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Title: Lefty Locke Pitcher-Manager
Author: Standish, Burt L., 1866-1945
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Lefty Locke Pitcher-Manager" ***

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LEFTY LOCKE PITCHER-MANAGER

by

BURT L. STANDISH

  Author of "Lefty o' the Bush," "Lefty o' the Big League,"
  "Lefty o' the Blue Stockings," "Brick King, Backstop,"
  "The Making of a Big Leaguer," etc.

Illustrated by Charles L. Wrenn


[Illustration: Lefty had sprained his ankle so seriously that he required
assistance to walk from the field. (_See Page 103_)]



Publishers
Barse & Co.
New York, N. Y.--Newark, N. J.

Copyright, 1916
By
Barse & Co.

LEFTY LOCKE, PITCHER-MANAGER

Printed in the United States of America



                               CONTENTS
  CHAPTER                                                     PAGE
        I An Unexpected Offer                                   11
       II Something Queer                                       20
      III The Federal Policy                                    28
       IV The Magnetized Ball                                   37
        V A Man of Mystery                                      48
       VI Peculiar Behavior                                     56
      VII The Test                                              64
     VIII At Necessity's Demand                                 72
       IX Torturing Doubt                                       79
        X The Only Door                                         86
       XI Burning Speed                                         93
      XII Too Much Temptation                                  103
     XIII The Perplexing Question                              113
      XIV Only One Way                                         120
       XV Signing the Manager                                  132
      XVI The Wrong Stool Pigeon                               139
     XVII Getting into Action                                  146
    XVIII The First Deal                                       155
      XIX A Fleeting Glimpse                                   165
       XX A Riddle to Solve                                    175
      XXI The Man Ahead                                        180
     XXII A Doubtful Victory                                   186
    XXIII All Wrong                                            194
     XXIV Wheels Within Wheels                                 202
      XXV Hidden Tracks                                        210
     XXVI Not Much Show                                        219
    XXVII The Suspended Ax                                     226
   XXVIII The Gage of War                                      233
     XXIX The Jaws of the Trap                                 240
      XXX One Against Three                                    248
     XXXI Light on a Dark Spot                                 255
    XXXII One Chance                                           266
   XXXIII One in a Million                                     274
    XXXIV Weegman's Proposal                                   281
     XXXV The Shattering Stroke                                288
    XXXVI The Test of Mysterious Jones                         296
   XXXVII The Return of Lefty                                  308



LEFTY LOCKE, PITCHER-MANAGER



CHAPTER I

AN UNEXPECTED OFFER


Lefty Locke gave the man a look of surprise. The soft, bright moonlight
was shining full on Weegman's face, and he was chuckling. He was always
chuckling or laughing outright, and Locke had grown tired of it. It was
monotonous.

"What do you mean?" the pitcher asked. "Tinware for Kennedy! I don't
believe I get you."

Weegman snapped his fingers; another little trick that was becoming
monotonous and irritating. "That's poor slang perhaps," he admitted;
"but you've been in the game long enough to understand it. Collier is
going to tie the can to old Jack."

Lefty moved his chair round on the little vine-covered porch in order to
face his visitor squarely. Frogs were chorusing in the distance, and the
dynamo in the electric power house on the edge of the town kept up its
constant nocturnal droning.

"I could scarcely believe you meant just that," said the star slabman
of the Blue Stockings soberly. "Being Charles Collier's private
secretary, and therefore to a large extent aware of his plans, I presume
you know what you're talking about."

"You can bet on it," laughed Weegman, leaning back and puffing at his
cigar. "I'm the man Collier left to carry out his orders regarding the
team. I have full instructions and authority."

"But I'm sure Kennedy has no inkling of this. I correspond with him
regularly, and I know he expected a new contract to sign before Mr.
Collier went abroad. He wrote me that the contract was to be mailed him
from New York, but that he supposed Collier, being a sick man, forgot
it at the last moment."

Weegman took the cigar from his mouth, and leaned forward on the arm of
his chair. "A new manager of the right sort is hard to find," he stated
confidentially, "and Collier wasn't ready to let go all holds until he
had some one else in view at least."

Locke uttered a smothered exclamation of incredulity. "Do you mean to
tell me that Charles Collier was handing old Jack Kennedy a deal as
deceitfully crooked as that?" he cried. "I can't believe it. Kennedy
has been a faithful and loyal manager. Three years ago, when Collier
secured the controlling interest in the club, his bad judgment led
him to drop Kennedy and fill his place with Al Carson. You know what
happened. Carson made a mess of it, and old Jack was called back at
the last moment to save the day. He did it and won the championship
for the Blue Stockings by a single game. Since then--"

"Come now!" chuckled Weegman, snapping his fingers again. "You know
you were the man who really won that championship by your air-tight
pitching. Why do you want to give somebody else the credit? Kennedy
merely went in as a pinch hitter--"

"And pounded the only run of the game across the rubber. No matter how
air-tight a pitcher's work may be, to win games the team behind him has
got to hit. Kennedy was there with the goods."

"That's ancient history now. What has he done since then? As a player,
he's a has-been. He's lost his eyes so that he can't even bat in the
pinches now. His sun has set, and he may as well retire to his farm and
settle down for old age."

"He hasn't lost his brains," asserted Locke warmly. "Playing or pinch
hitting is a small part of a manager's business. Once since then he's
copped the bunting for us, and last year it was hard luck and injury
to players that dropped us into third position."

"I don't blame you," said Weegman good naturedly. "You ought to
stand up for him. It shows the right spirit. He gave you your
chance--practically plucked you from the brambles. But," he supplemented
disparagingly, "he was desperately hard up for twirlers that season.
You were sort of a lucky guess on his part. Save for the fact that
he's never been able to win a world's championship, old Jack's
been picking four-leaf clovers all his life. He's too soft and
easy-going for a manager; not enough drive to him."

It was Lefty Locke's turn to laugh, but his merriment held more than a
touch of irony. "Jack Kennedy has won pennants or kept in the first
division, at least, with teams that would have been fighting for the
subcellar under any other manager. When meddlers have not interfered
he's always been able to get the last ounce of baseball out of every
man under him. While he has handled it the club has always been a big
paying proposition. What he has done has been nothing short of miraculous
considering the niggardly policy forced upon him by those in power.
It's the lowest-salaried team in the league. We have men getting
twenty-five hundred or three thousand who should be drawing down twice
as much, and would be with any other winning Big League club. Only a
man with Kennedy's magnetism and tact could have kept them going at
high pressure, could have kept them from being dissatisfied and lying
down. What they've accomplished has been done for him, not for the
owners. And now you tell me he's to be canned. There's gratitude!"

"My dear man," chirruped Weegman, "baseball is business, and gratitude
never goes far in business. Granting what you say may have been true in
the past, it's plain enough that the old man's beginning to lose his
grip. He fell down last season, and now that the Feds are butting in
and making trouble, he's showing himself even more incompetent. Talk
about gratitude; it didn't hold Grist or Orth, and now it's reported
that Dillon is negotiating with the outlaws. You know what that means;
our pitching staff is all shot to pieces. If the players were so
true to Kennedy, why didn't they wait for their contracts?"

"How could Jack send them contracts when he hasn't one himself? If
he had the authority now, perhaps he could save Dillon for us even yet.
Billy Orth is hot-headed and impulsive, and he thought he wasn't given
a square deal. As for Grist, old Pete's days are numbered, and he
knows it. He was wise to the talk about asking waivers on him. It was a
ten-to-one shot he'd have been sent to the minors this coming season.
With the Federals offering him a three-year contract at nearly twice
as much as he ever received, he'd have been a fool to turn it down.
All the same, he had a talk with Kennedy before he signed. Jack couldn't
guarantee him anything, so he jumped."

"That's it!" exclaimed Weegman triumphantly. "There's a sample of
Kennedy's incompetence right there. He should have baited Grist along,
and kept him away from the Feds until the season was well under way,
when they would have had their teams made up, and probably wouldn't
have wanted Pete. Then, if he didn't come up to form, he could be let
out to the minors."

Lefty's face being in the shadow, the other man did not see the
expression of contempt that passed over it. For a few minutes the
southpaw was too indignant to reply. When he did, however, his voice
was level and calm, though a trifle hard.

"So that would have been your way of doing it! Grist has had hard luck
with all his investments; I understand he's saved very little. He's a
poor man."

Weegman lolled back again, puffing at his cigar. "That's his lookout.
Anyway, he's not much loss. But these confounded Feds aren't through;
they're after Dirk Nelson, too. What d'ye know about that! Our best
catcher! They seem to be trying to strip our whole team."

"Knowing something about the salaries our players get, probably they
figure it should be easy stripping."

Suddenly the visitor leaned forward again, and gazed hard at Locke. He
was not laughing now. "Have they been after you?" he asked.

"Yes."

"I thought likely. Made you a big offer?"

"Yes."

"What have you done?"

"Nothing."

"Good!" exclaimed Weegman. "It's a good thing for you that you kept
your head. They're outside organized ball, and any man who jumps to them
will be blacklisted. All this talk about the money they have behind them
is pure bluff."

"Think so?"

"I know it. They're plunging like lunatics, and they'll blow up before
the season's over. They haven't got the coin."

"Then how does it happen they are signing players for three years, and
handing over certified checks in advance for the first year, besides
guaranteeing salaries by bank deposits for the full tenure of contracts?"

"Oh, they've got some money, of course," admitted Weegman lightly;
"but, as I say, they're spending it like drunken sailors. When the
Feds explode, the fools who have jumped to them will find themselves
barred from organized ball for all time; they'll be down and out. The
outlaws may hurt us a little this year, but after that--nothing doing.
Just the same, I own up we've got to put a check on 'em before they
rip the Blue Stockings wide open. That's what brings me down here to
Fernandon to see you."

"Really!" said Lefty interestedly. "You seem to be shouldering a lot
of responsibility."

"I am," chuckled Charles Collier's private secretary. "It was all
arranged with Mr. Collier before he sailed. He left me with proper
authority. I am to sign up the manager for the team."

"Is that right?" exclaimed Locke, surprised. "Then, according to
your own statement, if you want to save the Blue Stockings from being
riddled, you'd better be about it."

"I am," said Weegman. "That's why I've come to you."

"For advice?"

"Oh, no!" He laughed heartily. "I don't need that. I know what I'm
about. I've brought a contract. I want you to put your name to it. Your
salary will be advanced fifteen hundred dollars."

"The Feds offered to double it. As a pitcher--"

"You're not getting this extra money on account of your pitching,"
interposed Weegman promptly. "I'm offering you the increase of salary
to assume the additional duties of manager."



CHAPTER II

SOMETHING QUEER


The expression of amazement that leaped into the eyes of Lefty Locke was
masked by a shadow. He stiffened, and sat bolt upright, speechless.

Bailey Weegman, having stated the business that had unexpectedly brought
him down from the North to the Florida town where the great left-hander
of the Blue Stockings was spending the winter with his wife, once more
settled back, taking a long, satisfied pull at the stump of his fragrant
Havana. He was chuckling beneath his breath. A gentle breeze crept
into the leaves of the vine-covered porch and set them whispering like
gossips. The dynamo droned drowsily in the distance.

Presently Lefty found his voice. "What's the joke?" he asked a trifle
harshly.

"No joke," assured the jovial visitor. "I'm not given to joking. I'm
a man of business."

"But it's preposterous! A pitcher for manager!"

"Clark Griffith isn't the only pitcher who has succeeded as a manager."

"Griffith's success came when he was on the decline as a pitcher."

"What's the use to argue, Locke? There's really no good reason why a
pitcher shouldn't manage a ball team. You've been doing it with the
little amateur club you've been running down here in Fernandon this
winter."

"Because necessity compelled. Nobody else would take hold of it. I
organized the team for a special reason. It's made up mainly of
visitors from the North. No salaries are paid. I had located here for the
winter, and I wanted to keep in trim and work my arm into shape for
the coming season. I couldn't find anybody else to organize the club
and handle it, so I had to. I have only three other players who have
been with me from the start. The rest of the nine has been composed of
changing players who came and went, college men, or just plain amateurs
who have taken to the sport. We have played such teams as could be
induced to come here from Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and other
places. Handling such a club has given me absolutely no reason to
fancy myself qualified to manage one in the Big League."

"I've been keeping my eye on you," said Weegman patronizingly, "and I
am satisfied that you can fill the position of playing manager for the
Blue Stockings."

"You're satisfied--you! How about Charles Collier?"

"As you know, he's a sick man, a very sick man. Otherwise he'd never
have dropped everything just at this time to go to Europe along with
a physician and trained nurses. He has been too ill to attend properly to
his regular business outside baseball, and therefore his business has
suffered. He has had heavy financial reverses that have worried him.
And now the meddling of the Feds has hurt the value of the ball club.
The stock wouldn't bring at a forced sale to-day half what it should
be worth. Mr. Collier trusts me. He was anxious to get some of the load
off his shoulders. He has left me to straighten out matters connected
with the team."

"Where is Mr. Collier now?" asked Locke quietly.

"He was taking the baths at Eaux Chaudes when last heard from, but he
has since left there. I can't say where he is at the present time."

"Then how may he be communicated with in case of emergency?"

Chuckling, Weegman lighted a fresh cigar, having tossed the remnant of
the other away. The glow of the match fully betrayed an expression of
self-satisfaction on his face.

"He can't be," he said. "It was his doctor's idea to get him away
where he could not be troubled by business of any nature. He may be in
Tunis or Naples for all I know."

"It's very remarkable," said Lefty slowly.

"Oh, I don't know," purred the other man, locking his fingers over
his little round stomach which seemed so incongruous for a person who
was otherwise not overfat. "Really, he was in a bad way. Worrying over
business reverses was killing him. His only salvation was to get away
from it all."

Locke sat in thought, watching the serene smoker through narrowed
lids. There was something queer about the affair, something the southpaw
did not understand. True, Collier had seemed to be a nervous, high-strung
man, but when Lefty had last seen him he had perceived no indications of
such a sudden and complete breakdown. It had been Collier's policy
to keep a close and constant watch upon his baseball property, but now,
at a time when such surveillance was particularly needed because of
the harassing activities of the Federals, having turned authority
over to a subordinate, not only had he taken himself beyond the range of
easy communication, but apparently he had cut himself off entirely
from the sources of inside information concerning baseball affairs.
Furthermore, it seemed to Locke that the man who claimed to have been
left in full control of that branch of Collier's business was the
last person who should have been chosen. What lay behind it all the
pitcher was curious to divine.

Presently Weegman gave a castanet-like snap of his fingers. "By the
way," he said sharply, "how about your arm?"

"My arm?" said Lefty. "You mean--"

"It's all right, isn't it? You know there was a rumor that you hurt
it in the last game of the season. Some wise ginks even said you'd never
pitch any more."

"I've been doing some pitching for my team here in Fernandon."

"Then, of course, the old wing's all right. You'll be in form again,
the greatest left-hander in the business. How about it?"

"I've never been egotistical enough to put that estimate on myself."

"Well, that's what lots of the sharps call you. The arm's as good as
ever?"

"If you stop over to-morrow you'll have a chance to judge for yourself.
We're scheduled to play a roving independent nine known as the Wind
Jammers, and I hear they're some team, of the kind. I shall pitch part
of the game, anyhow."

"You've been pitching right along?"

"A little in every game lately. I pitched four innings against the
Jacksonville Reds and five against the Cuban Giants. We've lost only
one game thus far, and that was our second one. The eccentric manager
and owner of the Wind Jammers, who calls himself Cap'n Wiley, threatens
to take a heavy fall out of us. He has a deaf-mute pitcher, Mysterious
Jones, who, he claims, is as good as Walter Johnson."

Weegman laughed derisively. "There's no pitcher as good as Johnson
anywhere, much less traveling around with a bunch of hippodromers and
bushwhackers. But about your arm--is it all right?"

"I hope to win as many games with it this year as I did last."

"Well, the team's going to need pitchers. The loss of Orth is bound
to be felt, and if Dillon jumps--Look here, Locke, we've got to get busy
and dig up two or three twirlers, one of top-notch caliber."

"We!"

"Yes, you and I. Of course we can't expect to get a first-stringer
out of the bushes; that happens only once in a dog's age. But perhaps
Kennedy has some good youngsters up his sleeve. You should know about
that. I'm wise that he has consulted you regularly. He's sought your
advice, and listened to it; so, in a way, you've had considerable to do
with the management of the team. You say you've corresponded with him
right along. You ought to know all about his plans. That's one reason
why I came to figure on you as the man to fill his place."

"I wondered," murmured Locke.

"That's one reason. For another thing, you've got modesty as well
as sense. You don't think you know it all. You're not set in your
ways, and probably you'd listen to advice and counsel. Old Jack is
hard-headed and stiff; when he makes up his mind there's no turning him.
He takes the bit in his teeth, and he wants full swing. He's always
seemed to feel himself bigger than the owners. He's butted up against
Mr. Collier several times, and Collier's always had to give in."

"As I understand it," said Lefty smoothly, "you think the manager
should be a man with few fixed opinions and no set and rigid policy."

"In a way, that's something like it," admitted Weegman. "He mustn't
go and do things wholly on his own initiative and without consulting
anybody, especially those who have a right to say something about the
running of the team. Mr. Collier has placed me in a position that makes
it imperative that I should keep my fingers on the pulse of things. I
couldn't conscientiously discharge my duty unless I did so. I know I
could never get along with Kennedy. The manager must work with me; we'll
work together. Of course, in most respects he'll be permitted to do
about as he pleases as long as he seems to be delivering the goods;
but it must be understood that I have the right to veto, as well as the
right to direct, policies and deals. With that understanding to start
with, we'll get along swimmingly." He finished with a laugh.

Lefty rose to his feet. "You're not looking for a manager, Weegman,"
he said. "What you want is a putty man, a figurehead. Under any
circumstances, you've come to the wrong market."



CHAPTER III

THE FEDERAL POLICY


Weegman was startled. "What--what's that?" he spluttered, staring
upward at the towering figure in white. "What do you mean?"

"Just what I've said," replied the pitcher grimly. "Under no
circumstances would I think of stepping into old Jack Kennedy's shoes;
but even if he were a perfect stranger to me you could not inveigle me
into the management of the Blue Stockings on the conditions you have
named. Management!" he scoffed. "Why, the man who falls for that
will be a tame cat with clipped claws. It's evident, Mr. Weegman, that
you've made a long journey for nothing."

For a moment the visitor was speechless. Lefty Locke's modest,
unassuming ways, coupled with undoubted ambition and a desire to get
on, had led Charles Collier's secretary to form a very erroneous
estimate of him.

"But, man alive," said Weegman, "do you realize what you're doing?
You're turning down the chance of a lifetime. I have the contract right
here in my pocket, with Collier's name properly attached and witnessed.
If you doubt my authority to put the deal through, I can show you my
power of attorney from Mr. Collier. In case sentiment or gratitude is
holding you back, let me tell you that under no circumstances will
Kennedy again be given control of the team. Now don't be a chump and--"

"If I were in your place," interrupted Locke, "I wouldn't waste any
more breath."

Weegman snapped his fingers, and got up. "I won't! I didn't suppose
you were quite such a boob."

"But you did suppose I was boob enough to swallow your bait at a gulp.
You thought me so conceited and greedy that I would jump at the chance
to become a puppet, a manager in name only, without any real authority or
control. It's plainly your purpose to be the real manager of the
team, for what reason or design I admit I don't quite understand. Just
how you hypnotized Charles Collier and led him to consent to such a
scheme I can't say; but I do say that no successful ball team has ever
been run in such a way. You're not fit to manage a ball club, and you
wouldn't dare assume the title as well as the authority; probably you
know Collier wouldn't stand for that. Yet you intend to force your
dictation upon a pseudo-manager. Such meddling would mean muddling;
it would knock the last ounce of starch out of the team. If the Blue
Stockings didn't finish a bad tailender it would be a miracle."

Bailey Weegman was furious all the way through, but still he laughed and
snapped his fingers.

"You're a wise guy, aren't you?" he sneered. "I didn't dream you
were so shrewd and discerning. Now let me tell you something, my knowing
friend: I've tried to save your neck, and you won't have it."

"My neck!" exclaimed the pitcher incredulously. "You've tried to save
my neck?"

"Oh, I know your old soup bone's on the blink; you didn't put anything
over me by dodging and trimming when I questioned you about your arm. You
knocked it out last year, and you've been spending the winter down
here trying to work it back into shape. You can pitch a little against
weak bush teams, but you can't even go the whole distance against one
of them. That being the case, what sort of a figure do you expect to
cut back in the Big League? Up against the slugging Wolves or the
hard-hitting Hornets, how long would you last? I've got your number,
and you know it."

"If that's so, it seems still more remarkable that you should wish to
hold me. Certainly I'd be a great addition to a pitching staff that's
smashed already!"

"Did I say anything about your strengthening the pitching staff? I
offered to engage you in another capacity. Think I didn't know why you
declined to dicker with the Feds when they made you a big offer? You
didn't dare, for you know you couldn't deliver the goods. Having that
knowledge under my hat, I've been mighty generous with you." Weegman
descended to the top step, chuckling.

"Good night," said Locke, longing to hasten the man's departure.

"Think it over," invited Charles Collier's representative. "Now
that I'm here, I'll stick around and watch you pitch against these
bushwhacking Wind Jammers to-morrow. I imagine your efforts should be
amusing. Perhaps you'll change your mind before I catch the train north
at Yulee." His chuckling became open laughter.

Lefty turned and entered the cottage, while Weegman walked away in the
moonlight, the smoke of his cigar drifting over his shoulder.

Certain circumstances had led Philip Hazelton to enter professional
baseball under the pseudonym of "Tom Locke," to which, as he was a
left-hander, his associates had added the nickname of "Lefty." These
names had stuck when he abruptly moved upward into the Big League.
His rise having been rocketlike, the pessimistic and the envious had
never wholly ceased to look for the fall of a stick. Thus far, in spite
of the fact that each year of his service with the Blue Stockings saw him
shouldering more and more of the pitching load, until like Jack Coombs
and Ed Walsh he had become known as "the Iron Man," they had looked
in vain. And it came to pass that even the most prejudiced was forced
to admit that it was Lefty who kept his team "up there" fighting
for the bunting all the time.

Toward the close of the last season, however, with the jinx in close
pursuit of the Blue Stockings, Locke had pushed himself beyond the
limit. At one time the club had seemed to have the pennant cinched, but
through the crippling of players it had begun to slip in the latter
part of the season. In the desperate struggle to hold on, going against
Manager Kennedy's judgment and advice, Lefty did more pitching than
any other two men on the staff, and with a little stronger team to
support him his winning percentage would have been the highest of any
pitcher in the league. It was not his fault that the Blue Stockings
did not finish better than third.

In the cozy living room of the little furnished cottage Locke had leased
for the brief winter months a remarkably pretty young woman sat reading
by a shaded lamp. She looked up from the magazine and smiled at him as he
came in. Then she saw the serious look upon his face, and the smile faded.

"What is it, Phil?" she asked, with a touch of anxiety. "Is anything
wrong?"

He sat down, facing her, and told her all about his interview with Bailey
Weegman. As she listened, her mobile face betrayed wonderment, annoyance,
and alarm.

"It's a raw deal for Kennedy," he asserted in conclusion; "and I
believe it's wholly of Weegman's devising. I'm sure, when the season
ended, Collier had no idea of changing managers. There isn't a more
resourceful, astute man in the business than old Jack."

"You're always thinking of others, Phil," she said. "How about
yourself? What will happen to you if you don't come to Weegman's
terms?"

"Hard to tell," he admitted frankly. "In fact, I've been wondering
just where I'd get off. If my arm fails to come back--"

She uttered a little cry. "But you've been telling me--"

"That it was growing better, Janet, that's true. But still it's
not what it should be, and I don't dare put much of a strain on it. I
don't know that I'd last any time at all in real baseball. Weegman
is wise, yet he offered me a contract to pitch and to manage the team. On
paper it would seem that he had retained one star twirler for the staff,
but if I failed to come back we wouldn't have a single first-string
slabman. As a manager, I would be sewed up so that I couldn't do
anything without his consent. There's a nigger in the woodpile, Janet."

She had put the magazine aside, and clasped her hands in her lap. He went
on:

"It looks to me as if somebody is trying to punch holes in the team,
though I don't get the reason for it. Following Jack Kennedy's advice,
I've invested every dollar I could save in the stock of the club. As
Weegman says, it's doubtful if the stock would bring fifty cents on the
dollar at a forced sale to-day. Collier has met with heavy financial
reverses in other lines. He's sick, and he's in Europe where no one
can communicate with him. Is somebody trying to knock the bottom out
of his baseball holdings in order to get control of the club? It looks
that way from the offing."

"But you," said Janet, still thinking of her husband, "you're not
tied up with Weegman, and the Federals have made you a splendid offer.
You can accept that and land on your feet."

He smiled, shaking his head slowly. "There are several reasons why I
don't care to follow that course. The first, and strongest, is my
loyalty to Jack Kennedy, the man who gave me a square deal. Then I
don't care to bunko anybody, and unless my arm comes back I won't be
worth the money the Feds have offered for my services. Lastly, I'm
not sure the new league is going to be strong enough to win out against
organized baseball."

"But you've said that they seem to have plenty of money behind them.
You've said, too, that their plan of dealing directly with players,
instead of buying and selling them like chattels or slaves, was the only
system that gave the players a just and honest deal."

"That's right," affirmed Lefty. "Slavery in baseball is something
more than a joke. The organization has been one of the biggest trusts in
the country, and it has dealt in human beings. It has been so that when
a man signed his first contract he signed away his right to say what he
would do as long as he remained in the game. After that he could be
bought, sold, or traded without receiving a dollar of the purchasing
or trading price. He had to go where he was sent, regardless of his
personal likes, wishes, or convenience. He had to accept whatever
salary a manager chose to give him, or get out. Even if his contract
had expired with one manager, he couldn't go to another and make a
bargain, no matter how much the other manager was willing to give him;
the reserve clause held him chained hand and foot. To-day, if the
powers chose, I could be sent down to the minors at any old salary
the minors chose to pay. I could be sold, like a horse or a dog, and
if I didn't like it I could quit the game. That would be my only
recourse."

"It's terribly unfair," said Janet.

"Unfair? That's a tame word! On the other hand, the Federals are
dealing directly with the players. If they think he's worth it, they
give a man a good salary and a bonus besides. The bonus goes to the
player, not to the club owner. Added to that, the Federal contracts
provide that a club must increase a player's salary at least five per
cent. each year, or give him his unconditional release, thus making it
possible for him to deal with any other club that may want him."

"It's plain your sympathy is with the Federals."

"If they're not trying to jack up organized baseball and sell out,"
said Lefty, "I hope they come through."



CHAPTER IV

THE MAGNETIZED BALL


"What are your plans?" asked Janet, after they had discussed the
situation in all its phases. "Have you decided on anything?"

The southpaw answered: "I'm going to put Jack Kennedy wise. I'm
going to write him a letter to-night, and I shall send him a telegram
as soon as the office opens in the morning. It's up to him to get in
communication with Collier if there's any way of doing it. You have
not received a letter from Virginia lately?"

Virginia Collier, the charming daughter of the owner of the Blue
Stockings, was Janet's closest friend.

"No, I have not heard from her in over three weeks, and I don't
understand it," returned his wife.

"She seems to have stepped off the map, along with her father. The whole
business is mysterious. Why don't you write her at once, explaining
what is going on, and send the letter to her last address?"

"I will."

"It may not reach her, but there's no harm in trying. Meanwhile, I'll
get busy on mine to Kennedy. There doesn't seem to be much chance to
spike Weegman's guns, but it's worth trying."

Locke had the knack of writing a succinct letter; the one he wrote old
Jack was concise, yet it was clear and complete. Within two minutes after
opening it, doubtless Kennedy would know as much about the situation
as did Lefty himself. Yet it was probable that, like the pitcher, the
manager would be mystified by the surprising and seemingly sinister
maneuvers of Bailey Weegman.

Following Lefty's advice, Janet wrote to Virginia Collier.

Locke rose early the following morning and posted the letters for the
first outward mail. He sent a telegram also. Returning past the Magnolia
Hotel, to his surprise he perceived Collier's private secretary sitting
on the veranda, smoking. Weegman beamed and chuckled.

"Morning," he cried, waving his cigar between two fingers. "The
early bird, eh? Been firing off a little correspondence, I presume.
Our communications will reach Kennedy in the same mail; and I wired him,
too. Quite a little jolt for the old man, but it can't be helped. Of
course, he'll have the sense to bow gracefully to the inevitable,
and that will clear the air. Afterward, perhaps, you may change your
mind regarding my offer."

