Frank Merriwell's Limit

CHAPTER V.
HODGE AND BADGER.

Badger was not satisfied. He had started out to say something very stiff to Merriwell, and he realized that he had not accomplished his purpose. Somehow, even though he did it voluntarily, he felt as if Merry had forced a pledge from him. He realized that he had confessed himself in the wrong, or very nearly that, and he had meant to confess nothing of the sort. He had thought to demonstrate that Frank's apparent generosity was no more than a crafty manner of making an enemy appear at a disadvantage, and he had failed in that. Taken altogether, the Kansan was intensely displeased with himself, and not at all pacified toward Merriwell.

"I'm going," he said, "but let us have a complete understanding before I leave."

"Do," sighed Frank, and then he covered his month to conceal a yawn.

"I came to your dawn party because Winnie Lee wished me to."

"What's the rise to go back to that. You said so before."

"I tried to behave like a gentleman here."

"I've made no complaint."

"But I was insulted!"

"What?" Frank was surprised.

"Just that," nodded Badger; showing his broad white teeth.

"By me?"

"No. I'm willing to try to steer clear of you in the future, but your particular set of friends are different. Now, there's that fellow Hodge-he tries to get a fling at me every chance he can. He spoke about a fellow kicking another when he was down, and he meant me. He has used his mouth freely on other occasions about me, and the limit is reached."

"You're right, Badger, the limit is reached, and I think it is time to call a halt. You have not been any too careful about what you have said, and I fail to see that you have any right to make a kick if other have talked about you. I have not taken the trouble to remember the nasty things you have said about me, as I have not considered it worth while; but you know you have said nasty things, and you cannot deny it. Do you fancy that others have no limit, but that your dignity and your feelings must be respected?"

Badger was silent, and Frank went on:

"You know what I think of you, or you ought to know. But there are a lot of puppies who copy after you, and they are the ones who have overstepped the limit. I have disregarded them in the past, but patience has ceased to be a virtue. In the future, I propose to bring some of them up with a round turn." Buck made a gesture.

"I don't care what you do with them," he said. "I am talking about myself. I'm going to settle with this fellow Hodge."

"You are?"

"I reckon."

Again Frank got upon his feet, showing impatience.

"I have a few final words to say to you, sir," he coldly remarked. "Hodge is my friend. When you strike him, you hit me. Understand?"

"Oh, I reckon! You mean that you'll chip into any quarrel between Hodge and myself. If you do, the old fight will be on between us,"

"Then you can reckon again, and this time you may be sure of you ground. You can't bully Hodge."

"As if I wanted to bully him! But he'll have to keep his mouth closed!"

"Between you and Hodge," said Frank, "under any circumstances I should have no hesitation in making a choice. If you are determined to pick up further trouble with Hodge, you may count on it that I shall be a factor in the game. I have let you alone as much as you would permit, but when you go over the limit I become aggressive. If I were to try, I rather fancy I could make it pretty warm for you."

"Go ahead!" snarled Badger, entirely losing his self-command. "I invite it! It'll be a good hot fight, and you can bet on that!"

"Is that all you have to say? We've spent considerable time talking, and we're right where we began. It's no use keeping it up."

"I'm going," said Badger; "but I'm going to free my mind about this fellow Hodge first. I'll tell you just what I think of him without mincing matters in--"

"If you have anything to say about me, say it to my face!"

Hodge stepped into the room,

Merry's door had been slightly ajar, and Bart had heard Badger from the outside as he came up. His face was black with anger, and his nostrils dilated, as if he scented blood. He walked in with a heavy step, advanced and confronted the Westerner.

Badger had turned, his hands clenched and his square jaw hardening, while a glitter of hatred came into his eyes. And there those two lads stood, face to face and eye to eye, bitterest hatred in their hearts.

They were much alike in many ways, as, Merriwell noted now as be looked them over. Badger was slightly the thickest about the shoulders, but the resemblance was strongest in the hair, eyes, complexion and contour of their faces, Badger was more square-jawed, and there was something that seemed to indicate the bulldog in him was developed to a greater extent.

Something like a look of scornful satisfaction came to the face of the Westerner,

"So you were listening outside the door," he sneered. "Well, I reckon this is further proof of the old saying that listeners seldom hear good of themselves."

"I was not listening!" shot back Bart. "If you say so, you lie!"

