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CHAPTER XXI TOM BRAMWELL.
Frank Merriwell and Bart Hodge were walking back to their hotel in town after the visit to the club, when the latter related to Merry all that he had heard while in the grand stand.

“What do you think of it?” cried Hodge, as he finished.

“I think you have unearthed some crooked work that ought to put an end to the career of Arthur Huntley as an amateur athlete and Herbert Hollingsworth as a reputable and honest trainer.”

“Just what I think, Frank. We’ll expose the plot. Huntley will be barred and Hollingsworth kicked out of his position in disgrace.”

Merry meditated a little as he walked, his head slightly bowed. After a few moments he slowly shook his head.

“It won’t do,” he declared.

“What won’t?”

“Your plan.”

“I’d like to know why not!”

“I’ll tell you. In the first place, the proof is not sufficient.”

“Why, Merry, I heard their plot!”

“No question about that, but you have no one to back you up. You are the only person who overheard it.”

“That’s true,” admitted Bart reluctantly; “but then——”

“If you were to accuse them, both men would deny it and demand corroborative evidence, which you could not produce. It would be two against one, and their word would be just as effective as yours under such circumstances. Merely on your statement of the truth you could not have Huntley barred.”

Hodge saw the force of this, but he rebelled against it.

“It isn’t right, Frank!” he cried. “It’s wrong! It’s outrageous!”

“It may be wrong, but that makes no difference.”

“What can we do?”

“Try to obtain evidence that will accomplish the result.”

“I doubt if we can do it in time.”

“So do I,” Frank confessed.

“Well, then——”

“The plot must be frustrated. Huntley must be defeated in his ambition to secure the trophy.”

“You can do that,” asserted Bart eagerly and confidently.

“I can try.”

“But after that—is he to continue to be an amateur athlete in good standing?”

“Not if we can secure the needed evidence to expose his rascality. What was it you overheard about a jungle in some dead timber and a path over a hill?”

“Why, Huntley said he had found a number of short cuts over the course, one of which was through Dead Timber Jungle and the other over Ragged Hill.”

“To-morrow, when the course is given out, we’ll go over it and look for these short cuts. True, we may not find them in such short time, but we’ll do our best. Plainly, unless we do find them, Huntley will have a decided advantage.”

“No doubt of it.”

“Then it is up to us, and may luck be with us.”

“But how about their dastardly scheme to destroy your certificate of membership in the Amateur Athletic union of the United States?”

“Leave that matter to me,” smiled Frank. “Don’t worry about it in the least.”

“You mean to place the certificate where it cannot be found? Put it into the safe at the hotel, Merry.”

“I will take care of it, all right,” was the assurance.

Early the following day a map of the course the runners were to follow was placed on exhibition at the clubhouse. This map was eagerly studied by the contestants who had entered, and it was seen that the course would be a difficult one to traverse, as it led through many wild and rugged sections of the Ashley estate. At five different points along the course watchers were to be stationed to observe and record the passing of the runners. In this manner dishonesty on the part of the contestants in the way of failure to cover the entire distance was to be prevented.

Frank and Bart were among the first to examine the map, which was hung on a wall in the reading room of the clubhouse. Merry went over it rapidly, copying it on a sheet of paper, and questioning a man who had been concerned in laying out the course, this man being present for the purpose of answering such questions and giving the runners all needed information in regard to the country.

“There is the piece of woods known as Dead Timbers, Frank,” said Hodge, in a low tone, indicating the spot on the map.

“I’ve taken note of it,” nodded Merriwell.

“And here is Ragged Hill.”

“I have that indicated on my copy of the map.”

From the main clubhouse the old Fardale rivals and chums proceeded to the smaller house, where the dressing rooms were. Already Merry had been given a locker in one of the dressing rooms, and in this locker he had his running clothes, together with an outfit for Hodge.

While they were dressing for the purpose of taking a run over the course, one of the Ashport men came in and busied himself in like manner.

Frank looked up and observed the fellow.

“Hello, Bramwell,” he said. “Going out to look the course over to see what we’re up against, are you?”

“That’s the idea,” laughed Bramwell. “Four fellows have started already. I see you’re going, too.”

“Yes. My friend Hodge is coming with me. Won’t you join us?”

“Sure. I know the country hereabouts pretty well, and I may be able to help you in following the course.”

“Thank you,” said Frank. “If you can give me any assistance that way I shall try to repay the favor in some manner.”

“Oh! that’s all right,” assured the Ashport man. “Every starter must know the course. After that if he can find any means of covering it easier or quicker than the rest, that’s his privilege.”

“Well, I reckon some of them will find a few short cuts,” muttered Hodge.

“One has already, that’s sure,” said Frank, in a low tone.

Bramwell cast a quick glance toward them, having failed to catch their words, although he heard them say something.

Merry finished dressing and walked over to the Ashport man.

“Who do you consider the best runner in your set, Bramwell?” he inquired.

“Why, Prince, of course,” was the prompt answer. “We hope he’ll be able to take the trophy.”

“Has Hollingsworth ever told you that you could beat Prince in a cross-country run?”

“Well, hardly!” was the laughing answer. “Why should he?”

“Because you ought to do it, and I believe you can.”

Bramwell looked surprised.

“Quit your kidding!” he exclaimed. “I’m going into this thing because I like the sport.”

“That’s one good reason why you stand a fine chance to win. You like it. Prince likes the glory, but he does not like the work. I want to tell you something in confidence: Hollingsworth really believes you stand a better show of winning than any other Ashport runner.”

Bramwell showed his incredulity, which seemed to turn into resentment in a moment.

“Say!” he cried, “do I look soft? What do you take me for? I offered to show you the course in good faith, but if you’re going to give me this sort of hot air——”

“If you knew me better,” said Frank, in a convincing manner, “you would not accuse me of dealing in hot air. If we start out together to-day I’m going to tell you a few things that will interest you and may spur you on to victory.”

“Why should you do that? You’re out for the trophy, aren’t you?”

“I am; still I give you my word of honor, Bramwell, if I do not win I hope most sincerely that you will be the man to do so.”

Another person than Frank Merriwell might not have convinced Tom Bramwell that he was sincere in such a statement; but there was about Merry an indefinable something that always bespoke his absolute honesty and convinced the doubter and skeptic. Looking into Frank’s eyes, Bramwell was convinced.

“I thank you!” he exclaimed, with a flush of pleasure. “I am sure I don’t know why you feel that way toward me, but I appreciate it.”



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