickering noted that a crowd was gathering, and he began to feel that it was time to close up. He gave the others the tip to do so, and backed out of the crowd himself.
Somebody asked Badger what he thought about Merriwell being dropped.
“Say,” cried the Westerner, “whatever do you take me for? I reckon it’s pretty generally known that I’m no friend of his. That being the case, my opinion would not amount to shucks.”
“He knows enough not to talk as much as Merriwell,” said somebody.
“Who says Merriwell talks too much?” roared Bruce Browning. “He’s one of the closest-mouthed fellows living.”
“Well, he talked so much to-day that he got it in the neck.”
“That’s all right. Somebody had to talk. The team is being worked to death. Anybody that knows anything about football knows that. The men know it, but Merriwell was the first and only one who has dared say so.”
“Hurrah! hurrah!” cried the students. “What’s the matter with Frank Merriwell?”
“He’s all right!” thundered a great chorus of voices.
Somebody, wishing to arouse another expression of sentiment, cried:
“What’s the matter with Steve Lorrimer?”
Quick as a flash, Danny Griswold squealed:
“He’s got bugs in his garret!”
This aroused laughter and applause. All kinds of talk was made on the campus that night. Merriwell was discussed from a hundred different standpoints. The great majority of the students were friendly toward him, and they were highly indignant over the manner in which he had been treated.
A knot of Frank’s admirers gathered and told anecdotes about him. One of them related how, that very day, after being dropped from the eleven, he had lifted old Mother Muggs from the slippery sidewalk and carried her home in a cab.
“That’s not all he did, fellows,” said a voice.
Harry Rattleton was there. He pushed into the center of the crowd.
“I went with him,” said Harry. “He took the old woman home and carried her into her house in his arms, for she could not walk. He sent me for a doctor. When I got back, he was doing his best to cheer up the old lady and her dying daughter.”
“Has Mother Muggs a daughter?” some one asked.
“Yes, and it’s plain she was a stunning-looking girl once. She’s sick in bed, and there was not a spark of fire in the house nor a bit of food.”
“You bet! But all that’s fixed now. Merriwell fixed it. He went out and ordered coal and wood and groceries, and had them sent round in a hurry. Then we went to another store, and he bought blankets and quilts to put on the bed to keep the poor dying girl warm. We carried back an armful of stuff. When we got there we found the doctor. Merry told him to care for Mother Muggs and her daughter and forked over a tenner in advance to pay.”
“Well, what’s the matter with Merriwell?” cried somebody, and again the crowd shouted:
“He’s all right!”
“You can bet your life he is!” said Harry proudly. “You should have seen him building a fire in the old stove, heating a can of broth, and then feeding the sick girl himself. Fellows, I’ve known Frank Merriwell a long time, and I always knew he was all right; but I tell you I watched him with amazement down in that wretched hovel. I saw him fixing things round and making everything cheerful. I saw him jollying up the poor girl till she laughed. He was as tender as a woman down there, and everybody here knows that he’s strong as a lion on the football-field. And old Mother Muggs was so astonished that all she could say was, “Land, land, who’d ‘a’ thought it!’ He made that old woman and her dying girl happy to-night, and he told them he’d come again and see that they were comfortable. He’ll do it, too. They kicked him off the eleven to-day, but I’ll bet that to-night he’s happier than any of those who remain.”
Harry spoke earnestly, and his words impressed the listeners. If a single enemy of Frank Merriwell was present, he was silenced.
“Fellows,” said Parker, “there’s a light in Merriwell’s window. He must be in his room. Let’s go over and whoop her up under his window. Let’s show the blockheads who are against him what we think of him!”
“Come on!” was the cry.
Across the campus they swept. Word was passed around about what was going to happen, and it was a great crowd of college men that gathered beneath Merry’s window. Then somebody roared out a proposal for three cheers for Frank Merriwell, “the best man who ever made a touch-down.” And what a mighty cheer it was! They thundered their applause till the bare branches of the old elms quivered with the sound. Again and again they cheered.
At last the window was thrown open, and Frank appeared. What a greeting he received! It must have made his heart thrill! It must have made his eyes moist!
After a time, the crowd became quiet, and Frank spoke:
“Thank you,” he said, with a husky sound in his voice. “I don’t know just why you are cheering like that, but——”
“We’re cheering for the whitest man in college and the best football-player living!” shouted somebody.
“That’s putting it pretty strong,” laughed Frank.
“But not a bit too strong,” came back instantly. “They’ve put up a job on you, Merriwell, but we won’t stand for it!”
“No,” said Frank, “I do not think it was a job, boys. Steve Lorrimer is a true-blue Yale man, and he wouldn’t stoop to anything like that. Whatever he has done, I am sure he did because he believes it is for the best interest of Old Eli.”
“Then he’s such a chump that he isn’t fit to manage a tennis tournament!” squealed Bink Stubbs.
“No matter what may happen to me,” said Merry, “I shall pray for the success of Yale, and nothing can hurt me worse than her defeat on Thanksgiving day. If she wins, fellows, we’ll have a glorious Thanksgiving. Good night, my friends—good night!”
He pulled down the window and was gone, but they lingered to give him another rousing cheer, and long after that groups of men could be seen on the campus, discussing and denouncing the action of Lorrimer.
If possible, Frank’s speech from the window of his room had made him more popular than ever. He had not uttered a single word in bitterness, and no honest student could doubt but he told the truth when he said that, no matter what happened to himself, he should pray for the success of Yale. He was utterly unselfish in his love for Old Eli.
The feeling against Lorrimer was not lessened by Frank’s words, however; if anything, it was intensified. That Frank had told the plain, unvarnished truth about the Yale men being overtrained scores of men attested. Lorrimer was a hard master. His heart was set on the success of the blue, but his judgment was at fault. He was a person who did not take criticism kindly. The following morning the newspapers of Boston and New York came out with the report that Frank Merriwell had been dropped from the Yale eleven. Various causes were assigned, but in no instance did a paper hit the truth. Some said he was suffering from injuries, others claimed that he was in wretched condition, and yet others averred that the whole case was one of spite.
There was rejoicing in Cambridge, for, of all men on the Yale eleven, Merriwell had been most feared. Harvard remembered the old days when the skill and courage of the Yale full-back had been the chief cause of their defeat. It had seemed in the past that Merriwell was the mascot of the Yale men. The odds against Yale went up with a bound.
By this time Steve Lorrimer had begun to discover how popular Frank Merriwell was. He had known of the demonstration beneath Frank’s window on the previous night, but he regarded it as an outbreak headed by a few of Merry’s particular friends. Now, to his surprise, he found that he was regarded with scorn and anger by men who did not venture to say anything openly to him. He received black looks from all sides, and he heard mutterings of anger and disapproval. Of course, he pretended not to notice anything like this.
Frank was alone in his room, plugging, when Lorrimer rapped on the door.
