Frank Merriwell's Limit

CHAPTER I.
THE DAWN PARTY.

Everybody yawned. A dawn party after the prom. is likely to be a dull affair, and this one in Frank Merriwell's room was no exception to the rule. All were tired. Even little Stubbs' fund of wit and repartee seemed pretty well exhausted and he had almost given up his desperate attempt to prove entertaining to Stella Stanley, with whom he had fallen head-over-heels in love at first sight. Stella was tall and stately and little Bink voted her a "peach", a "stunner," a "queen." When a Yale man calls a girl a queen, he is giving her the highest possible compliment.

Stella had found both Stubbs and Griswold amusing little chaps, and she enjoyed being amused. She did not know they had come to the verge of blows over her; she did not know that Griswold had sworn that he would have Stubbs' heart's blood. But Bink had carried her off in triumph to Merry's dawn party after the prom., and he was the happiest fellow in New Haven. He was hard hit; possibly that explains his sudden loss of sprightliness and wit. He longed to sit still, hold her hand, and gaze into her face; but Stella was not one of the handholding kind, and it did not go with her.

"What's the matter with you?" she laughed. "You were awfully funny an hour ago. Drinking tea seems to have dampened your spirits."

"Oh," said Browning with a lazy grin, "the spirits which preceded the tea were damp enough The tea seems to have dried them up."

"If it will dry you up, take some more tea-do," begged Bink.

"Now you are beginning to talk foolishly," declared Bink.

"I do that so that you may understand me," shot back the little fellow.

Browning grunted. He could not think of anything just then that seemed to fit the occasion, and so he turned to renew his attempt to entertain Mrs. Hodge, who was chaperoning the party. He found her lying back in her chair, her eyes closed, apparently asleep.

"Hush!" he said, with a warning gesture to the others.

There was silence for the space of ten seconds. It was broken by Hodge, who observed:

"It must be nearly morning. He rose and looked out of the window, drawing the curtains aside for the purpose. The ground was bare on the campus and a grayish sky could be seen over the leafless trees. "It looks like spring," Bart added. "I believe we shall have an early spring."

"I think so myself," said Bink. "Only yesterday I saw a cat watching a hole in the wall with her back arched, and I consider that a sure sign of an early spring."

Hodge dropped the curtain and sat down beside Elsie Bellwood again. Close by, Frank was murmuring something to Inza Burrage.

"You're doing better, my little man," said Stella Stanley, patting Stubbs on the back.

"Don't do that-please don't!" entreated Bink. "'Little man!' It makes me warm."

"Small pots get hot quickly," smiled the actress.

Browning chuckled revengefully, but Bink paid no attention to him. Instead, he lowered his voice, saying:

"Miss Stanley, to-night we met for the first time in person, but I feel that we have met before in spirit."

"Do you?" she murmured, lifting her eyebrows.

"I do. I am serious. Please don't smile. I have pictured you in my mind a thousand times, divinely tall, graceful as a goddess, beautiful as a-a-anything. You're it! I said so the moment my eyes rested on you. I felt something in my heart that I had never felt there before- a pain that--"

"My dear fellow, you should consult a physician at once. I'm sure you smoke too many cigarettes. That's bad for the heart, you know."

"Now you're guying. Don't guy! I'm serious. I love you!"

"Ha! ha! ha! I believe you are more comical when you try to be serious than when you try to be funny. You don't know how amusing you really and truly are."

Bink looked pained. He tried to take her hand, but again it avoided his itching fingers.

"Listen to me!" he breathed. "I'm getting desperate! I don't like to be taken for a clown all the time. People seem to think everything I say is in jest."

"That's not 'jest' right," smiled Stella.

"Don't pun! I can't stand it! I swear I'll never pull again! Won't you take me seriously once?"

"Oh, no; I'll not take you at all. You're a goose! You've been very entertaining. Don't spoil it."

Bink realized that it wouldn't "go."

"It's all because of my size!" he hissed. "I'm not to blame for that! If you won't listen, I-I-I'll--"

"What?"

"I'll commit suicide as fast as I can! Browning, hand me the cigarettes!"

