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CHAPTER XXII WATCHING HIS CHANCE.
Herbert Hollingsworth was at the clubhouse when the map was suspended on the wall. He saw Merriwell arrive and begin to look the map over with the others.

“He’ll go out this morning,” decided the trainer. “It will give me the opportunity I am looking for. I must not miss it.”

After that he pretended to take no interest whatever in Frank’s movements, but he noted that Merry left the clubhouse for the small one adjoining and rightly decided that he had resolved to go over the course at once. A few minutes later he encountered Carl Prince and Clifford Clyde.

“Looking for you, Hollingsworth,” said Prince. “We’re going to start out to explore the course.”

“Are you?” asked the trainer.

“Why, of course!” exclaimed Clyde. “That was understood. You agreed to go with us.”

“I believe I did,” admitted the Englishman.

“You made us promise to be on hand so you could. Sheldon is here somewhere, and I saw Bramwell not ten minutes ago.”

“Unfortunately,” said Hollingsworth, “I can’t start so early in the day.”

“How is that?”

“I have some important business to which I must give my attention.”

“Well, that’s fine!” cried Clyde sarcastically. “Is there anything more important just now than seeing that we are properly prepared for this race?”

“I’m going to attend to business in connection with the race.”

“What sort of business?”

“Business that will be of great benefit to us. Never mind what it is; but I give you my word it cannot be slighted or put off. Do you know if Merriwell is going out this morning?”

“Think he’s dressing now,” answered Prince.

“If you wait until afternoon,” said Hollingsworth, “I’ll be able to go over the course with you.”

“Of course, if you say we are to wait——”

“It isn’t necessary. Perhaps you had better go on without me. Remember the instructions I have given you, Clyde. Take the rises as fast as you can without overdoing. Shorten your stride coming down the hills and keep your feet well under you. Don’t overstride if you intend to keep in the race when it’s pulled off. Get the proper gait; make it even and steady, so your heart, lungs, arms, legs, and your whole body move together correctly. You’re inclined to be irregular in your gait. It’s the long, steady pull that counts. Keep pounding away.”

“Haven’t you anything to say to me?” asked Prince.

“Not a word. You know your book.”

Prince looked satisfied. He knew he was generally regarded as the champion runner of the club. He was a fellow who lived on his reputation and past record. Although he pretended modesty, he was as proud as a peacock over his Georgetown days and accomplishments.

Clyde and Prince started off to dress. They met Merriwell, Hodge, and Bramwell coming from the dressing rooms.

“Hello, Bram!” exclaimed Clyde, in some surprise. “You seem to be in a rush.”

“No rush at all,” was the assertion. “Is Hollingsworth going out with us?”

“Not this morning.”

“Why not? He said——”

“I know, but he has business he must look after this forenoon. It’s very important, and he says it will be of benefit to us.”

Frank and Bart exchanged glances, but said nothing.

“Well, if he isn’t going out with us,” said Bramwell, “I think I’ll start at once.”

Hollingsworth stood in a window of the clubhouse and smiled grimly as he saw Merriwell and his two companions set off along the road that led toward the wild country to the west.

“Go!” he mentally cried. “If things come my way this morning I’ll make a hundred dollars and fix you so you’ll take no part in the run.”

He watched until Merriwell, Hodge, and Bramwell vanished, and then he sought Paul Proctor.

“I have to go into town, Mr. Proctor,” he said. “I’ll be back soon as possible.”

“Why, I supposed you were going out with our boys this morning,” said Paul, his face betraying displeasure. “How is it that you are not?”

“Other business, sir. They don’t need me. I told them I would go out after noon.”

“But you claim that morning is the time for the best work. I am afraid——”

“Now I know what you’re going to say, sir; but you are wrong. They don’t need me this morning. I’ve given them complete instructions. It’s all right, sir, I assure you. Those boys are going to make some people open their eyes. They’re in fine form.”

Proctor seemed anything but satisfied, although Hollingsworth added a great deal more.

A few minutes later the treacherous trainer set off toward the village, making considerable haste.

At the Ashport House, Hollingsworth lingered about until he found an opportunity to call one of the bell boys aside by means of a signal.

“Charley,” said the Englishman, “do you want to earn a fiver?”