"Perhaps so," returned Lefty pleasantly. "But if I do, I shall be
a fit subject for a padded cell." The agreeable look was wiped from
Weegman's face as Locke passed on.

Some time after breakfast Lefty returned to the Magnolia to learn if
Cap'n Wiley and his ball players had arrived. Approaching, he perceived
a queer assortment of strangers lounging on the veranda, and from
their appearance he judged that they were members of the team. Many
of them looked like old stagers, veterans who had seen better days;
some were youthful and raw and inclined to be cock-a-hoop. There was
a German, an Italian, an Irishman, and a Swede. One was lanky as a
starved greyhound, and apparently somewhere near six feet and six
inches tall from his heels to his hair roots. Another was short and fat,
and looked as if he had been driven together by some one who had hit
him over the head with a board.

In a way, these strangers in Fernandon were most remarkable for their
attire. With scarcely an exception, the clothes they wore were weird and
fantastic samples of sartorial art; various, and nearly all, prevailing
freaks of fashion were displayed. With colored shirts, flaring socks,
and giddy neckties, they caused all beholders to gasp. They were most
amazingly bejeweled and adorned. With difficulty Locke suppressed a smile
as his quick eyes surveyed them.

Near the head of the broad steps leading up to the veranda sat a
somewhat stocky but exceptionally well-built man of uncertain age.
He was almost as swarthy as an Indian, and his dark eyes were swift
and keen and shrewd. His black hair was graying on the temples. His
coat and trousers, of extravagant cut, were made from pronounced
black-and-white-striped material. His fancy waistcoat, buttoned with a
single button at the bottom, was adorned with large orange-colored
figures. His silk socks were red, his four-in-hand necktie was purple,
and the band that encircled the straw hat cocked rakishly upon his
head was green. He was smoking a cigar and pouring a steady flow of
words into the ear of Bailey Weegman, who made a pretense of not
noticing Locke.

"Yes, mate," he was saying, "old man Breckenridge was the most
painfully inconsiderate batter I ever had the misfortune to pitch
against. Smoke, curves, twisters, slow balls, low balls, and high
balls--they all looked alike to him. Now I have a preference; I prefer
a high ball, Scotch and carbonic. But it made no difference to Breck;
when he put his fifty-five-ounce ash wand against the pill, said pill
made a pilgrimage--it journeyed right away to some land distant and
remote and unknown, and it did not stay upon the order of its going.
When it came right down to slugging, compared with old Breck your
Home-run Bakers and Honus Wagners and Napoleon Lajoies are puny and
faded shines. And he always seemed able to make connections when he
desired; if he rambled forth to the dish yearning for a hit, there was
no known method by which the most astute and talented pitcher could
prevent him from hitting."

"Quite a wonder, I must admit!" laughed Weegman, in high amusement.
"Rather strange the Big Leagues didn't get hold of such a marvelous
batsman, isn't it?"

"Oh, he was on the roster of some Class A team at various times,
but he had one drawback that finally sent him away to the remote and
uncharted bushes: 'Charley horse' had him in its invidious grip. A
spavined snail could beat Breck making the circuit of the sacks, and
cross the pan pulled up. Yet, with this handicap, the noble old slugger
held the record for home runs in the Tall Grass League. Naturally I had
heart failure and Angie Pectoris every time I was compelled to face him
on the slab. Likewise, naturally I began meditating with great vigor upon
a scheme to circumvent the old terror, and at last my colossal brain
concocted a plan that led me to chortle with joy."

"I am deeply interested and curious," declared Weegman, as the narrator
paused, puffing complacently at his weed. "Go on."

Locke had stopped near at hand, and was listening. Others were hovering
about, their ears open, their faces wreathed in smiles.

"It was a simple matter of scientific knowledge and a little
skulduggery," pursued the story-teller obligingly. "I possessed the
knowledge, and I bribed the bat boy of old Breck's team to perform the
skulduggery. I sent to the factory and had some special baseballs
manufactured for me, and in the heart of each ball was hidden a tiny but
powerful magnet. Then I secretly furnished the rascally bat boy with a
specially prepared steel rod that would violently repel any magnet
that chanced to wander around into the immediate vicinity of the rod. I
instructed the boy to bore Breck's pet bat surreptitiously when the
shades of night had fallen, insert the steel rod, and then craftily
plug the hole. And may I never sail the briny deep again if that
little scoundrel didn't carry out my instructions with the skill of a
cutthroat, or a diplomat, even! Nature intended him for higher things.
If he isn't hanged some day it won't be his fault.

"Well, the next time old Breck brought his team to play against us
upon our field, I used the magnetized baseballs. I was doing the hurling
and in the very first inning the old swatter came up with the sacks
charged and two out. He smiled a smile of pity as he bent his baleful
glance upon me. 'You'd better walk me, Walter,' says he, 'and
force a run; for if you put the spheroid over I'm going to give it a
long ride.' I returned his smile with one of the most magnanimous
contempt. 'Don't blow up, old boy,' says I. 'With the exception of
your batting, you're all in; and I've a notion that your batting eye is
becoming dim and hazy. Let's see you hit this.' Then I passed him a
slow, straight one right over the middle of the rubber. He took a mighty
swing at it, meaning to slam it over into the next county. Well, mate,
may I be keelhauled if that ball didn't dodge the bat like a scared
rabbit! Mind you, I hadn't put a thing on it, but the repulsion of
that deneoutronized steel rod hidden in the bat forced the ball to
take the handsomest drop you ever beheld, and the violence with which
old Breck smote the vacant ozone caused him to spin round and concuss
upon the ground when he sat down. It was a tremendous shock to his
nervous system, and it filled me with unbounded jubilance; for I knew I
had him at my mercy, literally in the hollow of my hand.

"He rose painfully, chagrined and annoyed, but still confident. 'Give
me another like that, you little wart!' he ordered savagely, 'and I'll
knock the peeling off it.' Beaming, I retorted: 'You couldn't knock
the peeling off a prune. Here's what you called for.' And I threw him
another slow, straight one.

"Excuse these few tears; the memory of that hallowed occasion makes
me cry for joy. He did it again, concussing still more shockingly when
he sat down. It was simply an utter impossibility for him to hit that
magnetized ball with his doctored bat. But, of course, he didn't know
what the matter was; he thought I was fooling him with some sort of a
new drop I had discovered. The fact that I was passing him the merry
cachinnation peeved him vastly. When he got upon his pins and squared
away for the third attempt, his face was the most fearsome I ever have
gazed upon. He shook his big bat at me. 'One more,' he raged; 'give me
one more, and drop flat on your face the moment you pitch the ball, or
I'll drive it straight through the meridian of your anatomy!'

"Let me tell you now, mate, that Breck was a gentleman, and that was
the first and only time I ever knew him to lose his temper. Under the
circumstances, he was excusable. I put all my nerve-shattering steam into
the next pitch, and, instead of dropping, the ball hopped over his
bat when he smote at it. I had fanned the mighty Breckenridge, and
the wondering crowd lifted their voices in hosannas. Yet I know they
regarded it in the nature of an accident, and not until I had whiffed
him three times more in the same game did either Breck or the spectators
arrive at the conviction that I had something on him.

"After that," said the narrator, as if in conclusion, "I had him
eating out of my hand right up to the final and decisive game of the
season."

Weegman begged the fanciful romancer to tell what happened in the last
game.

"Oh, we won," was the assurance; "but we never would have if Breck
had been wise the last time he came to bat. It was in the ninth inning,
with the score three to two in our favor, two down, and runners on
second and third. Knowing it was Breck's turn to hit, I was confident
we had the game sewed up. But the confidence oozed out of me all of a
sudden when I saw the big fellow paw the clubs over to select a bat
other than his own. Clammy perspiration started forth from every pore
of my body. With any other swat stick beside his own, I knew he was
practically sure to drive any ball I could pitch him over the fence.
The agony of apprehension which I endured at that moment gave me my
first gray hairs.

"Although I did not know it at the time, it chanced that Breck had
selected the bat of another player who had had it bored and loaded with
an ordinary steel rod. This, you can clearly understand, made it more
than doubly certain that he would hit the magnetized ball, which would
be attracted instead of repelled. Had I known this, I shouldn't have
had the heart to pitch at all.

"As the noble warrior stood up to the pan, I considered what I could
pitch him. Curves could not fool him, and he literally ate speed.
Therefore, without hope, I tossed him up a slow one. Now it chanced that
the old boy had decided to try a surprise, having become disheartened by
his efforts to slug; he had resolved to attempt to bunt, knowing such a
move would be unexpected. So he merely stuck out his bat as the sphere
came sailing over. The magnet was attracted by the steel rod, and the
ball just jumped at the bat, against which it struck--and stuck! I
hope never to tell the truth again, mate, if I'm not stating a simple,
unadulterated, unvarnished fact. The moment the ball touched the bat it
stuck fast to it as if nailed there. Breck was so astonished that he
stood in his tracks staring at the ball like a man turned to stone. I
was likewise paralyzed for an extemporaneous fraction of time, but my
ready wit quickly availed me. Bounding forward, I wrenched the ball from
the bat and tagged old Breck with it, appealing to the umpire for
judgment. There was only one thing his umps could do. He had seen the
batter attempt to bunt, had seen bat and ball meet, and had seen me
secure the ball on fair ground and put it on to the hitter. He declared
Breckenridge out, and that gave us the game and the championship."

Bailey Weegman lay back and roared. In doing so, he seemed to perceive
Lefty for the first time. As soon as he could get his breath, he said:

"Oh, I say, Locke, let me introduce you. This is Cap'n Wiley, owner
and manager of the Wind Jammers."



CHAPTER V

A MAN OF MYSTERY


The swarthy little fabulist rose hastily to his feet, making a quick
survey of the southpaw. "Am I indeed and at last in the presence of the
great Lefty Locke?" he cried, his face beaming like the morning sun
in a cloudless sky. "Is it possible that after many weary moons I have
dropped anchor in the same harbor with the most salubriously efficacious
port-side flinger of modern times? Pardon my deep emotion! Slip me your
mudhook, Lefty; let me give you the fraternal grip."

He grabbed Locke's hand and wrung it vigorously, while the other members
of the Wind Jammers pressed nearer, looking the Big League pitcher over
with interest.

"In many a frozen igloo," declared Wiley, "I have dreamed of this
day when I should press your lily-white fingers. Oft and anon during my
weary sojourn in that far land of snow and ice have I pictured to myself
the hour when we should stand face to face and exchange genuflections and
greetings. And whenever a smooched and tattered months-old newspaper
would drift in from civilization, with what eager and expectant
thrills did I tremulously turn to the baseball page that I might
perchance read thereon how you had stung the Hornets, bitten the Wolves,
clipped the claws of the Panthers, or plucked the feathers from the White
Wings!"

"And I have been wondering," confessed Lefty, "if you could be the
original Cap'n Wiley of whom I heard so many strange tales in my
boyhood. It was reported that you were dead."

"Many a time and oft hath that canard been circulated. According to
rumor, I have demised a dozen times or more by land and sea; but each
time, like the fabled Phoenix, I have risen from my ashes. During the
last few fleeting years I have been in pursuit of fickle fortune in
far-off Alaska, where it was sometimes so extremely cold that fire froze
and we cracked up the congealed flames into little chunks which we sold
to the Chilkoots and Siwashes as precious bright red stones. Strange to
say, whenever I have related this little nanny goat it has been received
with skepticism and incredulity. The world is congested with doubters."

"When you wrote me," admitted Locke, "proposing to bring your Wind
Jammers here to play the Fernandon Grays, I thought the letter was a
hoax. At first I was tempted not to answer it, and when I did reply it
was out of curiosity more than anything else; I wanted to see what the
next twist of the joke would be."

"Let me assure you that you will find playing against the Wind Jammers
no joke. I have conglomerated together the fastest segregation of
baseball stars ever seen outside a major league circuit, and I say it
with becoming and blushing modesty. Look them over," he invited, with
a proud wave of his hand toward the remarkable group of listeners.
"It has always been my contention that there are just as good players
to be found outside the Big League as ever wore the uniform of a major. I
have held that hard luck, frowning fate, or contumelious circumstances
have conspired to hold these natural-born stars down and prevent their
names from being chiseled on the tablet of fame. Having gathered unto
myself a few slippery shekels from my mining ventures in the land
where baseball games begin at the hour of midnight, I have now set out to
prove my theory, and before I am through I expect to have all balldom
sitting up agog and gasping with wonderment."

"I wish you luck," replied Lefty. "If you don't do anything else,
you ought to get some sport out of it. I presume you still ascend the
mound as a pitcher?"

"Oh," was the airy answer, "on rare occasions I give the gaping
populace a treat by propelling the sphere through the atmosphere. When my
projector is working up to its old-time form, I find little difficulty
in leading the most formidable batters to vainly slash the vacant
ether. The weather seeming propitious, I may burn a few over this p.m.
I trust you will pitch also."

"I think I shall start the game, at least."

Bailey Weegman butted in. "But he won't finish it, Wiley. Like
yourself, he's not doing as much pitching as he did once." His laugh
was significant.

The owner of the Wind Jammers looked startled. "Tell me not in mournful
numbers that your star is already on the decline!" he exclaimed, looking
at Locke with regret. "That's what the Big Leagues do to a good man;
they burn him out like a pitch-pine knot. I've felt all along that
the Blue Stockings were working you too much, Lefty. Without you on
their roster ready to work three or four times a week in the pinches,
they never could have kept in the running."

"You're more than complimentary," said Locke, after giving Weegman a
look. "But I think I'll be able to shake something out of my sleeve
this season, the same as ever."

"Then don't let them finish you, don't let them grind you to a
frazzle," advised Wiley. "For the first time in recent history you
have a chance for your white alley; the Federals are giving you that. If
you're not already enmeshed in the folds of a contract, the Feds will
grab you and hand you a square deal."

Weegman rose, chuckling and snapping his fingers. "All this talk about
what the Feds can do is gas!" he declared. "They're getting nothing
but the soreheads and deadwood of organized baseball, which will be
vastly better off without the deserters. Cripples and has-beens may
make a good thing out of the Feds for a short time. Perhaps Locke would
find it profitable to jump." His meaning was all too plain.

Lefty felt like taking the insinuating fellow by the neck and shaking him
until his teeth rattled, but outwardly he was not at all ruffled or
disturbed. "Mr. Weegman," he said, "is showing pique because I have
not seen fit to sign up as manager of the Blue Stockings. He professes
to have authority from Charles Collier to sign the manager, Collier
having gone abroad for his health."

"If anybody doubts my authority," shouted Weegman, plunging his hand
into an inner pocket of his coat, "I can show the documents that will--"

The southpaw had turned his back on him. "I understand you have a clever
pitcher in the man known as Mysterious Jones, Wiley," he said.

"A pippin!" was the enthusiastic answer. "I'll give you a chance to
see him sagaciate to-day."

"He is a deaf-mute?"

"He couldn't hear a cannon if you fired it right under the lobe of his
ear, and he does his talking with his prehensile digits. Leon Ames in
his best days never had anything on Jones."

"Strange I never even heard of him. Our scouts have scoured the bushes
from one end of the country to the other."

"I never collided with any baseball scouts in Alaska," said Wiley.

"Oh! You found Jones in Alaska?"

"Pitching for a team in Nome."

"But baseball up there! I didn't know--"

"Oh, no; nobody ever thinks of baseball up there, but in the all too
short summer season there's something doing in that line. Why, even
modern dances have begun to run wild in Alaska, so you see they're right
up to the present jiffy."

"Where did this Jones originally hail from?"

"Ask me! I don't know. Nobody I ever met knew anything about him,
and what he knows about himself he won't tell. He's mysterious, you
understand; but his beautiful work on the slab has caused my classic
countenance to break into ripples and undulations and convolutions of
mirth."

"Where is he? I'd like to give him the once over."

"I think he's out somewhere prowling around the town and sizing up
the citizens. That's one of his little vagaries; he has a combustable
curiosity about strangers. Every place we go he wanders around for hours
lamping the denizens of the burg. Outside baseball, strange people
seem to interest him more than anything in the world; but once he has
taken a good square look at a person, henceforth and for aye that
individual ceases to attract him; if he ever gives anybody a second
look, it is one of absolute indifference. Oh, I assure you with the
utmost voracity that Jones is an odd one."

"He must be," agreed Lefty.

"Ay tank, cap'n," said Oleson, the Swede outfielder, "that Yones now
bane comin' up the street."

Wiley turned and gazed at an approaching figure. "Yes," he said,
"that's him. Turn your binnacle lights on him, Lefty; behold the
greatest pitcher adrift in the uncharted regions of baseball."



CHAPTER VI

PECULIAR BEHAVIOR


Jones was rather tall and almost slender, although he had a fine pair
of shoulders. His arm was as long as Walter Johnson's. His face was as
grave as that of the Sphinx, and held more than a touch of the same
somber sadness. His eyes were dark and keen and penetrating; with a
single glance they seemed to pierce one through and through. And they
were ever on the move, like little ferrets, searching, searching,
searching. As he approached the hotel, he met a man going in the opposite
direction, and he half paused to give the man a sharp, lance-like stare.
Involuntarily the man drew aside a trifle and, walking on, turning to
look back with an expression of mingled questioning and resentment.
But Jones had resumed his habitual pace, his appearance that of a person
who, already overburdened, had received one more disappointment.

Barney O'Reilley, the shortstop, laughed. "Sure," said he, "it's
a bit of a jump old Jonesy hands any one he looks at fair and hard."

Lefty Locke felt a throb of deep interest and curiosity. There was
something about the deaf-mute pitcher of the Wind Jammers that aroused
and fascinated him instantly. His first thought was that the man might
be mentally unbalanced to a slight degree; but, though he knew not why,
something caused him to reject this conviction almost before it was
formed. Apparently Jones was well named "Mysterious."

"There's the bird, Lefty," said Cap'n Wiley proudly. "There's the
boy who'd make 'em sit up and take notice if ever he got a show in the
Big League. Yours truly, the Marine Marvel, knew what he was doing when
he plucked that plum in the far-away land of lingering snows."

A queer sound behind him, like a hissing, shuddering gasp, caused
Locke to look around quickly. The sound had come from Weegman, who,
face blanched, mouth agape, eyes panic-stricken, was staring at the
approaching pitcher. Amazement, doubt, disbelief, fear--he betrayed
all these emotions. Even while he leaned forward to get a better view
over the shoulder of a man before him, he shrank back, crouching like
one ready to take to his heels.

Like a person pleased by the sound of his own voice, Cap'n Wiley
rattled on in laudation of his mute pitcher. No one save Locke seemed to
notice Weegman; and so wholly fascinated by the sight of Jones was the
latter that he was quite oblivious to the fact that he had attracted any
attention.

"Smoke!" Wiley was saying. "Why, mate, when he uses all his speed,
a ball doesn't last a minute; the calorie friction it creates passing
through the air burns the cover off."

"Ya," supplemented Shaeffer, the catcher, "und sometimes it sets my
mitt afire."

"Some speed!" agreed Lefty, as Jones, his head bent, reached the foot
of the steps. "He looks tired."

"He's always that way after he tramps around a strange town," said
the owner of the Wind Jammers. "Afterward he usually goes to bed and
rests, and he comes out to the games as full of fire and kinks as a boy
who has stuffed himself with green apples. I'll introduce you, Locke."

The southpaw looked round again. Weegman was gone; probably he had
vanished into the convenient door of the hotel. Cap'n Wiley drew Lefty
forward to meet the voiceless pitcher, and, perceiving a stranger,
Mysterious Jones halted at the top of the steps and stabbed him with a
stare full in the face. Lefty had never looked into such searching,
penetrating eyes.

Wiley made some deft and rapid movements with his hands and fingers,
using the deaf-and-dumb language to make Jones aware of the identity
of the famous Big League pitcher. Already the mute had lapsed into
disappointed indifference, but he accepted Locke's offered hand and
smiled in a faint, melancholy way.

"He's feeling especially downcast to-day," explained Wiley, "and so
he'll pitch like a fiend this afternoon. He always twirls his best when
he's gloomiest; appears to entertain the delusion that he's taking
acrimonious revenge on the world for handing him some sort of a raw deal.
It would be a shame to use him against you the whole game, Lefty; he'd
make your Grays look like a lot of infirm prunes."

"Spare us," pleaded Locke, in mock apprehension.

Jones did not linger long with his teammates on the veranda. With a
solemn but friendly bow to Lefty, he passed on into the hotel, Wiley
explaining that he was on his way to take his regular daily period of
rest. Through the open door the southpaw watched the strange pitcher walk
through the office and mount a flight of stairs. And from the little
writing room Locke saw Bailey Weegman peer forth, his eyes following the
mysterious one until the latter disappeared. Then Weegman hurried to the
desk and interviewed the clerk, after which he made an inspection of
the names freshly written upon the hotel register.

The man's behavior was singular, and Lefty decided that, for some
reason, Weegman did not care to encounter Jones. This suspicion was
strengthened when, scarcely more than an hour later, Charles Collier's
private secretary appeared at the little cottage occupied by Locke and
his wife, and stated that he had made a change from the Magnolia Hotel
to the Florida House, a second-rate and rather obscure place on the
edge of the colored quarter.

"Couldn't stand for Wiley and his gang of bushwhackers," Weegman
explained. "They made me sick, and I had to get out, even though I'm
going to leave town at five-thirty this afternoon. That's the first
through train north that I can catch. Thought I'd let you know so you
could find me in case you changed your mind about that offer."

"You might have spared yourself the trouble," said Locke coldly.

Weegman made a pretense of laughing. "No telling about that. Mules are
obstinate, but even they can be made to change their minds if you build
a hot enough fire under them. Don't forget where you can find me."

Lefty watched him walking away, and noted that his manner was somewhat
nervous and unnatural. "I wonder," murmured the pitcher, "why you put
yourself to so much discomfort to avoid Mysterious Jones."

Directed by Locke, the Grays put in an hour of sharp practice that
forenoon. As Lefty had stated, the team was practically comprised of
winter visitors from the North. Some of them had come South for their
health, too. Three were well along in the thirties, and one had passed
forty. Yet, for all such handicaps, they were an enthusiastic, energetic
team, and they could play the game. At least five of them had once been
stars on college nines. Having never lost their love for the game, they
had rounded into form wonderfully under the coaching of the Big League
pitcher. Also, in nearly every game they pulled off more or less of
the stuff known as "inside baseball."

They had been remarkably successful in defeating the teams they had
faced, but Locke felt sure that, in spite of the conglomerate and
freakish appearance of the Wind Jammers, it was not going to be an
easy thing to take a fall out of Cap'n Wiley's aggregation of talent.
The self-styled "Marine Marvel" had a record; with players culled from
the brambles as he knocked about the country, he had, in former days,
put to shame many a strong minor league outfit that had patronizingly
and somewhat disdainfully consented to give him an engagement on an off
date. Unless the eccentric and humorously boastful manager of the
Wind Jammers had lost much of his judgment and cunning during the recent
years that he had been out of the public eye, the fastest independent
team would have to keep awake and get a fair share of the breaks in order
to trounce him.

Locke warmed up his arm a little, but, even though he felt scarcely
a twinge of the lameness and stiffness that had given him so much
apprehension, he was cautious. At one time, when the trouble was the
worst, he had not been able to lift his left hand to his mouth. A
massage expert in Fernandon had done much for him, and he hoped that
he had done not a little for himself by perfecting a new style of
delivery that did not put so much strain upon his shoulder. Still,
until he should be forced to the test, he could never feel quite sure
that he would be the same puzzle to the finest batsmen that he had once
been. And it must be confessed that he had looked forward with some dread
to the day when that test should come.

Suddenly he resolved that, in a way, he would meet the test at once.
Doubtless the Wind Jammers were batters of no mean caliber, for Wiley
had always got together a bunch of sluggers.

"I'll do it," he decided; "I'll go the limit. If I can't do that
now, after the rest I've had and the doctoring my arm has received,
there's not one chance in a thousand that I'll ever be able to pitch
in fast company again."



CHAPTER VII

THE TEST


Nearly all Fernandon turned out to the game. Many residents of the
town, as well as a large number of the visitors from the North, came in
carriages and automobiles. The covered reserved seats were filled,
and, shielding themselves from the sun with umbrellas, an eager crowd
packed the bleachers. On the sandy grass ground back of third base a
swarm of chattering, grinning colored people sat and sprawled. Holding
themselves proudly aloof from the negroes, a group of lanky, sallow
"poor whites," few of whom could read or write, were displaying their
ignorance by their remarks about the game and the players. The mayor of
the town had consented to act as umpire. At four o'clock he called
"play."

"Now we're off!" sang Cap'n Wiley, waltzing gayly forth to the
coaching position near third. "Here's where we hoist anchor and get
away with a fair wind."

Nuccio, the olive-skinned Italian third baseman, selected his bat and
trotted to the pan, grinning at Locke.

"Oh, you Lefty!" said he. "We gotta your number."

"Put your marlinespike against the pill and crack the coating on it,"
urged Wiley.

George Sommers, catcher for the Grays, adjusted his mask, crouched,
signaled. Locke whipped one over the inside corner, and Nuccio fouled.

"Nicked it!" cried the Marine Marvel. "Now bust it on the figurehead
and make for the first mooring. Show our highly steamed friend Lefty that
he's got to pitch to-day if he don't want the wind taken out of his
sails."

The southpaw tried to lead Nuccio into reaching, but the batter caught
himself in his swing. "Puta the ball over, Left," he pleaded. "Don't
givea me the walk."

The pitcher smiled and handed up a hopper. The batter fouled again,
lifting the ball on to the top of the covered seats.

"I don't think you need worry about walking," said Sommers, returning
after having made a vain start in pursuit of the sphere. "You're in a
hole already."

Nuccio smiled. "Wait," he advised. "I spoil the gooda ones."

Another ball followed, then Lefty warped one across the comer. Nuccio
drove it into right for a pretty single, bringing shouts of approval from
the bench of the Wind Jammers. Wiley addressed Locke.

"Really," he said, "I fear me much that you undervalue the batting
capacity of my players. One and all, individually and collectively,
they are there with the healthy bingle. Please, I beg of you, don't let
them pound you off the slab in the first inning, for that would puncture
a hard-earned reputation and bring tears of regret to my tender eyes.
For fear that you may be careless or disdainful, I warn you that this
next man can't touch anything down around his knees; his arms being
attached to his shoulders at such a dim and distant altitude, he finds it
difficult to reach down so far, even with the longest bat."

Luther Bemis, the player referred to, was the marvelously tall and lanky
center fielder of the Wind Jammers. He had a queer halting walk, like a
person on stilts, and his appearance was so ludicrous that the spectators
tittered and laughed outright. Their amusement did not disturb him, for
he grinned cheerfully as he squared away, waving his long bat.

"Don't you pay no 'tention to the cap 'n, Lefty," he drawled, in a
nasal voice. "I can hit um acrost the knees jest as well as anywhere
else. He's tryin' to fool ye."

"Let's see about that," said Locke, putting one over low and close on
the inside.

Bemis smashed out a hot grounder and went galloping to first with
tremendous, ground-covering strides. For all of his awkward walk and the
fact that he ran like a frightened giraffe, it would have required an
excellent sprinter to beat him from the plate to the initial sack.

Norris, the shortstop, got his hand on the ball and stopped it, but it
twisted out of his fingers. It was an error on a hard chance, for by the
time he secured the sphere there was no prospect of getting either runner.

"Now that's what I call misfortune when regarded from one angle, and
mighty lucky if viewed from another," said Wiley. "Beamy carries a
rabbit's foot; that's why he's second on our batting disorder. He does
things like that when they're least expected the most."

Schaeffer was coaching at first. "Is it Lefty Locke against us
pitching?" he cried. "And such an easiness! Took a lead, efrybody,
and move along when the Irisher hits."

"I hate to do ut," protested Barney O'Reilley, shaking his red head
as he walked into position. "It's a pain it gives me, Lefty, but I have
to earn me salary. No bad feelings, ould man. You understand."

"Just one moment," called Wiley, holding up his hand. "Sympathy
impels me. I have a tender heart. Lefty, I feel that I must warn you
again. This descendant of the Irish nobility can hit anything that
sails over the platter. If it were not a distressing fact that Schepps,
who follows, is even a more royal batter, I would advise you to walk
O'Reilley. As it is, I am in despair."

The crowd was not pleased. It began to beg Locke to fan O'Reilley, and
when the Irishman missed the first shoot the pleadings increased.