“Come in,” called Merry, and the football manager entered. Frank rose at once, exclaiming:
“Mr. Lorrimer, this is a surprise! Have a chair.”
Without noticing the invitation, Lorrimer began:
“Look here, Merriwell, what do you think you are going to make out of this business?”
“To what do you refer, sir?” asked Frank quietly.
“Why, kicking up all this fuss, of course.”
“I have not kicked up any fuss, Mr. Lorrimer.”
“You may not have done it personally, but you are at the bottom of it,” accused Steve.
“I think you are mistaken. But, first, I wish you to make yourself clear. What fuss do you refer to?”
“Why, this demonstration business.”
“I was utterly unaware that anything like a demonstration was going to take place till it happened. The men cheered beneath my window, and I spoke a few words to them.”
“Oh, I’m not talking about that!”
“You are not?”
“No, you know I’m not!”
“I thought you were. It seems that I’m still in a fog.”
“I’m talking about this demonstration coming—this indignation meeting to be held on the campus to-night!”
“I know nothing about it.”
Lorrimer showed his incredulity.
“Excuse me, Merriwell,” he said, “it is gotten up for your benefit, but I want to tell you that it will not benefit you in the least. On the contrary, it will hurt you.”
“I trust, sir,” said Frank, with dignity, “that you accept my word when I say that I know absolutely nothing about it!”
“Then how does it come about?”
“I can’t tell, sir.”
The manager seemed in doubt.
“Your friends are working it up, of course, but I supposed they had consulted you.”
“They have not.”
“Well, then, let me tell you that they propose to hold a meeting on the campus to-night to express their indignation for the treatment you received. Of course, this is a poke at me, and I do not like it!”
“I presume not,” said Frank dryly. “You have a way of not liking anything that goes against you in the slightest degree, Mr. Lorrimer.”
The manager flushed.
“Don’t be impertinent!” he exclaimed.
“You, sir,” flashed back Merry, “are the one who is impertinent! More than that, you are insulting in your words and your manner!”
“Do you dare——” he began.
“I dare say what I think, as you have already found out. I have wished for an opportunity to tell you a few plain facts, and the time has come.”
“I don’t want to hear any of your talk!”
Frank walked over to the door, turned the key in the lock, then took it out and put it in his pocket.
“I propose that you shall hear!” he spoke firmly. “You cannot leave this room till you have heard.”
“Confound it! do you know you are ruining your last hope of getting back onto the eleven?”
“All right. I fancy you may have thought that I’d be very servile and cringing if there was a possible chance for me to get back. You made a mistake if you thought so. I’m not built on that plan. You threw me out, and I’m not crawling back.”
“Don’t be too hasty!”
“That sounds well from your lips! You were rather hasty yesterday.”
“I did what was right.”
“You may think so.”
“I know it!”
“Very well. Now I’ll do what I know is right. You dropped me because you heard that I said the team was being overtrained.”
“I said it, and I meant it, Lorrimer. I know you are earnest in your desire to down Harvard, and I do not like to see you defeating yourself.”
“Say, will you let up on this business?”
“Not till I am through with you—not till I have told you something that may open your eyes enough so it will save Yale from defeat.”
“Oh, you’re eager to save Yale from defeat, are you?” cried Steve, with an accent of doubt and derision.
“I am,” was the retort. “I do not care a rap whether I play on the eleven or not if the blue defeats the crimson. If I were on the team and thought for a minute that it could be made stronger by taking on some other man, I’d get off.”
“How sacrificing!” sneered Lorrimer.
“You don’t have to believe it, but I do want you to believe one thing, and that is that the men are being overtrained.”
“Will you permit me to know my own business?”
“When you do know it. When you think you know it but are mistaken you need somebody to tell you.”
“I’m not accustomed to taking advice from such fellows as you! Unlock that door!”
“Not yet. Sit down!”
“If you do not unlock that door, I’ll strangle you!”
Frank Merriwell laughed. He was amused by the threat. That laugh was like a whip stroke to Lorrimer. His face grew furious, and he made a jump at Frank, snarling:
“Give me that key!”
Merry was ready to meet him, for he knew how impulsive and quick-tempered the manager was, and he had anticipated Lorrimer’s move. They grappled, but Lorrimer did not clutch Frank’s throat. Instead of that, he felt his wrists grasped by fingers of iron, felt himself hurled backward like a child in the grip of a giant, felt himself flung into a chair and pinned there.
It was over in a twinkling, and Lorrimer was sitting helpless and panting, while the young athlete he had attempted to tackle was coolly and smilingly holding him quiet.
“My dear fellow,” said Frank Merriwell, with perfect coolness, “you should not be so violent. It is quite unnecessary. I trust you will have the good sense to be quiet and listen now.”
Lorrimer was quiet.
It is probable that never till that minute had the manager of the Yale football-team thoroughly understood the kind of a man Frank Merriwell was. He had fancied that he understood Merriwell, but he had been mistaken. On the training-field Frank had been one of the most obedient workers. Never, under any circumstances, had he shown a sign of rebellion or sulkiness, no matter how severe was the calling down be received, and Lorrimer had come to believe that for all of Merry’s reputation, he was a very submissive fellow when confronted by his “superiors.”
That was where the manager was led into an error. Merriwell was a person who believed that it is the duty of a football-player to obey orders like a soldier. It was his theory that the men who obeyed unhesitatingly and without even seeming to entertain for a single instant the fancy that they knew better than their instructors what was the best thing to do were almost certain to become the best players for the general good of the team. Given command of men, Frank Merriwell would have exacted just such perfect submission and readiness to obey.
Lorrimer had noted that Frank never rebelled, and he had come to think that it would be an easy thing to overawe the submissive young athlete. That had brought him alone to Merriwell’s room, and it had caused him to spring upon Frank. Merry released Lorrimer, and stood up straight.
“Don’t be foolish,” he said grimly. “I don’t want to hurt you, and you might bring it upon yourself.”
Wonderstruck, the manager stared at him. Frank drew up a chair and sat down before Steve.
“Now we can talk this over in a decent way,” he said. “I have given you credit for one thing, Lorrimer—I have believed that you were as earnest as any man living to defeat Harvard.”
“I am,” muttered Steve sullenly.
“I hope so, but you are making a fatal error. There are but a few days left before the game. The men have been worked into the best condition possible.”
“Now they are being worked out of condition by a gang of enthusiastic, but deluded coachers.”
“Perhaps you think you know more about football than Bob Wilcox, who was quarter-back four years ago?”
“I did not say so.”
“Or Nate Cox, the famous captain?”
“I did not say so.”
“Or Corwin? or Hare? or Beecher?”
“I did not say so.”
“You might as well!”
“There is where you make your mistake. Those men are in earnest, and they are enthusiastic, but each one has his particular department, his particular set of men to handle, and they are working to bring these men to the acme of perfection.”
“Well, what’s the matter with that?”
“The matter with it is that not a single coacher seems to realize the result of this persistent hammering on the men during these last days.”