“What doin’?” asked the boy, with a mingling of doubt and eagerness.

“Something easy.”

“What is it?”

“Frank Merriwell is stopping here?”

“Sure.”

“Know his room?”

“Number forty-three.”

“Any one room with him?”

“Chap named Hodge. Got it in for him. He gave me a call last night because I forgot to bring up a pitcher of ice water he’d called for.”

“Both Merriwell and Hodge are out?”

“Yep. They’ve gone over to the club.”

“I want to get into their room,” whispered Hollingsworth.

The boy looked alarmed.

“You can’t do it.”

“Now hold on, Charley. You have a passkey.”

“But I can’t let no one into a room.”

“It’s a fiver for you.”

“I’d be fired.”

“Nobody need know it.”

“It’s too risky.”

“I’m taking more risk than you.”

“You want to swipe something, I know! Boy fired last week for swipin’. He came near goin’ to the jug. Stole a ring out of a room. Feller who owned the ring let him off when he coughed it up, but he got chucked. Boss says he’s going to have the next boy who swipes anything pinched.”

“I’m no thief, Charley. You ought to know that.”

“Watcher want, then?”

“I want to see something Merriwell has in his room. You know he’s a great runner.”

“You bet! They say he’s goin’ to come mighty near winning the cross-country race.”

“I’m afraid he is. He has a secret preparation he takes every time he runs, and it makes him strong and swift. I want to find out what it is. I heard him tell another fellow that it was prepared from a prescription he has in his room. If I can get a look at that prescription long enough to remember it or copy it, I’ll be able to use the stuff on my runners. No one will ever know it. I’ll give you five dollars to let me have the passkey that will admit me to Merriwell’s room.”

“Is this straight goods?”

“Certainly.”

“You may be seen getting into the room or coming out.”

“I’m too blooming clever for that, Charley; but if I am seen, how can any one blame you?”

“They’ll ask where you got the key.”

“I’d never tell in a thousand years.”

“Not even if you was arrested?”

“No.”

“You might be tried and sent to prison.”

“But I’d never blow, Charley. Give me the key before some one comes and sees us together.”

Still the boy hesitated.

“Swear you won’t squeal, no matter what happens.”

“I swear it.”

“Give me the fiver.”

Hollingsworth produced a five-dollar bill.

“Give me the key.”

Key and bill changed hands.

“Room forty-three, you said?” whispered Hollingsworth.

“That’s right. Be mighty careful. Look out for any of Merriwell’s crowd. They have rooms on that floor, and one or two of ’em are in.”

“I’ll look out.”

“The housekeeper may be snoopin’ round, too. Look out for her.”

“All right.”

“And gimme that key before you leave, if you can git a chance.”

Hollingsworth lingered about the office a while, finally finding an opportunity to slip upstairs when he was not observed. He found Room No. 43 without trouble, and fortune seemed to favor him, for no one was in the corridor. He slipped the key into the lock and quickly opened the door. Having stepped into the room, he removed the key, transferred it to the other side of the lock, closed the door softly and turned the key.

“There!” he muttered, with a breath of relief; “that was easy enough. Now if I can find that certificate!”

Five minutes later, opening a long, leather pocketbook he had taken from Merry’s suit case, he removed some papers, and almost the first one examined caused him to utter an exclamation of delight.

“Here it is!” he cried.

It was a certificate of the Amateur Athletic union of the United States, properly filled out, dated and signed, attesting that Frank Merriwell was for the year of date an accepted and registered member of said union.

Hollingsworth’s eyes glittered and he laughed softly.

“’Ow heasy it would be to destroy it!” he muttered, his excitement and triumph causing him to again abuse that much-tortured eighth letter. “But I ’ave a better plan—a much better plan! Oh! it makes me laugh jolly ’ard to think of it! I know I’ll roar my blooming ’ead off if ’e brings it with ’im to show the committee, without hever taking a look at it ’imself!”

In his delight the rascal burst into such laughter that he was startled, and suddenly clapped a hand over his mouth, while he stood there listening, fearing he had been heard outside the room.

After a little, as there seemed no probability that the sound of his evil merriment had reached other ears than his own, he slipped softly across the floor to a desk that stood at one side. Placing a chair in front of the desk, he sat down and spread out the certificate.

