Frank Merriwell's Alarm: or, Doing His Best
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“It is not strange you think so, Merriwell; but it is because you do not know her. I honor and respect her for standing by her husband, even when she knew he was a rascal, and I believe she has a heart and soul a thousand times more noble than the heart and soul of her half-sister.”
“Bad, bad!” exclaimed Frank. “Look here, Bart, you must go along with me. That is settled. Isa Isban will ruin you if you do not escape from her influence.”
A look of indignation settled on Hodge’s face, and he drew away.
“If you knew her well, Frank, I would not pardon you for saying that about her; but, as you know nothing about her, I will overlook it. But, old fellow, please don’t speak of Miss Isban in that way.”
“Miss Isban? Her name is Mrs. Scott; her husband’s name was Paul Scott.”
“I know, but she has resumed her maiden name since his death. She calls herself Miss Isban now. You should see her, Merriwell. She looks like a sweet girl graduate – a girl of eighteen, and – ”
“She must be twenty-one or two.”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care. She does not look it, and I believe she is a splendid girl. I honor and respect her.”
“Great Scott!” thought Frank; “Hodge is in the greatest peril of his life! I am sure of it. I am sure that girl will work his utter downfall if he is not saved from her influence. It is my duty to find a way to save him. I will!”
When Frank made up his mind to do a thing, he bent all his energies to accomplish the end. In the past Hodge had been easily influenced, but he felt sure Isa Isban had a hold on the lad that could not be broken with ease. The task must be accomplished by clever work.
“Where is she now?” Merry asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t? How is that?”
“Well, you see, I – I left Sacramento rather – rather suddenly,” faltered Bart.
“Suddenly? Explain it, old chum. Why did you leave Sacramento suddenly? I trust you did not get into trouble there?”
Hodge ground his heel into the ground, seeming quite occupied in digging a hole in that manner. Suddenly he started and listened.
“A horse is coming this way – up the trail!” he exclaimed. “It is coming at a hot pace, as if hard ridden.”
“Let it come. That needn’t bother us. Answer my questions, Bart. You know I am your friend, and there should be perfect trust and no secrets between close friends.”
But Hodge did not seem to hear those words. He was listening to the hoofbeats of the galloping horse, and his face had grown pale.
“Look here, Merriwell,” he hastily exclaimed, “the rider of that horse may be a person I do not care to meet.”
Bart got up hastily, and Frank arose, saying:
“You needn’t be afraid of him. The other boys are good fighters, and there is no single man in this country that can do you up while you are with this crowd. We will stand by you.”
“It’s not that; you don’t understand. I must not be seen. I’ll get out of sight, and you must bluff him off, if he asks about me.That’s all. Here he comes!”
A glimpse of the horseman was obtained as he flitted along between the great trees.
Immediately Hodge slipped behind a tree, and lost no time in getting out of view.
The horseman came on swiftly, and the boys saw that he was a large man with a grizzled beard that had once been coal black. He was roughly dressed, with his pantaloons tucked into his boots.
As he approached the man eyed the boys closely. Close at hand he drew up, saying in a harsh voice:
“Wa-al, who are you, and whatever are yer doing here?”
CHAPTER XXI. – ARREST AND ESCAPE
Frank was inclined to resent the stranger’s words and manner.
“I don’t understand how that concerns you, sir,” he said, rather stiffly.
“Hey,” cried the man, glaring at Merry. “Don’t git insolent, youngster! I don’t like it.”
“Your question was impertinent.”
“Whatever is that? Be careful. I don’t want any foolin’.”
Frank smiled at this, which seemed to make the horseman angry.
“Hang ye!” he exclaimed. “You want to be respectful, for you’re liable to get into trouble with me, and you won’t like that.”
“Shoo fly!” chuckled Toots, showing his big white teeth in a grin. “G’way dar, man! Yo’ gibs me de fever an’ chillins.”
