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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Frank Merriwell's Endurance » CHAPTER XV CAMERON’S CHALLENGE.
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CHAPTER XV CAMERON’S CHALLENGE.
The boys were finishing their breakfast when John, the Chinaman, appeared and stated that there was a gentleman at the door who wished to speak with Frank.

Frank left the table and went to the door, Hodge following him, in case there should be trouble.

Carey Cameron was waiting on the step.

“That heathen is decidedly inhospitable,” laughed Cameron pleasantly, removing a cigarette from his lips and holding it between a discolored thumb and forefinger. “He left me standing out here, like a huckster. But I understand that visitors—with the exception of yourselves—are not welcome in this house.”

Merriwell waited for the man to announce why he had called.

“I presume you’re surprised to see me here at this early hour,” said the man. “Oh, I’m alone! There’s no trickery about it. You need not be alarmed.”

“You quite mistake my feelings,” assured Merry.

“I have a proposition to make to you.”

“Have you?”

“I fancy you think it nervy of me, but I’m willing to explain and apologize. You may have learned of the baseball mix-up in Cartersville.”

“I have heard something about it.”

“Well, perhaps you know that I am manager of the new Cartersville baseball team. Gaddis and his bunch of stiffs have been put out of business. He has taken to the woods. Two of his best men have signed with me. The others are in retirement.”

Merriwell wondered what the man was driving at.

“My team will be complete to-day and every man on hand ready for business. I had arranged to open the season to-morrow with Bloomfield. Received a message late last evening that Bloomfield would not appear. The duffers! They are afraid to come.”

“If what I have heard about past methods of conducting baseball here is true,” said Merry, “I don’t wonder that Bloomfield canceled.”

“Oh, somebody has been giving you a lot of hot air. You can’t believe all you hear. It is possible the rooters have been rather rough on visiting teams in the past, but I’m going to cut that out.”

“Are you?”

“Sure thing.”

“It’s a good idea,” said Hodge sarcastically.

“There’ll be no need of winning games in future by intimidating visitors,” said Cameron. “When you learn the line-up of my team you’ll agree that I have the players. Among them I have Johnson, the great colored player, formerly of the Chicago Giants. Then there is Moran, from Springfield; Hickey, of Indianapolis; Tonando, with the Kansas City team last season; and Weaver, the great Indian fielder. The others are just as good. I have a team that can defeat anything on the turf in the middle West, and when we get into trim we’ll be able to make some of the big leaguers hustle. I’m going to give Cartersville and southern Iowa such baseball as was never before seen in these parts.”

“How does this interest me?” inquired Frank.

“I’m coming to that. I presume you’re rather hot over your treatment in this town.”

“You presume correctly.”

“Well, I don’t blame you; but you see Gaddis was given fair notice to quit, and he persisted in holding on. He had no business to make a contract with you. At that time he had been told to get out and warned that he would not be able to play after a certain date. He had an idea that the law would support him, and he attempted to fight me and the majority of baseball people in town. We had to make it good and hot for him. We began by driving visiting teams out of the place without giving them a chance to play. We thought Gaddis would throw up the sponge when he found he couldn’t get teams here. At last we were compelled to get after Gaddis himself, and yesterday he tumbled and skipped.”

“All this explaining does not justify you in the least.”

“Perhaps not; but there you are. I’m ready to apologize, if that suits you better.”

“Even an apology can’t square it,” asserted Hodge.

“I’m very sorry,” declared Cameron. “I’ve told the boys that you are to be treated with the utmost courtesy during the rest of your stay in town.”

“Which will be very brief,” said Frank. “We shall leave on the ten A.M. train to-day.”

“I hope not. I am here to offer you inducements to play with my team to-morrow. It will be the opening game, and I know we’ll turn out a mob of people.”

“When it comes to nerve,” said Bart, “that is just about the full limit!”

