Frank Merriwell's Alarm: or, Doing His Best
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“That is not complimentary to me!” she exclaimed. “It shows you remembered my half-sister far better than you did me.”
“Your half-sister? Then you are not Vida!”
“No, thank you!” – with another haughty toss of the head.
“Then – then you must be – Isa Isban!”
“How remarkable that you should guess it,” she said, with biting sarcasm.
“But – you – you must remember it has been some time since I saw you, and – and I saw Miss Melburn last.”
“You saw me first, and you were so interested in me that you followed me from Reno to Carson City. After that you met my sister, and now you mistake me for her! I am extremely complimented, Mr. Merriwell! Never mind. You are not so many! Perhaps you will introduce your friends. Some of them may have a better memory than you.”
For once in his life, at least, Frank was “rattled.” He introduced Browning as Rattling and Diamond as Brownton, while he completely forgot Harry’s name.
The girl laughed sharply, plainly enjoying his embarrassment. She shook hands with all but Toots, saying:
“Mr. Merriwell doesn’t seem to be at his best. It is possible he has ridden too far to-day.”
Then Frank pulled himself together, and immediately became as cool and collected as usual, which was no easy thing to do.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Isban, but I was just thinking I had not ridden far enough.”
He said it in his most suave manner, but the shot went home, and it brought still more color to her flushed cheeks.
“Oh!” she cried, with the same toss of her head, “if your wheel is not broken, it is not too late to make several more miles before absolute darkness comes on.”
Diamond edged up to Frank, and whispered:
“Careful, Merry! You’re getting her very angry, and she is a mighty fine girl. Go easy, old man!”
This was very amusing to Merriwell, for but a short time before Diamond had expressed himself quite freely in regard to the girl, and it was plain his ideas had undergone a change since seeing her.
“Don’t worry,” Frank returned. “She won’t mind a little scrap. I think she will enjoy it. She is that kind.”
This did not seem to satisfy the young Virginian, who immediately set about making himself as agreeable as possible with Isa.
The boys were invited to sit down, and seats were provided for all of them.
Frank became rather serious, for thoughts of Hodge’s misfortune began to trouble him, and he remembered that this girl was responsible for it all.
Isa did not look a day older than when he had last seen her, and it was hard to realize that she was a woman with an experience and a dead husband.
Browning was silent and apparently contented. He seemed to take great satisfaction in sitting down and resting.
After a little silence, Isa observed, seeming to take a malicious satisfaction in what she said:
“One of Mr. Merriwell’s friends had not forgotten me, at least.”
“It might have been better for him if he had,” returned Frank, in a manner that surprised himself, for never before had he made such an ungallant remark.
The girl’s eyes blazed and she bit her lip.It seemed that she was on the point of an outburst, but she restrained herself and laughed. That laugh was defiant and angry.
“Oh, well, I don’t know!” she said. “The person I speak of may find I will stand by him better than some of his friends who would have looked on while he was dragged away to jail.”
This was a surprise to Frank, for it showed that the girl knew something about the adventure with Bill Higgins, which had taken place that day.
“So you have seen him since?” asked Merry, eagerly. “Where is he?”
“I shall be able to find out in time, I think, Miss Isban.”
“As far as he is concerned, you need not worry, for I do not think he cares to see you again.”
“I do not believe that. He knows me too well, and he trusts me.”
“He thought he knew you, but he did not fancy you would remain passive and see him placed under arrest.”
“I did not.”
“What did you do?”
“I did not have an opportunity to do much except save his life.”
“Save his life?”
“I kept him from being bored by a bullet from Bill Higgins’ gun.”
“How did you do so much?”
“I spoiled Higgins’ aim.”
“Well, that was most remarkable! I presume you expect him to show the utmost gratitude for a service that any man might render another!”
She snapped her fingers toward Frank, laughing scornfully:
“That’s where you fool yourself. Mr. Hodge has told me that he hoped he might never meet you again. He has found other and better friends.”
“Perhaps you speak the truth.”
The manner in which Frank uttered the words implied not only a doubt but a positive belief that she was not speaking the truth and she did not misunderstand them. Her teeth clicked together, gleaming beyond her curved, red lips, and her hands were clinched. On her white fingers were a number of rings, set with diamonds, which flashed and blazed like her eyes.
“I care not whether you think I speak the truth or not,” she said, and turned her back upon him.
Diamond evinced positive distress.
“I can’t understand you, Merriwell!” he said, in an aside. “It is not at all like you. Why, you are always gallant and courteous to ladies.”
“That is right,” agreed Frank, with deep meaning. “I am.”
Jack did not like that.
“And you mean to insinuate that this beautiful girl is not a lady?”
“I have my doubts.”
“Still it seems to me that you have made a bad break in your treatment of her. You were very rude. That is not the way to treat a young lady.”
