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CHAPTER XVIII IN THE CLUB CONSERVATORY.
Their experience with the sporting element of Cartersville had been so unpleasant that Frank and his friends had no desire to remain longer in the town. Greatly to their surprise they were not molested in any way by the friends of Carey Cameron, who seemed to have received a knockout blow, and the Merries left the town by the first train for the East.

Their objective point was Ashport, where a gentleman by the name of Robert Ashley had offered a magnificent trophy to be contested for by all legitimate amateurs who wished to enter a cross-country running contest. It was not that Frank, or any of his team, intended to enter the contest that had influenced Merry to take in Ashport on his journey to the East, but he had heard much about the man who was promoting the event, and what he had heard had been favorable.

Ashley was an Englishman, and shortly after graduating from Oxford he had found himself, at the death of his father, left with but a small portion of the fortune he had been led to believe he should inherit. Quickly realizing that the income of this reduced fortune would not support him in the style he desired, he put aside family and caste prejudice against “trade” and formed an unfortunate business alliance with a shrewd rascal, who quickly succeeded by crooked methods in robbing him of what he had left, and then threw him over to face the world.

By the sale of personal effects, Ashley raised something like three hundred pounds, and with this in his pocket he bade farewell to England and turned his face toward America.

There is no need to recount his career in this country, but let it suffice to say that, after many hardships and severe struggles, he “struck it rich” in Colorado. For him “the mining game” was a successful one, and within five years after fortune turned, he retired from the struggle, many times a millionaire. His success in the face of disappointment and hard luck he attributed to his persistence, endurance, and staying power; and many a time he averred that these qualities—to some extent hereditary—had been cultivated, developed, and brought to perfection by such school-day and college sports as cross-country running and hare and hounds.

Ashley had conceived a great admiration and love for the country in which he had retrieved his fallen fortunes. After a visit to his former home in the old country, he returned to the United States and finally settled near Ashport, on the Ohio River. Whether or not he was attracted by the name of the town it is impossible to say; but there he found precisely the sort of country he admired and his fortune permitted him to purchase a large estate.

He soon became actively concerned in many charitable works and he took a great interest in all sorts of healthy outdoor sports, participating in such as were adapted to his years and encouraging those in which he could not longer indulge. He founded the Ashport Amateur Athletic Association, which, although located in the country, was within easy range of many thriving towns and two large and prosperous cities; and, in the two years of its existence, it had made such rapid advancement in membership and achievement that it was regarded as one of the leading organizations of the sort in the country.

Among the members of the club were several former college men of note in athletics, not the least of whom was Carl Prince, who became known as the “Georgetown Wonder” when he had twice broken the American college record in the quarter-mile run.

Other ex-college men who had accomplished things on the track and the cinder path and later joined Ashport were Clifford Clyde, of Yale, and Hugh Sheldon, Michigan’s remarkable hurdler and steeplechaser.

Mr. Ashley had a theory that distance running was neglected in America, and he sought to arouse interest in it. For this purpose he had offered a prize to be contested for at Ashport on a certain date, by any and all legitimate amateurs of America who wished to enter the cross-country running contest.

The sporting columns of the newspapers had thoroughly advertised the coming event, and had commented much on the beauty and costliness of the trophy. Having seen these articles in the papers, Frank Merriwell planned to reach Ashport on the trip East with his athletic team in time to witness the contest.

It happened, however, that Paul Proctor, the president of the Ashport A. A., a Harvard grad, knew Merry well and took pains to extend him an invitation to participate in the contest.

Although Frank had not given any thought to a participation in the events, he had gladly accepted Proctor’s invitation, and on the day of the tryouts he watched them from the observatory of the clubhouse which was located at the shoulder of an oval mile track that had been constructed for all sorts of foot races. From this observatory could be obtained a clear and complete view of the track and grounds of the Ashport Athletic Association.

Back of the clubhouse and to the east lay Ashport, a thriving, up-to-date village. The river swept in a horseshoe-like curve to the south. To the north was the estate of Robert Ashley, comprising hundreds of acres of green fields, broad meadows, hills, valleys, and wild woodland. On one of the hillsides, surrounded by splendid old trees, stood Ash Hall. In order to build a home to suit himself, Mr. Ashley had razed a house that formerly stood on the same spot.

“Who is the pacemaker?” asked Merry, as he watched the runners through a pair of field glasses.

“That is Carl Prince, of Batavia,” answered Paul Proctor.

“Not Prince, the Georgetown Wonder?”

“The same fellow. He’s just as fast to-day as he was at college, when he became known as the Georgetown Wonder.”

“He was a great quarter-miler,” nodded Frank, having lowered the glasses for a moment; “but I don’t recall that he ever made a reputation as a long-distance man.”

“Not at college,” admitted Proctor. “He didn’t go in for long-distance work then. He has since becoming a member of the Ashport A. A.”

“I am inclined to fancy he has not changed his methods to any great extent, and you know long-distance work is much different from sprinting and dashes. True it is running, but runners are divided into three classes—the sprinters, the middle-distance men, and the long-distance or cross-country men. Those adapted for the second class named, or who have won records or events in that class, find it more easy to become cross-country men than do those of the first class.”

“What makes you think Prince has not changed his methods?”

“His stride, his carriage, and his tenseness. Sprinters are under strain from start to finish in a race, and their muscles are taut. They are liable to tie up in long runs. They forget to relax, and their muscles become overstrained. When a man ties up in a long run he’s liable not to finish at all. He finds himself run out at a time and point when he should be at his very best.”

“Hollingsworth has considerable confidence in Prince.”

“Who is Hollingsworth?”

“Our trainer. He’s an Englishman, and he knows his business. He was formerly the champion of the Middlesex Cross Country Club, in England. We were lucky to get hold of him here.”

“Long-distance and cross-country running seems to be a fad with your club, Proctor.”

“Naturally,” smiled the president of the club. “Mr. Robert Ashley, who founded the club, gave us our field and track and built this handsome clubhouse for us, is a crank on that sort of sport. In his day, he was the greatest cross-country and hare-and-hounds man in Oxford.”

“He is an Englishman?”

“Yes. That is, he was. He’s a naturalized American now. Made a fortune in mining and settled here. That splendid house you can see on the hill yonder is where he lives. It is modeled after the old English country mansion, and he calls it Ash Hall. Mr. Ashley claims that cross-country running is the finest sport in the world to develop staying power and endurance in a young man, and he says staying power is what the modern young man needs to make him successful in business. He thinks there are too many sprinters in business, who make a hot dash for a while, but are unable to keep up the pace until successful.”

Frank smiled and nodded.

“It is my opinion that Mr. Ashley is a man of wisdom and generosity,” he said. “The runners are coming down the straight course to the stand. We can get a better view of them now.”

He again lifted the glasses to his eyes, an example followed by several other persons.



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