"Barney is sympathetic also," cried Cap'n Wiley; "but he'd better
not let his sympathy carry him amain, whatever that is. I shall fine him
if he doesn't hit the ball."

Locke had begun to let himself out in earnest, for the situation was
threatening. It would not be wise needlessly to permit the Wind Jammers
to get the jump. They were a confident, aggressive team, and would fight
to the last gasp to hold an advantage. The southpaw realized that it
would be necessary to do some really high-grade twirling to prevent them
from grabbing that advantage in short order.

Tug Schepps, a tough-looking, hard-faced person, was swinging two bats
and chewing tobacco as he waited to take his turn. He was a product of
the sand lots.

"Land on it, Barney, old top!" urged Tug. "Swat it on der trade-mark
an' clean der sacks. Dis Lefty boy don't seem such a much."

Locke shot over a high one.

"Going up!" whooped O'Reilley, ignoring it.

"Get 'em down below the crow's nest," entreated Wiley. "You're not
pitching to Bemis now."

The southpaw quickly tried a drop across the batter's shoulders, and,
not expecting that the ball had so much on it, Barney let it pass.
He made a mild kick when the mayor-umpire called a strike. "It's
astigmatism ye have, Mr. Mayor," he said politely.

The next one was too close, but O'Reilley fell back and hooked it past
third base. Even though the left fielder had been playing in, Nuccio
might possibly have scored had he not stumbled as he rounded the corner.
Wiley started to grab the fallen runner, but remembered the new rule
just in time, and desisted.

"Put about!" he shouted. "Head back to the last port!"

The Italian scrambled back to the sack, spluttering. He reached it ahead
of the throw from the fielder. Cap'n Wiley pretended to shed tears.

"Is it possible," he muttered, shaking his head, "that this is
the great Lefty Locke? If so, it must be true that his star is on
the decline. Alas and alack, life is filled with such bitter
disappointments."

Whether the regret of Wiley was real or pretended, it was shared by a
large part of the spectators, who were friendly to the local team; for
Locke had become very well liked in Fernandon, both by the citizens of
the place and the Northern visitors.

It must not be imagined that, with the corners crowded and no one down,
Locke was fully at his ease. He had decided to make this game the test of
his ability to "come back," and already it looked as if the first
inning would give him his answer. If he could not successfully hold
in check this heterogeneous collection of bush talent, it was easy to
understand what would happen to him the next time he essayed to twirl
for the Blue Stockings. A sickening sense of foreboding crept over him,
but his lips wore a smile, and he showed no sign of being perturbed.

Schepps was at the plate, having discarded one of the bats he had been
swinging. He grinned like a Cheshire cat. "Always t'ought I could bump
a real league pitcher," he said. "Put one acrost, pal, an' I'll tear
der cover off."

Locke hesitated. He had been using the new delivery he had acquired to
spare his shoulder. In previous games it had proved effective enough to
enable him to continue four or five innings, but now--

Suddenly he whipped the ball to third, sending Nuccio diving headlong
back to the sack. The crafty little Italian had been creeping off, ready
to make a flying dash for the plate. He was safe by a hair.

"Not on your movie film!" cried Cap'n Wiley. "It can't be done!"

Lefty did not hear him. He was gazing past the Marine Marvel at the
face of a man who, taking care to keep himself unobtrusively in the
background, was peering at him over the shoulders of a little group of
spectators--a grinning, mocking derisive face.

It was Weegman. And Weegman knew!



CHAPTER VIII

AT NECESSITY'S DEMAND


Even after the ball was thrown back from third, and Lefty had turned
away, that grinning, mocking face continued to leer at him. Wherever he
looked it hovered before his mental vision like a taunting omen of
disaster. He was "all in," and Weegman knew it. The man had told
him, with sneering bluntness, that his "old soup bone was on the
blink." Yet, entertaining this settled conviction regarding Locke's
worthlessness as a pitcher, Weegman had made a long and wearisome
journey in order that he might be absolutely sure, by putting the deal
through in person, of signing the southpaw for the Blue Stockings at
an increased salary. The very fact that he had been offered the position
of manager, under conditions that would make him a mere puppet without
any real managerial authority, gave the proposition a blacker and more
sinister look.

Sommers was signaling. Lefty shook his head to rid himself of that
hateful chimera. Misunderstanding, the catcher quickly changed the
sign. The pitcher delivered the ball called for first, and it went
through Sommers like a fine shot through an open sieve.

Nuccio scored from third with ease, Bemis and O'Reilley advancing at
the same time. The Wind Jammers roared from the bench. Cap'n Wiley threw
up his hands.

"Furl every stitch!" cried the manager of the visitors. "Batten the
hatches! The storm is upon us! It's going to be a rip-sizzler. I'm
afraid the wreck will be a total loss."

Covering the plate, Lefty took the ball from Sommers.

"How did you happen to cross me?" asked the catcher.

"It was my fault," was the prompt acknowledgment; "but it won't
happen again."

"I hope not," said Sommers. He wanted to suggest that Locke should
retire at once and let Matthews take up the pitching, but he refrained.

The southpaw was doing some serious thinking as he walked back to the
mound. However well his newly acquired delivery had seemed to serve
him on other occasions, he was convinced that it would not do now; either
he must pitch in his own natural way and do his best, or he must retire
and let Dade Matthews try to check the overconfident aggressors. If
he retired, he would prolong the uncertainty in his own mind; he would
leave himself in doubt as to whether or not there was any prospect of
his return to the Big League as a twirler worthy of his hire. More than
doubt, he realized, he would be crushed by a conviction that he was
really down and out.

"I've pampered my arm long enough," he decided. "I'm going to find
out if there's anything left in it."

Perhaps the decision was unwise. The result of the game with the Wind
Jammers was of no importance, but Locke felt that, for his own peace
of mind, he must know what stuff was left in him. And there was no one
present with authority, no coach, no counselor, to restrain him. There
was a strange, new gleam in his eyes when he once more toed the slab.
His faint smile had not vanished, but it had taken lines of grimness.

Schepps tapped the plate with his bat. "Come on, pal," he begged;
"don't blow up. Gimme one of der real kind, an' lemme have a swat at
it."

The crowd was silent; even the chattering darkies had ceased their noise.
Only the Wind Jammers jubilated on the bench and the coaching lines.

Poising himself, Locke caught Sommer's signal, and nodded. Then he swung
his arm with the old free, supple, whiplash motion, and the ball that
left his fingers cut the air like a streak of white, taking a really
remarkable hop. Schepps' "swat" was wasted.

"Now, dat's like it!" cried the sandlotter. "Where've you been
keepin' dat kind, old boy? Gimme a duplicate."

Lefty watched Bemis, the long-legged ground coverer, working away
toward the plate, and drove him back. But he seemed to have forgotten
O'Reilley, and the Irishman was taking a lead on which he should have
little trouble in scoring if Schepps drove out a safety. Farther and
farther he crept up toward third.

Sommers tugged at his mask with an odd little motion. Like a flash the
southpaw whirled about and shot the ball to second, knowing some one
would be there to take the throw. Mel Gates was the man who covered the
bag, and O'Reilley found himself caught between second and third. Gates
went after him, and the Irishman ran toward third. But Locke had cut
in on the line, and he took a throw from Gates that caused O'Reilley
to turn back abruptly. Behind Gates, Norris was covering the cushion.
Tremain came down a little from third to back Lefty up.

Colby had raced from first base to the plate in order to support Sommers,
for Bemis was swiftly creeping down to make a dash. On the coaching
line, Cap'n Wiley did a wild dance. The spectators were thrilled by
the sudden excitement of the moment.

Lefty ran O'Reilley back toward second, and he knew Bemis was letting
himself out in an attempt to score. Swinging instantly, Locke made a
rifle-accurate throw to Sommers, who jammed the ball on to the
long-geared runner as he was sliding for the plate. The affair had
been so skillfully managed that not only was O'Reilley prevented from
advancing, but also the attempt to sneak a tally while the Irishman
was being run down had resulted disastrously for the Wind Jammers.

"Dat's der only way dey can get us out," said Schepps. "Dis Lefty
person looks to me like a lemon!"

Cap'n Wiley was philosophically cheerful. "Just a little lull in the
tornado," he said. "It's due to strike again in a minute."

Lefty looked the confident Schepps over, and then he gave him a queer
drop that deceived him even worse than the swift hopper. The spectators,
who had been worried a short time before, now expressed their approval;
and when, a minute later, the southpaw whiffed the sandlotter, there was
a sudden burst of handclapping and explosions of boisterous laughter
from the delighted darkies.

"Wh-who's dat man said lemon?" cried one. "Dat Lefty pusson sho'
handed him one dat time!"

"Is it possible," said Cap'n Wiley, "that I'm going to be compelled
to revise my dates regarding that wreck?" Then he roared at the Swede:
"Get into the game, Oleson! It's your watch on deck, and you want to
come alive. The wrong ship's being scuttled."

"Aye, aye, captain!" responded Oleson. "Mebbe Ay do somethin' when
Ay get on the yob. Yust keep your eye on me." Believing himself a hitter
superior to the men who had touched Locke up so successfully at the
beginning of the game, he strode confidently forth, for all of the
failure of Schepps.

Sizing up the Swede, Lefty tested him with a curve, but Oleson betrayed
no disposition to reach. A drop followed, and the batter fouled it. His
style of swinging led the southpaw to fancy that he had a preference
for drops, and therefore Locke wound the next one round his neck,
puncturing his weakness. Not only did Oleson miss, but he swung in a
manner that made it doubtful if he would drive the ball out of the
infield if he happened to hit one of that kind.

"Hit it where you missed it!" implored Wiley. "Don't let him
bamboozle you with the chin wipers." Then he turned on O'Reilley.
"Cast off that mooring! Break your anchor loose and get under way!
Man the halyards and crack on every stitch! You've got to make port
when Ole stings the horsehide."

In spite of himself, Lefty was compelled to laugh outright at the Marine
Marvel's coaching contortions. "Calm yourself, cap'n," he advised.
"The hurricane is over."

"How can I calm myself when calamity threatens?" was the wild retort.
"You are a base deceiver, Lefty. Such chicanery is shameful! I don't
know what chicanery means, but it seems to fit the offense."

And now the spectators fell to laughing at the swarthy little man, who
did not seem to be so very offensive, after all, and who was injecting
more than a touch of vaudeville comedy into the game.

Oleson waited patiently, still determined to hit, although somewhat
dismayed by his two failures to gauge the left-hander's slants. But
when Lefty suddenly gave him another exactly like the last, he slashed
at it awkwardly and fruitlessly. The crowd broke into a cheer, and the
Swede turned dazedly from the plate, wiping beads of perspiration from
his brow.

"That Lefty he bane some pitcher," admitted Oleson. "He got a good
yump ball."



CHAPTER IX

TORTURING DOUBT


To a degree, Locke had satisfied himself that he still had command of
his speed and carves; but the experience had also taught him that his
efforts to acquire a new delivery as effective as his former style of
pitching, and one that would put less strain upon his shoulder, had been
a sheer waste of time. Working against batters who were dangerous, his
artificial delivery had not enabled him to pitch the ball that would
hold them in check. He had mowed them down, however, when he had resorted
to his natural form.

But what would that do to his shoulder? Could he pitch like that and go
the full distance with no fear of disastrous results? Should he attempt
it, even should he succeed, perhaps the morrow would find him with his
salary wing as weak and lame and lifeless as it had been after that last
heart-breaking game in the Big League.

Involuntarily, as he left the mound, he looked around for Weegman, who
had disappeared. It gave Lefty some satisfaction to feel that, for the
time being, at least, he had wiped the mocking grin from the schemer's
face.

Cap'n Wiley jogged down from third, an expression of injured reproof
puckering his countenance. "I am pained to the apple core," he said.
"My simple, trusting nature has received a severe shock. Just when I
thought we had you meandering away from here, Lefty, you turned right
round and came back. If you handed us that one lone tally to chirk us
along, let me reassure you that you made the mistake of your young life;
I am going to ascend the hillock and do some volleying, which makes it
extensively probable that the run we have garnered will be sufficient
to settle the game."

"Don't be so unfeeling!" responded Locke. "Give us Mysterious Jones."

"Oh, perchance you may be able to get on the sacks with me pushing 'em
over; but if Jones unlimbered his artillery on you, he'd mow you down
as fast as you toddled up to the pentagon. You see, I wish the assemblage
to witness some slight semblance of a game."

In action upon the slab, Wiley aroused still further merriment. His
wind-up before delivering the ball was most bewildering. His writhing,
squirming twists would have made a circus contortionist gasp. First
he seemed to tie himself into knots, pressing the ball into the pit of
his stomach like a person in excruciating anguish. On the swing back, he
turned completely away from the batter, facing second base for a moment,
at the same time poising himself on his right foot and pointing his
left foot toward the zenith. Then he came forward and around, as if he
would put the sphere over with the speed of a cannon ball--and handed
up a little, slow bender.

But he need not have troubled himself to put a curve on that first one,
for Fred Hallett, leading off for the Grays, stood quite still and stared
like a person hypnotized. The ball floated over, and the umpire called a
strike, which led Hallett to shake himself and join in the laughter of
the crowd.

"What's the matter? What's the matter?" spluttered Wiley. "Was my
speed too much for you? Couldn't you see it when it came across? Shall I
pitch you a slow one?"

Hallett shook his head, unable to reply.

"Oh, vurry, vurry well," said the Marine Marvel. "As you choose. I
don't want to be too hard on you." Then, after going through with a
startling variation of the former convulsions, he did pitch a ball that
was so speedy that the batsman swung too slowly. And, a few minutes
later, completing the performance to his own satisfaction, he struck
Hallett out with a neat little drop. "I preen myself," said he, "that
I'm still there with the huckleberries. As a pitcher of class, I've
got Matty and a few others backed up against the ropes. Bring on your
next victim."

Charlie Watson found the burlesque so amusing that he laughed all the
way from the bench to the plate. The eccentric pitcher looked at him
sympathetically.

"When you get through shedding tears," he said, "I'll pitch to you.
I hate to see a strong man weep."

Then, without the slightest warning, using no wind-up whatever, he
snapped one straight over, catching Watson unprepared. That sobered
Watson down considerably.

"I'm glad to see you feeling better," declared the manager of the Wind
Jammers. "Now that you're quite prepared, I'll give you something
easy."

The slow one that he tossed up seemed to hang in the air with the
stitches showing. Watson hit it and popped a little fly into Wiley's
hands, the latter not being compelled to move out of his tracks. He
removed his cap and bowed his thanks.

Doc Tremain walked out seriously enough, apparently not at all amused
by the horseplay that was taking place. With his hands on his hips, Wiley
stared hard at Tremain.

"Here's a jolly soul!" cried the pitcher. "He's simply laughing
himself sick. I love to see a man enjoy himself so diabolically."

"Oh, play ball!" the doctor retorted tartly. "This crowd isn't here
to see monkeyshines."

"Then they won't look at you, my happy friend. And that's a dart of
subtle repartee."

Wiley's remarkable wind-up and delivery did not seem to bother Tremain,
who viciously smashed the first ball pitched to him. It was a savage line
drive slightly to the left of the slabman, but the latter shot out his
gloved hand with the swiftness of a striking rattlesnake, and grabbed
the whistling sphere. Having made the catch, the Marine Marvel tossed
the ball carelessly to the ground and sauntered toward the bench with
an air of bored lassitude. There was a ripple of applause.

"You got off easy that time, cap'n," said Locke, coming out. "When
are you going to let us have a crack at Jones?"

"A crack at him!" retorted Wiley. "Don't make me titter, Lefty! Your
assemblage of would-bes never could get anything remotely related to a
crack off Jones. However, when ongwee begins to creep over me I'll let
him go in and polish you off."

"Colonel" Rickey, leading off for the Wind Jammers in the second,
hoisted an infield fly, and expressed his annoyance in a choice Southern
drawl as he went back to the bench.

Peter Plum, the fat right fielder, followed, poling out an infield drive
which, to the amazement of the crowd, he nearly turned into a safety
by the most surprising dash to first. Impossible though it seemed, the
chunky, short-legged fellow could run like a deer, and when he was cut
down by little more than a yard at the hassock he vehemently protested
that it was robbery.

Locke was taking it easy now; he almost seemed to invite a situation
that would again put his arm to the test. There was a queer feeling in
his shoulder, a feeling he did not like, and he wondered if he could
"tighten" in repeated pinches, as he had so frequently done when
facing the best batters in the business. But, though he grooved one to
Schaeffer, the catcher boosted an easy fly to Watson in left field.

Wiley went through the second inning unharmed, although, with two down,
Colby landed on the horsehide for two sacks. Coming next, Gates bit at a
slow one and lifted a foul to the third baseman.

"Now give me my faithful bludgeon," cried the Marine Marvel, making for
the bats. "Watch me start something! I'm going to lacerate the feelings
of this man Lefty. I hate to do it, but I hear the clarion call of duty."

Locke decided to strike Wiley out. Wiley picked out a smoking shoot, and
banged it on a line for one sack.

"Nice tidy little bingle, wasn't it, mate?" he cried. "I fancied
mayhap Dame Rumor had slandered you, but alas! I fear me you are easy
for a real batter with an eye."

Nuccio was up again, and he also hit safely, Wiley going to third on
the drive. Locke's teeth clicked together. Was it possible that real
batters could find him with such ease? If so, the Big League would see
him no more; he would not return to it. If so, his days as a pitcher
were surely ended. For a moment Bailey Weegman's grinning face again
rose vaguely before him.

"I must know!" he muttered. "I must settle these infernal doubts that
are torturing me."



CHAPTER X

THE ONLY DOOR


Luther Bemis blundered. He had been given the signal to let Nuccio steal,
but he hit at the ball and raised a foul to Colby, who stepped back
upon first and completed a double play unassisted, the Italian having
made a break for second. Nuccio was disgusted, and Cap'n Wiley made a
few remarks to Bemis that caused the lengthy center fielder to retire to
the bench in confusion.

"There has been a sudden addition to the bone crop," concluded the
vexed manager of the Wind Jammers. "Beamy, in order to avoid getting
your dates mixed, you should carry a telescope and take an occasional
survey of the earth's surface."

"Niver mind, cap'n," called O'Reilley. "I'll put ye across whin
I hit."

With a twinge of apprehension, Locke sought to trick the confident
Irishman into biting at a curve. And, even as he pitched, he was annoyed
with himself because apprehension prevented him from bending the ball
over. O'Reilley stubbornly declined to bite.

There was a sudden chorus of warning shouts as Sommers returned the
ball, and the pitcher was surprised to see Cap'n Wiley running for the
registry station. The foxy old veteran was actually trying to steal home
on the Big League pitcher. Laughing, Lefty waited for the ball, aware
that Sommers was leaping into position to nail the runner. Without
undue haste, yet without wasting a second, the slabman snapped the
sphere back to the eager hands of the catcher, who poked it into the
sliding man's ribs. Wiley was out by four feet, at least.

"Why didn't you wait for O'Reilley to hit?" Locke asked.

"I wanted to spare your already tattered nerves," was the instant
answer. "You see, sympathy may be found elsewhere than in the
dictionary."

Still floundering in the bog of doubt, Lefty was far from satisfied. He
had told himself that he invited the test which would give him the answer
he sought, yet he realized that, face to face with it, he had felt a
shrinking, a qualm, akin to actual dread; and he was angry with himself
because he drew a breath of relief when the blundering and reckless
playing of the Wind Jammers postponed the ordeal, leaving him still
groping in the dark.

Sommers led off with a hot grounder, which O'Reilley booted. Playing
the game, Locke bunted, advancing Sommers and perishing himself at first.

"Cleverly done," admitted Cap'n Wiley, "but it will avail you naught.
I shall now proceed to decorate the pill with the oil of elusion."

A friend called to Lefty in the crowd back of first, and the pitcher
walked back to exchange a few words with him. He was turning away when a
hand fell on his arm, and he looked round to find Weegman there. The
man's face wore a supercilious and knowing smile.

"I didn't mean to attend this game," said Weegman, "but, having the
time, I decided to watch part of it, as it would give me a good chance
to settle a certain point definitely in my mind. What I've seen has
been quite enough. Your arm is gone, Locke, and you know it. You're
laboring like a longshoreman against this bunch of bushers, and, working
hard as you are, you couldn't hold them only for their dub playing. I
admit that you struck out some of their weakest stickers, but you were
forced to the limit to do it, and it made that injured wing of yours
wilt. They had you going in the last round, and threw away their chance
by bonehead playing."

"Weegman," said Locke, "I'm tired of hearing you talk. The sound of
your voice makes me weary."

But instead of being disturbed the man chuckled. "The truth frequently
is unpleasant," he returned; "and you know I am speaking the raw
truth. Now I like you, Locke; I've always liked you, and I hate to
see you go down and out for good. That's what it means if you don't
accept my offer. As manager of the Blue Stockings, you can hold your
job this season if you don't pitch a ball; it'll enable you to stay in
the business in a new capacity, and you'll not be dependent on your
arm. A pitcher's arm may fail him any time. As a manager, you may
last indefinitely."

"It would be a crime if the sort of a manager you want lasted a month."

"If you don't come at my terms, you may kiss yourself good-by. The Feds
are going to learn that your flinger is gone; be sure of that."

"That's a threat?"

"A warning. If their crazy offer has tempted you, put the temptation
aside. That offer will be withdrawn. Every manager and magnate in the
business is going to know that as a pitcher you have checked in. There's
only one door for you to return by, and I'm holding it open." He
laughed and placed his hand again ingratiatingly upon Locke's arm.

Locke shook it off instantly. "Were I as big a rascal as you, Weegman,"
he said, with limitless contempt, "I'd make a dash through that door.
Thank Heaven, I'm not!"

The baffled man snapped his fingers. "You are using language you'll
regret!" he harshly declared, although he maintained his smiling
demeanor to such a degree that any one a few yards distant might have
fancied the conversation between the two was of the pleasantest sort.

Lefty returned to the coaching line, taking the place of Tremain; for
Wiley had issued a pass to Hallett, Watson was at bat, and the doctor
followed Watson. Instantly sizing up the situation, the southpaw signaled
for a double steal, and both runners started with the first movement of
the pitcher's delivery. Schaeffer's throw to third was not good, and
Sommers slid under. Hallett had no trouble about reaching second.

"What are you trying to pull off here?" cried the manager of the Wind
Jammers. "Such behavior is most inconsiderate, or words to that effect.
However it simply makes it necessary for me to inject a few more kinks
into the horsehide."

Admittedly he did hand up some peculiar curves to Watson, but his control
was so poor that none of the twisters came over and like Hallett, the
left fielder walked. This peopled the corners.

"Here," said Wiley, still chipper and undisturbed, "is that jolly soul
who obligingly batted an easy one into my fin the last time. I passed
the last hitter in order to get at this kind party again."

Tremain let one pitch go by, but the next one pleased him, and he
cracked the ball on the nose. It was a two-base drive, which enabled
the runners already on to score. As the three raced over the plate,
one after another, Wiley was seen violently wigwagging toward the
bench. In response to his signal, Mysterious Jones rose promptly and
prepared to warm up with the second catcher.

"I'm off to-day; perhaps I should say I'm awful," admitted the Marine
Marvel. "A spazoozum like that is sufficient to open my eyes to the
humiliating fact that I'm not pitching up to class. In a few minutes,
however, you'll have an opportunity to see Mr. Jones uncork some of
the real stuff."

Wiley dallied with the next batter for the purpose of giving the dummy
pitcher time to shake the kinks out of his arm. Apparently Jones did
not need much time in which to get ready, for when the sailor presently
dealt out another pass the relief twirler signified his willingness to
assume the burden.

As Jones walked out upon the diamond, Locke looked around vainly for
Weegman. It was possible, of course, that Collier's private secretary
had departed at once following his last rebuff, but somehow Lefty felt
that he was still lingering and taking pains not to be seen by Mysterious
Jones. Suddenly the southpaw felt a desire to bring the two men face to
face, wondering what would happen. There was more than a possibility that
such a meeting might present some dramatic features.

Turning back, Lefty's eyes followed Jones. The interest and fascination
he had felt at first sight of the man returned, taking hold upon him
powerfully and intensely. There was something in the solemn face of the
mute that spoke of shattered hopes, deep and abiding sorrow, despair,
tragedy. He was like one who stood aloof even while he mingled with
mankind. Knowing other mutes, many of whom seemed happy and contented,
Locke could not believe that the peculiarities of Mysterious Jones were
wholly due to resentment against the affliction which fate had placed
upon him. Behind it all there must lay a story with perhaps more than one
dark page.



CHAPTER XI

BURNING SPEED


As a pitcher, Jones displayed no needless flourishes. His style of
delivery was simple but effective. Into the swing of his long arm he put
the throwing force of his fine shoulder and sinewy body. Wiley had
exaggerated in boasting of the mute's speed; nevertheless that speed
was something to marvel at. Norris, the clean-up man of the Grays,
who preferred smokers to any other kind, was too slow in striking at
the first two pitched to him by Jones. Norris looked astounded and
incredulous, and the spectators gasped.

"That's his slow one, mates!" cried Wiley. "Pretty soon, when he
gets loosened up, he'll let out a link or two and burn a few across.
The daisies are growing above the only man he ever hit with the ball."

Although Norris was not slow in swinging at the next one, the sphere
took a shoot that deceived him, and the mute had disposed of the first
hitter with three pitched balls.

"And the wiseacres say there are no real heavers left in the bushes!"
whooped Cap'n Wiley.

Locke was thrilled. Could it be that here was a discovery, a find, a
treasure like a diamond in the rough, left around underfoot amid
pebbles? The Big League scouts are the grubstakers, the prospectors,
the treasure hunters of baseball; ceaselessly and tirelessly they scour
the country even to the remote corners and out-of-the-way regions where
the game nourishes in the crude, lured on constantly by the hope of
making a big find. To them the unearthing of a ball player of real
ability and promise is like striking the outcroppings of a Comstock
or a Kimberly; and among the cheering surface leads that they discover,
a hundred peter out into worthlessness, where one develops into a
property of value. More and more the scouts complain that the ground
has been raked over again and again and the prizes are growing fewer
and farther between; yet every now and then, where least expected,
one of them will turn up something rich that has been overlooked by
journeying too far afield. The fancy that Mysterious Jones might be one
of these unnoticed nuggets set Locke's pulses throbbing.

Jones had appeared to be a trifle slender in street clothes, but now
Lefty could see that he was the possessor of fine muscles and whipcord
sinews. There was no ounce of unnecessary flesh upon him anywhere; he
was like an athlete trained to the minute and hardened for an enduring
test by long and continuous work. There seemed little likelihood that
protracted strain would expose a flaw. He had speed and stamina; if
he possessed the required skill and brains, there was every reason to
think that he might "deliver the goods." With the advent of the silent
man upon the mound, Locke's attention became divided between doubts
about himself and interest in the performance of the mute.

Hampton, who followed Norris, was quite as helpless against the dazzling
speed of Jones; he could not even foul the ball. "Great smoke, Locke!"
he exclaimed, pausing on his way to center field. "That man's a terror!
He seems to groove them all, but you can't see them come over."

"Perhaps he can't keep it up," said Lefty.

"I hope not. If he does, we've got to win on the runs we've made
already; there'll be no more scoring for us. It's up to you to hold
them down."

The southpaw held them in the fourth, but he did so by working his
head fully as much as his arm. By this time he had learned something
of the hitting weaknesses of the Wind Jammers, and he played upon
those weaknesses successfully. To his teammates and the spectators the
performance was satisfactory; to him it proved only that his brain,
if not his arm, was still in perfect condition.

Mysterious Jones came back with two strikeouts; in fact, he struck
Sommers, the third man, out also; but the whistling, shooting sphere
went through the catcher, and Sommers raced to first on the error.
This brought Locke up, and he was eager to hit against Jones. He missed
the first one cleanly, but fouled the next two, which was better than any
one else had done. Then the silent man put something more on the ball,
and Lefty failed to touch it.

"Nice little pitcher, don't you think?" inquired Cap'n Wiley blandly.

"He behaves well, very well," admitted the southpaw.

The Grays implored Locke to keep the enemy in hand; the crowd entreated
him. This was the game they desired to win. To them it was a struggle
of vital importance, and the winning or losing of it was the only
question of moment. They did not dream of something a thousand times
more momentous involving Lefty Locke.

Loyal to the team and its supporters, the southpaw could not take
needless chances of losing, no matter how much he longed to be put
upon his mettle and forced to the last notch. Therefore he continued
to work his head while on the slab. Schaeffer fouled out, Jones fanned
indifferently, and Nuccio popped to shortstop.

