THE MEDAL LIBRARY
FAMOUS COPYRIGHTED STORIES
FOR BOYS, BY FAMOUS AUTHORS
PUBLISHED EVERY WEEK
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, full of 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.
To be Published During January, 1905
295—Cris Rock By Capt. Mayne Reid
294—Sam’s Chance By Horatio Alger, Jr.
293—My Plucky Boy Tom By Edward S. Ellis
292—Frank Merriwell’s Hard Luck By Burt L. Standish
To be Published During December
291—By Pike and Dike By G. A. Henty
290—Shifting For Himself By Horatio Alger, Jr.
289—The Pirate and the Three Cutters By Captain Marryat
288—Frank Merriwell’s Opportunity By Burt L. Standish
287—Kit Carson’s Last Trail By Leon Lewis
To be Published During November
286—Jack’s Ward By Horatio Alger, Jr.
285—Jack Darcy, the All-Around Athlete By Edward S. Ellis
284—Frank Merriwell’s First Job By Burt L. Standish
283—Wild Adventures Round the Pole By Gordon Stables
282—Herbert Carter’s Legacy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
281—Rattlin, the Reefer By Captain Marryat
280—Frank Merriwell’s Struggle By Burt L. Standish
279—Mark Dale’s Stage Venture By Arthur M. Winfield
278—In Times of Peril By G. A. Henty
277—In a New World By Horatio Alger, Jr.
276—Frank Merriwell in Maine By Burt L. Standish
275—The King of the Island By Henry Harrison Lewis
274—Beach Boy Joe By Lieut. James K. Orton
273—Jacob Faithful By Captain Marryat
272—One of Horatio Alger’s Best Stories.
271—Frank Merriwell’s Chase By Burt L. Standish
270—Wing and Wing By J. Fenimore Cooper
269—The Young Bank Clerk By Arthur M. Winfield
268—Do and Dare By Horatio Alger, Jr.
267—Frank Merriwell’s Cruise By Burt L. Standish
266—The Young Castaways By Leon Lewis
265—The Lion of St. Mark By G. A. Henty
264—Hector’s Inheritance By Horatio Alger, Jr.
263—Mr. Midshipman Easy By Captain Marryat
262—Frank Merriwell’s Vacation By Burt L. Standish
261—The Pilot By J. Fenimore Cooper
260—Driven From Home By Horatio Alger, Jr.
259—Sword and Pen By Henry Harrison Lewis
258—Frank Merriwell In Camp By Burt L. Standish
257—Jerry By Walter Aimwell
256—The Young Ranchman By Lieut. Lounsberry
255—Captain Bayley’s Heir By G. A. Henty
254—Frank Merriwell’s Loyalty By Burt L. Standish
253—The Water Witch By J. Fenimore Cooper
252—Luke Walton By Horatio Alger, Jr.
251—Frank Merriwell’s Danger By Burt L. Standish
250—Neka, the Boy Conjurer By Capt. Ralph Bonehill
249—The Young Bridge Tender By Arthur M. Winfield
248—The West Point Boys By Lieut. Frederick Garrison, U.S.A.
247—Frank Merriwell’s Secret By Burt L. Standish
246—Rob Ranger’s Cowboy Days By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
245—The Red Rover By J. Fenimore Cooper
244—Frank Merriwell’s Return to Yale By Burt L. Standish
243—Adrift in New York By Horatio Alger, Jr.
242—The Rival Canoe Boys By St. George Rathborne
241—The Tour of the Zero Club By Capt. R. Bonehill
240—Frank Merriwell’s Champions By Burt L. Standish
239—The Two Admirals By J. Fenimore Cooper
238—A Cadet’s Honor By Lieut. Fred’k Garrison, U.S.A.
237—Frank Merriwell’s Skill By Burt L. Standish
236—Rob Ranger’s Mine By Lieut. Lounsberry
235—The Young Carthaginian By G. A. Henty
234—The Store Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
233—Frank Merriwell’s Athletes By Burt L. Standish
232—The Valley of Mystery By Henry Harrison Lewis
231—Paddling Under Palmettos By St. George Rathborne
230—Off for West Point By Lieut. Fred’k Garrison, U.S.A.
229—Frank Merriwell’s Daring By Burt L. Standish
228—The Cash Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
227—In Freedom’s Cause By G. A. Henty
226—Tom Havens With the White Squadron By Lieut. James K. Orton
225—Frank Merriwell’s Courage By Burt L. Standish
224—Yankee Boys in Japan By Henry Harrison Lewis
223—In Fort and Prison By William Murray Graydon
222—A West Point Treasure By Lieut. Frederick Garrison, U.S.A.
221—The Young Outlaw By Horatio Alger, Jr.
220—The Gulf Cruisers By St. George Rathborne
219—Tom Truxton’s Ocean Trip By Lieut. Lounsberry
218—Tom Truxton’s School Days By Lieut. Lounsberry
217—Frank Merriwell’s Bicycle Tour By Burt L. Standish
216—Campaigning With Braddock By Wm. Murray Graydon
215—With Clive in India By G. A. Henty
214—On Guard By Lieut. Frederick Garrison, U.S.A.
213—Frank Merriwell’s Races By Burt L. Standish
212—Julius, the Street Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
211—Buck Badger’s Ranch By Russell Williams
210—Sturdy and Strong By G. A. Henty
209—Frank Merriwell’s Sports Afield By Burt L. Standish
208—The Treasure of the Golden Crater, By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
207—Shifting Winds By St. George Rathborne
206—Jungles and Traitors By Wm. Murray Graydon
205—Frank Merriwell at Yale By Burt L. Standish
204—Under Drake’s Flag By G. A. Henty
203—Last Chance Mine By Lieut. James K. Orton
202—Risen From the Ranks By Horatio Alger, Jr.
201—Frank Merriwell in Europe By Burt L. Standish
200—The Fight for a Pennant By Frank Merriwell
199—The Golden Cañon By G. A. Henty
198—Only an Irish Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
197—Frank Merriwell’s Hunting Tour Burt L. Standish
196—Zip, the Acrobat By Victor St. Clair
195—The Lion of the North By G. A. Henty
194—The White Mustang By Edward S. Ellis
193—Frank Merriwell’s Bravery By Burt L. Standish
192—Tom, the Bootblack By Horatio Alger, Jr.
191—The Rivals of the Diamond By Russell Williams
190—The Cat of Bubastes By G. A. Henty
189—Frank Merriwell Down South By Burt L. Standish
188—From Street to Mansion By Frank H. Stauffer
187—Bound to Rise By Horatio Alger, Jr.
186—On the Trail of Geronimo By Edward S. Ellis
185—For the Temple By G. A. Henty
184—Frank Merriwell’s Trip West By Burt L. Standish
183—The Diamond Hunters By James Grant
182—The Camp in the Snow By William Murray Graydon
181—Brave and Bold By Horatio Alger, Jr.
180—One of the 28th By G. A. Henty
179—The Land of Mystery By Edward S. Ellis
178—Frank Merriwell’s Foes By Burt L. Standish
177—The White Elephant By William Dalton
176—By England’s Aid By G. A. Henty
175—Strive and Succeed By Horatio Alger, Jr.
174—Golden Rock By Edward S. Ellis
173—Life at Sea By Gordon Stables
172—The Young Midshipman By G. A. Henty
171—Erling the Bold By R. M. Ballantyne
170—Strong and Steady By Horatio Alger, Jr.
169—Peter, the Whaler By W. H. G. Kingston
168—Among Malay Pirates By G. A. Henty
167—Frank Merriwell’s Chums By Burt L. Standish
166—Try and Trust By Horatio Alger, Jr.
165—The Secret Chart By Lieut. James K. Orton
164—The Cornet of Horse By G. A. Henty
163—Slow and Sure By Horatio Alger, Jr.
162—The Pioneers By J. F. Cooper
161—Reuben Green’s Adventures By James Otis
160—Little by Little By Oliver Optic
159—Phil, the Fiddler By Horatio Alger, Jr.
158—With Lee in Virginia By G. A. Henty
157—Randy, the Pilot By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
156—The Pathfinder By J. F. Cooper
155—The Young Voyagers By Capt. Mayne Reid
154—Paul, the Peddler By Horatio Alger, Jr.
153—Bonnie Prince Charlie By G. A. Henty
152—The Last of the Mohicans By J. Fenimore Cooper
151—The Flag of Distress By Capt. Mayne Reid
150—Frank Merriwell’s Schooldays By Burt L. Standish
149—With Wolfe in Canada By G. A. Henty
148—The Deerslayer By J. F. Cooper
147—The Cliff Climbers By Capt. Mayne Reid
146—Uncle Nat By A. Oldfellow
145—Friends Though Divided By G. A. Henty
144—The Boy Tar By Capt. Mayne Reid
143—Hendricks, the Hunter By W. H. G. Kingston
142—The Young Explorer By Gordon Stables
141—Ocean Waifs By Capt. Mayne Reid
140—The Young Buglers By G. A. Henty
139—Shore and Ocean By W. H. G. Kingston
138—Striving for Fortune By Horatio Alger, Jr.
137—The Bush Boys By Capt. Mayne Reid
136—From Pole to Pole By Gordon Stables
135—Dick Cheveley By W. H. G. Kingston
134—Orange and Green By G. A. Henty
133—The Young Yagers By Capt. Mayne Reid
132—The Adventures of Rob Roy By James Grant
131—The Boy Slaves By Capt. Mayne Reid
130—From Canal Boy to President By Horatio Alger, Jr.
129—Ran Away to Sea By Capt. Mayne Reid
128—For Name and Fame By G. A. Henty
127—The Forest Exiles By Capt. Mayne Reid
126—From Powder Monkey to Admiral By W. H. G. Kingston
125—The Plant Hunters By Capt. Mayne Reid
124—St. George for England By G. A. Henty
123—The Giraffe Hunters By Capt. Mayne Reid
122—Tom Brace By Horatio Alger, Jr.
121—Peter Trawl By W. H. G. Kingston
120—In the Wilds of New Mexico By G. Manville Fenn
119—A Final Reckoning By G. A. Henty
118—Ned Newton By Horatio Alger, Jr.
117—James Braithwaite, The Supercargo By W. H. G. Kingston
116—Happy-Go-Lucky Jack By Frank H. Converse
115—The Adventures of a Young Athlete By Matthew White, Jr.
114—The Old Man of the Mountains By George H. Coomer
113—The Bravest of the Brave By G. A. Henty
112—20,000 Leagues Under the Sea By Jules Verne
111—The Midshipman, Marmaduke Merry By W. H. G. Kingston
110—Around the World in Eighty Days By Jules Verne
109—A Dash to the Pole By Herbert D. Ward
108—Texar’s Revenge By Jules Verne
107—Van; or, In Search of an Unknown Race, By Frank H. Converse
106—The Boy Knight By George A. Henty
105—The Young Actor By Gayle Winterton
104—Heir to a Million By Frank H. Converse
103—The Adventures of Rex Staunton By Mary A. Denison
102—Clearing His Name By Matthew White, Jr.
101—The Lone Ranch By Capt. Mayne Reid
100—Maori and Settler By George A. Henty
99—The Cruise of the Restless; or, On Inland Waterways, By James Otis
98—The Grand Chaco By George Manville Fenn
97—The Giant Islanders By Brooks McCormick
96—An Unprovoked Mutiny By James Otis
95—By Sheer Pluck By G. A. Henty
94—Oscar; or, The Boy Who Had His Own Way, By Walter Aimwell
93—A New York Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
92—Spectre Gold By Headon Hill
91—The Crusoes of Guiana By Louis Boussenard
90—Out on the Pampas By G. A. Henty
89—Clinton; or, Boy Life in the Country By Walter Aimwell
88—My Mysterious Fortune By Matthew White, Jr.
87—The Five Hundred Dollar Check, By Horatio Alger, Jr.
86—Catmur’s Cave By Richard Dowling
85—Facing Death By G. A. Henty
84—The Butcher of Cawnpore By William Murray Graydon
83—The Tiger Prince By William Dalton
82—The Young Editor By Matthew White, Jr.
81—Arthur Helmuth, of the H. & N. C. Railway, By Edward S. Ellis
80—Afloat in the Forest By Capt. Mayne Reid
79—The Rival Battalions By Brooks McCormick
78—Both Sides of the Continent By Horatio Alger, Jr.
77—The Perils of the Jungle By Edward S. Ellis
76—The War Tiger; or, The Conquest of China, By William Dalton
75—The Boys in the Forecastle By George H. Coomer
74—The Dingo Boys By George Manville Fenn
73—The Wolf Boy of China By William Dalton
72—The Way to Success; or, Tom Randall By Alfred Oldfellow
71—Mark Seaworth’s Voyage on the Indian Ocean, By William H. G. Kingston
70—The New and Amusing History of Sandford and Merton, By F. C. Burnand
69—Pirate Island By Harry Collingwood
68—Smuggler’s Cave By Annie Ashmore
67—Tom Brown’s School Days By Thomas Hughes
66— A Young Vagabond By Z. R. Bennett
65—That Treasure By Frank H. Converse
64—The Tour of a Private Car By Matthew White, Jr.
63—In the Sunk Lands By Walter F. Bruns
62—How He Won By Brooks McCormick
61—The Erie Train Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
60—The Mountain Cave By George H. Coomer
59—The Rajah’s Fortress By William Murray Graydon
58—Gilbert, The Trapper By Capt. C. B. Ashley
57—The Gold of Flat Top Mountain By Frank H. Converse
56—Nature’s Young Noblemen By Brooks McCormick
55—A Voyage to the Gold Coast By Frank H. Converse
54—Joe Nichols; or, Difficulties Overcome By Alfred Oldfellow
53—Adventures of a New York Telegraph Boy, By Horatio Alger, Jr.
52—From Farm Boy to Senator By Horatio Alger, Jr.
51—Tom Tracy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
50—Dean Dunham By Horatio Alger, Jr.
49—The Mystery of a Diamond By Frank H. Converse
48—Luke Bennett’s Hide-Out By Capt. C. B. Ashley, U.S. Scout
47—Eric Dane By Matthew White, Jr.
46—Poor and Proud By Oliver Optic
45—Jack Wheeler; A Western Story By Capt. David Southwick
44—The Golden Magnet By George Manville Fenn
43—In Southern Seas By Frank H. Converse
42—The Young Acrobat By Horatio Alger, Jr.
41—Check 2134 By Edward S. Ellis
40—Canoe and Campfire By St. George Rathborne
39—With Boer and Britisher in the Transvaal, By William Murray Graydon
38—Gay Dashleigh’s Academy Days By Arthur Sewall
37—Commodore Junk By George Manville Fenn
36—In Barracks and Wigwam By William Murray Graydon
35—In the Reign of Terror By G. A. Henty
34—The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, By Cuthbert Bede, B. A.
33—Jud and Joe, Printers and Publishers By Gilbert Patten
32—The Curse of Carnes’ Hold By G. A. Henty
31—The Cruise of the Snow Bird By Gordon Stables
30—Peter Simple By Captain Marryat
29—True to the Old Flag By G. A. Henty
28—The Boy Boomers By Gilbert Patten
27—Centre-Board Jim By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
26—The Cryptogram By William Murray Graydon
25—Through the Fray By G. A. Henty
24—The Boy From the West By Gilbert Patten
23—The Dragon and the Raven By G. A. Henty
22—From Lake to Wilderness By William Murray Graydon
21—Won at West Point By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
20—Wheeling for Fortune By James Otis
19—Jack Archer By G. A. Henty
18—The Silver Ship By Leon Lewis
17—Ensign Merrill By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
16—The White King of Africa By William Murray Graydon
15—Midshipman Merrill By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
14—The Young Colonists By G. A. Henty
13—Up the Ladder By Lieut. Murray
12—Don Kirk’s Mine By Gilbert Patten
11—From Tent to White House By Edward S. Ellis
10—Don Kirk, the Boy Cattle King By Gilbert Patten
9—Try Again By Oliver Optic
8—Kit Carey’s Protégé By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
7—Chased Through Norway By James Otis
6—Captain Carey of the Gallant Seventh, By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
5—Now or Never By Oliver Optic
4—Lieutenant Carey’s Luck By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
3—All Aboard By Oliver Optic
2—Cadet Kit Carey By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
1—The Boat Club By Oliver Optic
The Radium of All Humor
Search the world over and you cannot find more genuine, original humor than that contained in “Comical Confessions of Clever Comedians.”
This little volume has been compiled after the fashion of a continuous performance. There is an All-Star Cast, or we might say a regular “Whoop-De-Doo,” introducing such well known comedians as DeWolf Hopper, Francis Wilson, Lew Dockstadter, Frank Daniels, Dave Warfield, Joe Weber, and others. Just imagine what there is in store for the reading public when a glance at the title page reveals the fact that DeWolf Hopper, the hero of “Wang,” is the editor or manager of this All-Star Vaudeville Company.
Issued in a very attractive cloth binding. Price, 75c. postpaid.
Street & Smith, Publishers, 238 William St., New York City
ON THE ROAD
The All-Star Combination
BURT L. STANDISH
“The Merriwell Stories”
STREET & SMITH PUBLISHERS
79-89 Seventh Avenue, New York
By STREET & SMITH
Frank Merriwell on the Road
FRANK MERRIWELL ON THE ROAD.
A LUDICROUS MEETING.
“Stop dot tonkey!”
The bass drummer of the band at the head of “Haley’s All-Star Combination and Mammoth Uncle Tom’s Cabin Company” did not miss a beat when the three “fierce and terrible untamed Siberian bloodhounds” darted between his legs in pursuit of the escaping donkey.
But when the fat Dutch lad, who had been leading the donkey, attempted to follow the dogs, there was a catastrophe.
The excited Dutch lad struck the drummer squarely, and the drummer uttered a yell of astonishment and terror. Into the air he flew, down he came, and—boom! bang! slam he went through the head of the drum.
The Dutch boy was startled by the havoc, but he quickly recovered and started once more in hot pursuit of dogs and donkey.
“Hee-haw! hee-haw!” brayed the donkey, joyously whisking its heels in the air.
“Hear dot tonkey laugh!” shouted the Dutch boy.
The dogs set up a wild baying, and there was no end of commotion on the street along which the parade had been making its way toward the Thalia Theater. Among the spectators, some of the men laughed, while many of the women screamed and made a scramble to get out of the way of the terrible “bloodhounds.”
“Stop dot tonkey!”
The pursuing lad waved his short arms wildly in the air, his face flushed with excitement, his eyes bulging from his head.
The donkey made for a small fruit and cigar store, seeming bent on rushing straight through the large window where the goods were temptingly displayed.
A young man standing near the store placed himself squarely in the path of the little animal, and skillfully caught the dangling halter by which the creature had been led.
The donkey halted abruptly, while the dogs came up and leaped around it, still baying.
Puffing like a pony engine, the Dutch boy dashed up and grasped the donkey’s tail with both hands, shouting:
“Vot der madder vos mit you, ain’d id? I can’t run avay you from uf you vant me to! Now, don’d try any uf my tricks on yourseluf, for uf you do, I vill——Wow!”
Up flew the donkey’s heels once more, and the little beast lifted the fat lad and sent him whirling over in the air.
The creature had seemed to kick with the force of a pile driver, and he fairly flung the Dutch boy into the air.
Down came the lad, plunging headfirst into a garbage barrel that had been standing on the curb, awaiting the arrival of the garbage gatherers.
Into the barrel plunged the boy. Fortunately the barrel was not quite half filled. Down he went till he stuck fast, his fat legs kicking wildly in the air.
The youth who had stopped the donkey now released the animal and started to extricate the boy from the barrel.
A tall, awkward youth, who had been with the parade, forming one of the band, rushed up, brass horn in hand.
“Darn my pertaturs!” he shouted, dropping the instrument. “That ’air donkey will be the death of that feller yit!”
Then he made a grab at the legs of the lad in the barrel and received a kick behind the ear that knocked him over in a twinkling. He struck in a sitting position on the ground, and there he remained, rubbing his head and looking dazed.
The youth who had stopped the donkey succeeded in getting hold of the legs of the unlucky fellow in the barrel, and dragged him out, after upsetting the barrel.
By this time everybody on the street was roaring with laughter, and the donkey joined in with a ridiculous “hee-haw.”
“There, my friend,” said the rescuer, as he released the lad he had extracted from the barrel, “you are all right now.”
The Dutch boy sat up beside his friend who had started to pull him out, and a most wretched spectacle he presented.
“Oxcuse me!” he exclaimed, clawing dirt out of his eyes. “I don’t like dot kindt uf peesness!”
“Waal, what in thutteration did yeou want to kick the head offen me for when I tried to pull yeou aout?” snapped the other lad, glaring at him. “Yeou made me see mor’n four bushels of stars, an’ there’s many’s four hundrud an’ seventeen chime bells a ding-dongin’ in my head naow.”
“Who id vos kicked my headt off you?” spluttered the Dutch boy. “You nefer touched me. Vot der madder vos, anyhow?”
The youth who had extracted the Dutch lad from the barrel laughingly said:
“I see you fellows are up to your old tricks. You are quarreling, as usual.”
“Hey?” cried the tall lad.
“Vot?” squawked the Dutch boy.
“How are you, Ephraim?” laughed the rescuer.
“Jeewhillikins!” yelled the tall youth, jumping to his feet, his face fairly beaming. “Jee-roo-sa-lum! Yeou kin beat my brains out with a feather duster ef it ain’t Frank Merriwell!”
“Shimminy Gristmas!” howled the Dutch boy, wildly scrambling up. “I hope I may nefer see your eyes oudt uf again uf dot ain’t Frank Merriwell!”
“Right,” nodded the rescuer. “I am Frank Merriwell, just as sure as you are Ephraim Gallup and Hans Dunnerwurst.”
“Whoop!” roared Ephraim.
“Wa-ow!” bellowed Hans.
Then they made a rush at the handsome fellow, who had given his name as Frank Merriwell, flung their arms about him, and literally danced as they hugged him.
The spectators looked on in astonishment.
“Oh, great jumpin’ grasshoppers!” shouted the Yankee lad. “Ain’t this the gol dingdest s’prise party I ever struck!”
“I peen so asdonished I vos afraidt you vill die heardt vailure uf britty queek alretty!” gurgled the delighted Dutch lad.
“Break away!” laughed Frank. “You’ll have me off my pins if you keep this up.”
“Gol darned ef I ever saw anybody whut could git yeou offen your pins yit,” declared Ephraim Gallup.
“Yaw, dot vos righdt,” put in Hans. “Nopody peen aple got your pins off you a hurry in.”
“Oh, Jimminy!” squealed the Vermonter. “This is too good to be true!”
“Yaw!” agreed the Dutch boy; “dot vos shust righdt! Id peen too true to peen goot!”
“Haow in thunder is it we find yeou here?” asked the overjoyed Yankee.
“Dot vos vot you’d like to know,” declared Hans. “How id vos you happened to foundt us here?”
“Well, I’d like to know how you two happen to be here,” said Merriwell. “Have you turned showmen?”
“We peen dwo uf der sdars der ‘All-Star Gombination’ in.”
“We’re hot stuff, b’gosh!”
“Efy blays der paratone horns.”
“An’ Hans plays the donkey when the donkey gets sick and can’t come on.”
“Id vos a greadt shnap. We ged our poard vor our glothes.”
“An’ we’re havin’ a high old time travelin’ around over the kentry.”
“Well,” smiled Frank, as they clung to his hands, “I never dreamed of seeing you chaps traveling with a show.”
“We nefer knew vot you had pecome uf since der college left you.”
“An’ we was talkin’ abaout yeou last night.”
“Yaw. We said how you would enjoy yourseluf if dese show vos dravelin’ aroundt mit you.”
“There’s a heap of fun in it, Frank. Whillikins! yeou’d oughter be with us.”
“You come to der theater und let der show seen you to-night,” invited Hans.
“That’s it!” cried Ephraim. “Won’t you do it?”
“Oh, I think so,” smiled Merry. “But I want to see you chaps before that. Have you taken dinner?”
“Then take dinner with me, and we will have a jolly time talking over old times. Will you do it?”
“You pet my life!” shouted the Dutch boy.
“By gum, we will!” vociferated Ephraim. “Jest yeou come up to the theater, an’ we’ll be reddy to go with yeou inside of twenty minutes. Come on.”
“All right. Go ahead.”
One of the other members of the company had secured the donkey and dogs. The little donkey was turned over to Hans again, with a warning not to let the creature get away. Ephraim recovered his horn and took his place in the band. The procession formed, the band struck up vigorously, minus the bass drum, and the “All-Star Combination” moved along the street as if nothing had happened.
In fact, this little affair of the escaping donkey and dogs was regarded as an incident that would serve to help advertise the show, and that was exactly what satisfied and pleased Barnaby Haley, owner and manager of the organization.
FRANK AND HIS FRIENDS.
The band played two pieces in front of the Thalia Theater. The man who was handling the “fierce and untamed bloodhounds” skillfully succeeded in getting all three of them into a fight, appearing nearly frightened to death over it. The donkey walked into the midst of the dogs and separated them by taking the aggressor in his teeth and pulling him away, and Barnaby Haley was well satisfied with the advertising he would receive on account of all this.
Frank, looking on, understood that the same things happened in nearly every town visited by the company.
The donkey was to be taken into the theater by the stage entrance, but Hans found a chance to say to Frank:
“Shust vait here till dot theater comes oudt uf me. I vill peen righdt pack a minute in.”
Ephraim induced one of the musicians to take charge of his horn, and remained with Frank.
Hans soon reappeared.
“Now shust you took dot tinner to me,” invited the Dutch lad. “I pelief a square meal can eadt me a minute in.”
“Eat!” cried the Vermont lad. “Why, that Dutch sausage can eat any gol darn time an’ all the gol darn time! Never see northing like him in all my born days.”
“Oh, shust shut yourseluf ub!” cried Hans, quickly. “Your mouth dalks too much mit you. You don’d peen no ganary pird to eadt. You vos aple to ged der oudtside uf a whole lot.”
“Waal, b’gosh! these air howtels we stop at some of um have pritty blamed poor grub,” confessed the Yankee youth. “Their beefsteak is made of luther, an’ their bread might be bought up by ther loaf an’ used fer pavin’-stuns on the streets.”
“Well, I think I’ll be able to give you something to eat that you can digest, but you mustn’t expect too much.”
“We kin eat any old thing with you, Frank,” declared Ephraim. “Why, when we was campin’ aout at Fardale last summer we hed appetites like hosses, an’ it didn’t make no diffrunce whut there was to eat, we jest et it.”
“Yaw,” nodded Hans; “und some uf der things vot vasn’t to eadt we shust eated all der same.”
“But naow we want yeou to tell us haow it happens yeou are here, Frank,” urged Ephraim, as they walked along together.
Frank, who had formerly been a schoolmate of the boys at Fardale Academy, after which he had gone to Yale, briefly explained that he had been forced to leave college on account of the loss of his fortune, and was now making his own way in the world. The boys knew he had left college, but they had not heard he was working on a railroad. Both were astonished.
“Darn my turnups!” cried Ephraim.
“Shimminy Gristmas!” gurgled Hans.
“Whut yeou been doin’ on the railroad?”
“Running an engine,” explained Merry.
“Runnin’ it? Haow?”
“Vot?” gasped Hans.
“Come off!” palpitated Ephraim.
“I have come off,” smiled Frank. “I am out of a job now.”
“Haow is that?”
“Railroad made a reduction of wages, there was a strike, big fight over it, rival road scooped all the business, my road went to pieces.”
“The rival road has scooped the road I worked on—absorbed it. A lot of old engineers have taken the places of the men who used to run on the Blue Mountain road. I’ve been trying for a show, but I’m so young they don’t want to give me anything. Looks like I’d have to get out of here and strike for something somewhere else.”
“Waal, that’s too darn bad!” drawled Ephraim, sympathetically. “But haow’d you ever git to be ingineer, anyhaow?”
“Worked my way up. Began as engine-wiper in the roundhouse, got to be fireman, then engineer. Right there came the trouble, and now I’m on the rocks.”
The eyes of the Vermonter glistened.
“If the hanged old railroad hadn’t went up the spaout, you’d bin runnin’ that in a year!” he cried.
“Yaw,” nodded Hans.
“Yeou’re a hummer!” declared Ephraim. “Yeou’ve got lots of git there in ye, an’ that’s whut does the trick. But I swan to man, it must have seemed tough to yeou to have to git right aout an’ work like a Trojan.”
“Yaw,” put in the Dutch boy. “Vork nefer had nottinks to done mit you pefore dot.”
“I don’t see haow yeou brought yerself to it.”
Frank looked grave and not exactly pleased.
“I have always expected to work when the time came,” he asserted. “I hope you didn’t suppose for a moment that I was going to spend my life in idleness?”
“Oh, no, no!” the Vermonter hastily cried; “but yeou wan’t reddy. Yeou was in college an’ havin’ a slappin’ good time. It was mighty rough to have ter break right off from that all to once an’ git out an’ dig fer a livin’.”
“Well,” said Merry, slowly, “I will admit that it was not pleasant at first; but I made up my mind that it was to be done, and I went at it heartily. After a time, I came to enjoy it as I never enjoyed anything before.”
“Whut! Yeou don’t mean to say yeou liked it better than playin’ baseball?”
“Better than anything. Work is the greatest sport in the world, for it is a game at which one plays to win the prize of his life. The winning of all other games are tame in comparison with this. It draws out the best qualities in a man, it tests him as nothing else can. Oh, yes, work is the champion sport, and success is the prize for which all earnest workers strive. The man who shirks and fears honest work can never succeed in the world. Determined men will push him aside, and he will be with the losers at the end of the great game.”
Ephraim Gallup clapped Frank on the shoulder familiarly.
“Yeou are yerself, b’gosh!” he cried. “I kin see that yeou are soberer an’ stiddyer, but yeou are Frank Merriwell jest the same. Yeou was alwus sayin’ things like that that no other feller ever thought to say. There ain’t no danger but yeou’ll be with the winner in this game yeou’re talkin’ abaout.”
“Uf der vinners don’d peen mit him they vill peen der wrong side on,” asserted Hans.
“Come in here,” he said, “and I will introduce you to a particular friend.”
He led them into the small fruit and cigar store in front of which he had been standing when the donkey ran away from Hans.
LUCKY LITTLE NELL.
Frank saluted the keeper of the store, who proved to be a bright-faced, lame boy.
“Jack,” said Merry, “did you ever hear me speak of Ephraim Gallup?”
“Of course I have!” exclaimed the boy.