“It is not the way to treat the most of them; but, my dear fellow, you will have to learn that they differ as much as men. If you were to treat all men with the utmost courtesy and consideration, you would find that not a few would regard you as a weak-kneed slob. They would impose on you, and their opinion of you would sink lower and lower as you permitted them to continue their impositions without giving back as good as they sent. In this respect, there is a class of women who resemble men. Of course you cannot handle them as you would men, but you can’t be soft with them. A man who insulted you you would knock down. You can’t strike a woman, but you can strike her in a different way, and, in nine cases out of ten, if she is of a certain sort, she will think all the more of you in the end.”
“Well, I am sure you have made a mistake with Miss Isban. I could see her deep anger and hatred for you in her eyes. She would like to strangle you this minute.”
“I haven’t a doubt of it,” coolly smiled Frank, his manner showing not the least concern.
“She will hate and despise you as long as she lives.”
“If so, it will make little difference to me.”
Up to this time Jack had not dreamed that Frank could be anything but courteous and bending to a lady, and now the Southerner saw there was a turn to his friend’s character that he had not suspected.
Merriwell had not been at all brutal in his manner, but his words had touched Isa Isban like blows of a whip. They had stung her and stirred her blood, although they were spoken in a way that showed the natural polish and training of their author.
In truth the girl longed to fly at Frank Merriwell’s throat. She felt that she could strike him in the face with her hands and feel the keenest delight in doing so.
As she turned toward him again, there came a sharp knock on the door.
CHAPTER XXIII. – A KNOCK ON THE DOOR
The old man looked startled, and the girl showed signs of alarm.
“Quick, Drew!” she whispered. “Is the door fastened?”
“Yes!” quavered the old man.
“My revolver – where is it?”
“On the shelf – where you placed it.”
With a spring that reminded the boys of the leap of a young pantheress, she reached the shelf and snatched a gleaming pistol from it. Then she faced the door again, the weapon half raised.
The boys were on their feet.
“Land ob wartermillions!” chattered Toots, his eyes rolling. “Looks lek dar am gwan teh be a rucshun fo’ suah!”
Then he looked around for some place of concealment.
“What is it?” asked Frank. “Is there danger?”
“To me – yes,” nodded Isa. “But you do not care! I expect no aid from you, sir.”
“Who is at the door?”
“It may be Bill Higgins, the sheriff!”
“Come to arrest you?”
“He can’t do it!” hissed Diamond, as he caught up a heavy chair and held it poised. “We won’t let him!”
The girl actually laughed.
“At least, I have one champion,” she said.
“To the death!” Diamond heroically declared.
The knock was repeated, and this time it was given in a peculiar manner, as if it were a special signal.
An expression of relief came to the faces of the old man and the girl, but they seemed very much surprised.
“Who can it be?” Isa asked, doubtingly.
“It is the secret signal,” said the man with the gray hair.
“That is true, but who should come here to give the signal?”
“It must be all right.”
“Wait. I will go into the back room. If it is repeated, open the door. Should it be an enemy or enemies, give me time to get away. That’s all. Hold them from rushing into the back room.”
“We will do that,” declared Diamond.
In a moment Isa disappeared.
The knock was given for the third time, and the old man approached the door, which he slowly and deliberately opened.
“Who are you, and what do you want?” he asked.
The reply was muffled and indistinct, but something like an exclamation of relief escaped the man, and he flung the door wide open.
Into the room walked a young man with a smooth-shaved face and a swaggering air.
“Hello, Drew!” he called, and then he stopped and stared at the boys. “I didn’t know you had visitors,” he said.
“So it’s you, Kent – so it’s you!” exclaimed the old man, with relief. “I didn’t know – I reckoned it might be somebody else.”
“You knew I was coming.”
“Yes; but I didn’t ’low you’d get here so soon. It’s a long distance to Carson, and – ”
“Never mind that,” quickly spoke the man, interrupting Drew, as if he feared he would say something it were better the boys did not hear. “My horse is outside. Where shall I put him?”
“In the shed. I’ll show ye. Come on.”
The old man went out, followed by the newcomer, and the door was left open slightly. Toots quietly slipped out after them.
Isa Isban came back into the room.
“I do not care to be seen here by everybody who may come along,” she explained; “but this person is all right, for Drew knows him.”
This was rather strange to all of the boys except Frank, but Merry instantly divined that she was afraid of Higgins and more than half expected the big sheriff would follow her there.
The secret signal and the air of mystery and apprehension shown by the girl and the old man convinced Merriwell that all was not right.
Isa had at one time “shoved the queer” for a band of men who made counterfeit money, and Bart Hodge had told Frank quite enough to convince Merriwell that she was still in the same dangerous and unlawful business.
The thoughts which ran riot in Merry’s head were of a startling nature, but his face was calm and passive, betraying nothing of what was passing in his mind.
