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CHAPTER XIX CONFIDENTIAL CRITICISM.
As the runners came nearer, Frank lowered the glasses and watched them with the naked eye.

“Yes,” he murmured, “I’m afraid Prince will tie up in a long run. He is inclined to carry his chin a bit too high.”

“We are placing a great deal of reliance in him,” said Proctor, as if a bit vexed by Merry’s criticism. “Hollingsworth has chosen him as a leader to work out the bunch.”

“Who is that second fellow—the one with the mop of light hair?”

“That’s Tom Bramwell.”

“His form is better than that of Prince; but he hasn’t the range, and I’m afraid he’s a bit too heavy.”

“Oh, Bramwell never did anything brilliant in his life. Nobody counts on him.”

“He’s just the man who’s liable to surprise everybody in a match of this sort. There is a pretty runner to the left of him—the slender little chap.”

“That’s Clifford Clyde, a Yale man.”

“Grad?”

“No; he was suspended in his sophomore year and never tried to get back.”

“He runs easy, but lifts his feet just a little too high. The man behind him is the best runner in the lot, if he didn’t have one bad fault.”

“That’s Hugh Sheldon, the University of Michigan hurdler. What’s the fault?”

“The way he carries his arms. He swings them across his body, and thus fails to get the proper lift of a direct forward swing. There is lost motion in that swing.”

“There seems to be something the matter with them all,” muttered Proctor, with a disappointed air.

“It is seldom you see a runner without faults,” smiled Frank. “And some mighty good men have bad habits in running. Many wonderfully good English long-distance runners have the fault of swinging their arms across their bodies, yet, for all of this, they generally defeat Americans in cross-country running and in other things which demand endurance.”

“That’s what Mr. Ashley says, except he has made no mention of the bad arm action of the English. If Americans run in better form, why don’t they defeat the English?”

“Because they have not the stamina—the stay. They have not been properly trained.”

“Oh, do you believe in a rigid form of training for all men?”

“Not at all. I have arrived at a point in life when I firmly believe the old saw: ‘What’s one man’s meat is another man’s poison.’ You can’t put a bunch of men in training and force them all to conform to set and rigid rules with the best result. Above everything else, a runner must have some love for his work and a great ambition to excel. Then he should study himself and find out just the sort of work that agrees with him in training. He should not shirk. He should take all he can stand without injury. He should consult with his trainer, and the trainer must have discernment and sense enough not to underwork or overwork that man. It requires a trainer of mighty keen discernment to determine just what is best for a bunch of five or six men with different natures, different habits, and varying ability. It’s likely you have done well in engaging an English trainer, as the English excel in this style of running. How often has he sent the men cross country?”

“Only twice thus far. He says he can get the best out of them by working them on the track where he can watch them. He’s a good runner himself, but in going cross country he cannot watch all the men, you know.”

Merriwell looked mildly surprised, opened his mouth to speak, then closed his lips and remained silent.

Hodge also betrayed surprise, but maintained the silent demeanor that had made him non-conspicuous since entering the observatory.

Proctor was too shrewd not to note Frank’s action.

“What were you thinking of saying, Merriwell?” he asked.

“Oh, not much,” answered Frank.

The runners had now turned the shoulder near the clubhouse, and all leaned over the rail to watch them as they passed the long, low bathhouse, which was also the residence of the track master.

After a moment, Proctor said:

“I wish you would tell me what you started to say a bit ago, Merriwell.”

“I don’t think I had better.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not the thing for me to come here and criticise the methods of your trainer.”

“You may do so privately to me.”

Still Frank was disinclined, seeking to divert Proctor from this inquiry by calling his attention to the fact that Bramwell had a beautiful stride and no lost motion.

“If he had more range,” said Merry, “he would be the man of that lot to back.”

“It’s strange Hollingsworth doesn’t think so—or, at least, hasn’t said anything about it,” said Proctor.

“Perhaps Hollingsworth understands Bramwell’s disposition and doesn’t wish the fellow to get too good an opinion of himself. You know that spoils a runner occasionally.”

Proctor slipped over close to Frank. The two men were now at the western side of the observatory, still watching the runners and talking in low tones. Hodge leaned on the southern rail and seemed absorbed in thought.

“What were you going to say about Hollingsworth’s methods a short time ago, Merriwell?” persisted the president of the club.

“It is now three days before the great match?”

“Yes.”