"Lucky boy!" called Wiley. "But things won't always break so well
for you. You'll have to go your limit before the game is over."

"I hope so," said Lefty.

Hallett caught one of Jones' whistlers on the end of his bat and drove
it straight into the hands of the first baseman.

"Hooray!" laughed Watson. "At least that shows that he can be hit."

"A blind man might hit one in a million if he kept his bat swinging,"
scoffed Wiley. "Let's see you do as much."

Watson could not do as much; he fanned three times. Then Jones pitched
four balls to Tremain, and the doctor placed himself in Watson's class.

The game had become a pitchers' battle, with one twirler cutting the
batters down with burning speed and shoots, while the other held them
in check through the knowledge he had swiftly acquired regarding their
shortcomings with the stick. In every way the performance of Jones was
the most spectacular, and in the crowd scores of persons were beginning
to tell one another that the mute was the greater pitcher.

The truth was, experience in fast company had taught Lefty Locke to
conserve his energies; like Mathewson, he believed that the eight
players who supported him should shoulder a share of the defensive
work, and it was not his practice to "put everything on the ball,"
with the cushions clean. Only when pinches came did he tighten and burn
them across. Nor was he in that class of pitchers who are continually
getting themselves into holes by warping them wide to lure batters into
reaching; for he had found that a twirler who followed such a method
would be forced to go the limit by cool and heady batters who made a
practice of "waiting it out." Having that prime requisite of all
first-class moundmen, splendid control, he sought out an opponent's
weakest spot and kept the ball there, compelling the man to strike at
the kind from which he was least likely to secure effective drives. This
had led a large number of the fans who fancied themselves wise to
hold fast to their often-expressed belief that the southpaw was lucky,
but they were always looking for the opposition to fall on him and
hammer him all over the lot.

Therefore it was not strange that the crowd, assembled to watch the game
in Fernandon, should soon come to regard the mute, with his blinding
speed and jagged shoots, as the superior slabman. Apparently without
striving for effect, Jones was a spectacular performer; mechanical skill
and superabundant energy were his to the limit. But Locke knew that
something more was needed for a man to make good in the Big League.
Nevertheless, with such a foundation to build upon, unless the fellow
should be flawed by some overshadowing natural weakness that made him
impossible, coaching, training, and experience were the rungs of the
ladder by which he might mount close to the top.

Loyal to the core, Lefty was thinking of the pitching staff of the Blue
Stockings, weakened by deflections to the Federals, possibly by his
own inability to return. For a little time, even Weegman was forgotten.
Anyway, the southpaw had not yet come to regard it as a settled thing
that Bailey Weegman would be permitted to undermine and destroy the
great organization, if such was his culpable design; in some manner
the scoundrel would be blocked and baffled.

The sixth inning saw no break in the run of the game between the Grays
and the Wind Jammers. Bemis, O'Reilley, and Schepps all hit Locke, but
none hit safely, while Jones slaughtered three of the locals by the
strike-out method. As Wiley had stated was the silent man's custom,
he seemed to be seeking revenge on the world for giving him a raw deal.

When Oleson began the seventh with a weak grounder and "got a life"
through an error, Lefty actually felt a throb of satisfaction, for it
seemed that the test might be forced upon him at last. But the Swede
attempted to steal on the first pitch to Rickey, and Sommers threw him
out. Rickey then lifted a high fly just back of first base, and Colby
put him out of his misery. Plum batted an easy one to second.

"There's only one thing for me to do," thought Locke. "I've got to
work the strike-out stuff in the next two innings, just as if men were
on bases, and see if I've got it. The game will be over if I wait any
longer for a real pinch."

When Jones had polished off Gates and Sommers, Locke stepped out to
face the mute the second time. Having watched the man and analyzed his
performance, the southpaw felt that he should be able to obtain a hit.
"If I can't lay the club against that ball," he told himself, "then
that fellow's putting something on it beside speed and curves; he's
using brains also."

Cap'n Wiley jumped up from the bench and did a sailor's hornpipe.
"This is the life!" he cried. "The real thing against the real thing!
Take soundings, Lefty; you're running on shoals. You'll be high and dry
in a minute."

Straight and silent, Jones stood and looked at the Big League player,
both hands holding the ball hidden before him. Wiley ceased his dancing
and shouting and a hush settled on the crowd. To Locke it seemed that
the eyes of the voiceless pitcher were plumbing the depths of his mind
and searching out his hidden thoughts; there came to Lefty a ridiculous
fancy that by some telepathic method the man on the slab could fathom
his purposes and so make ready to defeat them. An uncanny feeling crept
upon him, and he was annoyed. Jones pitched, and the batsman missed a
marvelous drop, which he had not been expecting.

"Perhaps I'll have to revise my theory about him not using brains,"
was the southpaw's mental admission.

The next two pitches were both a trifle wide, and Lefty declined to
bite at either. For the first time, as if he knew that here was a test,
Jones appeared to be trying to "work" the batter. Locke fouled the
following one.

"That's all there is to it," declared Wiley, "and I'm excruciatingly
surprised that there should be even that much. Go 'way back, Mr. Locke!"

Again Jones surveyed Lefty with his piercing eyes, and for the third time
he pitched a shoot that was not quite across. As if he had known it would
not be over, the batsman made not even the slightest move to swing.

"Some guessing match!" confessed the Marine Marvel. "Now, however, let
me give you my plighted word of dishonor that you're going to behold
a specimen of the superfluous speed Jonesy keeps on tap for special
occasions. Hold your breath and see if you can see it go by."

The ball did not go by; Lefty hit it fairly and sent a safety humming
to right.



CHAPTER XII

TOO MUCH TEMPTATION


"Is it poss-i-bill!" gasped Cap'n Wiley, staggering and clutching at
his forehead. "I am menaced by a swoon! Water! Whisky! I'll accept
anything to revive me!"

Fred Hallett hurried to the pan with his bat. "It's my turn now," he
said. "We've started on him, and we should all hit him."

Locke signalled that he would steal, and Hallett let the first one
pass. Lefty went down the line like a streak, but Schaeffer made a throw
that forced him to hit the dirt and make a hook slide. He caught his
spikes in the bag and gave his ankle a twist that sent a pain shooting
up his leg.

"Safe!" declared the umpire.

Locke did not get up. The crowd saw him drag himself to the bag and sit
on it, rubbing his ankle. Schepps bent over him solicitously.

"Dat was a nice little crack, pal," said the sandlotter, "and a nifty
steal. Hope youse ain't hoited."

But Lefty had sprained his ankle so seriously that he required assistance
to walk from the field. A runner was put in his place, although Wiley
informed them that they need not take the trouble. And Wiley was right,
for Jones struck Hallett out.

It was impossible for Locke to continue pitching, so Matthews took his
place. And the southpaw was left still uncertain and doubtful; the game
had not provided the test he courted. Weegman apparently had departed;
there was no question in the mind of Charles Collier's representative,
and, angered by the rebuff he had encountered, he was pretty certain
to spread the report that the great southpaw was "all in." He had
practically threatened to do this when he declared that every manager
and magnate in the business would soon know that Locke's pitching days
were over.

The Wind Jammers, spurred on by Cap'n Wiley, went after Matthews
aggressively, and for a time it appeared certain that they were going
to worry him off his feet. With only one down, they pushed a runner
across in the eighth, and there were two men on the sacks when a double
play blighted their prospect of tying up, perhaps of taking the lead,
at once.

As Jones continued invulnerable in the last of the eighth, the visitors
made their final assault upon Matthews in the ninth. But fortune was
against them. The game ended with Wiley greatly disappointed, though
still cheerful.

"A little frost crept into my elbow in the far-away regions of the
North," he admitted. "I'll shake it out in time. If I'd started old
Jonesy against Lefty, there would have been a different tale to tell."

The Wind Jammers were booked to play in Jacksonville the following
afternoon, but they remained in Fernandon overnight. Seated on the
veranda of the Magnolia, Wiley was enjoying a cigar after the evening
meal, and romancing, as usual, when Locke appeared, limping, with the
aid of a cane.

"It grieves me to behold your sorry plight," said the Marine Marvel
sympathetically. "I cajole with you most deprecatingly. But why, if
you were going to get hurt at all, weren't you obliging enough to do
it somewhat earlier in the pastime? That would have given my faithful
henchmen a chance to put the game away on ice."

"You can't be sure about that," returned Lefty. "You collected no
more scores off Matthews than you did off me."

"But you passed us six nice, ripe goose eggs, while he dealt out
only one. There was a difference that could be distinguished with the
unclothed optic. Nevertheless, it seems to me that Jones had something
on you; while he officiated, you were the only person who did any
gamboling on the cushions, and what you did didn't infect the result.
What do you think of Jones?"

"Will you lend me your ear while I express my opinion privately?"

"With the utmost perspicacity," said Wiley, rising. "Within my
boudoir--excuse my fluid French--I'll uncork either ear you prefer and
let you pour it full to overflowing."

In the privacy of Wiley's room, without beating around the bush, Locke
stated that he believed Jones promising material for the Big League, and
that he wished to size up the man.

"While I have no scouting commission or authority," said Lefty, "if
Kennedy should manage the Blue Stockings this season, he'd stand by my
judgment. The team must have pitchers. Of course, some will be bought in
the regular manner, but I know that, on my advice, Kennedy would take
Jones on and give him a show to make good, just as he gave me a chance
when I was a busher. I did not climb up by way of the minors; I made one
clean jump from the back pastures into the Big League."

"Mate," said Wiley, "let me tell you something a trifle bazaar: Jones
hasn't the remotest ambition in the world to become a baseball pitcher."

Locke stared at him incredulously. The swarthy little man was serious--at
least, as serious as he could be.

"Then," asked the southpaw, "why is he pitching?"

"Tell _me!_ I've done a little prognosticating over that question."

"You say he does not talk about himself. How do you--"

"Let me elucidate, if I can. I told you I ran across Jones in Alaska.
I saw him pitch in a baseball match in Nome. How he came to ingratiate
himself into that contest I am unable to state. Nobody seemed able
to tell me. All I found out about him was that he was one of three
partners who had a valuable property somewhere up in the Jade Mountain
region--not a prospect, but a real, bony-fido mine. Already they had
received offers for the property, and any day they could sell out for
a sum salubrious enough to make them all scandalously wealthy. They had
entered into some sort of an agreement that bound them all to hold on
until two of the three should vote to sell; Jones was tied up under
this contraction.

"I had grown weary of the vain search for the root of all evil. For me
that root has always been more slippery than a squirming eel; every
time I thought I had it by the tail it would wriggle out of my eager
clutch and get away. I longed for the fleshpots of my own native heath.
Watching that ball game in Nome, my blood churned in my veins until
it nearly turned to butter. Once more, in my well-fertilized fancy, I
saw myself towering the country with my Wind Jammers; and, could I
secure Jonesy for my star flinger, I knew I would be able to make my
return engagement a scintillating and scandalous success. With him for a
nucleus, I felt confident that I could assemble together a bunch of
world beaters. I resolved to go after Jones. I went, without dalliance. I
got him corralled in a private room and locked the door on him.

"Mate, I am a plain and simple soul, given not a jot or tittle to
exaggeration, yet I am ready to affirm--I never swear; it's
profane--that I had the tussle of my life with Jones. Parenthetically
speaking, we wrestled all over that room for about five solid hours. I
had supplied myself with forty reams of writing paper, a bushel basket
full of lead pencils, and two dictionaries. When I finally subdued
Jones, I was using a stub of the last pencil in the basket, was on the
concluding sheet of paper, had contracted writer's cramp, and the
dictionaries were mere torn and tattered wrecks. In the course of that
argument, I am certain I wrote every word in the English language,
besides coining a few thousand of my own. I had practically exhausted
every form of persuasion, and was on the verge of lying down and
taking the count. Then, by the rarest chance, I hit upon the right
thing. I wrote a paregoric upon the joys of traveling around over the
United States from city to city, from town to town, of visiting every
place of importance in the whole broad land, of meeting practically
every living human being in the country who was alive and deserved to
be met. Somehow that got him; I don't know why, but it did. I saw his
eyes gleam and his somber face change as he read that last wild stab of
mine. It struck home; he agreed to go. I had conquered.

"Now, mark ye well, the amount of his salary had not a whit to do with
it, and he entertained absolutely no ambish to become a baseball pitcher.
He was compelled to leave his partners up there running the mine, and to
rely upon their honesty to give him a square deal. You have been told
how he promulgates around over every new place he visits and stares
strangers out of countenance. Whether or not he's otherwise wrong in
his garret, he's certainly 'off' on that stunt. That's how I'm able
to keep him on the parole of this club of mine."

"In short, he's a sort of monomaniac?"

"Perhaps that's it."

Lefty did a bit of thinking. "You've been touring the smaller cities
and the towns in which an independent ball team would be most likely
to draw. In the large cities of a Big League circuit there are thousands
upon thousands of persons Jones has never met. He could work a whole
season in such a circuit and continue to see hosts of strangers every
time he visited any one of the cities included. Under such circumstances
he would have the same incentive that he has now. If he can be induced
to make the change, I'll take a chance on him, and I'll see that you
are well paid to use your persuasive powers to lead him to accept my
proposition."

"But you stated that you had no legal authority to make such a deal."

"I haven't; but I am willing to take a chance, with the understanding
that the matter is to be kept quiet until I shall be able to put
through an arrangement that will make it impossible for any manager in
organized ball to steal him away."

Wiley shook his head. "I couldn't get along without him, Lefty; he's
the mainsheet of the Wind Jammers. It would be like chucking the sextant
and the compass overboard. We'd be adrift without any instrument to
give us our position or anything to lay a course by."

"If you don't sell him to me, some manager is going to take him from
you without handing you as much as a lonesome dollar in return. You
can't dodge the Big League scouts; it's a wonder you've dodged them
as long as you have. They're bound to spot Jones and gobble him up.
Do you prefer to sell him or to have him snatched?"

"What will you give for him?"

"Now you're talking business. If I can put through the deal I'm
figuring on, I'll give you five hundred dollars, which, considering
the conditions, is more than a generous price."

"Five hundred dollars! Is there that much money to be found in one lump
anywhere in the world?"

"I own some Blue Stockings stock, so you see I have a financial, as
well as a sentimental, interest in the club. I'm going to fight hard to
prevent it from being wrecked. As long as it can stay in the first
division it will continue to be a money-maker, but already the impression
has become current that the team is riddled, and the stock has slumped.
There are evil forces at work. I don't know the exact purpose these
forces are aiming at, but I'm a pretty good guesser. The property is
mighty valuable for some people to get hold of if they can get it
cheap enough."

"They're even saying that you're extremely to the bad. What do you
think about it yourself, Lefty?"

Locke flushed. "Time will answer that."

"You look like a fighter," said Wiley. "I wish you luck."

"But what do you say to my proposition? Give me a flat answer."

"Five hundred dollars!" murmured the Marine Marvel, licking his lips.
"I'm wabbling on the top rail of the fence."

"Fall one way or the other."

Heaving a sigh, the sailor rose to his feet, and gave his trousers a
hitch. "Let's interview Jones," he proposed.



CHAPTER XIII

THE PERPLEXING QUESTION


The following morning Lefty Locke received two letters. One was from
the Federal League headquarters in Chicago, urging him to accept the
offer of the manager who had made such a tempting proposal to him. The
position, it stated, was still his for the taking, and he was pressed
to wire agreement to the terms proposed.

The other letter was from Locke's father, a clergyman residing in a
small New Jersey town. The contents proved disturbing. The Reverend
Mr. Hazelton's savings of a lifetime had been invested in a building
and loan association, and the association had failed disastrously.
Practically everything the clergyman possessed in the world would be
swept away; it seemed likely that he would lose his home.

Lefty's face grew pale and grim as he read this letter. He went directly
to his wife and told her. Janet was distressed.

"What can be done?" she cried. "You must do something, Lefty!
Your father and mother, at their age, turned out of their home! It is
terrible! What can you do?"

Locke considered a moment. "If I had not invested the savings of my
baseball career in Blue Stockings stock," he said regretfully, "I'd
have enough now to save their home for them."

"But can't you sell the stock?"

"Yes, for half what I paid for it--perhaps. That wouldn't he enough.
You're right in saying I must do something, but what can I--" He
stopped, staring at the other letter. He sat down, still staring at
it, and Janet came and put her arm about him.

"Here's something!" he exclaimed suddenly.

"What, dear?"

"This letter from Federal League headquarters, urging me to grab the
offer the Feds have made me. Twenty-seven thousand dollars for three
years, a certified check for the first year's salary, and a thousand
dollars bonus. That means that I can get ten thousand right in my hand
by signing a Federal contract--more than enough to save my folks."

Janet's face beamed, and she clapped her hands. "I had forgotten about
their offer! Why, you're all right! It's just the thing."

"I wonder?"

She looked at him, and grew sober. "Oh, you don't want to go to the
Federals? You're afraid they won't last?"

"It isn't that."

"No?"

"No, girl. If there was nothing else to restrain me, I'd take the next
train for Chicago, and put my fist to a Fed contract just as soon as I
could. I need ten thousand dollars now, and need it more than I ever
before needed money."

Janet ran her fingers through his hair, bending forward to scan his
serious and perplexed face. She could see that he was fighting a battle
silently, grimly. She longed to aid him in solving the problem by which
he was confronted, but realizing that she could not quite put herself
in his place, and that, therefore, her advice might not come from the
height of wisdom and experience, she held herself in check. Should he
ask counsel of her she would give the best she could.

"I know," she said, after a little period of silence, "that you must
think of your financial interest in the Blue Stockings."

"I'm not spending a moment's thought on that now. I'm thinking
of old Jack Kennedy and Charles Collier; of Bailey Weegman and his
treachery, for I believe he is treacherous to the core. I'm thinking
also of something else I don't like to think about."

"Tell me," she urged.

He looked up at her, and smiled wryly. Then he felt of his left shoulder.
"It's this," he said.

She caught her breath. "But you said you were going to give your arm
the real test yesterday. The Grays won, and the score was three to one
when you hurt your ankle and were forced to quit. I thought you were
satisfied."

"I very much doubt if the Grays would have won had not Cap'n Wiley
insisted upon pitching the opening innings for his team. The man who
followed him did not permit us to score at all. I was the only one who
got a safe hit off him. The test was not satisfactory, Janet."

Her face grew white. It was not like Lefty to lack confidence in himself.
During the past months, although his injured arm had seemed to improve
with disheartening slowness, he had insisted that it would come round
all right before the season opened. Yet lately he had not appeared quite
so optimistic. And now, after the game which was to settle his doubts, he
seemed more doubtful than before. She believed that he was holding
something back, that he was losing heart, but as long as there was any
hope remaining he would try not to burden her with his worries.

Suddenly she clutched his shoulders with her slender hands. "It's
all wrong!" she cried. "You've given up the best that was in you
for the Blue Stockings. You've done the work of two pitchers. They
won't let you go now. Even if your arm is bad at the beginning of the
season, they'll keep you on and give you a chance to get it back into
condition."

"Old Jack Kennedy would, but I have my doubts about any other manager."

"You don't mean that they'd let you go outright, just drop you?"

"Oh, it's possible they'd try to sell me or trade me. If they could
work me off on to some one who wasn't wise, probably they'd do it.
That's not reckoning on Weegman. He's so sore and vindictive that
he may spread the report that I've pitched my wing off. I fancy he
wouldn't care a rap if that did lose Collier the selling price that
could be got for me."

"Oh, I just hate to hear you talk about being traded or sold! It
doesn't sound as if you were a human being and this a free country.
Cattle are traded and sold."

"Cattle and ball players."

"It's wrong! Isn't there any way--"

"The Federals are showing the way."

"Your sympathy's with them. You're not bound to the Blue Stockings;
you're still your own free agent."

"Under the circumstances what would you have me do?"

At last he had asked her advice. Now she could speak. She did so eagerly.

"Accept the offer the Federals have made you."

"My dear," he said, "would you have me do that, with my own mind in
doubt as to whether or not I was worth a dollar to them? Would you have
me take the ten thousand I could get, knowing all the time that they
might be paying it for a has-been who wasn't worth ten cents? Would
that be honest?"

"You can be honest, then," she hurriedly declared. "No one knows for
a certainty, not even yourself, that you can't come back to your old
form. You can go to the manager and tell him the truth about yourself.
Can't you do that?"

"And then what? Probably he wouldn't want me after that at any price."

"You can make a fair bargain with him. You can have it put in the
contract that you are to get that money if you do come back and make good
as a pitcher."

Lefty laughed. "I think it would be the first time on record that a
ball player ever went to a manager who was eager to sign him up, and
made such a proposition. It would be honest, Janet; but if the manager
believed me, if he saw I was serious, do you fancy he'd feel like coming
across with the first year's salary in advance and the bonus? You see
I can't raise the money I need, and be honest."

She wrung her hands and came back to the first question that had leaped
from her lips: "What can you do?"

"I don't think I'll make any decisive move until I find out what sort
of queer business is going on in the Blue Stockings camp. I could get
money through Kennedy if he were coming back. Everything is up in the
air."

"How can you find out, away down here? You're too far away from the
places where things are doing."

"I've been looking for a telegram from old Jack, an answer to mine. I
feel confident I'll get a wire from him as soon as he reads my letter.
Meanwhile I'll write to my parents and try to cheer them up. It's bound
to take a little time to settle up the affairs of that building and loan
association. Time is what I need now."

That very day Locke received a telegram from Jack Kennedy:

    Meet me at the Grand, Indianapolis, the twenty-third. Don't
    fail.

A train carried Lefty north that night.



CHAPTER XIV

ONLY ONE WAY


The registry clerk stated that no Mr. Kennedy was stopping at the Grand
Hotel. Locke was disappointed, for he had expected old Jack would be
waiting for him. However, the veteran manager would, doubtless, appear
later. Lefty registered, and the clerk tossed a room key to the boy who
was waiting with the southpaw's traveling bag.

As the pitcher turned from the desk he found himself face to face
with a man whom he had seen on the train. The man, Locke believed,
had come aboard at Louisville. There was something familiar about the
appearance of the stranger, yet Lefty had not been able to place him.
He had narrow hips, a rather small waist, fine chest development, and
splendid shoulders; his neck was broad and swelling at the base; his
head, with the hair clipped close, was round as a bullet; his nose had
been broken, and there was an ugly scar upon his right cheek. He did
not look to be at all fat, and yet he must have weighed close to one
hundred and ninety. His hands, clenched, would have resembled miniature
battering-rams.

This person had not taken a look at the register, yet he addressed the
pitcher by name.

"How are you, Locke?" he said, with a grin that was half a sneer, half
a menace. "I guessed you'd bring up here."

Lefty knew Mit Skullen the moment he spoke. One-time prize fighter and
ball player, Skullen now posed as a scout employed by the Rockets; more
often he acted as the henchman and bodyguard of Tom Garrity, owner of
the team, and the best-hated man in the business. Garrity had so many
enemies that he could not keep track of them; a dozen men had tried to
"get" him at different times, and twice he had been assaulted and
beaten up. Skullen had saved him from injury on other occasions.

Garrity was the most sinister figure in organized baseball. Once a
newspaper reporter, he had somehow obtained control of the Rockets by
chicanery and fraud. Sympathy and gratitude were sentiments unknown
to him. He would work a winning pitcher to death, and then send the
man shooting down to the minors the moment he showed the slightest
symptom of weakness. He scoffed at regulations and bylaws; he defied
restraint and control; he was in a constant wrangle with other owners and
managers; and as a creator of discord and dissension he held the belt.
And he snapped his fingers in the face of the national commission. The
league longed to get rid of him, but could not seem to find any method of
doing so.

"Been lookin' 'em over a little down South," explained Skullen
superfluously. "Not much doin' this season, but I spotted one pitcher
with a rovin' bunch o' freaks who had more smoke and kinks than you
ever showed before you broke your arm, old boy. And he won't cost a
cent when we get ready to grab him. Nobody's wise to him but me, either.
S'pose you've come on to meet Weegman, hey?"

"Where'd you run across this find?" asked Locke casually, endeavoring
not to appear curious.

Skullen pulled down one corner of his mouth, and winked. "T'ink I'll
tell youse, old boy. But then Texas is a big bunch o' the map."

Texas! The Wind Jammers had come to Florida from Galveston.

"Did you have a talk with this unknown wizard?" questioned Lefty.

"He didn't talk much," returned the scout. "Oh, you can't pump me!
I know your old Blue Stocks ain't got a pitcher left that's worth a
hoot in Halifax, or hardly a player, for that matter; but I ain't goin'
to help you out--you an' Weegman. You gotter get together an' do your
own diggin'."

"Weegman is in Indianapolis?"

"As if you didn't know! Never had no use for that guy; but, all the
same, I advise you to grab on with him. It's your only chanct for a
baseball job; everybody in the game's wise that you'll never do no
more hurlin'."

Boiling inwardly, Locke permitted himself to be conducted to the
elevator. While he was bathing he thought, with increasing wrath and
dismay, of the insolent words of Skullen. The question that perplexed
him most was how the bruiser knew anything of Weegman's business,
especially the attempt to sign Locke as a manager. And Weegman was in
Indianapolis!

Coming down, Lefty went again to the desk to inquire about Kennedy.
He was handed a telegram. Tearing it open, he saw that it was from the
Federal manager who had offered him a three years' contract. It stated
curtly that the offer was withdrawn. Skullen was right; the story had
gone forth that the star southpaw of the Blue Stockings would do no
more pitching. Weegman was getting in his fine work.

Lefty felt a hand grip his elbow.

"Locke!" A well-dressed, youngish man grasped his hand and shook it. It
was Franklin Parlmee, who, for a long time, had evinced deep interest
in Virginia Collier. Parlmee, with family behind him, and a moderate
income, had shown a distaste for business and a disposition to live the
life of an idler. Collier had refused to countenance his daughter's
marriage to Parlmee until the latter should get into some worthy and
remunerative employment, and make good. For two years Parlmee had been
hustling, and he had developed into a really successful automobile
salesman.

"By Jove!" said Parlmee. "I didn't expect to run across you here,
old man. I'm mighty glad to see you. Perhaps you can tell me something
about Virginia. What has Mrs. Hazelton heard from her?"

The man seemed worried and nervous, and his question surprised Lefty.

"If any one should know about Miss Collier, you are the person,"
returned the pitcher. "Janet has scarcely heard from her since she
sailed with her father. We supposed you were corresponding with her
regularly."

Parlmee drew him toward a leather-covered settee. "I'm pegged out,"
he admitted, and he looked it. "Business forced me to run on or I'd
not be here now. I'm going back to New York to-night. Do you know,
I've received only two letters from Virginia since she reached the
other side, one from London, the other from Eaux Chaudes, in France.
The latter was posted more than a month ago. It stated that Virginia and
her father were leaving Eaux Chaudes for Italy. Since then no letters
have come from her."

"Do you mean to say you haven't an idea where Miss Collier and her
father are at the present time?"

Parlmee lighted a cigarette. His hands were not steady. "I haven't an
idea where Charles Collier is. As for Virginia, she cabled me that she
was sailing on the _Victoria_, which reached New York four days ago. I
was at the pier to meet her, but she didn't arrive, and her name was
not on the passenger list."

Lefty uttered an exclamation. "That was strange!"

The other man turned on the settee to face him. "The whole thing has
been queer. I had practically overcome Mr. Collier's prejudice and won
his entire approval. Then he broke down; his health went to the bad, and
his manner toward me seemed to change. I had an idea he went abroad more
to take Virginia away than for any other reason. Anyway, I knew there
was something wrong, and the two letters I got from her added to that
conviction. Her father was trying to get her to break with me! There
was another man whom he preferred."

"Another!"

"Yes, Bailey Weegman."

Locke gave a great start, as if he had received an electric thrust.
"Weegman!" he cried guardedly. "That scoundrel! Collier is crazy,
Parlmee!"

"Now you've said something! I believe the man's mind is affected.
Business reverses may have done it."

"Do you know that he left his baseball interests practically in the
control of Weegman?"

"No; but it doesn't surprise me. In some way, that scoundrel has got a
hold on him. Weegman has tried hard to undermine me with Virginia. I've
always disliked him and his detestable laugh. Who is he, anyway? Where
did he come from, and what are his antecedents?"

"You'll have to ask somebody else."

"It's Virginia I'm worrying about now," said Parlmee, tossing aside
his half-smoked cigarette.

"But if she was contemplating sailing for the United States with her
father--"

"Her cablegram to me didn't mention her father. I got the impression
that she was sailing alone."

"Alone! Great Scott!"

