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   Chapter 5 THE SUPERSTITIOUS MAN.

Frank Merriwell's Nobility; Or, The Tragedy of the Ocean Tramp By Burt L. Standish Characters: 11009

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


A little man hesitated outside the door when it was opened. He had a sad, uncertain, mournful drab face, puckered into a peculiar expression about the mouth. He was dressed in black, but his clothes were not a very good fit or in the latest style. He fingered his hat nervously. His voice was faltering when he spoke.

"I-I beg your pardon, gentlemen. I-I hope I am not-intruding?"

He had not crossed the threshold. He seemed in doubt about the advisability of venturing in.

There was something amusing in the appearance of the little man. Frank recognized a "character" in him, and Merry was interested immediately. He invited the little man in, and closed the door when that person had entered.

"I-I know it's rather-rather-er-bold of me," said the stranger, apologetically. "But you know people on shipboard-er-take many-liberties."

"Oh, yes, we know it!" muttered Diamond.

Browning grunted and looked the little man over. He was a curiosity to Bruce.

"What can we do for you, sir?" asked Frank.

The little man hesitated and looked around. He sidled over and put his hand on the partition.

"The-ah-next room is occupied by the-er-the French gentleman, is it not?" he asked.

"Yes, sir."

"I-I presume-presume, you know-that you are able to hear any-ah-conversation that may take place in that room, unless-er-the conversation is-guarded."

"Not unless we take particular pains to listen," said Merry. "Even then, it is doubtful if we can hear anything plainly."

"And we are not eavesdroppers," cut in Diamond. "We do not take pains to listen."

"Oh, no-er-no, of course not!" exclaimed the singular stranger. "I-I didn't insinuate such a thing! Ha! ha! ha! The idea! But you know-sometimes-occasionally-persons hear things when they-er-do not try to hear."

"Well, what in the world are you driving at?" asked Frank, not a little puzzled by the man's singular manner.

"Well, you see, it's-this way: I-I don't care to be-overheard. I don't want anybody to-to think I'm prying into their-private business. You understand?"

"I can't say that I do."

"Perhaps I can make myself-er-clearer."

"Perhaps you can."

"My name is-er-Slush-Peddington Slush."

"Holy cats! what a name!" muttered Browning, while Rattleton grinned despite his sickness.

"I-I'm taking a sea voyage-for-for my health," explained Mr. Slush. "That's why I didn't go over on a-a regular liner. This way I shall be longer at-at sea. See?"

"And you are keeping us at sea by your lingering way in coming to a point," smiled Merry.

"Eh?" said the little man. Then he seemed to comprehend, and he broke into a sudden cackle of laughter, which he shut off with startling suddenness, looking frightened.

"Beg your pardon!" he exclaimed. "Quite-ah-rude of me. I don't do it-often."

"You look as if it wouldn't hurt you to do it oftener," said Merry, frankly. "Laughter never hurt anyone."

"I-I can't quite agree with-you, sir. I beg your pardon! No offense! I-I don't wish to be offensive-you understand. I once knew a man who died from-er-laughing. It is a fact, sir. He laughed so long-and so hard--that he-he lost his breath-entirely. Never got it back again. Since then I've been very-cautious. It's a bad sign to laugh-too hard."

Merry felt like shouting, but Jack was looking puzzled and dazed. Diamond could not comprehend the little man, and he failed to catch the humor of the character.

"Now," said Mr. Slush, "I will come directly to the-point."

"Do," nodded Frank.

"I just saw a-er-person leave this room. I wish to know if-Good gracious, sir! Do you know that is a bad sign!"

He pointed a wavering finger at Frank.

"What is a bad sign?" asked Merry, surprised.

"To wear a-a dagger pin thrust through a-a tie in which there is the least bit of-red. It is a sign of-of bloodshed. I-I beg you to remove that-that pin from that scarf!"

The little man seemed greatly agitated.

After a moment of hesitation, Frank laughed lightly and took the pin from the scarf.

Immediately the visitor seemed to breathe more freely.

"Ah-er-thank you!" he said. "I-I've seen omens enough. Everything seems to point to-to a-tragedy. I regret exceedingly that I ever sailed-on this steamer. I-I shall be thankful when I put my feet on dry land-if I ever do again."

"You must be rather superstitious," suggested Frank.

"Not at all-that is, not to any extent," Mr. Slush hastened to aver. "There are a few signs-and omens-which I know-will come true."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, sir!" asserted the little man, with surprising positiveness. "I know something will happen-to this boat. I-I am positive of it."

"Why are you so positive?"

"Everything foretells it. At the very start it was-foretold. I was foolish then that I did not demand-demand, sir-to be set ashore, even after the steamer had left-her pier."

"How was that?"

"There was a cat, sir-a poor, stray cat-that came aboard this steamer. They did not let her stay-understand me? They-they drove her off!"

"And that was a bad omen?"

"Bad! It was-ah-er-frightful! Old sailors will tell you that. Always-er-let a cat remain on board a vessel-if-she-comes on board. If you-if you do not-you will regret it."

"And you think something must happen to this steamer?"

"I'm afraid so-I feel it. There is-something mysterious about the vessel, gentlemen. I don't know-just what it is-but it's something. The-the captain looks worried. I-I've noticed it. I've talked with him. Coul

dn't get any satisfaction-out of him. But I-I know!"

"I'm afraid you are a croaker," said Diamond, unable to keep still longer.

"You may think so-now; but wait and see-wait. Keep your eyes-open. I-I think you will see something. I think you will find there are-mysterious things going on."

"Well, you have not told us what you want of us, Mr. Slush," said Frank.

"That's so-forgot it." Then, of a sudden, to Bruce: "Don't twirl your thumbs-that way. Do it backward-backward! It-it's a sure sign of-disaster to twirl your thumbs-forward."

"All right," grunted the big fellow; "backward it is." And he reversed the motion.

"Thank you," breathed Mr. Slush, with a show of relief. "Now, I'll tell you-why I called. I-er-saw a young man-leaving this room-a few minutes ago."

"Yes."

"Mr. Bloodgood."

"Yes."

"I-I have taken an interest in-Mr. Bloodgood. I-I think he is-a rather nice young man."

"I don't admire your taste," came from Jack.

"Eh? I don't know him-very well. You understand. Met him-in the smoking-room. Sometimes I-er-play cards-for amusement. Met him that way."

"Does he play for amusement?" asked Frank.

"Oh, yes-ah-of course. That is-he-he likes-a little stake."

"I thought so."

"I-I don't mind that."

"Great Scott!" thought Merry. "I don't see how he ever gets round to play cards for money. I shouldn't think he'd know what to do. It would take him so long to make up his mind."

"But I-I don't care to make a-a companion of anybody about whom I know-nothing. That's why I-came to you. I-I thought it might be you could give me-some information-about Mr. Bloodgood."

"You've come to the wrong place."

"Really? Don't you know-anything about him? You are-er-well acquainted with him?"

"On the contrary, to-day is the first time we have ever spoken to him."

"Is that so?" said Mr. Slush, in evident disappointment. "You are-er-young men about-about his age, and-and-"

"Not in his class," put in Diamond.

"No?" said Mr. Slush, looking at Jack queerly. "I didn't know-I thought-"

There the queer little man stopped, seeming quite unable to proceed. Then, in his hesitating, uncertain way, he tried to make it clear that he did not care to play cards for money with anybody about whom he knew nothing. He was not very effective in his explanation, and seemed himself rather uncertain concerning his real reason for wishing to make inquiries concerning Bloodgood.

Frank studied Mr. Slush closely, but could not take the measure of the man. Somehow, Merry seemed to feel that there was more to the queer little fellow than appeared on the surface.

"Well, you have come to the wrong parties to get information about Mr. Bloodgood," said Frank. "But, if you are so particular about your company, it might be well to learn something concerning the other members of your party."

"Oh-er-I know all about them," asserted Mr. Slush.

"Indeed?"

"Yes. Hugh Hazleton is the younger son of an English nobleman, and he is-is all-right."

"Who told you this?"

"He did."

"Then it must be true," grunted Browning, with a grin on his broad face.

"Yes," nodded the little man, innocently, "that is-ah-settled. M. Rouen Montfort is a-a great French journalist and-er-writer of books."

"Is that so?" smiled Merry. "Queer, I never heard of him. I suppose he told you this?"

"Oh, yes. He is a very fine-gentleman. Ah-did Mr. Bloodgood invite-er-any of you to come into the-ah-game?"

Frank fancied he saw a sudden light. Was it possible Mr. Slush was looking for "suckers?"

Was it possible he had been sent there to inveigle them into the party, so that some sharp might "skin" them? It did not seem improbable.

Harry seemed to catch onto the same idea, for he popped up in his bunk suddenly, but a sudden roll of the steamer caused him to sink down again with a groan.

Diamond's eyes began to glitter. He, too, fancied he saw the little game.

"No," said Merry, slowly, "he did not invite any of us to come in."

The little man seemed relieved.

"I-I didn't know," he faltered. "If he had-I-I was going to say something. Perhaps it is not-necessary."

"Perhaps not," said Frank; "but it may not do any hurt to say it."

"And it may do some hurt-to you," muttered Diamond under his breath. "I will kick this fellow!"

But, to the surprise of all, the superstitious man cackled out a short, broken laugh, and said:

"Oh, I was going to-to warn you-that's all. It-it's liable to be a pretty-stiff game. I thought it would be a-good thing for you to-keep out of it. It started-light, but it's working-up-right along. Almost any time somebody is liable to-to propose throwing off the-the limit, and then somebody is going to get-hurt. If you are-not in it, why you won't be in any-danger."

There was a silence. The four youths looked at the visitor and then at each other.

What did it mean?

If he was playing them for "suckers," surely he was doing it in a queer manner.

"Thank you," said Frank, stiffly. "You are kind!"

"More than kind!" muttered Diamond.

"Don't mention it," said the little man, trying to look pleasant, but making a dismal failure. "I-I dont' like to see respectable young men caught in a-trap. That's all. Thought I'd tell you. Didn't know that you would-thank me. Took my chances on that. Well, I think I'll-be going."

He turned, falteringly, seemed about to say something more, opened the door part way, hesitated, then said "good-day," and went out.

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