“If you’ll play,” Cameron went on, “I’ll give you a fixed sum, or I’ll pay you two-thirds the net gate receipts, win or lose. Besides that I’ll put you up at the Mansion House, and the best Cartersville affords shall be yours. Can you ask for anything fairer?”

“It sounds very fine,” laughed Merry; “but what we have seen and heard has taught us the folly of dealing with you and the class of people you represent.”

“Then you refuse?”

“Yes, sir!”

“You’re afraid! That’s what’s the matter! You have made a great reputation, and you’re afraid of being defeated.”

“That is the very least of my fears, sir. We opened in Los Angeles with the Chicago Cubs, defeating them two out of three games. I hardly think we would fear you after that.”

“Oh, I don’t know! If you had lost all three games to the Chicagos it would have been no disgrace. After your triumphant career this season, you might feel sore if you dropped a game to a new team here in Cartersville.”

“As far as possible,” said Merry, “I seek to deal with gentlemen.”

Cameron flushed the least bit, and a wicked look came to his eyes.

“I don’t fancy the insinuation!” he exclaimed. “I have apologized and endeavored to set things straight. If you are looking for further trouble——”

He checked himself, changing his manner in a moment.

“That’s nonsense!” he laughed. “I’m sorry you are afraid. I have heard of you, Mr. Merriwell. You have a reputation for nerve, but it seems that you have very little real nerve. You are challenged to play my team. You dare not play! You know I can defeat you. You’re a squealer!”

“All that sort of talk never drove me into anything I had decided not to do, and never could,” said Frank.

Then, to his surprise, the mysterious woman, still wearing the heavy veil, stepped quickly from the house and placed a hand on his arm.

“Accept the challenge, Mr. Merriwell,” exclaimed the lips hidden behind the veil. “Play him for my sake—and defeat him! You can do it!”

“Do you realize, miss, the manner in which we shall be handicapped? We are in a strange town, and a place where there is little chance that we’ll be given a fair show. Even the umpire would be against us.”

“To satisfy you on that point,” cried Cameron, “I’ll permit you to select your own umpire. How is that? If you have a man with you who can umpire the game, I’ll accept him. You can’t squeal—if you have the nerve.”

“Play him!” again urged the mysterious woman. “For my sake!”

“With the understanding that I am to furnish the umpire——” began Merry.

“It’s a go!” cried Cameron, in satisfaction. “With the team I shall put onto the field, it will be an easy matter to defeat you. There’ll be no need of anything but straight and legitimate baseball to do that.”

“Very well,” said Merry. “We’ll play you, Mr. Cameron.”

As Cameron departed the strange woman spoke excitedly to Frank.

“You will win!” she declared. “I feel it! I know it! He is confident there is no need to resort to crooked methods to defeat you. He’ll try to get bets on the game. I hope he loses heavily. I’ll back you! I have money. You shall take it and cover his bets.”

“I beg your pardon, miss,” protested Frank, “but I have certain scruples about betting. I may have made wagers in the past, but I am sure I shall never again do so, either with my own money or that of another.”

“Let her bet on us, if she wants to,” urged Hodge warmly. “I, too, feel it in my bones that we’ll take a fall out of Cameron’s great aggregation. I know every fellow on the team will play as if for his very life.”

Merry shook his head.

“I can make no exceptions to the rule I have laid down for myself,” he said. “Even if Cameron is confident of success, and begins a square game, he may resort to treachery if he becomes alarmed before the finish. He’ll not intend to lose the opening game with his team. That would disgust the tough element that is backing him. He would lose prestige at once.”

Frank was immovable on his point.

The boys were greatly surprised when Merry informed them of the challenge and acceptance.

“Py Shimminy!” cried Dunnerwurst. “Ve vill gif them der greatest run their money for that you efer saw. Id vill peen a satisfaction to dood them up. Yah!”

Frank explained that they were to supply the umpire, which caused no small amount of satisfaction.

“We are to move to the Mansion House, fellows,” he said. “We’ll impose on Miss Blake no longer.”