"And she didn't sail! Where is she? What happened to her? Do you wonder
I'm rattled? I've made arrangements so that I can have a month, if
necessary, to dig into this business. If that isn't enough, I'll take
all the time needed. It's the deuce to pay, Locke, as sure as you're
a foot high."

"In more ways than one," agreed Lefty. "I could tell you some other
things, but you've got enough to worry about. We must arrange to keep
in touch with each other. I presume I'll go back to Fernandon when I
get through here."

"Here's my New York address," said Parlmee, handing over his card,
and rising.

Five minutes after they separated old Jack Kennedy arrived, dusty and
weary from his railroad journey. His shoulders were a trifle stooped,
and he looked older by years, but his keen eyes lighted with a twinkle
as he grasped Locke's hand.

"I knew you'd beat me to it, Lefty," he said. "Wouldn't have called
on you to make the jaunt, but I had to chin with you face to face. Let's
talk first and feed our faces afterward."

The veteran registered, and they took the elevator. Carrying Kennedy's
traveling bag, a boy conducted them. A bar boy, bearing a tray that
was decorated with drinks, was knocking on a door. Within the room
somebody called for him to enter, and he did so as Locke was passing at
old Jack's heels. By chance Lefty obtained a glimpse of the interior
of that room before the door closed behind the boy. Two men, smoking
cigars, were sitting at opposite sides of a table on which were empty
glasses. They were Mit Skullen and Bailey Weegman.

Left together in Kennedy's room, Locke told the old manager what he had
seen, and immediately Kennedy's face was twisted into a wrathful pucker.

"You're sure?"

"Dead sure," replied Locke.

"Well, it sorter confirms a little suspicion that's been creepin'
inter my noddle. The Blue Stockings are up against somethin' more'n
the Feds, and the Feds have chewed the team to pieces. Within the last
three days they've nailed Temple, Dayly, and Hyland. There's only the
remnants of a ball club left."

Locke was aghast. "Gene Temple, too!" he cried. "The boy I found! I
thought he would stick."

"Money gets the best of 'em. Why shouldn't it, when them lads ought
to have been tied up before this with Blue Stockings contracts? The bars
have been left down for the Feds, and they've raided the preserves.
Seems just like they've been invited to come in and help themselves.
Why not, with a team without a manager, and everything left at loose
ends? Never heard of such criminal folly! But mebbe it ain't folly;
mebbe it's plain cadougery. I've had an idea there was somethin'
crooked behind it, but couldn't just quite nose it out. Now, with
Weegman and Mit Skullen gettin' together private, I see a light.
Garrity's the man! You know how he got his dirty paws on the Rockets.
Well, if he ain't workin' to gobble the Blue Stockings I'll eat
my hat! I'll bet that right now Tom Garrity's gathered in all the loose
stock of the club that he could buy, and he's countin' on havin'
enough to give him control before the season opens. He saw his chance,
with the Feds reachin' for every decent player they could lay their
hands on, and he went for it. What if the Blue Stockings do have a busted
team this season? In three years the club might be built up again,
and it's a sure money-maker just as long as it can keep in the first
division. Lynchin' is what a crook like Garrity deserves!"

Kennedy's eyes were flashing, and he was literally quivering with wrath.
Despite the fact that he was tired, he strode up and down the room.

"Weegman must be Garrity's tool, the creature who is helping him do
the dirty work," said Locke.

"You've got his number! How he came to pick you for a mark, I don't
know, unless it was because he thought you let me work you to death,
havin' no mind of your own. He knew he couldn't put anythin' over with
me, and so he decided to get rid of me; but he had to have somebody for
a manager who would appear to be all right. He's got to be blocked.
There's only one way."

"How?"

"You'll have to accept, and sign a contract to manage the team."

Lefty gasped. "But," he said, "I can't do that! You--"

"I'm out. He wouldn't have me, even if I'd do the work for no
salary."

"But I can't agree to Weegman's terms. I couldn't do anything of my
own accord; I couldn't sign a player unless he agreed. He made that
plain."

"But he wouldn't dare put anything like that in the contract. It would
be too barefaced. The minute you have the authority you can get to work
savin' the remnants of the team by signin' up the players the Feds
haven't grabbed already. I have a line on a few good youngsters who went
back to the minors last year because there wasn't room for them. Put
proof of Weegman's treachery before Collier, and Weegman's done for!
It's the one play that's got to be made in this here pinch."

There was a knock on the door.

"Come in!" called Kennedy.

Bailey Weegman entered, smiling.



CHAPTER XV

SIGNING THE MANAGER


Weegman came in boldly. His manner was ingratiating, yet somewhat
insolent, and he chuckled as he saw the look of surprise on the face
of Lefty Locke. "Well, well!" he said. "Here we are! This is first
rate. Now we can get together and do things."

To the southpaw's increasing astonishment, Kennedy stepped forward
quickly, seized Weegman's hand, and shook it cordially and heartily.

"I wired for Locke," said the old manager. "I felt sure I could talk
sense into his head. Didn't like to see him make a fool of himself and
let a great opportunity slip through his fingers just because of a false
notion about loyalty to me. But I didn't expect you before to-morrow."

Lefty was a trifle bewildered. Kennedy had known Weegman was coming
to Indianapolis; in fact, had arranged to meet him there. Collier's
representative beamed on Locke.

"Sorry I couldn't wait to see the finish of that game in Fernandon,"
he said; "but I saw enough to satisfy me. You did well to beat the Wind
Jammers with that bunch of half invalids behind you, and your own arm
all to the bad. Still, Wiley sort of handed you the game."

"The score was three to two," reminded Lefty.

"The Wind Jammers couldn't hit. They were a lot of freaks, a burlesque
baseball team." Weegman turned again to old Jack. "If you can talk some
sense into Locke, you'll succeed where I failed. I wasted time, money,
and breath on him; gave him up then. Let me tell you a joke." He began
to laugh, and the southpaw writhed inwardly. "Who do you think wants
to manage the Blue Stockings? You can't guess? Well, it's Skullen;
yes, Mit Skullen. Actually came after the job. Got me cornered and
gave me a great game of talk, trying to convince me that he could fill
the bill. I was listening to his spiel when I caught a glimpse of you
two passing the door of my room. Called the desk and asked the number
of your room. Then I shook old Mit and came around. The idea of Mit
Skullen managing a Big League club! Isn't that funny?" His whole body
shook with merriment as he spoke.

Kennedy seemed to be amused also, and joined in Weegman's laughter.
"Wonder what Tom Garrity would say to that? Skullen must have forgotten
his old nemesis, John Barleycorn. It was John that put him down and out
as a prize fighter and a ball player."

"He says he hasn't looked at the stuff for four months. You should
have heard him trying to convince me that he had the makings of a great
manager."

Lefty knew Weegman was lying regarding the nature of the private
consultation that had been held in a nearby room. But Kennedy seemed to
be unaware of this.

"You wouldn't take Skullen under any conditions, would you?" asked
old Jack.

"I wouldn't have him if he was ready to pay to manage the team. Collier
would lift my scalp if I fell for anything like that. But I've got a
line on a good man if--if--" He faltered, and looked at Locke, smiling.

"We'll settle that right here," declared Kennedy, with a growl.
"Locke's the lad. I haven't had time to talk to him much, but I was
telling him before you came in that he'd have to accept. As for me,
a Class AA team ain't so worse. You're dead sure I can hook up with
St. Paul?"

"I wired you about the proposition from Byers. He wants you, but he
wasn't going to try to cut in on us. Did you send him word?"

"Not yet. Decided to have my talk with Lefty first."

"I've always liked you, Kennedy," said Weegman. "You've been a great
man in your day. You're a good man now, but it needs younger blood,
especially in this fight against the Feds, confound them! About so often
a team needs to change managers, especially when it begins to slip.
The Blue Stockings began to slip last year, and the Feds have given us
a push. Locke's young, and he's got the energy to build the team up.
Working together, we can put it on its feet again. He'll have the very
best counsel and advice. He's a favorite with the fans, and he'll be
tolerated where you would be blamed. He'll come through and win out.
Of that I am certain. The Feds will blow before the season's over, and
the woods will be full of first-class players begging for jobs. Next
season should see the Stockings stronger than ever, and the man who's
managing the team's bound to be popular. He'll get a lot of credit."

Lefty had taken a chair. He opened his lips to speak, but stopped when
he caught a warning sign from old Jack behind Weegman's shoulder.

"Is that contract ready for the boy?" asked Kennedy.

"I've got it in my pocket."

"Then nail him right now. Push it at him, and we'll make him sign.
Don't let him get away."

Weegman produced the document. Then, for a moment, he seemed to hesitate,
flashing old Jack a look and giving Locke a hard stare.

"You understand the conditions?" he said, addressing the latter.

"Yes," answered Lefty, "you made them plain enough for a child to
understand when you talked to me in Fernandon."

"Course he understands," cut in Kennedy. "He told me, and I told him
to grab on without makin' no further talk. Just as you say, Weegman,
with proper advice he can swing the thing. It looks pretty big to him,
and he's doubtful. Let him look at that paper."

He took it from Weegman's hand and looked it over himself. It was
practically the same sort of an agreement old Jack had signed himself
when he took control of the team, and the name of Charles Collier,
properly witnessed, had already been affixed to it. With the contract
in his possession, along with Collier's power of attorney, Weegman could
sign up any one he chose to manage the Blue Stockings. For a fleeting
instant Kennedy's face was twisted into an expression of rage, which,
however, Collier's private secretary did not catch.

Locke saw that flash of anger and understood; old Jack was playing the
fox, and losing no time about it.

"Skullen will do for the other witness," said Weegman, going to the
room telephone. "He'll feel bad, of course, but I told him he didn't
have a show in the world." He called the operator and gave the number
of a room.

While Weegman was engaged, Kennedy handed the agreement over to Locke.
"You sign it just as it is," he directed. "You've had your talk with
Mr. Weegman, and you know what he said to you. You don't have to chin
it over any more."

By this time Weegman had got Skullen on the phone and asked him to come
round to Kennedy's room, giving him the number. Locke sat grimly reading
the contract until Skullen knocked at the door.

"Maybe you'll feel bad, Mit," said Weegman, admitting the man, "but
you know I told you there wasn't a show in the world of me signing
you up as manager. It's settled with Locke, and I want you to witness
him put his autograph to the paper. Now don't make a growl, but do as
you're wanted."

Skullen kept still as directed, but he looked as if Weegman's first
words had surprised him a trifle.

Kennedy had produced a fountain pen and thrust it into Locke's hand.
"Sign right here, son," he urged. "Let's see how pretty you write."

"Wait!" cried Weegman, his eyes on the southpaw, who had promptly
moved up to the little table. "You haven't forgotten our talk? You
understand?"

"I haven't forgotten a thing," asserted Lefty, boldly and swiftly
writing his name. "There it is!"



CHAPTER XVI

THE WRONG STOOL PIGEON


Skullen and Kennedy attached their names as witnesses. The thing was
done; Lefty Locke--Philip Hazelton was the name he wrote on the
contract--was now manager of the Blue Stockings. He received a duplicate
copy, which he folded and slipped into his pocket.

"Now we're all set for business," said Bailey Weegman. "I
congratulate you, Locke. One time I was afraid you didn't have sense
enough to welcome Opportunity when she knocked. I'll see you later,
Mit, if you're around. We've got to square away now and have a
little conference. Don't cry because you didn't get the job."

"Cry--nothin'!" said Skullen. "I wouldn't have taken it if you'd
handed it to me with twice the salary."

"Old Mit's disappointed," chuckled Weegman, when the door closed
behind him, "but he doesn't want anybody to know it. He'll deny he
came looking for the position, of course."

Kennedy had seated himself, and Weegman drew a chair up to the table,
producing a packet of papers and running them over until he found the
one he wanted.

"Here's a list of the men the Feds have grabbed off us," he said.
"Grist, Orth, Temple, Nelson, Hyland, and Lewis. Grist is no particular
loss, but Temple and Orth knock a hole in the pitching staff. Nelson
was our reliance behind the bat. With Dayly and Lewis gone, the whole
side of the infield is wide open. We ought to be able to fill Hyland's
place in right garden."

"It's a swell team that's left!" said Locke. "And you told me that
Dillon was negotiating with the outlaws."

"He hasn't jumped; he hasn't had the nerve," sneered Weegman,
snapping his fingers. "Instead, he's been howling for a contract.
You'd find him waiting if you didn't sign him until the first of
April." For just a flicker he had actually seemed to betray annoyance
because Pink Dillon had not followed the example of the deserters,
but he ended with a laugh.

"It seems to me," said the new manager, "that I'd better get busy and
try to save the pieces. The men who haven't jumped should be signed up
without delay."

"Of course," agreed Weegman blandly. "You must send out the contracts.
Unluckily, I haven't any blanks with me, but I'll see that you are
furnished with them to-morrow."

"Every day counts, perhaps every hour; by to-morrow we may lose another
good man, or more."

"Not much danger, and you don't want to make the mistake of getting
into a panic and trying to do things in too much of a hurry. We've been
farming some clever youngsters, more than enough to make up a team; but
you should consult with Kennedy about them, and take only the right ones.
You'll have the most trouble getting hold of pitchers."

"Youngsters," said Locke, "are all right; but do you mean to suggest
that we should stop the gaps wholly with men who lack Big League
experience? You know how much show that sort of a team would have in
the race. We've got to make some deals that will give us some players
who have ripened. It'll cost money, too."

"Right there," said Weegman, "is where you're going to need the
check-rein. Charles Collier won't stand for needless extravagance
in that line, I know, and I shall not countenance the purchasing of
high-priced men."

The blood rose into Lefty's face; he tingled to tell the rascal
something, but again a warning flicker of Kennedy's left eye restrained
him.

"There are lots of good youngsters coming on," said the veteran
soothingly. "There were three or four I could have used last season if
I'd had room for them. We'll run over the list and see how they'll
fit in."

For another hour they continued in conclave, and a dozen times Weegman
took occasion to impress upon Locke that he should do nothing definite
without receiving Weegman's approval. When he seemed to feel that he
had driven this into the new manager's head, he excused himself on the
pretext of attending to a pressing matter, and departed, leaving old
Jack and Lefty together. Kennedy quietly locked the door. Lefty jumped
to his feet and began pacing the floor like a caged tiger.

"Never had such a job to keep my hands off a man!" he raged. "Only
for you, I'd--"

"I know," said old Jack, returning and sitting down heavily. "I
wanted to kick him myself, and I think I shall do it some day soon.
He's crooked as a corkscrew and rotten as a last year's early apple.
But he ain't shrewd; he only thinks he is. He's fooled himself. You
never agreed to his verbal terms, and, just as I said, he didn't dare
put them in writing. According to that contract, you've got as much
power as I ever had, and you can exercise it. It's up to you to get
busy. Don't wait for contract forms from Weegman; they'll be delayed.
I have plenty. Wire the old players who are left that contracts will
be mailed to them to-night."

Locke stopped by Kennedy's chair and dropped a hand on the old man's
shoulder.

"And you're going to St. Paul?" he said. "You've been handed a
wretched deal."

"Nix on the St. Paul business, son; there's nothing to it. That wolf
thought I swallowed that guff. Byers is Garrity's friend, and it's
plain now that Garrity's mixed up in this dirty business. It was easy
enough to ask if I'd consider hooking up with St. Paul. By the time
I got round to saying yes, Byers could tell me it was off. This time,
Lefty, I'm out of the game for good." His voice sounded heavy and dull,
and his shoulders sagged.

The southpaw was silent, words failing him. After a few minutes old Jack
looked up into the face of his youthful companion, and smiled wryly.

"You've got a little glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in
baseball," he said. "The fans that pay their money to see the games
look on it, generally, as a fine, clean sport--which, in one way, it is.
That part the public pays to see, the game, is on the level. There's
a good reason: the crookedest magnate in the business--and, believe me,
there's one who can look down the back of his own neck without trying
to turn round--knows it would spell ruin to put over a frame-up on the
open field. By nature the players themselves are like the average run of
human critters, honest and dishonest; but experience has taught them
that they can't pull off any double deals without cutting their own
throats. People who talk about fixed games, especially in the World's
Series, show up their ignorance. It can't be done.

"But when it comes to tricks and holdups, and highway robberies and
assassination, there's always somethin' doing off stage. What you've
seen is only a patch. The men who run things are out for the coin,
and they aren't any better, as a rule, than the high financiers who
plunder railroads and loot public treasuries. They'll smile in a man's
face while they're whetting the knife for his back. Some of them have
put the knife into Charles Collier now, and they intend to sink it to
the hilt. You've been picked as a cat's-paw to help them pull their
chestnuts off the coals. They intend to fatten their batting average at
your expense, and when it's all over you'll be knocked out of the
box for good. You'll get the blame while they pluck the plums."

"Kennedy," said Locke, his voice hard as chilled steel, "they've
picked the wrong stool pigeon. My eyes aren't sewed up. With your help,
I'm going to find a way to spoil their villainous schemes. I know
you'll help me."

The veteran sprang up, a bit of the old-time fire in his face. "You bet
your life, son! That's why I wired for you to come on, and that's why I
wanted you to pretend to take the hook and sign up with Weegman. I knew
we could work together, and it puts us in position to get the harpoon
into them before they wise up to what's doing. Let's get busy."



CHAPTER XVII

GETTING INTO ACTION


Locke was for open work and defiance of Weegman, but Kennedy argued
against it.

"You want to get the jump on that snake," said the old man, digging a
package of contract forms for players out of his traveling bag. "He
won't be looking for you to get into action so sudden, and you'll gain
a lap before he knows it. When it comes to fighting a polecat, a wise man
takes precautions. Weegman's gone to send word to his pals of the slick
job he's put over, and he'll be coming back to bother us pretty soon.
We don't want to be here when he comes."

So, for the purpose of conducting their private business, another
room was engaged, and an arrangement made whereby no person, no matter
how insistent he might be, should be told where to find them. Then a
telegraph messenger boy was summoned to that room, and telegrams were
sent to the still loyal Blue Stockings players, stating that contracts
were being mailed for their signatures. Then the contracts were filled
out, sealed, and dropped into the mail chute.

A square meal was ordered and served in the private room, and for nearly
three hours Lefty and Jack talked. They had many things to tell each
other, but their principal topic was the filling of the frightful gaps
made in the team by the Federal raids, and both agreed that the time
had come when the close-fisted financial policy of the Blue Stockings
must be abandoned; players fully as good as the ones lost, or better, if
possible, must be obtained at any cost. Various team combinations that
seemed to balance to a nicety were made up on paper, but how to get the
men coveted was the problem.

"We've got two catchers left," said Kennedy, "but the best of the
pair ain't in the same class as the man we've lost. We've got to have
a backstop as good as Nelson. And when it comes to pitchers--say, son,
is it possible there ain't any show at all of your coming back?"

"I wish I could answer that," confessed Locke. "At any rate, we've
got to have two more first-string men. If this Mysterious Jones I told
you of is anywhere near as good as he looked to--"

"Not one chance in a hundred that he's good enough to carry a regular
share of the pitching the first season, no matter what he might develop
into with experience. The Wolves have been hurt least by the Feds,
and you might pick something worth while off Ben Frazer if you paid his
price. Last fall he offered to trade me that youngster, Keeper, for
Dayly, and since then he's bought Red Callahan from Brennan. That'll
put Keeper on the bench. You know what Keeper is, and I've always
regretted letting Frazer get him off me for five thousand, but it was
Collier's idea. The boy'd look well on our third cushion about now.
But don't lose sight of the fact that it's pitchers we've _got_ to
have."

Locke took the five-fifty train for New York, leaving Weegman, whom he
had succeeded in avoiding, frothing around the Grand in search of him.
Kennedy knew how to reach Frazer by wire, and he had received a reply
to his telegram that the manager of the Wolves would meet Lefty at the
Great Eastern the following night. Between Kennedy and Frazer there had
always existed a bond of understanding and friendship.

Despite the burden he had assumed, the new manager of the Blue Stockings
slept well. It was this faculty of getting sleep and recuperation under
any circumstances that had enabled him to become known as the "Iron
Man."

At breakfast the following morning he received a slight shock. Three
tables in front of him, with his back turned, sat a man with fine
shoulders, a bull neck, and a bullet head. Mit Skullen was traveling
eastward by the same train. Lefty cut his breakfast short and left the
diner without having been observed.

"If he should see me, he'd probably take the first opportunity to wire
back to Weegman," thought Locke, "and I'm going to follow old Jack's
advice about leaving Weegman in the dark for a while."

There was a possibility, of course, that Skullen would come wandering
through the train and discover him, but, to his satisfaction, nothing of
the kind happened. All the long forenoon he was whirled through a
snow-covered country without being annoyed by the appearance of
Garrity's henchman, and he had plenty of time to meditate on the
situation and the plans laid by himself and Kennedy.

But it was necessary to eat again, and shortly before Albany was reached
he returned to the diner, hoping Skullen had already had lunch. The man
was not there when he sat down, but he had scarcely given his order
when the fellow's hand dropped on his shoulder.

"Hully smokes!" exclaimed Mit, staring down, wide-eyed, at the
southpaw. "What's this mean? I can hardly believe me lamps. You
must have left Indianap' same time I did, and Weeg asked me twice if
I'd seen anything of you."

"Weegman?" said Lefty, startled, but outwardly serene. "Is he on this
train?"

"Nix. Last I know, he was tearing up the Grand looking for you. How's
it happened you skipped without dropping him word?"

"I'm going to see my folks, who live in Jersey," Locke answered,
truthfully enough.

"But you'll stop in the big town to-night? Where do you hang out?"

"Usually at the Prince Arthur." This was likewise true, although the
southpaw had now no intention of putting up there on this occasion.

Mit looked at his watch. "We must be pulling into Albany," he said. "I
want to get a paper. See you later."

"Go ahead and shoot your telegram to Weegman," thought Locke. "Any
message sent me at the Prince Arthur is liable to remain unopened for
some time."

He had finished his lunch and was back in the Pullman when Skullen found
him again. The man planted himself at Lefty's side and passed over a
newspaper, grinning as he pointed out an item on the sporting page:

    Even though it was rumored that old Jack Kennedy was to be let
    out, the selection of Locke as his successor is a surprise. As
    a pitcher Locke has had an amazingly successful career and
    has made an enviable reputation, but he has had no managerial
    experience, having come to the Big League directly from the
    bushes. Whether or not he has the stuff of which capable
    managers are made is a matter of uncertainty; but, with the
    Blue Stockings badly chewed to pieces by the Feds, Collier
    might have been expected, had he decided to drop Kennedy,
    to replace the veteran with a man of some practical knowledge
    in that line. The policy of the Stockings for the last year or
    two has been rather queer, to say the least, and the effect
    upon the team can be seen in its present rating.

That was the final paragraph. Collier, sick and absent in Europe, was
credited with the deal; not a word about Weegman. The rascal, pulling
the wires, was keeping himself in the background. For a moment Lefty
thought of Jack Stillman, a reporter friend, and felt a desire to give
him some inside information which, in cold type, would be pretty certain
to make the interested public sit up and take notice. But the time was
not ripe for a move like that, and he dismissed the thought.

Still grinning, Skullen jammed his elbow into Locke's ribs. "How do
you like that?" he inquired gloatingly. "That's the way them cheap
newspaper ginks pans you out when they get a chance."

The southpaw was suddenly attacked by an intense distaste for the
company of Tom Garrity's coarse hireling. He handed the paper back
in silence. But the feeling of dislike and antagonism was evidently
felt by Skullen, for, after a few minutes' silence, he got up and
walked out of the car; and, to his satisfaction, Lefty saw no more of
him during the remainder of the journey.

An uncomfortable storm of rain and sleet was raging when New York was
reached shortly after nightfall. A taxi bore Locke to the Great Eastern,
where he learned that Frazer had not yet arrived. Having registered,
he took the elevator for his room on the seventh floor, and, as he
was borne upward, a descending car, well filled with people, slipped
silently past, and Lefty caught a momentary glimpse of their faces
through the iron grillwork. One face he saw quite plainly, that of a
charming young woman in her early twenties--a face he recognized at once.

"Virginia Collier!" gasped Lefty, in astonishment.

He did not leave the car; back to the main floor he went. After hastily
looking around for the young woman he sought, he made inquiries at
the desk. He was informed that no Miss Collier was stopping in the
hotel. Still confident that he had not been mistaken, and thinking it
probable she was dining there with friends, he had her paged. Even when
the report came that no one answered to the name, he did not give up.
From various vantage points, he spent at least twenty minutes looking
over the people at dinner in the main dining room, the grill, and
the palm room. At the end of that time he was confident that Charles
Collier's daughter was not dining at the Great Eastern.

"Of course," he admitted to himself, "it's possible I was mistaken,
but I would have sworn it was Virginia."

He went up to his room and prepared for dinner, burdened by the
conviction that he had been baffled; that fate had played him a
trick. He would have given much for fifteen minutes' conversation with
the daughter of the Big Chief, and he was impressed with the belief
that he had passed her almost within an arm's reach.

This feeling was followed by one of uncertainty regarding Frazer. Old
Jack had assured him that the manager of the Wolves would meet him at
the Great Eastern, and he had relied on Kennedy without attempting to
get into direct communication with Frazer, and perhaps, after all, he
would not come.

"Then I'll have to run him down," considered Lefty. "And I want to
get to him before Weegman can get to me. If I don't, he'll be sure to
try to ball up any deal I attempt to put across."

Choosing to eat in the grill, he notified the desk where he could be
found should any one ask for him. But he had scarcely begun on the first
course when he heard his name spoken, and looked up to find Ben Frazer
smiling down upon him.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE FIRST DEAL


"Just in time to get in on the eats, I see," said the manager of the
famous Wolves, shaking hands with Locke. "It's a rotten night, my feet
are wet, and I'm awfully hungry. Only for Kennedy's message I'd be
on my way to Chicago."

A waiter placed a chair, and he sat down, took the menu card, and quickly
gave his order. He was a short, thick-set, shrewd-faced man; his hair
was turning gray on the temples, but he seemed to have lost little of
the nervous energy and alertness that had been his in the old days
when he had been called the swiftest second sacker in the business. He
had been an umpire baiter then, but in later years his methods had
changed, and never once since becoming a manager had he been given the
gate. Nevertheless, while he had gained in diplomacy, he had relaxed no
whit in aggressiveness. Led by old Ben, the Wolves fought to the last
ditch. "Now, tell me about it," he requested, turning to Lefty. "How
in thunder did you happen to let them rope you into such a mess?"

"You mean--"

"Getting tied up as manager of the Blue Stockings. Boy, you're the
goat; you've been chosen for the sacrifice. Somebody had to fall, of
course, but it's a shame that you should be the victim. I'd thought
you too wise to tumble into that trap."

"Then you think it is a trap?" asked the southpaw, feeling the blood
hot in his cheeks.

"Of course it is! The Stockings have been undermined and blown wide
open. They've got as much show this year as a snowball would have in a
baker's oven. They'll land in the subcellar with a sickening thud,
and there's no way of stopping them."

"No way--"

"No way under heaven, take it from me! I've been in the business long
enough to know what I'm talking about. It takes years to build up
such a fighting machine, and, when it's torn to pieces, rebuilding is
bound to be another job of years. The public won't understand. You'll
get the kicks and the curses. As a successful pitcher you've been a
favorite; as an unsuccessful manager you'll be about as popular as a
rusty spike in an automobile tire. Crowds are always fickle. When a
man's winning they howl their heads off for him; but let him strike
a losing streak and they scramble like mad to pelt him with mud and
brick-bats."

"But somebody has to build up a team."

"Somebody has to start it and get the blame. He's the goat. Where's
Burkett, who managed the Wolves before I came in? Out in the Border
League. Where's Ashton and Gerrish, who struggled with the Blue
Stockings before Kennedy stepped in on the turn of the tide? One's
running a cigar store in Kewanee, the other's drinking himself to death
in Muskegon; both left the game with busted reputations and broken
hearts. Where's McConnell, who tried to make a ball team of the
Hornets before Brennan's day? He took to the coke, and his friends
are paying for his keep in a private bug-house. Where's Decker, who
had a crack at the Panthers--But what's the use! There's no surer
way for a good man to ruin his career than to manage a losing ball team."

"In that case," said Locke, "I've got to manage a winner."

Frazer gazed at him pityingly. "Swell chance you've got! About one
in fifty thousand. You haven't got the makings of an ordinary
second-division team left."

