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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Frank Merriwell's Endurance » CHAPTER III GETTING INTO TRIM.
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Bart Hodge was not aware that Frank had been so thoroughly aroused; but when he was called to Merry’s room in the hotel that day after lunch and found two complete fencing outfits there—foils, masks, jackets, and gauntlet gloves—he realized that there was “something doing.”

Frank closed and locked the door.

“Strip down and make ready,” he said grimly. “I’m going to brush up and get in condition, and you are the victim.”

“I’m happy to be the victim now,” declared Bart; “in case Mr. Darleton is the victim later.”

Something more than an hour later the comrades were resting after a bath and rub down. Bart’s eyes shone and his dark, handsome face wore an expression of great satisfaction.

“You may be rusty, Merry,” he observed; “but I fail to see it. I swear you fenced better to-day than ever before in all your life.”

“You think so, Bart; but I can’t believe that. A man can’t be at his best at fencing, any more than at billiards, unless he is in constant practice.”

“Oh, I know I’ve gone back; but you have not. I’ll wager my life you can give Fred Darleton all he is looking for.”

“It would be a pleasure to me,” confessed Frank. “Somehow he irritated me strangely.”

“I’d never supposed it by your manner.”

“If I had lost my temper I should have been defeated. Mr. Darleton has a temper, and I shall count on it leading to his downfall, in case we meet.”

“You’ll meet, for you are challenged. He thinks you a mark, Merry. He’ll be overconfident.”

“Another thing I count on as aiding me. Overconfidence is quite as bad as lack of confidence. Darleton has been praised too much, and he believes he is very nearly perfect as a fencer. A defeat now will either make or mar him. If defeated, he will either set about working harder to acquire further accomplishment, or he will quit.”

“I believe he’ll quit.”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t like him, Merry.”

“There is something about him that I do not fancy, myself. I’ve not seen him enough to judge what it is. I’ve tried to think it might be his freshness in shooting his mouth the way he did; but something asserts that I should have disliked him had he kept his mouth closed. He has an air of directness; but behind it there is a touch of cunning and craft that stamps him as crooked. I may sympathize with a weak chap who goes crooked through temptation; but I have no sympathy for a sly rascal who is dishonest with deliberation. If Darleton is naturally honest, I have misjudged him.”

There came a heavy knock on the door and the sound of voices outside.

Bart unlocked the door, and Joe Gamp stalked in, followed by Jack Ready, Hans Dunnerwurst, and Jim Stretcher, all of Merriwell’s party.

“Ding this tut-tut-tut-tut-tut——” began Joe.

“Tut, tut!” interrupted Jack. “Eliminate repetitions from your profuse flow of language, Joseph.”

Gamp flourished his fist in the air and began again:

“Ding this tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut——”

“Whistle, Joe—whistle!” advised Frank.

Whereupon the tall chap recommenced:

“Ding this tut-tut-tut—whistle—town! It’s all up hill and dud-dud-dud—whistle—down!”

“Oh, Joseph, you’re a poet!” exclaimed Ready.

“Yah,” said Dunnerwurst gravely, “oudt uf him boetry flows like a sbarkling rifer.”

“We have decided in solemn conclave,” said Ready, “that the streets of this prosperous Western burgh are exceedingly soiled.”

“Und some of them been stood their end onto,” put in Hans.

“It’s hard to keep your fuf-fuf-fuf—whistle—feet from slipping in the sus-sus-sus—whistle—street,” added Gamp.

“There he goes again!” burst from Ready. “I never suspected it of him. Crown him with laurels and adorn him with bays.”

“What is the difference between the bay and the laurel, Jack?” laughed Frank.

“Ask me not at this unpropitious moment,” entreated the odd fellow. “We have been meandering hither and yon over Omaha—yea verily, we have been even as far as the stockyards of South Omaha. We have waded across streets that were guiltless of being cleaned even since the day they were paved. We have ascended streets which led into the clouds, and we have descended others which led into the gorges and valleys. We have gazed in awe upon the courthouse, with blind justice standing on its battlements, balances in hand. We have seen the post office and expressed our admiration. Alas and alack, we are wearied! We fain would rest. Omaha is all right for those who think so; but some day she will rise and butcher her street-cleaning department. She will be justified. I have spoke.”