But Bruce was dozing. Stubbs looked round helplessly. Hodge was doing his best to entertain Elsie, while Frank continued to talk to Inza. In a corner Buck Badger and Winnie Lee seemed very contented.

"It's enough to drive anybody to suicide!" declared the little fellow, pathetically, getting the cigarettes for himself. "I'm the only out that's left. Every other fellow is satisfied, even Browning."

"Did you ever hear," said Stella, "that the general prizes most the fort that takes the longest siege?"

Bink jumped.

"Then you do mean--"

"Nothing."

She was baffling, and that made her all the more fascinating. He asked permission to light the cigarette, and she granted it. Then she begged him to tell her something funny, and he desperately tried to comply, but he was not nearly as funny as when he did not try at all.

The gray light began to sift in through the curtains.

"Won't you have some more tea?" asked Frank rising.

But nobody wanted tea.

"Tired out, done up," said Merry. "I don't wonder. Elsie looks completely fagged; so does Inza."

"I danced almost every dance," declared Elsie.

"And an average waltz," said Merry, "takes a person over about three-quarters of a mile. A square dance takes one over half a mile. Your programmes were well filled. You danced twelve waltzes and four square dances. That's eleven miles. It's likely that in strolling about and visiting the dressing room, you traveled nearly another mile. You see you have covered twelve-miles each to-night, which is pretty strong exercise."

"It makes me tired to think of it!" laughed Elsie.

"But the music, the flowers, the lights, and the handsome boys!" exclaimed Inza. "It was splendid! I've had the loveliest time of my life!"

"And I enjoyed it intensely," smiled Elsie, a bit wearily.

"It was good of you to invite us to come, Frank."

"Not at all; it was good of you to come. Think how lonesome I should have been if you had not."

"Now, that won't do with us!" cried Elsie, shaking a finger a him. "You were the most popular man on the floor. Every girl ran after you. If we'd not been here, Inza--"

"I know," laughed Inza. "But he's not to blame. It's a wonder to me that all this attention has not spoiled him completely."

"It has," declared Hodge.

"How?" they gasped.

"Why, he's been so afraid of getting the swelled head that he's grown soft. He picks up any old thing. He lets any kind of fellow insult him, and then he is friendly with that fellow."

Badger looked across at Bart, but Hodge was paying no attention to him.

"I can't think that of Frank," said Inza slowly.

"Frank is always just," declared Elsie.

"You're wrong," persisted Bart. "Justice means retribution for the fellow who is nasty.. Merry lets him off."

"Not always, Bart," protested Frank.

"Convince me that a fellow is thoroughly bad, and I'll aid in giving him his just and merited dues."

"That's all very fine, but you won't be convinced."

"Oh, yes, I will! I have been more than once."

"When a man kicks me," said Bart, "I kick back. If a man kicks me when I'm down, I kick him twice when I get up."

Badger moved restlessly.

"What's the matter?" asked Winnie Lee, who had been so interested in her own chatter that she had not noticed what the others were saying. "Why do you scowl so?"

"I beg your pardon!" Buck exclaimed, in a low tone. "Did I scowl ?"

"Oh, you looked black as a thundercloud!"

"I didn't know it. But it's like me, Miss Lee. I hope you won't mind it much. I reckon I have some unpleasant ways, but you know I'm a Westerner, and I have not the polish of these Eastern chaps I'll acquire it in time, don't you think?"

"I rather like you just as you are," confessed Winnie.

"Do you?" he whispered, and the look of pleasure that came to his face made it almost handsome. "If you really and truly like me, I do not care who dislikes me."

"But I wish you might be friends with Frank Merriwell. Can't you?"

Buck drew back.

"It's a mighty hard thing," he said slowly. "I don't like him, and I'll allow he has no cause for liking me. Anyhow, I've taken pains never to give him reason to like me."

"He may not like you," said Winnie "but he has confidence in your honesty. Won't you try to be friends with him-for my sake!"

She was unusually sweet and pleading in her manner.

"For your sake," said Badger, huskily, "I'll try-I'll try!"

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