Once more Diamond set about making himself agreeable to Isa, and she met him more than halfway. She laughed and chatted with him, seeming to have forgotten that such a person as Frank Merriwell existed.
Browning sat down in a comfortable position where he could lean against the wall, and proceeded to fall asleep.
After a short time Toots came slipping into the cabin, his eyes rolling, and his whole manner betraying excitement and fear. He would have blurted out something, but Frank gave him a signal that caused him to be silent.
At the first opportunity the colored boy whispered in Merry’s ear:
“Marser Frank, de bes’ fing we can do is teh git out ob dis ’bout as soon as we kin do it, sar.”
“What makes you think that?” asked Merriwell, cautiously.
“We am in a po’erful ba-ad scrape, sar.”
“What do you mean?”
“It am mighty ba-ad folks dat libs heah, sar.”
“Bad? In what way?”
“Dey hab done suffin’ dat meks dem skeered ob de ossifers ob de law.”
“How do you know?”
“I done hears de ol’ man and de young man talkin’.”
“What did they say?”
“Say dat ossifers am arter ’em. De young man say dat he have to run from Carson City to ’scape arrest, sar.”
“He is the horseman I saw ahead of us in the valley,” said Frank. “He must have seen us coming and concealed himself, expecting we would pass him. It is plain he did not wish to be seen.”
“Suah’s yeh bawn, boy! He has been doin’ suffin’ mighty ba-ad, an’ he’s dangerous. He said he wouldn’t be ’rested alive, sar.”
“This is very interesting,” nodded Frank. “It seems that we are in for one more exciting adventure before we finish the tour.”
“I don’ like it, sar – ’deed I don’! No tellin’ what such folks will do. He am feelin’ po’erful ugly, fo’ he say suffin’ ’bout trubble wif his wife an’ ’bout habbin’ her follerin’ him. Dat am how it happen he wur comin’ from de wes’ ’stead ob de eas’. He done dodge roun’ teh git ’way from his wife, sar.”
“He is a brave and gallant young man,” smiled Merriwell. “I admire him very much – nit!”
“Now don’ yeh go teh bein’ brash wif dat chap, Marser Frank. Dar ain’t no tellin’ what he might do.”
“Don’t worry. Keep cool, and wait till I take a fancy to move. I want to look him over some more. He will be coming back with Drew in a moment, and – Here they come now!”
Into the cabin came the old man, and the young man was at his heels. There was a sullen, unpleasant look on the face of the latter, and he glared at the boys as if he considered them intruders.
Isa looked up and arose as they entered.
The light of the lamp fell fairly on her face, and the newcomer saw her plainly.
He uttered a shout of astonishment and staggered back, his eyes opened to their widest and his manner betraying the utmost consternation.
“Is it possible!” he grated.
Then he clutched the old man by the shoulder, snarling:
“Confound your treacherous old hide! You have betrayed me. You said the woman was Isa Isban, and she is – ”
The girl interrupted him with a laugh.
“You seem excited,” she said. “I am Isa Isban, and no one else.”
He took a step toward her, his face working and his hands clinched.
“How did you get here ahead of me?” he hoarsely demanded.
“In the most natural manner possible,” she answered. “A friend brought me, Mr. Kent.”
“You know my real name – you know everything! I suppose you are here to secure evidence against me. You are looking for a divorce.”
“I do not understand you.”
“You understand well enough. We have not been married so very long, and our married life hasn’t been any too happy. You have accused me of abusing you – you have threatened to leave me.”
The girl looked bewildered.
“What is the matter with the man?” she murmured. “Is he crazy?”
The man seemed puzzled by her manner, and the witnesses of the remarkable scene were absolutely at sea; they could not understand what it was about.
“I am not crazy,” said the young man; “but I was a fool to marry you. You were not worth the trouble I took to get you. I should have let the other fool have you, instead of plotting to disgrace him in the eyes of your uncle and aunt, so I could get you.”
A great light dawned on Frank Merriwell.
“Great fortune!” he mentally exclaimed. “This is the fellow who married Vida Melburn, Isa’s half-sister, and he thinks this girl is his wife! They used to look so much alike that it was difficult to tell one from the other.
“Married – married to you?” cried the girl. “Not on your life! Why, I never saw you before, although I have heard of you.”
The man seemed staggered for a moment, and then, with a cry of anger, he leaped upon her.
“What is your game?” he hissed, as he shook her savagely. “What are you up to? I thought you a soft, innocent little girl, and now you are showing yourself something quite different. I believe you played me for a sucker! And you want a divorce! Well, here is cause for it!”
Then he choked her.
Frank went at him like a cyclone.
“You infernal villain!” he cried, as his hands fell on the man, and he tore the gasping girl from his clutches. “No one but a brute ever lays hands on a woman in anger, and a brute deserves a good drubbing almost any time. Here is where you get it!”
