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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Frank Merriwell's Endurance » CHAPTER XIV MATTERS OF UNCERTAINTY.
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“Well, this is not half bad,” grunted Browning, as he stretched himself on one of the double beds which had delighted his eyes. “It’s a lot better than camping outdoors overnight.”

“Thou speakest truly, weary knight,” said Ready. “The prospect of a supperless bed on the greensward was not at all cheerful to me, and the lady with the somber drop curtain over her radiant features came to our rescue at the proper time.”

“This is the experience of a lifetime,” put in Morgan. “I’m wondering over it yet. Can you shed any light on the subject, Frank?”

Merry told them what he had learned while in the carriage with the mysterious woman.

“Well,” smiled Starbright, as he finished, “we can thank our stars that she has no use for Mr. Carey Cameron. Evidently she has offered us this hospitality because we seem to be the special objects of Mr. Cameron’s spite.”

“She did come plenty near hiking over Cameron when he tried to hold her up,” said Badger. “It sure was a close call for that gent. Way he acted after that, I thought he was going to pull a gun and try to pot you both.”

“And then I th-th-thought he was going to cuc-cuc-come at us,” observed Gamp.

“It was lucky for him that he decided to let us alone,” declared Hodge.

“Yah!” cried Hans. “You bet my life he vos luckiness!”

“This whole affair is most peculiar from start to finish,” said Dade Morgan. “It has many mysterious features, and not the least mysterious is this strange young woman who keeps her face hidden by a heavy veil and who lives here in this gloomy house. Who is she? and what is she?”

“I scarcely think you will find any one in Cartersville who can answer those questions,” said Frank. “It is not for us to be too inquisitive while accepting her hospitality.”

“In one sense, we are not exactly accepting hospitality,” asserted Stretcher. “What we receive we’re going to pay for.”

“It is hospitality none the less.”

“I dud-dud-don’t believe she tut-tut-took us in because she needs the mum-mum-money,” declared Gamp.

“That was a bluff,” nodded Hodge.

“She made that assertion,” said Frank, “in order that we might accept her kindness with greater freedom. It was very good of her to attempt to make us feel more at home and less like intruders by giving us a chance to pay for what we shall obtain.”

“Vainly I speculate upon her looks,” murmured Ready. “I wonder be she dark or be she light?”

“Young or old?” came from Badger.

“Plain or pretty?” put in Rattleton.

“Sus-she’s a bub-blonde,” declared Gamp positively.

“Nix; she vos a prunette,” said Hans, just as positively.

“She’s about thirty-five years old,” guessed Starbright.

“Not a day over twenty,” asserted Morgan.

“I’ll guarantee she’s as homely as a hitching post,” grunted Browning.

“I would like to make a wager that she is exceptionally good-looking,” said Stretcher.

“All this speculation about her leads to nothing,” interrupted Frank. “Besides that, as long as we are beneath this roof too much curiosity concerning her is a matter of poor taste. It’s up to us to accept what she has provided, pay for it liberally, and be very grateful for her kindness. That she is a person of courage she has demonstrated by defying the ruffianly element of the town, which has the entire place subjugated and trembling beneath a reign of terror. I admire her nerve, and I am ready to render her assistance or give her protection if occasion arises.”

“You are mit me in dot!” exclaimed Dunnerwurst. “I vill stood by her vid my last drop uf gore. How apoudt you, Choe? Speech up und declaration yourseluf.”

“I gug-gug-guess she can depend on the whole of us to bub-bub-back her,” said Gamp.

“We’re still in the land of the hostiles,” reminded Jack Ready. “His nibs, Mattie Madison, must still be smarting a trifle over what happened to him when he endeavored to lay violent hands on our leader, and it is probable that he will seek retaliation.”

“Besides that,” smiled Badger, “Carey Cameron must be some sore because he failed to hold Merry up and the lady whipped the horse in an attempt to run him down. I have a notion we’ll hear further from him. That’s whatever.”

Darkness came on slowly. The rooms were supplied with oil lamps, which the boys lighted. They prepared for dinner, and at the expiration of an hour after they entered the house a set of chimes in the lower hall summoned them.

They filed down and were conducted to the dining room by the same solemn Chinaman who had admitted them to the house.

The dining room was almost severe in its plainness, but a long table was tastefully spread and decorated, being lighted by lamps and candles. They began to find seats around it before they discovered there were only eleven chairs.

“It’s all right,” said Merry, in a low tone. “It’s plain we’re not to enjoy the society of our hostess during this meal.”

