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CHAPTER XI THE RECEPTION AT CARTERSVILLE.
The town of Cartersville is situated in the southern part of the State of Iowa. This was the first stop Frank and his party made after leaving Omaha. Their first view of the town was not particularly inviting, as the railway station, after the disagreeable habit of nearly all railway stations, was situated in the most unsightly and forbidding portion of the place. In the immediate vicinity were unpainted, ramshackle buildings, saloons, cheap stores and hovel-like houses. In front of the saloons and stores lounged a few slovenly, ambition-lacking loafers, while slatternly women and dirty children were seen in the doorways or leaning from the open windows of the wretched houses.

On the station platform had gathered the usual crowd, including those who came to the train from necessity and those drawn thither by curiosity. There was also a surprisingly large gathering of boys of various ages, from six to eighteen.

Frank walked briskly along to the baggage car and noted that the baggage belonging to his party was put off there. Then he glanced around, as if in search of some one.

“I wonder where Mr. Gaddis is?” he said. “He was to meet us at the station.”

A big, hulking six-footer, with ham-like hands and a thick neck, stepped forward from the van of a mixed crowd of about twenty tough-looking young fellows who had flocked down the platform behind Merry and his party.

“Are you Frank Merriwell?” asked the huge chap, who was about twenty years old, as he held the butt of a half-smoked cheroot in the corner of his capacious mouth.

“Yes, sir,” answered Merry promptly. “Do you represent Joseph Gaddis?”

“I should say not!” was the retort. “Not by a blame sight.”

“I thought not,” said Frank.

“Oh, ye did? What made ye think not, hey?”

“You are not just the sort of man I expected to meet. Do you know Mr. Gaddis?”

“Do I? Some!”

“Isn’t he here?”

“I reckon not.”

“Where is he?”

“Ask me!”

Although the manner of the big fellow was openly insolent, Merry did not seem to notice it.

The motley crowd accompanying this man were grinning or scowling at Merriwell and his friends, while some of them made half-audible comments of an unflattering sort. They were tall, short, stout, and thin, but one and all they carried the atmosphere of tough characters.

“It’s rather odd, Bart,” said Frank, speaking to Hodge, who was surveying the crowd with dark disapproval, “that Gaddis should fail to keep his appointment to meet us here.”

“No it ain’t odd,” contradicted the big chap. “He knowed better than to be here. You made some sort of arrangement with him to play a game of baseball in this town, didn’t ye?”

“Yes.”

“Well, fergit it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Fergit it. You’ll be wastin’ a whole lot of time if you stop here, an’ you’ll put yourselves to a heap of inconvenience. You won’t play no baseball with Gaddis’ team, so you’d better hop right back onter the train and continue your ride.”

Merry now surveyed the speaker from his head to his feet.

“I happen to have a contract with Mr. Gaddis,” he said. “How is it that you have so much authority? Who are you?”

“I’m Mat Madison, and I happen to know what I’m talkin’ about. Joe Gaddis has changed his mind about playin’ baseball with you. He ain’t goin’ to play baseball no more this season.”

“Did he send you here to tell me this?” demanded Frank, his eyes beginning to gleam with an ominous light.

“No, he didn’t send me; I come myself.”

“Then you haven’t any real authority.”

“Is that so! You bet I have! I’m giving it to you on the level when I say you won’t play no baseball game in Cartersville, and the wisest thing you can do is to step right back onter this train and git out. In short, I’m here to see that you do git back onter the train, and I brought my backers. If you don’t git we’ll have to make ye git.”

By this time Frank’s friends were gathered at his back, ready for anything that might happen. They scented trouble, although they could not understand the cause of it.

“I have no idea of leaving Cartersville until I see Mr. Gaddis,” said Merry, with cool determination. “If he fails to keep his agreement with me, I propose to collect one hundred and fifty dollars forfeit money.”

“Oh, haw! haw! You do, do ye? Well, when you collect a hundred and fifty from Joe Gaddis you’ll be bald-headed. There ain’t no time for foolin’. The train will pull out pretty soon, so you want to hop right back onto it and go along. If you don’t, I’ll make you hop. Git that?”

“If you bother me I’ll feel it my duty to make you regret your action. Get that?”

“Why, you thunderin’ fool, you don’t mean to fight, do ye? I’ll knock the head off your shoulders!”

“I don’t think you will.”

“Then take this!”

As he snarled forth the words, Madison struck viciously at Frank’s face with his right fist.

Merry ducked like a flash, at the same time throwing up his left hand and catching the fellow’s wrist. With this hold, he gave a strong, sharp pull in the same direction that Madison had started, at the same time jerking the fellow’s arm downward. While doing this, Merry stooped and thrust his right arm between the ruffian’s legs, grasping Madison’s right leg back of the knee. In this manner he brought the bruiser across his back and shoulders in such a way that the fellow had no time to recover and was losing his balance when Frank suddenly straightened up with a heaving surge.

To the amazement of Madison’s friends, the fellow was sent flying through the air clear of the platform, striking the ground on his head and shoulders.