For a moment or two he paused to glance over it before continuing his dastardly operations. From his pocket he quickly brought forth a small vial of colorless liquid, together with a camel’s hair brush. Uncorking the vial, he dipped the tiny brush into the liquid, and began at once with this to follow the tracing of the pen upon the document.

As the moisture disappeared from the brush, he re-dipped it at intervals into the liquid. Almost as swiftly as he worked the writing thus touched by the moist brush faded and disappeared from the paper. He was using a powerful ink-eradicating fluid.

Ten minutes of this work was sufficient to remove from the certificate every trace of writing, leaving blank the places where it had been. At the end he used a blotter upon it to take up the moisture that had not dried out.

Then he picked up the ruined certificate and surveyed it in triumph.

“That settles the case of Mr. Frank Merriwell!” he declared. “’E’ll take no part in the run for the Hashley Trophy, for ’e’ll ’ave no certificate to show when it is called for by the committee. It has cost me five dollars to earn a ’undred.”

Having finished his work and gloated over it a few moments, to the intense satisfaction of his miserable soul, he refolded the ruined certificate, replaced it among the other papers and restored the whole package to the pocketbook. The pocketbook he replaced in Frank’s suit case, which he closed as he had found it.

“Now to get out of here,” he whispered, as he hastened to the door, at which he paused to listen.

Hearing no alarming sound outside, he quickly turned the key and opened the door, stepping out briskly. His satisfaction was complete when he observed no person in the corridor.

Again locking the door, he hastened downstairs.

Three men were in the office, and their words attracted the attention of Hollingsworth as he looked around for the bell boy, to whom he wished to restore the key.

“It’s a cinch that Frank Merriwell will win,” said a slender man in black. “He should have been barred from the race.”

“How is it possible to bar him?” inquired a stout man.

“On the plea of professionalism.”

“But he is not a professional, you know,” said the third man, who looked like a Spaniard and spoke with a slight foreign accent.

“If he isn’t he should be,” declared the slender man.

“I don’t see why.”

“He’s too good.”

“Oh, not at this game.”

“Yes, at this game.”

“What makes you think so?” asked the Spaniard.

“He wins at almost anything he undertakes.”

“I’ve never heard that he is regarded as an especial wonder as a runner,” grunted the stout man.

“Never mind what you have heard; he has a reputation that frightens people from risking any money on other contestants when he takes part. I came here to back Huntley, but I’m not risking my good money against Merriwell.”

“You doped Huntley to win?” asked the man in black, smiling. “Why, man, if Merriwell wasn’t entered I’d take the field and give you big odds. I’d almost go you even, if necessary, that Pope would cut the mustard.”

Hollingsworth was keenly interested, and he did not hesitate to “butt in.”

“Gentlemen,” he said, “Merriwell is much over-rated. I don’t believe he could win if he ran, but he will not run.”

The trio turned and stared hard at him.

“Hello!” grunted the stout man. “I believe it’s the fellow who was pointed out to me as the trainer of the Ashport squad.”

“I am Herbert Hollingsworth,” stated the Englishman, speaking slowly and taking care not to lose that troublesome initial letter from his name.

“What makes you think Merriwell will not run?” inquired the slim man.

Hollingsworth hesitated a trifle, and then said:

“You were just saying he should be barred from the race, sir.”

“Yes; but——”

“If I am correctly informed he will be barred.”

Naturally these words created a slight sensation.

“What information leads you to think such a thing?” was the quick demand of the Spaniard.

“I have it from a reliable source that he is not now a member of the Amateur Athletic union, and the rules governing this cross-country run will exclude any one who is not a member.”

“But he must be a member!” cried the man in black.

“Why so?”

“He is touring with his own team of athletes.”

“But he has not taken part in any contest conducted under the rules of the A. A. U.,” asserted Hollingsworth.

“Hasn’t he? Are you sure?”

“I am positive.”

“How can that be?” grunted the stout man.

“Why, he has simply been doing what might be called exhibition work. No record of any of his accomplishments on this trip has been made. Any one might get together an athletic team and go about doing the same. Of course, he can secure baseball games, being Frank Merriwell, no matter if he should have a team made up of all professionals.”

