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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Frank Merriwell's Endurance » CHAPTER VII THE ADMIRATION OF L’ESTRANGE.
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CHAPTER VII THE ADMIRATION OF L’ESTRANGE.
“Wondaireful! wondaireful!” cried L’Estrange. “You are so ready to—to—what you call eet?—to catch on!”

The time was mid afternoon following the evening when the finals were “pulled off” at the great Omaha athletic club. Frank had met the fencing master, according to agreement, and for some time they had been engaged with the foils, Hugh Morton being the only witness. They were resting now.

“Look you, sare,” said the enthusiastic Frenchman, “in six month I could make you ze greatest fencer in ze country—in one year ze champion of ze world! Yes, sare—of ze world!”

“I fear you are putting it a little too strong, professor,” laughed Frank.

“O-oo, no, no! I did think Meestare Darleton very clever, but you are a perfect wondaire. You catch ze idea like ze flash of lightning. You try ze execution once, twice, three time—perhaps—and you have eet. Zen eet is only to make eet perfect and to combine eet with othaire work and othaire ideas. Three time this day you touch me by ze strategy. You work ze surprise. Twice I touch you in one way; but after that I touch you not in that way at all. I tried to do it, but you had learned ze lesson. I did not have to tell you how to protect yourself.”

“He seemed to hold you pretty well, professor,” put in Morton.

“Oui! oui!” cried L’Estrange, without hesitation. “He put me on ze mettle. Meestare Merriwell, let me make you ze greatest fencer in ze world. I can do eet.”

Merry smilingly shook his head.

“I am afraid I haven’t the time,” he said.

“One year is all eet will take, at ze most—only one little year.”

“Too long.”

“Nine month.”

“Still too long.”

“Zen I try to do eet in six month!” desperately said the fencing master. “In six month I have you so you can toy with me—so you can beat me at my own game. I know how to teach you to do that. You doubt eet?”

“Well, I don’t know about——”

“Eet can be done. You know ze man who teach ze actor to act on ze stage? He make of him ze great actor, still perhaps ze teacher he cannot act at all. He know how eet should be done. I am better teacher than zat, for I can fence; but I know ze way to teach you more zan I can accomplish. You have ze physique, ze brain, ze nerve, ze heart, ze youth—everything. In six month I do it.”

“But I could not think of giving six months of my time to such as acquirement.”

“You make reputation and fortune if you follow eet up.”

“And that is the very thing I could not do, professor.”

“Why not? You take ze interest in ze amateur sport. You follow eet.”

“Not all the time, professor. I have other business.”

“You have money? You are reech?”

“I am comfortably fixed; but I have business interests of such a nature that it would be folly for me to give six months over to the acquiring of skill in fencing.”

“What your business?”

“Mining.”

“O-oo; you have ze mine?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“One in Arizona and one in Mexico. I must soon look after those mines. I have been away from them a long time. All reports have been favorable, but a great company is soon to begin building a railroad in Mexico that will open up the country in which my mine is located. The mine is rich enough to enable me to work it and pack ore a great distance. When the railroad is completed I shall have one of the best paying mines on this continent. You will see from this explanation that I am not in a position to spend months in acquiring perfection in the art of fencing, and that it would be of little advantage to me in case I did acquire such a degree of skill.”

L’Estrange looked disappointed.

“I thought you were ze reech gentleman of leisure,” he explained.

“I am not a gentleman of leisure, although I occasionally take time to enjoy myself. When I work, I work hard; when I play, I play just as hard. I have been playing lately, but the end is near. I thank you, professor, for your interest in me and your offer; but I cannot accept.”

“Eet is a shame so great a fencer is lost to ze world,” sighed the Frenchman. “Steel, sare, if you evaire have cause to defend your life in a duel, I theenk you will be successful.”

Nearly an hour later Morton and Merriwell entered the card room of the club—not the general card room, but the one where games were played for stakes.

Two games were in progress. Several of the players had met Frank the night before, and they greeted him pleasantly.

Among the few spectators was Fred Darleton.

“I observe Darleton is not playing,” said Frank, in a low tone, to his companion.

“He never plays in the daytime,” answered Morton.

“Never in the daytime?”

“No.”

“But he does play at night?”

“Almost every night.”

“What game?”

“Poker. He is an expert. I’ll tell you something about it later. He’s looking this way.”

Darleton sauntered over.

“I presume you are quite elated about your victory over me, Merriwell?” he said unpleasantly.

“Oh, not at all,” answered Merry, annoyed. “It was not anything to feel elated about.”

“You are right,” said Darleton. “If we were to meet again to-night the result would be quite different. I confess that you gave me a surprise; but I was in my very poorest form last night. I am confident it would be a simple matter for me to defeat you if we fenced again.”

“Want of conceit does not seem to be one of your failings.”

The fellow flushed.

“I presume you are one of those perfect chaps with no failings,” he retorted. “At least, you are, in your own estimation. You are very chesty since you secured the decision over me.”

“My dear man,” smiled Merry pityingly, “that was a victory so trivial that I have almost forgotten it already.”

This cut Darleton still more deeply.

“Oh, you put on a fine air, but you’ll get that taken out of you if you remain in Omaha long. I shall not forget you!”

