Frank Merriwell's Alarm: or, Doing His Best
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“Gone?” replied Bruce, sitting up with remarkable quickness.
“Gone?” ejaculated Harry, popping up as if he were worked by springs.
“Gone where?” asked Diamond, also sitting up and staring around.
“Dat’s jes’ what I wants ter know, chilluns,” declared Toots. “Dat boy ain’t heah, an’ I’s po’erful feared de old skillerton debbil has cotched him.”
“Why – why,” said Jack, “I woke him and he took my place.”
“But nobody roused me,” declared Rattleton.
“Nor me,” asserted Browning.
“Git up, chilluns – git up!” squealed Toots, excitedly. “We’s gotter find dat boy in a hurry! ’Spect he’s in a berry bad scrape!”
CHAPTER VIII. – THE MYSTERY EXPLAINED
By this time the boys were fully aroused. An investigation showed that Merriwell’s wheel was gone.
“Didn’t I tole yeh old debbil skillerton would done cotch some ob us!” cried Toots, in great distress.
“I hardly understand what the skeleton could have wanted with Merry’s wheel,” observed Browning.
“G’way dar, boy! Didn’ de skillerton ride a hawse!”
“And you think it is an up-to-date skeleton that has decided to ride a bicycle hereafter. In that case, I congratulate Mr. Skeleton on his good sense.”
“It must be that Frank has gone on a ride without saying anything to us,” said Jack. “I do not see any other way of explaining it.”
“But why should he do such a thing?” asked Rattleton.
“That is where you stick me.”
Browning slowly shook his head.
“It is remarkable that he should do such a thing without saying anything to us,” declared the big fellow.
“And he must have taken that ride in the night,” said Jack.
“While he should have been on guard,” added Harry.
The boys stood looking at each other in sober dismay.
“It isn’t possible that Merry could have gone daffy,” muttered Rattleton. “He is too well balanced for that.”
“I don’t know,” came gloomily from Diamond. “This dismal, burning desert is enough to turn the brain of any fellow.”
“Yah!” cried Toots. “Don’ yeh git no noshun dat boy ebber had his brain turned! It am de weak brains dat git turned dat way. His brain was all right, but I jes’ know fo’ suah dat he hab been cotched.”
“And I suppose you want to run away as soon as possible before you are ‘cotched?’”
Then the colored boy surprised them all by saying:
“No, sar, I don’ want teh go ’way till we knows what hab become ob Marser Frank. Dat boy alwus stick by his frien’s, an’ dis coon am reddy teh stick by him, even if he do git cotched.”
“Good stuff, Toots!” cried Rattleton, approvingly. “You are all right! If anything has happened to Frank we’ll know what it is or leave our bones here.”
The boys were worried. They hurriedly talked over the remarkable disappearance, trying to arrive at an understanding of its meaning.
At length it was agreed that Frank might have gone back to try to solve the mystery of the skeleton, and then they decided that two of the party should remain where they had made their night bivouac, while the other two proceeded to search for Merriwell.
Diamond insisted on being one of the searchers, and Rattleton was determined to be the other, so Browning and Toots were left behind.
The boys mounted their wheels and rode back toward the pass through the bluffs.
Diamond was downcast again.
“Everything is going against us,” he declared.“There is fate in it. I am afraid we’ll not get out of this wretched desert.”
“Oh, you’re unwell, that’s what’s the matter with you!” declared Harry, scornfully. “I’ll be glad when you are yourself again.”
“That’s all right,” muttered Diamond. “You are too thoughtless, that’s what’s the matter with you.”
They approached the spot where the mysterious skeleton had been seen, and both were watching for the niche in the rocks.
Suddenly they were startled by hearing a wild cry from far above their heads, and looking upward they saw Frank Merriwell running along the very brink of the cliff, but limping badly, as if he were lame.
But what astonished and startled them the most was to see a strange-looking, bare-headed man, who was in close pursuit of Frank. Above his head the man wildly flourished a gleaming, long-bladed knife, while he uttered loud cries of rage.
“Smoly hoke!” cried Harry. “Will you look at that!”
Diamond suddenly grew intensely excited.
“What can we do? – what can we do?” he exclaimed. “Frank is hurt! That creature is running him down! He will murder him!”
“If Merry had a pistol he would be all right.”
“But he hasn’t! We must do something, Harry – we must!”
“Neither of us has a gun.”
“No, but – ”
“We can’t get up there.”
“But we must do something!”
Jack grew more and more frantic. He leaped from his wheel and seemed to be looking for some place to try to scale the face of the bluff.
“Oh, if I could get up there!” he groaned. “I’d show Frank that I was ready to stand by him! I’d fight that man barehanded!”
