Frank Merriwell At Yale Again And Again And Again

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The “love element” tentatively mentioned by Mr. Smith was cared for by blonde Elsie Bellwood and dark-haired Inza Burrage. Whatever biological urge Frank may have possessed in that pre-Freudian era, it seems in retrospect to an old reader that he played the two girls one against the other pretty expertly for most of eighteen years. But there was many a heartache for readers along the way. First Elsie, a dedicated clinger and leaner, and then Inza, self-willed, even a bit imperious, seemed to be winning. It was Inza who called the turn and demanded that Frank put it on the line; and when he selected Elsie, the incredible Inza declared she would always love both of them.

Was that the end? Not a bit of it. Indeed, it was to be another six or eight years before the romance was settled. Inza had no more than declared she would always love both Frank and Elsie than that timid soul decided she was not to be outdone; she would give up Frank. And this is how she did it: when Frank went to visit Elsie, he found her in the company of Evan Hartwick, his arch enemy at Yale:

Hiding a broken heart under a scornful laugh, Elsie cut Frank dead.

Think nothing of it. Elsie may have been all washed up emotionally, but she got another chance at bat half a dozen numbers of Tip Top later. This time she appeared again in the clutches of Hartwick (how did he ever get into Yale?), who had so far forgotten himself as to attempt an assault on her virtue. And then, while Hartwick was dying, properly enough from a stroke of apoplexy (at age twenty-three), Frank “was holding Elsie in his arms.”

And now back to the Other Woman. Here, a few numbers later, we find Frank and his pal, Barney Mulloy, (in Frank Merriwell Down South ) searching desperately for Inza. (The principals in Merriwell stories get lost with dismaying frequency.) Frank cries aloud, “from his heart” according to Patten:

“Oh, I can’t think of anything but Inza, Inza, Inza! She—” “Frank!” Out of a dark shadow timidly came a female figure. With a cry of joy, Frank sprang forward, and clasped her in his arms, lifting her off her feet and covering her face, eyes, and mouth with kisses, while he cried: “Inza, girl! At last! At last! We fought like fiends to save you, and we thought we had failed.”

Was Patten exceeding his publisher’s suggestion about “a little love element?” Between the covers of this same Tip Top , he reports the following goings-on:

The sun was shining into the heart of the Great Dismal Swamp and Elsie Bellwood was at the door to greet Frank Merriwell. She held out both hands. There was a welcome in her eyes. It seemed to Frank that she was far prettier than when he had last seen her in Fardale. “Frank, I am so glad to see you!” He caught her hands and held them, looking into her eyes. The color came into her cheeks … She was looking straight into his eyes now, and the temptation was too great for his impulsive nature to resist. In a moment his arm was about her neck, and he had kissed her.

Although I read this book and those two passages many years ago, they strike me even now as pretty fast work for the All-American Boy. Was Frank at heart the Don Juan type? Or was Patten bored with a monogamous attitude? In any event, much later Patten permitted Frank to “perceive” that Bart Hodge and Elsie loved each other, and they were soon married; then Frank “took mental stock of himself” to find that his true love all along was Inza. They, too, were married, and for a while readers of Tip Top had to get along with Dick Merriwell.

In my Tip Top days, I knew well enough that the Merriwell stories were fiction and that fiction somehow or other was not really true; yet I could not quite disbelieve that somewhere there must be a Frank Merriwell, complete with keen gray eyes, strong cleft chin, muscles of steel, and heart of gold. Frank became the nearest to “real” of any fictional character in all my reading, youthful or adult. Although I did not follow him to the end, which came in 1914 with the last number of Tip Top , I seem to have put him into a special Valhalla, along with Fardale Academy, to leave them drenched with the nostalgic blur of my boyhood, when the world was young, all things were possible, and one needed only to walk over to the other side of the mountain to find the great shining moment of achievement.

Tip Top Weekly made no delinquents. Though Frank never used tobacco in any form, this uncomfortable fact did not prevent me—or Patten—from smoking Sweet Caps, but it did add to my guilty conscience. Yet Patten did not permit Frank to preach to his readers. All of his warnings about rum, tobacco, coffee, and helling around nights had to do not with morals, but with health: