It was the night of the “finals” at the Midwestern, and the clubrooms
were thronged. Frank and all his friends were there. Morton had
introduced them to many well-known young men of the prosperous Nebraska
city, and they were being made to feel quite at home.

Much of the general conversation concerned the coming bouts. Opinions
were freely expressed as to the abilities and merits of different
contestants and there was much good-natured argument and banter.

There was also not a little quiet betting.

In one of the big main rooms of the club, Merry met three Yale men, who
expressed their delight at seeing him there. While he was talking with
them François L’Estrange came up. The Frenchman knew them also, and he
paused to shake hands all round.

“What’s the matter, L’Estrange?” asked one. “You seem rather downcast
and troubled over something.”

The fencing master shrugged his shoulders.

“Eet is unfortunate,” he declared. “I haf to geef you ze information zat
there will be no fencing zis night.”

“Why, how is that?” they exclaimed.

“Meestare Marlowe, who was to meet Meestare Darleton, ees not here.”

“Not here?”


“Where is he?”

“He haf sent ze word zat he is very ill.”

“Cold feet!” cried one of the gentlemen. “That’s what’s the matter!
Marlowe squeals!”

“Sure thing!” agreed another. “It’s a shame, but he has made a clean

“He was all right last night. I saw him then,” put in the third

“Eet is very strange,” said L’Estrange regretfully. “I understand eet
not why he should haf ze cold feet and be ill. I suppose ze cold feet
ees unpleasant, but zey should not make him squeal.”

“What we mean,” explained the first gentleman, “is that he is afraid to
meet Darleton. He has defeated every opponent in the contests, and it
has been his boast that he would defeat Darleton. His nerve failed him.”

“Eet ruin ze sport for zis night,” declared the fencing master. “Zere
ees no one who is for Meestare Darleton ze efen match, so zere will be
no fencing.”

At this point Darleton himself, accompanied as usual by his chum, Grant
Hardy, came pushing through the throng, espied L’Estrange and hurried

“I’ve been looking for you, professor!” he exclaimed. “What’s this about
Marlowe? Is it true that he has quit?”

“Eet is true.”

“Well, that’s just about the sort I took him to be!” cried Darleton
angrily. “He’s a great case of bluff! He’s a bag of wind! He’s a
quitter! He knew I’d defeat him. Now, what are we going to do?”

“Zere is nothing we can do,” answered the fencing master regretfully.

“And our go was to be the feature to-night. Every one will be
disappointed. It’s a shame. Besides that, Marlowe had no right not to
give me a chance to show him up. I meant to put it all over him, the

Darleton’s chagrin over his lost opportunity to “put it all over” the
other fellow seemed to lead him into a complete loss of temper, and he
indulged in language which on any occasion he would have condemned in

Suddenly his eyes fell on Frank Merriwell, and a peculiar expression
came to his face.

“Why, here is the great athlete who fancies he is something of a
fencer,” he said. “Good evening, Mr. Merriwell. I suppose you came to
see me outpoint Marlowe? Well, you will be disappointed, I regret to

Hodge was near, and the words and manner of Darleton had caused him to
bridle until he was on the point of exploding.

“I regret very much,” said Merry quietly, “that we shall not have the
pleasure of witnessing the fencing bout between you and Mr. Marlowe,

He was calm, polite, and reserved.

L’Estrange spoke up:

“I suppose we might geef ze exhibition ourselves, Meestare Darleton,” he
said. “Zat might please ze spectators bettaire than nothing.”

“But it would not be like a bout in which there was an element of
uncertainty. Every one would know you could defeat me easily if you
cared to. If I counted on you I’d win no credit, for they would say you
permitted me to do it.”

The desire of the fellow for applause and his thirst to display his
skill by defeating some one was all too evident.

Suddenly he turned sharply to again face Frank.

“How about you?” he asked.

Merry lifted his eyebrows.

Hodge felt a tingling, for he realized that an open challenge was

“About me?” repeated Frank questioningly.

“Yes, how about you? You think you can fence.”

“I have fenced—a little.”