“You have not imposed on me in the least,” assured the hostess. “If you defeat Cameron, I shall be more than repaid.”

“But we are going to pay you good, cold cash for what we have received. That was the agreement.”

She began to demur, but Frank insisted that she had made that a part of the agreement when she took them in, and at last she consented to accept payment.

Having settled by compelling her to take twenty dollars, although she was unwilling to the very last to accept more than ten, the boys picked up and started off gayly for the hotel.

“I toldt you vot,” said Hans, as they descended the hill, “I vos glat to got dot house oudt uf. No matteration vot you say, I vos postiveness I seen a ghost last nighdt indo. Id scooted me by like a streak of vind, und id gif me der shiverings all ofer your back. Dot blace been haunted.”

Although they laughed at him, the Dutchman continued to insist that he had seen a ghost.

As they marched into town they were observed with curiosity by the people of the place. A mob of youngsters quickly gathered and followed them along the street.

At the Mansion House they found Mat Madison and several of his companions of the previous day standing on the steps. Apparently they had been waiting for Frank and his team to appear.

Madison leered at Merry.

“Say,” he cried, “you won’t prance with your head so high in the air after our team gits through with you to-morrow. We’ll take some of the starch outer you.”

“Great blizzards!” exclaimed Badger. “Does that play on Cameron’s team?”

“You bet,” answered the bruiser. “Cameron signed me for my hittin’. There ain’t no pitcher in the business that I can’t hit.”

“That should make you tremble, Frank,” laughed Morgan.

None of the young thugs offered to molest Merry or his party as they entered the hotel.

Cameron was waiting for them in the office.

“Here you are, I see!” he cried. “I was afraid you might back out, after all, and try to skip out of town.”

“Your fears were quite groundless,” said Merriwell.

“Well, everything is fixed for you here. I told you I’d arrange it. You’re to have the very best the house affords, and I’ll settle the bills. I can afford to, considering the trimming we’re going to hand out to you to-morrow.”

“You seem inclined to count your chickens before they are hatched,” said Frank.

“Do you have an idea that you’ll win?”

“Of course.”

“Want to make a little wager?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I never bet.”

“A poor excuse is better than none. Of course, that means you dare not bet.”

“It means just what I said—I never bet.”

“Oh, well, if any of your bunch feels like sporting a little I’ll be open for business up to the time the umpire calls ‘Play!’ It adds interest to any event to make a little wager on it. I’m not in baseball for my health. We’re going to pay you the biggest part of the gate money, and so I’ll have to catch some money somehow. Considering your record, there ought to be some sports with nerve enough to take a chance on you.”

Cameron’s manner was offensive, although it was not likely he meant it to be.

The accommodations at the Mansion House were none too good, and the place seemed poor enough after the plain comforts of the private house they had just left. Nevertheless, they were inclined to make the best of everything, kicking being in disfavor among them.

At the earliest opportunity Merry took occasion to seek information concerning the mysterious woman who lived on the hill; but he soon discovered that no one in the place knew much about her, save that she had appeared some ten weeks before and leased the house for the summer. The place was furnished, its owner having gone abroad after the death of his wife. When Miss Blake moved in, no one seemed to know. Shortly after taking the house she reappeared in Cartersville, and the people of the town discovered that she as occupying the house, together with a number of servants, both male and female.

“No one could be found who had ever seen her without her heavy veil. She had discouraged all efforts at familiarity or friendliness on the part of the villagers. It appeared to be a matter of wonder that Merriwell and his friends had been admitted to the house, as they were the only ones outside the members of her household to cross the threshold since she took possession. One old woman gossip of the town had made repeated attempts to get in on one pretext or another, but had been rebuffed each time. The townspeople were not only piqued and mystified by the woman, they were not a little offended, and the rougher element had threatened to tear the veil from her face in order to see what she looked like.”

All this was interesting but unsatisfactory. Merry felt that he would sincerely regret to leave Cartersville without solving the mystery of the veiled woman.




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