“You are welcome to remember as long as you like.”

“And you’ll receive something that will cause you to remember me, sir!”

“Look here,” said Frank earnestly, “I do not fancy your veiled threats! If you are a man, you’ll speak out what you mean.”

“I fancy I am quite as much a man as you are. You’re a bag of wind, and I will let down your inflation.”

“Hold on, Darleton!” warmly exclaimed Morton. “This won’t do! Mr. Merriwell is the guest of the club, and——”

“You brought him here, Morton—that will be remembered, also!”

“If you threaten me——”

“I am not threatening.”

“You hadn’t better! Perhaps you mean that you intend to lay for me and beat me up. Well, sir, I go armed, and I’ll shoot if any one tries to jump me. If you want a whole skin——”

“What’s this talk about beating and shooting?” interrupted one of the members. “It’s fine talk to hear in these rooms! drop it! If we have any one in the club who can’t take an honorable defeat in a square contest of any sort, it’s time that person took himself out of our ranks. I reckon that is straight enough.”

“Quite straight enough, Mr. Robbins,” bowed Darleton; “but it doesn’t touch me. I can stand defeat; but I am seldom satisfied with one trial. The first trial may be for sport, but with me the second is for blood.”

Having said this, he wheeled and stalked out of the room.

“We’ll never have peace in this club while he continues to be a member,” asserted Hugh Morton earnestly.

“I beg your pardon!” exclaimed one of the card players. “Don’t forget that Mr. Darleton is my friend, sir!”

“I’ve not said anything behind his back that I am not ready to repeat to his face,” flung back Morton.

“Well, you’d better be careful. He can fight.”

“I think this is quite enough of this fighting talk!” said the man called Robbins sternly.

“That’s right!”

“Quit it!”

“Choke off!”

“It’s getting tiresome!”

These exclamations came from various persons, and Darleton’s friend closed up at once.

Morton looked both provoked and disgusted.

“This is what the Darleton crowd is bringing us to,” he said, addressing Frank, in a low tone. “They have formed a clique and introduced the first jarring element into the club. In the end they’ll all get fired out on their necks.”

Frank and Morton sat down in a corner by one of the round card tables.

“I don’t mind Darleton’s talk,” protested Hugh, “for I reckon him as a big case of bluff. You called him last night, and he’s sore over it. Usually he makes his bluffs go at poker. He’ll find he can’t always make a bluff go in real life.”

“You say he is a clever poker player.”

“Clever or crooked.”

“Is there a question in regard to his honesty?”

“In some minds it’s more than a question.”

“Is that right?”

“That’s straight.”

“Well, in that case, it doesn’t seem to me that it should be a very hard case to get rid of him.”

“You mean——”

“Crooks are not generally permitted in clubs for gentlemen.”

“But no one has been able to catch him.”

“Oh; then it is not positively known that he is crooked?”

“Well, I am confident that there is something peculiar about his playing, and I’m not the only one who is confident. He wins right along.”

“Never loses?”

“Never more than a few dollars, while he frequently wins several hundred at a sitting.”

“It seems to me that catching a dishonest poker player should not be such a difficult thing out in this country.”

“We’ve had some of our cleverest card men watching him, and all have given it up. They say he may be crooked, but they can’t detect how he works the trick.”

“You stated, I believe, that he never plays in the daytime.”

“Never.”

“Have you noted any other peculiar thing about his playing?”

“No, nothing unless—unless——”

“Unless what?”

“Unless it is his style of wearing smoked glasses.”

“He wears smoked glasses when he plays?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Well, he claims the lights here hurt his eyes.”

“That seems a very good reason why he should choose to play by day.”

“Yes; but he always has an excuse when asked into a game in the daytime.”

Merriwell’s face wore an expression of deep thought.

“It seems to have the elements of a Sherlock Holmes case,” he finally remarked. “I’d like to be present when Darleton is playing. I think it is possible I might detect his trick, in case there is any trick about it.”

“Are you a card expert?”

“I make no pretensions of being anything of the sort,” answered Merry promptly. “Still I know something about the game of poker, and I did succeed in exposing card crooks, both at Fardale and at Yale.”

Morton shook his head.

“I think I’m ordinarily shrewd in regard to cards,” he said; “but I haven’t been able to find out his secret. I don’t believe you would have any success, Mr. Merriwell.”

Merry persisted.

“There is no harm in letting me try, is there?”

“The only harm would be to arouse Darleton’s suspicion if he caught you rubbering at him. I know he has thought himself watched at various times.”

“Leave it to me,” urged Frank. “I’ll not arouse his suspicions.”

“But it won’t do a bit of good.”

“If he is cheating, I’ll detect him,” asserted Merry, finding that it was necessary to make a positive declaration of that sort, in order to move Morton.

Hugh looked at him incredulously.

“You’re a dandy fencer, old man,” he laughed; “but you mustn’t get a fancy that you’re just as clever at everything. Still, as long as you are so insistent, I’ll give you a trial. Meet me in the billiard room at eight o’clock this evening. Play seldom begins here before eight-thirty or nine.”

“I’ll be there,” promised Frank, satisfied.



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