And Rattleton did not doubt it, for he well knew how hot-blooded Diamond was, and the young Virginian had never failed to fight when the occasion arose. He would not shirk any kind of an encounter.
Merriwell saw them and shouted something to them, but they could not understand what he said.
“Turn! turn!” screamed Jack. “You must fight that man, or he will stab you in the back! He is going to strike you!”
Frank seemed to hear and comprehend, for he suddenly wheeled about and made a stand. In a moment the man with the knife had rushed upon him and struck with that gleaming blade.
A groan escaped Jack’s lips as he saw that blow, but it turned to a gasp of relief when Frank stopped it by catching the man’s wrist.
“Give it to him! Give it to him!” shrieked Diamond, dancing around in a wild frenzy of anxiety and fear.
Then the boys below witnessed a terrific struggle on the heights above them.
The man seemed mad with a desire to plunge the knife into Frank, and it was plain that Merriwell did not wish to harm the unknown, but was trying to disarm him.
“What folly! what folly!” panted Diamond. “He’ll get his hand free and stab Merry sure! Beat him down, Frank – beat him down!”
Once Frank slipped and fell to his knees. A fierce yell of triumph broke from the man, and it seemed that he would succeed in using the knife at last.
With a groan of anguish Diamond covered his eyes that he might not witness the death of the friend he loved. For Jack Diamond did love Frank Merriwell, for all that he had complained against him of late.
A cry of relief from Rattleton caused Jack to look up again, and he saw Frank had regained his feet and was continuing the battle.
And now the man fought with a fury that was nerve thrilling to witness. His movements were swift and savage, and he tried again and again to draw the knife across Frank’s throat.
Jack and Harry scarcely breathed until, with a display of strength and skill, Frank disarmed his assailant by giving his arm a wrench, causing the knife to fly through the air and fall over the edge of the cliff.
Down to the ground below rattled the knife, and then Diamond said:
“Now Frank will be able to handle the fellow!”
But, flinging his arms about the boy, the man made a mad effort to spring over the brink. For some seconds, locked thus in each other’s arms, man and boy tottered on the very verge, and then they swayed back.
Frank broke the hold of the man, striking him a heavy blow a second later. The man reeled and dropped on the edge of the precipice. He scrambled up hastily, but a great slice of rock cleaved off beneath his feet and went plunging downward.
Then the watching boys saw the unknown tottering on the brink, wildly waving his arms in an endeavor to regain his balance. Frank sprang forward to aid him.
With a wild scream of despair, the strange man toppled over and whirled downward to his death.
Frank climbed down.
“It’s all up with him, poor fellow,” said he, as he stood near the body of the unknown man, looking down at the face that was white and calm and peaceful in death.
“Who is he?” asked Harry.
“What is he?” asked Jack.
“I am afraid those questions cannot be answered,” confessed Frank. “That he was a raving maniac I am sure, and he lived in a remarkable cave close at hand; but who he is or how he came to be there in that cave I do not know.”
“Well, how you came to be up there with him running you down to stick a knife in you is what I want to know,” said Harry.
“That’s right,” Jack nodded. “Explain it, old man.”
Then Frank told them how, after the moon rose the night before, he had taken his wheel with the intention of riding around the camp, feeling he could keep watch as well that way as any. After the moon was well up, he saw there was no one anywhere about, and a desire to revisit the spot where they had seen the skeleton seized upon him. He rode to the spot, but there was no skeleton in the niche among the rocks. Leaving his bicycle, he climbed up there to examine once more, and to his astonishment, found that what seemed to be a solid, immovable stone had turned in some manner, disclosing an opening.
Then, with reckless curiosity, Frank resolved to investigate further, and he descended into the opening, found some stone steps, and was soon in a cavern. The first thing he discovered was the skeleton, still decorated as the boys had seen it in the first place, and he remained there till he found how it could be placed in view on the block of stone and then removed in a twinkling. He also found a lamp with a strong reflector, which had thrown its light on the skeleton from a hole in the rocks. There was another opening near that, where a person in the cave could look out on the desert, and Frank knew the ghostly voice they had heard must have come from that place.
Merriwell continued his investigations, having lighted the lamp, by the light of which he wandered through the cave. Suddenly he came face to face with an old man, who seemed surprised, but spoke quietly to him.
The old man declared he was “Prof. Morris Fillmore,” but did not say what he was professor of, and he volunteered to explain everything to the boy.
This he did, telling how he worked the skeleton to frighten away those who might molest him in his solitude, as he wished to be alone. There was another entrance to the cave, and, in a large, airy chamber a horse was kept. The horse was coal black, but on one side of him was drawn the outlines of the skeleton frame of a horse, and the strange old man explained that he had a suit of clothes on one side of which he had traced the skeleton of a human being. This had been done with phosphorus, and it glowed with a white light in the darkness.
