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CHAPTER I.

AT EAGLE HEIGHTS.

“I would give ten thousand dollars to know Frank Merriwell’s secret,” declared Wallace Grafter, sitting in a comfortable “Old Hickory” chair on the veranda of the Eagle Heights clubhouse and watching the Albany boat, which was passing on its way up the Hudson.

“It would be worth it, my dear boy,” yawned Philip Phipps, a youth from Poughkeepsie, as he snapped a half-smoked cigarette over the rail and drew out his handsome watch, at which he casually glanced. “But do you think he has a secret?”

“Of course he has!” exclaimed the first speaker decidedly. “His record proves it. What time is it?”

“Ten-twenty,” answered Phipps.

“He’ll be here in forty minutes,” said Grafter. “I’m curious to see him.”

Farley Fisher, straight, square-shouldered, military in his bearing, not over twenty-four years of age, standing at a corner of the veranda, smiled a bit scornfully.

“It is amusing to me, gentlemen,” he observed, “to think that any fellow can keep up a fake as long as Merriwell has.”

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“Fake?” cried Phipps, excitement bringing a touch of falsetto into his voice.

“Fake?” questioned Grafter, moving his chair to face Fisher more squarely. “What do you mean by that?”

“Just what I said—no more, no less. I am satisfied that Merriwell is a faker.”

Inside an open window of the reading room, which was close at hand, Hobart Manton had been glancing over the pages of a magazine. The words of those outside reached his ears. He dropped the magazine and leaned on the window ledge.

“I agree with you, Fisher,” he said. “Merriwell is the biggest faker in this country, and in many ways the cleverest. You know I’m a Yale man. At college I heard so much of Merriwell and what he had done while there that I grew sick and disgusted. He was successful in fooling almost everybody, it seems.”

Grafter rose to his feet. He was a well-built fellow, nearly six feet tall, with splendid shoulders and carriage. He was the son of Mike Grafter, the well known Tammany politician, familiarly called “Reliable Mike” by his associates in New York. Although young Grafter had never been guilty of doing a day’s work in his life, he had inherited a splendid physique from his parents and had made athletics his hobby, beginning with the days of his baseball playing on the open lots in Harlem. Like his father, he was generally well liked, although it was claimed that, with his sturdy frame he had also inherited some of old Grafter’s ideas of winning in any contest by whatever method possible, either fair or otherwise. Like his

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 father, he was also able to cover his tracks so completely that nothing crooked had ever been proved against him, and he was prompt to vigorously resent any insinuation or hint of unfairness.

“I presume,” he said, “that you gentlemen have heard the saying of the late Abraham Lincoln that ‘you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time?’”

“What has that to do with Merriwell?” asked Fisher.

“If he is a faker,” retorted Grafter, “I swear it seems to me that he has succeeded in fooling all of the people all of the time since he started in to fool them at all.”

“I’d like to know what any one means by calling him a faker,” said Phipps.

Manton rose quickly from his chair and came sauntering out onto the veranda, followed by his particular friend, Denton Fisher, of the Harlem Heights A.A.

“Gentlemen,” he said, a knowing smile on his smooth-shaven, bulldog face, “I think I can explain what I mean by calling Merriwell a faker. A faker is a deceiver—he pretends to accomplish things he does not actually accomplish. At college Merriwell won a great deal of glory as a football captain and a baseball player. Investigation will show that the football and baseball teams of those years were the strongest ever turned out at Yale. He obtained the reputation, while the men behind him did the work. It has been so ever since.”

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“Apparently,” said Phipps, “you do not give Merriwell any credit for developing such strong teams.”

“I place the credit where it belongs, with the coaches. Merriwell developed nothing. He happened to be fortunate in having such good teams to back him up, and he has lived on the reputation made at Yale.”

“His career since leaving Yale——” began Grafter.

“What has he done? Personally, I mean. He has traveled round more or less, with an athletic team made up from the best Yale men of his day and a few clever outsiders. He still works the old game of living on the glory that should belong to others. But he is careful when he plays baseball teams to choose such teams as he can defeat in most instances. For instance——”

“The Chicago Nationals,” laughed Grafter. “Didn’t he win two games off them in California?”