“Wa-al, dern me!” roared the man, growing very red in the face. “It’s the first time an ordinary nigger ever dared to speak to Bill Higgins that way.”
“Hole on, sar! I ain’t no ordumnary nigger, sar. I’s a cullud gemman ob ’stinction, sar, an’ po’ white trash cayarn’t talk to me lek dat – no, sar!”
“Choke off that critter!” growled the man, addressing Frank. “If yer don’t, I’ll shoot him full of holes!”
“I wouldn’t advise you to do that,” came calmly from Merriwell. “You might get into serious trouble if you did.”
“Trouble? – trouble over shootin’ a nigger?” snorted the stranger. “Wa-al, I think not! I’ve got the record of killin’ a dozen white men, and – ”
“Thirteen is an unlucky number you know. Without doubt you will be hanged, as you deserve, when you kill the thirteenth one.”
“Mebbe so, but a nigger won’t count. I’ll bore him if he opens his trap again!”
“Land ob mercy!” gurgled Toots, dodging behind a tree. “Dat man am crazzy fo’ suah! Look out fo’ him, chilluns; dar am no tellin’ when he’ll tek a noshun inter his fool haid teh shoot you all.”
“You must be a very bad man,” said Merriwell, sarcastically.
“I am; and now yer realize it, mebbe you’ll have a little more respect. Who be yer? an’ what’re yer doing here?”
“If you will show that you have any right to ask those questions, I will answer them.”
“Right! Why, hang it! I’m ther sheriff of this county!”
“Well, what have we done that the sheriff of this county or any other county in California should come around and demand our names, as if we were criminals?”
“Ye’re suspicious characters.”
“Is that it? And we look like dangerous criminals?”
“I’ve seen fellows what didn’t look more dangerous than you as was rather tough.”
“Well, we are not tough, and we have no reason for concealing our names.”
Then Frank gave the name of each of the boys, pointing them out as he did so, and told how they happened to be in California.
Bill Higgins, as the man had called himself, listened and looked them over. His manner seemed to change, and he said:
“You tell that pretty straight, and I reckon you’re not giving me a crooked deal, but whar’s to’ other one?”
“What other one?”
“The one what owns the other bisuckle. Thar’s only five of you, and here are six bisuckles.”
The keen eyes of the sheriff made this discovery, and Frank realized that Hodge’s wheel should have been concealed.
“Oh, the other fellow has just stepped aside to look at the big trees,” he explained. “This is the first time we have ever seen trees like these. They are wonders, sir. Do you have them all over the State? How tall are they? Can you give us the dimensions of the largest tree discovered in this State? We desire some information concerning them.”
“I see ye do,” said Higgins, with sarcasm, “an’ I desire a little information myself. You’ll answer my questions.”
Frank feared his ruse would fail, but he suavely said:
“Oh, certainly – of course, sir. We shall be pleased to answer your questions. Do these trees make good timber for building purposes? Are they difficult to work up? How thick is the bark? And how – ”
“That’ll do!” roared the sheriff, fiercely. “I’m no bureau of information. Whar is the other feller?”
Frank assumed a dignified and injured air.
“As you do not seem inclined to answer my questions, I must decline to answer yours,” he said, coldly. “If you will drive along, it will be agreeable to us.”
Higgins showed his yellow teeth through his grizzled beard.
“Oh-ho!” he grated. “So that’s the trick. Wa-al, I know t’other chap is near, an’ I’m goin’ ter see him. That is settled.”
Off his horse he sprang, leaving the animal to stand, and then, to the surprise of all, he ran to the tree behind which Bart was concealed, dashed around it, and gave a shout of triumph.
A moment later the sheriff reappeared, dragging Hodge by the collar.
“Don’t try ter git away!” he commanded. “If ye do, you’ll be sorry. I don’t fool with a critter of your caliber.”
“Let go!” cried Bart, indignantly. “What are you trying to do with me? Take your hands off, sir!”
“Not till I lodge ye behind bars, young feller. You’re under arrest, so cool down and keep still.”