“Well, if you see so much, show your wisdom.”
“Instead of driving those men like drag-horses, they should be worked with the utmost care just now. They should do just enough to keep themselves in the best possible condition, without going over the limit the least bit. If a man fails to make a perfect punt, he should not be kept punting till he is sore and lame and tired and disgusted. If a man makes a bad tackle, he should not be forced to tackle till there’s not a good square breath left in his body. If a man fumbles, he should not be forced to fall on the ball till he’s too dizzy to stand without wabbling.”
“Is that so?”
“That is so! The men are being injured, instead of improved, in these last days. They should be kept at signal-work, they should study intricate plays, but they should not be pounded over the field till there’s not enough energy left in them to enable them to walk straight for a distance of ten feet. You must know, Lorrimer, that overtraining is just as fatal as undertraining.”
The manager did not speak.
“While I was on the team,” pursued Frank, “my mouth was closed—to a large extent.”
“You got it open once too often.”
“On the contrary, I hope I opened it just when it will do the most good.”
“It threw you off the team.”
“I can stand that if the team can. I shall be satisfied if that, together with this little talk, brings about a reform. See here, Lorrimer, I want you to understand how earnest I am about this thing. I want Yale to win—she must win!”
“By that, I suppose you mean that you want to get back on the eleven?”
“Nothing of the sort. By that I mean that I hope you will get your eyes open and take care that these coachers do not hammer the men into such wretched shape that they will be slow and heavy as cart-horses. Put Birch at full-back, and give Jack Ready a trial in the line. Let up on them in time for them to rest and come out fresh as daisies for the game, even though it may seem that they are not perfect in their work. Freshness, spirit, and enthusiasm will count more than absolute perfection coupled with that tired feeling.”
“How much do you charge for all this advice?”
“I shall be well paid if it brings about a result.”
“Well, have you finished?”
“I believe that’s about all I have to say.”
“Then how about this demonstration on the campus?”
“I told you that I knew nothing about it.”
“You know now.”
“What are you gong to do?”
“Do you fancy it will be a good thing for you?”
“I do not fancy anything about it.”
“Well, it will be the worst thing that can happen. It will do you no good, for the management will not be driven into taking you back.”
“Isn’t it about time for you to get it through your head that I do not care a rap whether I get back or not so long as Yale wins?” demanded Frank, with a slight show of impatience.
It was “about time,” but Lorrimer had come there with the idea that Merriwell was behind the indignation-meeting movement, and it had to be beaten out of his head. He had thought that Frank was fighting hard to force the management to restore him to his old position, and he disliked to give up the belief.
“Then,” said Steve, “you will stop this indignation meeting, will you?”
“That being the case, you must be in favor of it?”
“I shall have nothing to do with it. If my friends wish to get up such a meeting without my knowledge, I shall let them do as they like. It will show what they think of the manner in which I was treated yesterday.”
“And ruin your chance of getting back onto the team.”
“I believe I told you that I was not counting on getting back, that I do not care a cent whether I get back or not, that my only interest is to see Yale win.”
Frank got up and took the key out of his pocket. Then he walked over and unlocked the door.
“I have had my little say,” he grimly observed, satisfaction in his manner; “now you are at liberty to go when you like, Mr. Lorrimer.”
Lorrimer jumped up.
“You’re the limit!” he exclaimed. “You ought to run the whole team!”
He strode toward the door.
“Thank you,” laughed Frank, sitting down and picking up a book. “Think over what I’ve said. It won’t hurt you, and I sincerely hope it may do you some good.”
Lorrimer yanked open the door.
“Good day,” said Frank.
Lorrimer strode out and slammed the door, without answering.
And Frank resumed his plugging at the point where he had been interrupted.
FRANK IS HURT.
The indignation meeting did not take place. Directly after noon Frank Merriwell was waited on by several members of the football committee, who expressed regret at what had taken place, and invited and urged him to come out for practise that afternoon, as usual.
Merry did not show exultation over this turn of affairs, but he agreed to be on the field. Therefore, there was no little astonishment when he went out to practise, as usual. His enemies started in by stating he had nerve to show up, but they were silenced by the information that he had been urged to do so by the committee. But, instead of being used on the regulars, Frank was placed on the first scrub, which was very significant.
He played with all his usual skill and enthusiasm. Two brief halves were played, and he was captain of the scrub in the last half. While the scrub did not score in this half, neither did the regulars, and four times was the goal of the regulars in danger, while not once was the fighting carried far into the territory of the scrub team. This was in great contrast to the first half, when the regulars had scored twenty-four points with ease.
“It’s all through the way Merriwell handled the team,” declared more than one. “Give him command of the regulars, and he’d drive Harvard into the earth.”
But there was no certainty that Merriwell would even play on the regulars. His friends scented trickery. It is probable that Frank also tumbled to the little game, but he said nothing.
Back at college after practise, when Merry had taken a bath, a rub, and donned his clothes, a number of his friends came pouring into his room, headed by Hodge.
“Welcome, fellows!” cried Frank.
“Look here, Merriwell,” said Bart, “we’ve come to see about it.”
“Well, if you’re not onto the dirty trick, it’s time you dug your eyes open!” grated Bart, in language that was expressive, though not very elegant.
“What trick?” asked Frank.
“Don’t you see that you have been fooled?”
“Why, about this football business.”
“Sit down, Hodge, and explain.”
“I won’t sit down! I can’t sit down! I’m too mad to sit down!”
“Then stand up and explain it.”
“I hear,” said Bart, “that Lorrimer was seen coming here to-day.”
“Did he come to see you?”
“He came to see if I’d object to the indignation meeting which he informed me my friends were to hold this evening.”
“Well, that’s what I call pure, unadulterated gall!” snarled Bart.
“I considered it rather crusty,” smiled Frank.
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him some things I have longed to tell him for several days, and I informed him that I should raise no objection to the indignation meeting unless my friends sought to induce me to take part in it.”
“Good! good! good!” cried the others.
“That’s all right,” said Hodge; “but you were fooled later on.”
“In what way?”
“The committee came and invited you out to practise.”
“That’s where you were fooled, Merriwell—fooled bad.”
“They did not agree to put you back onto the regular team?”
“I did not ask them.”
“You should. You should have informed them that you were ready for practise any time they were ready to give you your old position.”
“That’s what you should have done,” nodded Diamond.
“Sure thing,” grunted Browning.
“This getting you out to practise was nothing but a trick. It was done to prevent the meeting from taking place. Now we can’t hold it. You have gone onto the field, and that ruins our plan. If you had stayed away, we’d shown those chumps something to-night that would have opened their eyes.”
“You let your knife—I mean, you bet your life!” exclaimed Rattleton.
“They would have been forced to take you back. Now they can do just as they darn please, and they’ll use you dirty! You have been fooled, Merriwell!”
“Well,” said Frank quietly, “it may be that you are right, Hodge; but I do not like to think there is a personal feeling against me by the men who are handling the team.”