“Fake!” laughed Manton, in return. “He has plenty of money, and he can afford to buy the rubber game, especially when it costs a big team nothing to lose it. That’s another of his tricks. He goes round the country spending money freely. Who couldn’t win at almost anything if he had plenty of money!”

Grafter shook his head.

“I have found out,” he said, “that legitimate amateur sports are generally on the level. Amateurs, as a rule, cannot be bought.”

“Well,” said the Yale man, with a slight curling of his lips, “I presume you speak from experience.”

Instantly Grafter flushed and his hands closed quickly.

“What do you mean by that?” he demanded, a threat

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 in his voice. “You may have a reputation as a gentleman boxer; but you had better be careful with your tongue, for I don’t fancy being insulted, even by you.”

Manton looked like a pugilist toned down, or toned up, like a gentleman. He had a thick neck and the cast of countenance that one instinctively associates with pugnacity. He had taken part in many an amateur boxing match, and some of the contests had been “to a finish.” It was his boast that he had never been “put out.” It was generally known that his college career had terminated suddenly and unexpectedly because he had attempted to beat up one of the professors.

“You’re touchy, Grafter,” said Manton, with a slight shrug of his muscular shoulders. “What’s the use? Can’t you take a joke?”

“The right kind of a joke. I presume you’re joking about Merriwell?”

“On the contrary, I’m in sober earnest. I meant just what I said.”

“It sounded like a joke to me,” said Phipps. “Why, I didn’t suppose any one questioned Merriwell’s standing as an athlete. Surely it is not questioned here, else he would not have been invited to take part in our meet.”

“It is possible we may be able to show him up as the faker he is,” laughed Manton. “Why, the fellow actually has the nerve to claim that he is the all-round champion athlete of this country.”

“I don’t think he made such a claim himself,” said Grafter promptly. “The newspapers called him that after he made the best record at Ashport last week.

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 That was a contest for the all-round championship of the country.”

“At Ashport!” sneered Manton. “And where is Ashport, pray? A little country town somewhere on the Ohio River. Who did Merriwell meet there?”

“Amateurs from all over the country,” answered Phipps. “According to all reports, it was one of the most successful contests ever held in this country.”

“But it was not the regular meet of the Amateur Athletic Association of the United States. It was nothing but a country club affair, at most. Championships won at such tournaments do not count. It’s a case of pure gall for Merriwell to set himself up as the leading all-round amateur of the country.”

“Besides,” reminded Denton Frost, “he was defeated there by a local man in a cross-country run a short time before.”

“Who defeated him?” questioned Phipps.

“Oh, some unknown. I agree with Manton that he’ll be shown up here if he ventures to take part. We’ll have the leading amateurs in the East.”

“Gentlemen,” said Grafter, who appeared to have recovered his good nature, “if Mr. Merriwell enters for any of our contests, I’ll give you an opportunity to win some of my money, for I shall bet on him.”

“Better use stage money,” advised Frost. “You won’t miss it so much.”

“Don’t worry about me,” flung back Grafter. “If I lose some real money, I can stand it.”

“That’s a good thing for you,” grinned Frost, in a chilly manner.

“I think I heard you remark that you would give

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 ten thousand to know Merriwell’s secret,” said Manton. “I’ll tell you what it is, and it won’t cost you a dollar. Pick out easy marks as opponents. In that manner you’ll always be a winner.”

“I don’t fancy you think we have many easy marks belonging to this club or entered for the tournament?”

“No, not many.”

“Will you name some of the events in which men are entered who cannot be defeated by Merriwell?”

“Ye-e-es; the standing long jump, the high jump, and the pole vault. The champions of the country are entered for these events, and Merriwell would be outclassed in any one of them.”

“Perhaps he may be induced to take part in them.”