“If this is correct, it is quite surprising,” said the Spaniard; but it was plain that he doubted.

Hollingsworth did not fancy having any one doubt his statement.

“Of course it is correct!” he declared, being stirred up slightly. “I am willing to bet a ’undred dollars that Merriwell does not start in the cross-country run.”

It happened that Buck Badger and Bruce Browning, having returned from a stroll, entered the office just in time to hear this.

“Whatever is that you’re saying?” demanded the Kansan, in surprise. “Did I hear you offering to bet that Frank Merriwell would not start in that race?”

“Hexactly,” answered the trainer.

“Well, you’re sure blowing off a lot of hot air, Mr. Man.”

“If you think it is ’ot hair,” spluttered Hollingsworth, “get hout your money.”

“I haven’t seen the color of yours yet,” reminded Buck.

At this the Englishman plunged into his pocket, produced a leather pocketbook and slapped it against his left hand.

“There it is,” he asserted.

“Still I can’t see the money any,” said Badger.

Hollingsworth opened the book and brought forth a package of bills.

“’Ere is my money,” he declared. “Now put hup yours or shut hup!”

With a rumbling growl Bruce Browning went into his pocket; but the Kansan stopped him, saying:

“This is mine; I saw it first.”

The hotel clerk had stepped from behind the desk, greatly interested by what was taking place. Badger made a motion toward him, observing:

“Put up your stuff, my bluffing friend. Mr. Curtis will hold it. You’re still keeping your paws on the long green, ready to squeal when your bluff is called.”

“Oh, ham I?” sneered Hollingsworth, as he hastily counted out a hundred, which took nearly the whole of his pile. “We’ll see habout that. ’Ere it goes hup in his ’ands. Now, if you’re not a blooming squawker yourself, let’s see you cover it. I’m betting Frank Merriwell will be barred from the race.”

Badger now hastily produced a roll of bills, from the outside of which he stripped two fifties.

“It’s like finding money,” he chuckled, as he handed the hundred to the clerk. “That’s whatever!”

“It’s like finding it for me,” said Hollingsworth.

“Oh, I don’t know!” laughed Buck.

It was true he did not know what had happened in Frank Merriwell’s room while Merry was absent.

Hollingsworth left the hotel in a well-satisfied frame of mind. He could not refrain from chuckling aloud as he sauntered along the street.

“Well, this has been a good day for me,” he muttered. “I’ve made two hundred dollars—or a hundred and ninety-five, taking out the fiver I had to give the boy. Oh, there’ll be a rumpus when Merriwell and his blooming, insolent friend finds out what has happened. It’s too late for him to get a duplicate certificate, even if he should find out without delay what has happened. It’s a sure thing for me. I’m a clever one!”

He was so blown up with self-satisfaction that he nearly collided with Arthur Huntley without seeing him.

“What’s the matter with you, Holl?” demanded the Buffalo man, grasping his arm. “Have you gone daft? You were grinning like a hyena and muttering to yourself. Came near butting me over. Have you been tippling?”

“No, but I’m blooming near choked for a drink, Arthur. Let’s have one. I’ll tell you something that will make you grin like a hyena, too.”

“I don’t like to be seen going into a saloon here on the main street. Step down this way.”

On a side street they entered a saloon.

“What are you doing here in town?” asked Hollingsworth, expressing surprise for the first time. “I supposed you would be out pretending to get familiar with the course.”

“I had some business, and I took this as the best time to do it when there would be no one to see me and get inquisitive.”

They stood up to the bar and ordered whisky.

There was only one bartender in the place, and, after serving them, he gave them no further attention, which permitted them to talk in low tones without fearing that they would be overheard.

“I’m going to take no chances with this man Merriwell,” said Huntley. “I propose to make sure he’ll not win that trophy. I want it, and I’m going to have it.”

“Don’t be afraid of Merriwell,” laughed Hollingsworth, with a significance that Huntley did not catch. “He won’t beat anything.”

“You don’t seem to know what the fellow can do. He’s a wonder, and he wins at anything he tries if given a fair show.”

“But how can he have a fair show with you when you know a short cut through Dead Timber Jungle and another over Ragged Hill? Seems to me you’re worrying too much about him.”