The old hermit had entered the pocket and ridden near the camp of the Indians. When he turned about the skeleton tracings in phosphorus could not be seen, and so the ghostly horse and rider seemed to disappear in a most marvelous manner.
Frank questioned him concerning the treasure, and the old man seemed to grow excited and suspicious. He said something about the treasure being the property of some one who had fled from the destroying angels of the Mormons in the old days, but had perished in the desert. Frank was led to believe that the skeleton was that of the original owner of the treasure.
But when the boy would have left the cave the stranger told him he could not do so. He informed Frank that he could never go out again, and then it was that the boy became sure Fillmore was crazy.
As the man was armed, Frank decided to use strategy. First he sought to lull the man’s suspicions, and after being watched closely for hours he found a chance to slip away.
Almost immediately the man discovered what had happened and pursued. By chance Frank fled out through a passage that led upward till the top of the bluff was reached, but he fell and sprained his ankle, so he was unable to get away. The hermit followed, and the mad battle for life took place.
“Well, this is amazing!” gasped Jack. “What are you going to do with that treasure?”
“Take it to some place for safe deposit and advertise for the legal heirs of Prof. Millard Fillmore.”
“And if no heirs appear – ”
“The treasure will belong to us.”
CHAPTER IX. – A NIGHT ADVENTURE
Frank’s plan was carried out. All the treasure was removed from the cavern in which the mysterious old hermit was buried. The hermit’s horse was set free, and the boys carried the treasure to Ullin, Nevada, where it was shipped to Carson and deposited in a bank there.
“If it is not claimed in a year’s time, boys,” said Frank, “we will go about the work of having it evenly divided among us. In that case we will have made a good thing out of this trip across the continent.”
Nothing more was seen of the Indians, and the boys continued on their trip until Carson City was reached.
One evening Frank was strolling along alone when a shrill, piercing cry of pain, ending abruptly, cut the still evening air.
“Hello!” muttered Frank, as he paused to listen. “Something is wrong with the person who gave that call.”
He listened. In a moment the cry was repeated, and this time it ended with a distinct appeal for help.
Frank was unarmed, but he was aroused by the thought that a fellow being was in distress, and he ran quickly to a dark corner, from beyond which the cry had seemed to come.
To the left was a dark and narrow street, which looked rather forbidding and dangerous.
“I believe the cry came from this street,” said Frank, to himself. “If there were a few lights – ”
There could be no mistake this time; the cry did come from that street. A short distance away in the darkness a struggle seemed to be going on. Frank could hear the sound of blows, hoarse breathing, muttered exclamations and cries of pain.
“Some fellow is being done up there!” thought the boy from Yale.
Without further hesitation he ran toward the point from which the sounds seemed to come.
In a moment Frank was close upon two dark forms that were battling fiercely on the ground. He could see them indistinctly in the darkness.
“Ah-h-h, you little whelp!” snarled a harsh voice “So ye will run away, hey? Well, ye’ll never run away no more after this!”
“Oh, please, please don’t beat me so!” pleaded a weak voice. “You – you are killing me! Oh! oh! oh!”
“I’ll make ye ‘oh, oh, oh!’” grated the other.
Then the blows fell thick and fast.
“Here, you miserable brute!” rang out the clear voice of Frank. “You ought to be shot!”
Then he grasped the figure that was uppermost and attempted to drag him off the other.
To Frank’s surprise, although the attack had been sudden, he did not succeed in snatching the assailant from the unfortunate person he was beating.
“Get out!” roared a bull-like voice. “Lemme alone, or I’ll cut yer hide open! This is none of your business!”
“Help, sir – help!” cried the weak voice. “He has beaten me nearly to death! He will kill me!”
“Ye oughter be killed, ye ungrateful little whelp!”
“Break away!” commanded Frank, as he lifted them both by a wonderful outlay of strength and literally tore them apart.
The one who had been assailed could not keep on his feet, but swayed weakly and sank to the ground.
With a sound that was like the snarl of a ferocious beast, the other grappled with Frank. He was so short that he stood not much higher than Frank’s waist, but his shoulders were wonderfully broad, and he had arms that were almost long enough to reach the ground when he was on his feet.
“Great heavens!” thought Merriwell. “What is this I have run against? Is it a human gorilla?”
And then he found that the creature possessed marvelous strength, for Frank was literally lifted off his feet and flung prostrate, the other coming down upon him.