“Oh, you don’t like to think anything bad against anybody!”
“I’d rather not.”
“Bah! Come out of it! You were not given a chance on the regulars to-day, and that shows how you are to be treated right along. Quit it! Don’t go near the field again. That’s the right thing to do.”
“On the contrary, it is the wrong thing to do. If I were to do that, the blame of the whole affair might be thrown on me. It might be said that I was used on the scrub just to give a substitute a fair trial on the regulars. It might be said that they intended to take me back immediately. If I were to stay away, and Yale should lose the game, I might blame myself.”
“All right!” said Hodge. “I’ve said my say, now you may do as you like. But you have been fooled!”
Then he went out, for he was too angry to stay there longer.
Frank appeared on the field the following afternoon, and again he was placed on the first scrub, which confirmed the belief of his friends that he was not to be given a fair show. Practise began. Merriwell had charge of the scrub, and he seemed to fill the men with such ginger as they had never before shown. Every man of the scrub seemed to feel that Frank had not been treated square. It seemed that they fancied the test which was to settle the question of his restoration to the regulars was the manner in which the scrub showed up under his command.
It is certain that deep down in his heart Frank was hurt, but he kept it hidden. However, never before on the practise field had he done such work. Within two minutes after play began the scrub scored a touch-down through the masterly manner in which the men were handled, and Frank touched a goal.
This was pretty rough on the regulars, for the report would appear in the papers the next day, and it would be claimed that the work of the scrub had plainly demonstrated the weakness of the regulars, so, when the ball was put into play again, the regulars started to redeem themselves. To their astonishment, the scrub was like a stone wall. The play was fast and furious, but the scrub refused to be tricked or beaten down. Merriwell seemed to anticipate every play his opponents made, and he massed the strength of his team to check and defeat it.
Lorrimer looked on with a frown on his face.
“This kind of work is as bad as a regular game,” he said. “It is certain to break up the men, but the boys must get the best of the scrub, or it will take the courage out of them.”
So the regulars were hurled against the scrub again and again. They tried to break the line, they tried to turn the ends, they resorted to all sorts of stratagems, and then kicking was fallen back on. For some time there was a beautiful duel between Captain Birch and Merriwell, and Merriwell had the best of it in the end.
Frank had friends enough among those who were watching the contest, and they cheered. Of course, Lorrimer was displeased by the work of the regulars, and Birch was no less dissatisfied.
Then the scrub took the offensive again, and it seemed that they were going to add another touch-down to their record before the half closed. Merriwell seemed like a man of iron. He found opportunities to hurl himself against the regulars, and almost always with the result of gaining ground.
At the fifteen-yard line of the regulars there was a terrific struggle. Somebody was down, and then men piled up in a mass. When this knot untangled, Merriwell was lying on the field.
“He’s hurt!” was the cry.
A doctor was present, and he hurried to the side of the motionless athlete. As he bent down, Merriwell was seen to stir and partly sit up, but he fell back with a groan. Then the doctor made a hasty examination, while players and spectators breathlessly awaited what he had to say.
“What is it, doctor?” asked Birch. “How much is he hurt?”
“He has a broken rib!” answered the doctor.
“That ends him so far as football is concerned this year!” muttered Buck Badger.
Frank Merriwell had a broken rib! Imagine how the news traveled and the excitement it created. He was carried to the hospital.
And the regulars scored thirty-six points against the scrub in the second half of the same practise game.
“That shows who was backbone of the scrub,” said Pink Pooler bitterly. “Poor old Merry!”
The anger of Frank’s friends was fierce and terrible. They denounced Lorrimer and the entire management of the eleven. Some of them went to extremes in their fury over the matter. Bart Hodge was outspoken, and he did not fear any one. There was excitement at the fence that evening, and Hodge was in the midst of it.
“Merriwell has been sacrified on the altar of human cussedness!” Hodge declared. “He is the best man who ever wore a Yale uniform! By kicking him off the eleven, Yale has thrown away her last chance for beating Harvard.”
For once, Harry Rattleton was not doing much talking, but he was almost in tears. Browning whittled a stick and chewed savagely at a shaving. Diamond was flushed and seething inwardly. No man felt the accident more than Jim Hooker.
“Merriwell has a heart as large as his whole body!” declared Hooker. “Look what he did for me! If I could take his place now——”
“What would be the good?” sneered Hodge. “If you could take his place, the freaks who are running the eleven would not put him back onto the team.”
“I shall stay away from the Harvard game,” said Ben Halliday. “I can’t afford to have my feelings harrowed up by seeing the Cambridge gang walk all over Yale.”
“I have an idea that there will be an unusually small showing of Yale men at the game,” said Parker.
“What does Lorrimer have to say about it?” asked somebody.
“Not a word!” cried Halliday. “What can he say? He knows he is to blame for it all.”
Hock Mason came up.
“Say, fellows,” he called, “heard the latest?”
“No! What is it?”
“Merriwell is in his room!”
Fifty men shouted the word.
“Yes, sah!” cried Mason; “he’s there. Walked upstairs alone, too.”
With a whoop, the men rushed for Merriwell’s room. They stormed up the stairs and came bursting in. They found Frank bolstered up on a couch.
“Don’t mind the door,” he said, with a faint smile, as they slammed it open and came crowding in. “Kick it down if it’s in your way, gentlemen.”
“Merriwell!” shouted Rattleton, catching hold of his hand. “We didn’t expect to——”
“Ouch!” exclaimed Frank, with a wry face. “Drop that paw! You gave me a yank that hurt my side then.”
“Then it is——”
“But your rib,” said Hodge breathlessly–“the doctor said it was broken.”
“That was what he thought, but you know his examination was rather hasty.”
“Then it isn’t broken?”
“That’s splendid! It gives me great satisfaction, but I have to tell you that the doctors at the hospital informed me the injury was about as bad as a broken rib.”
Hodge’s face fell, and the others looked disappointed and concerned.
“Then you can’t play football?” asked Rattleton.
“They tell me that I can’t.”
“But what’s the odds,” smiled Merry, “as long as they were going to keep me in reserve. There are other men who will fill my place.”
“There’s no other man living who can fill your place!” exclaimed Bart.
“Thank you, old man. That’s what you think. It’s plain there are others who do not think that way.”
“They’re fools! We’re done for, Merriwell! We can’t beat Harvard without you! I’ve had my say, and they can do what they like about it so far as I am concerned. I don’t want to play.”
“Don’t talk that way, old man! You must help Yale win! Think how I shall wait for news of the game! If Yale is defeated again this year I’ll be the sorest man on the campus. I’ll be sorer than I am now!”
“That’s being loyal!” muttered Jack Diamond. “Talk about patriotism—that’s it!”
“It shows the kind of a heart he carries round in his bosom,” said Rattleton, in an aside.
“Doctors told me I must keep still,” said Frank. “Asked ’em if I couldn’t get out to go to the game, and they shook their heads. It will be a tough Thanksgiving for me this year.”