When they were seated two women in black, with white aprons, appeared and served soup.

At first the boys were somewhat oppressed by the situation, but Merry soon started things up with a jest and they began to enjoy themselves.

“Although we met a warm reception in this town,” said Frank, “it was not much worse than the reception given Ready the first time he visited Niagara Falls. When Jack stepped off the trolley he found several carriages waiting for passengers. He capered over to one of them and asked the man to drive him to the falls. The man said he would be pleased to drive him there, but he didn’t have a harness that would fit him.”

“That man was a trifle nearsighted,” declared Jack, good-naturedly taking the laugh this had aroused. “He failed to note my marvelous beauty, and he thought he could get gay with me. He lost as much as fifty small coins of the realm by that joke.”

“You should remember, Jack,” said Rattleton, “that beauty is only din skeep—er, that is skin deep.”

“But I’m very thick-skinned,” retorted Ready promptly. “Tra-la-la!”

“Vale, in Puffalo,” said Dunnerwurst, “I vos consulted.”

“Insulted, Hans,” corrected Morgan.

“Shoot yourseluf apoudt der bronunciation,” gurgled Hans. “Dese vos der vay in vich id habbened. A street car vos riding on me ven a chent who vos intoxicated came apoard. A numper uf laties peen on dot car, und I thought id vos a shame. I rose me up und caldt to der corn doctor. Says I to dot corn doctor: ‘Do you bermit intoxicationed men to ride der cars ondo?’ ‘Yah,’ saidt der corn doctor. ‘Sid down und shut up und nopody vill know you vos drunk.’ Dot made a seddlement by me, und don’d you vorget him.”

“Did you notice that terrible thing about the epidemic in Chicago?” asked Frank seriously.

“The epidemic? What epidemic?” asked Rattleton instantly.

“Why, the whole city is sick. I saw it in the newspaper this morning. The first words I read in the paper were: ‘Chicago, Ill.’”

Somebody groaned. It was Browning, who had dropped his fork and seemed about to collapse.

“That makes me ill myself!” he gasped huskily. “I never thought it of you, Merry! You are rapidly descending to the level of such buffoons as Ready and his kind.”

“I admit it was a bad one,” smiled Frank, “and I promise not to do it again.”

In this manner they caused the meal to pass off merrily, and an excellent meal it proved to be. All were hungry, but when the dessert was over even Dunnerwurst confessed that he was more than satisfied.

As they were leaving the dining room Frank was about to ask for the hostess, when she appeared. Merry again protested that they feared they were causing her great inconvenience.

“Not at all,” she declared. “I shall not be home to-night, and I decided to caution you before leaving the house. At the top of the stairs and at the rear there is a room with a black door. Although you have perfect liberty in the rest of the house, I wish it understood that you are to keep away from that room with the black door.”

“You may depend on it that we’ll not go near the room,” pledged Merry instantly.

“And should you hear strange sounds in the night there will be no cause for alarm. Pay no attention to anything you may hear. That is all. I shall return before you leave in the morning.”

She then bade them good night in a pleasant manner, and, being dressed for the street and still heavily veiled, left at once.

“More mystery!” grunted Browning, as they were once more gathered in the big room upstairs.

“A room with a bub-bub-bub-black door!” exploded Gamp.

“Und stranch noises may hear us in der nighdt!” cried Dunnerwurst. “Poys, you vos indo a haunted house!”

“La! la!” said Jack Ready easily. “I am ne’er disturbed by departed spirits. They alarm me not.”

“Why did she go out to-night?” questioned Hodge.

“It is my idea,” laughed Frank, “that we will occupy about all the beds in the house. Quite likely she went out to find a place to sleep. I feel guilty over it, but she insisted that we were putting her to no inconvenience.”

“And prevaricated like a lady,” said Ready.

“There isn’t a bub-bub-bit of danger that I’ll go poking round on the top floor looking for a room with a bub-bub-black door,” declared Gamp.

“I’m afraid I’ll not sleep very well to-night,” acknowledged Rattleton.

“I vos anodder,” confessed Hans. “Vrankie, vos ghosts afraidt uf you?”

“Not that I know of,” answered Merry.

“Vale, in der room vich you haf selectioned dere vos a couch, as vell as a ped.”


“Couldt you bermit dot couch to sleep on me?”

“You want to sleep on the couch in that room?”


“All right; I’m willing.”

