Frank Merriwell's Limit

CHAPTER IV.
A FULLER UNDERSTANDING.

Badger had tried to hold himself in check, but Merriwell's straightforward manner of speaking had proved altogether too much for him, and now he was excited. He walked up and down, finally stopping in front of Frank.

"You have applied adjectives to me that I don't like any whatever," he grated. "You have called me selfish, mean, ugly, dirty! Why, blame your insolence! I'd like to thump you good and hard for it! I'd like to make you swallow it all!"

"That's impossible," declared Frank, unruffled. "I believe I've also said some things that were rather complimentary."

"Bah! You called me honest. What of that? Any fellow that his the least self-respect is honest."

"There was a time, Badger, when I was not at all sure that you had the least self-respect."

"What do I care! I don't care whether you think me honest or not! I'm not honest because I want to win your re- spect, and you call stake your dust on that. But I'm just as honest in my dislike for you as in other things."

"That's what makes you interesting, Badger. You are quite different from the other snobs who hate me because I'll have nothing to do with them, and who would crawl round after me quick enough if I'd pick them up. Those chaps are sickening."

Badger nodded.

"They are," he agreed. "I reckon I know some of them. Don't put me on the list."

"I never have."

Badger showed grim pleasure.

"Glad to know it. All the same, you've put me in a mighty bad box."

"How?"

"Well, you've made me seem all in the blame, While you posed as injured innocence. I hate a fellow that'll do that!"

Frank laughed.

"You exaggerate, my dear man,"

"Don't 'dear man me,' Merriwell! Don't patronize me! I won't have it! I'm as good as you!"

"At least, you think so.

"I know it!"

"Very well, let it go at that,"

"But, in your crafty manner, you've made it seem that I'm cheap. You've put me all in the wrong."

"And you're none to blame? Did you ever take boxing lessons of Buster Kelley?"

"Yes."

"And did he teach you a certain little trick whereby you might break an enemy's neck in a clench?"

"What of it?"

"I don't suppose you were thinking of me when you learned that trick?"

"I never used it."

"Because I was on, and I warned you to go slow."

"Bah! Nothing of the sort! It was because I did not care to use it. I learned it--"

"And I knew it long before you learned it. It would have been dangerous for you had you tried it on me."

"Do you think I was scared?"

Frank shrugged his shoulders, which caused Badger to grind his teeth with anger.

"You never saw the day you could frighten me, Merriwell! The reason why I never tried it on you is because it was trick-an underhand trick."

"Thanks."

"I confess that I--"

"Don't confess. I know enough about you. If you keep on, I'll begin to think I was wrong in fancying you such a honest fellow."

"And I don't care for that any whatever. Think what you like. I confess did have an idea of trying it on you when I learned the trick. After I thought I over, I said no. It was not the kind of game I wanted to play."

"Great relief!"

"If I downed you at all, I wanted to down you on the level in a way that everybody could see was fair and square."

"That would give you far more glory."

"You beat me at the shooting match by a split shot. I made the split, and you scored the same number of shots, but without the split. If I had not made the split-if that had been a fair bull's-eye--"

"I'd made one more bull's-eye than I did. Don't you know that I threw away two shots, Badger?"

"That was what galled me most. You seem to think yourself infallible. You seem to think you cannot fail at anything!"

"That's better for any man than it is for him to think he may fail."

"Rot! It is incipient swelled-head."

"It may be, but did you ever notice any further indications of the disease in me?"

"That's just it, that's where I don't understand you. I allowed you must have swelled head, but you seem to hide it most successfully. How do you do it?"

Badger was not talking as bluntly as he had intended; somehow, he couldn't bring himself round to it.

"My dear fellow," said Frank, "I hope I haven't got it. It's the one thing I have guarded against, for I've seen it spoil plenty of chaps who were all right till they caught the affliction, I confess that it has attacked me several times, but I hope I've held it in check. You were going to say something to me. What?"

"It's this: I've found out that you've done me some good turns.

"Is that all?"

"It's enough! Why should you do me a good turn? I never did you one."

"Save the time in the car, when you kept two bruisers from jumping on me, while I knocked a few corners off their companions."

"I had to do that."

"Why?"

"You were a Yale man, and those chaps were ordinary ruffians. I'd done the same for any other Yale mail."

"All right. That is settled. Go on."