“It’ll be tough for Yale,” grunted Browning.
They talked with Frank awhile, and then, one by one and in little groups, they drifted out. The report went abroad that Merriwell’s rib was not broken, but that he was hurt so bad that he could not leave his room for a week.
“I don’t believe it,” declared Gene Skelding, at the fence. “He is playing a game for sympathy.”
“You’re a liar!” said Hock Mason promptly.
Once Mason had been the bully of the freshman class. Of late, he was so quiet that no one could have dreamed that he had ever been a terror. Skelding knew little about Mason.
“What do you say?” he snarled. “Do you call me a——”
“A liar, sah,” said the man from South Carolina. “Is that plain enough for you to understand, sah?”
“It is!” returned Skelding. “Take that for your insult!”
Slap! he struck Mason with his cane.
It was a stinging blow, and the Southerner was staggered. He came back with remarkable suddenness, and——
Crack! His fist landed between Skelding’s eyes, knocking the fellow clean over the fence.
“Any time, sah,” said Mason, as Gene picked himself up–“any time that you wish to pursue this little matter farther, I shall be pleased to accommodate you, sah.”
OFF TO THE STRUGGLE.
It was the morning of the day before Thanksgiving, and gloom brooded heavily at Yale. The report of Merriwell’s injury had gone abroad, and the odds being offered that Harvard would defeat Yale were amazing. But what was still worse, there seemed no Yale money afloat. The backers of the blue did not have courage to accept odds of three or four to one. Never in the history of the college had there been such an absolute lack of confidence. Of course, there were plenty of men who pretended to believe that Yale would win, but they did not seem sincere, and they were not taking any chances.
Lorrimer declared that the eleven was the best Yale had put onto the field in ten years. But the astonishing record of the eternally triumphant Harvard team stared them in the face, and they knew to a man that they were going against the hardest proposition they had ever tackled.
Hodge had not held a secure position on the team, and, on account of his free talk after Merriwell’s injury, he had been dropped back with the substitutes. It is a wonder he was not told his services could be dispensed with entirely. Frank knew the men were preparing to take the train for Boston. He had expected to be with them, and he had pictured in his mind the rollicking Thanksgiving he would have. Now he was thinking it would be the most dismal for years.
There were steps outside, and then Steve Lorrimer came hurriedly in, his face flushed and his eyes downcast.
“How do you do, Mr. Lorrimer?” said Merry pleasantly. “I hope you’ll excuse me for not rising.”
Lorrimer closed the door carefully.
“Merriwell,” he said, “I’ve come to beg your pardon.”
“What?” cried Frank, astounded.
“Yea,” said Lorrimer, “I want to beg your pardon for dropping you the way I did. I want to tell you something, too. I never meant to drop you entirely; I did that to teach you a lesson. It was my intention to take you back onto the eleven for the game to-morrow.”
“Well,” said Frank, with a faint smile, “as it has happened, your intentions cannot be carried out.”
“Will you accept my apology?” asked Lorrimer. “I’ll make it public if you like.”
“It is not necessary,” said Frank. “I accept it.”
“I’ve tried to work the men just right so that they would be in condition, without overworking them,” Lorrimer went on. “I have held the coachers in check. I believe the men are all right physically; but they are all wrong mentally.”
“How is that?”
“They lack courage.”
“Bad! It’s going to defeat us!”
Merriwell looked anxious.
“I’m afraid you are right,” he said, “unless you can screw their courage up. A team should not be too confident when it goes into a game, but an absolute lack of confidence means ruin in a game like this. It’s a shame. What’s the matter?”
“The team needs you to brace it up and give it courage. I never realized before how much it depended on you.”
“Well, Lorrimer, I am awful sorry I can’t brace it up.”
“Why, no! How can I?”
“Can’t you go to Boston with us?”
“I know, but victory for Yale may depend on it. If you could go with the men—if you could appear on the field in a uniform, I believe we’d have an even chance for victory.”
Frank sat bolt upright now, his eyes gleaming and a flush in his cheeks.
“Lorrimer,” he said, “I’ll go!”
The manager felt like uttering a shout, but he did not. Instead, he held out his hand, which Frank took, saying:
“Wiggle it carefully, old man.”
“There’s a chance for us, Merriwell!” cried Steve. “The sight of you will put spirit into the men. You will give them heart, and that is what they need.”
Frank got up.
“I’ll be ready as soon as I can get into my clothes,” he said. “Will you see that I have a cab to take me to the station?”
“You bet I will!”
“All right. You can depend on me, Lorrimer. If I knew I could help the team win this game, I’d go to Boston if I had to be carried there on a stretcher!”
Lorrimer hurried down-stairs, and within thirty minutes it seemed that the whole college knew Merriwell was going to Boston with the eleven. It created a perfect tumult of excitement. Men who, an hour before, had declared they were not going to see the game made a scramble to get ready and catch the train. Of a sudden it seemed that the aspect of things had brightened in a most wonderful manner.
“What is he going to do?”
That was the question hundreds asked.
“Is he going to play?”
Scores asked that question.
The time approached for Merry to start for the train. He came down from his room, escorted by his most intimate friends. Browning was helping him downstairs. They saw a crowd was waiting outside.
“Let me alone, Bruce!” cried Frank, who had tried to discourage the giant from offering assistance. “This is what I’m on my feet for. Give me a chance to make my bluff.”
So he walked out at the head of the party, straight as an Indian, stepping off with a brisk pace, apparently as well as ever. His appearance created unbounded astonishment, for it had been believed that he was entirely “done up.”
“What’s the matter with him, anyhow?”
“He’s a healthy-looking sick man!”
“He’s as well as ever!”
“Somebody has been playing a slick game!”
These were the exclamations. One fellow cried:
“Fellows, the cat is out! Merriwell wasn’t hurt at all! The whole business was a fake to fool Harvard! He’s fooled her, too, and Yale will win to-day!”
Frank laughed outright. Everything was moving finely.
“Talk about your clever tricks!” shouted a voice. “This beats ’em all! Hurrah for Frank Merriwell!”
They cheered, and Frank walked steadily through their midst to the cab, which he entered, his grip and overcoat being tossed in after him. Diamond, Browning, and Rattleton followed, and the cab rolled away.
“If we can keep it up,” said Frank, “we may change the complexion of things.”
All Boston seemed football crazy, for the time, at least. Blue and crimson were the colors everywhere. At noon people began turning toward Soldiers’ Field, that colossal rectangle where the battle was to take place. The work of the ticket-takers began as the spectators came dribbling in. It was a tiny rivulet at first, then a brook, then a stream, then a river, then a rushing, roaring flood.
Inside the seats of the stadium gradually became covered with all sorts of wraps and all colors of ribbons. There were pretty girls in crimson sweaters, and just as pretty ones wearing Yale blue. There were men with flags and with their colors pinned to their coats. By one-thirty it seemed that the great stand was filled, but there was not the slightest decrease in the steady flow of people rolling inward from the four corners of the field.