"I know the Feds have copped off some of our best men, but--"

"Some! Some! I should so remark! But don't blame it all on the Feds.
They were practically invited to come in and take their pick. The bars
were let down. All your players knew there was trouble. They heard all
sorts of rumors that made them nervous and uncertain. They didn't
see any contracts coming their way to be signed. They knew there was
something the matter with Collier. It was even said he'd gone crazy.
They knew Kennedy was going to get out from under. There was gossip
about old men being shunted and new blood taken on. What they didn't
know was where they were at. It was all nicely worked to get them to
take the running long jump."

"Then you believe there was a plot to smash the team?"

"You don't have to be a mind reader to get my opinion, but I'm
saying this here private, man to man. I'm not goin' round talking for
publication."

"But you're wrong about Kennedy getting out; he was dropped."

"Was he?"

"Sure."

Frazer twisted his face into a queer grimace. "Old Jack Kennedy was too
wise to stick on under any such conditions. He knew what it meant, and
I'll guarantee that he wouldn't have managed the Blue Stockings this
year for twice the salary he got last. What I've got against him is
that he didn't put you wise before you tied up."

"It was on his advice that I consented to manage the team," replied
Locke.

"What?" exclaimed Frazer. "Is that straight? He advised you to--The
infernal old scoundrel!"

Locke warmed immediately in defense of Kennedy. The manager of the Wolves
listened, uncertain, shaking his head doubtfully.

"He may not have meant it," he admitted presently, "but he's got you
in bad, boy. You haven't got a show against the powers you'll have to
buck, and the conditions that were fixed up for you in advance."

"As to that, time will tell," said Lefty. "I'm going to make one
almighty try. First, I've got to plug the gaps. What have you got to
sell that I want?"

"Nothing that you'll pay the price for. I know Collier's policy."

"Collier is in Europe, and I'm manager of the team, with full authority
to make any deals I please. Here's my contract." He placed it before
old Ben. "Collier will have to stand for any trade I put through.
I'll buy Smoke Jordan off you."

"You won't! I won't sell him."

"Then how about Jack Keeper? You've got Red Callahan, and I need a
third baseman."

Frazer finished his soup. "I won't sell you Keeper," he said; "but
I'll trade him. I need a center fielder in the place of Courtney, who's
retired. I'll trade Keeper for Herman Brock."

At first Locke had no relish for a trade that would add to the Blue
Stockings infield at the expense of the outfield, even though in his
secret heart he knew Brock had during last season shown vague symptoms
of slowing down. Then he remembered the list of reserves given him by
Kennedy, on which there was one fast, hard-hitting youngster who had
been sent back to the Western Canada League, and had made a brilliant
record covering the middle garden for Medicine Hat.

"I don't want to trade, I want to buy," he persisted. Then, as if
struck by second thought: "I'll tell you what I will do; I'll give
you Brock for two men. That'll help. We need a catcher. After King broke
his leg you found a great catcher in Darrow. I'll trade you Brock for
Keeper and King."

"Brick King!" exploded Frazer indignantly. "What do you take me for?"

"A business man. You've got three first-string catchers now; two are
all you need. You don't even know that King's leg is all right. I'm
willing to take a chance on him. Brock batted over three hundred last
season. He's the hitter you need to fill that vacancy."

"Not Brick King," said the manager of the Wolves. "If I didn't use
him behind the bat for the whole season, he's a fancy pinch hitter.
You've gotter have pitchers. How about O'Brien?"

But Locke knew that Chick O'Brien, the veteran, had cracked already.
Even though on hot days, when he could get his wing to work, he showed
flashes of his former brilliant form, and had, under such conditions,
last year pitched three shut-out games for the Wolves, Chick's record
for the season showed a balance on the wrong side. The southpaw held out
for King. Frazer offered one of the second-string catchers. Lefty waved
the offer aside.

"Hang it!" snapped Frazer. "Give me Brock and ten thousand dollars,
and you may have Keeper and King."

"You don't want much!" laughed Locke. "I'll give you Brock and five
thousand."

All the way through to the dessert they dickered and bargained. Frazer
wanted Brock, and wanted him bad. Sympathetic though he might feel toward
Lefty, he never permitted sympathy to interfere with business. Brock
was the man to fill the position left vacant by Bob Courtney, and he
was sure the Wolves would not be weakened by the loss of Keeper. But
Brick King--"What salary are you paying King?" Lefty suddenly asked.

"Five thousand. The Feds got after him, and I had to make it that."

The southpaw laughed. "With Darrow doing most of the backstopping,
and Larson ready to fill in any moment he's needed, you're going to
keep a five-thousand-dollar catcher on the bench for a pinch hitter!
I just called you a business man, but I feel like taking it back. Isn't
Madden likely to kick over a five-thousand-dollar pinch hitter?" Madden
owned the team.

"Madden be hanged!" rasped Frazer, biting off the end of a cigar he had
taken from his case. "I'm the manager! Madden isn't always butting in
and paring down expenses, like Collier." He pulled vigorously at the
cigar, while the attentive waiter applied a lighted match.

Lefty had declined a cigar. He smoked occasionally, and would have done
so now, but to do so would indicate an inclination to settle down and
continue the dickering, and he had decided to make a bluff at bringing
the affair to an end. He called for the check, and insisted on paying
the bill for both.

"Sorry I've put you to so much trouble, Frazer," he said. "It was
Kennedy's idea that I might do business with you, but it's evident he
was mistaken. I've got some other cards to play, and time is precious."
He settled the bill and tipped the waiter.

Old Ben sat regarding Locke thoughtfully, rolling out great puffs of
smoke. The younger man was about to rise.

"Hold on," requested the manager of the Wolves. "You're a regular
mule, aren't you? How do you expect to make a trade without compromising
at all? You won't even meet me halfway, confound you! You--"

"I'll own up that I was a bit hasty," said Lefty, showing a nervous
desire to get away. "I made that five-thousand offer without thinking
much, but you understand I'm rather desperate. If Collier were here,
he'd probably put the kibosh on it--if he found out before the trade
was closed. After that he'd have to stand for it, no matter how hard he
kicked. Let's forget it."

Then Frazer showed that peculiar trait of human nature that makes a
person doubly eager for something that seems to be on the point of
slipping away. In his mind he had already fitted Herman Brock into
that gap in center field that had given him more or less worry. The
adjustment had pleased him; it seemed to balance the team to a hair. It
would give him renewed assurance of another pennant and a slice of the
World's Series money. It was Courtney's hitting in the last series
that had enabled the Wolves to divide the big end of that money; and,
like Courtney, Brock was a terror with the ash.

"You mule!" said Frazer. "Let's go up to your room and fix up the
papers. It's a trade."



CHAPTER XIX

A FLEETING GLIMPSE


Locke betrayed no sign of the triumph that he felt. Had Frazer held out,
he would have given the ten thousand asked, and considered himself
lucky to get a catcher and a third sacker, both young men, and coming,
in exchange for an outfielder who could not possibly last more than
another season or two. Collier might squirm when he learned of the
trade, but perhaps he could be made to see the desperate necessity of
it. The thought that Bailey Weegman would gnash his teeth and froth at
the mouth gave Lefty an added thrill of pleasure. The first move to
circumvent Weegman and the scheming scoundrel behind him, Garrity, had
been put through.

"All right," he said, with something like a sigh. "If you hold me to
my word, I suppose it's a trade. We may as well make out the papers."

"What's that about a trade?" asked a voice at the southpaw's back.
"What are you two ginks cooking up? I saw you chinnin', and thought
there was something in the wind."

Skullen had entered the grill and come up without being observed. There
was nothing thin-skinned about Mit, and apparently he had forgotten the
rebuff given him by Locke on the train.

"Hello, Mit!" said Frazer. "You're just in time to be a witness.
I've traded King and Keeper for Herm Brock. We're going up to make
out the papers now. Come on!"

Locke rose, his eyes on the intruder, repressing a laugh as he noted the
man's expression of incredulity.

"Traded!" exclaimed Skullen. "With Locke? Say, who's backing
Locke in this deal? Weeg told me--when I talked with him about being
manager--that any trade that was made would have to be confirmed by
him. Has he agreed to this deal?"

"He don't have to," said Lefty. "There's nothing in my contract that
gives him any authority to interfere with any deal I may choose to make."

Mit followed them from the room and to the elevator. He was bursting
to say more, but he did not know just how to say it. When they were in
Locke's room he began:

"Keeper and King for that old skate Brock! What's the matter with you,
Ben? You've got bats in your belfry! Why, you've gone clean off your
nut! You've--"

Frazer cut him short. "That'll be about enough from you, Mit! Don't
try to tell me my business. I'm getting five thousand bones in the
bargain."

"Hey?" shouted Skullen, turning on the young manager of the Blue
Stockings. "Five thousand bucks! You're coughing up that sum without
consulting anybody? Say, you're going in clean over your head. You'd
better hold up and wire Weegman what you're thinking about. If you
don't--"

"When I want your advice I'll ask for it," interrupted Locke sharply.
"You seem to be greatly interested in this business, for an outsider."

Skullen was choked off, but he gurgled and growled while the papers were
being filled out; he even seemed disposed to refuse to sign as a witness,
but finally did so, muttering:

"There's going to be the devil to pay over this, you can bet your sweet
life on that!"

Lefty didn't care; it was settled, and neither Collier nor his
representative could repudiate the bargain. Let the crooks rage. The
only thing the southpaw regretted was that Weegman would, doubtless,
quickly learn what had been done; for it was a practical certainty that
Skullen would lose little time in wiring to him. In fact, Mit soon
made an excuse to take his departure, and, in fancy, Locke saw him
making haste to send the message.

Frazer was wise, also. "You're going to find yourself bucking a rotten
combination, Locke," he said. "They're bound to put it over you before
you're through."

"I should worry and lose my sleep!" was the light retort. "Give me a
cigar now, Ben; I haven't felt so much like smoking in a month."

Locke slept that night in peace. In the infield there were two big holes
left to be filled, short and second; but the reserve list afforded a
dozen men to pick from, and it was Lefty's theory that a certain number
of carefully chosen youngsters, mixed in with veterans who could steady
them, frequently added the needed fire and dash to a team that was
beginning to slow down. Herman Brock was gone, but out in Medicine
Hat Jock Sheridan had covered the middle garden like a carpet, and had
batted four hundred and ten--some hitting! With Welch and Hyland on
his right and left, Sheridan might compel the Big League fans to give
him something more than a casual once over.

But Locke's great pleasure lay in the fact that he had secured a
backstop he had not dared to hope for. Even now he could not understand
why Frazer had been induced to part with Brick King, the catcher whose
almost uncanny skill in getting the very limit out of second-rate and
faltering pitchers had lifted the Wolves out of the second division
two years ago, and made them pennant contenders up to the final game
of the season. There was the possibility, of course, that old Ben
believed that King had not thoroughly recovered from the injury that
had sent him to the hospital last August; but a broken leg was something
that rarely put an athlete down and out indefinitely.

"In my estimation," thought Lefty serenely, as sleep was stealing over
him, "King has got more brains and uses them better than any backstop
in the league."

The morning papers had something to say about the deal:

    The new manager of the Blue Stockings has been getting busy.
    By good authority we are informed that he has traded Center
    Fielder Herman Brock for two of Ben Frazer's youngsters,
    King and Keeper. Through this deal he has obtained a catcher
    and a third baseman, but has opened up a hole in the outfield
    big enough to roll an _Imperator_ cargo of base hits through.
    Of course, the gaping wounds of the Stockings must be plugged,
    but it seems like bad surgery to inflict further mutilation in
    order to fill the gashes already made. And when it comes
    to driving in scores when they count, we predict that old
    Herman and his swatstick are going to be lamented. Keeper is
    more or less of an unknown quantity. It's true that Brick
    King, in condition, is an excellent backstop and a good
    hitter, but it must not be forgotten that he has not played
    since he was injured last August. And, incidentally, it should
    be remembered that Ben Frazer has a head as long as a tape
    measure. An expert appraiser should be called in to inspect any
    property on which Frazer shows a disposition to relinquish his
    grip. It is a good, even-money proposition that old Ben
    and the Wolves will get their hooks into the World's Series
    boodle again this year.

Lefty smiled over this, his lips curling a bit scornfully. The opening
of the real baseball season was yet a long distance away, but the
newspaper writers were compelled to grind out a required amount of
"dope" each day, and were working hard to keep up their average.
Some of them were clever and ingenious in their phrasing, but nearly
all of them betrayed a lack of originality or courage in forming and
expressing individual opinions. The Wolves had won the pennant and the
world's championship last season, and up to date they had been damaged
less than any club in organized ball by the raids of the Federals;
some wise pen pusher had therefore predicted that the Wolves would cop
the bunting again, and was supported in this opinion by all the little
fellows, who ran, bleating, after the wise one, like a flock of sheep
chasing a bellwether.

It was evident that, with no apparent exceptions, this bleating flock
looked on the Blue Stockings as a drifting derelict that was due to
be blown up and sunk. For Locke they had only pity and mild contempt
because he had permitted himself to be dragged into the impossible
attempt to salvage the worthless hulk. Even old Ben Frazer, than whom
none was reckoned more keen and astute, had expressed such a sentiment
without concealment. A weak man would have felt some qualms; Lefty
felt none. He had not sought the job; in a way, fate had thrust it upon
him; and now the more unsurmountable the difficulties appeared the
stronger he became to grapple with them. Like a soldier going into
battle, exulted and fired by a high and lofty purpose, his heart sang
within him.

Before going to bed, Lefty had wired Kennedy concerning the deal with
Frazer, and he believed Skullen had made haste to telegraph Weegman.
He rose in the morning fully expecting to get a red-hot message from
Collier's private secretary, and was surprised when nothing of the sort
reached him. While at breakfast, however, he received an answer from
old Jack:

    Good work! Congratulations. Keep it up.
                                             KENNEDY.

Weegman's silence led Locke to do some thinking, and suddenly he
understood. Skullen had discovered him on the Knickerbocker Special
just before the train had pulled into Albany, and immediately Mit had
hastened away to buy a paper. Of course he had then sent word to Weegman,
who was now on his way to New York.

"But he can't get here before six o'clock to-night," thought Lefty,
"and my train for the South leaves at three-thirty-four."

He did not relish running away from Weegman, and it had gone against
the grain when, upon the advice of Kennedy, he had suddenly left
Indianapolis. But he knew old Jack was wise, and the more he could
accomplish without being interfered with by the rascal he despised, the
stronger his position for open fighting would be when it became necessary
to defy him to his face.

His first duty that day was to visit his parents, and, shortly after
breakfast, he took the tube for Jersey. Less than an hour's journey
brought him to the Hazelton home, and, after something like an hour spent
with them, he left them in a much more cheerful and hopeful frame of mind.

On returning to the city he called up the office of Franklin Parlmee.
To his disappointment, he was informed that Parlmee had not returned
since leaving for Indianapolis. He had expected the man could inform
him whether or not Virginia Collier was in New York, and, if she were,
how to find her and obtain the brief interview he desired. For he was
sure that a short talk with Charles Collier's daughter would serve to
clear away many of the uncertainties with which he was surrounded.

But there were other things to be done, and Lefty was kept on the jump,
without time, even, to snatch a hasty lunch. When a person attempts to
accomplish a great deal in a brief period in New York, he often finds he
has shouldered a heavy load. By two o'clock in the afternoon he realized
that it would be impossible for him to take the three-thirty-four
southbound from the Pennsylvania Station. There was a slower train
leaving at nine-thirty; that was the best he could do.

He believed Weegman would rush to the Great Eastern as soon as he
arrived. Locke had left the Great Eastern, and there was little chance of
encountering the man elsewhere. Once or twice he thought of Skullen,
and wondered if he had made an effort to keep track of him.

"If so," laughed the southpaw, "he has been some busy person."

At six o'clock he was appeasing a ravenous appetite in a quiet
restaurant. With the exception of the fact that he had not been able
to find Virginia Collier, he had done everything he had set out to do.
And he had wired Cap'n Wiley that he would soon be on his way with
a Blue Stockings contract for Mysterious Jones to sign.

In order to pass the time and obtain a little diversion, he went to a
motion-picture show after dinner, having first secured accommodations on
the train, and checked his bag at the station. He left the theater
shortly before nine o'clock, and had reached Broadway and Thirty-third
Street, when a lighted limousine, containing two persons besides the
driver, drove past him. He obtained a good look at both passengers,
a man, who was talking earnestly, and a woman, smiling as she listened.
He knew he was not mistaken this time: the man was Bailey Weegman; the
woman was Virginia Collier.



CHAPTER XX

A RIDDLE TO SOLVE


Locke stood still, staring after the swiftly receding car. He thought of
pursuit, but, as a heavy rain was falling, there was no available taxi in
the immediate vicinity. By the time he could secure one the limousine
would have vanished, leaving no possible hope of tracing it.

Weegman and Virginia Collier together and on terms plainly more than
usually friendly! What was the explanation? She had arrived in New
York, after all, and it was apparent that Weegman knew where to find
her when he reached the city. That his company was distinctly agreeable
to her was evident from the fleeting glimpse Lefty had obtained. As
Parlmee's rival, the man held the favor of Charles Collier. Had the
baseball magnate at last succeeded in breaking down the prejudice and
opposition of his daughter? Was it possible that Weegman, not Parlmee,
was the magnet that had drawn the girl back from Europe?

"Impossible!" exclaimed Lefty. "She'd never throw over Frank for that
chuckling scoundrel."

But was it impossible? Vaguely he recalled something like a change in the
tone of Virginia's last letters to Janet; somehow they had not seemed
as frank and confiding as former letters. And eventually, to Janet's
worriment and perplexity, Virginia had ceased to write at all.

Before Locke flashed a picture of Parlmee as he had appeared in
Indianapolis, nervous, perplexed, and, by his own admission, greatly
worried. Parlmee had confessed that he had received only two very
unsatisfactory letters from Virginia since she had sailed for Europe
with her father, and more than a month had elapsed since the second
of these had come to his hands. Of itself, this was enough to upset a
man as much in love with Miss Collier as Parlmee undoubtedly was. But,
at the time, Lefty had vaguely felt that the automobile salesman was
holding something back, and now he was sure. Parlmee's pride, and his
secret hope that he was mistaken, had prevented him from confessing that
the girl had changed in her attitude toward him.

True, Virginia had cabled that she was sailing on the _Victoria_, and had
asked him to meet her, and although she had not sailed on that ship, yet
she was now in New York. Here was a riddle to solve. Did the solution
lie in the assumption that, having decided to break her tentative
engagement in a face-to-face talk with Parlmee, the girl's courage
had failed her, leading her to change her plans? The fact that he was
with her now seemed to prove that Weegman's information regarding
her movements and intentions had been more accurate than Parlmee's.

It did not appear plausible that such a girl could be persuaded, of her
own free will, to throw over Franklin Parlmee for Bailey Weegman.
But perhaps she was not exercising her own free will; perhaps some
powerful and mastering influence had been brought to bear upon her.
Was it not possible, also, that her father, whose singular behavior
had lately aroused comment and speculation, was likewise a victim of
this mastering influence? While the idea was a trifle bizarre, and
savored of sensational fiction, such things did happen, if reports
of them, to be found almost daily in the newspapers, could be believed.
But when Locke tried to imagine the chuckling and oily Weegman as a
hypnotist, dominating both Collier and his daughter by the power of
an evil spell, he failed. It was too preposterous.

One thing, however, was certain: evil powers of a materialistic nature
were at work, and they had succeeded in making a decided mess of Charles
Collier's affairs. To defeat them, the strategy and determination of
united opposition would be required, and, in view of the task, the
opposition seemed weak and insufficient. Even Parlmee, who might render
some aid, was not to be reached. He had obtained a month's leave from
business in order to settle his own suspicions and fears, but he had
not returned to New York. Where was he?

Lefty glanced over his shoulder as the _Herald_ clock began to hammer
out the hour of nine. Then he set his face westward and made for the
Pennsylvania Station at a brisk pace. Reaching his destination, he
wrote and sent to Parlmee's office address a message that contained,
in addition to the positive assurance that Virginia was in town and
had been seen with Weegman, a statement of the southpaw's suspicions,
which amounted almost to convictions, concerning the whole affair.
There didn't seem to be much more that he could do. He had secured his
accommodations on the Florida Mail, but he expected to be back on the
field of battle in the North within the shortest possible time.

Before going aboard his train, he bought the latest edition of an
evening newspaper, and, naturally, turned at once to the sporting
page. Almost by instinct his eyes found something of personal concern, a
statement that Manager Garrity would strengthen the Rockets by securing
an unknown "dummy" pitcher who had been discovered by Scout Skullen,
and was said to be a wizard. Skullen, it was intimated, was off with a
commission from Garrity to sign up his find.

There was no longer any doubt in Locke's mind that Skullen had watched
the work of Mysterious Jones, and intended to nail the mute for the
Rockets. Even now, he had departed on his mission. Probably he had left
at three-thirty-four on the very train Lefty had meant to take. If so, he
would reach Florida many hours ahead of the southpaw, and would have
plenty of time to accomplish his purpose. True, Locke had made a fair
and square bargain with Wiley and Jones, but, having been unable to
get Jones' signature on a Blue Stockings contract at the time, the
deal would not be binding if the mute chose to go back on it.

Not a little apprehensive, Lefty sent still another message to Cap'n
Wiley. After which he went aboard the train, found his berth, and turned
in.



CHAPTER XXI

THE MAN AHEAD


Locke was the first passenger to leap off the train when it stopped at
Vienna. He made for one of the two rickety carriages that were drawn
up beside the station platform. The white-wooled old negro driver
straightened on his seat, signaling with his whip, and called: "Right
dis way, sah; dis way fo' the Lithonia House."

"Is there a baseball game in this town to-day, uncle?" asked Lefty.

"Yes, sah, dere sho am. Dey's gwine to be some hot game, so ever'body
say. Our boys gwine buck up against dem Wind Jabbers, an' dere'll be
a reg'ler ruction out to de pahk."

"What time does the game begin?"

"Free o'clock am de skaduled hour fo' de obsequies, sah. Dey's out to
de pahk now, sah, an' 'most ever'body could git dere has gone, too."

Locke looked at his watch. "Thirty minutes before the game starts. How
far is your park?"

"'Bout a mile, sah, mo' uh less."

"Two dollars, if you get me there in a hurry."

"Two dollahs, sah? Yes, sah! Step right in, sah, an' watch dis heah
streak o' locomotion transpose yo' over de earth surface. Set tight
an' hol' fast."

Tossing his overcoat and bag into the rear of the carriage, Lefty
sprang in. The old negro gave a shrill yell, and cracked his whip with a
pistol-like report. The yell and the crack electrified the rawboned old
nag into making a wild leap as if trying to jump out of the thills.
It was a marvel that the spliced and string-tied harness held. The
southpaw was flung down upon the rear seat, and it was a wonder that
he did not go flying over the low back of it and out of the carriage.
He grabbed hold with both hands, and held fast. Round the corner of
the station spun the carriage on two wabbly wheels, and away it careened
at the heels of the galloping horse, the colored driver continuing to
yell and crack his whip. Two dollars!

The ride from the station to the baseball park was brief but exciting.
The distance could not have been more than half a mile, and, considering
the conveyance, it was made in record time.

"Whoa, yo' Nancy Hanks!" shouted the driver, surging back on the
reins and stopping the animal so abruptly that Lefty was nearly pitched
into the forward seat. "Did I heah yo' say you wanted to git heah
in a hurry, sah?"

Locke jumped out. "That's the shortest mile I ever traveled," he said,
handing over the price promised. "But then, when it comes to driving,
Barney Oldfield has nothing on you."

Carrying his overcoat and bag, he hurried to the gate and paid the
price of admission. A goodly crowd had gathered, and the local team
was practicing on the field. Over at one side some of the visitors
were getting in a little light batting practice. Mysterious Jones was
warming up with Schaeffer. A short distance behind Jones stood Cap'n
Wiley, his legs planted wide, his arms folded, his ear cocked, listening
to Mit Skullen, who was talking earnestly. Lefty strode hastily toward
the pair.

"Sell him!" said the Marine Marvel, in reply to the scout, as the
southpaw approached behind them. "Of course I will. But you made one
miscue, mate; you should have come straight to me in the first place,
instead of superflouing away your time seeking to pilfer him off me by
stealth. What price do you respectfully tender?"

Locke felt a throb of resentful anger. Regardless of a square bargain
already made, Wiley was ready to negotiate with Skullen. However, Mit
had not yet succeeded in his purpose, and the southpaw was on hand to
maintain a prior claim. Involuntarily he halted, waiting for the scout's
offer.

"As you aren't in any regular league," said Mit, "by rights I
don't have to give you anything for him; but if you'll jolly him
into putting his fist to a contract, I'll fork over fifty bones out
of my own pocket. Garrity won't stand for it, so I'll have to come
through with the fifty myself."

"Your magnanimous offer staggers me!" exclaimed Wiley. "Allow me a
moment to subdue my emotions. However and nevertheless, I fear me greatly
that my bottom price would be slightly more than that."

"Well, what is your bottom price?" demanded Skullen. "Put it down to
the last notch."

"I will. I'll give you bed-rock figures. Comprehend me, mate, I'll
pare it right down to the bone, and you can't buy Jones a measly,
lonesome cent less. I'll sell him to you for just precisely fifty
thousand dollars."

The scout's jaw dropped, and he stared at the little man, who stared
up at him in return, one eyelid slightly lowered, an oddly provocative
expression on his swarthy face.

Slowly the look of incredulous disbelief turned to wrath. The purple
color surged upward from Mit's bull neck into his scarred face; his
huge hands closed.

"What are you trying to hand me, you blamed little runt?" he snarled.
"Where's the joke?"

"No joke at all, I hasten to postulate," said Wiley. "The scandalous
fact is that I couldn't sell him to you at all without scuttling
and sinking my sacred honor. But human nature is frail and prone to
temptation, and for the sum of fifty thousand dollars I'd inveigle
Jones into signing with you, even though never again as long as I should
dwell on this terrestrial sphere could I look my old college chump,
Lefty Locke, in the countenance."

Skullen's astonishment was a sight to behold. He made strange, wheezing,
gurgling sounds in his throat. Presently one of his paws shot out and
fastened on Cap'n Wiley's shoulder.

"What's that you're saying about Lefty Locke?" he demanded. "What
are you giving me?"

"Straight goods, Mit," stated the southpaw serenely, as he stepped
forward. "Too bad you wasted so much time making a long and useless
trip."

Skullen came round with something like his old deftness of whirling in
the ring when engaged in battle. Never in all his life had his battered
face worn an uglier look. For a moment, however, he seemed to doubt the
evidence of his eyes.

"Locke!" he gasped. "Here!"

"Yes, indeed," returned the new manager of the Blue Stockings
pleasantly. "I reckoned you would be ahead of me, Mit; but, as a man
of his word, Wiley couldn't do business with you. And without his
aid there was little chance for you to make arrangements with Jones."

Skullen planted his clenched fists upon his hips and gazed at the
southpaw with an expression of unrepressed hatred. His bearing, as
well as his look, threatened assault. Lefty dropped his traveling bag
to the ground, and tossed the overcoat he had been compelled to wear
in the North upon it. He felt that it would be wise for him to have
both hands free and ready for use.



CHAPTER XXII

A DOUBTFUL VICTORY


"Who sent you here?" demanded the belligerent individual. "What
business have you got coming poking your nose into my affairs? You'd
better chase yourself sudden."

Instead of exhibiting alarm, Lefty laughed in the man's face. "Don't
make a show of yourself, Mit," he advised. "Bluster won't get you any
ball players; at least, it won't get you this one. I've already made a
deal for Jones."

"You haven't got his name on a contract; you hadn't time. If you had,
Wiley'd told me."

"I made a fair trade for him before I went North."

Into Skullen's eyes there came a look of understanding and satisfaction.
His lips curled back from his ugly teeth.

"You didn't have any authority to make a trade then, for you weren't
manager of the Stockings. You can't put anything like that over on me.
If you don't chase yourself, I'll throw you over the fence."

Sensing an impending clash, with the exception of the mute and the
catcher, the Wind Jammers ceased their desultory practice and watched
for developments. A portion of the spectators, also becoming aware
that something unusual was taking place, turned their attention to
the little triangular group not far from the visitors' bench.

"You couldn't get Jones if you threw me over into Georgia," said
Locke, unruffled. "It won't do you any good to start a scrap."