“I was told to-day that you are a champion at everything you undertake.
That’s ridiculous if you undertake many things. You have undertaken
fencing. Well, I’d like to convince some people that there is one thing
at which you are not much of a champion.”

“Would you?” asked Merry, smiling pleasantly.

“Indeed I would. The crowd wants to see a fencing bout to-night. Marlowe
has taken water. He isn’t here. You are here. Of course we can’t fence
for honors in the series, as you have not been engaged in previous
contests. All the same, we can give an exhibition go. There will be an
element of uncertainty about it. What do you say?”

“Why, I don’t know——” came slowly from Merry, as if he hesitated over

“Oh, if you’re afraid,” sneered Darleton—“if you haven’t the nerve,
that’s different.”

A strange, smothered growl was choked back in the throat of Bart Hodge.

“I don’t believe I am afraid of you,” said Frank, with the same
deliberate manner. “I was thinking that such an affair would be quite
irregular if interpolated with the finals.”

“Don’t worry about that. If you are willing to meet me, I’ll fix it.”

“Of course I’m willing, but——”

“That settles it!” cried Darleton triumphantly. “You hear him,
gentlemen. He’s ready to fence me. He can’t back out.”

“As if he would want to back out!” muttered Bart Hodge softly. “You’ll
get all you’re looking for to-night, Mr. Darleton.”


“On guard, gentlemen!”

It was the voice of François L’Estrange.

The regular finals were over. As a finish to the evening’s
entertainment, the announcer had stated that, in order not to disappoint
those who had expected to witness a fencing contest, an arrangement had
been made whereby Frank Merriwell, a guest of the club, would meet the
club’s champion, Fred Darleton.

Darleton had appeared first on the raised platform and had been greeted
by hearty applause.

Then came Merriwell, and the applause accorded him was no less generous.

The preliminaries were quickly arranged.

L’Estrange was agreed on as the referee.

“On guard, gentlemen!” he commanded.

At the word the contestants faced each other, and then they went through
the graceful movements of coming on guard, their foils sweeping through
the air. Simultaneously they advanced their right feet and were ready.


The foils met with a soft clash and the bout had begun.

The great gathering of spectators packed on the four sides of the raised
platform were hushed and breathless. They saw before them two splendid
specimens of youthful manhood. Between them it was indeed no easy thing
to make a hasty choice. Both were graceful as panthers and both seemed
perfectly at home and fully confident. Frank’s face was grave and
pleasant, while Darleton wore a faint smile that bespoke his perfect
trust in himself.

Frank’s friends were all together in a body. Among them Harry Rattleton
was the only one who expressed anxiety.

“I know Merry could do that fellow ordinarily,” said Rattles, in a
whisper; “but I fear he’s out of trim now. Darleton is in perfect
practice, and he will bet the guest of Merry—I mean get the best of

“Don’t you believe it!” hissed Hodge. “Don’t you ever think such a thing
for a second! Merry may not be at his best, but he is that fellow’s
master. He has enough skill to hold Darleton even, and he has the master
mind. The master mind will conquer.”

“I hope you’re right,” said Harry; “but I’m afraid.”

“Don’t be afraid!” growled Browning, also aroused. “You make me tired!”

Thus crushed, Rattles relapsed into silence, but he watched with great
anxiety, fearing the outcome.

At the outset the two fencers seemed “feeling each other”—that is, each
tried to test the skill, technique and versatility of his opponent. Both
were calm, cool and calculating, yet quick as a flash to meet and
checkmate any fresh mode of attack.

Ordinarily the spectators might have become impatient over this
“fiddling,” but on this occasion all seemed to realize the fencers were
working up to the point of genuine struggle by exploring each other’s
methods. Besides that the two displayed variety and change enough to
maintain unwearied interest in these preliminaries to the real struggle.

The eyes of François L’Estrange took on a light of keener interest as
the bout progressed. He watched the stranger from the first, having
confidence in the ability of his pupil, and silently praying from the
outset that Merriwell would not be too easily overcome. Satisfaction,
not anxiety, took possession of him as he began to realize that Frank
possessed unusual knowledge of the art, and was capable of putting that
knowledge to clever use. The Frenchman continued to believe that
Darleton would finish the victor.

