Frank Merriwell's Limit

CHAPTER VII.
CAMPUS GOSSIP.

And so it happened that Merriwell gave Bart instructions in that particular line every day, and Bart caught on rapidly. Hodge was given his turn at trying to get in the blow on Merry, and Frank kept him at it till he was pretty skillful.

One day Bart went at Frank in earnest, getting rather excited in his efforts.

"Keep cool," Merry advised. "Remember what I've told you."

"This way?" asked Hodge, feinting.

Merry guarded.

"And this way?" inquired Bart, cracking Frank a dandy on the neck.

Merry gasped.

"And like this?" breathed Hodge, swinging full and fair on the point of Frank's jaw.

It was a surprise, and Frank dropped.

Just then the door banged open, and in trooped Stubbs, Browning, Diamond, Rattleton and Jones. They saw Hodge standing over Merriwell, who was down on the rug, and they stopped, their eyes popping in amazement.

"What's this?" squealed Stubbs,

"Ye gods!" grunted Browning.

"Merriwell-down?" muttered Diamond.

"Wonderful!" said Rattleton.

"How have the mighty have fallen!" droned Jones.

"Come in," laughed Frank, as he got up. "Just giving Hodge some pointers, you know."

"Looked like it," said Browning,

"What was he giving you?" grinned Stubbs.

"He can't do it again"' declared the loyal Rattleton.

"What's up?" asked Diamond.

"Merriwell was down," said Stubbs.

"Go on," they all urged.

But both Frank and Bart took off the gloves and declined to continue the bout. There was a great deal of guying, which Frank took laughingly. Hodge protested that it was an accident, but Merry said it was an accident well planned. When he was alone with Bart again, he said:

"You're getting there, old man. You did it fair and square. I was dropped nicely."

"Oh, but you weren't expecting me to hit so hard. You opened up to give me a chance to get in the blow."

"Nothing of the sort," asserted Merry. "Don't know how it happened, but I didn't open up intentionally. If you do it as slick is that with Badger, you'll have him-you'll do him."

Hodge was impatient. He wanted to find occasion to pick up the quarrel with the Westerner right away.

"No," said Merry. "Let him bring it on, that will put him in the wrong. He'll give you plenty of show in time."

"But why is he keeping so blessed still?" asked Bart.

"Is he?"

"He is. Why, he hasn't opened his clam since that morning in your room. I expected he would hold forth on every and all occasions. What does it mean?"

"You say."

"It can't be that he's decided to quit, can it?" asked Bart, fearfully. "That would be a wretched shame."

"It may be."

"I won't have it!"

"What will you do?"

"I'll have him to force his hand."

"If you do, I'll withdraw."

Bart was hot in a moment.

"All right!" he cried. "I can manage that. You've shown me his weak points, and I'll go to him whether you stick by me or not."

"You won't."

"Eh?"

"You'll need me behind you when you go up against him, and you know it. If I'm not there to hold you steady, you'll lose your head and get the worst of it. Don't be a fool, Hodge."

"Thanks! But what if the beast keeps corked up and never gives me a show?"

"That will be the end of it."

"You mean that I can't fight with him?"

"Not without putting yourself in the wrong. If Badger has concluded to be decent, we must let him alone. I'll not sympathize with anybody who tackles him."

Hodge was desperate.

"You're a queer one, Merriwell," he said. "You know this fellow has rubbed dirt over us, and now, simply because he chooses to close his face and pretend that he does not know we are on earth, you are willing to let him off. As for me, his manner of ignoring me is even more insulting than his bragging."

Frank could not repress a smile.

"You're the same old Hodge," he said. "You've got to get over it, my boy. You ought to be able to hold your head just as high as this Badger."

"But I'm not. He knocked me out! I can't forget that! It's been a sore spot ever since, and it is sorer now than ever. It's all right for you to talk about holding up your head, for you did him up. With me it is different."

Frank could not help sympathizing with Bart, for he understood the proud, sensitive spirit of his friend; and still, if there was to be a fight, bruiser fashion, he wished the blame to rest entirely with the Kansan.

"I think he'll give you chance enough in time. It's my opinion that he can't keep still long, for he is a natural braggart. It hurts him to keep still."

"Well, Merriwell, I'd do almost anything for you, and so I'll wait; but I'm impatient."

"We'll keep up the practice all the time."

Thus it went on, and Hodge grew more and more skillful under Frank's teaching.

But now a queer thing happened. It became known that Merriwell and Hodge were practicing boxing in Frank's room, and the story got out that Hodge had knocked Frank down. That set everybody wondering, and it produced discussions. Hodge-why, how could he do such a thing? Badger had whipped him, and Badger had proved easy fruit for Merriwell.

The fence took it up. Football was over, and interest in the baseball team of the coming season was not fully aroused. The men had to have something to talk about.

"It's a fake yarn," declared Bell Halliday. "Hodge isn't built right to do it."

"Who invented the story?" asked Puss Parker, in derision. "He ought to be shot!"

"There were witnesses," asserted Bob Brewster.

"Name one," commanded Phil Porter.

"Bink Stubbs," said somebody.

Then there was a shout of scorn.

"Did it come from him?" asked several.

"It did."

"Then it's a canard."

"Somebody ought to wring Stubbs' neck!" exclaimed Pink Pooler.

"I'd like to see the man who can do it!" piped Stubbs himself, appearing on the scene.

Then he was seized by a score of hands and dragged into the midst of the throng.

"Don't tear the clothes off a fellow!" he cried. "I didn't say I'd like to see you all do it; I said one man. Put one man up against me, and I'll lick him if he catches me before I get away!"

"Look here, you little prevaricator," said Bob Brewster, confronting the little chap threateningly, "What's this tale you've been telling about Merriwell and Hodge?"

"Dunno. What is it?"

"You said Hodge knocked Merriwell down when they were boxing in Merriwell's room.

"Yep."

"You know that's rot."

"You go to-down below! Its straight goods. I saw it."

"Alone?"

"No."

"Who else?"

"Browning, Rattleton, Diamond, Jones -we all saw it. Opened the door and walked in just as Hodge dropped Merriwell."

"Alas," said Jones, as he slowly walked into their midst, "he speaks the sad, sad truth."

Their he corroborated Stubbs' story, whereupon there was wonder and amazement to no small extent. It caused the tongues of the gossips to wag all the more freely, and Bart Hodge was looked upon with added interest and respect.

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