Frank Merriwell's Limit

CHAPTER VI.
PREPARING FOR THE FINISH.

"The beastly cad!" said Hodge. "What was he doing here, Merriwell?"

"I hardly know," admitted Merry. "I was surprised when he came back after the rest had gone. He seemed to wish to say something, but I fancy his original intentions did not mature. He has bored me."

"Bored you?"

"Yes."

"Look here, Merriwell, where do you stand?"

"On what?"

"That fellow. You know he's a low brute; he's shown it a score of times, and he showed it again this morning. Still you have acted mightily queer toward him. I've almost fancied you were anxious to make him your friend."

"Have you?"

Frank's cool manner irritated Bart.

"I have! You've given me every reason to think so."

"Have I?"

Bart said something that will not be put into print.

"Have you! You know it! Why is it? He's a brute, and you know that! What do you want of him? The rest of your friends will not chum with him, you'd have to choose between the friends you have now and Buck Badger."

"There was a time when I was given to understand the same about Jim Hoocker."

Hodge winced. That was a tender spot.

"It was different with Hooker," he said. "We were wrong about that fellow, but there can be no mistake about Badger. He shows that he is right on the surface; he does not try to hide it. Nobody accuses him of being a thief, but he's a ruffian!"

"He is," nodded Frank.

"And still you-you would take him for a chum!"

"You say so, but you've never heard me say so. You may suppose anything you please, Hodge; it will make no difference with me."

"I hate the fellow; so does Browning, Diamond, Rattleton and all the rest. We have sworn never to have anything to do with him. There you are. It's a case of choosing."

"Don't let it worry you. Can't I use a fellow decent without becoming chummy with him?"

"But why should you use him decent? He's never used you that way."

"And is that any excuse for indecency on my part? Must I lower myself because he chooses to do so?"

"Oh, I don't mean that! You have such a way of putting things! Do you lower yourself when you give a man as good as he sends?"

"Lots of times you do."

"But with this fellow-he can't be kept in place unless he is crushed into it and held there. Somebody's got to do it. You've tapped him up a little, Merriwell, but that hasn't done the job. He hopes to down you at something somehow. He's looking to even that score. Bet you anything he'd come round smiling like a basket of chips if he could do you in style at something. He'd be ready enough to make friends then. What are you going to do? Are you going to let him throw you in order to have peace with the cur?"

"Not a great deal!" answered Merry, with emphasis. "I tell you now, as I told him, that the limit has been reached, and I propose to call a halt."

"How'll you do it?"

"I don't know just how. I've given him a rattling good drubbing, but that doesn't seem to end it. By Jove!"

Frank slapped his knee, an eager look coming to his expressive face.

"What is it?"

"I have it!"

"Tell me."

"You must do the job."

"I must?"

"Sure thing."

"How?"

"You must fight him!"

"I'm willing enough for that, bet your life!" exclaimed Hodge; "but that won't stop it."

"It will."

"How can it? It will make him worse. You know I had it with the fellow once."

"And got the worst of it."

"I didn't give up," said Hodge, bitterly. "He had to put me out, and then I wanted to have some more soon as I could stand on my feet, but he'd gone away with his gang."

"I know. I had my turn at him after that."

"And you put him out."

"But he was a hog, just the same as you. He wanted more as soon as he could stand."

"Don't compare me with that brute!"

"All right; but I'm going to put you against him, and you'll make an end of this business."

"I'd like it, but I don't see how I can do it. You can bet I'll try. Won't you take a turn at him after he finishes me off?"

"He isn't going to finish you off."

"What?"

"Not a bit of it," assured Frank. "You're going to do him this time. I don't like this business, and you know it. I hate fighting. It's brutal. But in this world there are lots' of human animals who never know their places till they are knocked into them. Badger is one."

Bart's eyes glowed and his nostrils dilated again, like those of an animal that scents its prey.

"I'll fight him!" he panted. "I've got good reason to do it! I know I shall have to do it anyway! But I've been afraid it might make it worse if-if--"

"If he got the best of it; but he won't...

"He did before."