"On the other hand, when Chickering's gang jumped on me one night that I was dopey, you sailed in and walloped the whole of them."

"Um!"

"That was just after Winnie Lee threw me down because she thought I'd been doing you a crooked turn."

"Ah!"

"That was her throw-down that drove me to fill up with red-eye, I don't like the stuff! I hate it!"

"Glad to hear that, Badger, 'Wine is a mocker and strong drink is raging.'"

"I'm in earnest; I hate it. But I had to do something that night. I felt that you were the cause of all my trouble. That was the night when I cut clear of Chickering's set."

"A commendable move."

"Let up. I told the whole gang what I thought of them, and then I stowed away more red-eye. I don't remember much about anything after that."

"You would have made an excellent 'horrible example' at a temperance lecture."

Badger scowled. He did not like to be told this, and he felt heartily ashamed.

"I don't allow that it makes a fellow any more manly to get drunk," he snapped.

"There are lots of chaps who seem to think it does."

"Well, I'm not one of 'em. Next morning after quitting Chickering's gang, I woke up and found I'd been thumped. When I thought it over, it seemed to me that you did the job. I seemed to remember that you and your gang jumped me."

"When you were loaded? 0h, Badger! And that after our little bout when both were sober."

"Don't tell me you could have done it alone! I know you got the best of me in that scrap. What's the use to speak of it?"

"I didn't."

"You hinted; you said as much; you did speak of it! Never mind. I thought you did the job: I've thought so ever since till lately."

"Lately?"

"I found out. They were telling how they had attempted to do me when I was loaded, and how you chipped in and put 'em to the stampede."

"That was easy."

"But you might have stood still and had the satisfaction of seeing me done up by some fellows I'd associated With."

"I assure you it would have been no satisfaction."

"It would have been to some fellows. They said you got me into my room without being seen by the proctor and put me to bed."

"I did, Badger."

"And you never told about it!"

"What was there to tell?"

"Some fellows would have blowed it all over in less than twenty- four hours."

"It seems pretty hard for you to get it through your head that I'm not to be classed with 'some fellows.'"

"Still, I reckon you allowed it would all come out in time. You allowed it'd make me feel all the cheaper to know I'd been wrong all along."

"Is that what you think?"

"Yes."

"Well, think so."

"But there is one thing I don't understand."

"There are several, Badger-several."

Without heeding this, Buck went on:

"You did have a chance to queer me with Winnie Lee."

"Perhaps."

"She told me so. She told me that she sent for you and asked you about me."

"Girls always tell such things."

"If you had done that, I'd never known it, as she had thrown me down already. They say you don't drink, and I've heard that you have a poor opinion of any fellow who does. You had seen me loaded, and you might have told her of that."

"Well?"

"You didn't. You even told her that you were sure I had no hand in tampering with your automobile that time when it ran away with you."

"Which was true."

"Still, without saying so direct, you might have thrown suspicion on me so that I could never have shaken it."

"Possibly."

"I know it. What you said to her fixed it so I was able to patch it up with her. I owe all that to you."

"Forget it."

"It is that one thing that has made me feel cheap."

Frank uttered all exclamation of surprise.

"You feel cheap!" he gasped. "I didn't suppose anything--"

"Don't say it. I can't understand why you did it."

"To tell you the truth, Badger," said Frank, "I can't tell myself. More than that, it has worried me some. I was not sure then, and I'm not sure now, that you are a suitable fellow to associate with Winnie Lee."

"Blazes!" grated the Kansan, looking as if he longed to jump at Frank.

"But I saw that she liked you very much," Merry went on, with perfect calmness, "and there was a chance of making a mistake the other way."

"How?"

"I might have queered you, made her miserable, and afterwards found out that I had done wrong, I've worried over it, for Winnie Lee is a fine girl, Badger. She has made up with you, and she is happy. Now, sir, see that you treat her right! If you do not, by Jupiter, I'll make you sorry you ever met her!"

Badger had his hands on his hips as Merriwell rose up before him and looked straight into his eyes. They stood there, silent, for some seconds.

"You don't have to threaten any whatever, Merriwell," said Badger, after a time, "There is not the least danger that I'll ever use her otherwise than is a gentleman uses a lady."

Frank saw that the Westerner was sincere, and he felt relieved.

"Then, no matter what may happen between us, Badger, I shall not be sorry that I did not queer you with her. That's all."

Frank sat down again.

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