Then he proceeded to polish off the girl’s assailant in a most scientific manner, ending by flinging him in a limp and battered condition into a corner of the room.
Diamond had hastened to support the girl when Frank snatched her from her assailant, but she repulsed him and flung him off, saying, hoarsely:
“Let me alone! I am all right! I want to see this fight!”
With interest she watched Frank whip the man whom she had called Kent, though she swayed and panted with every blow, her eyes glittering and her cheeks flushed.
As Merriwell flung the fellow into the corner, the girl straightened up and threw back her head, laughing:
“Well, he was a soft thing, and that is a fact! Think of being thrashed by a boy! Drew, is it possible this is our Carson City agent, whom you called ‘a good man,’ when you were speaking of him this evening? Such a chap would blow the whole game if he were pinched. I wouldn’t trust him.”
The old man stood rubbing his shaking hands together, greatly agitated and unable to say a word.
Then there came a thunderous knock on the door, and a hoarse voice demanded admittance.
CHAPTER XXIV. – THE SHERIFF’S SHOT
Old Drew was greatly frightened, and Davis showed alarm.
“Hold that door – hold that door one minute!” cried Isa. “It will give us time to get out of the way!”
Bruce Browning’s shoulder went against the door, and he calmly drawled:
“Anybody won’t come in here in a hurry.”
“Come!” whispered the girl, catching hold of Hart; “we must get away! quick!”
Davis leaped after them.
“It will not be a good thing for me to be seen here,” he said. “If there is a way of getting under cover, you must take me along.”
“That’s right,” nodded Isa, “for you would peach if you were pinched. Come!”
By the way of the door that led into the back room they disappeared.
Rap-bang! rap-bang! rap-bang!
“Open this door instanter!”
Higgins roared the order from the outside.
“What’s your great rush?” coolly inquired Browning.
A volley of fierce language flew from the sheriff’s lips.
“I’ll show yer!” he thundered. “Down goes ther door if ye don’t open it immediate!”
“Be good enough, Mr. Drew, to ascertain if our friends are under cover yet,” said Frank.
The old man hobbled into the back room, was gone a moment, and then reappeared, something like a look of relief on his withered face.
“They’re gone,” he whispered.
“Will it be all right to open the door?”
“I reckon ye’ll have to open it.”
“All right. Admit Mr. Higgins, Bruce.”
Browning stepped away from the door, lifting the iron bar.
Instantly it flew wide open, and, with a big revolver in each hand, the sheriff strode heavily into the room.
Behind him came another man, who was also armed and ready to do shooting if necessary.
Higgins glared around.
“Whatever does this mean?” he asked, astonished by the presence of the bicycle boys.
“Whatever does what mean?” asked Frank, innocently.
“You critters bein’ here. I don’t understand it.”
“We are stopping here for the night.”
“Sho! Is that it? Well, you’re not the only ones. Where are the others?”
“One in particler – the one you helped to get away to-day. You’ll have to square with me for that.”
“I presume you mean Mr. Hodge?”
“I think your memory is at fault, sir. I did not aid him in getting away, but you owe me thanks for keeping you from shooting him. He would have made the unlucky thirteenth man.”
“Well, hang me if you ain’t got nerve! All the same, you’ll have to take your medicine for aiding a criminal.”
“He has not been proved a criminal yet, sir.”
“Oh, you know all about it! Well, he’s somewhere round this ranch, and I’m going to rope him. Watch the front, Britts.”
“All right, sir,” said the man who accompanied Higgins.
Then the big sheriff strode into the back room, picking up the lamp to aid him in his search.
Frank held his breath, wondering what Higgins would find.
After four or five minutes the sheriff came back, and he was in a furious mood.
“I know the critter is here somewhere!” he roared; “and I’ll have him, too! Can’t hide from me!”
“That’s right,” smiled Frank, with a profound bow. “You have an eagle eye, Mr. Higgins, and you should be able to find anything there is about the place. I wouldn’t think of trying to hide from you.”
“Ye-he! ye-he! ye-he!” giggled Toots.
Higgins’ face was black with fury. He pointed a revolver straight at Frank, and thundered:
“You think you’re funny, but I’m going ter bore yer if you don’t talk up instanter! You know where that galoot Hodge is hid, and you’ll tell, too.”
“My dear sir,” returned Frank, as he folded his arms and looked the furious man fairly in the eyes, “I do not know where Bart Hodge is hidden, and I would not tell if I did.”
Higgins ground has teeth.
“Say yer prayers!” he grated. “I’m goin’ to make you the thirteenth!”
He was in deadly earnest, yet it did not seem that Frank quailed in the least before him. Indeed, in the face of such peril, Merriwell apparently grew bolder, and a scornful smile curled his lips.
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