With this he dropped on a chair and fanned himself weakly.

“What have you fellows been dud-dud-doing?” inquired Gamp, noticing for the first time that the boys were in bath robes and that fencing paraphernalia was scattered about the room.

Frank explained that they had been fencing.

“Jee-whickers!” cried Joe. “You used to be pretty good at it when you were at cuc-cuc-college. You were the champion fuf-fuf-fuf-fencer at Yale, all right.”

“He’s just as good to-day as he ever was,” declared Bart; “and Mr. Darleton will find out that is good enough.”

“Who’s Darleton?” asked Stretcher.

Then they were told about the affair at the club, which quickly awoke their interest.

“Omaha takes on new fascination for me,” averred Ready. “I felt like folding my tent and stealing away a short time ago; but if Merry is going against some gentleman with the inflated cranium in this burgh, I shall linger with great glee to watch the outcome.”

“You talk the way a cub reporter writes, Ready,” said Stretcher. “Big words sound good to you, but if you know what you’re saying you’ll have to show me.”

“I shall refrain from exerting myself to that extent, my boy,” retorted Jack. “It’s not worth while.”

“Where are the rest of the boys?” asked Frank.

“Scattered broadcast over the mountains and valleys of Omaha,” answered Ready. “Fear not for them; they will return in due time.”

“How does Omaha strike you, Jim?” inquired Merriwell.

“She ain’t in it much compared with Kansas City,” said Stretcher. “We have some hills there, you know. I’ve yet to see any country that can get away from old Missouri. When you get ahead of Missouri, you’ll have to hurry.”

“It does me good to see a chap who will stand up for his native State,” said Merry, winking at some of the others but maintaining a grave face before Stretcher. “Of course Missouri may have her drawbacks, but we all know she is a land of fertility and——”

“Fertility!” cried Jim enthusiastically. “You bet! Crops grow overnight there. Yes, sir, that’s straight. It’s perfectly astonishing how things grow. As an illustration, when I was about seven years old my mother gave me some morning-glory seeds to plant. I always did love the morning-glory flower. I thought it would be a grand thing to plant the seeds beneath my chamber window, where I could look forth each morning on rising and revel in the beauty of the purple blossoms. I got busy and stuck the seeds into the ground one afternoon about five o’clock. I knew the soil was particularly rich right there, and I counted on the vines growing fast, so I lost no time in stringing a number of cords from the ground right up to my window.

“That night when I went to bed I wondered if the seeds would be sprouted when I rose the following morning. It was warm weather, and I slept with my window open. I suppose I kicked the bedclothes off. Some time in the night I felt something pushing me, but I was too sleepy to wake up. About daylight I woke up suddenly, for something pushed me out of bed onto the floor. I jumped up and looked to see what was the matter. Fellows, you won’t believe it, but the vine—or, rather, a profusion of vines—had grown all the way up to my window in the night, had found the window open, had come into the room, and, being tired from its exertion in growing so hard, I presume, had climbed into my bed and pushed me out.”

A profound silence was broken by Dunnerwurst, who gurgled:

“Uf I faint, vill somebody blease throw me on some vater!”

“Stretcher,” said Merry, “I don’t suppose there is ever anything in your State that is not grand and superior? There are no drawbacks to Missouri? Soil, climate, people—all are of the first quality?”

“Oh,” said Jim, with an air of modesty, “I presume any part of the country has its drawbacks. The soil of Missouri is magnificent and the climate superb—as a rule. I presume there are sterile spots within the boundaries of the State, and I have experienced some unpleasant weather. The winter that old Jake died was unusually severe.”

“Who was Jake?”