The two young men advanced, retreated, circled, feinted, engaged,
disengaged—all the time on the alert for the moment when one or the
other should launch himself into the encounter in earnest. The foils
clicked and hissed, now high, now low. At intervals the fencers stamped
lightly with the foot advanced.

“_Mon Dieu!_” muttered L’Estrange, still watching Merriwell. “Who taught
him so much!”

Suddenly, like a throb of electricity, Darleton made a direct lunge—and
the real engagement was on.

L’Estrange’s pupil was led into the lunge through the belief that Merry
had exposed himself unconsciously in the line in which he was engaged.

Quick as the fellow was, it seemed that Frank had known what to expect.
He made no sweeping parry, but, quicker than the eye could follow, he
altered the position of his foil by fingering and turned Darleton’s
lunge. Following this with almost incredible swiftness, Merry scored
fair and full in quinte.

L’Estrange suppressed an exclamation of displeasure, for he realized his
pupil had been decoyed and led to expose himself. Too much confidence in
himself and too little regard for the skill of his opponent had caused
Darleton to give Merry this chance to score.

“Touch!” exclaimed Darleton, with a mingling of surprise and dismay.

He recovered instantly, a bitter expression settling about his tightened

“So you fooled me!” he thought. “I’ll pay you for that! It may be your
undoing, Mr. Merriwell!”

He believed Frank would become overconfident through this early success;
but he did not know Merriwell, whose observation and experience had long
ago told him that overconfidence was the rock on which many a chap has
stranded in sight of victory.

Darleton was in earnest, now; there was no more fooling. He sought for
an opening. Failing to find it, he tried to lead Frank into attacking
and leaving an opening.

Merry pretended to attack, but it was only a feint. When Darleton
parried and tried the riposte, his thrust was met and turned. Then Frank
attacked in earnest, and his button caught his opponent in tierce.

Darleton leaped away, but did not acknowledge the touch. Instead, he
claimed that Merriwell had simply reached his right shoulder, which did
not count.

L’Estrange’s pupil was white to the lips now. He could not understand
why he had failed, and he felt that there must be many among the
spectators who would maintain that he had been unfair in claiming he was
not fairly touched the second time.

The dismay of the pupil was no greater than that of his instructor.
L’Estrange was angry. In French he hissed a warning at Darleton, urging
him to be more cautious and to try his antagonist in another style.

Frank understood French even better than Darleton, and he was warned of
what to expect.

Therefore when the Midwestern man sought an opening by “absence,” Merry
declined to spring into the trap and expose himself. To many it seemed
that the visitor lost a chance to score, but all were aware that he
prevented Darleton from counting when the latter followed the “absence”
by a flashing thrust. This thrust was turned, but Darleton had learned
his lesson, and he recovered and was on guard so suddenly Frank found no
advantageous opening.

Although his pupil had failed to score, L’Estrange showed some
satisfaction, for he saw that Darleton was now awake to the danger of
failing to cover himself instantly after an attack of any kind. At last
the Omaha man knew he would have to exert himself to the utmost to
defeat the stranger he had held in scornful contempt.

“Now he knows!” whispered L’Estrange to himself. “Now he will defeat
Merriwell with ease!”

A moment later Darleton met and turned a fierce attack. Then he counted

“Touch!” cried Frank promptly.

Harry Rattleton gave a gasp of dismay.

“I knew it!” he palpitated. “You see I’m right! He’ll win over Merry!”

“You’d better go die!” grated Hodge. “Frank has counted on him twice

“Only once.”

“Only once acknowledged, but Merry counted twice, just the same.”

“Either time,” declared Morgan, “would have ended the affair in a
genuine duel.”

“Sure!” growled Browning.

“But not in this sort of an encounter,” said Harry. “Here a touch is a
touch, and Darleton is on even terms with Merry now.”

After this none of them paid much attention to Harry’s fears, as he
expressed them. They were wholly absorbed in the cleverness of the two
young men on the platform, who were circling, feinting, attacking,
parrying and constantly watching for an opening or seeking to create one
through some trick or artifice.

