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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Frank Merriwell's Endurance » CHAPTER XXV THROUGH DEAD TIMBER JUNGLE.
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CHAPTER XXV THROUGH DEAD TIMBER JUNGLE.
“There they go along the edge of the Dead Timbers,” said Mr. Ashley, watching the runners through a glass. “I’ve counted them all but three. Three seem missing entirely.”

“That’s so,” agreed Paul Proctor, who likewise had a pair of strong field glasses. “They strung out now, but three of them have never issued from the cedars down in the hollow.”

“Can you see anything of Merriwell?” anxiously asked Hodge, who had just mounted the steps to the observatory.

He bore not a mark of his encounter with Hollingsworth, although his face was somewhat flushed and he seemed to be perspiring freely. He had field glasses of his own, and these he quickly trained on the distant moving specks which were creeping up along the edge of the far-away, dark timberland.

“I haven’t been looking for him particularly,” acknowledged Proctor. “I think one of our boys is missing, although I cannot tell which one. I wonder what happened in the cedars.”

Something had happened to Frank Merriwell before he plunged into the cedars. Leaping a bit of thick brush, he thrust his left foot into the hole of some sort of burrowing animal and went down, giving his ankle a fearful wrench. For a moment he fancied he had broken the bone.

“Hurt?” cried Tom Bramwell, as he passed.

“No,” answered Frank, rising quickly.

When he tried to step on that foot, however, he nearly went down, and an excruciating pain shot from his ankle to his hip. This cutting pain threatened to rob him of strength and put him out of the race at once.

But he found the ankle was not broken. It was a wrench or a sprain. He knew sprains were sometimes more obstinate than breaks in the recovery, yet he had no thought of letting that stop him.

So he ran on in the rear of several of the contestants, the whole pack being stretched out and more or less scattered. He could not run fast, and it was only by setting his teeth and forcing himself forward that he got on at all.

More than that, every moment his ankle seemed to get worse. He had thought the pain might cease after a little, but each time his foot met the ground it jabbed him afresh.

Not one fellow in a thousand would have continued in the running. But Frank Merriwell was one in ten thousand. He had the fortitude to endure pain stoically. Not a sound came from his lips. His jaws were set and his eyes filled with unconquerable fire. He forced himself to greater speed and plunged into the cedars whither Bramwell had disappeared.

Instead of keeping straight through the cedars Frank bore to the right. He fought his way into a tangled thicket, where branches whipped him stingingly in the face, and at last came staggeringly through. Close at hand was the border of the Dead Timbers, a wild and seemingly impassable tract of forest, swept and blackened by fire, overtaken some time by a tornado, with tall trunks twisted and tangled in chaotic confusion.

Merry looked for the shattered pine and found it where he looked. It was his guide post. There he plunged into what seemed the most impassable portion of the jungle. He fell on his hands and knees to creep some distance along a hidden path, but soon arose, with the fearful pain stinging him to weakness at each step.

He wondered if Bramwell was far in advance. Together, aided by the hint overheard by Bart Hodge and conveyed to Frank, they had searched for the secret passage and found it. By means of it they could cut off much of the distance, those who knew nothing about it being compelled to follow round the edge of the timbers.

Soon the path became more open. On either side the dead branches had been cut away. Huntley had prepared it so he could run with speed through this portion of the secret cut-off.

Finally Merry arrived at a part of the forest where the trees had been caught and twisted and scattered in such a tangle that passage seemed impossible. There he found a long tree trunk that extended upward slopingly over the tangled mass; and, balancing himself, he used it as a bridge, mounting along it until he was at least twenty feet above the ground, with a dark jungle below, from which, should he fall, it might be almost impossible to force an egress.

Up there he found yet another dead tree upon which he ventured.

Suddenly he halted.

From beneath his very feet came a call for help!

Frank was astonished. He looked downward, clutching an upthrust limb to steady himself, but could see no one.

“Oh, Merriwell!” came the call.

“Hello!” he answered. “Who’s down there?”

“It is I—Bramwell.”

“Bramwell? What are you doing down there?”

“I’m stuck and I can’t get out. I’ve climbed part of the way out, but I can get no higher. Go on and finish the run, but come back for me afterward, for I think I’ll have to stay here.”

And now, peering into the gloom, Merry caught a glimpse of the gray face of Bramwell upturned some distance below. Evidently the fellow had fallen from the tree trunk in trying to cross.

“I’ll get you out now,” said Frank.

“Don’t you do it—don’t stop for it!” exclaimed the fellow below. “If you do Huntley will win the race.”

“If I don’t he may win just the same. I’ve sprained my ankle. You’re the man to beat him in case I give out entirely.”

Frank was acting even as he spoke. At a distance he saw a long, dead limb that had been almost twisted off at the base. It did not take him long to reach the limb, break it wholly clear, return with it and thrust one end down until Bramwell could grasp it. There were other branches and limbs and tangled masses by which the fellow could assist himself, and slowly, little by little, Merry drew him up. Although it was not done swiftly, little time was wasted, and soon Frank was able to give the other a hand and assist him to the tree trunk. Together they passed over the jungle and reached that part of the path beyond.

“Oh, if we can beat Huntley after this!” exclaimed Bramwell. “I did not fall down there, Merriwell. He met me on that tree trunk and struck me off with a heavy stick. I did not see him until I was right upon him, so busy was I watching where I placed my feet. Evidently he had discovered I was following him closely and knew of the path.”

“He is in the same class with Hollingsworth,” said Frank. “They make a fine pair! I’ve sprained my ankle, Bramwell.”

“Did it when you fell?”

“Yes.”

“But it isn’t badly injured?”

“Bad enough. I’m afraid it will put me out of the running before I can cover the distance. You take the lead and do your prettiest. If you can beat Huntley, by all means beat him.”

“I will!” fiercely cried Bramwell. “He shall never have that trophy if I can help it! But he has a start.”

“You should cut his lead down. He’ll think you are disposed of, and he may take it easy as soon as he fancies he is reasonably sure of winning.”

Bramwell took the lead, as Merry had suggested, but Frank kept at his heels. Together they came out from the Dead Timbers and pressed on.

With the endurance of a man of iron, Merry seemed to pay no heed to the pain and his now badly swollen ankle. He talked to his companion, giving him advice and instructions as they ran. Where the ground was rough and uneven he warned Bramwell to run loosely, in order not to jar and shock himself as he would were his muscles taut. He corrected Bramwell’s too long stride in descending steeps and urged him to a steady, strong gait in mounting ordinary slopes.

“Why,” said the Ashport man, “with you for a coach we might, all of us, have learned much more about cross-country running than we now know.”

Together they passed the first point where watchers noted their numbers and recorded them. From a height they looked back and discovered the most of the runners behind them.

One man, however, was in advance.



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