Frank stepped forward quickly, in a single stride.

"Ha! Ha!" laughed Badger, scornfully. "All the same, you heard."

"Because the door happened to be open a bit. Yes, I heard-heard you shooting your mouth off about me. Now, what have you got to say? I'm here; say it."

"You're one of Merriwell's followers. You've made a heap of talk about me."

"Nothing but I'll stand behind."

"Can you stand behind anything?"

"I'm ready to back up anything I've said."

"You've called me a ruffian."

"And that's exactly what you are!"

Badger's hand was lifted, and he seemed on the point of launching himself at Bart.

"Hold on!" exclaimed Frank, planting himself fairly between them. "I don't propose to have it here-in my room."

"Do you think I'll stand for his insults?" snarled the Kansan. "By heavens! I'll break his face!"

"Not here," repeated Frank,

"Somewhere-anywhere!" panted Badger.

"What are you doing with him, Merriwell?" demanded Hodge. "How does he happen to be here? Are you patching up with him? I believe you are!"

"Do you?" asked Frank, coolly.

"Yes! You've let this cur put dirt all over you, and now you are willing to be friends with him! All right; you may do what you like, but I'm his enemy now and always!"

"I'm glad to hear that," said Badger, with a harsh laugh. "I will make you look like a sick calf before I'm done with you."

"Bah!" from Hodge, "You're not built right. Merriwell, if you patch lip with this whelp, I quit you! I give you notice of it here and now! The moment you become friends with him, I am done with you! I mean it!"

"You're excited, Hodge."

"I'm not! I mean it, I tell you! I have had respect for you, but I can never have any more after you patch up with a thing like Badger!"

"Don't let that worry you, Hodge," said Badger, still sneering. "There is no danger that there will be any patching, for I have no idea of ever becoming friendly with Merriwell, no matter how much he may desire it."

Frank laughed in genuine amusement.

"You flatter yourself, Badger," he said. "Do you think you are a fellow any one could be eager to select as a friend? Oh, no! You are not popular, and you know it."

"Because I do not choose to be."

"Because you cannot be on account of your traits of character. You are conceited, and you are a braggart."

"What?" Badger looked as if he longed to turn on Merry.

"That is the truth, and you'll realize it if you will sit down and think calmly about yourself, You began the season by boasting of your abilities and promising that you would down me. You have not been able to keep your promise, but you keep right on boasting."

"I'll not listen to this! You're a right fine chap to pile insult on insult, and you two to my one!"

"I'm simply telling you the truth. I think it will do you good to hear the truth occasionally. I doubt if you ever heard it at home. You were made to think yourself the only thing that ever happened, and it has spoiled you. But for that, you might be a very decent fellow."

Badger gasped, but somehow it struck him then and there that there might be a germ of truth in what Merriwell said. However, that simply served to make him all the more furious. He did not fancy being told the truth about himself.

"Oh, you lie!" he snarled. "You lie, I say!"

"Hit him!" palpitated Hodge.

But Merry put a hand on Bart's arm, holding him in check.

"I told you, Badger," he said, his voice level and even, "that the limit has been reached. I meant it. Now you are overstepping the bounds. I am not looking for further trouble with you, and I shall let you alone as long as you do me; but if you give me any further trouble, just as true as we are standing here, I'll make you eat your words, and I'll give you something you've never yet received. That is straight from headquarters. I fancied a little time ago that, as far as you and I were concerned, we were to steer clear of each other and let it go at that; but now it seems that you are determined to revive the old quarrel between us, for all of anything that may have happened. So be it. You have your choice. I am tired of talking to you, and there is the door to my room. Get out!"

Badger hesitated, He had thought of walking out in a dignified manner, and it galled his soul to be driven.

"I have not finished all I have to say," he declared, "and so--"

"I have listened quite long enough-no, far too long! This is my room. Get out!"

"You're in a hurry."

"Yes."

"If I don't choose to go at once--"

"I'll throw you out!"

Frank Merriwell meant just what he said when he spoke like that, and Badger saw that he was preparing to make good his word. The Westerner uttered a muttered exclamation and turned toward the door, at which he paused to say:

"You are two against me, and I reckon I won't make a fight here. There is plenty of time. You, Hodge, I'll see again."

"Any time-anywhere," shot back Bart.

Then Badger went out.

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