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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Frank Merriwell's Endurance » CHAPTER XXVI THE WINNER OF THE TROPHY.
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CHAPTER XXVI THE WINNER OF THE TROPHY.
No one save Merriwell himself ever knew how much he endured and how keenly he suffered during that cross-country run. Considering what he accomplished no one could have appreciated his unconquerable determination not to give up and drop out.

Toward the end, when all the greater difficulties were passed, he and Bramwell still clinging together, they came to Ragged Hill. They knew that not more than one man was ahead of them, and that man they had seen disappearing over the crest of the hill as they mounted its lower slopes.

Once or twice before this Bramwell had urged Frank to take the lead. This he now did once more.

“You are the man to beat Huntley,” he declared. “I fear I can’t do it.”

“You have too many fears,” said Frank. “Huntley hasn’t seen us. From the top of the hill he surveyed the country behind him. He must have seen most of the runners who are near, and he must feel that he has time to burn. He is full of confidence now.”

“You’re the one to take the confidence out of him.”

Frank waited for no further urging. He took the lead and set such a pace in mounting to the crest of the hill, following the difficult path they had discovered, that Bramwell dropped some distance in the rear.

The eastern side of the hill was partly cleared or had never borne timber. Down the declivity sped Merry. He cut hither and thither, choosing the best course.

Halfway down the hill was an old stone wall. In one particular spot the wall was lower than elsewhere, and behind it, just at that point, crouched two masked ruffians clutching sand bags.

One of them had peered over the wall and seen Frank coming down the hill.

“This is the bloke, pal!” he growled. “Reddy ter soak him!”

“All right!” hissed the other.

On came the runner. Like a bird he sailed over the weakest part of the old wall, wholly unaware of the masked ruffians who were lying in wait for him at that point.

They rose as he came over, and both leaped at him.

He saw them before his feet again touched the ground. With his upflung arms he sought to protect his head. The moment his feet touched the earth he ducked.

They were on him. One struck him a blow that staggered him, although it did not land full and fair.

The other missed him entirely.

But Frank went down to one knee, and they followed him up.

“Lay him stiff, pal!” snarled one.

“Stiff an’ cold!” panted the other.

Instead of seeking to rise, as they expected him to do, Frank shot out a foot and caught one of the men fairly in the pit of the stomach, doubling him up and hurling him backward.

Then he turned instantly on his back, with his feet toward the other, who sought to fling himself on Frank as he lay thus.

Both of Merry’s legs shot up from the ground as the man came down upon him. They caught the legs of the ruffian across the shins. A surprising result followed. The man’s feet went upward and he turned over in the air, falling on his back beyond Merry, with his head toward Frank’s head.

By this time Merriwell was up and had the wretch by the throat. He held him thus with one hand, tearing off his mask with the other.

“I want to see your features, my fine bird!” he said. “A trip to the stone jug will cure you of your pranks, perhaps.”

In the meantime, the other fellow had been flung back toward the weak point in the stone wall, and Bramwell, following Merry over, landed on the wretch with both feet and stretched him quivering on the ground.

“This one is cooked, Merriwell!” he cried.

“Go on, Bramwell—go on!” urged Merry. “Leave them to me! I’m out of the race now.”

The Ashport man hesitated a moment. He saw that Frank was in a position to make the ruffians his captives. If he lingered to give aid there would be no chance of defeating Huntley.

Away he went.

Frank was on his feet now. He limped to the spot where the second man lay, stripped off his mask and looked at him.

“I’ll know you both,” he muttered, and shot away in pursuit of Bramwell.

The waiting crowd had grown weary when, from the observatory of the clubhouse, came a cry. Then followed the announcement that the first runner had appeared in sight.

Word ran down the line. The road was cleared again. People began to cheer and stand on tiptoes.

Bart Hodge, watching in the observatory, had found it difficult to repress an exclamation of bitterest disappointment when he turned his glass on the runner far away across the fields and discovered it was not Merry.

“It’s Huntley!” he mentally groaned. “Where is Frank?”

“There’s another!” shouted Paul Proctor. “Who is it? Who is it? It’s one of our boys!”

“I believe it is,” said Robert Ashley.

“It—it’s Bramwell!” declared the astounded president of the club. “He’s gaining on Huntley, too! Huntley is fagged! Bramwell seems fresh! It’s going to be a hot finish!”

The excitement was growing, but it increased when a third runner appeared.

“There’s Merriwell!” said Hodge, unable to keep still.

It was Frank, and Bart saw he was gaining on both Bramwell and Huntley. Still he detected something wrong in Merry’s gait and began to suspect that an accident had befallen him.

“That’s it—that’s what’s the trouble!” he muttered. “Otherwise he’d be leading now.”

Huntley looked back and saw the two pursuers. He tried to spurt, but his knees seemed weak beneath him. However, he held on grimly.

Down at the far end of the people who lined the road cheering rose. They could see the runners.

“Come on, Merry—come on!” whispered Hodge. “You can do it yet!”

Huntley reached the road. His strength seemed renewed. The cheers of his friends braced him wonderfully. It was but half a mile to the finish, and he let himself out. But he was in distress, and occasionally he lifted his clenched hands and pressed them to his breast.

Bramwell continued to gain. He struck the road and came after Huntley in a manner that threatened to do the work in a hurry.

Then came Frank.

“Look at Merriwell!”

“He’s running like a man in a hundred yards dash!”

“He’s closing the gap!”

“He’ll pass them both!”

The strain was too much for Huntley. Within sight of the finish he began to reel.

Bramwell shot past, and a wild yell went up from the Ashportites.

But Merriwell was gaining, gaining, gaining! Could he pass Bramwell? He was doing his best.

The tape was stretched; the judges were waiting.

Bramwell heard thudding feet close behind him. Something seemed bursting in his breast. It was his heart. Let it burst! He heard a dull roar, which was the cheering of the excited throng. But he could not see. Twenty yards from the tape he went blind for the time. He kept on his feet, however.

To the crowd in general it seemed that the two runners breasted the tape at the same moment.

But, looking down from the observatory, Bart Hodge uttered a groan, for he saw that Bramwell reached it a second in advance.

The Ashport man had won.

That night, in the Ashport Opera House, before a great gathering of enthusiastic people, the trophy was presented to Bramwell by Mr. Ashley.

Then Tom Bramwell spoke up and told how he came to win. He told how Merriwell had discovered the short cut through Dead Timber Jungle, and how Frank had rescued him from the trap into which he had been cast by Huntley. He also told how Merry had covered more than three-fourths of the distance with a sprained ankle, and how, at that very moment, he was in bed under the care of a doctor. Then he proposed cheers for Frank, which were given with such a will that the windows of the building rattled.

Herbert Hollingsworth was not there, for he had not waited to witness the finish of the race. Fearing Merriwell’s wrath, he fled from Ashport.

Nor did Arthur Huntley linger. With Phil Proctor’s assurance that charges would be preferred against him, he decided it best to get out quickly—and did so.

As for the two ruffians who had tried to sandbag Merriwell, they followed the example of their employer and vanished.


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