The college men poured in and gathered in compact masses, Yale on the east and Harvard on the west. They were exuberant and overflowing with life, and they were armed with megaphones.
It was near two o’clock, when, of a sudden, the Harvard men sent up a long, roaring yell, that sounded like the call of a lion to battle. In an instant, from the opposite side of the arena, the Yale bloodhounds began to bay. The dull tramping of the oncoming host could be heard no longer. In the midst of the uproar came the lilt of far-away songs. The pulsing beat of a drum was borne to the ear. The megaphones blared and roared and lapsed to silence at times. In those brief intervals the strong wind could be heard playing amid the sea of waving pennons with a sound like the humming bow-strings on a battle-field of old. The blood throbbed and leaped in the veins, and the excitement and expectancy of the hour was intoxicating.
In front of this vast and heaving concourse was the level field of battle, marked with white lines, like the ribs of a skeleton.
It was exactly five minutes past two when the roaring suddenly broke forth with fury it had not hitherto attained, and onto the field suddenly came the gladiators who were to struggle for the supremacy. Shaggy and lion-maned, they were armored and prepared for the terrible battle that was impending. And all eyes were turned upon them, while the college men stood up and waved their colors and roared and roared again. That great mass of human beings broke out into a flutter of crimson and blue color. Amid those men who came out thus upon the field was one for whom the eyes of two-thirds of the college men and football cranks within that enclosure searched. The cheering lulled, and a Yale man shrieked:
“There he is! There’s Frank Merriwell!”
What a sound followed, coming from the throats of that gathering of Yale students. It was a note of greeting, exultation, and joy! The man on whom it seemed that their hopes centered had trotted onto the field with the others. There was no longer a doubt but it was a trick, all this business of Merriwell having been severely injured. The preliminary practise began. Men fell to chasing the ball about and falling on it. There was some signal-practise, and then:
“The game is going to begin!”
The two captains were seen to walk aside from the others, together with the referee, who took a coin from his pocket and spun it in the air. The toss fell to Yale. Birch did not hesitate. He gave Harvard the ball and took advantage of the wind. Then the battle lines were formed in the center, and the substitutes came down along the ropes.
Frank Merriwell was with the substitutes. Hundreds of Yale men were puzzled by this. They had expected to see him go onto the field, and now, for the first time, they began to get an inkling of the real truth—they began to suspect that he was not in condition to play.
“What’s the matter with Merriwell?”
“Why doesn’t he go on?”
“What are they doing with him, anyhow?”
“If he can play, they ought to play him!”
“There is something wrong about this.”
Amid the uproar could be heard these remarks coming from Yale men.
“Hollender is going to kick off!”
There was a hush. The Harvard full-back stepped off from the ball lying on the turf and sized it up. He balanced himself carefully, while the rest of the twenty-one young panthers waited with every nerve and muscle taut. Then, with a rapid forward movement, Hollender swung his foot against the ball, and away it sailed over the Yale forwards like a flying bird.
There was a rumbling rush of feet on the hard turf. Under the ball stood Richmond, on Yale’s twenty-five yard line. He caught it fairly, but barely had he done so when he was slapped to the ground, and two tons of Harvard beef piled upon him. The game was fairly on, and all present, players and spectators, felt that it was to be the greatest game in history to date.
Harvard, with all the experience of the past year and the record of wonderful work thus far this season, was confident that she would give Yale the worst trouncing she had ever received. On the other hand, Yale was desperate and determined to win back her lost laurels. It was amazing how those men had been cheered and encouraged by Frank Merriwell. He had put stiffening into the back-bones of all of them, and he had made them feel that the game belonged to them by decrees of fate if they were willing to work for it.
There was an untangling, and then the human tigers stood there glaring into each other’s eyes.
Yale’s first play was to give the ball to Badger for a plunge against Harvard’s right wing. The stocky Western man made a gallant attempt, but the gain was slight, for the Harvard end closed in about him and swamped him. Ready, quivering, alert, the Harvard men were on their mettle at the outset, and it was plain that Yale was up against a hard proposition.
Birch decided to try a kick from close behind the line, but one of the rushers was called out, as if he was to run with the ball. He kicked, but it seemed that his toe hardly touched the pigskin when those Harvard wildcats were upon him. A big Harvard athlete partly blocked the ball, and Jack Ready, who was well in the play, succeeded in recovering it for Yale at the Harvard fifty-yard line. Neither Badger’s plunge nor the attempted kick had proved a success, and the Harvard rooters were whooping their joy.
But Yale was undaunted, and again a kick was tried from behind the line. Again the man was beaten down, but this time the Harvard gladiators were too late, and the ball sailed through the air, came to earth, and rolled out of bounds at Harvard’s fifteen-yard line. But Harvard got possession of the leather, and there she lined up for her first assault on the Yale line.
Across the field rolled a great chorus of voices singing a song to inspire the defenders of the crimson. There was scarcely a moment of delay, and then a Harvard man was sent against Yale’s left wing, which was regarded as weak. But Jack Ready was there, and he distinguished himself by bringing the man with the ball to the ground without a foot of gain.
It was beginning to look brighter for Yale.
“Frank Merriwell did it!” screamed Diamond in the ear of Bruce Browning. “He put the needed courage into the men. We’re going to win this game!”
Browning nodded. His confidence had been restored and he was feeling better.
“It would have been a cinch if Merriwell had played,” he shouted back.
But their enthusiasm and confidence received a setback when a Harvard man was sent against the right wing of the Yale line, and, aided by splendid interference, cut his way through and took the ball up the field fifteen yards. It was Badger who tackled and brought the runner to earth, the interference being unable to stop the rush of the determined Westerner.
Immediately following this a round-the-end play was tried, but it resulted in no gain for Harvard. The left wing was bucked again, but the needed five yards were not obtained on the second down.
“We’ll hold ’em!” cried Diamond.
And then, by a new and surprising play, Harvard seemed to try to send the ball round the end, but shifted with the suddenness of a flash of lightning and hurled herself in one compact mass against Yale’s center. It was a surprise. Yale seemed split and overwhelmed in a twinkling. The man with the ball came through, his interferers protecting him finely. Down the field he sped toward the Yale goal, and the great throng of Harvard students rose up and thundered like the bursting of a mighty storm in the tropics.
Behind the Harvard runner came defenders of the blue. The men before him were swept aside by the interference. It looked like a great, sensational run for a touch-down. Yale spectators were gasping for breath, while the Harvard crowd roared its applause and delight. Bruce Browning was speechless; Jack Diamond was shivering as if struck by a chill; Harry Rattleton was white as chalk. They realized that a run through Yale’s center at this early stage of the game might totally demoralize the Yale eleven. And the run was being made!
If Frank Merriwell were in the game! That was the thought of many of Merry’s particular friends and admirers. But he was not in the game, and his best friends knew he was in no condition to go into it.