“But don’t you dare to snore,” warned Hodge. “I’m going to sleep with Frank, and I can’t sleep when I hear any one snoring.”

“I vill nod dood id,” promised the Dutchman. “I vill nod snore so loudt as a visper.”

“All right,” nodded Bart; “the couch for you.”

“If we escape from this town with our lives I’ll be thankful,” said Harry.

“Lo, and behold! you are exceedingly timid,” mocked Ready.

They soon fell to joking and laughing, after their usual manner, and, in spite of the mystery which seemed to hover near, the evening passed pleasantly.

Some time in the night Frank was awakened by something that caused him to lift his head from the pillow and listen.

At first he could not make out what it was, but after a while he decided that it was some person singing somewhere in the house. Finally the singing became somewhat more distinct, and he decided that it was the voice of a woman. The song, as best he could determine, was a lullaby, such as a mother might croon above the crib of her sleeping babe. It was strangely pathetic and gave Frank a peculiar sensation of sadness. To him it seemed as if the person who sang that song had met with a terrible affliction and was thus softly pouring forth the grief of a broken heart.

Merry thought of the warning of the mysterious veiled woman and how she had cautioned them to pay no attention to anything they might hear. Still he could not resist the impulse to slip softly from the bed, steal to the door, open it and listen.

The singing seemed to come from the upper part of the house. A moment after he opened the door it stopped, and, although he remained there for fully ten minutes, he heard it no more.

Hodge was sleeping soundly, and Dunnerwurst breathing heavily, on the verge of snoring, when Merry crept back into bed.

It was some time after that before Merriwell again closed his eyes in sleep. He longed to investigate the mystery, but the promise made to the veiled woman restrained him. He was inclined to fancy he had not slept at all when he was once more awakened.

Something soft and cold, almost clammy, was touching his cheek gently with a patting motion.

In a twinkling he was wide awake, but he did not stir.

He felt a presence near him and knew some one or something was bending over the bed!

A chill ran over him.

The touch on his cheek was like the cold hand of a dead person!

Then he heard a voice—that of a woman—which softly murmured:

“Sleep, my baby—sleep! Mother is near!”

Fear passed from Frank in a twinkling, and he stirred, making a grab at the hand that had touched him.

Quick as he was, he was not quick enough, although he barely missed as the hand was snatched away.

Springing up, he saw a shadowy figure in white gliding toward the door.

At that moment Dunnerwurst awoke and beheld the figure as it flitted past the couch.

Uttering a squawk of terror, the Dutchman rolled off the couch with a crash.

Hodge leaped from the bed and grappled with Frank as Merry came round the foot in pursuit of the mysterious visitor. Before he could realize his mistake Hans had clutched them both round the legs, chattering:

“Safe me from der ghost! Safe me! safe me!”

Frank broke away, but the visitor was gone. Merry rushed out of the room, but he was too late.

This racket had aroused the others, and they came flocking from their rooms, demanding the cause of the trouble.

“Hans had a bad case of nightmare, I think,” said Merry.

They found the Dutchman with his head under the couch, whither he had attempted to crawl. Bart struck a light and Merry pulled Dunnerwurst out.

“Vos der ghost gone alretty yet?” asked Hans, his teeth chattering.

“There was no ghost,” assured Frank.

“Don’d you toldt me so!” palpitated the frightened fellow. “Der ghost seen me mit my own eyes! Yah!”

“Nonsense,” said Merriwell. “I tell you there was no ghost.”

“Vot vos id dot seen me all in vite?” demanded Hans.

“That was either Bart or myself. If you’re going to kick up such a disturbance you’ll have to sleep somewhere else.”

It proved no simple matter to convince the Dutchman that he had not seen a ghost. The boys ridiculed him until he relapsed into sulky silence, and finally all went back to bed.

“What was it, Merry?” asked Bart, when they were once more in bed. “Wasn’t there some person in this room?”

“Sh!” cautioned Frank. “Don’t let Hans hear you. Some one was here.”

“I thought so. What happened?”

Merriwell told of hearing the singing and again falling asleep, to be finally aroused by the touch of an ice-cold hand and to hear the voice of a woman who seemed to fancy she was speaking to a sleeping babe.

“I take no stock in spooks,” said Hodge; “but I’ll be rather pleased when we get out of this ranch.”

“On the contrary,” averred Merry, “if it were not a breach of hospitality I’d like to remain here for the purpose of solving the mystery.”

Ten minutes later he was sound asleep, and he slept soundly until morning.


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