Three times Darleton sought to reach Frank and failed, but each time he
prevented a successful riposte on the part of Merry. He was at his very
best, and for a few moments his skill seemed superior to that of the

The shadow that had clouded the face of L’Estrange passed away.
Confidence came to him. Once he had feared that his pupil might be
outmatched, but this fear troubled him no longer. Darleton was forcing
the work, but he was keeping himself well in hand and effectually
covered all the while.

Finally the Midwestern man made a flashing cut-over and scored.

“Touch!” cried Merry again.

“I knew it!” half sobbed Rattleton.

A bit later the timekeeper announced the expiration of two minutes,
whereupon Merry and Darleton changed positions.

During the first half of the bout, according to acknowledged touches,
Darleton had taken the lead.

The Midwestern man began the second half by pressing Frank. He was
satisfied that he could win, although experience had warned him that he
could not win as easily as he had fancied before the engagement began.

For at least thirty seconds he kept Merry busy, and in that time he
secured another touch.

Rattleton was almost in tears. He felt that he must leave the room. He
could not bear to remain and see Frank defeated.

Darleton believed he had sounded Merry thoroughly and knew his style. He
was on guard for every method displayed by the visitor up to this point.

But now, of a sudden, Frank attacked in a new line. He seemed to attempt
a “beat.” When Darleton parried the first light thrust following the
“beat,” Frank quickly changed to another point of attack and made a
“re-beat” as his opponent met him. He followed with a second stroke that
was quicker and harder than the first and reached home effectively.

Darleton showed a slight trace of confusion, but he was compelled to
acknowledge the touch.

They now engaged in tierce; but in a twinkling Merry executed a double.
He feinted a disengage into quinte. Darleton executed a counter, upon
which Merry lifted the point of his weapon and circled round his
opponent’s counter with a counter disengage, which brought him back into
quinte, the line from which it was intended that he should be shut. Only
by marvelously swift work did Darleton prevent himself from being scored

Right on top of this Merry again executed the “re-beat” and scored.

The face of the Midwestern man flamed scarlet and then grew pale. His
eyes burned with a light of anger that he could repress only with
difficulty. Twice he had been outgeneraled, and he knew it.

In a twinkling the cloud returned to the face of François L’Estrange.
His lips parted, but he did not speak.

“I knew he would do it!” muttered Bart Hodge, in satisfaction. “Keep
your eyes on Merry! He’s getting there now!”

Darleton realized that he was losing his advantage. He sought to recover
by feinting in high lines and attacking instantly in low lines. In this
effort he placed himself at a disadvantage, for Merry seemed to read his
mind and met him effectively.

Again Frank scored, but, in getting away, he appeared to lose his

Darleton followed up.

Down went Merry, falling on his left hand, and Darleton uttered an
exclamation of triumph as he attempted to count.

With a twist of his wrist, Frank parried the stroke. His left arm flung
him up with a spring.

Dismayed and annoyed by his failure to improve such an opening, Darleton
closed in and the fencers came corps-a-corps.

Immediately L’Estrange separated them.

Merriwell won a great burst of applause by the clever manner in which he
had extricated himself from a position that seemed almost defenseless.

L’Estrange said nothing to his pupil, but their eyes met, and something
in that glance stirred all the resentment in Darleton’s soul. It was a
reproof. He saw that the fencing master was disappointed in him.

A concentrated fury took possession of Darleton. He went after Frank as
if thirsting for his gore. The savageness of his attack would have
overcome one less skillful and self-poised.

It did not overcome Frank. On the other hand, Merry turned his
opponent’s fierceness to a disadvantage. He was not flustered or
worried. He met every attack, and in rapid succession he began counting
on the Midwestern man.

Darleton closed his lips and refused to acknowledge a touch.

Seeing this, L’Estrange finally began declaring each touch as two for
the visitor.

The superiority of Merriwell was now apparent to every spectator who was
not prejudiced, and round after round of applause greeted his beautiful

Darleton thrust furiously. Down went Frank, but he dropped lightly after
having retreated. His right foot had made a long forward step, and
barely two fingers of his left hand touched the floor. At the same
moment he thrust and reached his opponent. In a twinkling he was erect
and ready, if Darleton sought to secure a riposte.