"Permit me to impersonate the dove of peace," pleaded Cap'n Wiley.
"Lefty is absolutely voracious in his statement that he made a fair and
honorable compact with me, by which Jones is to become the legitimate
chattel of the Blue Stockings. Still," he added, shaking his head
and licking his lips, "flesh is weak and liable to err. If I had seen
fifty thousand simoleons coming my way in exchange for the greatest
pitcher of modern times, I'm afraid I should have lacked the energy
to side-step them. The root of all evil has sometimes tempted me from
the path of rectitude. But now Lefty is here, and the danger is over.
It's no use, Skully, old top; the die is cast. You may as well submit
gracefully to the inveterable."

Muttering inaudibly, Skullen turned and walked away.

"I have a contract in my pocket ready for the signature of Jones," said
Lefty. "Will you get him to put his name to it before the game starts?"

"It will give me a pang of pleasure to do so," was the assurance.

There on the field, envied by his teammates, Mysterious Jones used
Locke's fountain pen to place his signature--A. B. Jones was the name
he wrote--upon the contract that bound him to the Blue Stockings. What
the initials stood for not even Wiley knew. For a moment the mute seemed
to hesitate, but the Marine Marvel urged him on, and the deed was done.

"If you cater to his little giddyocyncracies," said the sailor,
"you'll find him a pearl beyond price. Unless you're afraid Skully
may return and mar your pleasure, you may sit on the bench with us and
watch him toy with the local bric-a-brac. It is bound to be a painfully
one-sided affair."

"Skullen," laughed Lefty, "has ceased to cause me special
apprehension. The contract is signed now."

So Locke sat on the bench and watched his new pitcher perform. When he
walked to the mound, Jones seemed, if possible, more somber and tragic
than usual, and he certainly had his speed with him. Yet neither the
ominous appearance of the mute nor his blinding smoke was sufficient to
faze the Vienna batters, who cracked him for three clean singles in the
last half of the opening inning, and then failed to score because of
foolish base running.

"He seems to be rather hittable to-day," observed Locke. "What's the
matter, Wiley? This Vienna bunch doesn't look particularly good to me;
just a lot of amateurs who never saw real players, I should say."

"That's it; that's what ails them, for one thing," replied the
manager of the Wind Jammers. "They have accumulated together no special
knowledge of Simon poor baseball talent, and so they don't know enough
to be scared. Even the great Mathewson has confessed that the worst
bumping he ever collided with was handed out by a bunch of bushers who
stood up to the dish, shut their blinkers when he pitched, and swung
blind at the pill. These lobsters don't realize that Jonesy's fast
one would pass right through a batter without pausing perceptibly if it
should hit him, and so they toddle forth without qualms, whatever they
are, and take a slam at the globule. Next round I'll have to get out
there on the turf and warn them; I'll put the fear of death into their
hearts. Get them to quaking and they won't touch the horsehide."

But such a program didn't suit Locke. "If all Jones has is his speed
and the fear it inspires, he won't travel far in fast company. You ought
to know that, Wiley. Big League batters will knock the cover off the
fast one unless a pitcher puts something else on it. Sit still once, to
please me, and let's see what Jones can do without the assistance of
your chatter."

"It's hardly a square deal," objected the Marine Marvel. "The jinx
has been keeping company with us ever since we struck Fernandon. From
that occasion up to the present date, Anno Domino, we haven't won a
single consecutive game. Such bad luck has hurt my feelings; it has
grieved me to the innermost abscess of my soul."

"Do you mean to say that these country teams have been trimming you,
with Jones in the box?"

"Alas and alack! I can't deny it unless I resort to fabrication, which
I never do. The Euray Browns tapped Jonesy for seventeen heart-breaking
bingles, and the Pikeville Greyhounds lacerated his delivery even more
painfully. My own brilliant work in the box has been sadly insufficient
to stem, the tide of disaster."

Locke frowned. What success, or lack of it, Wiley had had as a pitcher
was a matter of no moment; but the statement that amateur teams of
no particular standing had found Mysterious Jones an easy mark was
disturbing. Was it possible that he had been led, with undue haste, to
fritter away good money for a pitcher who would prove worthless in
the Big League? True, the mute had seemed to show something in the
Fernandon game, but in similar contests Lefty had seen many a pinheaded,
worthless country pitcher give a fine imitation of Walter Johnson in
top-notch form. The test of the bush was, in reality, no test at all.

Throughout five innings the southpaw succeeded in restraining Wiley, and
during that portion of the game the Viennas found Jones for nine singles
and two doubles, accumulating four runs. Only for bad judgment on the
paths they might have secured twice as many tallies. In the same period
the local pitcher, using a little dinky slow curve, held the visitors
to one score. The mute seemed to be trying hard enough, but he could not
keep his opponents from hitting.

With the opening of the sixth, Wiley broke the leash of restraint.
"I've got to get out and get under," he declared. "You can't expect
me to sit still and watch my barkentine go upon the rocks. Here's where
we start something. Get into 'em, Schepps! Begin doing things! We'll
back you up, for in onion there is strength."

Schepps led off with a hit, and immediately the Wind Jammers, encouraged
by Wiley, leaped out from the bench, dancing wildly and tossing the bats
into the air. Locke smiled as he watched them. He had seen Big League
teams do the same thing in an effort to drive away the jinx and break a
streak of bad luck. But although Lefty smiled, he was not wholly happy.

"If Jones is a quince," he thought, "I've wasted my time trying to
brace up our pitching staff. Even Mit Skullen will have the laugh on me."

His anxiety had led him to come straight from New York to Vienna, without
stopping at Fernandon. He had sent a message to Janet telling her that
he would be home the following day.

The Wind Jammers kept after the local twirler, and succeeded in pounding
two men round to the registry station. Then Wiley did some wigwagging to
Jones, and the gloomy mute nodded assurance. After which he walked out
and fanned three batters in a row.

"You see, Lefty!" exulted the Marine Marvel. "That's what he needs.
Give him proper encouragement, and he's there with the damsons."

"Temperamental or yellow, which?" speculated the southpaw. "Either
sort of a pitcher is worthless in pinches."

The visitors failed to continue their hitting streak in the seventh.
Whether or not Jones was disheartened by this, he let down in the last
half of the inning, and Vienna added another score, Wiley's warnings
having no impression upon them. Nor did the mute show any remarkable
form in the remainder of the game, which terminated with the score six
to four in favor of the locals.

"The old jinx is still with us," lamented the dejected manager of the
Wind Jammers. "Wouldn't it congeal your pedal extremities!"

"It is enough to give one cold feet," admitted Locke. "But with Jones
doing any real pitching to-day four tallies would have been sufficient
for you."

Picking up his overcoat and traveling bag, he started to follow the
well-satisfied crowd from the field. As he approached the gate, Mit
Skullen stood up on the bleachers and singled him out. Mit's face wore
a leering grin.

"You're welcome to that lemon, Locke!" he cried. "I wouldn't take
him now for a gift. You've got stung good and proper."

Lefty walked on without replying.



CHAPTER XXIII

ALL WRONG


When Locke reached Fernandon, he found, as he expected, a furious message
from Weegman awaiting him. In it he was savagely reprimanded, and warned
under no circumstances to make any further deals without consulting
Collier's private secretary. He was also commanded to report at the
office of the Blue Stockings baseball club without unnecessary delay.

Lefty merely smiled over this, but he did not smile over a long telegram
from Franklin Parlmee, stating that he had not seen Virginia Collier
nor heard anything further from her. Parlmee averred that he could not
believe Virginia was in New York; he expressed the conviction that Locke
had not seen her in the limousine with Bailey Weegman, but had been
deceived by a resemblance. But if she were not in New York, where was
she? And why had he received no word from her?

Janet watched Lefty frowning and biting his lip over Parlmee's message.
Her own face showed the anxiety she felt.

"What do you think?" she asked. "It doesn't seem possible that
Virginia could have been with that man, as you thought. You must have
been mistaken."

He shook his head. "I'm positive, Janet. I would be willing to wager
anything that I made no mistake."

"Then what does it mean? I can't imagine Virginia being in New York
without letting Frank know."

"It's got me guessing," Locke admitted. "There's a snarl that needs
to be untangled."

She grabbed his arm. "You don't suppose--"

"What?" he asked, as she hesitated.

"You don't suppose anything terrible could have happened to Virginia?
Perhaps that villain has carried her off--shut her up somewhere! Perhaps
she is helpless in his power this minute. He may be trying to force her
into marrying him."

Lefty laughed. "That sounds too much like a dime novel, my dear.
Scoundrel though he is, Weegman would scarcely have the nerve to try
anything like that with the daughter of Charles Collier. That's not the
answer."

"But something's wrong," insisted Janet.

"No doubt about that," her husband replied. "A lot of things seem to
be wrong. Somebody is dealing the cards under the table."

"I know," said Janet, "that Virginia didn't care for Mr. Weegman, and
the more her father sought to influence her the less she thought of him.
She was proud of Franklin because he had proved his business ability, and
she thought Mr. Collier would give in soon. But I can't understand why
she stopped writing to me. She hasn't written since arriving on this
side."

"We're not getting anywhere by speculating like this," said Lefty.
"Can you be ready to go North with me to-morrow?"

"You are going back so soon?"

"Just as soon as we can start. I'm thinking I ought to have remained
there. I only came South at all in order to make sure of Mysterious
Jones, and now it looks as though I wasted both time and money by doing
so. Perhaps I would have been better off if Skullen had succeeded in
getting Jones away from me."

"But the cottage--our lease runs another full month."

"It can't be helped. We'll have to pay the rental and give it up."

"And your arm--you thought another month down here might give you time
to work it back into condition."

"I've got plenty to worry about besides my arm. I've been told plainly
that I've been picked to be the goat by a set of scoundrels who are
trying to put over a dirty piece of work, and, if I fool them, I'll
have to do it with my head, not my arm. I'm going to stake everything
on my ability to put the kibosh on their crooked game, and to stand any
chance of succeeding I must be on the field of battle. So we must leave
Fernandon to-morrow, my dear."

To accomplish this necessitated no small amount of hustling, but Janet
did her part. With the assistance of her maid and a colored man, the
work was speedily done. There were tears in Janet's eyes when she looked
back at the deserted little cottage, as they drove away in a carriage to
catch the train.

"It has been pleasant here," she said. "I'll never forget it. We
were so quiet and so happy. Now, somehow, I have a feeling that there's
nothing but trouble ahead of us. You've taken a big contract, Phil."

"Are you afraid?" he asked.

She looked up at him and smiled proudly. "Not a bit. You are not the
sort of man who fails. I know you'll win out."

His cheeks glowed and a light leaped into his eyes. "After hearing you
say that, I couldn't fail, Janet, dear," he said quietly but earnestly.
"It's going to be some fight, but let it come--I'm ready."

The journey northward was uneventful. Locke had wired both Kennedy and
Parlmee when he would arrive in New York, asking them to meet him at
the Great Eastern. He did not stop off at the home town of the Blue
Stockings, choosing to disregard for the present Weegman's imperative
order for him to report at once at the office of the club. By mail
he had formally notified the secretary of the club of the trade with
Frazer and the purchase of Mysterious Jones, directing that checks be
sent immediately to the manager of the Wolves and to Cap'n Wiley. He
had done this as a matter of formality, but he felt sure that Weegman
would interfere and hold up the payments, even though they could, sooner
or later, be legally enforced. Delay matters as he might, the rascal
could not bring about the repudiation of business deals entered into
by the properly authorized manager of the team. Locke hoped to have the
situation well in hand before he should find it necessary to beard the
lion in all his fury. The showdown must come before long, but ere that
time the southpaw hoped to fill his hand on the draw.

When he had sent out the players' contracts from Indianapolis he had
instructed the men, after signing, to mail them directly to him in New
York. He had made this request emphatic, warning each man not to return
his signed contract to the office of the Blue Stockings. He had Kennedy
to thank for suggesting this procedure.

"If the contracts go back to the club office," old Jack had said,
"Weegman may get hold of them and hold out on you. That would leave you
in the dark; you wouldn't know who had signed up and who hadn't, and
so you couldn't tell where you stood. It would keep you muddled so you
wouldn't know what holes were left to be plugged. If you undertook
to find out how the land lay by wiring inquiries to the players, you'd
make them uneasy, and set them wondering what was doing. Some of them
might even try belated dickering with the Feds, and, while you could hold
them by law, it would complicate things still more. If the newspapers
got wise and printed things, the stock of the club would slump still
more, which would help the dirty bunch that's trying to knock the bottom
out of it."

Beyond question, Kennedy was foxy and farseeing, and Locke looked forward
expectantly to another heart-to-heart talk with the old man at the Great
Eastern.

A big bundle of mail was delivered to Lefty after he registered at the
hotel. Immediately on reaching his rooms he made haste to open the
letters.

"Look, Janet!" he cried exultantly, after he had torn open envelope
after envelope. "Here are the contracts--Grant, Welsh, Hyland, Savage,
Dillon, Reilley, and Lumley all have signed, as well as the youngsters
who didn't attract special attention from the Feds. Not a man lost
that the outlaws hadn't gobbled up before Weegman so kindly forced the
management upon me. We've got the makings of a real team left. Some of
the deadwood has been cleared away, that's all."

With scarcely an exception, the players had sent, along with their
contracts, brief, friendly letters congratulating Locke and expressing
confidence in his ability to manage the Blue Stockings successfully.
He had won the regard of them all; in some cases that regard fell little
short of genuine affection. With him as their leader they would fight
with fresh spirit and loyalty.

"It's fine, Lefty!" exclaimed Janet, as she read some of those cheery
letters. "There was a time when I could not have believed professional
ball players were such a fine lot of men."

"I might have had some doubts myself before I was associated with
them," he admitted; "but experience has taught me that they measure
up in manhood as well as any other class. Of course, black sheep may be
found in every business."

As he spoke, he hurriedly opened a letter that had just attracted his
attention among those remaining. He read it aloud:

    MY DEAR HAZELTON: I am writing in haste before sailing for
    Liverpool on the _Northumberland_. As I thought, you were
    wrong about having seen Virginia in New York. She is in
    London, and in trouble. I've had a cablegram from her which,
    however, explains very little. She needs me, and I am going to
    her at once. If you should wish to communicate with me, my
    address will be the Cecil. As I know that both you and Mrs.
    Hazelton feel some anxiety about Virginia, I shall let you
    hear from me as soon as I have any news.

    Wishing you the success and good fortune you deserve as a
    baseball manager, I remain, sincerely yours,

                                                FRANKLIN PARLMEE.

When he had finished reading, he stood staring at the letter in surprise.



CHAPTER XXIV

WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS


"Well, now, what do you know about that?" cried Lefty. "Sailed for
Liverpool! The man's crazy!"

"But he says he has had a cable message from Virginia," said Janet.
"She is in trouble in London. You were mistaken."

"Was I?" queried the southpaw, as if not yet convinced.

"You must have been. All along I have thought it likely, but you
persisted--"

"I saw her distinctly in that passing limousine, which was brightly
lighted. True, I obtained only one passing glance at her, but it was
enough to satisfy me."

"You are so persistent, Phil! That's your one fault; when you think
you're right, all the argument and proof in the world cannot change
you."

"In short, I'm set as a mule," he admitted, smiling. "Well, there
are worse faults. A mistake may prove costly or humiliating to an
obstinate person who persists in his error, but, when he is right, such a
person is pretty well qualified to win over all opposition. If I did
not see Virginia Collier in that car, she has a perfect double in New
York. I have great confidence in the reliability of my eyes."

Janet, however, thoroughly convinced that her husband had been deceived
by a resemblance, made no reply.

Lefty had looked for some word from Kennedy, but had found nothing from
him in his bundle of mail. It was possible, of course, that old Jack
had found it inconvenient to make the trip to New York just then; but,
naturally, if he could not come on he would have let Locke know.

Lefty and Janet had not dined on the train, preferring to do so after
reaching their destination. As they were passing the desk on their way to
the dining room, Locke stopped short, staring at the back of a slender,
well-dressed young man who was talking to one of the clerks. Then the
southpaw sprang forward and clapped a hand on the young man's shoulder.

"Jack Stillman!" he exclaimed impulsively.

The man turned quickly.

"If it isn't Lefty Locke!" he cried, grabbing the pitcher's hand.
"And you're the one man I've been palpitating to get hold of. You're
like the nimble flea. But I've got you now!"

"Murder!" said the southpaw. "My joy at spotting you caused me to
forget. I should have passed you by, old man. For the moment I completely
forgot your profession, and your knack of digging a column or so of
sacred secrets out of any old ball player who knows anything he
shouldn't tell."

Stillman was the baseball man of the _Blade_, a newspaper with a
confirmed habit of putting over scoops. With the exception of Phil
Chatterton, who was more of a special writer than reporter, Stillman
was almost universally acknowledged to be the best informed pen pusher
who made a specialty of dealing with the national game. He possessed an
almost uncanny intuition, and was credited with the faculty of getting
wise in advance to most of the big happenings in the baseball world.

"So you would have ducked me, would you?" said the reporter
reprovingly. "Well, I didn't think that of you!"

"I believe I should, if I'd stopped to figure out the proper play in
advance," confessed Lefty. "I don't care to do much talking for the
papers--at present."

"Hang you for an ungrateful reprobate!" exclaimed Stillman, with a
touch of earnestness, although he continued to laugh. "Why, I made
you, son! At least, I'm going to claim the credit. When you first
emerged from the tangled undergrowth I picked you for a winner and
persistently boosted you. I gave you fifty thousand dollars' worth of
free advertising."

"And made my path the harder to climb by getting the fans keyed up to
look for a full-fledged wonder. After all that puffing, if I'd fallen
down in my first game, Rube Marquard's year or two of sojourning on the
bench would have looked like a brief breathing spell compared to what
would have probably happened to me."

"But you didn't fall down. I told them you wouldn't, and you didn't.
Let the other fellows tout the failures; I pick the winners."

"Modest as ever, I see," said Locke. "Here's Mrs. Hazelton waiting.
We're just going to have a late dinner. Won't you join us?"

Janet knew Stillman well, and she shook hands with him. "Mrs.
Hazelton!" he said, smiling. "By Jove! I looked round to see who you
meant when you said that, Lefty. Somehow I've never yet quite got used
to the fact that your honest-and-truly name isn't Locke. I'll gladly
join you at dinner, but a cup of coffee is all I care for, as I dined
a little while ago. Shan't want anything more before two or three
o'clock in the morning, when I'm likely to stray into John's, where
the night owls gather."

When they had seated themselves at a table in the almost deserted dining
room, Lefty warned Janet.

"Be careful what you say before him, my dear," he said. "He's looking
for copy every minute that he's awake, and nobody knows when he sleeps."

Stillman became serious. "Locke," he said, "I've never yet betrayed a
confidence. Oh, yes, I'm a reporter! But, all the same, I have a method
of getting my copy in a decent fashion. My friends don't have to be
afraid of me, and close up like clams; you should know that."

"I do," declared the southpaw promptly. "I didn't think you were
going to take me quite so seriously. You have been a square friend to
me, Jack."

"Then don't be afraid to talk. I'll publish only what you're willing
I should. You can tell me what that is. And if you've seen the _Blade_
right along you must be aware that it's the one paper that hasn't
taken a little poke at you since you were tagged to manage the Blue
Stockings. Nevertheless, here to your face I'm going to say that I'm
afraid you've bitten off more than you can chew."

Lefty shrugged his shoulders. "As to that, time will tell. For once your
judgment may be at fault."

"I don't mean that you couldn't manage the team successfully if you
were given a half-decent show," the reporter hastened to make clear.
"I think you could. But I'm afraid you're going to find yourself in
a mess that no man living could crawl out of with credit to himself."

The southpaw gave the waiter the order. Then he turned to Stillman.

"I thought I might hear something new from you, Jack," he said, "but
you're singing the same old song. To be frank with you, it's getting a
bit tiresome. If I were dull enough not to know I'd been picked for a
fall guy, I could have obtained an inkling of it from the newspapers.
It's plain every baseball scribe knows the fact that there's a put-up
job, although none of them has had the nerve to come out flat and say
so."

"They've said all they really dared to--without absolute proof of a
conspiracy. If you know so much, take my advice, hand me the proof, and
give me permission to publish it. But it must be real proof."

"I can't do it yet. Perhaps, when the time comes, I'll pass you what
you're asking for. Just now, considering your statement that you never
double cross a friend, I'm going to talk freely and tell you how much
I know."

Sipping his coffee, Stillman listened to Locke's story. That there
was sufficient interest in it the attention of the reporter attested.
Janet watched the newspaper man closely, and once or twice she caught
the flicker of an incredulous smile that passed over his face, giving
her the impression that Stillman had a notion that there were holes in
Lefty's narrative.

"Do you mind if I smoke?" asked the reporter, when dinner was over, and
the dessert had been placed on the table.

Having received Janet's permission, Stillman lit a cigarette, and for a
few moments said nothing, being apparently engrossed with his thoughts.

Presently he said: "I wonder."

"Wonder what?" Lefty wanted to know. "What I've told you is the
straight fact. Weegman's the crook. Kennedy knew it. I knew it when
I took the position of manager. Garrity's behind Weegman. What ails
Collier, and why he was crazy enough to run away and bury himself while
his team was wrecked, is the unexplained part of the mystery. But if we
can block Weegman we may be able to put the whole game on the fritz."

"I wonder," repeated Stillman, letting the smoke curl from his mouth.

Locke felt a touch of irritation. "What are you wondering over? I've
talked; now I'm ready to listen."

The reporter gave Locke a steady look. "Evidently the possibility
hasn't occurred to you that you may not even suspect the real crook
who is at the bottom of the affair."

"Weegman conceived it," replied Lefty. "He knew Garrity's reputation.
He was sure Garrity would jump at the chance to help, and to grab a fat
thing at the same time, by stepping in and gobbling the Stockings when
the moment came. Of course, Weegman will get his, for without his
undermining work in our camp the thing couldn't be pulled off. And
Weegman's looking to cop the big chief's daughter when he gets the
chief pinched just where he wants him."

"Wheels within wheels," said Stillman, "and Weegman only one of the
smallest of them. He's one of those egotistical scoundrels who can
easily be flattered and fooled into doing scurvy work for a keener mind."

"You mean Garrity?"

"I wasn't thinking of him when I spoke."

"Then who--"

"I had a man named Parlmee in mind," stated the reporter.



CHAPTER XXV

HIDDEN TRACKS


His lips parted, his eyes wide and incredulous, Locke sat up straight
on his chair and stared at Stillman. Janet, who had been listening
attentively, gave a little cry, and leaned forward, one slim, protesting
hand uplifted. The reporter drew his case from his pocket and lit another
cigarette.

Presently Lefty found his voice. "You're crazy, Jack!" he declared
resentfully.

"Am I?" inquired Stillman.

"Oh, it's impossible!" exclaimed Janet.

"Absolutely ridiculous!" affirmed the southpaw.

"Very likely it seems so to you both," admitted the newspaper man, his
calm and confident manner proclaiming his own settled conviction. "I
listened to Lefty's story, and I know he's wise to only a small part
of what's been going on."

"But Parlmee--Oh, it's too preposterous! For once in your career, at
least, you're way off your trolley, Jack."

"Prove it to me."

"Why, it isn't necessary. Franklin Parlmee is a white man, as square
as there ever was, and as honest as the day is long."

"There are short days in midwinter."

"But his object--he couldn't have an object, even if he were scoundrel
enough to contemplate such a thing."

"Couldn't he?" asked Stillman, in that odd, enigmatical way of his.
"Why not?"

"Why, he's practically engaged to Virginia Collier."

"But without the consent of her father."

"Yes, but--"

"Bailey Weegman is said to have a great liking for Miss Collier. It
was your theory that part of his object in seeking to wreck the Blue
Stockings was to get old man Collier in a tight place and force his hand.
Why couldn't Parlmee make the same sort of a play?"

The persistence of the reporter began to irritate Locke, who felt his
blood growing hot. Was his life beginning to tell on Stillman? Was it
possible the pace he had traveled had begun to weaken his naturally keen
judgment?

"Even if Parlmee had conceived such a foolish scheme, he was in no
position to carry it out, Jack. On the other hand, Weegman was.
Furthermore, it's perfectly impossible to imagine Weegman acting as
the tool and assistant of his rival, whom he hates bitterly. Forget it!"

Unmoved, Stillman shook his head. "Didn't I say that Weegman was an
egotistical dub, and an easy mark? He is naturally a rascal, and he
thinks himself very clever, and so is just the sort to fall for a still
cleverer rascal."

Janet's cheeks were hot and her eyes full of resentful anger. It was
difficult for her to sit there and hear Parlmee maligned, and she was
confident that that was what she was doing. She could not remain quiet.

"I know Frank Parlmee, Mr. Stillman," she asserted, "and Lefty is
right about him. There's not a squarer man living."

"How is it possible for Parlmee to use Weegman as a tool?" asked Locke.

"Through Garrity," answered the reporter without hesitation.

"But I don't see--"

Stillman leaned forward. "Listen: I am not at liberty to disclose
the sources of my information, but it has come to me that this idea
of wrecking the Blue Stockings originated in Parlmee's brain. He
saw himself losing out in the fight for Virginia Collier, and he became
desperate. Conditions were ripe. Collier had hit the toboggan,
financially and otherwise. A man of considerable strength of will, he
had begun to break down. Parlmee knew of his plan to go abroad for his
health, and of the arrangement to leave Bailey Weegman in charge of
affairs. Collier had a great deal of confidence in Weegman's ability,
and this would now be put to the test. If Weegman should make a grand
failure, as Parlmee intended he should, Collier would lose all faith
in him; and probably, in his disappointment, he would hand him the g.b.
That, above all things, was most to be desired by Parlmee, as it
would get out of the way the rival who threatened to defeat him. How
to put the thing across was the question. I am willing to give
Parlmee the credit of a long-headed piece of work. He knew Weegman
must be kept in the dark, must never be permitted to suspect that he was
being used as a tool by his hated enemy."

"It sounds altogether too impossible," said Locke. But, to his
annoyance, in spite of his persistently expressed faith, a shadowy
uncertainty, a tiny, nagging doubt, was creeping into his mind. Stillman
seemed so absolutely confident of his ground.

"Through his long association with Miss Collier," the reporter
pursued calmly, "Parlmee had learned much about inside conditions in
baseball. He had plenty of opportunities to get at things entirely
hidden from, or merely suspected by, the general public. He knew
Garrity was a grasping scoundrel, who had long regarded the Blue
Stockings with a covetous eye, and that, being utterly unscrupulous,
he would do anything, as long as he could keep in the background, to
break Collier's grip and get his own soiled paws on the property.
Therefore, Garrity was the man to deal with, and to Garrity Parlmee
went. They met under cover in Chicago, and the deal was fixed up between
them. Then Garrity got at Weegman, the real stool pigeon and the fall
guy of the whole plot."

Locke was listening without protest now. In spite of his desire not to
believe, Stillman's theory seemed possible; he would not yet admit,
even to himself, that it was probable. Janet, too, was silent. The color
had left her face, and beneath the table her hands were tightly clenched.

"Weegman was just ass enough to fall for it," continued Stillman
contemptuously. "What Garrity promised him I can't say, but certainly
it must have been a satisfactory percentage of the loot--maybe an
interest in the team when Garrity got control; and Weegman would sell
his soul for money. The moment Collier was out of the way he got to
work. You know as well as I do what success he's had. In order to
cover his tracks as far as possible, he has picked you for the goat, and
he'll try to shunt all the blame on you."

Lefty's face was grim. He was endeavoring to look at the matter fairly
and without bias. To himself he was compelled to admit that his knowledge
of Parlmee had been obtained through casual association with the man,
not through business dealings, and in no small degree, he, as well as
Janet, had doubtless been influenced by the sentiments of Virginia
Collier. A girl in love may be easily deceived; many girls, blinded by
their own infatuation, have made heroes of thoroughbred scoundrels. It
was practically impossible, however, for Locke to picture Parlmee as
a scoundrel.

"You have made a statement, Jack," he said, "without offering a
particle of corroborating proof. How do you know all this to be true?"

"I have the word of a man I trust that Parlmee and Garrity had that
secret meeting in Chicago, just as I have stated. A few days ago Parlmee
made a flying trip to Indianapolis, and--"

"I know that," interrupted Lefty. "I was in Indianapolis at the time.
I met him there and had a brief talk with him."

"On his way back," resumed Stillman, "he stopped off at Cleveland to
see Garrity, who happened to be in that city."

"How do you know that?"

"My own business chanced to call me out to Cleveland at that time, and
I saw Parlmee and Garrity together at the American House."

Locke took a long breath, recalling the fact that Parlmee, although
professing to be in great haste when in Indianapolis, had not returned to
his New York office as soon as expected.

"That may have been an accidental meeting," said the southpaw. "Your
proof has holes in it."