“I tell you that you don’t know him. He’s out on the course now, and I’ll wager he’s looking for short cuts. It’s likely he’ll find the way over Ragged Hill, though he may not strike the one through the jungle. If he should discover both those cuts—well, unless something else stopped him, he’d surely carry off that trophy. I tell you I don’t intend to take any chances. He’ll never win. In order to make sure of that I decided not to cover the course to-day and came here. I’ve arranged it.”

“How?” asked Hollingsworth.

Huntley glanced toward the barkeeper, and then whispered:

“I’ve engaged two ruffians to waylay and sandbag him.”

The trainer whistled softly.

“Oh, you have?”

“Yes. I found the men for it. Twenty-five a piece I had to pay them.”

“And wasted your money.”

“No; they’ll do it. The only thing is to make sure they’ll get him at some point where he’ll be sure to pass. And they must get him alone, too. That’s the difficulty. I’m going to follow him close when he goes over the course to-morrow.”

“You’ve wasted your money,” repeated Hollingsworth.

“Not if they do the job.”

“They won’t.”

“Why not?”

“They won’t have the chance.”

“I don’t understand why.”

“Because he won’t race.”

Huntley looked at the trainer intently.

“I don’t suppose——” he began, then stopped and gazed still more fixedly at Hollingsworth.

“What are you doing here in town?” he suddenly asked. “You ought to be out with your men, chasing them over the country. I don’t understand it.”

“I had some business to look after,” grinned the trainer. “Drink up, sir. Here’s success to you, and may you take pleasure displaying the Ashley Trophy when you have won it.”

They drank; but Huntley now knew his companion had been up to something, and his curiosity was great.

“What did you do here in town?” he repeated.

“I made one hundred and ninety-five dollars,” was the answer.

“Did you?”

“Yes.”

“In what manner?”

“To begin with, I made a hundred dollars off you.”

Huntley clutched the arm of the trainer.

“You—you didn’t get hold of Merriwell’s certificate and destroy it?” he hissed.

“No, I didn’t destroy it.”

“But you got hold of it?”

“Yes.”

“Are you telling me the truth?”

“Why should I lie?”

“Then you have it with you?”

“No.”

“Where is it?”

“In Merriwell’s room, at the hotel.”

“You—you—what did you do?”

“I made it a worthless piece of paper.”

“How?”

Hollingsworth now related the whole story briefly, explaining how he had obtained admission to Frank’s room, found the certificate, and eradicated the writing from it.

“Hand over the hundred dollars you promised,” he chuckled.

“You shall have it,” declared Huntley; “but I must be sure the work was well done. If Merriwell fails to produce his certificate——”

“I hope you don’t doubt my word, sir?”

“No, not at all; but I’m going to be sure. I’ll take no chances.”

This did not wholly please Hollingsworth.

“I had to put up a hundred against the money of that cowboy chap,” he said, “and that nearly cleaned me out. I thought you would pay me as soon as I told you what I had done. I’m your friend, Arthur, and I ran a great risk for you in getting into Merriwell’s room. If I’d been caught——”

“The hundred dollars I offered was some inducement, I take it,” said Huntley. “Of course I know you are my friend, Holl, and I appreciate it; but I notice that money always makes you much more willing to do a friendly turn.”

“You wrong me, sir—indeed, you do!” protested the rascally trainer. “However, it is all right. Only I expect you to have the honor to pay me, even if something happens that you do not win after Merriwell is barred.”

“Don’t let that worry you. We’ll have another drink.”

“It’s a shame you was in such a great hurry about engaging them two sandbaggers,” muttered Hollingsworth, as they stood with their glasses lifted. “Too bad they got money they never can earn.”

“I’ll not regret it if I win that trophy. Better take too many precautions than not enough.”

“I suppose that’s right; but just think of fifty good American dollars spent for nothing!”

This seemed to worry the trainer far more than it did Huntley, who, in the slang of the day, which he had acquired in Buffalo, advised him to forget it.

In truth, Huntley, rascal though he was, was ashamed of Hollingsworth, whom he was inclined to use simply as a tool. The trainer’s protestations of friendship annoyed him.

Between them, however, there was little choice. At heart one was quite as bad as the other.


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