“And Hans Dunnerwurst?”
“Well, here they are.”
Jack Norton stared at Frank’s two companions.
“These are the friends of whom I have told you; and this, fellows, is Jack Norton, a hustling young business man of this city. Some day he’ll be one of the greatest retail merchants in the place.”
“I’m gol darned glad to see ye!” declared the Vermonter, striding up and grasping the lame lad’s hand. “Anybody Frank Merriwell trains with is all right, an’ I’m ready to hitch hosses with ’um.”
He wrung the young shopkeeper’s hand heartily.
“Yaw,” nodded Hans, waddling up. “You vos plamed clad to seen us, Shack. Shust catch me holdt your handt uf. How you vos alretty yet?”
“Frank has told me about you,” said Jack, “but I never expected to see you.”
“Waal, we’re travelin’ araound with the greatest show on earth.”
“Not by a long shot! Barnum’s ain’t in it. Haley’s ‘All-Star Combination an’ Mammoth Uncle Tom’s Cabin Company’ knocks ’em all aout.”
“Dot’s vot der madder vos,” agreed Hans. “Dot gompany has dwo ‘Topsys,’ dwo ‘Marks,’ dwo ‘Gumption Cutes’——”
“An’ two jackasses,” grinned the Yankee youth. “One of them leads the other every day in the street parade.”
“Hey?” exclaimed the Dutch youth. “You don’d mean——Say, you vill lick me a minute in uf I say dot again!”
He squared off in a fighting attitude, seeming ready to go at Ephraim.
“There, there!” laughed Frank. “Up to your old tricks, I see. Why, I believe you two fought a duel once at Fardale.”
“We did, b’jee!” nodded Ephraim.
“Mit eggs,” spoke Hans.
“Ripe aigs, at that.”
“Dose eggs couldt smell me vor a veek.”
“It was awful.”
“Yaw; id peen a put ub shob us onto.”
“An’ Frank Merriwell was the feller whut put it up.”
“Yaw. I peliefed I vos all ofer plood mit.”
“So did I.”
“But I nefer knewed pefore dot plood vos so pad to smell uf anybody like dot.”
“We never got even with him fer that sell, Hans.”
“Well, we’ll eat enough to-day to square the account. He’ll think he’s run up ag’inst a cyclone.”
“Yaw, we vill done dot, Efy. You haf a greadt headt on me, ain’d id!”
“Well, if I can settle the score that way, I won’t kick,” said Merry. “Is Nellie at home, Jack?”
“Yes, she went home to get dinner. You know one of us has to stay here and keep the shop open. We take turns getting dinner. She will have it all ready when you get there, but she may not have enough, for she won’t know anyone is coming with you.”
“I’ll fix that all right,” said Frank. “There is a restaurant on the corner, and I can get all kinds of stuff there to take out.”
“Can’t yeou shut up to-day an’ come with us, Mister Norton?” asked Ephraim.
“Yaw,” put in Hans, “shust haf der shop shut you up und come along us mit.”
“I’d like to do it,” said the lame lad, “but it might hurt my business, and I believe in looking after one’s business before anything else. Frank has taught me that.”
“He’s alwus teachin’ somebody somethin’,” muttered the Vermonter.
Slam!—open flew the door. Bounce!—in popped a lively boy in a neat suit of clothes.
“Hello, Frank!” he cried. “Goin’ by w’en I seen yer t’rough der window, an’ I t’ought I’d stop an’ speak.”
It was Bob, the newsboy, whom Frank had befriended in his railroad days.
“Hello, Bob!” exclaimed Merry. “On the jump, as usual. How do you like your new position in the broker’s office?”
“Great!” was the instant answer. “Der boss treats me fine, an’ he says w’en I’ve been ter night school long ernough ter have der proper eddycashun, he’ll put me onter der turns of der business. Oh, I’ll be a broker meself some day, see if I don’t.”
Frank introduced Bob to Ephraim and Hans.
“Say, dis is great!” cried the former newsboy. “I’ve heard Frank tell heaps of t’ings about youse chaps.”
He seemed genuinely delighted over the meeting.
“I invited them to dinner,” said Merry. “We wanted Jack to come along, but he can’t close up.”
“How long will it take?”
“Oh, he might be back in three-quarters of an hour.”
“If he kin do it in dat time, I’ll stay right here an’ run dis joint. I kin git back on time den. Go ahead, Jack.”
“Oh, but you are out for your own dinner,” protested the lame boy. “It’s too much to expect you to do all that for me.”
“Not by a blame sight! Youse folks didn’t do a t’ing fer me w’en I was down on me luck, did yer? No, not a t’ing but take me in an’ keep me till I could git somewhere. Now, don’t make any talk about dis t’ing, but jest you skip right along with der odders. Only be sure ter git back in time fer me ter git ter der office.”
Bob settled it that way, and Jack was carried off with Frank and his two friends.
On the way home, Merry stepped into a restaurant and ordered plenty of food, which was given him in a large pail, the pail being wrapped to disguise its real nature.
Little Nell, Jack Norton’s sister, was waiting for Frank to appear when she recognized his familiar step on the stairs. She rose hastily to her feet, but paused to listen.
There were other steps, and she realized that several persons were coming. Wondering what it meant, she waited till the door opened and the four filed into the room.
Then there were introductions.
“I am pleased to meet any of Frank’s friends,” declared the girl. “I am very pleased to see you.”
“That’s right,” nodded the lame boy. “She is pleased to see you. Two weeks ago she could not have seen you had she stood face to face with you as she does now.”
“I don’t toldt you so!” exclaimed Hans.
“Whut was the matter?” asked Ephraim.
“She was blind.”
“Yes, stone blind.”
“Jeewhillikins! She kin see all right naow.”
“By a miracle. We were saving money to have her treated by a great oculist in New York, and we had almost enough. One night she got up in a dream and walked out to those stairs. She fell all the way to the bottom, striking on her head. I dragged her up the stairs and got her into bed. The next morning she could see. I believe it was the work of God!”
“It was marvelous!” put in Merriwell. “You see, she was not born blind, but received a blow on the head that injured the optic nerve in some manner so she became blind. Most marvelously, by falling and striking on her head, the shock restored her sight.”
“And the money we had saved we put into our little business,” said Jack.
“Say, you nefer heardt such a peculiar thing as that uf pefore!” cried Hans.
“I doubt if anyone ever did. Nellie, I have brought my friends to dine with me, and here is plenty of food that I bought at the restaurant. All you have to do is get it onto the table.”
“I’ll do that,” laughed the happy girl. “It seems so good to be able to do such work! We will have a delightful dinner! I am so glad you brought them, Frank!”
“There, b’gosh!” exclaimed Ephraim; “that’s whut makes a feller feel right to hum! Naow I know I’ve got right among the kaind of folks I take to.”
“Yaw,” nodded the Dutch boy; “id makes beoble feel like you vos right to home. Oxcuse us uf we make ourseluf so.”
“Go ahead,” invited Frank. “I want you to feel free here.”
NEWS OF ELSIE.
It was truly a jolly party that sat down to the table when it was spread and everything prepared. Ephraim, Frank and Hans talked over old times, spoke of the jolly days at Fardale, where they had attended school, recalled the struggles, sports, jokes, night raids and hazings.
All too soon the time came when Jack was forced to leave in order to get back to his shop in time to let Bob return to his duties.
“I just hate to go!” he exclaimed. “It seems good to hear you talk about those times. I never had any chance to go to school like that. It must have been such heaps of sport!”
“Say,” cried Ephraim, “looker here, can’t yeou take yer sister an’ go to the show this evenin’?”
“Both of us cannot go, for the shop must be kept open in the evening the same as any other time. Nellie can go.”
“Gosh all hemlock! can’t the thing be fixed somehow so ye kin go together? I’ll see to it that yeou git the best seats in the haouse. Yes by gum! I’ll git one of the boxes fer ye if yeou’ll go.”
“Oh, Jack!” broke from Nellie. “You know I’ve never been to see a real theater show, but now I think my eyes are strong enough to stand the light. Can’t we go?”
“I don’t see how,” answered Jack, regretfully.
“You can fix it with Bob,” said Frank.
“He doesn’t have to work evenings, and you can get him to keep shop.”
“That’s so!” exclaimed the girl, clapping her hands. “Try it, Jack—do!”
The face of the lame lad brightened.
“All right,” he said, “I’ll ask him.”
“And you will go with us, won’t you, Frank?” asked Nellie.
“Oh, I think so.”
“If Inza were here now we’d have a splendid party.”
“Inza!” gasped Ephraim. “Inza Burrage? Has she been here?”
“All the winter. She was visiting a friend. Left a little more than a week ago.”
“Dot vos too pad!” murmured Hans. “She vould haf been deekled to seen me.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t git here afore she went,” said the Vermonter; “but we had the fun of seein’ Elsie Bellwood abaout a month ago, though it wasn’t much fun, come to think of it, she was feelin’ so darn bad.”
Inza Burrage and Elsie Bellwood had been two dear girl friends of Frank in his college days.
Frank sprang to his feet, his face working with excitement.
“Saw Elsie?” he cried, amazed.
“Yaw,” nodded Hans.
“It’s true,” declared Ephraim.
“But—but I don’t understand it.”
“Whut’s the matter?”
“Why—why, I heard she had sailed with her father for a long voyage.”
“But now she is in Pittsburg? Why, how can that be? It was not many months ago they sailed—some time last fall, wasn’t it?”
“And they were to be gone a year?”
“Then something happened?”
“You ain’t heered abaout it?”
“Not a word.”
“Justin Bellwood died the second day out from New York.”
Frank gasped for breath, caught hold of the back of his chair, and stood staring at the Vermonter.
He spoke the words slowly, as if he did not quite realize what they meant.
“Yaw,” said Hans, “he vos a gone case.”
“Then—then Elsie is left all alone in the world. Poor little Elsie! I supposed she was far away on the ocean. What was she doing in Pittsburg?”
“She was living there with some of her folks or some of her friends, I dunno which. Didn’t git much chaince to talk with her.”
“But you found out her address—where she was living?”
“Too bad! I must know where she is—I must communicate with her as soon as possible. This is terrible news!”
Merry sat down weakly, and his manner showed how he was affected.
Little Jack whispered something to Nellie, and then slipped out of the room.
A sudden gloom had come over the merry gathering. Hans and Ephraim looked at each other dolefully. Little Nell got up and came round to Frank, putting an arm about his neck.
“Dear Frank,” she whispered, “you know Heaven orders everything for the best. You must have perfect trust.”
He put his arm about her slender waist, drew her to him and kissed her.
“Yes, dear little comforter,” he said, in his low, musical voice, “I am sure Heaven orders everything for the best, for many a time I have seen apparent misfortune prove a blessing in disguise. For instance, your falling downstairs. But this separation from Elsie is hard. Before I became a day laborer, forced to depend on my hands for a living, I could have spent money freely in tracing her and finding her. Now that is an impossibility. We separated for a year, neither dreaming of the changes a few months would bring about. I fear those changes, instead of bringing us nearer together, have torn us further apart.”
Nellie was surprised.
“Why, Frank!” she exclaimed, “you are seldom this way. You are so light-hearted and hopeful. Nothing seems to daunt you.”
“That is true, but things have been going against me for some time now, and it is but natural that I should not feel as cheerful as usual. The railroad strike came just when my prospects were brightest, and then, at the very hour when it seemed certain everything would be settled and I should go back to my old job, the railroad went to the wall and the F. B. & Y. swallowed it. Now comes the news of Elsie’s misfortune, and I cannot extend to her a helping hand. I cannot even write to her, for I do not know her address.”
“Trust in Heaven. All will come right in the end. That is the lesson you have taught me, Frank. You say justice always triumphs. Remember the case of Darius Conrad.”
“Yes, yes, I know. I will have perfect trust, little girl. But I must do something—I must find work right away, for I have been idle too long. If I cannot get back onto the railroad, I must do something else.”
“Why don’d you gone der show pusiness indo?” asked Hans. “I pet me your life you vould like him.”
“That’s raight,” drawled Ephraim. “Gosh! I wish yeou was in our company. It would be great.”
“Does the ghost walk regularly?” asked Merry, with a slight smile.
1. Among theatrical people the “ghost walks” when salaries are paid.
“Waal, purty much so,” answered the Down Easter. “There was a time when we run ag’inst mighty hard business, an’ Haley got three weeks behind; but we’ve been doin’ tarnal well lately, an’ ev’rybody’s flush ag’in.”
“Oxcept me,” said Hans, ruefully. “Mein salary’s peen so schmall dot id nefer missed me ven I don’d got him.”
“Well,” said Merry, “I hardly think I’ll go into the theatrical business; but we’ll come and see the play to-night, if you get that box for us, Ephraim.”
“Oh I’ll git it, yeou bet!” assured the Vermonter. “I’ll git right arter it fust thing this afternoon afore rehearsal.”
“Yaw,” assured Hans. “Uf he don’d done dot, I vill got after him.”
Jack, the lame boy, succeeded in getting Bob to keep shop for him that evening, and so he was able to attend the theater with his sister and Frank.
Ephraim Gallup kept his word and secured a box for them.
Little Nell was in raptures when they were seated in the box and “Haley’s Mammoth Gold Band” played the overture in the place of an orchestra.
The band was made up of an odd collection of human beings, but they had practiced on a few pieces till they could “tear them off” in a style that was pretty sure to please the uneducated ear and catch the fancy of the crowd.
Ephraim Gallup sat up proudly and puffed out his cheeks as he blew away at his horn. He was aware that Frank Merriwell must be regarding him with interest, and he was determined to do his best.
“Isn’t it lovely!” murmured little Nell, as she sat with one hand clasped in her brother’s.
Despite the age of the play, the house was filled with spectators. It was a “popular price” theater, and its patrons were the common people. The gallery was packed with youngsters who were there to sympathize with “Uncle Tom,” applaud “George Harris,” laugh with “Topsy” and “Gumption Cute,” and hiss “Simon Legree.”
When the band had finished playing, the gallery broke into a roar, amid which could be distinguished cat calls, screams and shrill whistles.
The footlights flashed, and the musicians played a “riser” as the curtain rolled swiftly up.
The play was on, and little Nell was enchained, enraptured, enchanted. For the first time in her life she saw a genuine “theater show,” and, within three minutes, everything happening on the stage was true as life for her.
It was a great satisfaction for Frank to watch the face of the girl. He saw how keenly she was enjoying everything, and her enjoyment gave him the greatest pleasure.
Merry soon saw that this “All-Star Combination” was made up of “ham-fatters,” among whom were two or three fairly good people. Haley knew how to catch the crowd with specialties, and he had introduced singing and dancing into every act.
Frank watched for Hans. The Dutch lad appeared at last, blackened with burnt cork, representing one of the negro laborers. He did not have any lines, which was fortunate, as his dialect would not have corresponded with his color.
Hans was one of the slaves on sale at the auction at which “Simon Legree” obtained possession of “Uncle Tom.”
Before the play was half finished little Nell was greatly wrought up over it. The escape of “Eliza” over the floating ice, with the bloodhounds in pursuit, was well done, and it caused the gallery to go wild.
When the curtain went down after that climax, little Nell fell back in her chair, crying:
“Oh, Frank, isn’t it wonderful! I never knew anything could be so real and still a play.”
From where he sat, Merry could see through one of the open stage entrances at the opposite side. Several times he saw some of the actors pause there and watch what was taking place on the stage. It happened that he was looking through that entrance when one of them stopped there, glanced quickly around, and produced a bottle from one of his pockets. The man quickly uncorked the bottle and took a long drink from it.
He was the one who played the part of “Legree.”
When the man next appeared on the stage, Merry saw he was drunk. Frank watched him closely.
“That fellow acts to me as if he is out for trouble,” he thought. “I believe he is well cast in the piece, for he seems to be a ruffian by nature.”
Frank sat so near the stage that he was able to see bits of by-play that the audience did not catch. Thus it happened that he saw “Legree” give “Uncle Tom” a look of genuine hatred and make a menacing gesture toward him.
Merry instantly “tumbled.”
“Trouble between them,” he decided.
A little later, when both these characters were off the stage, Frank saw “Legree” again prepare to take a drink in the wings. Just as he tipped the bottle to his lips, a hand reached out and caught it from his grasp.
Crash!—it was smashed on the floor.
“Uncle Tom” was there, and he started in to remonstrate with the intoxicated actor.
“Legree” was furious, and he tried to grasp the other by the throat. He was held off some seconds, a sharp struggle taking place. Then he succeeded in getting one hand fastened on the throat of the man who was impersonating the leading character of the play.
“Uncle Tom’s” fist was lifted, and he struck his assailant fairly between the eyes.
Down went “Legree!”
Frank Merriwell felt like applauding the little drama behind the scenes.
“Uncle Tom” departed, and, after a time, some of the players came and assisted “Legree” to his feet.
Frank Merriwell now knew there were two men in the company who were bitter enemies.
Both Jack and Nellie had been so absorbed in what was taking place on the stage that they had not observed the encounter behind the scenes.
Frank watched for the two men when they should next appear on the stage.
“Uncle Tom” was calm as ever when he came on. He was a fairly good actor.
“Legree” came on.
Watching them closely, Merry heard some low-spoken words pass between them while the action of the piece was being carried on by other characters.
“Oh, I’ll fix you for that!” hissed “Legree.”
“You’re drunk!” declared the other, contemptuously.
“Am I? Well, it’s none of your business! I’ll soak you before the night is over!”
“I will! I’ll kill ye!”
Then they went on playing their parts as if nothing unusual had happened.
“There is bad blood between them,” decided Frank, “and the fellow with the rum in him is dangerous.”
He did not realize how dangerous till the scene was being played where “Legree” lashes “Uncle Tom” to death with a heavy whip.
“Simon” came on with the whip, and there was a strange glitter in his dark eyes. With his first blow at the old slave, he caused “Uncle Tom” to collapse, uttering a yell of pain.
For the whip had whistled through the air, wielded by a powerful arm, and the hissing lash had curled about the body of “Uncle Tom.”
The audience looked on spellbound, rather astonished by the realism of this whipping scene.
Grinding his teeth together, “Legree” bent over and pitilessly cut the writhing man with the whip.
Cries of pain broke from the fallen man.
“Curse you!” Merry heard “Legree” hiss. “Here is where I fix you!”
“Help!” cried “Uncle Tom.”
It was a genuine appeal for aid. This was not acting.
Frank Merriwell started to his feet.
“Oh!” gasped little Nell—“oh, Frank, he is really murdering ‘Uncle Tom’!”
“Hanged if it doesn’t look that way!” Merry admitted to himself.
The whip dropped from “Legree’s” hand. It struck the floor heavily, but the man caught it up in a twinkling, reversing it.
Then, with the loaded butt, he struck “Uncle Tom” a savage blow on the head.
The stricken man straightened out, quivering in every limb.
With the expression of a fiend on his face, “Legree” lifted the heavy whip again to bring the butt down upon the man’s head. It seemed to be his purpose to smash the skull of the actor he hated.
As one man, the audience rose and stood, uttering a cry of horror, for everyone seemed to realize that this was not acting.
It was murder!
The word shot like a bullet from the lips of a handsome youth who went flying over the rail of the right-hand proscenium box and alighted on the stage.
Frank Merriwell dashed at the murderous actor, caught the whip, tore it from his hand, flung it aside.
Then they grappled!
The audience shouted its astonishment.
“Off!” snarled the actor, trying to break from Frank.
“Steady!” commanded Merry. “You have gone over the limit. What are you trying to do?”
“I said I’d fix him!”
“He’s in luck if you haven’t done it already.”
Then the fellow tried to strike Frank, but Merry warded off the blow. In another moment a fierce struggle was taking place between them in full view of the audience.
Up to this time the actors behind the scenes had seemed asleep or paralyzed with surprise. Now they came rushing onto the stage and surrounded the combatants.
Barnaby Haley himself came on. He was greatly excited.
“Seize that fellow!” he ordered, pointing at Frank. “Where are the police? I’ll have him arrested for interfering with the show!”
Down the aisle rushed two policemen, clambering over the footlights and onto the stage.
The actors, directed by the manager, had torn Frank and “Legree” apart. Merriwell flung off those who attempted to hold him, and stood there in their midst.
“Arrest him!” commanded Haley.
A long, lank, awkward youth came scaling over the footlights from the midst of the band. With two long strides he reached Merriwell and planted himself by Frank’s side.
“Hold on, b’gosh!” he cried, flourishing the brass horn he carried. “You don’t arrest him in a hurry!”
Out from the wings rushed a fat lad, with a blackened face. He took a position on the other side of Frank.
“Yaw, py shimminy!” he gurgled! “he don’d arrest you a hurry in alretty.”
Frank’s friends were on hand. Ephraim and Hans were there.
Barnaby Haley gasped with surprise, and the policemen hesitated a moment.
“What’s this? what’s this?” spluttered the manager.
“Business, by gum!” declared the Vermonter.
“Yaw!” nodded Hans, “id peen pusiness.”
“This man attacked Storms.”
“Waal, I guess it was a gol darn good thing for Havener that he did. Mebbe Storms has fixed Havener anyhaow.”
“What do you mean?”
“Jest take a look at Havener an’ you’ll find aout.”
“Uncle Tom” was lying where he had fallen, and a hasty examination showed he was unconscious, while blood was flowing from a wound on his head, caused by the blow from the butt of the whip.
Haley, who had not seen the encounter between the two actors, was dazed.
“Who did it?” he asked.
Ephraim Gallup’s long index finger pointed straight at the one who had impersonated “Legree.”
“With that whip.”
“But—but why should he do——”
“Ask him. He’s had a grutch ag’in Havener fer a month, an’ to-night he tried ter kill him right here on the stage afore all these people!”
“That’s right!” shouted fifty voices from the audience.
“He is the one to be arrested!” roared a man standing in the front row of the first balcony. “I know t’other feller. He’s Frank Merriwell, an’ he’s the right sort.”
Frank Merriwell! Many persons in the audience had recognized Merry when he leaped on the stage, but the mention of his name sent a surge of emotion over the entire house.
Now they knew him! The name of Frank Merriwell was familiar to everybody in that city, for the prominent part he had taken in the railroad strike had advertised him thoroughly.
And Frank’s greatest admirers were aroused. Up in the gallery a red-headed boy poised himself on the rail and shrilly yelled:
“Well, wot’s der matter wid Frank Merriwell?”
And the gallery broke into an answering roar:
“Dat’s wot!” screamed the red-headed boy. “Let him erlone an’ see wot he’ll do ter ‘Simon Legree’!”
“He won’t do a thing to him!” significantly bellowed half the gallery.
“If dem cops puts a fin on him, we’ll come down an’ wipe up der the-a-tur with ’em!” threatened the red-headed champion.
“Dat’s what we will!” shouted the others.
Frank looked up, smiled and bowed. That smile was enough to set his admirers wild. They howled, roared, clapped and stamped till the gallery shook and threatened to come down.
“Great gosh!” cried Ephraim Gallup, in Merry’s ear; “I ruther think yeou’ve got a few friends in this ’air taown!”
One of the policemen was examining the wound on the head of the unconscious actor. He spoke to a companion:
“Call an ambulance,” he said. “It looks to me as if this chap’s skull may be cracked. He may never recover consciousness.”
“Is it possible?” gasped Barnaby Haley, who had heard the words. “And Storms did it? I declare!”
He turned and glared at the drunken actor.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked. “Are you mad?”
Storms did not reply, but now he began to show symptoms of fear.
“If Havener is dead, I’ll see that you hang for it!” declared the manager.
“Shall we arrest Mr. Merriwell?” asked one of the policemen, a touch of sarcasm in his voice.
“No, no!” cried Haley. “My gracious, no! It seems that I was mistaken concerning his purpose. He sprang onto the stage to stop Storms—to keep him from finishing his work. Do not molest Mr. Merriwell.”
The gallery heard this, and shouted its delight. The red-headed boy stood up and screamed:
“T’ree cheers fer Frank Merriwell! Open yer t’roats ev’rybody!”
Then the entire audience, catching the spirit of the occasion, broke into a mighty cheer, bringing the hot blood to Merry’s face.
“There, b’gosh!” sighed Ephraim Gallup, with satisfaction. “Naow yeou’ve got whut ye deserve.”
“Yaw,” agreed Hans, “now you haf got vot I deserfe.”
“Merriwell! Merriwell! Speech! Speech!”
The audience was calling for a speech, but Frank simply shook his head and flatly refused to make a speech.
“Arrest ole ‘Legree’!” howled the red-headed boy.
“Yes,” said Barnaby Haley, speaking to the officers. “I want you to arrest him.”
Storms glanced quickly around, as the officer stepped toward him.
“Wait!” he exclaimed.
Like a flash he snatched out a revolver.
“As well for two as for one!” he snarled.
Up went his hand.
The hammer of the revolver fell, but there was no report.
The cartridge had failed to explode, and Frank Merriwell’s life was spared.
Uttering a howl of rage, the fellow flung the weapon at Merry, striking him fairly on the breast and staggering him.
Then, with a shout of defiance, the desperate actor made a run and a leap, sailing out over the footlights, out over the heads of the band, and alighting on his feet.
“Stop him!” Haley cried.
Up the aisle flew the fugitive. The policemen sprang after him, but no one seemed to care to get in the ruffian’s path, so he dashed through an open door and disappeared.
AN ENGAGEMENT OFFERED.
The patrons of the Thalia Theater had been given a surprising sensation that evening, and they did not think of demanding their money back when they were forced to file out without seeing the final scene of the play.
The name of Frank Merriwell seemed to be on every tongue.
Barnaby Haley was quick to see the advertising value of the affair, which, at first, he had regarded as most unfortunate. He perceived that Frank Merriwell was well known and popular with the common people, such as patronized that house.
It had not proved necessary to remove Roscoe Havener, the injured actor, in an ambulance. Havener was carried to a dressing room, where he soon recovered consciousness, and his injury was dressed by a physician, who pronounced it a mere scalp wound.
Haley had taken Frank down into the dressing room, where he was profuse in the expression of his thanks.
“Mr. Havener,” he said, “I believe you owe your life to the prompt action of this young man.”
“Yes?” said the actor, staring at Frank.
“Yes,” assured the manager. “He was in a proscenium box, and he sprang onto the stage and grappled with Storms in time to keep the fellow from hitting you again with the heavy end of the whip.”
“Well, I am sure I am much obliged, Mr. Merriwell,” said Havener, holding out his hand, which Frank took.
“Don’t mention it,” said Merry. “I happened to be watching Storms, for I saw he had it in for you.”
“Yes, he was dead nuts on me. I’m the stage-manager, you know, and I have been calling him down lately for drinking. He got so he hated me.”
“I heard him tell you he would ‘fix’ you.”
“Yes, he did that, but I did not dream he would try anything on the stage. I wasn’t prepared at all. The first cut he gave me with that whip seemed to take all the strength out of me.”
“Saw it,” nodded Frank. “Hardly thought he was in the habit of putting it on that way every night.”
“The way you cried out told me it was a genuine surprise to you.”
“I should guess yes.”
“That made me ready for what followed, but was not quite quick enough to keep him from hitting you the first time with the butt of the whip. I stopped the blow he intended for a finisher, just the same.”
“And earned my everlasting gratitude, Mr. Merriwell.”
“They were ready to arrest me for interrupting the play,” laughed Frank.
“You must forget that, Mr. Merriwell,” he said. “I didn’t see Storms hit Havener, so I could not understand why you jumped on the stage and grappled with him.”
“But I understood it, b’gosh!” broke in Ephraim Gallup, who was on hand; “an’ yeou kin bet I was goin’ to stan’ by Mr. Merriwell if it took a wing off me.”
“Yaw,” came gravely from the Dutch boy, who was likewise there, “Vrank Merrivell nefer made a misdake your life in.”
“You seem to know Mr. Merriwell,” insinuated Haley.
“Waal, I guess we do!” cried the Vermonter.
“You petter pelief we do!” exclaimed the Dutch youth.
“We was old chums at skule,” explained Ephraim.
“Yaw, we peen shums at Vardale,” elaborated Hans. “Dot peen vere he hadt der bleasure our aguaintance uf makin’ alretty then.”
“It seemed rather remarkable that you took sides with him so promptly, but it’s all right. The papers will be full of it to-morrow, and we ought to get a good run here the next two nights. I’ll have to get a man to fill Storms’ place.”
“That’s right,” quickly said Havener. “I’ll never play with him again. If he’s arrested, I am going to push him for what he did.”
“If you do that, you’ll have to stay in this place some time,” declared the manager; “and you can’t stay here without breaking your contract. I can’t spare you, for you know the loss of Storms will make me two men short. I need a prompter and property man, and need him bad.”
Ephraim nudged Frank, whispering:
“There’s your chance.”
“I guess not,” smiled Merry.
But the Vermonter said:
“Why don’t you make Mr. Merriwell an offer, Mr. Haley? He’s a gol darn hustler, an’ he’s aout of a job jest naow. Mebbe yeou could git him.”
“It’s not likely he knows anything about the business,” said the manager, looking Frank over.
“Waal,” declared Gallup, “yeou’ll find he kin l’arn ther quickest of anybody yeou ever see. I’ll reckermend him.”
“Und I vos anodder,” put in Hans.
“Are you looking for an opening, Mr. Merriwell?” asked the manager.
“I am looking for some kind of a job,” confessed Frank. “Must do something, you know.”
“You seem like a bright young man. Perhaps we might agree, if you are willing to take hold and do not expect too much money at first.”
Somehow the idea of going on the road with a show appealed to Frank. Had he been working at anything steady just then he would not have thought of giving up his job to take such an engagement; but he was doing nothing, and any kind of a job was preferable to idleness.
“I don’t know,” he said, slowly. “I haven’t thought about going into such work, but——”
“You might think about it?”
“All right. I’ll be ready to make you an offer to-morrow, if you are ready to come right away. I’ll be in the box office of the theater at eleven in the morning. Will you call?”
“I think I will.”
“Do so. It won’t do any harm, even if we don’t agree. I shall be glad to see you, anyhow.”
Frank was ready to go. He knew Jack and Nellie would wonder what had become of him.
Hans and Ephraim accompanied him, and they found the brother and sister waiting near the entrance of the theater.
“Oh, Frank!” cried little Nell. “We didn’t know where you had gone.”
“I told her you would turn up all right,” asserted Jack, “but she was nervous after that fight on the stage.”
“It was dreadful!” shuddered the girl. “I was so frightened! I saw that wretch was really and truly hurting ‘Uncle Tom,’ but I didn’t expect you would jump right onto the stage, Frank.”
