Frank Merriwell's Limit

CHAPTER X.
THE OPPORTUNITY COMES.

The girls were Stella Stanley and Winnie Lee. Frank had paused to speak with them.

"Oh, dear!" laughed Winnie, looking after Rattles' fleeing figure. "The poor fellow! But what a funny place for him to carry his soiled linen in! Why do you suppose he did it?"

"Got hard up for collars and cuffs," explained Merry, "and decided to hustle them out to a laundry. Didn't want to be seen carrying a bundle, so he tucked them into his hat. Forgot he had the stuff there, and you witnessed the result. He'll not get over it for a week. Poor Rattles!"

"I wanted to see you," said Winnie.

"Did you? Am I such a sight, then?"

"No; don't flatter yourself. It's not about you. It's about Mr. Badger. "

"Oh, dear me!" Frank laughed. "How disappointed I am!"

"Oh, yes! And you have two girls who are all gone on you."

"So many?"

"You know."

"Those are not all," laughed Stella Stanley. "We had to guard him the season he was on the road to keep the girls from stealing him. They all wanted him."

"Now you are putting it on thick!" said Frank. "I protest! But what about Mr. Badger?"

"He-he called last night," said Winnie.

"Did he?" smiled Frank. "Is it a quarrel, or a wedding?"

"Neither. But he told me all about the talk he had with you in your room and about Mr. Hodge coming in."

"Ah! Told his side of it, I presume."

"I believe he told me the truth."

"Oh, yes, of course. Haven't a doubt of it. Go on."

"He said that he was more than willing to let bygones be bygones as far as you are concerned, but that others will not let him alone. He says Hodge has sneered about him, and other men have insulted him to his face."

"My dear Miss Lee, let me tell you that Buck Badger is easily insulted. He is worse than Jack Diamond, if possible. Sometimes he seems waiting for somebody to say something that he can construe as an insult."

"Oh, but I'm sure he is not that way now!" exclaimed Winnie, in distress, "All he wants is to be let alone. If the fellows will let him alone, he will not bother them."

"Without doubt he thinks so when he is with you, but there are other times, you know."

"But won't you help and encourage him-please! He needs help. He must have it. You have helped so many fellows."

Frank shook his head soberly.

"I'd be glad enough to do it, Miss Lee; but Mr. Badger is one who will receive nothing of the sort from me."

Winnie was sorry. She had hoped that Badger and Merry would become friends, and, after the dawn party, she had believed her desire was to be realized.

They talked about it there on the street for some little time, but Winnie was not fully satisfied when they parted.

When Frank returned to the college grounds he saw a gathering of fellows in front of Durfee. Coming nearer, he saw something of an exciting nature was taking place. He quickened his steps and made his way into the throng, hearing the voice of Badger.

"You're another one of Merriwell's adorers," the Westerner was saying."

"You're always ready to lick his hand, like a whipped pup. I've heard that you were his enemy to start with, but that he gave you a good licking, and you've been crawling round after him ever since. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

Frank knew well enough to whom the words were spoken. He felt that Bart Hodge's time had come.

"You're a liar by the clock if you say I crawl round after any one!" was the hot retort, in the voice of Hodge.

Smack-crack!

Two blows, a writhing mob, and then Merriwell was in their midst.

"Stop!" cried Frank, thrusting them apart. "Not here!"

"Not here!" cried others.

"Anywhere!" panted Hodge.

"Steady," whispered Frank in his ear. "You have what you want, now keep your head."

It was remarkable how swiftly the hot-blooded fellow calmed down.

"Mr. Badger," rang Bart's voice, like the clang of iron, "you struck me, sir!"

"I did, I reckon," flung back the Kansan, "You bear the mark on you cheek."

"I demand satisfaction!"

"All you want!"

"Where? When?"

"Name time and place."

"To-night at Crocker's."

"With gloves?"

"Bare fists-bare fists!" panted Bart, a greedy glitter in his eyes.

"Oh, all right," said Badger, off-hand. "I was trying to spare you a little disfigurement, that's all."

"Don't worry about me. You'll have all you want, I promise you that."

"Is it settled?" asked Frank.

There were those who were astonish that Merriwell made no move to interfere. Of course he knew how Hodge had been handled on the former occasion when he went against Badger, and so it seemed strange that he was willing to permit such a close friend to be thrashed again by the fighting Westerner.

Ten minutes later Bart was walking up and down Merry's room, his dark face gleaming with a look of satisfaction.

"Got him!" he cried. "He brought it on himself, too."

"Tell me," urged Frank, sitting down.

"Not much to tell. Have been keeping watch on him. Knew he could not keep his month closed forever. Saw him in the crowd by the fence. Mingled in just in little to hear him giving our whole set a going over. Then I chipped, and he hit me. But I got back at him, and I'll bet he carried my mark."

All Hodge's fighting blood was up, and he paced the room like a raging tiger.

"What a beast you are!" said Frank, half admiringly. "You love to fight!"

"I enjoy it when it's a fellow like Badger."

"Now, Hodge, you must remember all I have taught you."

"I will."

"Keep in your head every moment that you are to play for his weak point."

"I will."

"And knock him out-knock him out!"

"I will!"

Bart was confident, and he was fairly palpitating for the time to come. Frank sprang up and got down the gloves once more.

"Put them on," he directed, giving a pair to Bart. "I want to see how you can spar when you are excited in this manner."

Bart put them on, and they were at it directly. Hodge seemed to fancy that he was facing Badger, and he gave Frank a good hot scrimmage for a few moments.

"Go at him that way to-night, with the same dash and coolness, and you'll put him out in the end," declared Frank. "But don't wind yourself. Keep that it mind. He may play to wind you-."

"You'll be there," said Bart. "If you see I am hitting it up too hard, pull me down. "

"I'll do my best,"

"You are going to win this fight for me, Merriwell," said Bart. "That's why I am so confident, I know that you will have influence enough to hold me right just when I need it. And I'm in the best trim possible. Never felt so good before."

"You seem to be in the pink of condition."

"I am. Feel of that arm. How is that leg? My wind is all right."

"Hodge, you'll put up the fight of your life to-night, and this is where Mr. Badger is brought to a sudden halt."

Just before nine o'clock that evening the college men who were onto the affair came pouring into the private gym, where the bout was to take place. The doors were locked immediately after Badger and Hodge arrived. Then there was stripping and preparing for the fray.

Odds were ten to one Badger. That is, it stood that way at first, but a few men gobbled up everything in sight. It seemed remarkable that any one could have confidence enough to risk a dollar on Hodge at any odds. Badger had defeated him once and all who saw it declared Bart was "easy" game.

Donald Pike was Badger's second. He laughed at the idea that Hodge would stand a show.

"Buck will put him out in thirty seconds," said Pike.

There was a surprise in store for the majority of those present-a great surprise.

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