“I doubt it. When he finds out the men who are entered, he’ll keep out. Why, Jack Necker, the Hartford man, is going out for the world’s championship, and he can jump some. My friend Frost is entered for the pole vault. He came within an ace of defeating Burleigh, the world’s champion, last year, and he can vault eight inches higher this year than he could then. He’d make Merriwell look like a high-school kid at it.”

“Perhaps we’ll have a chance to find out very soon what Merriwell intends to do,” said Phipps, rising and looking down the winding drive. “Here comes a carriage, containing Bert Fuller and two strangers. I fancy one of the strangers is Frank Merriwell.”

The Eagle Heights A.A. was peculiar in many ways. It was a “country club” for amateur athletes, most picturesquely located on the Hudson, some miles above Peekskill. One of the qualifications for membership was that each and every member must belong

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 to some other amateur club and must be the champion of his own club in some particular line. For instance, Bert Fuller, president of the Eagle Heights A.A., was the champion gymnast of the Madison Square A.A.; Wallace Grafter was the best shot putter of the Catskill Club; Horace Manton was the star boxer of the Albany University Club; George Branch was the leading long-distance bicyclist of the Century Club, of Boston; Philip Phipps was the champion billiard player of the Poughkeepsie Pastime Club, and Denton Frost, of the Harlem Heights A.A., was a candidate for the championship of the world at pole vaulting.

It will be readily understood that the Eagle Heights A.A. was an organization made up and maintained by rich young men, or the sons of wealthy men—gentlemen they were supposed to be, one and all. But wealth is not always the brand of birth or breeding, and, like other clubs, the Eagle Heights contained members who lacked the natural instincts of the gentleman, although they had a certain veneering, or outward polish.

The Eagle Heights A.A. was the outcome of the modern development of interest in athletics and sports. Ten years ago the organization and maintenance of such a club would have been impossible; and, indeed, the scheme seemed wild and visionary when first outlined at the Manhattan A.A. by Frederick Fuller, the father of Bert Fuller. Although plainly told that he could never carry the project through, Fuller, Sr., went about it in earnest, secured a site for the clubhouse, with fine grounds on every hand, started a fund, interested other men of wealth, and finally pushed the thing through. The Eagle Heights A.A. was nearly

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 two years old and flourishing like a green bay tree. It was generally regarded as the acme of glory to be admitted as a member, and the time had already arrived when it was found necessary to make a finer discrimination in regard to admissible candidates.

As was natural, rivalry for honors among the club members of this remarkable organization was very keen. But not all the contests were held for the benefit of members only. Already there had been three open meets of various sorts, and now there was to be another, in which all athletes regularly registered in the A.A.A. of the U.S.could participate. Frank Merriwell, having reached the East after a tour of the country, had received a special invitation to be present and to compete if he desired.

Having learned that Merry would visit the club at a certain time, there was an unusually large number of members present on the forenoon of this midweek day.

Phil Phipps was correct in thinking that one of the two strangers in the carriage with the president of the club was Frank. The other was Merry’s boon companion, Bart Hodge.

The carriage stopped at the broad front steps and Fuller sprang out, followed by his guests.

“Here we are, Merriwell!” cried the youthful president, with a wave of his hand. “What do you think of our location?”

Frank permitted his eyes to sweep over the beautiful prospect of fields, woodland, and hills, through the midst of which flowed the blue, majestic Hudson. It

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 was a vision to delight the soul of any true lover of nature.

“It is grand, Fuller!” he answered, with enthusiasm. “With such a view outspread before you, you should be constantly spurred to do your level best at any undertaking. Surely it is an inspiration.”

The face of Hodge betrayed his admiration, but he said nothing.

“My father chose the spot,” said Fuller proudly. “He saw what could be done here. Although we are up among the hills, we have one of the finest athletic fields in the country. Let’s go in. I know many of the boys are anxious to meet you.”

“And I am one of them,” declared Wallace Grafter, advancing to the steps.

He was introduced to Frank and Bart, shaking them heartily by the hand.

Phil Phipps and Farley Fisher followed.

“We have a Yale man here, Merriwell,” said Fuller. “I know you’ll be welcomed by a son of Old Eli. Mr. Manton——”

He stopped short, for Hobart Manton, with Denton Frost at his side, had already turned away and was entering the clubhouse.