“Had to do it,” smiled Merry. “Case of necessity.”
“You did it so quick, and you handled that ruffian! I never saw a fight before in my life, and it frightened me. But I was so proud of you when all the crowd was shouting your name and cheering. They all seemed to know you, Frank.”
“That’s right, by gum!” cried Ephraim. “Yeou seem to be purty nigh as well known here as yeou was at skule. Guess yeou’re bound to be pop’ler wherever yeou go.”
“I pet a dandy goot actor vould make him,” said Hans.
“Yes, I ruther think he’d make a good actor,” agreed Ephraim. “He will hev a chaince before he’s bin with Haley long, if he goes with the show. Better do it, Frank. We’ll hev heaps of fun.”
“Yaw, dot’s vot’s der madder!” cried Hans. “You’d petter took dot shob uf he don’d pay a goot lot.”
Little Nell showed her alarm.
“What job is that?” she asked, flutteringly.
“P’r’aps he’ll hev a chaince to go aout on the road with aour show,” explained Ephraim.
“And he’ll have to leave us!” cried Nellie.
“Waal, little gal, it’s too bad, but he can’t stay here an’ live on wind. That’s sartin sure.”
“Oh, we don’t want to lose him like that!”
“Folks hev to make a livin’. He ain’t got money to burn, same as he had once.”
“If I had, I should be very careful how I burned it,” asserted Merriwell. “I have learned the value of money, and it will be precious little that I shall throw away foolishly in the future. Must be going home now. Good-night, fellows. See you to-morrow.”
“Yeou’d better engage with Haley,” cried Ephraim, as Frank moved away with Jack and Nellie.
“Yaw,” shouted Hans. “Uf you don’d you vill peen sorry all mein life. Goot-night.”
The following day Frank went down to the Thalia Theater at the time appointed, and he found Manager Haley waiting for him in the box office, as he had said he would be.
Merry was invited in, and he accepted the invitation. He was given an introduction to the ticket seller, and then Haley asked him into a little room adjoining the office.
“I’ve struck a man this morning to fill Storms’ place,” he said, “and now, if we can make arrangements, the company will be all right again.”
“Did the officers arrest Storms?” asked Frank.
“No. He got away, but he’s broke, and they’ll get him all right, unless he counts the ties.”
“Counts the ties?”
“Yes; walks out of town on the railroad. I’m glad to be rid of him. He made a good ‘Legree,’ but he was a quarrelsome fellow, always kicking up a fuss. He made more trouble in the company than all the others put together.”
The manager opened a little closet door and took out a bottle and glasses. He placed a glass before Frank on the table that served as a desk, and then shoved the bottle toward Merry.
“Help yourself,” he urged. “I’ll get some water for chasers.”
“What is it?”
“Whisky—good whisky, too. Needn’t be afraid of it. Took particular pains to get good stuff.”
“I do not care for any,” said Frank.
“Eh? Don’t? What’s the matter?”
“I never drink whisky.”
“Singular! Young man, good color, full of life. Can’t be you prefer rum?”
“No. I do not drink.”
“Don’t drink? Why, you take something occasionally?”
“Is that so? What made you swear off? Going it pretty hard?”
“Didn’t swear off.”
“No; I never took a drink of liquor in my life.”
Haley stared hard at Frank.
“If I were running a dime museum, I’d engage you as a freak,” he said, in a manner that brought the color to Merry’s face. “You’ll excuse me if I take a snifter. It’s my time for one.”
“Go ahead, sir,” bowed the youth.
So Haley poured out a brimming glass of the stuff and dashed it off without a “chaser.”
“Ah!” he said, smacking his lips. “That’s all right. Better than we’ll get when we get further west.”
He put away bottles and glasses. Then, turning to Frank once more, produced a cigar case, opened it and held it out.
“Have a weed?” he invited.
“Excuse me,” protested Frank.
“What? Oh, go ahead! Those are no two-fers; they’re straight tens. Needn’t be afraid of them.”
“I’m not afraid of them.”
“Not? What’s the matter, then?”
“I do not smoke.”
The manager stared harder than before.
“Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t——Do you swear?”
“Then I’m afraid you won’t make a first-class property man. No man can handle properties unless he swears.”
“I didn’t suppose it was absolutely necessary to swear in order to do any kind of work successfully,” he said.
“Never knew a property man who didn’t swear. If you take the place, you’ll learn to swear within a week.”
“Then it must be a position that provokes a man’s ill nature?”
“It is—riles him all up. Going to tell you just what it is before we talk business. Then you’ll know what you are going up against.”
Then the manager sat down and told Merry all about the requirements and duties of a first-class property man.
“You see, it won’t be no fat job,” said Haley. “I’d rather you’d understand at the start, for you might get disgusted with it after a short time if you went with us thinking you had a soft snap.”
“I am not looking for snaps,” declared Merry. “I expect to work.”
“That’ll be all right. Some young chaps think traveling with a show and acting is all play. Didn’t want you to start out with such a notion. Gallup, who plays in the band, says you’re a wonder at anything you attempt to do, and I’ve been making some inquiries about you in town this morning. You did chop frost for a short time after getting a job on the railroad, and that’s a fact. They say your rise was phenomenal. But the strike knocked you out.”
“Yes; and now I must do something for a living. Doesn’t seem to be any show for me to get a job railroading right away, so, if we agree, I am willing to engage with you.”
They talked it over a long time, and finally came to terms. Frank was not to receive much money at first, but Haley said he would do better after he had learned all about his business.
Ephraim and Hans knew of Frank’s appointment with the manager, and they were waiting for him outside the theater when he appeared. Both made a dive for him.
“Did yeou do it?” asked Gallup, breathlessly.
“Yaw!” cried Hans, “did it do you?”
“I am going with the company, if that is what you want to know,” said Frank.
“Glory!” shouted the Vermonter, catching his hand and wringing it.
“Py Chorch! dot vos pully!” gurgled Hans, getting hold of his other hand and trying to pull his arm out of the socket.
“Say, we’ll jest have haydoogins of fun!” declared the Yankee youth.
“You pet my life!” fluttered the Dutch youth.
Frank went home and found little Nell there, anxiously awaiting his return.
“What is it?” she asked, immediately on his appearance.
“I am engaged,” answered Merry.
A deep cloud came over her face, and she slowly turned away. He hastened to her side.
“You know, I must do something for a living, Nellie,” he quickly said. “I cannot remain idle.”
“I know,” she nodded, chokingly.
“I have been idle too long. Last night I did not sleep. I was thinking of Elsie. I must earn money; I must find her. I feel that she needs my aid.”
“But, Frank, you will not be able to find her if you are traveling over the country with a show.”
“I shall be earning something. When spring comes, I shall go in search of her.”
“Oh, but it will be so lonely when you are gone!”
Her face dropped in her hands, and she gave a choking sob. He had his arm about her in a moment.
“It is not fated that we shall be together always, Nellie,” he said. “I have been with you some time, and fortune has turned in your favor during that time. You were blind when I first saw you; now you can see. You have a snug little business which will grow, and you will prosper and be happy.”
Her face was hidden by her hands, and she made no reply.
“Don’t do that way, Nellie!” he implored, gently. “We shall meet again—some time.”
“Some time!” she sobbed. “When?”
“I can’t tell that.”
She turned quickly, reached up and put her arms about his neck, burying her face on his breast, where she wept, while he vainly tried to comfort her.
“Nellie, Nellie, don’t!” he pleaded, his own voice husky. “I can’t bear this! Please don’t—for my sake!”
“For your sake!” she murmured. “For your sake, Frank, I’ll try not to cry. You have been so good to us. Oh, I shall miss you so much! Heaven bless and keep you, Frank! Heaven guide you to Elsie! May you prosper—may you always be happy! I shall pray for you every night!”
“And I shall pray for you, dear little friend,” he said, in his sincere, manly way. “I will write to you often.”
Then they sat down together, hand in hand, and talked of the future.
FRANK’S UNPLEASANT DISCOVERY.
A week later Frank had become pretty familiar with his duties. Besides being “manager of properties,” he was the prompter, and he found plenty of work.
He took hold of the new work readily, and Barnaby Haley soon became satisfied that he had made no mistake in engaging him.
The company was “on the road,” playing one-night stands, having abandoned the larger cities.
It was a case of hustle day after day. The moment the show was over at night everything had to be picked up and packed for the morning train.
Frank soon became familiar with all the stuff, so that he knew just where everything belonged, and this enabled him to do the packing swiftly.
A certain amount of special scenery was carried for the piece, and that was the most difficult to handle.
As soon as Merry had taken care of the properties, he was expected to lend his aid in getting the scenery ready for shipment, and thus it came about that he seldom got to bed before one or two o’clock in the morning.
Then it was necessary for him to be up early to see that everything got off right, and, immediately on arriving at a destination, he had to attend to the getting of the baggage to the theater.
Arriving at the theater, he was required to have the trunks placed in the proper dressing rooms, the people who played the leading parts always being allotted by the stage-manager to the most convenient, commodious and handy rooms.
Sometimes the assignment of dressing rooms caused no small amount of ill feeling, but Frank tried to keep things as pleasant as possible.
He soon showed he was not afraid of work, for which reason a large amount of work it was not his duty to perform was thrust upon him.
But he started in at this business, as he had at railroading, to learn everything possible about it in the shortest possible time. Thus it came about that, having assisted in the work of making the stage ready, in one week’s time there was not a scene of the play that he could not set properly.
It was not long before the stage-manager discovered this, and he began to take a still greater interest in Frank.
“Say,” he broke out one night, as Frank was assisting in the setting of the stage, “what are you trying to do?”
“Helping,” was the laconic answer.
“Yes, but you are helping differently from any novice I ever saw before. You take hold as if you were trying to do all there is to be done.”
“I want to do my part.”
“You want to do more than that, and I fancy you know it, for you are no fool. What’s the object?”
“If I’m going to follow this business any length of time, I am going to know all I can about it.”
“So that’s it! Well, that’s all right as far as it goes, but you will get tired of it. Fellow who is willing to do his work and everybody else’s work is pretty sure to get crowded. Better let up on it.”
“Thank you. I don’t believe anybody will crowd me.”
“All right; do as you like. I’m willing you should as long as you don’t attempt to get in front of me.”
This was said with a laugh, but Merriwell caught the significance of the words.
“Don’t be afraid, Mr. Havener,” he said. “I am not seeking anybody’s chance in this company.”
Frank had become acquainted with the different members of the company, and the personality of each interested him.
Arthur Sargent, the new man, who filled the place of Errol Storms, playing “Simon Legree,” was a man quite unlike Storms. He was a jolly, good-natured fellow off the stage, always joking and telling stories. But he did make a fierce “Legree,” and he was detested and hissed by the small boy in the gallery quite as much as Storms had been.
Cassie Lee, the “leading Topsy,” for there were two “Topsys” in the play, interested Frank more than anybody else. Off the stage, she was a thin, frail, sad-faced little girl, with a hollow, hacking cough. On the stage, she was a supple, bright-eyed, lively, vivacious creature, dancing and singing, as if she had not a care in the world.
Cassie’s father, old Dan Lee, played small parts, making many changes. In fact, his skill at making quick changes was something marvelous, and it was astonishing how many different parts he could fill.
It was said that old Dan knew every line in the piece, and could play any male part. Some even insisted that the old man in his palmy days had played “Little Eva,” but Dan himself denied the accusation.
Old Dan’s one failing was his strong liking for liquor. But for Cassie’s watchful eyes, he would have been “loaded” the greater part of the time, and lost his engagement a dozen times a month. Cassie could handle him unless he was crazed by liquor, and he was humble and pliant in her hands.
But there were stories that on occasions old Dan took too much and became like a maniac. Then even Cassie could do nothing with him, and it was said that he had once beaten her so severely while madly intoxicated that she had been taken to the hospital, where she remained six weeks.
It was said that through her father’s ill-treatment and neglect Cassie’s health had been broken down.
Frank wondered at the change that came over her every night just before she went onto the stage. She suddenly seemed to become quite a different creature. The lackluster departed from her eyes, her step became elastic and buoyant, and even her voice seemed to change.
All this was a mystery to Merry at first, but, one night, when she sent him to her dressing room for some article she had forgotten, he made a discovery that enlightened and horrified him.
A small needle syringe lay on the shelf beside the square mirror.
“Morphine!” gasped Frank. “That is the secret of the change!”
Little Cassie was a morphine fiend!
The knowledge preyed on Frank’s mind. He pitied the girl, and longed to do something for her, but he knew that when the dreaded habit had once fairly fastened itself on a victim that person was almost surely doomed.
Frank was very considerate with Cassie. He showed her many favors, and he never minded her freaks and whims when she was in a bad humor. As a result, after a time, the girl began to take a great interest in Frank.
“Look here, Merriwell,” she said, one night as she was “laying on” the burnt cork, “I cotton to you. You are the right stuff, but you never ought to be in this business.”
“Why?” asked Frank, surprised.
“’Cause you ain’t the same grade as the rest of us. That’s plain enough.”
“I don’t think I quite understand you. Am I not good enough to become an actor, if I wish?”
Cassie laughed unmusically.
“That’s the matter with yer,” she declared. “You’re too good. This kind of a life will ruin you.”
“I guess not.”
“I guess yes, and I know what I’m talking about. I hate to see a nice young man like you spoiled.”
“Don’t let that worry you.”
“You think I’m jollying you, but I ain’t. I mean what I say. Common actors are poor associates for such a fellow as you are. You don’t drink, smoke or swear now, but, if you stick to the road, I’ll bet a month’s salary you are doing all three within a year.”
“I will not take your bet, for it would be robbing you, Miss Lee.”
“Don’t you believe yourself. I’d win. I know, for I’ve seen what it all leads to.”
“I don’t suppose you mean to say the life depraves everybody who follows it?”
“No, not that; but it’s a hard strain on a fellow. This knocking around just kills a person’s conscience. You’re the kind that’ll be a soft thing for every bum who wants to hit you up for a fiver. You will think they all mean to pay when they can, but by the time you have been beat right and left you’ll begin to get onto the game, and think you may just as well play it in order to get even. That’s what hurts. Borrow a five, and fail to pay it once, and you’ve got your start on the wrong road. The keen edge is taken off your conscience, and, before long, it gets pretty dull. Oh, I know what I’m givin’ yer!”
“Well, well!” exclaimed Frank, surprised. “Never thought I’d hear you preaching, Miss Lee.”
“Don’t call me Miss Lee! Don’t like it. I’m just plain Cassie, or Cass, to all the boys.”
“All right, I’ll call you Cassie, then.”
“Do. Don’t tell the other fellers I lectured yer. They’d say I’s getting soft. I don’t want Havener to know I take enough interest in you to say anything like I did to yer.”
“Don’t want Havener to know it?”
“Well—because—you see him and me are—are—pretty friendly.”
She blurted out the last two words, as if they cost her a great effort.
“Why,” said Frank, “I never noticed.”
“Course you didn’t. We’re keeping it quiet, for Havener’s got a wife.”
Then, seeing the look that came over Frank’s face, Cassie hastened to explain:
“They ain’t lived together or ever heard from each other for four years, and Havener’s going to get a divorce as soon as he can for desertion. We couldn’t help gittin’ struck on each other, but I don’t want pop to know it till Havener is free to marry me. That’s why we’re keeping shady. But Storms was onto it.”
“Yep. Feller you kept from knocking the head offen Havener.”
“Ah! Then that——”
“That was his real reason for cracking Ross that way, though the others didn’t know it. He wanted me to marry him.”
“And you refused?”
“I should guess yes! Roscoe Havener suits me. Him and I’ll get along all right, and I’m glad Errol Storms is out of the comp’ny. I was afraid of him.”
“Done me a good turn—yes. It was a good thing when you jumped on that night and nipped Storms. I was down in my dressin’ room when I heard Havener holler, and I knew something was wrong, for that cry was too real. I ran upstairs and got into the wings just in time to see you and Storms have it. Then I came nigh giving the whole thing away by getting sloppy over Ross, but I pulled myself up just in time, and nobody got onto the real reason why that business happened. I don’t know why I told you, ’less it was ’cause I have been dying to tell somebody about it, and I reckon you’ll keep your mouth shut.”
“You may be sure I’ll not give you away, Miss—Cassie.”
“All right; but I’ve got something to tell you, too.”
“What is it?”
“You want to look out not to let Ross get an idea you take any particular interest in me.”
“He’s jealous of you now.”
“Jealous of me?”
“Why—why should he be?”
“Well, there ain’t no real reason, but he don’t know. You’ve always been trying to do me favors, and his eyes are sharp. He liked you at first, but now he is beginning to growl to me. Says you are trying to know too much. Says you’re fresh. Quizzes me about what I think of you, and all that. I can read him, and I know he’s jealous, so look out.”
“I am sure I thank you for the warning,” said Frank, embarrassed.
“Oh, that’s all right. He’ll get over it.”
“Aren’t you afraid of a jealous man?”
“No; I like him all the better for it. If you was some chaps, I’d pretend to like you pretty well, just to see how much he’d stand; but I don’t know what he’d do, and I don’t want to get you into trouble. He has a pull with Haley, and he might get you fired. I shouldn’t like that.”
Cassie had a frank way of speaking out that was decidedly embarrassing, but she did not seem to imagine that she had said something about which other girls would have hesitated to speak.
This revelation opened Frank’s eyes to a great extent. He understood thoroughly the real cause of the trouble between Storms and Havener, and also why the latter’s manner toward him had changed within a day or two.
“I must be careful,” Merry decided.
After this talk with Cassie, Frank liked her and pitied her more than ever. He wondered if Havener knew anything of the terrible habit that had fastened itself on the girl, and if he would marry her just the same should he discover it.
Havener’s first venture in marriage had not proved a success, and his second one might result disastrously unless Cassie could be cured of her liking for the fatal drug.
Although Merry felt certain the girl used morphine, sometimes he would long to find that it was all a mistake.
One night, however, it was all settled in his mind.
Some of the theaters on the road contained but a few small, dirty dressing rooms, so that it was necessary for a number of persons to dress together in the same room.
Cassie was put in with two other girls at one place. She did not “kick,” for she was used to everything on the road.
But she was not given much chance to be by herself.
Just as the curtain was going up on the first act, Frank was sent down to the dressing room to get something for one of the girls.
The door was just a bit ajar, and Merry bolted in quickly.
There was an exclamation of consternation, echoed by Frank.
Cassie was there. The sleeve of her left arm was thrust back, showing white above the line of black at her wrist. She was in the very act of using the little syringe.
The tiny instrument dropped from her fingers, and she staggered back a step.
“Merriwell!” she gasped.
Frank started to turn away, then hastily explained why he had come to the room. His manner told her he had seen and understood.
“Look here!” she hoarsely said, springing forward and clutching him by the arm; “I want you to promise me something.”
“That you’ll keep mum.”
“You can trust me.”
“You won’t tell Havener?”
“Don’t you do it on your life! I’m going to stop it—some time. I want to see you after the play to-night. I want to talk to you. I’ll tell you all about it. Go on, now.”
He secured the article he was after, and she pushed him out of the room, closing and fastening the door behind him.
Then the little syringe was recharged and used.
THE JEALOUS STAGE-MANAGER.
There was now no doubt in Frank’s mind; he knew Cassie used the drug, and his heart was full of pity for her.
That night, after the play was over, Cassie lingered in the dressing room, slowly picking up her things. The other girls were ready to leave, and they called for her to hurry up.
“Oh, go on,” she said. “I’ll be along pretty soon. Don’t wait for me.”
So they started for their hotel, leaving her there.
Frank was at work getting the properties together and packing them in one of the dressing rooms, while Havener was above on the stage, looking after the special scenery.
Cassie found Frank and came in on him.
“Look here,” she said, in a dull, dejected way, “I’ve got a few things I want to say to you.”
Frank was uneasy, but he stopped working, saying, respectfully:
“All right, Cassie; I’ll listen.”
“If you blow on me, I’m done for.”
“Now don’t be afraid that I will blow. What put such a notion into your head?”
“Well, I don’t know but you’d be doing the right thing if you did.”
“Oh, because it might not be right for any man to hitch up with a girl like me. If Havener knew——”
“Do you think he’d go back on you?”
“Can’t tell. His other wife drank like a fish, and he quit her. That ain’t so bad as what I do.”
“But you, Cassie—how in the world did you ever contract such a habit?”
“Got it in the hospital.”
“Oh, that is how?”
“Yes,” she faltered, as if she found it difficult to choose her words. “You know—I—was hurt. I went to the hospital. They had to inject morphine to keep down the pain. When I came out I kept on using it once in a while. After a time I used it oftener, and now——”
“I can’t seem to shake it. I’ve tried, but it’s no use.”
She said this sadly, dejectedly, and Frank’s heart was stirred by a great sympathy.
“Are you sure?”
“Well, I’m going to break it off some time—I will if I die!” she declared, fiercely. “I have sworn it! It’s the only thing left for me, and I must do it.”
“Now you are talking right.”
“Oh, I ain’t a fool, Frank Merriwell! I know well enough what I’ve got to do. The thing is to do it. One night I tried to play ‘Topsy’ without using it, but I was so dull and dead that Haley gave me a great call down. It puts life into me, it braces me up long enough to play the part. If I don’t do it, I’ll lose my engagement.”
“Better lose your engagement than your health—your life.”
“But I can’t afford to lay off now,” said Cassie, desperately. “I must go through till the end of the season. Then I’m going to a sanitarium somewhere and get rid of this business—get cured. I’ll do it! All I want is for you to keep still.”
“You can trust me,” assured Merry. “You may be sure I’ll keep still.”
“Don’t tell Havener.”
A man came quickly into the room. It was Havener himself, and his scowling face showed he had overheard something.
Cassie gave a gasp of terror.
The stage-manager glared at them both.
“What’s this secret between you that you are going to keep from me?” he demanded.
“Speak!” cried Havener, furiously. “It’s no use trying to keep the thing hidden, for I am dead on.”
Cassie looked at Frank appealingly.
“Now don’t take a lot of time to think up something to say,” snarled the angry man. “It won’t go down with me! I’ve seen how things were going for some time.”
Then he whirled madly on the girl.
“So you’re stuck on him because he’s young and smart! Well, you may make a fool of yourself! He’ll throw you over after a time. You have made a fool of me already! Oh, I’d like to——”
His clinched fist was drawn back, and he seemed on the point of striking her.
Frank leaped forward and caught the man’s wrist.
With a howl, Havener turned and struck at Merry.
Quick as he was, Frank dodged the blow. Then he grappled with the stage-manager, strong as that person was, ran him up against the partition, and held him there, helpless.
“Listen a moment, Mr. Havener,” he said, with remarkable calmness; “you are making a blithering idiot of yourself.”
“I am not lying. There is no affair between Miss Lee and myself.”
“I shall keep. All the same, you have no reason in the world to be jealous. I swear it. If you will permit, I’ll gladly be your friend and Miss Lee’s.”
“Let me go!”
“Not so soon.”
“Please don’t hurt him, Merriwell!” entreated Cassie, anxiously.
Those words made Havener squirm. He felt the disgrace of being handled thus easily by a beardless youth. At the same time, he was filled with admiration and astonishment because of Frank’s strength.
“I’ll not injure him,” promised Frank; “but he must come to his senses before I let him go. He must promise not to act like a fool.”
“Let go,” said Havener. “I was a fool to get stuck on the girl! Said I’d never let another one fool me after my first mistake, but a man don’t know much when it comes to women.”
“You will make a fool of yourself if you break with Miss Lee because you think there is anything between us, that’s sure.”
“What was the secret?”
“Perhaps she will tell you some day. If you care for her, you must believe in her and trust her. If you cannot trust her now, it will be a good thing for her to break with you right here.”
Somehow those words seemed to take the excitement out of the stage-manager. He looked at Frank, and then his eyes wandered to the face of the girl.
“You must believe him, Ross,” she said. “He is right. If you can’t trust me now, you never will, and we shall be miserable, instead of happy.”
“Everything. I have told him.”
“Why did you do it?”
“Because I had to tell somebody! You are a man, and you can keep still, but a woman just has to talk.”
“I guess that’s right.”
“He is ready to help us, instead of trying to make trouble between us.”
“That’s right,” nodded Frank.
“Let me go,” urged Havener. “Let me think it over. Perhaps I have been foolish. I don’t know. I’ll have to have time to think about it.”
Frank released him, saying:
“All right, but don’t get daffy about it. Believe me—believe Miss Lee. All will be well in the end, I hope.”
“You were talking together in a confidential way,” said the stage-manager, “and I heard her ask you not to tell me about something. That was enough to make any man suspicious.”
“Perhaps so; but you had better forget it.” Frank went about his work, leaving Cassie talking earnestly with Havener.
It was evident to Merry that she finally satisfied him that his jealousy was groundless, for he stooped and kissed her suddenly.
In Frank’s heart, however, was a deep and heavy pain, caused by the knowledge of the unfortunate girl’s terrible secret.
The “All-Star Combination” struck bad business and a run of all-around hard luck. The “ghost” did not “walk,” and distrust, dissension and rebellion arose. Barnaby Haley had all he could do to hold the company together. He did so, hoping that the “streak” would pass and good business would come.
The part of the country through which they were playing had been surfeited with “Uncle Tom,” and the people were tired of the old piece, so they refused to be aroused and inveigled into giving up their hard-earned money, for all of the glaring paper, the donkey, the “fierce bloodhounds,” and the “gold band.”
One night there was a “council of war” among the members of the company, and demands were made on Haley. He could not meet the demands, and the entire company threatened to “quit.”
The following morning several members of the company were missing, and the show was forced to go on without them, or suspend.
That night old Dan Lee filled more parts than he had ever before attempted on one occasion.
In order to get through with the piece, it was necessary for almost every actor to “fake,” and Frank was obliged to fill in by assuming a small part. He did it very well, saving the piece from complete disaster, although the thin audience went away far from satisfied.
When the next town was reached, it was found that their reputation had reached there in advance of them.
“We’ll be lucky if we take ten dollars to-night,” declared Havener, after discovering the true state of affairs.
Then one of the actresses “struck,” adding to the complications. It seemed doubtful if they could play that night at all, but, as a last, dying gasp, they resolved to make a bluff at it.
The actress had been required each night to ascend into the flies as the spirit of “Little Eva” after the death scene, and it was necessary for some other person to take her place.
That night it was arranged that Hans should dress in the flowing white robes, and be hoisted into the flies when the proper time came. The stage would be in semidarkness, and it was hoped that the audience would not catch on.
This struck Frank as very ludicrous. Merry believed the dissolution of the company must come on the following day, and so he was ready to play any sort of a practical joke. He resolved to have some sport at the Dutch lad’s expense.
To the astonishment of everybody, the theater filled surprisingly with spectators. Barnaby Haley rubbed his hands together with satisfaction and congratulated himself.
But the audience was there for sport, and they began almost as soon as the curtain went up to guy the players. As the play progressed, this “jollying” became more and more offensive and hard to bear.
Frank decided that, before the play was over, the audience would break out all together.
When the death scene came, Hans Dunnerwurst, arrayed in white robes, with wings attached to his shoulders, was crouching behind the couch on which “Little Eva” was supposed to be gasping her last.
Frank had arranged the tackle that was to hoist Hans, and he was waiting eagerly for the climax that was to come.
The footlights refused to grow dim, although a desperate attempt was made to lower them, and there was a hitch in the play.
At last, thoroughly desperate, Havener gave the signal for the men at the windlass to hoist away.
Something white rose swiftly into the air over the couch.
The “spirit of Little Eva” was ascending.
But such a spirit!
The hook of the tackle was attached to the seat of the Dutch lad’s trousers, so that he was held limply “amidships,” while his flowing robes had fallen away in such a manner that his clothing was exposed beneath.
Probably never before in the history of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” on the stage had such a “spirit” ascended before the eyes of a staring, astounded audience.
“Hell-up!” howled Hans, kicking and squawking, as he sailed toward the flies. “Come und safe me pefore you vos a deat man!”
Then there was a hitch, for the windlass refused to work, and there the struggling Dutch lad hung in full view of the now laughing spectators.
Missiles began to whizz through the air.
Spat!—a stale egg struck Hans behind the ear.
A small cabbage sent him spinning round and round like a top.
“Give it to him!”
The audience was in an uproar, and it seemed as if every person there had brought something to throw.
“Hel-lup!” bellowed the unfortunate lad. “I vos peing kilt alretty yet!”
With the band, Ephraim Gallup roared with laughter. He knew a practical joke had been perpetrated, and somehow it had the flavor of Frank Merriwell’s old-time larks, so he was immensely amused.
As Hans stopped revolving for a moment, he shook his fist at Ephraim, gurgling:
“Vait, vait! Uf I aind’t kilt pefore I die, I vill got efen mit you! You vos a——”
Swat!—a rotten apple struck him fairly in the mouth, stopping his flow of speech.
“This is the funniest show I ever seen!” shouted a man in the audience. “Ain’t I glad I come!”
Some boys began to sing “I Want to Be an Angel.”
Then the windlass began to work again, and the pelted youth was drawn up out of sight, just as Havener succeeded in arousing the curtain boy to let the curtain down.
It was not necessary to finish the play. The audience did not expect it, and the theater was emptied.
Hans Dunnerwurst was so angry that he couldn’t talk.
Havener did not have much to say, for he decided that it would be a waste of words, for the company was pretty sure to disband on the following day.
That night the stage-manager accompanied Cassie Lee when she left the theater. It was dark on the side street, and a man sprang on them almost as soon as they came out by the stage entrance.
“Now I’ve caught ye together!” snarled a familiar voice. “I’ll finish you both this time!”
“Storms!” screamed the girl.
“Yes, Storms!” grated the man. “Take that!”
“That” was a bullet from a revolver aimed straight at Cassie.
But the bullet did not touch her.
Frank Merriwell had followed them from the building, and he leaped on their assailant, bearing Storms to the ground.
The revolver was discharged again, and Frank felt the powder singe his wrist.
Then Havener came to Frank’s aid, and, between them, they disarmed and captured the ruffian, beating him into a stunned condition with the butt of his own revolver.
That night Storms lay in the town’s “cooler,” and on the following day he was tried for murderous assault and held for the grand jury.
Havener and Cassie promised to appear against him.
The stage-manager went to Frank, like a man, and said:
“Merriwell, I don’t know what the secret is between you and Cassie, and I don’t want to know till you get ready to tell me, but I want to ask your pardon for making a fool of myself over it.”
“That’s all right,” assured Frank. “I had forgotten it.”