The ball was in Yale’s territory, and it was being carried straight and sure for her goal-line. Two men were after the runner. They were closing in from opposite sides. One was Buck Badger and the other was Richmond, Yale’s quarter-back.
“Badger will do it! Badger will stop him!”
Somebody cried out the words. Then they saw Badger blocked off and baffled by Harvard interference.
Yale’s thirty-yard line was reached.
Five yards farther on the interferer who was giving his attention to Richmond stumbled a moment. Before he could recover, the active little Yale quarter-back went past him and flung himself like a wildcat at the Harvard man with the ball. The tackle was accurate and well made. The man with the ball went down, and Harvard had not scored, although a most brilliant play had been made—a play that would be talked about for weeks to come.
Then it was the turn for the Yale crowd to yell, and they nearly split their throats. There was a pile-up and an entanglement. The Harvard man was hurt. He tried to get up and stay in the game, but when he stood straight on his feet he reeled and fell into the arms of his friends. Then they carried him from the field, covered with glory, but done for, and another man took his place.
Harvard was on her mettle now. She had broken through Yale’s center, and the feat of the brave fellow just carried from the field was something to put iron into the blood of his companions.
The moment the game was on again Harvard drove hard at Yale’s center, without resorting to strategy. It seemed that this repetition of her recent move was unexpected, and it succeeded, for the ball was taken to Yale’s fifteen-yard line.
The goal was near, and Harvard was working for her life. In past years she had produced great defensive teams, but it was plain that her team could take the offensive this year. Yale was desperate. The advance must be checked right here. Hard-faced and desperate, the defenders of the blue lined up. Twice Harvard flung herself against the line, and twice she failed to gain an inch.
“Hold them, boys—hold them!” muttered Jack Diamond, as if his words could reach the ears of those dirt-covered gladiators on the gridiron.
Then a pass was tried by Harvard, and right there she fumbled. It was Jack Ready who fell on the ball, and Yale breathed once more. Now the lost ground must be recovered. Yale tried to send a man round Harvard’s right end, but no gain was made. Then Derford, Yale’s left end, was literally hurled out of a formation play for a gain of four yards, and that was some encouragement.
Right there three downs followed, and, as a last resort, a desperate one, Birch kicked. The wind helped him, and he got the ball off in splendid shape before a hand touched him. Hollender received the ball and sent it back on the instant. This was a mistake, for Harvard lost ground, having the wind against her, and the Yale crowd breathed a trifle easier. But the fight was entirely in Yale territory now, and Yale could not get the ball past center. Twice she came near succeeding, only to slip up when success seemed within her grasp.
Harvard was cheering her men on.
The half was drawing to a close, and neither side had scored. Harvard did not propose to lose her advantage. The captain called on his men to rally, and they answered. Having the ball in their possession, they began a series of terrific hammering at the Yale line. To the despair of the Yale rooters the defenders of the blue seemed weakening. Harvard made steady gains, and the ball was pushed to Yale’s thirty-yard line once more, where there was another fearful scrimmage, and when it was over Buck Badger was carried from the field with a wrenched knee.
“That settles it!” groaned Browning. “I’ve never liked that fellow, but he’s been our mainstay to-day. We’re in the soup!”
“I am afraid so,” said Diamond huskily. “Oh, if Frank Merriwell could take his place!”
A freshman by the name of Deland came out from the reserves and took Badger’s place. The game went on, with Harvard hammering her way forward sure as fate. Yale’s twenty-yard line was reached. Then the crimson beat out three yards, a yard, four yards, two yards, and the ball was “down” ten yards from Yale’s goal-line.
“For the love of Heaven, hold it there two minutes!” prayed Jack Diamond, looking at his watch.
Harvard had found she could gain by driving with all her might into Yale’s line. It was brutal sort of work, but it counted, and those Cambridge men were there to win if it cost blood and limbs. Yale was making a “last-ditch stand.” There did not seem to be a man on the team who was not willing to shed any amount of gore if he could aid in the checking of those human battering-rams.
Slam! Harvard drove into Yale’s right end, and the “down” had not gained a foot. Bang! Harvard rammed Yale’s center, and four yards were made.
Then there was a quick change of men, and two substitutes appeared in Yale’s line. They were fresh, and they held Harvard in her next center attack.
“It’ll be all over in a moment!” groaned Browning. “Harvard will put the ball over the line on her next attempt!”
Then the referee’s whistle blew, and Yale was saved for the time, as the first half was ended.
THE LION HEART.
In the Yale dressing-rooms there was excitement. The men were being hastily rubbed down. They were sore and dispirited. Some men had come down from the pine seats. Browning and Diamond were there.
“Our best men are crippled,” confessed Birch to Bruce. “We’ll fight to the last gasp, and that’s all we can do.”
“If we had Merriwell to put in now, he might brace the team up,” said Lorrimer, in a low tone.
Frank Merriwell was there. Browning fell on him, figuratively speaking.
“Merriwell,” he said, “can’t you go in? The crowd was yelling for you. Listen! Hear ’em!”
They listened, and to their ears came a great shout from the Yale side:
“Where is Merriwell? We want Merriwell!”
Lorrimer walked up to Frank.
“Merriwell,” he said, “if you could go into this game, you might save the day for us. You are our only hope. Can’t you possibly do it?”
Then, to the astonishment of every one, Frank answered:
“You will?” gasped Lorrimer.
Browning gave a roar of delight. He would have grasped Frank in his arms, but Merry prevented, saying:
“Don’t do it, old man! I can’t stand that!”
“Well, how are you going to stand it on the field?” asked Jack Diamond.
“I’ll have to stand it there,” was the grim answer.
The word was passed round that Merriwell would go in, and it was astonishing how those men brightened up.
“We’ll beat Harvard now!” they exclaimed joyously. “We can beat her with Merriwell, even if he has to play on one leg!”
“We want Merriwell!” roared the Yale crowd, while the Harvard men taunted and jeered at them.
Then the two teams came out to line-up for the second half, and Frank Merriwell was with Yale. He was seen—he was recognized. It seemed that every Yale men leaped to his feet.
“There he is!”
Never did a human being receive a greater ovation on the football-field. The Yale men let the spectators in general know why they were yelling and cheering like a lot of lunatics, and the great throng of human beings took up the mad cheering. Everywhere the blue was fluttering—everywhere except to the west.
When the teams lined up, it was seen that Frank Merriwell had been placed at full-back, while Birch was playing half in Badger’s place. Merriwell’s intimate friends wondered that Frank dared do such a thing. They knew it was strictly against the orders of his physician. But there he was, ready for the fray, and it was his kick-off. This time Yale must fight against the wind, and, judging by her record with the wind in her favor, she was liable to fall an easy victim to Harvard’s gladiators.