From apprehension and fear Rattleton turned to delight and exultation.

“Frank is winning!” he exclaimed joyously. “He’s the best man!”

“Shut up!” hissed Hodge. “Don’t let everybody know you had any doubt
about it!”

“Of course he’s the best man,” grunted Browning.

The real truth was that in mere knowledge of fencing Merry was not
greatly Darleton’s superior, but in strategy, originality and mastery of
himself he was far and away the superior. As well as a finely trained
body, he had a finely trained mind. It was this master mind that was

Merry had not only probed Darleton’s weaknesses in the art of fencing,
he had at the same time discovered his weaknesses in the art of
self-mastery. And no man who cannot master himself can hope to master
others of equal mental and physical equipment.

Merriwell had perfected his plan of campaign, as a great general
prepares and perfects a plan of battle.

This he had done after sounding the strength and limitations of his
antagonist. This plan in one or two details did not work out as
prepared; but, like a successful general, he was resourceful, and when
one style of assault was repulsed he changed swiftly, almost instantly,
to another style that surprised and confounded the enemy and brought
about the desired result.

In this manner he soon turned Darleton’s attack into defense, while he
became the real assailant. He resorted to all the arts of which he felt
himself the master. The failure of one method of assault did not lead
him to permanently abandon that method, although he quickly turned to
some other. At an unexpected moment he returned to the first attempted
effort, making the change when least expected, and, in most cases, was
successful the second time.

His success confounded and infuriated Darleton, who had entered into the
contest in perfect belief that the outcome would be applause and glory
for himself. The confidence of the Midwestern man fled from him and left
him trembling with rage and chagrin.

At first on realizing that Merriwell was getting the best of the match
toward the close, Darleton had fancied he might put up such defense that
the visitor would be held in check to some extent, thinking if he did
this that L’Estrange, out of self-pride and disinclination to confess
his pupil outmatched, would give him the decision.

But when the spectators began to shout and cheer for Merriwell, Darleton
realized that his case was hopeless. In the face of all this the fencing
master could not give him the decision.

From this time to the finish, Merriwell seemed able to count on his
antagonist at will. Frank gave the fellow no chance to recover, but
pressed him persistently to the finish. Before the engagement was over
Darleton quite lost his form and sought to score by stabbing and jabbing
much like a beginner.

The timekeeper announced the finish.

Frank lowered his foil.

With savage fury, Darleton swung and slapped him across the mask, using
such force that Merry was staggered.

From the witnesses a shout arose, followed by a volley of hisses and
cries of, “Shame! shame! Dirty work!”

François L’Estrange sprang forward and snatched the bent foil from his
pupil’s hand. Then he faced the audience and made a gesture that
silenced their cries.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “I make not ze excuse for Meestare Darleton. He
met ze defeat by Meestare Merriwell, an’ ze loss of his tempare made him
forget to be ze gentleman. Meestare Merriwell is ze very fine fencer. He
win ze match.”

Saying which, he wheeled and grasped Frank’s hand, which he shook
heartily, while the room resounded with a thunder of applause.


“Merriwell, you astounded this club to-night,” said Hugh Morton, as
Frank was finishing dressing, after a shower and rub down. “No one here
expected you to defeat Fred Darleton. Any member of the club would have
wagered two to one on Darleton. He acted like a cur when he struck you
with his foil. Every one, except his own particular clique, is down on
him for that. We regret very much that it happened, and the president of
the club is waiting to offer apologies.”

“I’m not looking for apologies,” smiled Merry. “The club was not
responsible for Darleton’s act.”

“But we feel greatly humiliated by it. He will be severely censured. He
may be expelled.”

“Oh, that’s too much! I must protest against such an extreme measure.”

“He deserves to be expelled,” put in Hodge.

“You are right,” agreed Morton. “Between us, I believe it would be a
good thing for the club.”

“How so?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

In the reception room of the club there was a great gathering waiting to
get another look at Frank. The president of the club met him as he
appeared and hastened to express regrets over the action of Darleton at
the finish of the bout. Frank was sincere in making excuses for his late

“But Darleton must apologize,” declared the president. “We cannot have
any visitor insulted in such a manner without seeing that an apology is

“I haven’t asked for an apology on my account.”