"Because I wasn't there, Because you were not prepared for him."

"Prepared?"

"Yes. You will be this time."

"How?"

"I had it with him, and I noted all his weak points. Sparred and fooled with him long enough for that."

"What good will that do me?"

"All kinds."

"I don't see it."

"I am going to give you lessons."

"In what?"

"Getting at Badger's weak point. I am going to show you just how to do it."

Bart's face glowed.

"Will you?"

"I will. In less than a week I'll have you so you can do him in a fair and square set-to."

Hodge felt like hugging Merry.

"Oh, if I can do it!" he cried. "That will take him down."

"Exactly; it will squelch him. If I'm not mistaken, it will put an end to his bragging and swelling around. I hate to do it-I hate to plan anything of this sort, but the case demands it. He has reached the limit, and I'm going to stop it-or rather, you are."

"If I do, I'll owe it all to you. I'll swallow everything I've said about you."

"Don't have to, old man. I understand you better than you understand yourself. I think I understand Badger, also. He'll not stand out at the fence and blow himself any more after you have finished with him."

"Are you sure you call put me on so that I can do it?"

"Hodge, let me tell you this: Badger knows something about fighting, but you are more scientific than he."

"Sure?"

"Sure, my boy. But you have to keep your head. That's where you fail lots of times. You lose your head, get blind, and try to rush the other fellow off the earth. That's what whips you."

"I know it," admitted Bart; "but I can't seem to keep cool, the way you do. I've seen you fight like the devil and smile all the time. I don't understand that. I can't do it."

"No, and you never will. We are different. But I wish to tell you some more things about yourself. You never could keep cool at anything till I took hold and steadied you. You got angry and lost your head at baseball, football, any old thing."

"That's right."

"Now, with me in the box, you are a wonder behind the bat."

Hodge attempted to say that Merry was making it pretty steep, but Frank, both hands on the shoulders of his chum, said:

"You are a wonder. Everybody acknowledges it, and I know it. You are the best man I ever tossed a ball to."

Bart's pleasure showed in his face, but now he could not say a word.

"That is because I steady you-I help you keep your head. You do not fly off the handle. Am I right?"

"You are."

"Very well. Now I am going to teach you how to get at the weak point of this man Badger, and then I am going into the fight with you. I am going to be your second. I am going to hold you steady every moment of the time with my influence. I am going to keep you cool, and you are going to give Buck Badger the worst licking he ever received. That's the way we'll put an end to this foolishness of his."

Hodge actually laughed!

"Merriwell," he cried, "I know you'll do it!"

"You'll do it, Hodge."

"No; it will be you. I feel confident now. I shall feel you there close at hand all the time, and your will power will control me. I shall knock Buck Badger out!"

"That's the way I want you to feel. Never feel any other way for an instant, no matter how hard he may give it to you. Keep your confidence, but do not let over-confidence spoil you. He's a bulldog. You know that."

Hodge was tingling all over. The thought that he was to whip the boasting insolent Westerner filled him with savage joy.

"When will you begin giving me lessons?" he asked.

"As soon as possible."

Bart ran to the wall and ripped down a set of boxing gloves.

"Now!" he shouted.

Frank shrugged his shoulders.

"All light," he smiled; "but only a little. I'll show you a blow I want you to practice."

They put on the gloves, sparred a moment, and then Merry bit Bart a peculiar swinging blow that landed on the neck just over the jugular vein: He did not strike hard, but the blow made Bart dizzy.

"Just note how I did that," instructed Merry. Then he went through all the motions again, opening Bart's guard with a feint, and showing how he got that queer swing in to land as it did.

"Now," said Frank, "I've found that Badger always opens up on that feint. All the same, you must not try it too often, but you must make it count when you put it in. The first one may set him giddy and cause him to drop his guard. Then you can put him out with one right on the point of the jaw. That's all."

He took off the gloves, and Bart did the same. Then Hodge prepared to leave.

"We'll end it, Merry," said the dark-faced lad, confidently. "I see the finish of Badger."

"Confound such business!" muttered Frank, when Bart was gone.

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