“Already contestants are coming in. If you will take the pains to look yonder and watch the woods on the side of that hill away there, using the glass, you will soon see three runners emerge and descend the hill. They are some of the men who are going to compete, and they are getting practical cross-country work.”

Proctor seized the glass and leveled it as directed. After fifteen or twenty seconds, he muttered:

“You’re right! There comes one of them—yes, and there is another! Now I can see all three of them. How in the world did you discover them?”

“Oh, I often look around. I surveyed the country, with the aid of that glass, when we first came up here. There are two more chaps hidden in that valley yonder, while still a third, a solitary fellow, is skirting the bend of the river down yonder. It’s likely I have not seen all the men who are out getting practical cross-country work to-day, for we know that at least a dozen are stopping in Ashport.”

“Well?”

“Well, here are your men hammering round a fine, smooth track. Why, they should have quit track running long ago. For the past two weeks they should have run cross country at least five times a week, directed by the trainer. One day out of every six in the last two weeks could have been given to work here on the track, where Hollingsworth would be able to watch the men and note their peculiarities and progress. Has Mr. Ashley taken special note of Hollingsworth’s methods?”

“No; but he has confidence in Hollingsworth.”

“Well, I’m not infallible,” laughed Frank. “I’m only giving my ideas; but I have received those ideas from experience and from the suggestion of men of experience. I don’t wish to set myself up as authority, Proctor, for I——”

“You might,” interrupted Proctor quickly. “You are recognized in this country as authority on most amateur sports.”

“But I have never tried for a record in cross-country running.”

“Why don’t you try in this contest? The champions of the United States will take part. Look at these entries: Harvey Neil, New York Athletic Club; Philip Pope, Bay State A. A., Boston; Arthur Huntley, Bison A. A., Buffalo; Farwell Lyons, of the Chicago Clippers, and many others, among whom are several college grads and ex-collegians of note. It would be a great thing for us to have Frank Merriwell in the contest. Come on, old man! The course has been laid off and will be announced to-morrow. You’re in time to go over it with the men before the race.”

“But, my dear fellow,” smiled Merry, “you seem to forget that I ought to put in two or three weeks of consistent training for such a contest if I meant to enter.”

Unheard and unobserved, a red-faced chap in a sweater had mounted the steps to the observatory. He had a Scotch cap pushed back on his head, and he paused with his hands on his hips, surveying Merriwell’s back with a look of disapproval, while he listened to the words of Frank and Paul.

“But I have heard it claimed that you keep yourself constantly in training, and you are now finishing a tour with your own athletic team. If you remain here and do not enter, it will be fancied that you were afraid. People will ask why you were present and failed to compete for the splendid Ashley trophy.”

“There is another reason why I should not enter,” said Merry. “That trophy ought to be won by a member of this club. If I did enter, I’d go after it in earnest as it is my rule never to do a thing unless I do my level best.”

“But, according to your criticism, Carl Prince has no chance of winning, our men are being coached wrong, and all of them have faults. We have no real chance of winning, it seems.”

“You appear to forget what I have said about Bramwell.”

“Even he lacks the range, you have said.”

“But I think he has the courage and endurance. It is endurance and heart that count in a contest of this sort, providing the runner has had something like correct training. You pressed me for my idea of your trainer’s methods, and what I said was spoken in confidence. I have no desire to injure Hollingsworth, who may be sincere and a very good fellow.”

The chap in the sweater smiled disdainfully, continuing to listen, an expression of mingled anger and craft on his unpleasant face.

“Of course if you will not enter that settles it,” said Proctor; “but I don’t believe Bramwell can defeat Pope, of Boston, or Huntley, of Buffalo.”

“How about Neil?”

“He is not the best man from his club.”

“Well, I’d like to see one of your men take that trophy, Proctor. I don’t want it.”

The fellow in the sweater laughed rather harshly and sarcastically, causing every one in the observatory to turn quickly and look at him.

“Hollingsworth!” exclaimed Proctor.

“Mr. Merriwell is very generous,” observed the laughing man cuttingly. “It’s an easy thing for ’im to be generous in such a manner, and no one will hever suspect ’im of timidness. He can travel on his record. I think he is hextremely wise in keeping hout of this race.”

It was Hollingsworth, the English trainer, who betrayed his origin whenever excited in the least by the misuse of the letter “h” in his speech. In ordinary conversation he seldom did this.