“I hadn’t. I could hate you even if you did save my life, but since you saved Cassie’s, I can hate you no longer. I believe Storms’ first shot would have killed her.”
“You bore him down just in time. Keep the secret, and be my friend.”
He held out his hand, which Frank grasped.
“All right,” said Merry; “I am glad to be your friend. As for the secret, some day Cassie will tell you that herself. We may part here, but I wish you good fortune.”
“Part?” said Havener. “I hope not. Haley has struck an angel.”
“An angel—a chap with money who will back the show. We are going to reorganize and go on.”
“Hurrah!” cried Frank. “That is good news!”
FRANK IS GIVEN A PART.
A few weeks later Frank was startled by a request to take a part himself owing to the illness of one of the actors. The request came from the stage-manager of the “Empire Theater Comedy Company,” which was, in fact, the reorganized “All-Star Combination,” formerly on the road playing a “modernized version” of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” This play was now simply one of the numerous pieces in the repertory of the reorganized company, the donkey and the bloodhounds being relegated to the background for the time being, although the famous “Gold Band” was retained in all its glory.
Barnaby Haley believed in the efficacy of a band of music to draw spectators in small cities and country towns. He rated it next to “paper” in the general run, and even better in some cases.
As for “paper,” three of the pieces in the repertory were “old stand-bys,” and “stock paper” could be obtained for them from any of the big eastern theatrical printing houses.
Haley had retained his grip on the management of the company, although obliged to take in a partner. The partner was the “angel” who saved the company from going to pieces. His name was Zenas Hawkins, a man with theatrical ambitions, who had “money to burn.” Haley was helping him burn it.
Haley realized that “Uncle Tom” had been done to death through the section of the country he was in, and so the reorganized company prepared to put on several other pieces.
Some of those plays they could obtain legitimately. Others were secured from a certain company of “pirates,” located in Chicago, who boasted that they could supply any dramas on the American or English stage.
These plays were secured by the “pirates” with the assistance of expert shorthand writers, who were hired to attend them and take down the lines as spoken by the different actors. From these shorthand notes typewritten manuscript copies of the plays were made, and sold for sums ranging from five to twenty-five dollars, to such unscrupulous managers as cared to purchase and use them.
Of course, this traffic in stolen property was unlawful. The manager who purchased and produced the play was committing a crime, but, until recently, the penalty was simply a fine, usually insignificant when exacted, and the manager could jump on to some other part of the country and go right ahead playing the piece. In nine cases out of ten he would not have money enough to pay the fine, and it cost the rightful owners of the piece more trouble and money to prosecute him than they could afford, as such prosecution seldom or never interfered more than temporarily with the pirating of the play.
Under the amended copyright law of 1895, however, any manager unlawfully presenting a play is liable to a fine of not less than one hundred dollars for the first performance and fifty dollars for each subsequent performance; and offenders who fail to pay the fines imposed may be imprisoned upon order of the court.
This revised law has, in a measure, stopped the pirating of plays, although the fact that the rascally concern in Chicago is still doing business is evidence that there are unscrupulous managers in the country who are willing to take desperate chances in order to play in remote and unfrequented towns the popular dramas of the day.
Barnaby Haley had decided to take such chances, for he had obtained three plays in manuscript from the Chicago thieves. The titles of these plays, however, he had changed, to reduce the liability of detection, and he had resolved to be very careful where he presented them.
Of course, there was no paper for these pieces, but the advertising for the other plays was good enough to attract attention at the start, and the stolen plays would be presented to wind up full week engagements, where a change of bill was required nightly.
Haley had induced Hawkins to “put up” for one “full stand” of printed advertising, made especially for them, and that was “pretty good stuff.”
In the selection of a name for the organization, the crafty and astute Mr. Haley had remembered that there was an “Empire Theater Stock Company,” the fame of which had spread extensively. By calling his aggregation the “Empire Theater Comedy Company” he fancied many people might be deceived into believing it the organization of a similar name, which was handled and controlled by a wonderfully successful theatrical manager.
Roscoe Havener, the former stage-manager, had been retained in his old capacity, for he was a good man and knew his business.
The company had played three days in a town where they were billed to remain for a week, when, one afternoon just before rehearsal, Havener sought Frank Merriwell and requested him to take the place of Mr. Lawrence, who was dangerously ill.
They were on the stage, which was set for the first act of the play to be given that night.
Several of the other members of the company, attired for a dress rehearsal, were present and heard what was said.
One of them, a young man, Douglas Dunton, who played the scheming villain of the piece, listened with great interest.
Leslie Lawrence, the actor who was ill, had been cast for the leading character of the play, a part Dunton had coveted.
“You, Merriwell,” said the stage-manager, “must play the part given to Lawrence. The local stage-manager will have to serve as prompter to-night, and every member of the company must, so far as possible, look after the properties required by him or her. We must get through with this piece somehow, even if you have to read Lawrence’s part.”
Dunton stepped forward.
“It strikes me, Havener,” he said, in his forward way, “that you can make a better arrangement.”
Ross Havener turned and scowled at the speaker, for he was a man who did not fancy receiving suggestions from anyone.
“What?” he said, sharply, like a pistol shot.
Dunton repeated his words in a bold manner.
“What do you mean?” asked the stage-manager.
“It strikes me that it is a mistake to put Merriwell, a raw amateur, onto such a part,” said Dunton, swiftly. “He cannot memorize the lines in such a short time, and he is bound to make an awful mess of the whole play if he tries it.”
Frank said not a word, but his eyes looked the speaker straight through.
Havener turned to Frank.
“Think you can do anything at all with the part in such a short time?” he asked.
“I can try,” was the quiet answer. “I am very apt at memorizing anything, and I believe I can have the greater part of the lines before the evening performance, if I am not required to do anything else.”
“Even if he had the lines perfectly,” put in Dunton, “he could not handle the part.”
“How do you know?” asked the stage-manager.
“Reason will tell anybody that. Why, it is almost a star part! It requires some one with experience and judgment. I have studied the part, for I like it, and I believe I can play it as it should be played. It is the kind of a part that suits me.”
“Hum!” grunted Havener. “What are you driving at? Want to play it yourself?”
“Well, I believe that would be the best way to arrange it.”
“Who’d fill your part?”
“You might put Merriwell on that. It is only about half as long as the other, and it does not make so much difference if it is not played well. The audience hates the villain, anyway, and so what’s the odds if he is rank?”
“So that is the way you feel about your part, is it?”
“Yes; I haven’t liked it from the start.”
Havener drew himself up, and his black eyes glared at Dunton.
“Then, sir!” he exploded; “you are not capable of playing the part as it should be acted, much less a better part, like that given Lawrence! The trouble with you is that you have an enlarged head. I advise you to put it in soak and see if you can’t reduce its size. Get such notions out of your nut, or I shall have to put you onto juveniles. You will play the part assigned to you, and Mr. Merriwell will do his best with the part I gave Lawrence. That settles it, and I don’t want to hear any more about it.”
Havener turned away, and Douglas Dunton, furious over such a “call down,” gave Frank Merriwell a look of hatred, but remained silent.
CASSIE, THE SOUBRETTE.
Frank was given the manuscript of the play, and he began looking the part over at once.
He had a wonderful memory, and he put his mind onto the lines in such a manner that he did not hear Cassie Lee, the soubrette, till she had spoken to him three times.
“I don’t want to bother you, Frank,” she said, “but accept my congratulations, and I hope you’ll just paralyze ’em to-night. Somehow I believe you will astonish ’em.”
“I shall do my best, Cassie,” said Merry.
“I know it,” nodded Cassie, an unusually animated light coming to her eyes. “I heard what Dunton said, and I was mighty glad Ross gave him that call down. Dunton is a flub, but he’s got a bad temper, and he’ll hate you worse than sin now. Look out for him.”
“He won’t trouble me.”
“Don’t you be too sure.”
“Well, I shan’t worry about it. I’m not afraid of him.”
“That’s just it. You’ll be too careless. I wouldn’t trust him as fur as I could sling a mule by the tail. I don’t like his eyes. They’re too shifty. He alwus struck me as treacherous.”
“Well, he must hate Havener worse than he does me.”
“He won’t dare touch Ross, and that’s the very reason why he may try all the harder to do you. My! but I wish this old rehearsal was over.”
“As a dog.”
“This business of playing so many different parts is too much for you.”
“It’s work, but I like it.”
“Better than playing ‘Topsy’ regularly?”
“Sure. I was dead sick of that old part. I’m glad ‘Uncle Tom’ is only played once in a while, but pop is heartbroken.”
“He’d rather stick to the old piece?”
“Lord, yes! He’s been playin’ parts in it for the last twenty years, and he knows every line and every bit of business. He thinks the country is degenerating when people get stuffed with ‘Uncle Tom’ and don’t want no more of him. He wouldn’t stay with the company if it wasn’t for me, and he’s liable to break loose any time and get on a reg’l’r tear. I’m watching him all the time and hold him down. Pop is all right when he lets red-eye alone, but he’s worse’n an Indian when he gets on a tear.”
“I hope you will be able to keep him straight, Cassie; but this watching is wearing on you. You don’t get rest enough, and you show it.”
She shot him a quick look.
“It ain’t that so much,” she muttered. “It’s something else the most. You know what ails me.”
“Yes, I know,” admitted Frank. “Can’t you break away from the habit, Cassie?”
“How can I? Look at me! I’m dull as a rainstorm, my head feels like a block of wood, and my feet are like lead. Wouldn’t I be in nice shape to go on before a house? Time I did it twice, Haley’d fire me, and he wouldn’t be to blame.”
“But isn’t there anything else——”
“Nope. Got to use the same old stuff till the season’s over anyhow.”
“But it’s getting an awful hold on you, Cassie.”
Hard lines formed round her mouth—a mouth that had once been rather sweet and pretty.
“Can’t help it,” she said, grimly. “It wasn’t my fault in the first place, and I’ve got to live. All summer there won’t be nothing for me to do, and I must stick the season out, so as to have something saved up for hot weather. I tell you, this life ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. A girl that’s got a good home and wants to go on the stage is a fool. She don’t know when she’s well off.”
Frank nodded his conviction that this was true. He had not seen much of theatrical life, but already he was convinced that it was a hard life to follow, especially for a girl.
“I was brought up to it,” Cassie went on; “and that was just my hard luck. Never had no good chance to get an education.”
“You can educate yourself now.”
She shook her head slowly.
“No use,” she said. “I’m too old now.”
“Too old! Why, how old are you?”
“That’s enough. Most girls are ready to leave school when they’re that old.”
Frank did not tell her, but he had fancied that she was twenty-three or twenty-four. He now realized that it was the life she had led that had made her seem so much older than she was in truth.
Life on the stage in cheap dramatic companies that play one-night stands is hard at best; but Cassie’s life had been particularly hard on account of her father, who had neglected and abused her when he drank.
For all of this neglect and abuse, Merry believed old Dan Lee really loved his daughter, for, when the man was sober, he was proud of Cassie, being tender and considerate in all his actions toward her.
Old Dan was very jealous of her. He believed her too good to “tie up” to a common ham-fatter, and so he had blocked the game of every cheap actor who tried to show her particular attentions. He believed that, some day, she would be able to make a “good match,” for other men must see in her all the fine qualities that were so evident to him.
Thus it came about that the girl did not dare let her father know there was a love affair between herself and Roscoe Havener, the stage-manager, for, although Havener had not seen his legal wife for four years, he was not divorced, and the entire company knew it.
When Frank discovered this attachment between the soubrette and the stage-manager he felt like advising Cassie to wait a while before she permitted herself to become very fond of Havener, but he quickly decided that such advice would be a waste of words, and kept still.
That Havener was favorably disposed toward Merriwell, Cassie felt sure, even though he had said little or nothing about the young man. Now, after seeing him give Merry the part that had been assigned to Lawrence, who was really one of the best actors in the troupe, and hearing him call down Dunton, she was certain Havener was aiming for one of two things. Either he had confidence in Merriwell, and wished to give him a chance to show up, or he believed Frank must make a wretched failure in attempting to play on such short notice, which would mean his “release” from the company.
Cassie had such confidence in Frank that she believed that Havener would fail if he was aiming to disgrace Frank.
She wished to encourage Merry, and that was why she had spoken to him as he was sitting on a canvas-covered property tree stump, industriously and hurriedly running over his lines in the first act.
“If you’re only eighteen, you’ve got plenty of time to study and add to your education, Cassie,” said Frank. “You have a way of learning your lines quickly when you take a part. You can read the right kind of books and memorize their contents.”
“I don’t know what kind of books to read.”
“I can tell you.”
“Oh, well, I’ll think it over. I don’t have much time, you know. Can’t do it after the show is over, for I’m dead tired by that time. Can’t do it forenoons, for I’m digging away on new parts all the time now.”
“But you can do it vacations.”
“Oh, I suppose I might. There, I’ve bothered you too much. Didn’t mean to when I spoke to you. Just wanted to tell you I’d bet anything you surprise ’em on the part to-night. Something makes me sure you will. You have lots of lines with me, and I know them lines as well as I do my own. If you get stuck, I’ll be able to give you a lift without the aid of the prompter. Keep your nerve; don’t get the shakes. That’s all.”
“That’s what I mean.”
“I don’t know, but I hardly think I’ll have that.”
“You can’t tell.”
“You ever have it?”
“Did I! I should guess yes!”
“Thought you were brought up on the stage.”
“Then I don’t see why you should have stage fright.”
“It’s a mighty funny thing, I tell you. I began as an infant prodigy, and I don’t s’pose anything ever scared me till I was playing soubrette parts. One night I got it, just as hard. Opened my mouth to speak, and, by George! I couldn’t make a sound. I just stood there like I was nailed to the boards. Pretty quick I began to shake, and you’d thought I was taken with the ague. It was terrible, I thought I’d faint. After a while, I got strength enough to rush off, and then I had fits in one of the dressing rooms.”
“That was strange.”
“No. ’Most ev’rybody gets a touch of it sooner or later. When it was all over, I was so hopping mad I didn’t know what to do. I went on again and played right through the piece without a quiver, and I’ve never had a touch of it since. But I had to have it some time. Some people never get over it fully, but with most folks, one attack ends it. I hope you won’t have it to-night, Frank.”
“I hope so.”
“Well, I’ll git. ’Scuse me for the bother.”
She walked away, and Frank followed her sympathetically with his eyes.
“As good-hearted girl as ever lived,” he murmured. “It’s a shame she’s contracted that frightful habit. I’m afraid it has such a hold on her that she’ll never be able to get rid of it. Poor Cassie!”
Then he resumed his studying.
By this time the band, which had given its midday parade through the town at the regular hour, was gathered before the stage, ready to practice the pieces to be played that evening.
Ephraim Gallup had managed to retain his position in the band, as he was a remarkably good baritone player, and he had a way of making his horn “talk” so that it pleased the ear of the average countryman mightily.
Hans Dunnerwurst, the Dutch boy, had developed a knack for playing the bass drum, so he was retained by Manager Haley. Hans played the drum and cymbals at the same time, beating the drum with his right hand and playing the cymbals with his left, one of the brass discs being attached to the drum so that the other could be struck against it.
The leader of the band had a great idea of the proper music for a street parade and for an inclosure like the interior of a hall or theater. On the street the little band of eight pieces roared and thundered in an amazing manner, making enough noise for four times their number. It was not noise without harmony, either; and it was the kind of music that pleased all small boys and most men and women.
In the band was a quartet of fine singers. Each night the band played in front of the theater just before the doors were opened. The final piece in the open air was one that always pleased the fancy of the listeners, as it was replete with all kinds of musical tricks. It contained a cornet solo, into which some imitation bugle calls were worked, a snare drum solo, during which, for a few seconds, the drummer rattled away on the side of his drum, instead of the head; a trombone solo, giving the trombone player a chance to do some fancy flourishing, and, at one point in the piece, every other instrument stopped for the bass drum and cymbals to rattle, and bang, and thunder, and crash. But the real catching features of the piece came toward the end. Of a sudden every instrument stopped, and the entire band whistled a strain of the piece. Then it was that Hans Dunnerwurst made his great hit, for he was a marvelous whistler, and he warbled and trilled in a way that made it seem a whole flock of mocking-birds had broken loose, and caused the spectators to stand on their toes and crane their necks to see who was producing all those amazing sounds. The final feature of this piece was singing by the quartet, and when it was all over the crowd almost invariably broke into a tumult of applause, and the astute Mr. Haley rushed the band off the scene, knowing anything more would be too much, as the crowd had been worked up to just the proper pitch to part with its quarters and halves.
The music provided by the band inside the hall was of quite a different character. It was soft and subdued, full of rippling melody, and quite suited to the situation. Of course, the medley was given in the evening, as it was almost always called for by the audience, and some new features were introduced, such as sleighbells, tinkling cymbals and the shuffleboard to imitate dancing.
Some of the musicians acted as accompanists for the singing given at each performance, and furnished music for the dancing, so they were required to rehearse with the company regularly. Indeed, Havener was quite a stickler about the matter of rehearsals, no one being excused from them without good cause.
The band played through one of its new pieces, and then, in order to give Merriwell more time to run over his part, Havener had the singers go through with their songs for the evening performance.
And Frank was so utterly absorbed in his effort to commit as many lines as possible that he did not even notice when the rehearsal began.
At last, the time for him to go on arrived, and Havener appeared at his elbow, saying:
“If you can get along at the start without the manuscript, Merriwell, it will be better. I’ll take it and help you along. We’ve managed to go this far without a prompter.”
Frank did not stir. He sat with his eyes fastened on the page before him.
Havener touched his shoulder.
“Come, Merriwell,” he said, sharply.
Then Frank was aroused, and he got up quickly.
“All right,” he spoke. “I’m ready.”
He handed the manuscript to Havener.
“Think you can do anything without reading?” asked the stage-manager.
“I believe I can remember a part of the first act.”
“All right; go ahead.”
Frank went on, and Havener observed that he made the proper entrance. He had an “enter speech,” and he gave it correctly.
Dunton was standing in the wings, watching and sneering.
Havener went down into the theater in front of the stage, where he could watch the rehearsing and see that the characters went through their business properly and grouped themselves to the best advantage.
Ephraim Gallup and Hans Dunnerwurst were astonished, for they had not known that Frank was to play a part.
“Shimminy Gristmas!” gurgled Hans.
“Gosh all hemlock!” gasped Ephraim.
Frank knew everyone was watching him, which made his position extremely embarrassing. Indeed, for a professional rehearsals are often far more trying than performances when the theater is well filled with people. It is difficult to act before empty seats, with the members of the company looking on, for then the intensity required at certain times seems foolish, and makes the performer feel ridiculous.
Merry’s face was flushed, and he stammered somewhat at first. Then he heard a low, sneering laugh, and he saw Dunton regarding him derisively.
Instantly Frank stiffened up. He was on his mettle in a moment, resolved to do his best, and he got through the scene fairly well. Of course, Havener had to prompt him several times and give him directions about certain business.
But the stage-manager observed with satisfaction that Merriwell made a good appearance and did not assume any awkward positions, get back to the footlights, or turn in the wrong direction when it was necessary to cross, go up or walk away from another person.
When Frank came off, Cassie was waiting for him.
“Good stuff!” she declared, approvingly. “You did that all right.”
“I think it was pretty bad,” confessed Frank.
“I tell you it was all right. Surely you did remember those lines well. Got any more?”
“I believe I can remember nearly all of the first act.”
“If you can do that, you’re a wonder!”
Frank did it. In fact, when he went on again, he was almost letter perfect. This time much of his business was with Dunton, who continued to wear a sneering expression on his face and did whatever he could to break Merry up. In this the young rascal failed, for Frank acquitted himself splendidly.
The instant the end of the act was reached, Havener said:
“We’ll go through that again.”
“The third act is the heavy one,” said Dunton. “I think we’ll have to go over that more than once, and we won’t have time if we repeat the first act.”
The stage-manager gave the fellow a withering stare.
“Look here, Dunton,” he exclaimed, “if you are managing this business, I’ll quit; if you are not, kindly permit me to give directions. That’s all. We will repeat the first act.”
The angry actor ground his teeth together and stalked off. Behind the scenes he found his especial chum, Arthur Sargent, and gave vent to his feelings.
“This is too much!” he snarled, guardedly. “Havener gives that upstart Merriwell the leading part in the piece, and then he calls me down twice before the fellow. I feel like punching somebody.”
“Punch Merriwell,” suggested Sargent.
“All I want is a good opportunity,” declared Dunton. “I’d like to get at him. I’d do him up in a hurry.”
The fellow had a reputation as a “scrapper,” and he fully believed he could whip Merriwell easily.
“You can find an opportunity,” said Sargent. “I’d like to see you spoil his face. He thinks he’s handsome, and a pair of black eyes would break his heart.”
“I’ll give them to him,” promised Frank’s new enemy.
“Oh, he’ll make an awful mess of the whole play! Just think of him in the duel scene with me! And I’ve got to let him disarm me and get the best of the duel! Gods! it’s enough to make a man daffy!”
“The whole business will be a farce,” Sargent consolingly declared. “Havener will be to blame for it.”
“That’s right. I’d like to tell Havener what I think of him.”
“Then why don’t you do it!” exclaimed another voice, and Cassie Lee suddenly appeared from behind some loose scenery. “I’d like to see you! I’ll bet you don’t dare peep to him, but you raise a big blow behind his back. You’re a stiff! That’s my opinion of you, Dug Dunton!”
The soubrette was aroused now, and her accustomed languid, weary air had vanished completely. Her eyes, generally dull and heavy, except when she had resorted to the stimulation of morphine, were full of fire and scorn.
Sargent gasped and seemed to feel like sneaking away, but Dunton brazened it out.
“So you were playing eavesdropper, hey?” he hissed. “Well, I don’t care! If you blow on me to Havener, I’ll give you away to your old man.”
Cassie threw back her head, and her thin nostrils dilated.
“Give me away?” she panted. “About what?”
“Oh, you know,” asserted Dunton, with insolent significance.
“Tell me what you mean!” commanded the little soubrette, bracing up to him, her small fists clinched. “Tell me what you mean, Dug Dunton, or I’ll light onto you myself, and I’ll bet a dollar I can make you look pretty sick!”
He saw she really meant what she threatened, and he backed off a step, putting up his hands.
“Easy now!” he fluttered. “Don’t make a fool of yourself, Cassie!”
“Tell me what you meant by your words. What will you give away?”
“Oh, I meant that I’d tell Dan about you being so thick with Havener. That’s all.”
“That’s enough! What do you mean by ‘so thick’? What do you know, anyway?”
“Oh, I know a few things.”
“Then you’ve been rubber-necking. Well, it’s just like you. I believe I have a right to be friendly with Mr. Havener?”
“Yes; but you don’t want your father to know just how friendly, and I don’t fancy you care to have the rest of the company know it. You keep still about me, for I can hurt you if you don’t.”
“So you’d try to hurt my character, would you? Well, I never thought any better of you. But you do it if you dare! If you say one word about me that is bad, I’ll shoot you full of holes! If you blow your mouth to pop, I’ll have your hide and tan it for shoe leather! Don’t you forgit it, either! And I advise you to keep away from Frank Merriwell, for he can lick the stuffing out of you the best day you ever saw.”
Dunton nearly lost his breath.
“Why—why,” he gasped, “you’re crazy!”
“Nope, just mad—blazin’ mad!”
“If Merriwell gives me any guff, you’ll see——”
“He never gives anybody guff, but he’ll give you a thrashing if you get gay with him.”
“I can whip him.”
“Yes you can—I don’t think!”
“He’s a stiff!”
“He’s too stiff for you. He’s a gentleman, and you ain’t in his class. You know it, and that’s what ails you. I don’t propose to waste any more breath on you, for you ain’t worth it.”
And Cassie walked away, leaving Dunton shaking with rage.
“I’d like to wring her neck!” he panted. “I never liked her.”
“Jingoes!” ejaculated Sargent. “Never thought there was so much fire in that pale-faced, washed-out creature. She always reminded me of Kipling’s poem, ‘A rag and a bone and a hank of hair.’ You better keep still about her, Dug, for something makes me think she’d keep her word and shoot you if you said anything about her character. Such girls as she are liable to do such things; and you know you actually do not know anything detrimental to her, except that she is stuck on Havener.”
“Oh, she’s a fool! What makes me the hottest is that she thinks that upstart Merriwell can do me. I’ll show her about that, if I get a chance.”
Dunton was still agitated with anger when it was necessary for him to go on the stage again, and he went through his part in such an indifferent manner that Havener was obliged to speak to him several times. This the stage-manager did quietly, for he saw the actor was “broken up,” and he believed it was because of the calling down he had received.
As for Merriwell, he went through his work with a vim and assurance that simply amazed everybody. This time he seemed to have his lines almost perfectly, and the act went off smoothly so far as he was concerned.
Then the second act was taken up and rushed through. As everyone but Merry had his or her lines almost perfectly, there was no absolute necessity of prompting, and Frank was given a chance to run over his speeches when he was not on the stage. When he did go on, he again astonished them all by the number of lines he could say correctly.
In the third act came the duel scene between Merry and Dunton. In the duel, Frank was to get the worst of it at first, to be wounded by a foul thrust, and then to disarm his antagonist and generously decline to retaliate for his injury.
Just before the duel scene, Frank heard Dunton say to another member of the company:
“Think of being disarmed by such a stiff as that fellow! It will be ridiculous, and the chances are that the audience will throw things at us to-night. Probably he never saw a sword before.”
Merry’s first thought was to show the fellow without delay that he was greatly mistaken. Then came another thought.
“I’ll let him think away till to-night,” decided Frank; “and then I’ll try to give him a surprise.”
So he went on for the duel scene and carried it through in a decidedly awkward manner, so that Havener was obliged to come upon the stage and try to show him how to handle his sword and follow out the idea of the duel properly.
Dunton looked disgusted. As they were going through the duel for the seventh time, he whispered just loud enough for Frank to hear:
“You’re a regular stick! You’ll make a holy show of us both to-night!”
“Oh, I don’t know,” murmured the new actor. “Wait till to-night comes. I may be able to do it better.”
“Bah! you make me sick!” retorted Dunton, through his white teeth.
“I may make you sicker still,” said Merry, with a soothing smile. “You are not nearly as many as you imagine you are.”
The fellow looked as if he longed to fly at Merriwell on the instant, but he simply ground his teeth together and glared, which caused the stage-manager to compliment him:
“Now you are getting into the part, Dunton,” said Havener. “That expression on your face is fine. It’s exactly what you want in that scene.”
Dunton swore under his breath.
“Merriwell, too, has a good expression,” declared the stage-manager. “That calm, confident smile is all right. I confess that I was afraid of this scene, but I rather think it will go off all right.”
Then the rehearsal went on to the end, Havener not allowing them to stop till it was time to go to the hotel for supper.
DUNTON SEEKS REVENGE.
The most of the company got out of the theater as soon as possible after being given permission to go.
Frank remained to receive some instructions from Havener.
After giving Merry a few pointers, the stage-manager observed:
“You did surprisingly well this afternoon, Merriwell.”
“Thank you,” said Frank.
“If you get stuck to-night for the exact lines, do you think you can fake?”
“I believe so.”
“Well, don’t try it if there is any chance of getting off your trolley and mixing yourself and everybody else. Faking lines is a dangerous and reprehensible practice, and the resort of lazy actors who will not learn their parts; but there are times when faking cannot very well be avoided, and the ability to do it well on such occasions is worth much to a man. Don’t try it to-night, Merriwell, unless you have some idea of the real gist of your speech and feel certain you can finish by giving the next speaker the proper cue.”
“All right, sir.”
Havener looked at Frank doubtfully, and then suddenly said:
“Don’t get the swelled head, but if you do as well in playing to-night as you did at rehearsing this afternoon, you’ll show yourself a wonder. I don’t often say anything like this to anybody, but somehow I felt that it might encourage you without doing you any harm, and I want to give you all the encouragement possible.”
“Thank you again,” came simply from Frank.
“I don’t see how you committed so many lines by simply reading them over once.”
“I have a good memory.”
“Good! Marvelous, I should say. If you save the piece by playing that part pretty well to-night, you will pull us out of a bad hole and show yourself cut out for an actor.”
That was all Havener had to say, and it was remarkable for him, as he seldom complimented anyone. He was profuse with his criticisms, and sparing with his compliments.
As Frank left the building by the stage door, he remembered that he had in his pocket a letter which he wished to mail. The post office was near at hand, and in that direction he turned his steps.
In the window of a store near the post office were two “boards,” on which were photographs of the various members of the “Empire Theater Comedy Company,” and some photographed scenes from the various plays in the repertory of the company.
Two very pretty girls, sixteen or seventeen years of age, had paused to look at the pictures, and Douglas Dunton, coming out of the post office, observed them.
Dunton considered himself a great masher, and he knew that, as a rule, young girls entertain a foolish admiration for actors in general, so he did not hesitate to walk up to this couple and speak to them.
The girls looked startled.
“Don’t be alarmed, young ladies,” said Dunton, in his most amiable manner. “I saw you looking at the pictures. I presume you are going to the play to-night?”
The girls looked at each other, and then turned their backs squarely on the presuming fellow, their action saying as plainly as words that they did not care to have anything to do with him.
Frank Merriwell, coming along, saw all this, and it gave him a feeling of satisfaction.
But Dunton was not to be turned down thus easily.
“I am one of the actors,” he purred, in a manner intended to be very captivating. “That is my picture in the upper right-hand corner.”
The girls looked at each other again, and they smiled a bit at the conceit of the fellow.
Dunton misinterpreted the smile to mean that they were softening toward him, and he continued, glibly:
“I have a disagreeable part to-night, and you will not see me at my best if you come. I am the villain.”
One of the girls gave him a look, and then murmured to the other:
“Too soft to be a villain.”
Then both giggled, as young girls will.
Dunton flushed a bit, but he was not to be rebuffed.
“That’s all right,” he laughed. “I can stand a little jolly like that. Don’t you want free passes to the show to-night? I happen to have two. Here they are.”
The girls hesitated. Surely this was a great temptation to them.
Frank had paused to watch the success of Dunton’s efforts.
“Take them, girls,” urged the presuming actor. “You are welcome to them. I will see you after the show.”
That was enough to decide one of the girls.
“We do not accept presents from strangers, sir!” she said, cuttingly.
The other one looked disappointed, but said nothing.
“Then permit me to introduce myself,” laughed the masher. “I am Douglas Dunton, of the Empire Theater Comedy Company. Now you can take turns in introducing each other to me.”
