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CHAPTER VI A FORCED APOLOGY.
“Merriwell, you astounded this club to-night,” said Hugh Morton, as Frank was finishing dressing, after a shower and rub down. “No one here expected you to defeat Fred Darleton. Any member of the club would have wagered two to one on Darleton. He acted like a cur when he struck you with his foil. Every one, except his own particular clique, is down on him for that. We regret very much that it happened, and the president of the club is waiting to offer apologies.”

“I’m not looking for apologies,” smiled Merry. “The club was not responsible for Darleton’s act.”

“But we feel greatly humiliated by it. He will be severely censured. He may be expelled.”

“Oh, that’s too much! I must protest against such an extreme measure.”

“He deserves to be expelled,” put in Hodge.

“You are right,” agreed Morton. “Between us, I believe it would be a good thing for the club.”

“How so?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

In the reception room of the club there was a great gathering waiting to get another look at Frank. The president of the club met him as he appeared and hastened to express regrets over the action of Darleton at the finish of the bout. Frank was sincere in making excuses for his late antagonist.

“But Darleton must apologize,” declared the president. “We cannot have any visitor insulted in such a manner without seeing that an apology is made.”

“I haven’t asked for an apology on my account.”

“We demand it on our own account. He has been told that he must apologize publicly, as the insult was offered publicly.”

“Well, he’ll find me ready to pardon him freely and just as willing to forget the occurrence.”

“You are generous, Mr. Merriwell.”

During the next thirty minutes Merry was kept busy shaking hands with those who were eager to express their good will.

That night in Omaha he made a host of admirers and friends who would never forget him, and who would ever stand ready to uphold him on any occasion.

Many of those present seemed lingering for something. A few departed, but the majority waited on.

Finally Fred Darleton, accompanied by Grant Hardy and followed by a number of boon companions, entered the room.

Darleton was pale and nervous. He glanced about the place, and an expression of resentment passed over his face as he noted the number who had lingered. For a moment he seemed to hesitate; then he advanced toward Frank, who sat near the centre of the room, with his comrades and the club members about him.

Merry rose as he saw his late opponent.

“Mr. Merriwell,” said Darleton, in a low tone, his words being almost inaudible at a distance of ten feet, “I have to offer you an apology for my hasty act of anger in striking you across the mask with my foil.”

“That’s all right,” declared Frank. “Forget it, Darleton.”

Merry offered his hand.

Darleton pretended he did not see this, and turned away at once.

Frank smiled and dropped his hand; but Bart Hodge gave vent to a suppressed exclamation of anger.

The action of the defeated fencer in declining to shake hands with his conqueror was noted by all in the room, and most of them felt annoyed and disgusted by this added slight after the forced apology.

Darleton left the room, without glancing to the right or left, and his companions followed closely.

“I knew he was a cur!” said Hodge, in a low, harsh tone.

The president and other members were annoyed and chagrined, but Frank found a method of passing the matter over by quickly awakening a discussion concerning the bouts of the finals.

A few minutes later Fran?ois L’Estrange appeared. He advanced swiftly and grasped Frank’s hand.

“My dear sare,” he cried, “you give me ze very great astonishment to-night. You are ze—ze—what you call it?—ze Jim Dandy! Oui! You nevare learn so much about ze foil in ze American college. Eet is impossible!”

“Well,” smiled Merry, “I don’t think I told you I obtained all my knowledge and skill at college.”

“You mention ze school first. You begin young. Zat ees good! Zat is splendid! Zat ees ze way to make ze feenish fencer, ze same as ze feenish musician or ze feenish beelyarde player. But ze school, ze college, both together zey never gif you all you know. You have ze command, ze skill, ze technique! Eef you choose, sare, you make ze master fencer.”

“Thank you, professor,” said Merry. “I fear you are flattering me.”

“O-oo, no, no! I spik ze truth! You have traveled?”

“Yes.”

“You have visited France?”

“Yes.”

“I knew eet! In France you take ze fencing lesson from some famous master of ze art. You have ze French method. I do not say you have eet yet to completeness. I belief I could advance you to ze very great extent. But before you had finished ze engagement I knew you had received instruction from ze French master.”

“But not in France.”

“No? Zen where?”

“In New York.”

“O-oo!” L’Estrange threw up his hands. “Zen I know! Oui! Oui! Zere ees but one man—Pierre Lafont. You have from me ze congratulation, sare. I know Pierre Lafont in France. He fight three duel, and in not one did he get even ze scratch. Each time he seriously disable his antagonist. But his son, Louis—zey say he ees ze wondaire.”

For a time the professor rattled on in this enthusiastic manner, and his talk was very interesting. Although it was known to every one that he felt deep chagrin over the defeat of his finest pupil, he was now the soul of generosity in his behavior toward the victor. His manner was greatly in contrast to that of the churlish Darleton.

Before departing L’Estrange made an appointment to meet Merry in the club the following afternoon for the purpose of fencing with him.

“I wish to make ze test of your full ability, Meestare Merriwell,” smiled the affable Frenchman. “I theenk I discovaire one or two little weaknesses in your style zat may be corrected quickly. Eet will give me pleasure to make ze improvement in you—if you wish eet.”

“I’m always anxious to learn, professor,” answered Merry.


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