The fall came about so suddenly that Frank was dazed, and his breath was nearly knocked out of his body. For a moment he did nothing, and the creature scrambled up and grasped the fallen lad by the throat with hands that were like iron.
“Bother with me, will ye!” snarled that beastlike voice. “I’ll fix ye so ye won’t do it no more!”
Frank felt that he was in deadly peril, and that caused him to clutch the man’s wrists and hold fast.
He saw something uplifted, and he knew well enough that the furious creature had drawn a weapon of some sort.
“Look out!” panted the weak voice from close at hand. “He will kill you! He has a knife!”
Then, as Merriwell used all his strength to hold back that uplifted hand, he began to realize that, athlete though he was, he was no match for the person he had tackled.
The strength of those long arms was something wonderful, for little by little the man forced Frank’s hand back, and his knife approached the boy’s breast.
Merriwell felt that his power of resistance might give out suddenly at any instant, and then the blade would be driven to its hilt.
He was desperate and frantic, for there was something awfully horrifying in the steady manner in which that knife was forced nearer and nearer.
Cold sweat started out all over him, and he panted for breath, while it seemed that his madly leaping heart would burst from his bosom.
He could see two glaring eyes that seemed to shine with a baleful light of their own in the darkness. He could see the writhing features of a ghastly face, and he could hear the creature grate his teeth.
Nearer and nearer came the blade.
Crying and panting, the one whom Frank had attempted to save got upon his feet, swayed a bit, and then steadied himself with a great effort.
“You shall not do it – you shall not!” he gasped.
Then he flung himself on the man, seeking to drag him from the prostrate lad.
Frank saw that the time had come to make a last effort for the mastery, and so, aided by the other, he succeeded in forcing his opponent back enough so he could squirm out from beneath.
In a moment Frank gained his feet, and then, as the man with the knife came up, out shot the fist of the young athlete.
The blow landed fairly, sounding clear and distinct.
Over went the dwarf, and the knife flew out of his hands, falling with a clattering ring upon some stones.
Merriwell knew he must follow up his advantage, but he was barely quick enough, for the fallen ruffian scrambled to his feet with the nimbleness of a cat.
But again Frank struck the fellow, using all his skill and muscle. He barely escaped being clutched by those long arms, but the dwarf was knocked down once more.
The sounds which came from the throat of the man were decidedly unpleasant to hear. They did not seem to be words, but were a succession of snarls.
By the time Frank had struck the creature again, he did not scramble up so quickly.
At that moment, having heard the sounds of the struggle, some person brought a light to the broken window of an old house that stood almost within the limits of the street.
That light shone out and fell full on the dwarf man as he was rising to his feet after the third blow. His long arms were extended so that his hands lay on the ground, and he was standing in a crouching position on all fours. His face was pale as marble, and disfigured by a red scar that ran down his left cheek from his temple to the corner of his mouth. His eyes were set near together, and were blazing with ferocity.
Taken altogether, Frank thought that the most horrible face he had ever seen.
The light seemed to startle the horrid-appearing creature, and, with a low, grating cry of baffled fury, he turned and ran swiftly away, still in a somewhat crouching position, his hands almost touching the ground, while he made queer leaps and bounds.
In a moment the dwarf had disappeared.
Frank gave a breath of relief.
“Good riddance!” muttered the lad from Yale.
Then he turned to look for the person he had saved from the dwarf.
That person had disappeared.
“Gone!” exclaimed Merriwell, in astonishment and regret. “He must have been frightened away during the last of the struggle. He was weak, and he may not have gone far.”
Frank resolved to search, and immediately set about doing so. He had not proceeded far when he came upon a form stretched motionless on the ground.
A hasty examination showed Frank it was a boy, who seemed to have fainted.
“It is the chap the dwarf was beating!” decided Merriwell.
He lifted the unconscious boy in his arms, tossing him over one shoulder, and started toward the lighted street.
“I must take the poor fellow to the hotel, and then we’ll see what can be done for him. He seems to be in a bad way.”
By the time the lighted street was reached the boy recovered consciousness. He struggled a bit, moaned slightly, and then, in a pathetic, pleading voice, he said:
“Please don’t take me back to Bernard Belmont, Apollo – please don’t! I know he will kill me!”
“Don’t be afraid,” said Frank, gently. “I am not taking you to any one who will harm you.”
A cry of astonishment broke from the boy.
“Why,” he exclaimed, “you are not Apollo!”
“No; I am Frank Merriwell. Who is Apollo?”
“A dwarf – a wretch – the hired tool of Bernard Belmont! Oh, he is a monster, without heart or soul!”
“He must be the one with whom I had the lively little set-to.”
“You – you came to my aid – you saved me from him! How can I thank you! But I thought he would kill you!”
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