“Why am I arrested?”
“Oh, you don’t know; oh, no!”
“Answer my question, sir! Why am I arrested?”
“Now, don’t go to gettin’ funny and givin’ orders. It ain’t necessary to answer.”
Frank stepped forward.
“It is no more than right that you should tell me why you have arrested my friend, sir,” he said.
“Ho! ho!” cried the sheriff. “So he is your friend! I thought as much! Well, don’t you get too frisky, or I may take a notion to arrest you, too.”
“Such a thing would be an outrage, and I believe you have perpetrated an outrage in arresting Mr. Hodge.”
“I don’t care what you think!”
“At the same time, I see no reason why you should refuse to tell me why you have arrested him.”
“Jive him gesse – I mean give him Jesse!” fluttered Rattleton, as he sought Frank’s side. “You know we will stand by you, old man. If you say the word, we’ll take Hodge away from him.”
Bill Higgins’ ears were sharp, and he caught the words. Like a flash he whipped out a huge revolver, which he held in a menacing manner, while he growled:
“Thirteen may be an unlucky number, but skin me if I don’t make it thirteen or more if you chaps tries the trick!”
He looked as if he meant what he said.
“Steady, fellows,” warned Merriwell, as the boys gathered at his back, ready for anything. “Don’t be hasty.”
“It won’t be good fer yer if you are!” muttered Higgins.
“We can take Hodge away from him – I know we can!” whispered Diamond, eagerly. “Say the word, and we’ll jump him!”
“That’s right,” nodded Browning, with deliberation.
Higgins backed off a bit, still holding fast to Hodge, and handling his revolver threateningly.
“Blamed if I don’t take the whole gang in!” he shouted. “I reckon you’re all standin’ in together with this feller.”
“You will have a warm time taking in this crowd,” said Frank, quickly. “We are friends of Mr. Hodge, and therefore we think it no more than right that we should know why he is arrested.”
“If that’s goin’ to satisfy ye, you shall know. He’s arrested for shovin’ the queer.”
“Shoving – the – queer?”
“But – but there must be a mistake.”
“Bill Higgins never makes mistakes.”
Frank was shocked, stunned. He looked at Bart, and Hodge’s face, which had been pale, turned crimson with apparent shame. It was like a blow to Merriwell, for the conviction that Hodge was guilty came over him.
“It was that wretched girl – she did it!” he thought. “She has led him into this. She has influenced him to put out some of that bogus money, and he, like the infatuated fool that he was, did it willingly. Oh, it is a shame!”
Bart stole a glance at Frank, and saw by the expression of Merry’s face that he was convinced of his folly. Immediately Hodge seemed to wilt, as if hope had gone out of him. The color left his face, and it became wan and drawn, with an expression of anguish that aroused Frank’s deepest pity.
“I don’t care!” Merriwell mentally exclaimed. “He did it because he was hypnotized – because her influence compelled him to do so. If he is brought to trial now it will mean his utter ruin. What can I do for him? Can I do anything?”
Bart saw the change that came over Frank’s face, but did not understand what it meant. Instead, noticing a hard, determined look, he fancied his former friend was hardening his heart against him.
Of a sudden Hodge gave the sheriff a shove and trip, sending him sprawling on the ground, his revolver being discharged as he fell. Fortunately the bullet harmed no one.
Like a flash, the desperate boy darted away. He caught his wheel, which stood against a tree, and was on it in a moment. His feet caught the pedals, and away he went down the road.
Bill Higgins scrambled up, uttering language that was shocking to hear.
“The cursed whelp!” he roared. “He can’t ride faster than bullets can travel! I’ll fill him full of lead!”
Then he flung up the revolver.
Merriwell was quite as swift in his movements.
“No, you don’t!”
With that cry on his lips, Frank knocked the weapon aside just as it was discharged, and the bullet sped skyward through the tree tops.
Then Bill Higgins whirled and tried to shoot the boy who had saved Bart Hodge, but the heavy fist of Bruce Browning fell on his temple, and he dropped like a log to the ground.