Merry calmly turned to look after the baggage, not giving his late assailant as much as a glance after the latter struck the ground.

Madison was somewhat stunned. He sat up, holding his hands to his head and looking bewildered. A number of his friends sprang from the platform and gathered around him.

The young toughs were astounded by the manner in which Merry had met Madison’s assault. If before that they had contemplated an attack on Frank and his party, the sudden disposal of their leader caused them to falter and change their plan.

Hans Dunnerwurst chuckled as he looked after Madison.

“Maype you vill holdt that for a vile,” he observed.

“There is something wrong about this business here in Cartersville, fellows,” said Frank; “but we’ll find out what it is. If Gaddis squeals on his contract with me, I’m going to see if he cannot be compelled to pay the forfeit.”

“That’s business,” nodded Hodge. “I’ll wager he sent these thugs to frighten us away, so he wouldn’t be compelled to pay the money. If we didn’t stop, he could get out of it.”

“Whereupon we’ll linger,” murmured Jack Ready.

“Somebody’s gug-gug-going to fuf-fuf-find out we mean bub-bub-business!” stuttered Gamp.

“I opine one chap has found it out already,” observed Buck Badger dryly.

“It must have been a shock to him,” said Dade Morgan, a gleam of satisfaction in his dark eyes.

“Glad he tackled Frank,” yawned Browning, with a wearied air. “I don’t feel like exerting myself after that infernally uncomfortable car ride.”

“The gentleman experienced a taste of jutsuju—I mean jujutsu,” laughed Harry Rattleton.

“Sorry Merry had to soil his hands on the big loafer,” said Dick Starbright, taking off his hat and tossing back his mane of golden hair.

“It was a clever piece of business,” admitted Jim Stretcher; “but two years ago, at a fair in Tipton, Missouri, I saw a little piece of business that——”

“Don’t tell it—don’t dare to tell it!” exclaimed Badger. “I’m from Kansas, and I’m sick of hearing these powerful extravagant tales about Missouri. If you mention Missouri in my hearing for the next three days you’ll be in danger of sudden destruction. That’s whatever!”

“You’re jealous, and I don’t blame you,” said Jim. “If I lived in Kansas I’d never acknowledge it. It was the last place created, and made out of mighty poor material. Everybody in Kansas worth knowing has moved out.”

“Which is a genuine Irish bull,” said Morgan.

“All aboard,” called the conductor.

A few moments later the train pulled out.

In the meantime, Mat Madison had recovered and regained his feet. The result of his attack on Merriwell had astonished him no less than it did his followers. Even after recovering from the shock he could not understand just what had happened to him, although he realized that, in some manner, he had been sent spinning through the air. It had dazed him. After regaining his feet he asked one of the young toughs what had happened.

“Why,” was the answer, “he just grabbed you and throwed you, that’s all.”

“Oh, he throwed me, did he?” growled Madison, a vicious look on his face. “Well, I ruther think I’ll throw him next time. He’ll git all that’s coming now!”

“That’s right, Mad!” encouraged his followers. “You didn’t hit him because he dodged. Go for him again. Grab him this time before he can grab you.”

“Just watch me,” advised the thug, as he sprang to the platform.

Without warning, Madison came quickly up behind Merry, throwing his arms round Frank, in this manner pinning the arms of the latter to his sides.

“Now I’ve got ye, burn your hide!” snarled the ruffian. “You worked a slick trick on me t’other time, but you can’t do it aga——”

He did not finish; Frank gave him no further time for speech.

Down Merry dropped to one knee, causing the man’s arms to slip up about his neck. Before Madison could get a strangle hold, even as he dropped to his knee, Frank caught the ruffian’s right hand and twisted it outward, bringing the palm upward. With his other hand Frank secured a hold on Madison’s wrist, and then he jerked downward, bending far forward.

Mat Madison’s feet left the ground, his heels flew through the air and he went turning over Merry’s head, landing flat on his back in front of the undisturbed young man.

The town toughs, who had fancied their leader had the stranger foul, were even more astonished than by Madison’s first failure.

Merriwell rose to his feet, stood with his hands on his hips and regarded his fallen assailant with a pitying smile.

Frank’s friends—the most of them—seemed amused over the affair, and either smiled broadly or laughed outright. Hodge and Morgan were the only ones who betrayed no mirth.

“Jee-roo-sa-lum!” cried one of the tough youngsters. “Did you see that, fellers?”

“How did he do it?” gasped another.

“Why, he throws Mad just as e-e-easy!”

“He’s a slippery chap!”

“Slippery! He’s quicker’n lightnin’!”

“Strong as a bull!”

“Full of slick tricks!”

The astonishment of Madison’s friends was somewhat ludicrous. They had expected the bully to handle the clean, quiet young man with perfect ease, especially when he seemed to obtain such a great advantage by seizing Merry from the rear.

Madison’s arm had been given a severe wrench, but the fellow rose quickly, not yet subdued or satisfied.

“I ain’t done with ye,” he snarled; “I ain’t done yet!”

“That’s unfortunate—for you,” declared Frank, wholly undisturbed.