This was a very pretty little scheme, and one of the girls, who had light hair and blue eyes, would have fallen into Dunton’s snare readily enough.
Her dark-haired companion, however, had more stamina and sense.
“Will you kindly go away and leave us!” she exclaimed, sharply. “You are very annoying, sir.”
Now Dunton was cut to the quick.
“Is that so!” he sneered. “You’re altogether too stuck up, Miss Prim. I don’t care about talking to you, anyway; but the other young lady has more sense.”
“Come away, Lottie,” said the dark-haired girl, pulling her companion. “He is insulting, and there is no one near to protect us.”
That was Frank Merriwell’s cue. He stepped forward instantly, lifting his hat to the girls and murmuring:
“Permit me to offer my services.”
Then he turned on his fellow actor.
“Mr. Dunton,” he said, grimly, “you have not shown yourself much of a gentleman in your attempt to force your attentions on these young ladies. You had better desist.”
Dunton gave a snarl.
“Go to blazes!” he hissed. “If you fool around me, you’ll get thumped!”
He made a threatening movement, but Frank did not stir, looking him straight in the eyes, and quietly saying:
“I wouldn’t advise you to try it.”
That was too much for the angry actor, and, despite the time and place, he aimed a blow at Merry’s cheek with his open hand.
Frank ducked like a flash, came up instantly, caught the fellow by the collar, whirled him about and gave him a push away, advising:
“Go on, now! Don’t try that a second time.”
Then he turned to the girls, swiftly speaking:
“I am very sorry you have been annoyed, and I think you had better get away from here at once, so you will not be connected in gossip with an actor’s row, in case Mr. Dunton forces me to fight.”
The dark-eyed girl gave him a grateful and admiring look, and they both hastened away.
By that time Dunton had turned, his face now white with rage.
“You interfering puppy!” he grated. “I said I’d do it, and now I will!”
He came at Frank with a rush.
A very tall, lank youth and a short, fat lad, who were approaching, uttered simultaneous exclamations:
“Gosh all hemlock!”
“It’s a fight, Hans!” cried Ephraim Gallup.
“Yaw,” said Hans, breathlessly, “id peen a vight!”
“Frank Merriwell is in it!”
“Yaw, he peen in id, und der odder veller peliefs he vos, too, but he vill seen his misdake britty soon alretty.”
“Yeou bet! Whoop! Looker that!”
For Frank had met Dunton’s rush squarely, parried the fellow’s blow, and knocked him down.
The girls, looking back, saw all this.
Dunton was stunned, dazed, astounded. He sat up, clasping a hand over his eye, and staring at Frank.
Hans and Ephraim strolled up.
“Py Chorch!” said the Dutch lad. “I nefer oxbected to seen Misder Tunton seddin’ himseluf down to rest der sidevalks on like dot.”
“Waal,” drawled Ephraim, his face twisted into a comical grin, “yeou can’t never tell jest whut a feller with a real light head will do. He’s apt to lose his b’lance an’ set daown ’most anywhere.”
“Vot you peen doin’ him to, Vrankie?” inquired Hans, innocently. “He don’d seem to felt as vell as you might, don’d id?”
“He does look kainder gol darn sick to his stummick,” nodded Ephraim.
Some of the townspeople began to gather around, and Dunton hastily rose to his feet. He glared at Frank, muttered:
“All right! all right! You’ll settle for that! I’ll remember it!”
Then he started away.
“If yeou want a slice of beefsteak fer that air eye,” drawled the youth from Vermont, “there’s a butcher shop daown the street a piece.”
Dunton did not reply or turn about.
The crowd was curious to know what the trouble was about, and so Frank made haste to get away.
Hans and Ephraim accompanied him.
“That air chap kainder run up ag’inst a snag, didn’t he, Frank?” said the Yankee. “Whut was the raow abaout?”
Merry explained, as they entered the post office.
“Vale,” said Hans, sagely, “some beoble don’d knew so much pefore some dings happens as they knew afterward britty queek.”
“That chap hates yeou, Frank,” asserted Ephraim; “and yeou want to look aout for him.”
“He doesn’t seem to be very dangerous,” smiled Merry, dropping his letter into the slot.
“Yeou can’t tell abaout that. When he finds he can’t hurt ye in a fair way, he’s purty gol darn sure to try some other way. I wouldn’t trust him an inch.”
They left the post office and proceeded to the hotel, where Frank went at once to his room, failing to appear at supper time, as he was busy studying his part, and could not spare time to eat.
Alone in his room, Merry walked the floor and dug away at the lines. His door was closed, and he repeated his part, seeking to discover the proper manner to emphasize the different expressions.
Frank was thoroughly disgusted by the slovenly pronunciation of the average traveling actor, but the matter of emphasis, he had discovered, was given less attention than that of pronunciation. Indeed, many actors mouthed their lines so that the real meaning was utterly obscured, or the words were made to seem to mean something quite different from what the playwright intended.
As for gestures and poses, Frank knew that, on an average, twenty actors gesticulate too much for one who gesticulates too little. The absence of gesticulation is rarely, if ever, missed, while too many gestures are almost certain to be offensive.
Some actors seem to fancy they must do something with their hands every time they open their mouths, and they quickly become annoying to the audience. It is often the case that action is the resort of impotency.
Frank had studied since starting out with the company, and he had learned a great deal about actors and their art. He had found there were books that would give him much needed information, and he had not lost time in procuring them.
It was Frank’s hobby to know something about everything possible, and to know everything possible about the business with which he was connected.
It was this that had caused him to get ahead so rapidly in railroading, and, now that he was no longer employed on a railroad, he hoped to get ahead swiftly in his new line of work.
One of his books had told him that, “More than all else, it is an actor’s utterance that fixes his position as an artist,” and, meditating on the skill of the best actors he had seen, Merry soon decided that this was true.
It was plain enough to Frank that the “old-time” actor who resorted to vocal gymnastics, roaring or cooing, as he fancied the occasion required, did not possess so much actual force as some quiet “new-school” actors, who seldom raised their voices above a certain pitch, yet who succeeded in putting deep intensity into their expressions.
Merry had decided that the beginning and end of the actor’s study should be the art of delivery. The other things an actor must learn are comparatively easy, but the art of “reading” well is so difficult that very few actors become sufficiently acquainted with it to discover how difficult it really is.
Frank knew he could not learn to deliver his part properly in the short time given him to commit it, but he resolved to do his best on the lines he did commit, and so he studied them over carefully to discover just how they should be spoken.
It was plain enough to him that “the art of elocution” as taught by ninety-nine elocutionists out of a hundred was something that had far better be left unlearned if a person really wished to become an actor, for those “elocutionists” give their attention almost wholly to modulation, and very little to the meaning of what they read.
In the matter of emphasis, elocution teachers, as a rule, instruct their pupils to emphasize words, but properly it is ideas and not words that should be emphasized.
Books on elocution give certain arbitrary rules to be followed, but no rule that will apply to all cases can be made, and brains are far better than rules.
Merriwell shut himself up in his room to give his brains a chance to study out certain things in connection with his lines, as well as to commit the words to memory. Almost anybody can commit words so they may be reeled off parrot-like, but it takes intellect to speak words thus committed so that they convey the meaning the author intended they should convey.
So intent was Frank on his work that he did not notice when his door swung open, and he did not know two persons had entered the room till one of them spoke to the other. That one said:
“Shut the door and lock it, Sargent! We’ve got him alone, and I’ll black both his eyes before anybody can come up and stop the muss.”
Frank whirled about, dropping the manuscript play on his bed.
Dunton and Sargent were there, and Dunton was taking off his coat in a very significant manner, while Sargent was hastily locking the door.
There was trouble in the air.
Frank did not wait to be attacked. He made a flying leap at Dunton, caught the fellow with his coat halfway off, and flung him clean across the bed, so that his head was rammed against the wall with a thud that seemed to shake the building.
Then he went at Sargent.
Sargent turned to meet him, but did not get round quick enough.
Frank slammed him up against the door so that it nearly burst open.
“Glad you gentlemen called,” he declared, gently. “Make yourselves at home. I shall do my best to entertain you.”
He had Sargent by the neck, and he thumped the fellow’s head against the door so hard that the panel was cracked.
“Wow!” cried Dunton’s astonished friend. “I didn’t come up to fight with you!”
“Oh, you didn’t?”
“Why did you come?”
“To see fair play.”
“Was that it?”
“Yes. Ouch! You hurt!”
“Well, you don’t seem to be fighting much,” observed Frank, disgustedly. “Get in under cover out of the way.”
He caught Sargent by the slack of his trousers and the collar and fired him under the bed just as Dunton crawled off it.
Sargent went in till nothing but his heels stuck out, and there he lay, making no effort to retreat, evidently being well satisfied to get out of the way like that, for it had dawned on him that he and Dunton were “up against it.”
Dunton was raving mad. He literally frothed at the mouth as he came off the bed and leaped on the ex-Yale athlete.
“I’ll kill you!” he howled.
“Will you?” inquired Merry, calmly. “I don’t think!”
Dunton tried to get him by the throat. For some moments there was a terrific struggle, during which a chair and a stand were overturned.
Dunton was nerved by such fury that he made a desperate antagonist for a time, but he could not hold out against Merriwell.
Seeing he was about to get the worst of it, the fellow tried to get some kind of weapon out of his pocket.
“Would you!” cried Frank, catching his wrist.
“In a minute!” returned the other.
“You’re pretty bad.”
“You’ll find out!”
Bang! bang! bang!
Somebody was pounding on the door.
“What’s going on in there?” cried a voice. “What are you doing, Merriwell?”
It was Havener.
“Oh, I am practicing a little,” answered Frank.
“Let me in.”
“The door is locked, and my hands are full.”
“Hands full of what?”
“Man. Got one under the bed, and the other is—going.”
With a twist and a snap, Frank whirled Dunton about, caught him up off his feet, sent him shooting under the bed by the side of Sargent.
Then he quickly unlocked the door.
“Walk in, Mr. Havener,” he politely invited.
The stage-manager did so, looking around in wonder.
“Where’s the man?” he asked.
Frank pointed, and his finger indicated two pairs of feet sticking out from under the bed.
“What!” he gasped.
“Came in to do me up,” Merry explained.
“But—but—what are they doing under the bed?”
“By gum!” chuckled the voice of Ephraim Gallup, who was now standing in the open door. “I guess they’re huntin’ fer him under the bed. Haw! haw! haw!”
“Ha! ha! ha!” laughed Havener, and he was a man who seldom smiled.
One pair of feet began to kick, and the owner struggled to get out from beneath the bed.
“Come out, both of you,” commanded Havener.
They did so, one at a time, and two more crestfallen, sheepish, disgusted-looking fellows never showed their faces.
“I didn’t come here to fight,” Sargent hastened to again declare.
Dunton said nothing, for he could find no words to express his feelings.
Ephraim Gallup continued to roar with laughter, and all the noise had brought several more of the company to the spot, together with other guests of the hotel.
Dunton ground his teeth together when he realized what a spectacle he was, and the one look he gave Frank Merriwell was murderous. Then he made a break for the door.
“Let me out!” he snarled.
“Go it!” cried Ephraim. “I don’t wonder yeou feel like runnin’! By gum! if I was yeou, I’d feel like findin’ a hole somewhere and crawlin’ inter it. Them fellers came up here to lick Frank Merriwell in his room,” he explained, as Sargent hastened after his chum. “Gosh all hemlock! They couldn’t ’a’ done it if they’d bin ten of ’um, ’stead of two.”
The proprietor came up, and Merriwell apologized for the disturbance. Havener, however, was forced to pacify the man, which he finally succeeded in doing, with the assistance of Hawkins, who had found the soft side of the hotel keeper at an early date.
“Why haven’t you been down to supper, Merriwell?” asked the stage-manager.
“No time,” answered Merry, shortly. “Studying. I won’t eat till after the show.”
“Can’t get anything in this hotel at that hour.”
“Then I’ll patronize a lunch cart. Can’t spend time to eat. Those fellows cut me out of fifteen minutes. Send somebody to tell me when it’s necessary for me to go to the theater.”
“All right,” promised Havener, as he hustled everybody out of the room. “I don’t think you’ll be disturbed again.”
Closing the door, Frank picked up the manuscript and went on studying as if nothing had happened. In a moment he dismissed the encounter from his mind and gave his entire attention to the lines he was learning.
Frank continued to study till Hans came to tell him that the band was going to play before the theater, and the company was going over to make up.
Frank found Havener waiting in the office of the hotel.
“How are you making it?” asked the stage-manager.
“Fairly well,” answered Frank, modestly.
“If you do as well as I hope, you will save us from making a big fizzle to-night.”
“I shall do my level best.”
They went over to the theater, and Frank immediately sought his dressing room to make up.
Old Dan Lee was there.
“Cassie told me I’d better help you make up, Merriwell,” said the veteran actor.
“Thank you, Mr. Lee,” smiled Frank, “but I believe I can do the trick without assistance.”
“All right, if you say so; but I’ll stay and put on the finishing touches.”
“I haven’t a make-up box. Shall have to borrow from somebody.”
“Here,” said Lee, “use what you want out of this one. It belonged to that fellow Storms, but he will do his making up in jail for some time.”
Frank began work with the grease paint, and then Dunton came in. He stopped and glared at Merry, astonished to find him in that dressing room.
“What the——” he began, and then stopped short.
A moment later Dunton made a dive forward and caught up the make-up box Frank was using.
“Well, talk about crust!” he snarled; “this beats! Drop that stick of grease paint!”
Frank turned and surveyed him, quietly asking:
“It doesn’t belong to you.”
“Does it belong to you?”
“Because it does.”
“It was Storms’.”
“What of that?”
“He left it.”
“He gave it to me.”
“That’s a lie!” declared Dan Lee, who had been watching everything. “Storms didn’t give it to anybody, but you took it. Before that you bummed make-up off everybody else, because you spent all your money for drinks, and didn’t have so much as a piece of coco-butter of your own.”
“Oh, dry up!” snapped Dunton. “You’re always poking your nose into something that doesn’t concern you.”
“This business concerns me, for I told Merriwell to use that stuff, and by the gods! he’s going to use it.”
The old actor slammed the dressing-room door and placed his back against it.
“You’re not going to take that box out of here,” he declared. “Put it down till Merriwell is through with it.”
“Then Merriwell will take it away from you.”
“Let him try it!”
“Go ahead, Merriwell,” directed old Dan; “and thump him if he don’t give it up instanter.”
Frank started toward Dunton, who backed away, holding onto the box.
“Keep off!” grated the fellow.
“Give it up!” commanded Frank.
Dunton backed against the partition, and Frank confronted him. The fellow remembered how he had been handled not very long before in Merriwell’s room, and he scarcely wished to fall into Frank’s hands again.
“You can’t have it!” he declared, weakening somewhat.
“Give it up!” repeated Merry, sternly.
Then, like a flash, Dunton lifted the box and hurled it at the head of the youth he hated.
Frank dodged, and the box flew past his head, striking the partition and falling to the floor, where its contents, powder, paint, puffs, and so forth, flew in every direction.
Dan Lee uttered an exclamation of anger.
“Now thump him, Merriwell—thump him hard!” cried the old actor. “He deserves it!”
“No,” said Frank, scornfully. “I should be ashamed to do it. He is too contemptible.”
Then he turned and stooped to gather up whatever he could of the contents of the box.
Dunton fancied he saw his opportunity.
The warning came from old Dan just as Dunton leaped onto Frank’s shoulders.
Merry was crushed to the floor, but Dan Lee rushed forward and caught Dunton by the collar, dragging him off his intended victim.
Up to his feet shot Frank, and he caught hold of his enemy.
“Open the door!”
Lee hastened to do so, and Merriwell lost no time in throwing Dunton out of the dressing room, being unable to resist the temptation to give him a boost with his toe.
The fellow was sent sprawling, his undignified exit being witnessed by several members of the company.
Frank turned back and gathered up such of the contents of the box as he could, and then resumed the work of making up.
He did it rapidly, closely watched by old Dan. In a very short time Frank had finished.
“There,” he said, turning to be inspected, “now I will listen to your suggestions, Mr. Lee.”
“Ain’t got any to make,” said old Dan. “You’re all right; but where’d you learn to make up?”
“Oh, I’ve watched the others.”
“Watching wouldn’t teach you to put it on like that without making a single mistake. You’ve had some practice. Where?”
“A little at college.”
“Did you go to Yale?”
“Never knew it before. Why didn’t you say something about it?”
“Why should I?”
“Oh, I don’t know, but you never say anything about yourself.”
“I don’t think much of fellows who are forever telling something about themselves.”
“No more do I,” nodded old Dan. “You’re all right. But how did you learn to make up at college?”
“We had amateur theatricals.”
“Of course we had to make up.”
“But you were greenies.”
“How could you learn to do it like an expert?”
“Got a book of instructions and studied it till I knew it by heart.”
“Huah! Don’t take much stock in such books. Fellow’s got to learn by experience.”
“I got some experience.”
“Well, the others found I knew something about it, and I had to make up the whole company. In that way I got a chance to try my hand at all sorts of characters, for some of the fellows impersonated old men, some brigands, some girls, and so forth.”
“Well,” said old Dan, “I rather think you have a way of catching onto things in a hurry. You’re all right. What are you going to do now?”
“Study till it is time to go on.”
Frank was to appear in the first act in ordinary street clothes, so his costume for that act gave him no trouble.
He took the manuscript and sat down in a corner, where he went at it again, and he did not even hear the band when it played its first piece in the theater. He was aroused by Havener, who came in and said:
“I’ll have to take that manuscript now, Merriwell. The curtain goes up in two minutes.”
FRANK’S FIRST APPEARANCE.
Frank stood behind the scenes, ready to make his first entrance. Outwardly he was as calm as a clock, but inwardly he was not so calm. Anyone looking at him closely must have observed that his eyes shone with a strange light. Whether his face was pale or not could not be told, for the make up concealed that.
The play had started off all right, and already the audience was giving it close attention.
The house was good.
Cassie had found an opportunity to whisper to Frank:
“Keep a stiff upper lip, my boy. I’ll bet on you. You’re a winner, and I know it.”
“Thank you, Cassie,” he smiled, quietly.
“Dunton’s the one that’s liable to go to pieces to-night, for he’s in a deuce of a state. He’s been drinking, too. I’ll bet he gets stiff after the show. That fellow hates you so he’d like to kill you now. Look out for him.”
“So long, and good luck.”
He saw by her appearance that she had resorted to her regular stimulant, and again he thought:
Even in that moment when his own affairs weighed on him so heavily he thought of another.
What was that? One of the actors was speaking, and it was the speech that preceded his entrance.
The moment had arrived at last!
Frank nerved himself, and then he—entered.
For a single instant it seemed that his tongue was numb in his mouth and he would not be able to speak, and then, with grace and dignity he advanced down the center, smiling and delivering his first speech.
The moment he gave utterance to the first words his embarrassment left him and he was quite at ease. He made a fine appearance and impressed the audience favorably.
Frank went through the scene splendidly, for it was the one he had rehearsed most, barring the duel scene. He had the air and bearing of a professional actor, and no one in the audience could have imagined him a novice.
As Dunton was not on the stage at the time, he had a chance to stand in the first entrance at the left and watch everything. His heart was swelling with rage, and he did his best to attract Merriwell’s attention, hoping to break Frank up by a sneering look.
But Frank gave strict attention to the people on the stage, and neither glanced toward the wings nor the audience. In fact, when he left the stage he had not seen a single person besides those with whom he had had business before the footlights.
His exit was effective, and there was a ripple of applause as he delivered the final speech of the scene and retired from the stage.
Dunton was chewing his tongue viciously, and swearing beneath his breath.
“Oh, the fellow shall have a tumble before the piece is over!” the stage villain muttered. “I’ll see to it that his light is dimmed. He shall not triumph to-night.”
Havener received Frank as he came off.
“You did first rate that time, Merriwell,” he said, encouragingly. “If you can keep that up, you will make a hit, but you know the hardest is to come.”
“I know,” came quietly from Frank’s lips.
“Do you feel shaky?”
“Not a bit.”
“That’s good! You will do it!”
Frank saw that the stage-manager was giving him all the encouragement possible.
Havener himself was playing a part, but he had very little business on the stage with Merriwell.
Cassie soon came round and congratulated Frank.
“Merriwell, my boy, you did it great!” declared the little soubrette. “I was proud of you. You made a splendid appearance. If I wasn’t stuck on Ross, I’d be head over heels in love with you this minute.”
“Don’t make me blush, Cassie!” protested Frank, embarrassed.
“Oh, I ain’t giving you taffy; this is straight goods. I saw Dunton watching you. His face was like a thundercloud, and he glared as if he longed to kill you. Didn’t you see him?”
“He was standing in the first entrance on the other side. I know he tried to catch your eye.”
“Thought he could break you up.”
“Well, he didn’t succeed.”
“And I was mighty glad. He’s a bad egg. Some day he’ll hit you a slam in the back that will hurt you.”
“Oh, I rather think he’ll drop it after a while.”
“He won’t drop it, for he ain’t that kind. He’s a snake. But I must go on in a minute. See you later. Keep the good work up.”
She skipped away.
When Frank next went on, many of his lines were with Dunton.
Then it was that Dunton did his best to break Merry up. He transposed his speeches, getting everything in, but failing to give Frank more than a third of the cues, and often the continuity of the conversation depended entirely on the cues.
Of course, Frank was placed at a disadvantage, but he faked as well as he could and covered the breaks as far as possible. Indeed, he astonished and disgusted Dunton by his skill in carrying the scene along.
And when Dunton left the stage Havener was waiting for him, looking decidedly ugly.
“Look here, man!” came harshly from the stage-manager; “what do you mean by this kind of work?”
Dunton pretended to be astonished.
“What kind of work?” he asked, with pretended innocence.
“You know what kind of work!”
“I do not, sir. I am sure——”
“That will do! You did your best to rattle Merriwell!”
“Nothing of the sort. I——”
“Don’t lie about it, Dunton! I have been in this business too long not to see through such tricks.”
“Mr. Havener, this is the third time to-day——”
“It is the third time I have been forced to tell you something you do not like to hear, and it will be the last time. If I have to make any further talk to you this day it will be to tell you that you are discharged.”
This was straight talk, and Dunton could not misunderstand it.
“You dare not discharge me without good cause. I have a contract with Barnaby Haley, and you cannot give me any release.”
Havener snapped his fingers.
“That for your contract!” he said. “It was with the old ‘All-Star Combination,’ and does not hold with the new company. You have no contract with Haley and Hawkins, I know that, and, if I see fit to release you, out you go. So now be careful.”
“Such threats are uncalled for, Mr. Havener.”
“I am talking business to you, for there is no other way to handle you. You are so sore on Merriwell that you seem crazy to do him some sort of injury. If you keep it up, you will injure yourself—nobody else.”
“I shall appeal to Mr. Haley.”
“I hope you will. The next time you have lines with Merriwell, however, give him his proper cues. If you don’t——”
Havener stopped of his own accord, and the look he gave Dunton was more significant than words. Then he turned away.
Thoroughly sore and heartsick, Dunton watched the climax of the first act, which was worked out splendidly and received a burst of applause as the curtain descended.
Then, behind the scenes, Dunton saw the members of the company gather around Merriwell and congratulate him.
“Gods!” grated Frank’s new enemy. “I can’t stand that!”
He rushed away to one of the dressing rooms, where he raved like a mad person.
Having worked himself up to this pitch in his hatred for Merriwell, Dunton was ready for almost anything. He felt that he must ease his mind by talking to somebody, and he uttered an exclamation of satisfaction when Sargent came in to make a change in his costume and make up.
“What do you think of it?” he hissed.
“Of what?” asked Sargent, as he went about making the necessary change.
“Of what!” snarled Dunton. “Why, curse it! of this Merriwell business, of course!”
“I think he did remarkably well,” said Sargent, shifting his collar and tie.
Dunton caught his breath and looked dazed.
“Did well?” he muttered.
“I should say so,” murmured Sargent, looking in the glass as he adjusted the knot in his tie. “I think it was about the best job I ever saw, considering the circumstances. I don’t understand how he did it so well on such short notice. The fact that he committed the lines and was able to speak them on the stage is something beyond my understanding.”
Dunton made a rush, caught his chum by the collar, swung him round and glared into his face.
“Have you got it, too?” he snarled.
“Eh? Got what?” asked Sargent.
“This foolishness over that fellow. Everybody else seems to have it, and now, by the eternal skies! you’ve caught it. It’s too much! Now I will kill him!”
“Better not,” said Sargent, calmly.
“What do you mean? Are you going back on me?”
“Well, then, what——”
“I’m simply going to let Merriwell alone in the future, and I advise you as a friend to do the same.”
“To blazes with your advice—and you, too! You’re a squealer! That’s what’s the matter with you!”
Sargent simply shrugged his shoulders and went on making the necessary changes.
“A squealer!” repeated Dunton, grinding the words derisively through his teeth. “You are scared of Merriwell, and so you are going to quit. I hate a quitter!”
“Now you are getting very excited, Dug,” murmured Sargent, applying some powder to his neck. “What you need just now is a good, cold shower bath.”
“What you need is a good thumping!”
“That’s what you said Merriwell needed, and I went up to his room with you to watch you give it to him,” reminded Sargent.
“Bah!” Dunton almost howled. “So you fling about that! I didn’t think this of you! You’ve gone back on me.”
“No, dear fellow.”
“Yes, you have! You’re afraid of Merriwell! You are a blamed coward!”
“In your excitement, Dug, you are saying a number of unpleasant things. I have found out a few things about Merriwell, and I know he is a bad man to fool with.”
“All right; but take my advice and let him alone.”
“I’ll let him alone when I’ve done him up.”
“And you’ll get done up yourself, old man. Why, this Merriwell was in Yale less than a year ago, and was called the champion all-around athlete of the college. He was a great oarsman, football player, sprinter and jumper. As for scrapping, they say he whipped the bully of the college without getting a mark.”
“Lies—all lies!” palpitated Dunton. “I don’t believe the fellow ever saw Yale College.”
“The trouble with you is that you won’t believe anything you don’t want to believe; but I guess this stuff about Merriwell is straight goods.”
“Lies, lies!” Frank’s enemy snarled. “How do people know so much about him all at once?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“He’s been telling such stories, and that is enough to stamp them as lies.”
“I guess not. I remember seeing his name in the papers. Frank Merriwell was often spoken of in connection with Yale sports and athletics.”
“What of that?”
“Isn’t that enough to prove what I’ve been telling you has some foundation, at least?”
“The Frank Merriwell spoken of may have been quite another fellow. I know it was not this chap.”
“How do you know?”
“Why, didn’t we pick him up on the road, and hadn’t he been working on a railroad! Such a famous Yale man wouldn’t be shoveling coal on a railroad.”
“I don’t know. I’ve heard he lost his fortune and was forced to leave college and go to work.”
“I don’t take any stock in such a fairy story, and you are a fool to believe it. He’s just a common upstart, and I am going to take the starch out of him.”
“Well, I’ve warned you. I am your friend, Dug; but I’m not monkeying with Merriwell any more. You’ve had bad luck at it. Havener is sore on you, and——”
“I’m sore on him.”
“He’s the stage-manager, and he stands in with Haley. He can get you fired if he wants to do so.”
“They can’t get along without me.”
“That’s where you make a mistake. They’d find a way to get along without you.”
Dunton looked thoroughly disgusted.
“I see you have gone back on me, even though you say not,” he said, dejectedly. “I didn’t think it of you, Art!”
He turned away, and Sargent quickly stepped to his side, saying:
“I am still your friend, Dug, but I can’t afford to get into trouble and lose my engagement. You know I’ve got a mother——”
Dunton flung off the hand his friend had placed on his arm.
“The same old mother cry!” he sneered. “You pretend you send all your money to your mother, and that’s why you’re forever broke. That mother of yours is in a Tenderloin flat in New York, I’ll bet, and it’s ten to one she’s drinking fizz with another popper to-night. I’ve sized you up as a good, soft thing. You’ve had your leg pulled till it’s a wonder you can walk without crutches. Soft things always make me tired!”
He left the dressing room, with Sargent standing in the middle of the floor.
“All right!” muttered the latter; “all right, Dunton! I have been your friend, but I rather think this ends it. My conscience won’t trouble me if I quit you after this.”
A REMARKABLE STAGE DUEL.
Douglas Dunton was “sore.” He felt that, besides other unpleasant things that had happened, he had lost his friend and chum, and he blamed Frank Merriwell for it all.
And when he saw Merriwell carry his part through the second act quite as well as he had done in the first, only getting adrift twice, and then faking lines so that it was unnecessary to prompt him, Dunton actually was sick. His lips, on which there were no coloring, looked blue and cold, and his flesh was clammy to the touch.
When Merriwell won a burst of applause, Dunton cursed the audience for a lot of fools, but took care that his curses were not heard by anyone.
To add to his rage, Cassie had the impudence to sweetly ask him if he didn’t think Mr. Merriwell was doing “real well.”
He did not make a reply—he could not.
“I’ll make a fool of the fellow in the duel scene,” he thought. “I’ll show the audience just what a stick he is before I am disarmed, and I’ll make everybody see that I voluntarily permit him to disarm me. That’s where I’ll get in my work.”
Somehow, when he thought it over, this seemed a weak sort of revenge. He longed to humble Merriwell, to completely humiliate him, to disgrace him, if possible.
He could not hide from himself the fact that Merriwell’s work thus far was really marvelous, and that added to his rage immeasurably.
How was it that this fellow, with no experience on the stage, could take an important part, commit it in such short time, and play it with the skill of a drilled actor?
When the second act was over, Dunton was surly as a dog with a sore ear.
Havener came and spoke to him.
“Merriwell is doing first rate,” said the stage-manager; “but the duel will be difficult for him, and I want you to help him as much as you can. You can help him make it effective, if you will, and I shall be watching. Don’t be foolish, Dunton. You can see now that it was better not to put two persons onto new parts, instead of one, and that’s what would have been done if I had let you play the part Merriwell has. I just spoke to him about you, and he says he holds no hard feelings. He will bury the hatchet and forget all that has happened if you will do the same. Now, come, promise me that you will help him on the duel. Will you?”
Dunton hesitated, a sour look on his face.
“Be a man,” urged Havener. “Promise.”
“Be a man!” Those words cut, and Dunton ground his teeth softly. Then, all at once, he pretended to relent, and he said:
“Oh, well, I can’t forget so quickly, but I’ll do what I can for the fellow on the duel.”