Frank picked up the sheriff’s revolver, which had fallen from his hand, and, when Higgins sat up, he found himself looking into the muzzle of his own weapon.
Merriwell uttered the words, and Higgins took the hint.
“All right,” he snarled; “but this doesn’t end it! I’ll make all of yer suffer fer this!”
He arose, mounted his waiting horse, and galloped away after Hodge.
CHAPTER XXII. – ISA ISBAN
Late that same afternoon the five boys were riding westward, when Frank said:
“Something mysterious has happened, fellows.”
“What is it?” asked Jack, who was instantly interested in any mystery.
“A short time ago I saw a horseman away down the road here.”
“He was coming toward us.”
“We have not met him.”
“Look – the road lies before us for a mile. Where is he?”
“Not in sight, that is sure.”
“He must have turned off somewhere,” said Rattleton.
“That is true, but we have seen no road that turned off from this.”
“Perhaps he saw us and turned aside to avoid us.”
“Or it may have been Bill Higgins, the sheriff, and he is lying in wait to arrest us all,” suggested Browning.
“It was not Higgins,” assured Merriwell. “It was a young man, I am sure, although I obtained but a glimpse of him through the trees. We have passed no house since then.”
“Never mind him,” said Harry. “We must find a place to stop for the night.”
“I wish we might learn what has happened to Hodge before we stop. I don’t believe Higgins recaptured him.”
“It’s ten chances to one we’ll never hear anything more about him while we are in California.”
“I know that, and I am sorry. I wanted to keep him with us, for he is in great need of friends to straighten him up. He has fallen in with bad companions, and they are ruining him.”
“I should say so!” exclaimed Diamond. “He is a fool to let himself be worked by a girl.”
“Don’t take Hodge for a fool, Jack. He is anything but a fool, but he is easily influenced, and he is proud and passionate. Fairly started on the wrong road, he may go to ruin in a hurry. If we could get him out of this State – save him from arrest! Should he be arrested, tried and condemned, it would mean his utter and complete ruin. After serving a term in prison, he would feel the disgrace so deeply that nothing could save him.”
“Well, you have taken a big contract if you are going to try to save him now,” Diamond declared.
“It might be done, but – Hello! this looks like a path.”
Frank was off his wheel in a moment, and he quickly decided that a path led from the regular trail into the dark shadows to the forest to the northward.
“Wonder where it would take us,” he muttered. And then, seized by a sudden inspiration, he cried:
“Come on, fellows; let’s go on an exploring expedition.”
Diamond protested, and Browning growled after his usual lazy manner, but Frank was supported by Rattleton and Toots, and the majority ruled.
The path, where it turned off from the road, seemed to be somewhat hidden, but it soon became plain enough, and they were able to ride along in single file, Merriwell leading.
They had proceeded in this manner about a mile when they came in sight of a small cabin that was set down in a little hollow amid the trees.
The place looked lonely and deserted, but Frank rode straight toward it, and the others followed.
The boys dismounted before the cabin, and Merriwell rapped loudly on the door. He was forced to knock three times before he obtained a response.
The door opened slowly, and a bent and feeble-looking man with dirty white hair looked at them.
“Who are you?” he asked, in a cracked voice, suspicion showing plainly in his eyes, which were bright and clear for all of his age.
“Travelers,” replied Frank, cheerfully. “We were passing, and, as night is at hand, we decided to ask shelter here.”
“It is useless to ask,” the man declared, with a shake of his head. “I can’t keep you. It is very strange that you should be passing this place. The road does not come within a mile of here.”
“That is true, but we found a path, and became convinced that it must lead to a house, so here we are.”
“You have had your trouble for nothing; I shall not keep you.”
“Hospitable old man!” murmured Browning, sarcastically.
Despite his age, the man was not hard of hearing, for he caught the big fellow’s words and shot him a look.