“I’ll kill ye yet!”

“You frighten me.”

But the tone of voice in which Merriwell spoke the words told he was not frightened in the least.

Madison was breathing heavily, his huge breast heaving, as he rose and confronted Frank. With his hands hanging at his sides, the young man who had twice taken a fall out of the bully seemed utterly off his guard and unable to defend himself quickly.

The thug stepped in, suddenly shooting out his left fist toward Merry’s solar plexus, hoping to get in a knockout blow.

Merriwell sidestepped in a manner that caused the bruiser to miss entirely. With his right hand Frank caught the fellow’s left wrist, giving the middle of his arm a sharp rap with the side of his left hand, thus causing it to bend. Instantly twisting the man’s arm outward and bending it backward, Frank placed his left hand against Madison’s elbow and pushed toward the thug’s right side. In the meantime, Merry had placed his right foot squarely behind Madison’s left. Madison found himself utterly unable to resist, and, almost before he realized that he was helpless, he was hurled over backward with great violence.

“Maype dot blatform vill lay sdill on you a vile,” observed Dunnerwurst, as Madison fell with a terrible thud.

“Three times and out,” murmured Jack Ready.

“It ain’t no use!” exclaimed one of Madison’s backers. “Mat can’t do this chap on ther level. He’s up against a better man.”

Madison thought so, too. He was beginning to realize that he had encountered his master, although the thought filled him with rage he could not express. For some time he had been the bully of Cartersville, universally feared by the younger set of hoodlums, and in that period he had not encountered any one who could give him anything like an argument in a fight. He had expected to handle Merriwell with ease, and the ease with which he was defeated made the whole affair seem like an unreal and unpleasant dream. Furthermore, he knew that never after this would he be regarded with the same degree of respect and awe by the young ruffians of the town. Having seen him handled in such a simple manner by a calm, smiling stranger, they would never again look on him as invincible.

The encounter had been witnessed by others besides those immediately interested. Madison was well known and feared in Cartersville, and the loafers about the station, as well as those who had business there, saw him defeated for the first time in his career of terrorism. Although some of them rejoiced over it, yet nearly all were still too much awed by his record to express themselves.

The treatment he had received at the hands of Merriwell had wrenched and bruised the ruffian, whose arms and shoulders felt as if they had been twisted nearly out of their joints. The fellow got up slowly after the third fall.

Some fancied he would attempt to get at Merriwell again, but he had been checked and cowed most effectively. He stood beyond Frank’s reach and glared, his face showing his fury, while his huge hands twitched convulsively.

The language that flowed from the lips of the ruffian was of a character to make any hearer shudder in case he possessed any degree of decency.

“That will do!” interrupted Merry sharply, the pleasant expression leaving his face. “Not another word of it! Close up instantly!”

“What if I don’t?” demanded Madison.

“Then what you have received from me is a mere taste beside what you’ll get,” promised Frank.

Madison turned to his followers.

“What’s the matter with you?” he snarled. “What made you stand round and see him do stunts with me? Why didn’t you light on him, you muckers?”

“We were waiting and pining for them to make some such movement, gentle sir,” observed Jack Ready.

“Yah!” cried Dunnerwurst. “Id vould haf peen very bleasing for us to seen id did.”

“You told us you’d do ther whole thing when we came down to the station, Mad,” reminded one of the gang.

“We was waitin’ for ye to do it,” said another grimly.

“Of vaiting you haf become tiredness,” observed Hans. “You don’d blame me vor dot.”

Madison started to pour forth vile language again, but Merry took a single step in his direction and he stopped, lifting his hands to defend himself.

“I don’t care to touch you again,” said Frank; “but if I hear two more words of that character from your lips I’ll take another fall out of you.”

“You’re mighty brave now!” muttered the tough; “but I ain’t done with ye. No man ever flung Mat Madison round like a bag of rags and didn’t regret it. You’d been better off if you’d took my advice and left on that train. Now you can’t leave before to-morrer, and I’m going to square up with you before you git away.”

“I don’t fancy your threats, any more than your vile language. I’ll take neither from you. We came to this town to play baseball, and we propose to do so—or know the reason why.”

“You won’t play no baseball here, and don’t you think ye will. That’s all settled. There won’t be no more baseball in this town as long as Joe Gaddis tries to run things.”

“What’s the matter with Gaddis?”

“You’ll find out—mebbe. There ain’t no baseball team here now.”

“No ball team?”

“No.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“It don’t make no difference whether you believe it or not. You go ahead and investigate. Mebbe you’ll have a good time stopping in Cartersville, but I don’t think it.”

“Oh, they’ll have fun!” sneered one of the crowd.

“Carey Cameron will see about that.”

“Shut up, Bilker!” snapped Madison. “You ain’t to call no names.”

“Who is Carey Cameron?” asked Merry promptly.

But no one would answer the question.

Madison turned away, after giving Merriwell another glaring look of hatred, and the young ruffians flocked after him.

“Well,” said Merry, “that incident is closed for the present. Now we’ll find a hotel and secure accommodations.”


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