Proctor knew at once that the trainer had overheard some of their talk, which threw him into confusion.

Merriwell did not seem disturbed. He surveyed Hollingsworth with quiet interest.

Proctor hastened to introduce them.

Hollingsworth did not remove his hands from his hips, but gave a little jerk of his bullet head in acknowledgment of the introduction.

“I knew it was Mr. Merriwell,” he said. “No one helse would think of being so hextremely generous.”

These words were meant to be very cutting.

“Besides,” continued the Englishman, as Frank did not speak at once, “no one helse is so wonderfully wise.”

Bart Hodge was frowning blackly. He had taken an instant dislike to Hollingsworth. He afterward confessed a desire to punch the fellow on sight.

Proctor sought to mediate and pour oil on the waters.

“Mr. Merriwell was speaking in strict confidence to me,” he declared. “He did not intend that any one should overhear.”

“And,” said Frank, “I had no thought that any one would come up behind us with such pantherish steps that we could not know he was listening to conversation not intended for his ears.”

The red face of Hollingsworth took on a deeper tinge.

“I ’ave seen these gents who go round offering secret criticisms!” he exclaimed warmly. “They think to do more ’arm that way than by speaking hout with courage; but hoften it is the case that they hinjure no one, as they seldom know what they are talking habout.”

This was meant as another deep thrust at Merry.

“You’ll get what’s coming to you if you keep it up!” thought Hodge. “If Merry doesn’t deliver the goods, I will!”

Frank knew Bart would smart under such conditions, and he gave the quick-tempered fellow a glance of warning.

Merriwell was the guest of the Ashport A. A., and he wished no encounter with the trainer.

“I have not the least desire to say anything to injure you, Mr. Hollingsworth,” he declared calmly. “On the contrary, I am inclined to give you Englishmen all the credit you deserve in long-distance and cross-country work, and that is a great deal, for you stand at the head.”

This seemed to quiet the trainer a little, although it did not wholly satisfy him.

“But you have no call to come here and discuss me with the president of the club,” he asserted. “I know my business, sir. If you don’t think so, look into the records of Overby and Hare, of the Middlesex Cross Country Club, England. I trained both of those men.”

“I know about them. Hare could not defeat Orton, the American, at the steeplechase in your own country. Orton won the championship of England. Already he held the championship of America, and later, at Paris, he became champion of the world.”

Hollingsworth flushed again.

“Horton was an accident!” he cried. “You never produced a man like ’im before, and you never will hagain!”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” returned Frank, with slightly uplifted eyebrows. “We’re just getting into such work in earnest over here. You have been training men for it a long, long time. Generation after generation of long-distance men have followed each other at your colleges. We’re beginning to press you hard. Twenty or thirty years from now you’ll find yourselves following in our lead.”

“Never!” snapped the Englishman. “You Hamericans are conceited, that’s what’s the matter with you! Heven in this race I wouldn’t be surprised to see an Englishman take the trophy.”

“But you have no English runner in this club who is formidable.”

“No.”

“Then it seems you do not expect one of your own runners to win.”

“I ’ope one of them will,” said Hollingsworth hastily. “I ’ave done my best, but a man can’t make champions hout of poor material.”

“Occasionally he can,” denied Frank.

“Oh, I suppose you might, you ’ave a way of haccomplishing such wonders! Better get hup your courage and henter. I don’t think it would be so ’ard for one or two of our members to defeat you.”

“You tempt me—really you do,” smiled Merriwell.

“You ’aven’t the nerve.”

“Haven’t I?”

“’Ardly. If you did, as sure as my name is ’Erbert ’Ollingsworth, I’d wager you wouldn’t finish better than third.”

“Just to show you I can finish second, at least,” Frank laughed, “I may reconsider my determination and enter for the run. In fact, I think I will.”

“I ’ope you don’t back hout,” sneered Hollingsworth; “but, considering who is hentered already, I fear you will.”

Frank had settled his mind.

“Put your fears at rest,” he advised.

“Well, if you get shown up after being so critical,” said the Englishman, “I shall not shed tears. Mr. Proctor, I wish to see you after training is over. Will you wait for me here, or come over to the baths?”

“I’ll see you downstairs, Hollingsworth.”

The Englishman nodded to Proctor and the two gentlemen at the west side of the observatory, who had listened to the talk, but had offered to take no part in it, descended the steps, disappearing from view.