“That’s good,” nodded Havener. “I shall be watching.”
“Yes, I’ll do what I can for him!” grated Dunton, softly, as the stage-manager moved away. “Oh, but you had a crust to come to me and talk like that!”
When the curtain went up for the third act, Dunton was eager for the time of the duel to arrive. His eagerness made him go at his part with more vim than heretofore, and Havener, watching him, nodded his satisfaction, saying to himself:
“I guess the fellow sees at last that he has been making a fool of himself. He’ll be all right, now.”
The third act went with a swing that fairly carried the audience. Bursts of applause were frequent. The play was a success, and Havener knew he would receive congratulations from Haley, who was “on the front of the house.” At last the duel scene was on. It was a forest setting, and Merriwell, the challenged party, had fallen into a snare set for him by Dunton, the villain, by naming swords as the weapons.
Dunton and his second were first on the scene, and the conversation between them was to the effect that in three minutes the time set for the duel would pass, and there were no signs of the challenged party.
Dunton: “He will not come—he dare not come!”
Second: “There is yet time. He may arrive at the last moment.”
Dunton: “He is a coward, from a race of cowards. He poses as a gentleman, but the blood of a craven flows in his veins.”
These words were spoken with an intensity and double significance that Frank, waiting in the wings, did not miss.
Second: “The time is nearly up.”
Dunton: “Yes.”—Looks at his watch.—“There is but one minute more. He will fail to appear, and when next we meet, I will brand him as the cur he is.”
Second: “You will come out of this affair honorably without danger to yourself.”
Dunton: “Danger! Bah! What danger would there be to face him! I would toy with him—play with him as a cat plays with a mouse. I would let him see that he was completely at my mercy. I would laugh at his clumsy efforts, and then, when I had tired of the sport, I would run him through the heart! But I shall not have that pleasure.”—Closes watch with a snap.—“The time is up, and he is not here.”
(Frank enters, followed by his second, with weapons in case.)
Frank: “You are wrong, sir; I am here!”
The audience, whose sympathy was entirely with Merry, gave him a hearty round of applause.
Dunton: “Your craven feet must have faltered slowly on the way.”
Frank: “It was not the fault of our feet, sir; we lost the way, and were forced to seek directions. I assure you that we made all haste, and, now we are here, no time shall be lost.”
Then arrangements were swiftly made for the duel, and soon the two young men stood face to face, stripped of coats and vests, their swords in their hands.
The duel began, and, at the very first, it seemed evident that Dunton was the most skillful swordsman. But Dunton himself soon discovered that Merriwell had lost much of his apparent awkwardness displayed at the rehearsal, and it called out the fellow’s best efforts to beat Frank back and make a display of superiority.
Dunton’s rage increased with every passing moment. He was failing to make such a display of Merriwell as he had hoped, and his anger drove him temporarily insane. With terrible fury he beat Merry back and back.
Frank retreated, watching his antagonist closely. All at once, he saw a deadly glare in Dunton’s eyes, and the fellow hissed:
“Now you die!”
Then he lunged straight at Frank’s heart!
It was no false movement, but it was a savage thrust with murderous intent.
Frank realized his danger on the instant. Dunton, insane with anger, meant to kill him, and then declare it was an accident.
Merriwell leaped aside, and parried with a slight turn of his wrist. The point of his enemy’s sword was turned aside, but it passed through his shirt sleeve.
Realizing he was baffled, Dunton fought like a fiend, and the swords clashed and clanged, sparks flying from the glittering blades.
The audience little dreamed a real duel was taking place on that stage, but never before had they witnessed anything like it, and, as one man, they arose to their feet.
Clash! clash! clash! The ring of steel against steel filled the house.
Like young tigers, the two antagonists crouched and darted and circled and sprang.
It was a most thrilling spectacle.
“Curse you!” panted Dunton, as he was baffled again and again.
Not a word came from Merriwell, but now there was a light in his eyes that his enemy had never seen there.
Dunton could not reach Frank, try as he might, and he began to realize that this fellow whom he despised was really his master with the weapons they held.
The seconds became alarmed and seemed about to interfere, for they realized that there was something more than acting about this wonderful duel.
“Keep back!” ordered Frank. “It will be all right.”
“I’ll do it yet!” vowed Dunton, inwardly.
Now Merriwell was toying with the stage villain, a true villain at heart, and, realizing what a poor showing he was making, Dunton set his teeth and made a last bold dash for the life of his foe.
Right there Merriwell caught Dunton’s blade on his, let it slip past till the hilts met, and then tore the weapon from the fellow’s hand, sending it spinning into the air.
Dunton fell back, with a cry of amazement and horror.
Down came the blade, and Merry caught it gracefully, instantly offering it, hilt first, to his disarmed foe.
Dunton hesitated, then, like a flash, he snatched the weapon and tried to run Frank through!
The audience gasped.
But Merriwell was not caught. Back he went with a spring, and again his sword clanged against that of his enemy.
Now it was not possible for the eye to follow all the movements of those gleaming weapons. Frank was a perfect whirlwind, and the terrible look on his set face frightened Dunton beyond measure.
At last, being unable to withstand Merry, the fellow dropped his sword and cried out for mercy.
“Mercy!” shot from Frank’s lips. “What mercy do you deserve? But go! I would not stain my hands with such treacherous blood!”
Then the curtain came down amid a perfect uproar of applause.
DUNTON SEES A LIGHT.
“By Jove!” exclaimed Ross Havener, as he rushed onto the stage the moment the curtain was down. “That was great! Couldn’t have done it better if you had practiced a year! Hear them roar! Why, they’re going to give you a curtain call!”
Dunton started to move away, and he fairly staggered.
“Hold on, Dunton,” commanded the stage-manager. “You must go before the curtain with Merriwell!”
“I can’t!” gasped the wretched fellow. “I—I’m ill!”
“It’ll be only a minute. You must go. Ready, Merriwell. Out here. Go on, now. Bow—bow when they applaud.”
Frank was pushed out, and he found himself before a crowd that seemed beside itself with enthusiasm. Such cheering he had never before heard in a theater. He bowed and walked across.
Then Dunton came out. There was moderate applause, and a few hisses, but it was plain that Merriwell was the one who had won the house.
Behind the curtain Havener stopped them both.
“I don’t understand it now,” he declared. “Why, that was more like a real duel than anything else! One time I was actually scared, for I thought it was a trifle too realistic. In fact, I don’t think it will do for you to go at it like that every time, for you might make a slip that would result in a dangerous wound. I noticed Dunton made some pretty nasty thrusts.”
Again Dunton tried to get away, for he fancied Merriwell would tell Havener everything.
“It looked worse than it really was, I fancy,” smiled Frank. “Mr. Dunton was very easy with me, and all his thrusts were easily avoided.”
Dunton felt like wilting.
“What is the matter, Dunton?” asked Havener.
“I tell you I am ill!” snapped the fellow. “Can’t you see it? My nerves—are all—unstrung!”
“The duel was too much for you. Now, Merriwell seems as cool as ice.”
Dunton went down to his dressing room.
Sargent was there, and he stared at Dunton as the latter came in and dropped down limply on a square box.
“Well,” said Sargent, “what do you think of Frank Merriwell now?”
“Why!” gasped Dunton.
“Why! Don’t I know! Didn’t I watch it all! Didn’t I understand! Think I’m a fool?”
“What are you driving at?” asked Dunton, weakly.
“You know. You made a fool of yourself, Dug. You tried to run him through!”
The fellow sprang up off the box, his eyes glaring.
“Don’t you dare say that!” he panted—“don’t you dare! It’s a lie!”
“It’s the truth!”
“Curse you! You have turned against me!”
“If you are going to turn murderer—yes!”
“It would have been murder had you succeeded!”
“Your purpose in that duel. You’d thought you could make it seem an accident if you thrust Merriwell through. You might have fooled a jury into believing it accidental, but I should have known better. I should have known you were a murderer!”
“Don’t—don’t use that word!”
“It is the word that applies.”
“The jig is up with me!” half whimpered Dunton. “Merriwell knows, and he will denounce me. You know, and you will say it is true. Oh, curse you both! I hate you!”
He seemed ready to burst into tears, and yet he was quivering with rage.
“Dunton,” said Sargent, grimly, “you’re not in your right mind. You have become insane through your hatred for Frank Merriwell, and your insanity nearly led you to commit a terrible crime. It was not your fault that you did not succeed. If Merriwell had not been your superior with a sword, you would have accomplished the deed.”
Dunton sat down on the box again, and dropped his face on his hands.
“It’s no use!” he muttered, thickly. “Everything has gone against me! I am finished!”
“You have no one but yourself to blame,” said Sargent, rather stiffly. “I warned you to let the fellow alone. But how is he going to prove that you really tried to run him through?”
“He doesn’t know I think so.”
“No. If you will promise me to drop this thing here and let Merriwell alone, wild horses can’t drag anything out of me.”
Dunton lifted his head.
“You will remain my friend?”
“Yes, I’ll stick by you if you’ll quit this monkey business and walk a straight line.”
“I’ll do it, if Merriwell don’t floor me for this first round.”
“You must take chances on that. Brace up, now, and——”
“Yes; give me a drink. Here, I have something in my coat. I must take a big drink, or I can’t play through the last act. They won’t do anything with me till the piece is over, anyhow.”
He got out a bottle and took a heavy drink. To his surprise, Sargent declined to take anything.
“I am done with the stuff for between-the-acts bracers,” he said. “Those who want it may take it. Merriwell doesn’t drink a drop, and he’ll have us all in the shade before the season is over.”
“Are you going to take him for a model?”
“I may. It wouldn’t hurt either of us to pattern after such a model.”
Dunton managed to get through the final act of the play. Appearances indicated that Frank had not betrayed him up to the end of the play, but he felt sure Merry would do so immediately after all was over.
As soon as possible, he wiped off his make-up, got into his street clothes, and left the theater. He went straight to the hotel, and proceeded to get as full of whisky as he could hold.
“I’ll be good and drunk when they jump on me,” he thought.
How he got to bed or when he went he never knew, but he awoke the following morning with a splitting headache, and he was forced to start the day with two stiff drinks. Those seemed to brace him up, and, dressing, he went down to see what was being said about him.
He met some of the members of the company, and they congratulated him on the duel scene. At first he fancied they might be trying to draw him out, but he soon decided they were in earnest. That made it evident that they knew nothing of the facts. But Havener must know.
He met Havener, and two minutes’ conversation with the stage-manager convinced him that Havener did not know.
Then it began to dawn upon him that it was possible Merriwell had not yet denounced him. Before long he was convinced that this was true.
What did it mean?
“He’s waiting for a good opportunity to take me before the entire company,” thought Dunton. “Well, I’ll give him the chance, and I’ll swear every word he says is a lie. I never tried to run him through.”
But, that afternoon at rehearsal, Frank had an opportunity to make the denunciation, and did nothing of the sort.
The rest of the week passed.
Saturday night, after the show, Dunton found Merriwell alone.
“Look here, Merriwell,” he said, “when are you going to do it?”
“Do what?” asked Frank, surprised.
“Blow the whole business.”
“About that duel.”
“What about it?”
“Why, you know I was furious with you, and I tried to do you up for keeps. Of course, you will blow it to Havener and the others. Why don’t you get about it? I’m tired of waiting.”
“Look here, Mr. Dunton,” said Merriwell, facing the fellow squarely. “I want to ask you one or two questions. First, aren’t you a little bit disgusted with yourself for trying such a trick?”
“Perhaps so,” admitted Dunton, sheepishly.
“Next, would you try it again if you had the chance?”
“No. I was a fool, and I’m glad I failed. I don’t want to kill anybody.”
“I thought not, and I thought I would give you time to come to your senses. You need not be afraid that I will blow. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You—you will keep still about it?”
“If you act decent in the future—yes.”
The fellow was silent. He stood staring at Frank, seeming uncertain what he had better do. Gradually the blood flowed into his face till it was crimson.
“Merriwell,” he said, huskily, “I never knew what a blamed cheap cuss I am! You are a white man! You would have served me right if you had blown the whole thing. I can’t see why you didn’t. I don’t expect friendship from you—I wouldn’t accept it; but I don’t think you and I will have any more trouble.”
Then he turned and walked quickly away.
BARNABY HALEY RECEIVES A TELEGRAM.
“Here! That’s my name.”
“Let’s have it.”
“Thirty cents, collect.”
“Who’s it from?”
“Don’t know. Sign for it here on the book.”
Barnaby Haley hesitated about going down into his pocket and bringing up thirty cents for a message that might be in the interest of the sender far more than himself. The “Empire Theater Comedy Company” had been “up against” bad business for a week, and Haley, who was associate manager with Zenas Hawkins, the “angel,” was not flush with money.
Up to date, the “angel” had seen very little of success, and he was beginning to weary of paying bills on every hand and scarcely getting a chance to count the box office receipts.
Thus it came about that Hawkins was nearing the end of his string, and Haley knew it. Realizing that the time might soon come when the “angel” would refuse to be milked any longer and take himself out of the company entirely, Mr. Haley was holding onto every cent with the grip of grim death.
But the messenger boy who had brought the telegram to the office of the hotel at which the theatrical company was stopping held onto the yellow envelope in a manner that indicated that he was not to be fooled into letting go of it till he had “the price.”
With a sigh, Haley parted with a silver quarter and a nickel and obtained the message, for which he signed on the messenger’s book.
“Any reply, sir?” asked the boy, waiting.
Haley tore it open. A moment later, as he read the message, he started violently and turned pale. Then he said something that would not look well in print.
Several members of the company were sitting around in the office, smoking, chatting and telling stories. Now they were watching the corpulent manager, for all realized that disaster might overtake the company any day, and they dreaded the awful prospect of being stranded so far from New York and the Rialto.
Frank Merriwell had just finished writing a letter at the writing table. As he was sealing it, he heard the exclamation that fell from Haley’s lips.
Ephraim Gallup, sitting near, guardedly drawled:
“It kainder strikes me, b’gosh! the old man’s heerd something he don’t jest like. I’ll bet a dollar the old show goes bu’st inside a week. Yeou don’t darst take me up, Frank.”
“It’s certain there’s trouble in the air,” said Frank, in a low tone. “We’ve been doing a losing business for more than a week.”
“If we bu’st up, I s’pose yeou’ll blame me fer gettin’ yeou inter such a darn scrape?”
“No; you didn’t know what was coming. Besides that, I have had some experiences of value to me.”
“Yeou’ve learnt something abaout the business, anyhaow.”
“Yes, and I have had some experience as an actor.”
“And yeou’ve jest shown ’em that yeou was no slouch. Half the old han’s are jealous of ye, but they don’t say so.”
“Oh, not quite as bad as that, Ephraim.”
“Yes, sur, jest that. I don’t take back a bit of it. They don’t like to see an amatoor do better’n they kin.”
“But Lawrence is with us now, and I shall not get much show in the future. You know they had to run me into his parts when he was ill.”
“I bet yeou git a chance, jest the same. Roscoe Havener ain’t goin’ to keep a stiff on a part when he’s got a good man right handy that he kin run in.”
“Well, if what you are afraid of happens, it’s little good my opportunities will do me. I feel a strange curiosity to know the contents of that message.”
Barnaby Haley had crumpled the yellow sheet in one thick hand, and the look on his phlegmatic face showed he was unusually aroused.
“Answer, sir?” asked the messenger.
“No!” snarled the manager.
The boy dodged.
“Needn’t bite my head off!” he exclaimed.
Then he skipped away.
Havener, the stage-manager, came down from his room and entered the office. Haley saw him, and fanned him to approach.
The stage-manager saw at a glance that something was the matter. Barnaby Haley’s dignity was broken. He was angry, disgusted, desperate.
“What is it?” asked Havener.
“It’s blazes!” growled Haley.
“Heaps of it.”
Haley thrust the crumpled telegram into Havener’s hand. The stage-manager smoothed it out and read the message. Then he whistled.
“That’s queer,” he observed.
“It’s a thundering scrape!” grated the corpulent manager. “Collins ought to be shot!”
“Did you hear that name, Frank?” asked Ephraim.
“Yes,” nodded Merry.
“Know what they’re talkin’ abaout?”
“Yes. Collins is the advance man.”
“Sure pop. There’s somethin’ the matter with him, an’ that’ll bu’st the show sure. No show kin run ’thout a corkin’ good man ahead of it, and——”
“Isn’t Collins a good man?”
“He’s all right, but somethin’s happened. All the bad luck is hittin’ us in a heap. There’s a hoodoo with this show, and I know it, b’gosh! If Haley can’t yank any more dollars aout of Hawkins, then there’ll be a reduction of expenses. Know jest whut that means?”
“I do. It means that the band will be dropped, fer it’s an almighty big expense. Me and Hans will be aout of a job. Mebbe the comp’ny kin hold together anuther week by droppin’ the band, but we pull the craowd, and we’ll be missed. Gol darned if this air show business is jest whut it’s cracked up to be! It’s too blamed oncertain. I wish I was to hum on the farm.”
It sounded like old times to hear Ephraim express such a wish, and Frank smiled a bit.
The other actors in the office were showing anxiety. They had huddled in a little group, and were talking in low tones.
Zenas Hawkins entered. He was tall, thin and ministerial in appearance.
“Just the man we want to see,” said Haley. “Come over here.”
Then he drew Hawkins and Havener into a corner, where the telegram was shown to the thin “manager,” who read it through, puckered up his face and scowled.
A confidential talk between the three men followed. Havener seemed struck by a sudden idea. He turned and looked over the room, his eyes resting on Frank.
“Come here, Merriwell,” he called.
Frank rose and approached the group, wondering what they wanted of him.
Haley pursed his thick lips and stared coldly at Merriwell as Frank came up.
“Too young,” he grunted.
“I think not,” said Havener.
“No experience,” objected the corpulent manager.
“He’s smart,” declared Havener.
“Needs an experienced man.”
“Where can you get one?”
“Give it up.”
“It’s a case of necessity.”
Then Frank stopped and asked:
“What can I do for you, Mr. Havener?”
And the stage-manager answered:
“Mr. Haley and Mr. Hawkins want you to go out in advance of the show in the place of Collins, who has thrown up his job and joined a rival company.”
THE INQUISITIVE STRANGER.
Frank was surprised, but he immediately said:
“All right, sir.”
“You will go?”
These ready answers seemed to please Roscoe Havener.
“You are the only man available,” he said; “and we can let you go now, for Lawrence is back with us.”
Right there Barnaby Haley hastened to put in:
“You are the only man available, and so we are forced to take you. You have done remarkably well, Merriwell, since I engaged you; but, of course, it takes an experienced man to do the best work ahead of a company. You haven’t the experience, and——”
“He lacked experience as an actor, Mr. Haley,” said the stage-manager; “but he did a remarkable turn, just the same.”
“That was different—that was different. He could be shown in that case; in this he must use his own judgment, after receiving a few general instructions.”
“You know that no man can be shown how to act in such a short time, Mr. Haley,” came quietly from Havener’s lips. “He has tact, talent, ability. He has remarkable catch-on-it-ive-ness. I say this before him, for I do not believe he is in any danger of getting a swelled head. I think you can give him his instructions and he will take up Collins’ work just where Collins dropped it, and carry it on successfully. I hate to lose him, for he is a first-class utility man; but this seems to be a case of have to, and I am ready to do what I can for the interest of the company.”
“How could Collins break his contract?” asked Frank. “How could he leave without proper notice?”
“He had no contract with the new concern,” explained Haley. “All there was between us was his old contract with me, as he was out ahead at the time we reorganized, and I didn’t take the trouble to make a new contract for him. Wish I had now, though he might have broken it anyway. Couldn’t get anything out of him, for he hasn’t anything; but I could make it hot for King for hiring him away from me.”
“Who is King?” asked Frank.
“King!” blurted Haley, wrathfully. “He’s a scoundrel—a confounded scoundrel! He’s the manager of the ‘Julian King Stock Company,’ a fake concern—a lot of bum ham-fatters.”
“A rival company?”
“Rival company—rival to the ‘Empire Theater Comedy Company’? Well, I should say not! Such a collection of stiffs cannot be dignified by the title.”
It was plain to Merry that Haley entertained a strong feeling of hatred for Julian King and his organization.
“You see, King treated Mr. Haley very shabbily,” explained Havener.
“Shabbily is not the word—not the word,” spluttered the manager. “He robbed me! We were in Wisconsin. Had been having a hard run. He was my partner in the venture. We were playing ‘Uncle Tom.’ It became necessary to raise money somehow to recover our trunks, which the venial keeper of a third-rate hotel refused to give up till his beastly bill was liquidated. We were compelled to sell the donkey and some other property. King secured the money thus obtained, and skipped with it, leaving us worse off than before. I have never met him face to face since that day, although we have been in close proximity several times. Now he has induced my advance man to quit me and go with his miserable old show.”
“I don’t see just what he wants of Collins,” said Havener, “for he has had Delvin Riddle in advance, and Riddle is one of the best men in the business. Riddle may have left him.”
“Left him—of course!” nodded Haley. “That’s what’s happened. King couldn’t keep a man like Riddle. Now, if we could get hold of him——But I suppose that’s out of the question. We don’t know where he is. We’ll have to send Merriwell out. It’s the best we can do.”
It was plain he was not quite satisfied with the idea of putting Merry ahead of the show, but accepted it as the only resort.
Hawkins was silent. He was a man who said very little on any occasion.
“It is barely possible that King hasn’t engaged Collins for advance agent,” said Havener.
“What else could he want him for?” asked Haley.
“You know Collins can fill a part, if necessary. He is pretty good on old men. King may have taken him to fill in a vacancy.”
“He took him to injure me! That’s exactly what he did! He is an ungrateful reprobate.”
“Well, he’s got him, anyhow; and the best thing we can do is go right along as if we didn’t miss him at all. Where was Collins when King scooped him?”
“What’s the next town?”
“Well, Merriwell must take the morning train for Dundee. You must provide him with complimentary passes, press notices, the route booked, and instructions how to proceed. I believe he will prove himself equal to the emergency, and we shall get along all right as far as the advance work is concerned.”
Havener spoke as if he were the actual manager of the company, instead of being nothing but the stage-manager, and Haley did not resent being told what he must do.
Haley made a pretense of asking Hawkins’ advice, but Hawkins had not much to say.
Then the four went up to Haley’s room, where Merriwell was given the necessary instructions in regard to the route, making arrangements with local theater and hall managers, securing accommodations at hotels, and getting notices into the newspapers.
“Here are the regular notices we have been using,” said Haley, as he brought a lot of typewritten slips and sheets out of his trunk and gave them to Merriwell. “You must jolly up the editors of the papers, and get all the space they will give us. A good advance man has a way of faking up items and stories that editors will accept as news, but which are advertisements of the best sort. Of course, you won’t be able to do that, as you haven’t had the experience, but you must work in as much of this stuff as possible. And you must see that our paper is up on every board available and in every good window that can be obtained. If you do your work well, it will be a case of hustle from the time you strike a town till you leave it.”
“And it’s my opinion that Merriwell is a hustler,” said Havener.
“Well, he has received his instructions. You must be up in time to catch the early train out of here, Merriwell. It leaves at 5:45 A. M. That’s all. I shall not get a chance to talk with you any more, for I must see that everything is settled up here for the move in the morning. We take the seven o’clock train, you know.”
Haley was hustling Merriwell out of the room, when Frank calmly observed:
“There’s one thing you have forgotten, sir.”
“Eh? What’s that?”
“Hum! So I did. Ah—Mr. Hawkins, will you kindly attend to that?”
Mr. Hawkins looked sour and doubtful. Mr. Haley was bland and persuasive. In three minutes he had Hawkins feeling for his pocketbook; in five minutes he had secured the needed cash. The “angel’s” leg had been gently pulled once more.
When Frank again appeared in the office, a young man sitting near a window dropped his paper and got up quickly, a look of pleasure on his face. He rushed forward with outstretched hand.
“My dear boy!” he cried; “how delighted I am to see you again!”
He grasped Frank’s hand and shook it heartily.
“I can’t see that you’ve changed a bit since you left college,” declared the stranger, familiarly. “You’re the same old Merriwell that was so popular and cut such a dash. At first I could not believe it when I heard you were here with a traveling theatrical company. Quite a change from college life, eh, dear boy?”
“Yes, it is a change,” admitted Frank, looking sharply at the familiar stranger and wondering where and when they had met before, for, although he had a remarkable memory for faces, there was nothing familiar about this man.
“I should say so!” the other rattled on. “This knocking around the country must seem strange. How are all the fellows at Yale? I suppose you hear from them regularly?”
“No,” confessed Frank, “I can’t say that I do.”
“Don’t? Well, well, well! Don’t hear from the fellows you used to chum with? That’s remarkable! But, then, I suppose it is the way of the world. Come have a drink with me, old man. We’ll be jolly and sociable.”
“I do not drink.”
“Eh? Don’t drink? How long since?”
“I never drank.”
The stranger seemed doubtful.
“Oh, I understand,” he nodded. “You were moderate in your drinking. You never swam in it, like some of the fellows.”
Frank flushed. There was something offensive about the stranger’s manner, and yet the fellow seemed to mean well.
“I tell you I never drank under any circumstances,” came rather sharply from Merry’s lips.
“Oh, I beg your pardon! You see, I didn’t know about that. No offense, I trust?”
“I understand. I made a break. Just like me. But I know you’re the kind of a fellow to forget it. Have a cigar.”
A well-filled case was held toward Frank.
“I do not smoke.”
Now the stranger was astonished. He slowly extracted a cigar from the case and lighted it, all the while staring at Merry.
“And you went to Yale College!” he exclaimed. “Didn’t drink—didn’t smoke! And you were popular!”
“It can’t be that you knew very much about me, or you would have been aware that I neither drank nor smoked. You have the advantage of me in——”
The stranger broke into a jolly laugh.
“Of course I have. You had so many friends. I didn’t expect you to remember me. Never mind. Come down to the cardroom.”
“Don’t play cards.”
“What—again! Never did?”
“Oh! A relief! Then you have had one vice! Ha! ha! Don’t mind my jollying, old fellow. You’re a rare bird. Come down to the cardroom anyway. I want to talk to you where there won’t be so many rubbernecks around.”
He took Frank’s arm, and, somewhat puzzled and suspicious, Merry permitted the fellow to lead him downstairs to the cardroom.
When they were seated on opposite sides of a table, the stranger again urged Frank to have a drink.
“Take a seltzer lemonade, a ginger ale, anything to be sociable,” he urged.
Then, without waiting for Frank to consent, he pushed a button and called the barkeeper from the adjoining room. Merry was urged to drink something, and finally ordered ginger ale.
The stranger took rum.
“Best drink a man can take this time of year,” he declared. “Gives one a vile breath, but it keeps the system in good condition, and it will not knock a fellow out like whisky.”
“That is your opinion,” said Merriwell. “It is my opinion that either one will knock a fellow out quick enough if he sticks to it. It may do as a stimulant for a very aged person, or it may be absolutely necessary in some cases of sickness, but what any young man in good health can want of such stuff I can’t tell.”
“That’s because you never tried it. You’re not qualified to judge, Merriwell.”
“I have watched its effects on others, and never yet have I seen that it did a well person any good. On the other hand, I know of hundreds of instances where it has done them incalculable injury.”
“Oh, well, let’s not have a temperance lecture, Merriwell. I didn’t bring you down here for that. Here’s our drinks, and here’s success to you on the road in advance.”
Frank sipped his ginger ale, still keenly scanning his companion. Who was this fellow? and what was he driving at? It was plain he knew Merry was going out ahead of the show.
The stranger tossed his rum off at a gulp, following it with a “chaser” of water, and smacking his lips.
“Pretty good stuff, that,” he nodded. “Better’n one can get in most places out in this infernal country. I suppose you start out in the morning?”
“Which way you going? I suppose the manager has given you his bookings? Of course, you know all about his route and his plans?”
Again Merry nodded, but that was all.
“I may be traveling your way,” said the stranger. “We can go along together. That will be jolly. Which way did you say you were going?”
“I didn’t say,” answered Merriwell, dryly.
The voluble stranger seemed brought to a stand for a moment, but he quickly recovered.
“So you didn’t say,” he laughed. “I suppose you are going west? There are some good towns in the western part of the State. Salacia, Dundee, Fardale, Crescent—all along the line are good show towns. Of course, Haley is going that way?”
“Now, look here, my friend,” said Frank, pointedly, “perhaps you will tell me why you are so anxious to know which way the show is going? It seems rather surprising to me that you should take such an interest in us and be so anxious to learn our route.”
The fellow was not ruffled in the least.
“Why,” he murmured, with uplifted eyebrows, “it’s simply because I happen to know you, and——”
“I don’t know you. I don’t remember ever seeing you before.”
“That’s not strange. Of course you forget many of the men you met at college.”
“You have been asking questions; now let me ask you a few?”
“My dear fellow——”
“First, what’s your name?”
At this moment Leslie Lawrence, the actor whose place Frank had filled, came strolling into the cardroom. He paused, stared at Merry’s companion, and uttered an exclamation of surprise.
“Hang me if it isn’t Delvin Riddle!” he exclaimed.
A STRANGE SOUBRETTE.
The name gave Frank Merriwell a shock, for Riddle was the advance agent of the “Julian King Stock Company.”
In a flash, Merry understood the fellow’s little game.
It had signally failed.
King had not been able to pump the new advance man of the “Empire Theater Comedy Company,” although he had tried hard enough.
Not a bit of information had he drawn from Merriwell’s lips.
“Hello, Riddle!” cried Lawrence, stepping forward swiftly. “What are you doing with Merriwell?”
“Not a thing,” confessed Riddle, as he lay back lazily and puffed at his cigar.
“But you—you are working him! I know it!”
“Tried to,” coolly admitted Riddle. “No go. He’s a clam. Won’t talk at all. Couldn’t get him to answer questions, but he turned round and started in asking me questions. Seemed suspicious. Wouldn’t drink, wouldn’t smoke, wouldn’t do anything. What sort of a bird has Haley found, anyhow?”
There was a mild disgust in the baffled fellow’s manner and voice.
A look of satisfaction came to Lawrence’s face.
“So you didn’t get anything out of him?” he said, beginning to smile.
“Not a blamed thing,” acknowledged Riddle.
“I compliment you, Merriwell!” exclaimed Lawrence, heartily. “You have started in well on your new duties. You’ll have to do considerable talking sometimes; but there will be other times when you’ll need to keep your mouth closed. If you talk as well as you have started in to keep still, you are a winner. The laugh is on you, Riddle.”