Frank went at the ball and drove it into the air. There was a rush, but the sphere curved out of bounds, and it was brought back for another try. Those who witnessed the kick said it was not much like Merriwell’s work when he was at his best. On the next attempt, however, Frank drove off splendidly. Hollender returned the ball, and there was some sharp volleying for a few seconds, but, with the wind against him, Merry did not keep it up. Every time he kicked it seemed that he was tearing a piece out of his side, but his teeth were set, and no sound came from his lips.
Then Yale’s left end was sent into Harvard’s center with the ball, but the gain was slight. A double pass was tried, and it gained five yards for the blue. Then Yale was held right there on “downs” till the ball went to Harvard.
Harvard immediately returned to the play that had been so successful in the first half, bucking Yale’s center. To her surprise, the Yale line seemed to be a wall of stone, and three downs came one after another. Then Hollender punted to Merriwell, who made a beautiful catch, tucked the ball under his arm and went past Harvard’s left end like a shot. It was his first effective play, and the Yale crowd on the benches rose and howled. He was getting up fine speed when two men struck him on Harvard’s thirty-five-yard line and brought him down with a terrible shock.
Merry was hurt. He writhed in pain, seeming unable to catch his breath.
“By the gods! he’s knocked out so quick!” groaned Browning.
“Wait,” advised Diamond. “It takes considerable to knock Frank Merriwell out. He’ll play if he can stand.”
At last Frank got up. He was seen to stagger, but recovered himself and remained in the game. That caused the Yale men to cheer him wildly.
Yale was unable to make any further gain, and Frank punted out of bounds. Then a Harvard man went round Yale’s left end for four yards. Harvard’s left guard was injured in interfering for the runner, and another man was substituted. In the anxiety of Yale’s right guard to stop his fresh opponent in the line, he went past him before the ball was put into play, and Yale was punished by having to give five yards to Harvard. Things were beginning to come Harvard’s way again, for all of Merriwell’s play, and she beat Yale back into her territory yard by yard.
It looked like Harvard’s day, for she was keeping Yale on the defensive at least two-thirds of the time. To be sure, Yale was making a stronger defense than she did in the first half, but the persistent bulldog work of the crimson was bound to tell.
Hodge had not found a single opportunity to show what he could do. Now he was able to stop two successive attacks of the Harvard men by his own individual efforts, and he heard a word of praise from Merriwell. Then the ball came to Yale on a fumble, and Hodge was tried on the line. He won seven yards and was wildly cheered by the New Haven crowd.
Again Harvard held Yale. The “downs” came thick and fast, and the ball went to the crimson once more.
Hollender punted beautifully. Merriwell took the ball and shot forward, as if to go round Harvard’s left end in the same style as before. As he went by Birch, he passed the ball. Birch turned and shot toward Harvard’s right end, but the ball left his hands and passed into those of Hodge. And Bart Hodge went into the center of Harvard’s line with Yale interferers all around him. This had been done so quickly that Harvard was bewildered for a moment, and again Hodge was forced forward for a gain of about seven yards.
“Keep it up,” said Merriwell, “and you’ll go over the line with the ball.”
Yale was brightening up. The spectators were wild. It was a struggle of giants, and the man who could pick the winner was a wonder. How those megaphones roared! But Harvard made a stand, and baffled Yale again till she could secure possession of the ball.
Hollender once more resorted to a punt, and this time Merriwell sent it back. A Harvard man had it like a flash and went at Yale’s right end, cutting through like a knife. How it happened no one seemed able to tell, but he escaped tackler after tackler and raced down the field to Yale’s twenty-five-yard line before he was stopped by Frank Merriwell, who threw him like a log.
Merry got up spitting blood himself, having cut his lips. He did not say a word, and nobody asked him questions. There was a line-up, and the battle went on in Yale’s territory. At times Harvard was driven back to center, and then she would sweep Yale into her territory again.
“It looks as if we might keep her from scoring!” breathed Jack Diamond, with intense satisfaction. “If we can do that, I’ll be happy.”
Indeed, it looked as if neither side could score. Was it to be a drawn game?
Harvard had the ball, and there was a scrimmage. In the midst of it somebody scrambled, and the ball came whirling out of the mass of human beings. Frank Merriwell had it in a twinkling, and he was off down the field before the Harvard men knew what had happened. Every breath Frank drew cut him like a keen knife, but he kept on at wonderful speed. The hounds were after him, and he knew it. He bowled one man over, dodged another, and then rushed onward.
All Yale rose and thundered. For the first time that day it seemed certain that Yale would make a goal. Bruce Browning shouted like a maniac, his face turning purple as the blood rushed to his head.
“Merriwell has done it!” he roared. “That wins this game!”
Jack Diamond’s face was pale, save where two spots of red glowed in his cheeks. His lips were pressed together, and he was shaking again. Frank felt a fearful pain running through him. It seemed to stop his wind, but it did not stop him.
“I must do it!” he thought.
He became blind, but still he managed to keep on his feet, and he ran on. Had Frank been at his best he would have crossed the Harvard line without again being touched; but he was not at his best, and Hollender came down on him. Ten yards from Harvard’s line, Hollender tackled Merry.
Frank felt himself clutched, but he refused to be dragged down. He felt hands clinging to him, and, with all the fierceness he could summon, he strove to break away and go on. His lips were covered with a bloody foam, and there was a frightful glare in his eyes. He strained and strove to get a little farther, and he actually dragged Hollender along the ground till he broke the fellow’s hold. Then he reeled across Harvard’s line and fell.
It was a touch-down in the last seconds of the game. There was not even time to kick a goal, but Yale had won by a score of four to nothing!
He was carried from the field by his friends, who took him to a hotel and put him to bed. A doctor came to see him and prescribed for him. They came round his bed and told him what a noble fellow he was.
“Don’t boys!” he begged. “You make me tired! And I’m so happy! We won, fellows—we won the game!”
“You won it!” cried Jack Diamond fiercely. “They can’t rob you of that glory! They’ve tried to rob you of enough!”
“No, no! We all did it. Think how the boys fought! It was splendid! And that was the best eleven Harvard ever put on the field. Oh, what a glorious Thanksgiving!”
“But you are knocked out,” said Rattleton. “It’s too bad you can’t enjoy it with the rest of the fellows! They own Boston to-night!”
“Enjoy it!” exclaimed Frank, with a faint laugh. “I am enjoying it! Never in my life have I enjoyed a Thanksgiving so much!”
“Old man,” said Browning, “your heart is in the right place. It was your heart that won the game to-day. If it had had one weak spot, we could not have won.”
“It is the heart of a lion,” said Bart Hodge.
“Now, you’re not going to escape without some of this flattery!” smiled Frank. “You did as much as any man on the field.”
“I didn’t make a touch-down.”
“Boys,” said Frank, “I’m so glad—and I’m so tired! The pain in my side does not hurt so much since the doctor gave me the medicine. I feel sleepy. I believe I’ll sleep awhile. Oh, what a glorious Thanksgiving!”
Even as he murmured the words, he seemed to fall asleep. They stole out of the room and left him there, with Bart Hodge watching at the bedside, like a faithful dog.