“Surely you will not turn us away now,” urged Frank. “It will be dark by the time we reach the road again.”
“That is nothing to me.”
The old man was about to close the door, when, to the astonishment of the boys, a musical, girlish voice said:
“Let them stop here, Drew. I know one of the young gentlemen.”
The bicyclists looked at each other inquiringly, wondering which one of them the owner of the voice could know. They all felt a thrill, for this added zest and romance to the little adventure.
“Am I dreaming?” whispered Bruce; “or did I hear the gentle ripple of a female voice?”
“Smoly hoke!” gasped Harry. “To find a girl in this spone lot – I mean lone spot! It is a marvel!”
“An’ dat voice oh hers am lek honeydew from heabben, chilluns – ’deed it am!” gurgled Toots, poetically.
The old man seemed astonished and in doubt.
“Do you mean it, my dear?” he asked. “It was on your account – ”
“Never mind me, Drew,” came back that musical voice. “It would be a shame to turn them away.”
“But – but – ”
“There are no buts about it!” cried the voice sharply, almost angrily. “You have heard what I said! They may stop here.”
“All right – all right, if you say so. There’s nothing for them to eat, and so – ”
“I’ll cook something, for you have corn meal in the house. Young men who ride wheels have appetites that enable them to eat anything.”
“All right – all right,” repeated the old man, vaguely.
“Let them put their bicycles under the shed back of the house.”
The old man came out, closing the door.
“It is my niece, young gentlemen,” he explained. “She is very peculiar, and – well, when she says anything, that settles it, so you’ll have to stay.”
“Under the circumstances,” said Frank, his natural delicacy influencing him, although he was rather curious to see the owner of that voice, “I am inclined to think we’re intruding, and we had better go on.”
For a moment the face of the old man expressed relief, and then that look vanished, while he shook his head.
“No,” he said, “that will not do now. She has decided that you shall stop, and she will not leave any hair on my head if you go away. You must stop.”
“She must be a gentle maiden!” murmured Bruce, with a faint smile.
The boys followed the old man around to a shed, under which they placed their wheels. The shed had sometimes been used to shelter horses, but no horse was there then.
“You mustn’t mind my niece,” said the old man, apologetically. “She has been spoiled, and she is determined to have her own way. She runs the ranch.”
Again the boys looked at each other.
“I wonder which of us she knows,” said Harry.
“It must be Merriwell,” Diamond declared. “It could not be any one else. This is a joke on him.”
Diamond’s ideas of a joke were decidedly peculiar.
He seldom saw anything humorous in what pleased his companions, and he took delight in things which did not amuse them at all. He seldom laughed at anything.
Frank himself felt that he was the one the girl knew, if, indeed, she knew any of them, and he was wondering where he had met her. In the course of his wanderings over the world he had met many girls, not a few of whom he had forgotten entirely.
“If she is one of your old girls, I’m going to make a stagger at cutting you out, old fellow,” chuckled Rattleton.
“Oh, I don’t know!” smiled Frank. “You’re not so warm!”
“Just now I don’t see any steam coming out of your shoes,” Harry shot back, quickly. “You’re not the only good thing on the programme; you might be cut out.”
“Land sakes, chilluns!” exclaimed Toots, with uplifted hands. “I nebber heard no such slanguage as dat – nebber!”
“Any of you fellows may have the girl, if you want her,” said Jack. “I have not seen her, but I’m sure she is a terror, and I don’t care for that kind.”
They followed the old man toward the door, and entered the house.
A lamp had been lighted while they were disposing of their wheels, and the girl was standing where the unsatisfactory light showed her face as plainly as was possible.
She was strikingly handsome, with dark hair and eyes and full red lips. An expectant flush of color was in her cheeks.
As Frank entered, the girl extended her hand to him, saying:
“I am glad to see you again, Mr. Merriwell. Have you forgotten me?”
“Good gracious!” cried Merriwell. “It is Vida Milburn!”
She tossed her head, her hand dropping by her side.
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