“That’s right. What’ll you have?”
“A little brandy will do me. I’ve been off my feet, you know.”
Drinks were ordered and brought, Frank refusing to take anything. Lawrence proposed a toast, and they drank.
“How did you get hold of Merriwell?” he asked of Riddle. “Why, how do you happen to be here, anyway?”
“Business,” was the laconic answer.
“But it’s strange I didn’t hear you were here.”
“Came a short time ago. Dropped into the office and heard a Yankee and a Dutchman talking about Frank Merriwell being Haley’s new advance man. They didn’t know me, so I pumped them. Got a description of Merriwell and found out lots of particulars about him. When he came into the office, I thought it must be him, and I made a crack at him. Hit him, all right. Pretended I had known him at college. That went, but I might have saved my breath. Didn’t get a thing out of him.”
Riddle showed his disgust, but he was good-natured about it. Then he complimented Merry on keeping still. Frank laughingly assured him it had required no effort at all, which caused Lawrence to “jolly” Riddle unmercifully.
Frank got away in a few minutes, leaving Lawrence and Riddle together. He went to his room, taking a railroad map with him, and there studied over the route he was to follow, making himself familiar with the names of the towns, distances to be “jumped,” time of trains, population of the different places, and many other things he considered worth knowing.
Thus Merry was starting out, as he started on everything he undertook, by learning everything possible that might assist him in any way.
He looked over the different notices, given him by Manager Haley, so that he might become familiar with them and know just what kind of stuff he was working onto the newspapers.
Those notices were a disappointment to Merry. They seemed too conventional, too tame, too much like other notices of traveling shows, too plainly reading advertisements.
“They are poor stuff,” he muttered. “Nearly half of them show in the first or second sentence that they are advertisements. They are dry as chips. There is no life or snap in them.”
Then he sat down and wrote three new notices. Over these he spent some time, and of one of them he was particularly proud.
“That will be great for ‘Hayseed Valley’!” he exclaimed. “That’s the piece the company opens with in almost every place where they stay more than one night, and they play it pretty often on one-night stands. I believe that will be worth more than all the other notices.”
In “Hayseed Valley,” a farce comedy of the rural order, one of the characters was a French adventurer who pretended to be a count, and who was persistently seeking a rich wife. This is the notice Frank had written:
“The inhabitants of this city (town) and surrounding places are warned to be on the watch for a certain Frenchman who has been creating considerable excitement in this vicinity by his persistent and obnoxious attention to ladies of wealth, both married and unmarried. This fellow is an unscrupulous adventurer, who is masquerading under the name of ‘Count Cavaignac,’ but it is safe to say that he is actually no a-count, and he is certain to have a number of furious husbands and brothers after him, if he does not cease his annoying demonstrations and attentions toward the fair sex. The base slander that every American girl is eager for a title and ready to marry on sight any foreigner who happens along and pretends to rightfully own a title has been refuted by the treatment ‘Count Cavaignac’ has received from every sensible young lady of this vicinity whose heart, hand and fortune he has vainly sought to make his own. All of the bold count’s adventures are highly ludicrous and doubly worth the price of admission to ‘Hayseed Valley,’ in which the fake nobleman appears. ‘Hayseed Valley’ is a rattling three-act farce comedy, and it will be played at the —— Opera House on (date here) by the ‘Empire Theater Comedy Company,’ Haley & Havener, managers and proprietors. Don’t fail to see ‘Count Cavaignac.’”
The other notices were of the unusual order, and Frank believed they would prove of value. He slipped them into his pocket, deciding to show them to Barnaby Haley and seek his approval of their use.
Then Merry went over to the theater, where the afternoon rehearsal was to take place. He found the company assembled and the rehearsal about to begin.
Roscoe Havener came forward at sight of Frank.
“Well, Merriwell,” he said, “Lawrence has been telling us how you played the clam with Riddle, and I congratulate you on starting out well. Just what Riddle was up to I don’t understand, but he had some object in seeking to learn our route. Haley is ready to shoot him on sight, and he has gone in search of him.”
Cassie, the soubrette, approached. She looked pale and thin and wretched.
“I’m sorry you’re not going to be with the company any more, Frank,” she said; “but I hope you’ll have luck in advance. You’ve been a good friend to me—and to Ross.”
“Yes, yes,” said Havener, quickly; “he has done a good turn for us both.”
Then he moved away to give some directions about setting the stage, leaving Frank and Cassie together.
The girl looked at Merriwell, a mournful expression in her face and eyes. Frank thought how great the change when she came on the stage at night, bounding, buoyant, vigorous, her eyes seeming to sparkle with life.
Merry knew the cause of that great change, and he wondered that Ross Havener did not see and understand. It seemed impossible that Havener should attribute the change entirely to excitement, for he must know that the sameness of stagework made it seem to the girl like any other occupation.
“I shall miss you, Frank,” said Cassie, in her melancholy manner. “You’re not like the rest of the crowd. You’re not common. Somehow, there seems to be something dreadfully common about actors.”
“That is not the general opinion of them,” smiled Frank.
“Oh, I know people generally think they’re freaks, but that’s because they don’t know the real truth about them. Actors are always posing so as to make folks believe they are out of the ordinary. You can see that in their photographs and everything. But you don’t have to pose, Frank, to show that you’re no common duffer.”
“Cassie! Cassie! spare my blushes!”
“I’m giving you straight goods. There’s a kind of air about you that shows you ain’t no common stuff. I can’t tell just what it is, but it’s there, all right. And I want to tell you something that I’ll bet my hat on; I’ll bet you’ll make a top-notch actor, if you stick to the profession. You won’t be satisfied to be just an ordinary twenty-five a week sidelight, but you’ll just climb up and up till you are a star.”
“Gracious, Cassie! but you are putting it on thick!”
“I’ve been thinking of this since I saw how you filled Lawrence’s place. On the dead quiet, I think you can do just as good a job now as he can, and he’s given leads almost all the time. When you have to play gentleman parts, you’ve got the natural air, and Lawrence lacks that, for he never had the breeding. I wish they’d kept you pegging away, instead of shoving you on ahead.”
“I don’t mind it, Cassie, for I want to learn every branch of the business. I may not stick to the profession, but it is fascinating to me, and——”
“You like it?”
“Don’t mind the knocking around?”
“Rather enjoy that.”
“Poor beds and poor grub?”
“I can stand it.”
“That’s different, but I don’t get discouraged very easily, especially when the work is so interesting.”
“What is it?”
“You’ve got it!”
“Stage fever. When they can stand all the hard knocks and still find the work interesting and fascinating, they’ve got it. You’re liable to stick to the stage the rest of your life. Well, if you do, I hope I’ll live to see you away up in the pictures, but I’m afraid I won’t be that lucky.”
“Now, Cassie, I don’t like to hear you talk like that.”
“Well, it’s true, Frank. You know my trouble, and I guess it’ll throw me down for keeps. I can’t shake the habit.”
“Thought you were going to make a try at it this coming summer?”
“Am. Don’t believe it’s any use. If I fail, I’m going to tell Havener the whole business, and we’ll cry quits. That’ll be rough on me, for you know how much I think of Ross; but I’ll never tie to him as I am.”
“Oh, you’ll come out all right, Cassie.”
“Mebbe so. I know you want to encourage me, Frank; but I’ve got the Old Scratch to fight. If I was religious, there might be a chance for me; I could pray then, and somehow it does seem that the prayers of real good folks are answered.”
This was a remarkable thing for the girl to say, and Frank wondered at it not a little. It was unlike Cassie, but he said:
“It won’t do any harm to pray, even if you are not religious, Cassie.”
“Oh, what’s the use! God wouldn’t hear prayers from such as me.”
“You do not know that,” came soberly and impressively from Frank Merriwell’s lips. “You know it is said He notes even the sparrow’s fall.”
“But it would seem foolish for an actress to get down on her knees and pray.”
“Why not an actress, as well as anybody else?”
“Oh, but you know how religious people regard us. They don’t reckon we have any show of heaven.”
“Narrow-minded persons may think so, but there is no reason why an actor or actress should not be a good Christian and stand as good chance of reaching heaven as a doctor, a merchant, or a person in any other profession or business.”
There was a strange look on the girl’s face.
“Do you believe that?” she whispered; “do you really and truly believe it?”
“I certainly do.”
“I wish I might be sure of it.”
The strange look on the sad face of the girl deepened, and an infinite longing came into her weary eyes.
Somehow, Frank Merriwell felt that his words at that moment might have great influence on her future, and he was almost frightened by his position.
“Cassie,” he said, softly, his voice full of music and persuasion, “I believe you can be sure of it.”
There was eagerness in her manner now, in contrast to her usual listlessness.
“Don’t be afraid to pray, if you feel like it. I am not a professor of religion, yet I have prayed more than once, and more than once, I firmly believe, my prayers have been answered.”
“You did that?”
“Why, Frank! you are so young and strong and healthy! Why should you pray?”
“The young and strong and healthy should pray as much as the weak and ill and diseased. Prayer was not made exclusively for invalids, by any means.”
“And you prayed?”
She could not seem to get over that. It was a wonder to her.
“I said you were not like other people; I knew it all the time. To look at you, one would think you the last person in the world to pray.”
“You can’t always judge by appearances.”
“That’s so. If I was going to pray, how would I go about it, Frank?”
She asked the question hesitatingly, timidly, with an effort.
“Just get down on your knees in your room, Cassie, and pray. That is the way. There is no rule to follow.”
“Perhaps—perhaps I’ll try it.”
“Do it, Cassie,” urged Frank, earnestly. “It won’t do any harm, if it doesn’t do any good.”
“It won’t be blasphemy for me to do it?”
“Not if you are sincere.”
“Then I’m going to try it, Frank—I’m going to try it! I’m not strong enough to break the dreadful habit alone, and I believe the only way is for me to have some aid from Heaven. You have given me new hope. If I should—if I could get help that way, I’d owe everything to you.”
“No,” he said, with deep impressiveness, “you would owe it to no earthly power.”
Looking into her weary face, he softly added:
“I will pray for you, too, Cassie.”
The following morning Frank was up bright and early and ready to take the train.
Havener came to the station to see him off, together with Ephraim Gallup and Hans Dunnerwurst.
“Gol dinged if I ain’t sorry yeou’re goin’ to leave us!” said the Yankee youth, dolefully.
“Yaw,” nodded the Dutch boy, sniffing; “you vos sorry I vos goin’ to left you, Vrankie.”
“Haow long do yeou expect to be aout ahead of the show?” asked Ephraim.
“I can’t tell about that,” answered Frank. “Perhaps not very long, for I may not suit.”
“I’ll risk that,” said Havener. “You’ll be all right. There’s something rather odd I’ve been thinking about—something of a mystery.”
“Why should Delvin Riddle try to pump you and get our route from you?”
“Why, I suppose he wanted to know what towns we were going to play in so he could——”
“But Collins knew the route.”
“That’s so!” he exclaimed. “Never thought of that.”
“King gobbled up Collins, and so, of course, Collins told him the route.”
“It seems so.”
“Of course it was so.”
“That’s it, exactly—why did Riddle take so much trouble to try to pump it out of you? I’ve been puzzling over that. There’s some kind of a mystery here.”
“Nobody knows. He didn’t stay at our hotel last night, and Haley was not able to find him in town. He suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. There is something queer about this business, Merriwell.”
“I scent a mystery!” cried Frank. “Mysteries always interest me. Wish I had time to solve this one.”
“Well, don’t let it bother you. Here comes the train. Remember your instructions. Of course, you know just how the company stands, but Haley is holding fast to Hawkins, and the old man will be able to work the ‘angel’ if we get into another hard place. We must strike better business soon, and I guess we’ll pull out all right.”
A short time later, Frank was seated on the train, waving a farewell from the window to his two friends and the stage-manager.
Hans and Ephraim stood side by side in solemn sorrow, one tall, lank, angular, the other short, stout, rotund. They presented a strong contrast, and Merry could not help smiling a bit. Then came a thought that saddened him somewhat. He could see there was a big change in himself since the old, rollicking days at Fardale—he could feel it. He had been forced to face the world and battle for bread, and the circumstances and his advance in years had wrought the change. He was no longer a thoughtless boy; he felt the blood and vigor of dawning manhood in his veins. Boyish things were past. Still he could enjoy fun as well as ever, but the time when he was continually planning and carrying into execution practical jokes was gone.
Frank believed that Hans and Ephraim saw the change in him. Still he was sure their affection for him was as strong and enduring as ever.
They, too, had changed somewhat, for they had been forced, like Frank, to win their way in the world.
Thinking it all over, Merry did not long to go back to his boyhood days, pleasant though they had been. He realized that he was enjoying life as he had never before enjoyed it. The battles, the rebuffs, the triumphs, they were something, worth living for, and they gave such a pleasure to existence that it took away all regrets for his lost boyhood.
Then he thought of Yale—dear old Yale! Then a pang of regret shot through his heart, for he had not completed his college course—he had not graduated with honors, as he had believed he some day should.
But the man who had robbed him of his fortune had not prospered. For a long time the sword of justice had been suspended over Darius Conrad’s head, and it had seemed that it would never fall. The unscrupulous rascal had gone on his wicked way unmolested till the tide turned against him.
Then his downward course had been swift and the end awful. His ill-gotten gains melted away, and the man who had been rich and the ruling power of the Blue Mountain Railroad at last stood face to face with ruin.
Then came another thought that added to his heartsore feeling. Ephraim Gallup had brought him unpleasant news of Elsie Bellwood. Her father was dead, and Elsie was alone in the world, save for some not very closely connected relatives.
Poor Elsie! Thrown on her own resources, she must find the struggle hard and trying. He did not even know her address, so he could not write to her.
Had fate parted them forever?
That thought was maddening. He would not believe anything so cruel had happened. Some time he would find his little, blue-eyed sweetheart, and then they would be parted never again.
Frank was musing thus when a man came out of the smoker and dropped into the seat at his side, coolly observing:
“Fine morning, Merriwell.”
Frank looked up quickly.
“Riddle!” he exclaimed.
“Sure thing,” nodded the advance man for the “Julian King Stock Company.” “We seem to be traveling in the same direction.”
Frank was not pleased. He did not like Riddle. There was something about the fellow that struck him unfavorably.
“Yes,” he said, shortly.
“Been having an after-breakfast smoke,” explained Riddle. “Bad habit to smoke in the morning, but I’ve fallen into it. Old Haley was looking for me last night, wasn’t he?”
“I believe so.”
“Well, I knew better than to let him find me. He’s ugly sometimes, and he hates King as much as King hates him. He got King into a wild-cat scheme once and did him out of a pretty little boodle. When they saw the show was going to pieces, Haley planned to sell off a lot of the stuff and get enough money to jump back to New York and leave the company. King got ahead of him, though, and did the trick first. Since then they have been ready to shoot each other on sight.”
This was a different version of the story from the one told Merry by Haley, and was an illustration of the old axiom “there’s always two sides to a story.”
Riddle rattled away with his talk. He told some stories, one or two of which were not at all to Merriwell’s relish. He cracked a few jokes, and he tried to show himself as an all-round good fellow.
“The real fact is,” he finally said, “that old Haley is a skin. He does everybody he can, and he’ll do you. Bet he’ll stick you a right good bit by the time he gets ready to drop you—that is, if he is able to hold his old show together, which I doubt most mightily. Think he’ll be able to keep it running another month?”
“Do you think I would tell you if I didn’t believe he’d be able to do that?” asked Frank.
“Oh, you’re too stiff, my boy. You’ll get over that by the time you’ve associated with theatrical managers as long as yours truly. Now, look here, I’ve got a proposal to make to you.”
Frank was silent.
“It’s this,” Riddle went on; “you give me the route of your company, and I’ll give you mine. If you think this isn’t a fair exchange, I might make it an object to you. Old Haley needn’t know anything about it, and you can nail a tenner down into your inside pocket. What do you say?”
“I say, Mr. Riddle,” said Frank, rising, his eyes flashing, “that you are a confounded scoundrel! I don’t know what your object is in wishing to learn the route of our company, but I do know it cannot be an honest one, and I do not wish to have anything further to do with you. There are lots of vacant seats in this car, so be good enough to get out of this one, or I shall throw you out!”
That was straight talk, and Delvin Riddle did not misunderstand it. He looked Frank over rather sneeringly, then laughed in a most cutting manner.
“All right, my young gamecock,” he chirped, “I’ll leave you, for you are altogether too touchy. You are a very fresh duck, and I’ll show you before many days that you’re not half as smart as you fancy you are.”
Then he got up, still laughing sneeringly, and retired to the smoker.
Frank sat down.
“I don’t like to be taken for a scoundrel by such a fellow,” he thought. “It galls me. But it certainly is a singular thing that Riddle is so anxious to learn our route, and it is far more singular that he has not learned it through Collins. As Havener said, there is a mystery about it.”
Frank was provided with a ticket to Dundee, but he decided to get off at Salacia, the town from which Collins had wired Haley that he had abandoned his job and joined King’s company.
Something made Merry desirous of asking a few questions about Weston Collins.
It was near eleven o’clock in the forenoon when the train arrived at Salacia.
Frank got off.
So did Delvin Riddle!
FRANK PUTS UP PAPER.
A surprise awaited Frank in Salacia. Of course, the first thing he looked for on striking the town was the billboards, expecting to find the “Empire Theater Comedy Company’s” paper up everywhere.
Not a piece of that paper was in sight.
But every billboard in town was covered with Julian King’s paper, and the show windows were filled with his lithographs!
Without waiting for anything Frank sought the manager of the opera house, for Salacia had but one first-class theater.
The manager was not at home, but his assistant, the janitor of the building, was easily found, and he acknowledged that he had charge of everything during Manager Fuller’s absence.
“Then,” said Merriwell, “you may be able to explain to me why Julian King’s paper is on your billboards.”
“Eh? Who are you?”
“My name is Frank Merriwell.”
“Well, what in——”
“I am in advance of the ‘Empire Theater Comedy Company.’”
“The deuce you are!”
“Here’s a letter from Mr. Barnaby Haley that may convince you.”
The janitor glanced over the sheet Frank spread before him.
“But—but a man by the name of Collins is their advance agent.”
“Was, you mean.”
“He isn’t now?”
“Well, I don’t understand——”
“Neither do I. We have the opera house engaged for the eighteenth, and King is to play here the nineteenth, yet his paper covers every board in town, and I can’t even find one of our lithographs in a window. What does it mean?”
“Why, your company has gone up.”
“Who told you that?”
“Dispatch from King said so.”
“It’s a malicious falsehood, and Mr. King should be made to smart for it!”
Frank was aroused, as his flashing eyes indicated.
“But—but,” stammered the janitor, “Collins, your man, he said it was no use to put up the rest of the paper. He said so himself.”
“Then he was here?”
“And put up some of our paper?”
“Yes, about half of it. He went round with me. I do the bill-posting sometimes.”
“How did he happen to quit so suddenly?”
“Don’t know. He received a telegram, and it seemed to knock him all out. He just said it was no use to put up any more paper, and stopped. I tried to get something out of him, but he wouldn’t say a word. Next thing we knew he was gone.”
“Don’t know. Just disappeared.”
“We had a telegram from King.”
“Saying the ‘Empire Theater Company’ had gone up?”
“And where is this paper you put up for us?”
“Under King’s. That was put up over it right away.”
“Well, that was a fine trick! Why didn’t you dispatch to Mr. Haley and find out if King’s report was true?”
“Why should we, after Collins acted so queer? Of course, we thought it was true.”
“It was untrue, and it was a rascally piece of business, for which King should be made to pay dearly. Where is our paper that you hadn’t put up?”
“I think it’s here somewhere, if it hasn’t been sent away.”
“Sent away where?”
“With the rubbish. Man was here taking rubbish away this morning.”
“Well, now I want you to find out in a hurry if he has taken that paper away.”
“Why, what are you going to——”
“Don’t stop to ask questions. Find that paper!”
Frank’s tone made the janitor jump.
“All right, sir!” he exclaimed. “Wait here a minute and I’ll find out about it.”
The man was gone about two minutes, and then came back, looking alarmed.
“It’s gone!” he declared.
“Then follow it!” shot from Frank Merriwell’s lips. “Find it—recover it—bring it back! You must do it in a hurry. That paper is going up right after dinner, and I’ll be on hand to see that it goes up right. We’ll block Mr. King’s little game right away. Now don’t make any mistake, you must recover that paper, and you must be ready to start with me at one o’clock to put it up. Have everything ready then. Do you understand?”
“I—I think so.”
“All right. I’ll be here on the dot.”
Then Frank hustled away.
He inquired the way to the office of the local newspaper, and went there direct, finding the editor just preparing to go home to dinner.
Merry introduced himself and chatted with the editor a short time. He found the manager of the opera house had brought in some notices of the Julian King Company, but had furnished none of Haley & Hawkins’ Company.
Frank told just what sort of a trick King had attempted to play, and the editor became somewhat interested.
While they were talking there was a commotion on the street, and, looking out, Frank saw a runaway horse tearing along, with a little child, scarcely more than a baby, clinging to the seat of the rocking carriage.
Like a flash, the ex-Yale athlete shot out of the door, took a run in the same direction the frightened horse was going, caught the animal by the bit, and stopped the creature in less than six rods, by a wonderful display of strength and skill.
The owner of the turnout, who was also the father of the child, came rushing up, pale and trembling, and caught the uninjured little one in his arms, kissing and caressing her.
A crowd gathered and showered compliments on Merriwell.
“Young man,” cried the father, “you saved my Bessie’s life! How can I pay the debt?”
“I’ll tell you,” smiled Frank; “take your family and come see the ‘Empire Theater Comedy Company,’ which plays here the evening of the eighteenth. You’ll see a good show and get your money’s worth. Bring along your friends.”
“I’ll do it!” exclaimed the man. “I’ll bring everybody I can. Are you in the show?”
“I’m connected with it. Take this horse, somebody. I’ve got some business with Mr. Jesper.”
Jesper was the editor of the paper, and he walked back to the office with Merriwell.
“You’re a rattler,” he said, admiringly. “You made a good hit in stopping Sam Henson’s horse. He thinks the world of his child, and he’s got money to feed to the dogs. If he took a fancy, he could buy up every seat in the opera house and not feel it. It would be just like him to do it, too. I’ll have to make a good item of your stopping his horse.”
“That’s all right,” laughed Frank, “as long as you wind the item up by mentioning the ‘Empire Theater Comedy Company.’ You mustn’t fail to do that. And here is some other stuff I’d like to get into your column of locals.”
He brought out the three news items he had written but had forgotten to submit for Haley’s inspection.
Jesper looked them over and smiled.
“Why, this is good stuff!” he declared. “It’s different from the stuff usually brought in here.”
“Can you use it all?”
“Well, that is crowding us, but——”
“How many seats do you wish?” asked Merry, bringing out his passes. “Will six be enough?”
The editor thought six might do, and he got them. Then Frank made him promise to have the items set up the first thing after dinner and a number of proofs taken of them.
“You see, I have no copies to furnish other papers,” Merry explained; “and a dozen proofs of each one of these will be a great help to me.”
“You shall have them,” assured Jesper.
When Frank left that office, he was satisfied he had done as well as any person could.
Then he went to the hotel where theatrical people usually stopped, and, before dinner, he made arrangements for the accommodation of the “Empire Theater Comedy Company” when it arrived in town, getting a liberal reduction on the regular rates.
Riddle was in the dining room when Frank entered, and Merry took pains to get a seat at a table as far as possible from the fellow. He observed that Riddle surveyed him curiously, and he knew the fellow was wondering just what he had been doing.
Merry had hustled since striking town, accomplishing a great deal in a remarkably short space of time.
Frank ate heartily, for he had a good appetite.
Riddle finished first, and he was waiting for Frank in the office, smoking a good cigar.
“You seem full of business, Merriwell,” he observed.
“Yes,” answered Frank, shortly, and tried to move on.
“What are you doing?”
“Attending to my business.”
“Don’t be crusty, old fellow. We’re in the same line, and there’s no reason why we should snarl at each other. I don’t see where you are going to get board room for your paper in this town. Our stuff is up on everything.”
“I’ll find room enough,” declared Frank, grimly.
“Then you’ll have to put up new boards.”
“Oh, I think not.”
“I don’t see how you’ll get round it.”
“You may find out later on.”
Riddle was puzzled, as he plainly showed. He could not get anything out of this remarkable young man who had been sent out in advance of Haley & Hawkins’ show, and, as a rule, he was most successful in pumping anybody.
“Where are you going now?” he asked, desperately.
“About my business, sir; hadn’t you better go about yours?”
“Oh, keep it up!” he said, beginning to show anger. “You give me pains! You’re altogether too new!”
“And you are altogether too nosey, Mr. Riddle.”
Frank walked out of the office and made straight for the opera house. Just as he reached the stage door, the janitor came up with a wheelbarrow, on which was piled the missing paper of the “Empire Theater Comedy Company.”
“I found it!” he exclaimed, with satisfaction.
“I see you have,” nodded Frank, beginning to feel relieved himself. “Now, we must make a hustle to get it up.”
“But where shall we put it?”
“On every billboard in town belonging to this opera house.”
The janitor gasped.
“But—but Julian King’s paper is up on those boards!”
“What of that?”
“It’s all the paper he sent us.”
“What of that?”
“We—we can’t cover his paper!”
“Can’t we? Well, get your paste and brush, and we’ll see if we can. Be lively, now, for I must catch a train to-night, and I’ve got some hustling to do.”
The janitor seemed dazed. He got his paste bucket and brush, and then he and Frank started out. They began with the board on the side of the opera house.
“Gracious!” gasped the janitor, as they prepared to put the paper on. “What will King do?”
“He has done what he had no right to do now, and he can’t do anything about this. Our paper is going up on these boards to stay till the night we play here.”
“That’ll give King only one day of advertising on the billboards.”
“That’s not my concern. If he makes a date to play in a town one day behind another show, he must take his chances on the advertising he can secure. You can see that he is a scoundrel, or he would not have resorted to the trick to obtain these boards.”
“But how do you explain the action of Collins?”
“Don’t explain it. Haven’t time.”
They were fairly at work when the janitor looked up the street and saw Delvin Riddle rushing in that direction, exhibiting unmistakable signs of wrath.
It was plain Riddle had been in Salacia before, and was known to the janitor, for that individual dropped his brush, gasping:
“Good Lord! Now there’ll be a muss!”
Frank caught up the brush and continued the work of putting up the sheet of paper.
Riddle came up panting.
“Here!” he shouted, as he approached; “what in thunder are you doing?”
Frank made a skillful swipe up the middle of the sheet with his brush, securing the paper at one stroke, then swiftly stroked it to the right and left, affixing it in its proper place.
“You seem to be excited, Mr. Riddle,” he coolly observed, as King’s advance man came tearing up.
“I want to know what in blazes you are doing!” roared Riddle, wrathfully, his face fairly purple.
“Putting up paper!”
“But you’re putting it over our paper.”
“I know it.”
“How do you dare do such a thing?”
“I forbid it.”
Frank smiled placidly.
“Look out, Mr. Riddle,” he said, with mock concern, “or you will choke yourself with excitement.”
“I forbid you to put on another piece of paper!” roared Riddle, shaking his fist at Merry.
“Forbid and be—blessed! It goes up just the same.”
“You’ll get yourself into trouble!”
“Julian King will get himself into trouble, if he telegraphs any more lies about the ‘Empire Theater Company.’ He got this paper of his up here through misrepresentation and fraud. Now let him put some more up when we are through with the boards.”
Frank prepared to go on with his work.
“Pass me up the next sheet, Mr. Hobbs,” he said, speaking to the janitor.
“Don’t you do it!” ordered Riddle. “You are getting yourself into trouble.”
The janitor seemed doubtful.
“You’ve already gotten yourself into trouble, Mr. Hobbs,” declared Merry, “if Barnaby Haley sees fit to make trouble about it. You know you had no right to cover such of our paper as was up, and you also know that we own these boards till ten o’clock on the night of the eighteenth. Pass up that sheet.”
Frank had won.
“He’s right, Mr. Riddle,” said the janitor. “The boards belong to Haley, and we’ll have to put his paper up.”
Riddle saw his game of bluff was called, and, furious at his defeat, he lifted his foot and kicked over the bucket of paste.
Quick as a flash, Merry turned and gave the brush a slash across the fellow’s face, filling his mouth, nose and eyes with the sticky stuff.
Riddle swore, spitting, blowing, rubbing at his eyes with a handkerchief.
“Put down that brush, and I’ll fight you!” he snarled.
“Go away,” advised Frank. “I don’t want to fight with you.”
“You don’t dare to fight! You’re a coward!”
Merriwell did not fancy being called that.
“Go away, Riddle,” he again advised. “You will be sorry if you don’t.”
The fellow fancied Merry was afraid of him.
“What you deserve is a good thrashing, to take some of the freshness out of you!” he shouted, having mopped the most of the paste off his face.
“Don’t be so stuck up,” said Frank, with a bit of a smile. “What you need is some good soap and water to use on your face.”
“You confounded fresh!”
Riddle started toward Frank.
That one word fell sharply from Merry’s lips. He leaned the long-handled brush against the billboard and turned to meet his angry enemy.
“All right, now,” he said, gently. “Come ahead, and I’ll make it interesting for you.”
Riddle hesitated a single instant, and then he saw something like a grin on the face of the watching janitor. That decided him. He made a spring for Frank.
Out shot Merriwell’s arm.
The blow sounded almost like a pistol shot.
Delvin Riddle was knocked down on the instant, and struck sprawling in the overturned mass of paste. In that he sprawled around for a moment, and, when he got up, he was a sight to behold.
Riddle looked at himself, then looked at Merriwell.
“You shall pay for this!” he grated. “I’ll see you again.”
A number of spectators had gathered, and they were laughing openly over Riddle’s ludicrous appearance as he hurried away. The fellow was thoroughly crestfallen, but in his heart he swore vengeance.
“There seems to be enough paste in the bottom of the bucket for this board, Mr. Hobbs,” said Merriwell, calmly. “Now we will go on with our work.”
Of course, there was not enough paper left to completely cover all the boards, but Frank was determined to hide King’s stuff, so he went to the printing office and secured a supply of white paper. Then he would put up two or three three-sheet posters on a large board, covering everything else with the white paper. In this manner he hid all of King’s advertising on the billboards.
He saw nothing more of Delvin Riddle while he was at work.
Leaving the janitor to finish the last of this work, he took some window posters and started out.
He found King’s stuff in all the best windows, but in many of them got his in beside the other.