“A mule, and the dumb companion of my innocent boyhood. You see, I always wanted a dog. Lots of boys I knew had dogs. Tom Jones had a shepherd, Pete Boogers had a collie, Muck Robbins had a yaller cur, and Runt Hatch had two bull purps. I pestered paw for a dog. He didn’t have any use for dogs, and he wouldn’t give me one. I told him I must have a pet of some kind. ‘All right, Jim,’ says he, ‘if you want a pet, there’s Jake, our old mule, you may have him.’ Now, Jake was pretty well used up. He was spavined and chest foundered and so thin his slats were coming through his hide. He wasn’t beautiful, but he had been a faithful old creature, and paw was disinclined to kill him. He thought it was a great joke to give me Jake for a pet; but I was just yearning for something on which I could lavish my affection, and I began to pour it out on Jake.

“I petted the old boy, gave him good feed, took him into the cowshed nights, and did my best to make him generally comfortable. Jake appreciated it. You may think dumb creatures, and mules in particular, have no sense of gratitude, but such is not the case. Jake understood me, and I did him. I could actually read his thoughts. Yes, sir, it’s a fact. At first paw grinned over it and tried to joke me about Jake; but after a while he got tired of having his best feed given that old mule and finding the animal bedded down in the cowshed. He said it would have to stop. Then he got mad and turned Jake out to pick for himself. I brought Jake back twice, but both times paw raised a fuss, and the last time, he got so blazing mad he swore he’d knock the mule in the head if I did it again.

“That was in the fall, with winter coming on. I tried to plead with paw; but it was no go. He said Jake would have to shift for himself in the open. Jake used to come up to the lower fence and call to me melodiously in the gloaming, and I would slip down and pat him and talk to him and sympathize with him. But I didn’t dare do anything more. Well, that winter was a tough one. Never had so much cold weather packed into one winter before that. Jake suffered from exposure, and my heart bled for him. He grew thinner and thinner and sadder and sadder. Paw’s heart was like flint, and I couldn’t do anything. Jake hated snowstorms. Every time one came he thought it would be his last; but somehow he worried through them all until the snow went off and spring set in. Then Jake brightened up some and seemed more like himself.

“But late in the spring another cold spell struck in. It was near the first of May. In the midst of that cold spell our barn got afire one night. When Jake saw that fire, he says to himself, ‘Here’s my chance to get warm all the way through.’ He found a weak spot in the fence and got over it, after which he waltzed up to the barn and stood there, warming first one side and then the other by the heat and enjoying himself.

“We had a heap of corn stored in the barn. After a while the roof of the barn burned off and the fire got to the corn. When this happened the corn began to pop and fly into the air. It popped faster and faster and flew high into the air, coming down in a great shower. Jake looked up and saw the air plumb full of great, white flakes of popped corn. The poor, old mule gave a great groan of anguish. ‘I’ve lasted through twenty-one snowstorms this winter,’ says he, with tears in his eyes; ‘but this one is my finish.’ Then he lay right down where he was and gave up the struggle. In the morning we found him frozen stiff.”

Ready sobbed and wiped his eyes.

“How pathetic!” he exclaimed chokingly.

“Poor Shake!” gurgled Hans.

“That story should be entitled ‘The Tale of a Mule,’” observed Frank.

“It is evident,” said Bart, “that Missouri mules are sometimes more intelligent than the inhabitants of the State.”

“Oh, we have some dull people, of course,” admitted Jim. “I remember the janitor at our old school—he was a trifle dull. Poor old Mullen! One day he threw up his job. They asked him why he did it. Says he: ‘I’m honest, and I won’t stand being slurred.’ He was pressed to explain. ‘Why,’ he exclaimed, ‘when I’m sweeping out, if I happen to find a handkerchief or any little thing, I hang it up, like an honest man. Every now and then the teacher, or somebody who hasn’t the nerve to face me, gives me a slur. A few days ago I come in one mornin’ and I seen writ on the blackboard: “Find the least common multiple.” Well, I just went searching the place over from top to bottom, but I couldn’t find a sign of the old thing anywhere. I don’t believe nobody lost it. That made me sore, but I stood for it all right. Yesterday mornin’ in great big letters there was writ on the blackboard: “Find the greatest common divisor.” Says I to myself: “Now, both of them blamed things is lost, and I’ll be charged with swipin’ ’em.” And I throwed up my job.’”

They laughed heartily over this story, and, having aroused their risibilities at last, Jim seemed satisfied.


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