“We demand it on our own account. He has been told that he must
apologize publicly, as the insult was offered publicly.”

“Well, he’ll find me ready to pardon him freely and just as willing to
forget the occurrence.”

“You are generous, Mr. Merriwell.”

During the next thirty minutes Merry was kept busy shaking hands with
those who were eager to express their good will.

That night in Omaha he made a host of admirers and friends who would
never forget him, and who would ever stand ready to uphold him on any

Many of those present seemed lingering for something. A few departed,
but the majority waited on.

Finally Fred Darleton, accompanied by Grant Hardy and followed by a
number of boon companions, entered the room.

Darleton was pale and nervous. He glanced about the place, and an
expression of resentment passed over his face as he noted the number who
had lingered. For a moment he seemed to hesitate; then he advanced
toward Frank, who sat near the centre of the room, with his comrades and
the club members about him.

Merry rose as he saw his late opponent.

“Mr. Merriwell,” said Darleton, in a low tone, his words being almost
inaudible at a distance of ten feet, “I have to offer you an apology for
my hasty act of anger in striking you across the mask with my foil.”

“That’s all right,” declared Frank. “Forget it, Darleton.”

Merry offered his hand.

Darleton pretended he did not see this, and turned away at once.

Frank smiled and dropped his hand; but Bart Hodge gave vent to a
suppressed exclamation of anger.

The action of the defeated fencer in declining to shake hands with his
conqueror was noted by all in the room, and most of them felt annoyed
and disgusted by this added slight after the forced apology.

Darleton left the room, without glancing to the right or left, and his
companions followed closely.

“I knew he was a cur!” said Hodge, in a low, harsh tone.

The president and other members were annoyed and chagrined, but Frank
found a method of passing the matter over by quickly awakening a
discussion concerning the bouts of the finals.

A few minutes later François L’Estrange appeared. He advanced swiftly
and grasped Frank’s hand.

“My dear sare,” he cried, “you give me ze very great astonishment
to-night. You are ze—ze—what you call it?—ze Jim Dandy! _Oui!_ You
nevare learn so much about ze foil in ze American college. Eet is

“Well,” smiled Merry, “I don’t think I told you I obtained all my
knowledge and skill at college.”

“You mention ze school first. You begin young. Zat ees good! Zat is
splendid! Zat ees ze way to make ze feenish fencer, ze same as ze
feenish musician or ze feenish beelyarde player. But ze school, ze
college, both together zey never gif you all you know. You have ze
command, ze skill, ze technique! Eef you choose, sare, you make ze
master fencer.”

“Thank you, professor,” said Merry. “I fear you are flattering me.”

“O-oo, no, no! I spik ze truth! You have traveled?”


“You have visited France?”


“I knew eet! In France you take ze fencing lesson from some famous
master of ze art. You have ze French method. I do not say you have eet
yet to completeness. I belief I could advance you to ze very great
extent. But before you had finished ze engagement I knew you had
received instruction from ze French master.”

“But not in France.”

“No? Zen where?”

“In New York.”

“O-oo!” L’Estrange threw up his hands. “Zen I know! _Oui! Oui!_ Zere ees
but one man—Pierre Lafont. You have from me ze congratulation, sare. I
know Pierre Lafont in France. He fight three duel, and in not one did he
get even ze scratch. Each time he seriously disable his antagonist. But
his son, Louis—zey say he ees ze wondaire.”

For a time the professor rattled on in this enthusiastic manner, and his
talk was very interesting. Although it was known to every one that he
felt deep chagrin over the defeat of his finest pupil, he was now the
soul of generosity in his behavior toward the victor. His manner was
greatly in contrast to that of the churlish Darleton.

Before departing L’Estrange made an appointment to meet Merry in the
club the following afternoon for the purpose of fencing with him.

“I wish to make ze test of your full ability, Meestare Merriwell,”
smiled the affable Frenchman. “I theenk I discovaire one or two little
weaknesses in your style zat may be corrected quickly. Eet will give me
pleasure to make ze improvement in you—if you wish eet.”

“I’m always anxious to learn, professor,” answered Merry.