The president flushed. For a moment he seemed surprised and confused, but he quickly recovered, smiling a little, as he said:

“Evidently Manton’s modesty prevented him from pressing forward at once. He intends to wait to meet you inside.”

Frank nodded. He knew something was wrong, but

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 he did not show it. He did not even return Bart’s queer look of questioning.

They entered the building. In the parlor they met other members, all of whom were very cordial. In the reading room were still others.

Manton and Frost were there when they entered. The pair surveyed Frank and Bart with an air of indifference, and together, just before Fuller would have presented them, they sauntered away into another part of the house.

Fuller was furious, although he tried to conceal it.

There was no mistaking this repetition of the act.

It was a deliberate slight.

The president made a resolution to give Manton and Frost a prompt calling down, but, not wishing to leave Merry just then, he waited for another opportunity.

The visitors were conducted through the building until they finally came to the gymnasium, which they found lavishly fitted with the finest modern apparatus.

In the gym a number of fellows were at work. The only spectators were Manton and Frost. But now neither Fuller nor the visitors gave the two chaps the slightest notice, although walking past them within a few feet.

At one side of the room, and running the full length, was a string of flying rings.

Coming to the end of these, Hodge was seized by a sudden desire to test some of the energy he felt seething within. Giving a short turn, he sprang into the air, caught the first ring, swung to the second, from that to the third, and so on until he had traversed the complete line.

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Manton and Frost left the room, laughing softly and saying something to each other about showing off.

Bart had not thought of “showing off,” but he realized that his action might be regarded as the outcome of a desire to exhibit himself, and his face grew dark.

“When the time comes right, one or both of you chaps are going to get something from me,” he thought.

They next inspected the billiard room, coming at last to the bowling alleys.

There they again found Manton and Frost, who seemed on the point of starting a string.

Now an odd thing happened. Manton stepped forward and spoke to Frank.

“You’ve been kept busy shaking hands with the rest of the boys,” he said. “I’m not inclined to rush forward and overwhelm a visitor. I leave that to Grafter.”

Fuller was relieved, and he immediately introduced both Manton and Frost.

“We’re glad to know you, Mr. Merriwell,” declared the gentleman pugilist. “I heard a great deal about you at college. You surely had all Yale hypnotized. Of course some of the things they tell of you are preposterous. I regard you as very clever in being able to secure such a reputation.”

“I don’t think I understand you,” said Merry, disagreeably impressed by the fellow’s words.

“Why, you know they seem to think in New Haven that you were a champion at any old thing to which you turned your hand. No man could excel at everything. That’s out of reason. I presume you were

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 fairly clever as a baseball pitcher, or something of that sort; but they seemed to fancy you were possessed of the powers of a god. For instance, although I was the champion bowler and sparrer, I was continually being told what Merriwell did when he was there. I grew sick of it. I longed for an opportunity to demonstrate to them that you were not the only person on earth. Of course I had no such opportunity. Had you drifted along at the proper moment, I’d taken special delight in showing you up on the alleys.”

He laughed as he made this statement.

“Evidently,” said Frank, “it was a good thing for my reputation that I kept away from New Haven while you were in college.”

“As far as bowling or boxing was concerned.”

“You’re a fine bowler?”

“I am the champion of this club, although one of our members is the champion bowler of the White Elephant, of Paterson.”

“I’m hardly in my best form as a bowler just now,” confessed Merry.

Frost started to laugh, but checked himself.

“I presume not,” smiled Manton.

“I have bowled very little during the last two months, having been interested mainly in outdoor sports.”

“Don’t be alarmed,” said Manton; “I’m not going to challenge you.”

“But I was thinking of challenging you,” said Merry sweetly, his words causing the heart of Bart Hodge to leap with satisfaction.

GENERE
Ragazzi
PUBBLICATO
2020
11 maggio
LINGUA
EN
Inglese
PAGINE
211
EDITORE
Rectory Print
DIMENSIONE
14
MB

Altri libri di Burt L. Standish