“I give you my word, Frank,” said Hodge hotly, “that I’d rather punch that fellow than any man I’ve encountered in a whole year! I simply ached to hit him, but, of course, I wouldn’t pick up a quarrel with him here.”

“I hope you refrain from picking a quarrel with him anywhere as long as we remain in Ashport.”

“But he was so confounded insolent!”

“Which is the manner of some Englishmen of a certain grade. They entertain a contempt for Americans and are unable to conceal it. The better class, like Mr. Ashley, for instance, have come to understand and respect us.”

“You seem to be a rather broad-minded young man,” said one of the gentlemen. “I observed that you held yourself in perfect restraint throughout that talk with Hollingsworth just now.”

“Too much restraint is as bad as none,” muttered Hodge.

“That depends on what you consider too much,” said Frank, who had caught the words.

“I tell you,” said Proctor, speaking to Merry and Bart, “I’m inclined to believe Hollingsworth has not worked our men out properly. He’ll have to give them some cross-country work now.”

“But it’s pretty late,” reminded Merriwell. “They must not be overworked. There is danger of overworking them at this stage. Don’t let him push them until they go stale on the eve of the contest.”

“If one of our men does not win,” said Paul, “I hope you get that trophy, Merriwell.”

“Thank you. I have decided to try for it, but I still think it should go to a member of this club. Who is the Englishman entered, and where is he from? Hollingsworth said he’d not be a bit surprised to see an Englishman walk off with the trophy.”

“He must have been thinking of Arthur Huntley, of Buffalo.”

“Is he English?”

“I believe so. I think, though, he is now a naturalized American.”

“We’ll have to take a little interest in Huntley, Bart,” said Frank. “I wish to know why Hollingsworth fancies he may win the trophy.”

“Simply because the fellow is an Englishman,” said Hodge.

But Merry shook his head.

“Hollingsworth is not a fool, and he knows there will be other good cross-country men in the race. No doubt he sympathizes with Huntley, but Huntley must be unusual in order to lead this man to believe he will win.”

At this moment one of the gentlemen called attention to a carriage that was approaching the clubhouse. Immediately Proctor announced that Mr. Ashley was one of the two gentlemen in the carriage.

“He is bringing the trophy!” cried the president of the club, in great eagerness. “He stated he would show it here this afternoon. Come down, gentlemen—come down and see it!”

They descended from the observatory and went down to the parlor, where they found Mr. Ashley had already arrived, the carriage being outside the door.

The gentleman who accompanied Mr. Ashley carried in his hand a leather bag, which seemed quite heavy.

“That bag contains the trophy, I think,” said Frank to Bart, as Proctor hastened to speak to Ashley.

The founder of the club was a man of slender, wiry build, an Englishman of the higher grade, who had not acquired that ponderous solemnity most Americans expect to see in Britishers of middle age and of his standing. In many respects he was more like an American than a typical Englishman. His hair and mustache contained a liberal sprinkling of gray. He was plainly dressed in brown.

Mr. Ashley had been expected, and there was a large gathering of members in the parlor. He greeted them in a pleasant manner, yet without elaborate politeness.

“Put the bag on the table in the centre of the room, Mr. Graham,” he said, and his companion did as directed.

Herbert Hollingsworth entered and hurried to Mr. Ashley.

“The men have just finished work for the day,” he said. “They are in the bathhouse. It will be thirty or forty minutes before they can be here.”

“We will wait until they can come before showing the trophy,” said Ashley. “How are our boys showing up?”

“Splendidly, sir. Prince and Clyde are in the pink of condition.”

“That is good. How about Sheldon and Bramwell?”

“Oh, they will be pretty sure to make a good showing, especially Sheldon. Bramwell is persistent.”

Proctor gave Frank and Bart a nod, upon which they approached and were introduced to Mr. Ashley, who shook hands warmly with both of them.

“Mr. Merriwell,” he said, “I am particularly glad to meet you. Are you going to enter?”

“Well,” smiled Frank, giving Hollingsworth a glance, “I have been persuaded to do so, although I did not contemplate it when I came here.”

“I persuaded him, sir,” the trainer hastened to declare. “To me it seemed an opportune time to demonstrate that Mr. Merriwell is not the only one in his class.”

Ashley was quick to catch something amiss in the manner of Hollingsworth.

“This contest has been advertised as open for all registered amateurs in this country,” he said, at once. “Every one is welcome to compete, and may the best man win.”



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