The story of his encounter with Riddle had spread through the place, and everybody seemed anxious to know the particulars.
Frank took pains to tell just what kind of a trick Julian King had tried to play on them in that place, and he had a way of telling it so that it made a very good story and gave a favorable impression of the “Empire Theater Comedy Company.” Frank was satisfied that the things which had happened in Salacia would be strictly to the advantage of the show with which he was connected.
He was judicious but not niggardly in giving out passes.
Before night Jesper, the editor of the local paper, hunted him up and asked for particulars concerning his encounter with Riddle. Frank made the account very ludicrous, and Jesper promised to put it in the paper in such a manner that it would make Merriwell appear to advantage.
Then Frank had a hustle to catch a train—and missed it!
This filled him with dismay, for he had spent a day in Salacia when he should have been in Dundee.
He found there were no other trains over that road that would take him to Dundee that night, but there was a train over another road some ten miles away that might be flagged at a little village, and that would carry him to the place he wished to reach.
Immediately Frank made a rush for the nearest livery stable.
“I want to hire a good horse,” he said.
“What for?” asked the hostler, shortly.
“To take me to Kilmerville in time to catch the night train west.”
“Train doesn’t stop there.”
“But it can be flagged, can’t it?”
“Then I’ll try to flag it.”
“Don’t believe you can get there in time.”
“Haven’t you got a horse that can take me there? I must get there.”
“Well, I don’t know about letting you have Jack.”
“Which is Jack?”
“Black horse in that stall.”
“He looks all right. Can he get me to Kilmerville in time for me to flag the train?”
“Then I want him.”
“Don’t know you.”
“My name is Merriwell. I’m in advance of the ‘Empire Theater Comedy Company.’”
“Oh! Then you’re the fellow that stopped Sam Henson’s horse?”
“I’ve heard all about that. You look all right.”
“I hope so.”
“And you pasted up the other show chap?”
“Well, we had a little trouble, and I believe he did get covered with paste.”
“I like your appearance,” said the hostler. “I reckon you’re all right. Where’ll you leave Jack?”
“At the station at Kilmerville.”
“Get somebody to take him to Pete Newell’s stable. I’ll send over for him in the morning.”
“Then I may have him?”
“For five dollars—yes.”
“Here’s your cash.”
Frank had the money out in a moment and into the hand of the hostler.
“Get the saddle on that horse in a hurry!” he exclaimed. “I’ll have to get my satchel from the hotel, but I’ll be back here right away.”
“Horse’ll be ready when you get back.”
Merry made a run for the hotel. Up to his room he dashed, catching up his satchel and securing it over his shoulder by the strap. Down to the office he plunged.
No one there.
He pounded on the desk.
No one appeared.
Down to the cardroom he rushed. Outside the door he stopped suddenly, hearing a voice saying:
“His name is Frank Merriwell. Here’s your warrant, sheriff. Arrest him on sight. I’m sure you’ll find my watch on his person. If not, then he’s got rid of it.”
Delvin Riddle was speaking.
For one moment Frank was aghast, dazed, bewildered.
What did it mean?
Through his brain flashed the explanation.
Riddle, driven desperate by his failure to frighten Frank, furious over the treatment he had received at Merriwell’s hands, had put up a job to detain Merriwell in Salacia. He had sworn out a warrant, charging Frank with stealing his watch, and Merriwell was to be arrested.
“Nice trick!” thought Merry.
He felt like walking into that cardroom and finishing the half-completed job of thrashing the tricky advance man of the “Julian King Stock Company.”
But he knew that would not do, for he would be arrested and detained in Salacia just when it was most important that he should reach Dundee and attend to his business.
He stepped a bit nearer the open door. Inside the room was a mirror, and in that mirror he saw the reflection of two men. One was Riddle, smooth-faced, crafty, malicious; the other was the sheriff, large, rough, booted. The latter was looking at the warrant just given him by Frank’s enemy.
“All right,” he said. “You’d better come along with me and point the fellow out.”
“It’s time to be moving!” thought Merry.
Up the stairs he skipped.
The clerk had just come in, and was at the desk.
“My bill!” said Frank, sharply.
“Your bill?” said the clerk, languidly. “Aren’t you going to stop overnight?”
“Business. Got to go. My bill, quick! I’m in a hurry!”
The clerk looked at the register and then told him what his bill would be. Frank flung down some money. He heard heavy feet ascending the stairs to the office. He heard voices. Riddle and the sheriff were coming.
“Keep the change,” said Merriwell. “Can’t stop for it.”
He bolted out of the door, leaving the amazed clerk staring after him.
Straight for the livery stable he darted. The hostler was in the wide open door, holding the black horse, ready saddled and bridled.
Behind Frank there was a hoarse command. He looked over his shoulder and saw the sheriff and Riddle come rushing out of the hotel.
“Stop!” yelled Riddle. “Stop thief!”
Frank reached the stable door.
“What’s that they’re yelling at you?” asked the hostler, with an air of sudden distrust.
“They’ll tell you when they get here,” half laughed Frank.
“Well, I don’t think I’ll let you have this horse just now. You’ll have to wait a while before you——”
“Can’t stop, sir. I’m in a great hurry.”
“But I won’t——”
“Yes, you will!”
Frank caught him by the collar, at the same time grasping the horse by the bit. With all his strength, the ex-Yale man gave the burly hostler a snap and a fling.
The hostler was literally lifted off his feet and sent spinning through an open door into the little room that served as an office.
The horse reared and snorted. He came down and reared again. When he went into the air Frank went with him, swinging onto his back.
Out of the stable door shot the black horse, bearing Frank on its back.
“Good-by!” he called. “I’ll see you later, Mr. Riddle!”
“Stop him!” howled Riddle.
The sheriff tried to catch the horse by the bit, missed, grasped at Frank’s leg, touched it—that was all.
Onward shot the horse and rider. Frank turned and waved his hand with a taunting movement.
“Thief! thief!—stop thief!”
“That is a pleasant cry to hear!” commented Merry, grimly. “I’ll remember Mr. Delvin Riddle for this little piece of business.”
He looked back and saw men and boys running after him, shouting for him to stop.
A cloud of dust rose behind the heels of the horse, for it was dry in the streets of the town.
The cries grew fainter and fainter. Frank turned onto another street, and his pursuers were seen no more for a time.
THE FINISH OF THE RACE.
Frank had not asked directions, and he knew not which way Kilmerville lay, so he was forced to stop and make inquiries.
He found he had started in the wrong direction, and, in order to get onto the right road, he must go back through the town.
“That’ll be first rate!” he thought, with a laugh.
But he turned back, taking another street. He was obliged to ride directly through the heart of the town, and he saw some men in the livery stable making hasty preparations for pursuit. Horses were being saddled for the purpose.
“So it’s going to be a race to Kilmerville,” he muttered. “All right. That’ll add to the excitement.”
He was seen.
“There he is!”
The cry went up from a number of men and boys.
“Stop me!” invited Merriwell. “Try it!”
Out of the stable door dashed two mounted men, followed by a third. The hostler, believing he had let an animal to a rascal, had joined Riddle and the sheriff in the chase.
“By Jove!” exclaimed Frank. “This thing is getting mighty serious. I don’t fancy being chased about over the country and called a thief. If it wasn’t for business, I’d go back and face the thing; but that would be playing right into Riddle’s hands. No, I’ll catch that train if I can.”
Through the town he rattled. The black horse was spirited and speedy. He believed he had been given the best mount in the stable. If that was true, his pursuers would have some trouble overtaking him.
Surely he was finding excitement enough ahead of the show to satisfy the most morbid craving for something stirring.
There were several streets leading out of the town on that side, and he was forced to choose one by chance, trusting to fortune to put him onto the right one.
He was fortunate, indeed, for he chose the road to Kilmerville.
When he was clear of the town, he looked back and saw his pursuers coming. He waved his hand tauntingly at them.
“I’ll have the satisfaction of giving them a merry race, anyhow,” he thought.
The country was undulating, and he soon passed over a rise. Then he looked back and did not see his pursuers for a time, but they finally came up over the rise.
The roads outside the town were not in the best condition, but this disadvantage to Frank was also a disadvantage to those who were following him.
He kept looking for sign boards, as, at that time, he was not sure he had struck the right road.
As he dashed past a branch road, an old, weather-beaten board told him he was all right.
“Hurrah!” he cried, enthusiastically. “That’s the stuff! Now let them come on!”
Then came another thought. What if he reached Kilmerville too soon, giving his pursuers time to come up and capture him before the train arrived?
That would be quite as bad as missing the train.
But he remembered his conversation with the hostler, and he was satisfied that he did not have any time to spare. He must put as much distance as possible between himself and his pursuers before Kilmerville was reached, and then trust to fortune.
Frank talked to his mount, and it was not long before he decided that the animal was unusually intelligent. He sought to make friends with the horse, believing that the best way to get the best work out of the animal.
Occasionally he looked back. For some time he could obtain occasional glimpses of his three pursuers, but he was drawing away from them, and, at last, they were not to be seen.
“It’s getting quieter,” he murmured; “but the excitement may not be over. I suppose Riddle will follow me to Dundee and have me arrested there; but it will give me time to get in some more work, I hope, and send a telegram to Haley.”
He kept on at a good pace till he came to another branch road. He looked the roads over, and then selected the one to the right, for there was no guide board to tell him which way to go.
He had ridden on nearly half a mile when he met a man in a wagon.
Frank drew up, lifting his hat.
“Can you tell me, sir,” he asked, “if this is the right road to Kilmerville?”
“Yes, sur, I kin,” nodded the man in the wagon.
Then he was silent, staring searchingly at Frank.
“Well, will you tell me?” he asked.
“Is this the right road?”
“Nope. Right road is ’bout half a mile back.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Frank wheeled about in double quick haste. Back along the road he sent the black horse flying.
“Jeeminy!” muttered the old fellow in the wagon. “He must be in an awful hurry!”
Frank feared his pursuers would reach the junction of the two roads ahead of him and cut him off, so he pushed the black horse to its highest speed. The creature responded nobly, fairly flying over the ground.
“I wouldn’t mind owning you,” thought Merry. “Too bad you’re kept in a livery stable and let out to every Tom, Dick and Harry!”
As he approached the junction of the roads, he began looking for the pursuers. It was not long before he saw them come over a rise, and an exclamation of dismay broke from his lips.
“They’ll get there ahead of me!”
He saw they must, and his mind was quickly made up on the course he would pursue.
“Don’t know what kind of a hurdle horse you are, old fellow,” he said; “but I’m going to try some cross-country riding with you.”
He swung out of the road, aimed at the fence, and the black rose to the touch, clearing the rails like a flying bird.
Then a cheer broke from Merry’s lips.
It was answered by shouts from the three men, who now saw him. They whipped their horses along the road as fast as possible, trying to cut him off.
Of course, the ground was not firm beneath the feet of the black horse, and it did seem for a time that Merriwell might be intercepted. But he reached the road in advance of the trio of pursuers, the black again clearing the fence beautifully.
“Stop!” roared the sheriff. “Stop, I tell you!”
“Can’t,” Frank called back. “I’m in a great hurry. Sorry I can’t jog along with you. Ta, ta!”
He waved his hand tauntingly, turning in the saddle to do so.
At that instant the black horse stepped on a loose stone, and a second later Merriwell was off and the animal was down. A shout of triumph came from the pursuers.
Like a flash Frank sprang up, and the horse rose at the same instant. Into the saddle Merry leaped.
“Go it, my boy—fine boy!” the fugitive called, and away sprang the horse.
The pursuing men expressed their rage and dismay.
But the noble horse had been injured, and it was not many moments before Frank saw the creature was going lame. This caused Merry some anxiety.
“Good boy—noble fellow!” he said, leaning forward and patting the creature’s glossy neck.
The horse turned its head a bit, its breath fluttering through its throbbing nostrils. It seemed that a bond of sympathy had been established between horse and rider, and the intelligent animal was straining every nerve to do its best.
The pursuers saw something was wrong, saw the horse was lame, and again they shouted their triumph.
The hostler excepted. He was enraged, and he gave vent to his anger.
“The fellow has spoiled our best saddle horse,” he grated. “He shall pay for it!”
“We’ll overtake him now,” declared the sheriff. “He can’t get away.”
Delvin Riddle laughed.
“He has given us lots of trouble,” said the advance agent. “But now he’s in double trouble. If I don’t get back my watch, he’ll be detained to settle for that horse.”
“And you’ll be detained to push your charge against him,” said the sheriff.
“What’s that?” cried Riddle. “Why, my business won’t permit that. I have to attend to my business.”
“You swore out the warrant and gave it to me to serve. Now you will have to let your business hang while you appear in court and press the charge.”
That did not suit Riddle at all. His object had been to bother and detain Merriwell, while he went on, and he really had no intention of appearing at the trial.
“Perhaps you’ll detain me, and then again perhaps you won’t,” he thought; but he kept this thought to himself.
It was seen that Merriwell’s mount was failing rapidly, and Frank plainly showed some anxiety.
The sheriff looked at his watch.
“He’ll not reach Kilmerville in time to stop that train,” he declared. “We’ve got him.”
But Merriwell was sparing the black horse as much as possible, hoping the creature would hold out. He saw he could not run away from his pursuers, and his only object was to keep in advance of them sufficiently to catch the train and get away.
Frank was anxious, but still he kept cool. He knew Riddle could not prove the malicious charge of robbery, and he also knew the fellow could make trouble for him in Dundee if he saw fit to follow the game up.
Merry had made up his mind to telegraph to Haley from Dundee as soon as the place was reached, in case he escaped the pursuers. In that way he could put the manager onto the main points of the crooked business the rival concern had attempted to carry out.
At times it seemed that the black horse must give out entirely, but Frank encouraged the creature without attempting to force it along, and the animal responded bravely.
“Too bad, old boy!” muttered the youth, sympathetically. “Hope I’ll not lame you permanently by driving you this way. If I knew I should, I’d be tempted to stop right here and let those chaps take me.”
Looking back, he saw the pursuers lashing their horses and making renewed efforts to overtake him in a hurry.
Looking to the left and southeast, he detected a faint trail of smoke against the evening sky.
Then came the far-away, wailing shriek of a locomotive whistle.
“By Jove!” Merry muttered. “That’s my train! Kilmerville must be just beyond the next rise. Looks to me as if I’ll have a hard pull to make connections with that train.”
Now he did all he could to urge the black horse onward. There seemed a magic persuasion about his voice, for the animal actually appeared to fling off much of its lameness and shoot ahead with fresh fire and speed.
Up the rise they went. The crest was reached and, ahead in the valley, Merry saw Kilmerville.
Anxiously he turned his eyes in the direction of the trailing smoke that rose against the sky.
“It’s too near!” came through his teeth. “I’ll lose at the last minute! It is a howling shame!”
For the twentieth time his hand patted the sweat-stained neck and his voice poured encouragement into those backward-tilted ears.
“You’ve done a fine job, my gallant boy. Faster—a little faster, noble fellow! I’ll not forget this ride—I’ll not forget you! If I had the money I’d buy you and take care of you the rest of your life for this. Get me there in time to catch that train, my boy! On, on! That’s the stuff! Now you are doing it! Good boy—fine boy!”
It was wonderful how that injured animal tore down the road toward the little collection of houses huddled at the railroad crossing. Frank felt himself thrill with the excitement of it all.
The horse’s sides were heaving and falling, while its breath came puffing from its nostrils like steam from an exhaust pipe.
That line of smoke was coming nearer and nearer. The whistle of the locomotive sounded like a taunting yell of derision.
“Lost the race!” grated Frank.
Still he kept on.
The train was close to the little village, but the black horse bore its rider toward the crossing.
Merry saw the train for a moment, then lost it behind some houses. He tore off his hat and waved it as he went madly galloping toward that crossing.
Behind him the pursuers again shouted their triumph.
“You haven’t got me yet!” muttered the desperate youth. “I’d do ’most anything to give you the slip now.”
He was near the crossing when the engine went past. The engineer did not see him, and he knew his last chance to stop the train had passed.
He could not check the horse, and one or two open-mouthed, staring villagers believed he would dash straight against the cars, be hurled to the ground, possibly mangled beneath the iron wheels.
With all his strength Frank turned the horse to one side, so that it was going in the same direction as the train.
Then he formed a resolve, marvelous, daring, foolhardy. The pursuers gasped, for they saw him rise to his knees on the back of the horse. Then, with the skill of a circus rider, he stood upright on the back of the galloping animal!
A moment the desperate youth stood thus, and then, as the last car of the train whirled by, Frank made a daring leap.
His act was greeted with shouts of astonishment, for it seemed that no person in his right mind would venture to attempt such an astounding thing.
Through the air Frank Merriwell shot, his hands clutched the rail of the rear platform of the last car—clutched it and clung there. For a second his body was straightened out in the air till it was in a position almost horizontal. Then it swung in, and the youth stood erect on the platform, laughing, triumphant, tauntingly and leisurely lifting his hat and waving it in farewell toward his baffled and thunderstruck pursuers.
Frank expected to meet an officer at the station when he reached Dundee late that night, for he fancied Riddle, intending to keep up the game, would telegraph ahead for his arrest.
When he stepped down from the train, Merry looked around for the expected sheriff or policeman.
No one was there to meet him.
He was pretty tired, and so he took a carriage to a hotel, where he registered, and asked if he could get something to eat. It was long past the supper hour, but he was able to obtain a lunch, which satisfied him very well.
Next Frank sent a telegram to Barnaby Haley, and then sat down and wrote a letter, telling briefly his adventures since starting out as advance man for the company.
By this time it was pretty late, and he decided to retire and get some sleep.
He was filled with wonder because he had not been molested in Dundee, but decided that Riddle had resolved to come on himself and see to the matter.
Fully convinced that there would be more trouble for him in the morning, he went to his room.
As he was preparing to go to bed, he thought of Cassie and his last talk with her.
“Poor girl!” thought Frank. “I wonder if she really prayed to-night and tried to go through her part without the stimulation of morphine. It is too bad that the accursed drug should get such a hold on such a girl. She said she would pray for me.”
He was about to jump into bed when another thought came to him.
“I said I would pray for her!”
Down beside the bed Frank Merriwell knelt. He bowed his head, and his lips moved in a whispered prayer.
Who can say that prayer was not heard—and answered?
For all of the exciting adventures of the day, Frank was soon sleeping soundly.
He was aroused by a sharp knocking on his door.
“Hello!” he muttered, as he sat up. “Here’s the trouble I’ve been expecting! They might have let me sleep till morning. Wonder if they will take me to some wretched lockup and give me a buggy bunk. If they do, I’ll have to stay up the rest of the night. I enjoy excitement, but I draw the line at night encounters with bugs.”
He got up leisurely.
The person outside the door was getting impatient.
“Don’t be in such a hurry,” called Merry, placidly. “I won’t jump out of the window.”
“Let me in!”
Frank struck a match and lighted the gas. Then, in his nightgown, he opened the door.
A man dodged in quickly.
“Shut the door!” he ordered, his voice and manner betraying agitation.
“What’s the matter?” asked Frank, in surprise.
“Lock it—lock it!”
The stranger took hold of the key and turned it himself.
Frank’s surprise increased.
“Well,” he said, looking the man over, “will you be good enough to tell me what this means?”
“I want to see you.”
“All right. Take a good look at me.”
“Your name’s Merriwell?”
“New man ahead of the ‘Empire Theater Comedy Company’?”
“Collins?” he cried—“Weston Collins?”
Frank had never seen the former advance man of the company, so it was not strange he had not known Collins.
“Well,” he said, sitting down on the edge of the bed and staring hard at the intruder, “what in the name of all that’s bad are you doing here?”
“I came in a little while ago. Saw your name on the register. You registered with the name of the company attached, so I knew you must be the man Haley had sent out to fill my place. I came up to see you.”
“Did King send you?”
“King! What made you think so?”
“On account of your telegram.”
“Telegram to whom?”
“The one you sent from Salacia.”
“Never sent any.”
Frank was surprised and incredulous. Was this more trickery?
“Never sent Haley a telegram,” declared Collins. “Did he receive one?”
“My name signed?”
“Fake! King did it—or somebody representing King.”
Merry was doubtful.
“What did it say?” asked Collins.
Frank told him, and the former advance man showed anger.
“Just like King!” he cried. “He hates Haley, and he will do anything to torment the old man.”
“But—but you dropped the work in Salacia. Manager of the opera house heard our company had gone up. He put King’s paper right up over what you had put up for us. Why did you do that way?”
Collins hesitated a little, and then, walking up and down, he began:
“Look here, Merriwell, I want to set myself straight, but I don’t know how to do it. That’s why I’m here. I’m taking all chances of being arrested.”
“Yes. It’s like this: I got into some trouble out here in this country once, and had to skip. I’ve kept it quiet all my life—never told anybody about it. King knew it, because he was with me at the time. I changed my name. Collins is not my right name. When Haley decided to book this section, I tried to persuade him not to do it. Didn’t want to come here. Had to come or throw up my job. Thought I might get into the county and out again without being recognized. Could have done it, but when King heard we were having a hard time to hold the show together, he believed he could knock the company out by driving me off. He gave me an hour to get out of Salacia before he put the officers on me. I was scared and made a run for it. He must have had his advance man send the telegram from Salacia. I suppose he has told everything, and they are looking for me; but I made up my mind I’d go back and see Haley. That’s why I’m here. I’ve got back this far. Registered here to-night under a fake name. Have telegraphed Haley myself. Did that as soon as I got over my scare. That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. I won’t be able to stay with the company, and I’m glad they had a man to send right out in my place.”
Frank had been watching the man as he told the story, and Merry was convinced that Collins was not lying. He could see that the fellow was just recovering from the effects of too much liquor, which helped serve to explain his singular conduct in taking flight without notifying Haley.
Merry talked with Collins for at least two hours, telling him everything that had happened since he started out in advance of the show.
Collins complimented him on his ability and the manner in which he had gotten the best of Delvin Riddle.
“It is my opinion,” he said, “that Riddle is thoroughly disgusted over the attempt to side track you, and I don’t fancy you’ll have any more trouble with him. He has found out that you are up to snuff and too smart for him. It is quite probable that, when he got back in Salacia, he made a find that caused him to withdraw that warrant from the hands of the sheriff.”
“What sort of a find?”
“The stolen watch.”
“I understand!” he exclaimed. “Riddle may have done that in order to avoid being detained himself.”
“Just that. He’s liable to be on here to-morrow, and you’ll soon find out if he’s going to let you alone. I shall get out of town the first thing in the morning, and I’ll lay low till I can rejoin the company somewhere outside the State.”
Everything turned out just as Collins had fancied it would. Riddle appeared the following day, but he did not even seem to see Merriwell. Frank was not molested then or afterward by Julian King’s agent.
After this Frank found that work on the road as an advance agent was a great deal easier than it had appeared at the start. In defeating the schemes of his rivals he had overcome the greatest difficulties of his new career, and though he found other obstacles from time to time, he met them with the same steady courage that was sure to win in the end.
He proved one of the finest advance agents that had ever traveled for Haley, and made a host of friends wherever he went.
BOUND TO WIN LIBRARY
This library is “bound to win” its way into the heart of every American lad. The tales are exceptionally clean, bright and interesting.
PUBLISHED EVERY WEEK
To be Published During January, 1905
104—Fatherless Bob By Bracebridge Hemyng
103—Hank, the Hustler By Fred Thorpe
102—Dick Stanhope Afloat By Harrie Irving Hancock
101—The Golden Harpoon By Weldon J. Cobb
To be Published During December
100—Mischievous Matts’ Pranks By Bracebridge Hemyng
99—Mischievous Matt By Bracebridge Hemyng
98—Bert Chipley By John De Morgan
97—Down East Dune By Fred Thorpe
96—The Young Diplomat By Harrie Irving Hancock
95—The Fool of the Family By Bracebridge Hemyng
94—Slam, Bang & Co. By Weldon J. Cobb
93—On the Road By Stanley Norris
92—The Blood-Red Hand By John De Morgan
91—The Diamond King By Cornelius Shea
90—The Double-Faced Mystery By Fred Thorpe
89—The Young Theatrical Manager By Stanley Norris
88—The Young West-Pointer By Harrie Irving Hancock
87—Held For Ransom. By Weldon J. Cobb
86—Boot-Black Bob By John De Morgan
85—Engineer Tom By Cornelius Shea
84—The Mascot of Hoodooville By Fred Thorpe
83—Walter Blackshaw By Frank Sheridan
82—The Young Showman’s Foes By Stanley Norris
81—On the Wing By Weldon J. Cobb
80—Yankee Grit By John De Morgan
79—Bicycle and Gun By Cornelius Shea
78—The Backwoods Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
77—Ahead of the Show By Fred Thorpe
76—Merle Merton By Frank Sheridan
75—The Three Hills of Gold By Harrie Irving Hancock
74—A Barrel of Money By Weldon J. Cobb
73—Lucky Thirteen By John De Morgan
72—Two Ragged Heroes By Ernest A. Young
71—A Slave for a Year By Fred Thorpe
70—In the Woods By Frank Sheridan
69—The Prince of Grit By Harrie Irving Hancock
68—The Golden Pirate By Weldon J. Cobb
67—Winning His Way By John De Morgan
66—Boats, Bats and Bicycles By Ernest A. Young
65—Bob, The Hoodoo By Fred Thorpe
64—Railroad Ralph By Engineer James Fisk
63—Comrades Under Castro By Victor St. Clair
62—Life-Line Larry By Frank Sheridan
61—Track and Trestle By Ernest L. Young
60—The Phantom Boy By Weldon J. Cobb
59—Simple Simon By Herbert Bellwood
58—Cast Away in the Jungle By Victor St. Clair
57—In Unknown Worlds By John De Morgan
56—The Round-the-World Boys By Fred Thorpe
55—Bert Fairfax By Frank Sheridan
54—Pranks and Perils By Ernest A. Young
53—Up to Date By Weldon J. Cobb
52—Bicycle Ben By Herbert Bellwood
51—Lost in the Ice By John De Morgan
50—Fighting for a Name By Fred Thorpe
49—Lionel’s Pluck By Frank Sheridan
48—The Mud River Boys By Ernest A. Young
47—Partners Three By Weldon J. Cobb
46—The Rivals of the Pines By Herbert Bellwood
45—Always on Duty By John De Morgan
44—Walt, the Wonder-Worker By Fred Thorpe
43—Through Flame to Fame By Frank Sheridan
42—A Toss-Up for Luck By Ernest A. Young
41—The Jay from Maine By Herbert Bellwood
40—For Home and Honor By Victor St. Clair
39—A Bee Line to Fortune By John De Morgan
37—Never Give Up By Fred Thorpe
36—Vernon Craig By Frank Sheridan
35—The Young Showman’s Triumph By Stanley Norris
34—The Roustabout Boys By Herbert Bellwood
33—The Young Showman’s Pluck By Stanley Norris
32—Napoleon’s Double By John De Morgan
31—The Young Showman’s Rivals By Stanley Norris
30—Jack, the Pride of the Nine By Frank Sheridan
29—Phil, the Showman By Stanley Norris
28—Bob Porter at Lakeview Academy By Walter Morris
27—Zig-Zag, the Boy Conjurer By Victor St. Clair
26—The Young Hannibal By Matt Royal
25—Git Up and Git By Fred Thorpe
24—School Life at Grand Court By Frank Sheridan
23—From Port to Port By Ensign Clarke Fitch, U.S.N.
22—The Rival Nines By Walt Winton
21—The Young Journalist By Harrie Irving Hancock
20—John Smith of Michigan By Herbert Bellwood
19—Little Snap, the Post Boy By Victor St. Clair
18—Cruise of the Training Ship By Ensign Clarke Fitch, U.S.N.
17—Chris, the Comedian By Fred Thorpe
16—Lion-Hearted Jack By Frank Sheridan
15—The Rivals of Riverwood By William G. Patten
14—His One Ambition By Herbert Bellwood
13—A Strange Cruise By Ensign Clarke Fitch, U.S.N.
12—Dick Derby’s Double By Fred Thorpe
11—The House of Mystery By Matt Royal
9—From Switch to Lever By Victor St. Clair
8—Clif, the Naval Cadet By Ensign Clarke Fitch, U.S.N.
7—The Boy in Black By Fred Thorpe
6—The Crimson “Q” By Herbert Bellwood
5—The Balas Ruby By Capt. Geoffrey Hale
3—Bound for Annapolis By Ensign Clarke Fitch, U.S.N.
2—Blind Luck By Fred Thorpe
1—The Boy Argus By William G. Patten
Is admirably described in Stanley Norris’ great series of books for boys, published in the BOUND TO WIN LIBRARY. The hero has strange adventures while fighting his way to the top of his chosen profession. Every boy will thrill to the finger tips to read of his many narrow escapes.
PRICE, 10 CENTS PER COPY AT ALL NEWSDEALERS
29 Phil, the Showman
31 The Young Showman’s Rivals
33 The Young Showman’s Pluck
35 The Young Showman’s Triumph
82 The Young Showman’s Foes
If ordered by mail, add four cents to cover postage.
STREET & SMITH, Publishers, New York
Battles on Sea and Land
We heartily recommend our Boys of Liberty Library to boys who have good, red blood coursing through their veins—who like really good tales of adventure.
The books listed below detail the adventures of brave lads who took an active part in the Revolutionary War, who, in many cases, saved the day to the Patriot army when all seemed lost. Read this series boys, nothing you can buy for the money will please you half so well.
1. Paul Revere and the Boys of Liberty By John De Morgan
5. The First Shot For Liberty By John De Morgan
9. The Hero of Ticonderoga By John De Morgan
13. On the Quebec By John De Morgan
17. Fooling the Enemy By John De Morgan
21. Into the Jaws of Death By John De Morgan
25. The Tory Plot By T. C. Harbaugh
27. In Buff and Blue By T. C. Harbaugh
For sale by all newsdealers at 10c. per copy. If ordered by mail, add four cents to cover postage.
WEST POINT STORIES
One of the most interesting series of stories for boys is that which details the adventures of Mark Malloy at West Point. No boy who likes good, exciting tales of adventure should miss reading them. Published only in THE MEDAL LIBRARY.
PRICE, 10 CENTS PER COPY
LIEUT. FREDERICK GARRISON, U.S.A.
214 On Guard
222 A West Point Treasure
230 Off for West Point
238 A Cadet’s Honor
248 The West Point Rivals
For Sale By All Newsdealers. If ordered by mail, add four cents to cover postage.
Street & Smith, Publishers, New York#ENGLISH