The reporter lighted a fresh cigarette. "How does it happen," he
asked, "that Parlmee is buying up all the small blocks of the club
stock that he can get hold of?"

Lefty started as if pricked by the point of a knife. Parlmee, an
automobile salesman, a man who had found it necessary to get out and show
that he could make good in the business world, buying the stock of the
club!

"Is he?" asked the pitcher.

"He is," asserted Stillman positively. "I know of three lots that he
has purchased, and in each instance he has paid a little more than it
was supposed to be worth."

"He--he may have bought it as an investment," faltered Janet.

The reporter smiled at her. "As far as I can learn, Franklin Parlmee is
not situated, financially, to invest much money in stock of any kind.
With his stock depreciating, and bound to go lower in value, he would be
a chump to purchase it as an investment. The man who pays more than its
market value in order to get hold of it knows something about the doings
behind the scenes that is not known to the general public. Apparently
that man is Parlmee. Who's furnishing him the money to buy the stock?
My own guess is that it is the man who's looking to get control of the
club, and that man is Garrity."

Still Janet protested that it was impossible, but she looked
questioningly at Lefty, the doubt that she was fighting against was now
beginning to creep into her eyes.

"Parlmee," said the southpaw, "has gone to Europe. I have a message
from him stating that he would sail on the _Northumberland_. If he's
behind the plot to wreck the Blue Stockings, why should he leave the
field of action at this time?"

"If I've got his number," returned Stillman, "he's a liar in various
ways. Perhaps he has sailed for Europe; perhaps he hasn't. His message
may be nothing more than a little dust for your eyes. But if he has
sailed, there's only one answer to that."

"Out with it!" urged Locke. "Of course, you think it another move in
the rotten game?"

"Sure as death and taxes. He believes the time is ripe to get at
Collier. He's gone across to get at him and twist the control of the
club out of his hands. Probably he'll appear before Collier in the
guise of a friend anxious to save him from complete financial disaster.
He's got just about enough time to make the trip comfortably, get that
business through with, and return before the regular meeting of the
league magnates here in New York. Then, at the meeting, Tom Garrity will
bob up serenely as the real owner of the Blue Stockings."



CHAPTER XXVI

NOT MUCH SHOW


Tired out, Janet went to bed shortly after Stillman left, but Locke,
knowing he could not sleep, sat up to think the situation over. The
difficulties and problems of his own position seemed greater than
ever. If the plot was as deep and intricate as the reporter believed,
and if the men behind it were moving with haste and certainty to the
accomplishment of their designs, there seemed scarcely a ghost of a
chance for him, practically alone and unaided, to block them.

For Lefty now felt that, in a way, he was standing alone. Even Kennedy,
having no power, could do little more than offer advice. And where was
Kennedy?

The southpaw had fancied that he would be given more time to muster his
opposing forces for the battle. He had even imagined, at first, that
the man he would need to contend against and defeat was Weegman. But
now Weegman, the blind tool of craftier creatures, looked insignificant
and weak. In order to defeat him it would be necessary to strike higher.

How was he to strike? That was the question. Locke had suggested to
Stillman complete exposure of the plot by newspaper publicity. And
right there the reporter, who had seemed so confident of his ground,
had betrayed that, after his usual method, he was working by intuition,
and had no positive and unassailable verification of his conclusions.
It would not do for his paper to charge criminal conspiracy without
proper evidence to back up such an indictment.

Recalling this, Lefty remembered that Stillman, having heard all the
southpaw could tell, had ended by giving his own theory, and had offered
proof to substantiate it. And then he had been compelled to acknowledge
that the proof he had to offer was not sound enough to base exposure
and open action upon.

If Stillman were right, doubtless Parlmee had gone abroad with full
knowledge of Charles Collier's whereabouts. That knowledge being denied
Lefty, he could not warn Collier, and the plot would be carried through
as arranged. Then, as the reporter had predicted, at the annual meeting
of the magnates, shortly to be held, Garrity would appear as owner of
the Blue Stockings. When that happened, the fight would be over, and
the conspirators would be triumphant.

With the door to Janet's chamber closed, Locke walked the floor,
striving for a clear conception of what ought to be done. He felt
like a man bound hand and foot. Of course, he could go on with his
project to strengthen the team, but the harvest of his success would
be reaped by the plotters, if they, too, were successful. There was
little uncertainty about what would happen to him, for he knew that
his conscience would not permit him to become an understrapper for
Garrity. He had left Fernandon with courage and high hope to do battle;
but now the helplessness of the situation threatened to appall him.

If there were only some way to get into communication with Collier. Again
he thought of his somewhat shaken conviction that Virginia was in New
York. If that were true, some of her family or friends must know it, and,
of course, Virginia would know how to communicate without delay with her
father.

With this thought came the conviction that in Virginia lay his only
hope. If he had been mistaken, and she were not in the United States,
his chance of doing anything to foil the conspirators was not one in a
thousand. His work for the morrow was cut out for him; he must learn
positively if Charles Collier's daughter was on American soil, and, if
so, he must find her.

The telephone rang, and when he answered it he was informed that Kennedy
was calling. The faithful old veteran had come, after all! Lefty said
that he was to be sent up at once.

"Well, son," said old Jack, as he came in, "how are things moving?"

"None too well," answered Lefty, shaking his hand.

"So?" grunted Kennedy. "I wondered just what was up, and I came right
along in answer to your call, but my train was delayed. What are the new
developments?"

"Sit down," said Locke, "and I'll tell you. Since I sent you that
message I've heard something that's got me guessing--and worried."

"The contracts?" questioned old Jack, sitting down. "The boys signed
up, didn't they?"

"Every one of them. That's not the trouble. I've had a talk with Jack
Stillman."

"The only reporter I know with a noodle screwed on right," said
Kennedy. "His bean's packed with sound sense. When he gets an idea
it's generally correct."

"In that case, unless he's made a bobble this time, the situation's
worse than we suspected, Jack."

"Give me the dope," urged Kennedy.

The old man listened to Locke without comment, and when Lefty had
finished, he sat thoughtfully plucking at his under lip with his thumb
and forefinger.

"Well," he said, after a time, "Stillman usually puts them in the
groove when he shoots."

"Then you think he's hit it right in this case?"

"I haven't said so. If anybody else had passed this one up, I'd have
said it missed the plate by a rod. With Stillman doing the pitching, I'm
not so ready to give a decision against him. But you say he finished a
lot more confident than he began?"

"Yes. Instead of seeking information, he finished up by giving it."

"Just as though he had talked himself into a settled conviction as he
went along?"

"That's it."

"Then we won't accept his statement as fact until he gets some kind of
proof, son. You know more about Parlmee than I do, and you've always
figured that gent on the level, haven't you?"

"Yes; but I'm compelled to admit that I haven't had sufficient
dealings with him to feel certain that my estimation of his character
is correct. Furthermore, my first impression was unfavorable."

"First impressions are sometimes the best."

"But at that time, as you know, my judgment could hardly be
unprejudiced. It was when Collier first took over the team and I had
trouble with Carson, the manager he put in your place. Everything
seemed going wrong then."

A grin broke over Kennedy's face, and he chuckled softly, a reminiscent
expression in his keen old eyes.

"Those were some stirring times, boy," he said. "Collier fired me for
Al Carson, and Carson made a mess of it. He's managing a dub league
team now. He thought he could get along without you, just as Collier
reckoned he could dispense with me; but at the finish it was you and me
that came back and saved the day for the Stockings. You pitched the game
of your life that last day of the season. Now it's up to you to come
back again, and I've got a hunch that you will. You'll return, better
than ever. You're going to make the wiseacres that think you're down
and out look foolish."

Locke shook his head. "Knowing what I do, do you suppose I could do that
if Garrity got hold of the team? I wouldn't have the heart to work for
that scoundrel. Back in the time we're speaking of, it was Stillman's
cleverness that straightened things out. Not another newspaper man got
wise to the real situation. With his usual uncanny intuition, he saw
through it all, and, as usual, he made no mistake."

"Right you are," admitted old Jack.

"All the more reason to suppose he is right now. We can't dodge that
fact. To-morrow I'm going to make every effort to find some method of
getting into communication with Charles Collier. It's my only play in
this game. If it fails--good night!"

Again Lefty began pacing the floor; it seemed that he could not wait
patiently for the coming day; he was burning with a desire to get to
work at once. It had been his purpose to seek Kennedy's advice on other
matters, but these now seemed secondary and unimportant for the time
being. His talk with Stillman had led him to alter completely his plan
of immediate action. To prevent the control of the team from falling
into the clutches of the conspirators was now his sole purpose, as the
problem of rebuilding it and restoring it to its former strength and
prestige could be solved later.

Kennedy sat thinking, plucking at his under lip, as was the old man's
habit when perplexed. "Yes, son," he said, after a time, "that's what
you're up against. Old P. T. Barnum had a show; but it doesn't look
like you have."



CHAPTER XXVII

THE SUSPENDED AX


All the next forenoon, Locke kept the wires hot. He 'phoned and
telegraphed to every one he could think of who might be able to give
him the information he desired so desperately. He met with one
disappointment after another. In each instance the reply came back
that both Charles Collier and his daughter were somewhere in Europe,
but no one appeared to know just where. If his efforts established
anything at all, it seemed to be the fact that Lefty had been mistaken in
thinking he had seen Virginia in New York; for if she were there, surely
some of these people would know of it. The feeling of helplessness,
of fighting against greedy and remorseless forces too strong for him
to checkmate, pressed upon him heavily.

It was a little after noon when he called the office of the _Blade_. He
wanted to talk to Stillman again. If anybody in New York could find a
person wanted, the reporter was the man to do it, and Locke believed that
for friendship's sake Stillman would attempt it.

Near the telephone switchboard in the hotel were two long shelves,
situated a little distance apart, at which patrons could consult the
different directories. At one of these, several persons were looking
up numbers, so Locke took his book to the other shelf and found the
call for the editorial rooms of the _Blade_. A man at the next shelf
turned, saw the pitcher, and listened when Lefty gave the number to the
operator. Instead of giving his own number, which he had found, the man
noted down the southpaw's call on a card. It was the fourth time during
the day that this same man had made a record of a number asked for by
Locke.

Returning the card to his pocket, the man pretended to busy himself again
over one of the directories, keeping his back partly turned toward the
pitcher. Soon he heard the switchboard girl repeat Lefty's number, and
direct him to booth No. 1.

The man closed his book and turned round slowly. The southpaw was
disappearing into a booth at the end of one of the rows, and, in closing
the door behind him, he unintentionally left it slightly open. The
watching man moved quietly forward until he was close to this booth,
through the glass of which he could see that Lefty's back was partly
turned toward him. There he paused, taking some letters and papers from
his pocket and running them over as if searching for something. While
appearing to be absorbed in his own affairs, he could hear every word
that the pitcher spoke into the receiver.

Getting the editorial rooms of the _Blade_, Locke asked for Stillman.
After a slight delay, he was informed that the reporter was not there. No
one could say just when he would be in.

"This is important," stated Lefty; "a matter in which he is greatly
interested. I must talk with him as soon as possible. Will you ask him,
as soon as he comes in, to call Philip Hazelton at the Great Eastern?
Yes, Hazelton; that's right. Why, yes, I'm Lefty Locke. All right;
don't fail to tell him immediately he arrives."

The man outside slipped the letters and papers into his pocket, and
turned away after the manner of a person who has suddenly decided upon
something. He had not walked ten steps, however, before he turned back.
The southpaw was paying for the call. The man watched him now without
further effort to avoid notice, and when the pitcher turned from the
switchboard he stepped forward deliberately to meet him.

"Hello!" said the man in a voice distinctly husky and unpleasant. "How
are you, Locke?"

Lefty stopped short and stared. It was Garrity, coarse, complacent,
patronizing. The owner of the Rockets grinned, showing the numerous
gold fillings in his teeth. His features were large, and his jaw was
square and brutal. His clothes were those of a common race-track follower.

"Quite well, thank you," answered Lefty coldly, thinking of the
pleasure it would be to tell Garrity his private opinion of him.

"Seems to me you look worried. I don't wonder, though, considering the
job they've handed you. Some job piecing together the tattered remnants,
hey? It's going to make you a busy little manager."

"I'm busy now," said the southpaw, moving as if to pass on; but
Garrity detained him. "You've got some positions to fill. The Feds
got at you hard. Shame to see a team like the Stockings shot to pieces.
You've got three or four bad holes, and I'd like to help you."

"_You_ would?"

"Sure. I've got the very lads you need, too--Mundy and Pendexter.
Both fast men. They work together like two parts of a machine. Mundy
covers the short field like Maranville, and Pendexter sure can play
that keystone cushion. They're the boys for you."

"How's it happen you are willing to let go of them?" asked Locke,
feeling some curiosity to know what lay behind this particular
proposition.

"Well, this is between us, mind? I'd just about as soon give up an eye
as part with either Mundy or Pendexter, but it's easier to lose them
than dispense with Pressly, my third sacker. That's been the trouble
with my team. Pressly loves Mundy and Pendexter as he loves aconite,
and they reciprocate. You know what a feud like that means. It knocks
the bottom out of any team. I can't fill Pressly's place, but I've
got a couple of youngsters that I can work in at short and second. I'm
not going through another season with those three scrapping. You need
the very players I'm willing to part with, and there we are."

Locke knew the man was not honest, and that he was holding something up
his sleeve. In order to make him show his hand, the southpaw asked:

"What do you want for Mundy and Pendexter?"

Garrity considered for a minute. "Well," he answered slowly, "I'll
trade them with you for Spider Grant--and cash."

Lefty stared at him in amazement. Was it possible the man could think he
was such a soft mark? He laughed loudly.

"You don't want much, do you, Garrity? The 'and cash' was a capper!
Man, I wouldn't trade you Spider Grant for your whole team--and cash!"

The owner of the Rockets scowled, glaring at Locke, the corners of his
thick-lipped mouth drooping.

"Oh, you wouldn't, hey?" he growled huskily. "I suppose you think
that's a joke?"

"Not at all; it's serious. I couldn't use the players you offer, anyhow.
Mundy does cover the short field like Rabbit Maranville--sometimes; but
he's got a yellow streak, and he quits. Pendexter knows how to play
second, and at the beginning of last season he hit like old Sockalexis
when the Indian first broke into the league. But the pitchers all got
wise to his weak spot, close and across the knees, and from a
three-hundred-and-sixty batter he slumped into the two-hundred class.
You were thinking of asking for waivers on him. Spider Grant--and
cash--for that pair! I didn't imagine that even you could think me such
a boob."

As he listened, Garrity's face showed his anger; his breath came short
and quick; his eyes were blazing with the fury of a wild animal.

"Have you got that all out of your system?" he asked, when Lefty
stopped. "You're a wise gazabo, ain't you? You know all about baseball
and players and such things! You've got a head bigger than a balloon.
But it'll shrink, give it time. It's plain you think you really
know how to manage a team. By the middle of the season, and maybe
considerable before that, your head will be about the size of a bird
shot. And you'll know a lot more then than you do now, believe me!"

The southpaw laughed in his face. "Don't lose your temper," he
advised, "just because you couldn't put a raw one over on me. Go
ahead and ask waivers on Pendexter. You'll get mine. I wouldn't
carry him on my team if you agreed to pay his season's salary for me. My
trade with Frazer gave you the notion that you could pick another good
man off me, and weaken the Stockings still more. You fooled yourself that
time, Garrity. Perhaps you'll find out before long that you are fooling
yourself in other ways."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I'll let you guess. But just remember what Bobby Burns said about
'the best-laid plans o' mice and men.'"

With this, Locke passed on, leaving the wrathy owner of the Rockets
glaring after him.

"You poor fool!" muttered Garrity. "I'll have you whimpering like a
whipped dog before I'm done with you. Your head's liable to roll into
the basket before the season opens. When the time comes, I'll lift my
finger, and the ax'll fall."



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE GAGE OF WAR


Janet had let some friends know that she was in the city, and had been
invited out to a matinée performance at one of the theaters. Lefty urged
her to go. "That's better than sitting around the rooms alone," he
said, "and I'll be so busy that I can't be with you."

So when, shortly after lunch, her friends appeared in a comfortable
limousine, they had little trouble in persuading her to join them.

Kennedy dropped in a little later, and Locke told him of Garrity's
proposed trade.

"He sure did pick you for a mark," said the ex-manager. "You handed it
to him straight about Mundy and Pendexter. You're going to need a
pair of fast boys to stop the holes, but there's better men in the
minors than those two. You've got better ones on the reserve list.
Besides that, I'm doin' a little free scouting on my own hook. I've
got friends scattered all over the country. Whenever an old player, gone
to the scraps, has touched me up for a five or a ten, I've stood
for the touch, asking him to keep his eyes open for anything good he
might run across in the sticks. That way I've got a good deal of
inexpensive scouting done for me. Maybe it'll be worth something in
this pinch. I'm going to interview an old friend over in Jersey this
afternoon."

"I'm not worrying over players just now," said Lefty. "I'm anxious
to get hold of Stillman."

"You'll hear from him in time--and Weegman, too. What Garrity knows
Weegman knows, and so he's wise that you're right here. Be ready for
him when he shows up."

Kennedy had only just gone when Weegman appeared. He laughed when he saw
Locke, but it was an ugly laugh.

"What do you think you're trying to do?" he demanded. "Didn't you
get my telegram ordering you to report at the office of the club?"

"Yes."

"Well, why didn't you obey? What did you mean by coming right through
without even sending me word?"

"I had immediate business here in New York."

"Business! I had business for you to attend to. You've been doing a
lot of things without consulting me. Why didn't you wait until I gave
you the contracts for the old players?"

"There had been too much waiting, and time was precious. Kennedy had
plenty of blanks, so I got them from him, filled them out, and sent them
to the boys without further delay. It was the proper thing to do."

"Don't tell me what's proper to do! I'll tell you. That was the
distinct understanding, and you know it. Sent out the contracts, did
you? Well, some of them ought to be coming back by this time."

"They've all come back."

"What?"

"Every one of them. The Federals'll get no more players off us this
year."

Weegman choked, and the sound that came from his lips was not a laugh.

"I haven't seen anything of them. They didn't come to the office."

"No, certainly not."

"Certainly not! Then where--where are they?"

"I have them in my pocket."

Lefty said it quietly, not at all disturbed by the wrath of the outraged
schemer. It gave him much satisfaction to see Bailey Weegman shake and
squirm.

"In your pocket!" spluttered the rascal. "You had them returned to
a different address? Confound your crust! How'd you ever have the nerve
to do a thing like that? Let's see them. Hand them over!"

Locke made no move to obey. "I think I'll keep them a while," he
answered coolly. "I'll deliver them personally to be locked in the club
safe."

For a moment it seemed that Weegman would lose all control of himself
and attack the southpaw.

"You fool!" he raged. "Do you think you're going to get by with this
stuff?"

"I've made a pretty fair start at it."

"So you never meant to stand by the private agreement between us when
you signed as manager? That's it, eh?"

"There never was any private agreement between us. I signed to handle
the team, but I did not agree to become your puppet."

"You did. You said that--"

"That I understood the conditions you had proposed, but I did not say
that I consented to them. I had no intention of letting you dictate to
me."

"Fool! Fool!" snarled Weegman. "How long do you think you'll last?
And you made that crazy trade with Frazer! Do you know what I've done?
Well, I've notified Frazer that the deal was irregular, and won't be
recognized by the club. Not a dollar of that five thousand will he ever
get."

"You know better than that. The trade was legitimate, and it will
stand. Frazer can collect by law. Any other deal that I make will go
through, too, whether you are aware of it at the time or not. Until
Charles Collier himself takes away my authority, I'm manager of the
team with the legal right to carry out my own plans, and I intend to
do so. I shall ask no advice from you, and any suggestion you may make
I shall look upon with distrust."

They fought it out, eye to eye, and presently Weegman's gaze wavered
before that of the unawed southpaw. The man he had sought to make his
blind tool was defying him to his face.

"I see your finish!" he declared.

"And I see yours," countered Locke. "You think you're a clever crook.
You're merely an instrument in the hands of a bigger and cleverer
scoundrel who doesn't care a rap what happens to you if he can put his
own miserable scheme over. Your partnership with him will be your ruin,
anyhow. If you had half the sense you think you possess, you'd break
with him without losing any time."

"What are you talking about? I've only planned to do my best to save a
team that has been raided by the Feds. You're killing the last chance
for the Blue Stockings."

"Tell it to Sweeny!" exclaimed Lefty. "You're trying to deliver the
team into the hands of Tom Garrity. Deny it if you wish, but it isn't
necessary to lie. You've played Judas with Collier."

"Be careful! Better take that back!"

Lefty laughed. "I'm ready to add more to it. I haven't told you half
what I know. If I were to do so, you'd realize what a dumb fool you
have made of yourself. You think you're wise to all that was planned,
but you've been let in on only a very little of it. You'll tear your
hair when you get a squint at the foundation stone of this neat little
conspiracy."

"I--I don't know what you mean."

"That's right, you don't; but you will know in time. You'll be kept
in the dark as long as it suits Tom Garrity."

"What's Garrity got to do with it?"

Locke smiled on him pityingly. "Don't be childish, Weegman. That sort
of a bluff is too thin. I was wise when I signed to manage the team."

In vain the man stormed, threatened, coaxed, cajoled; he could not bend
Lefty in the least, and at last he realized that he had made a big
blunder in estimating the character of the southpaw.

"So it's war between us, is it?" he finally asked.

"I have looked for nothing else," answered the pitcher.

Weegman snapped his fingers in Locke's face. "All right!" he cried.
"You would have it! Just you wait! You're going to regret it! We'll
see how long you last!" And, turning round, he strode away, muttering
to himself.



CHAPTER XXIX

THE JAWS OF THE TRAP


Lefty had defied Weegman. Henceforth it was to be open war, and he was
glad of it. What the rascal would attempt to do he did not know, and
cared less. It did not seem likely that he could do much, if anything,
that he had not already made preparations to do. Of course, he might
call Collier into the affair, and that, should it bring the owner of
the Blue Stockings back to his own country, was something earnestly
to be desired. Could he but get Collier in private for twenty minutes,
Locke felt sure he could make him realize that he was the victim of a
conspiracy, and that his trusted private secretary had sought to sell
him out into the hands of a rival owner.

The telephone rang, and, thinking Stillman was calling at last, he
hastened to answer. It was not the reporter's voice that he heard,
but he was informed that some one was speaking from the office of the
_Blade_, and that, after making a fruitless effort to get Locke on
the wire, Stillman had found it necessary to hustle away to keep an
important appointment.

"But where can I find him?" asked the disappointed pitcher. "How can
I get hold of him?"

"He wants to talk to you as much as you do to him," was the answer.
"Said it was absolutely necessary. That's why he had me call you. Says
he has something to tell you, personally and privately. He'll try to be
at Mike's saloon, Thompson Street, near Broome, at three o'clock. If
you get there first, wait for him. And don't fail to come, for he'll
have important information. Got that straight?"

"Yes, but--"

"All right. I've done my duty. Good-by." There was a click, and the
wire was silent.

Lefty looked at his watch as he left the phone. It was twenty-two minutes
to three.

"Just about time enough to make it comfortably," he decided. "Stillman
must be on the track of something."

The subway being convenient, he chose it instead of a taxi, getting off
at Spring Street. Five minutes ahead of time, he found Mike's saloon, a
somewhat disreputable-looking place when viewed from the exterior. The
neighborhood, likewise, seemed sinister. However, a reporter's business,
thought Locke, carried him into all sorts of places.

Within the saloon a single patron, who looked like a vagrant, was picking
at the crumbs of a sickly free lunch in a dark corner. A husky-looking,
red-headed bartender was removing an emptied beer schooner and mopping up
the counter. He surveyed the southpaw from head to foot with apparent
interest.

"I'm looking for a man named Stillman who made an appointment to meet
me here at three," explained Lefty. "I was to wait for him if I got
here first."

"Jack's here," stated the man behind the bar, in a manner that bespoke
considerable familiarity with the reporter. "Came in three or four
minutes ago. Reckon you're Lefty Locke?"

"That's right."

"He told me you might come round. He's in the back room. Walk right
in." The speaker jerked a heavy thumb toward a closed door at the far
end of the bar.

At the sound of Locke's name the vagrant, who had been picking at
the free lunch, turned to look the famous pitcher over with apparent
curiosity and interest.

"Lefty Locke," he mumbled huskily. "Lemme shake han's. Ruther shake
han's with Lefty Locke than any man livin'."

Locke pushed past him and placed his hand on the knob of the door. The
fellow followed, insisting upon shaking hands, and, as Lefty opened the
door, the vagrant staggered, lurched against the pitcher, and thrust him
forward, the door closing behind him with the snap of a spring lock.

It is remarkable how seldom any one ever heeds premonitions. Even as
he opened that door, Lefty was aware that ever since the telephone call
had come to him some subtle intuition, thus far wholly disregarded, had
been seeking to sound a warning. It had caused him to hesitate at last.
Too late! The push delivered by the vagrant had pitched him forward into
the snare, while the sound of the clicking spring lock notified him that
his retreat was cut off.

Through a dirty skylight above another door that probably opened upon
a back alley some weak and sickly rays of daylight crept into the room. A
single gas jet, suspended from the center of the cracked and smoky
ceiling, gave a feeble, flickering light, filling the corners with
fluttering shadows. The furniture in the room consisted of a table
and a few chairs.

At the table three men were sitting, drinking and smoking. Locke,
recovering from the push he had received, stepped back against the
closed door, and looked at them.

"Hello!" said Mit Skullen. "Don't hurry away, Lefty. Folks that come
in by that door sometimes go out by the other one."

He was grinning viciously, triumphantly. The look upon his face was one
of satisfaction and brutal anticipation, and amply proclaimed his purpose.

Skullen's companions were tough characters, fit associates and abettors
of such a man. That they were thugs of the lowest type, who would not
hesitate at any act of violence, there could be no question. One looked
like a prize fighter who had gone to the bad, his drink-inflamed face
and bleary eyes advertising the cause of his downfall. The other had the
appearance of a "coke" fiend, and the criminally bent habitual user
of that drug has neither scruples nor fear of consequences.

Locke regarded them in silence. His pulses were throbbing somewhat
faster, yet he was cool and self-possessed, and his brain was keenly
active. He knew precisely what he was up against. Slipping one hand
behind him, he tried the knob of the door; but, as he had expected,
the door held fast.

Skullen continued to grin gloatingly, fancying that Locke's inactivity
was evidence that he was practically paralyzed by amazement and fear.

"Your friend Stillman was too busy to come," he said, "and so I kept
the appointment for him. Maybe I'll do just as well. Anyhow, I'll
do--for you!"

He had risen to his feet, and the light of the flickering gas jet
played over his evil face. Lefty flashed another look around, taking in
the surroundings. To his ears came the distant, muffled sound of an
elevated train rumbling along the trestle. Behind him, in the front
of the saloon, all was still. Probably the door leading to the street
was now also locked to prevent any one from entering and hearing any
disturbance that might take place in the back room. The jaws of the trap
held him fast.

"Oh, it ain't any use to think about runnin' away, Lefty," croaked
Mit. "Not a chance in the world. I fixed it so's we could have our
little settlement without any one buttin' in to bother us. You remember
I told you I had a score to settle with you?"

As Locke spoke, his voice was calm and steady. "And you engaged a pair
of worthy pals to assist you! You're a brave man, Skullen!"

"Aw, these lads are only here to see fair play, that's all. They won't
mix in. They won't have to. Last time we met you reckoned you put it
all over me, didn't you? Maybe I ought to thank you for keepin' me
from gettin' a rotter on me hands, for that's what you got in Dummy
Jones. You're welcome to that piece of cheese."

The southpaw made no retort. He was measuring his chances against all
three of the ruffians, having no doubt that he must soon find himself
pitted against such odds.

"Some baseball manager, that's what you are!" scoffed Mit, taking keen
delight in prolonging the suspense that he fancied must be getting the
nerve of the intended victim. "You're rattlin' around like a buckshot
inside a bass drum. A busy little person, you are, but you won't be
so busy after I finish with you. You'll find it convenient to take a
nice long rest in a hospital."

"You fight a lot with your mouth, Mit," said Locke contemptuously.

"Go ahead an' sail inter him, Skully," urged the ruffian who looked
like a broken-down prize fighter. "You been itchin' fer him to show up
so you could get inter action. Go to it!"

"Plenty of time, Bill. I enjoy seein' him try to push that door down
with his back. Wasn't he a mut to walk right into this? I'm goin' to
change the look of his face so that his handsome wife won't know him
when she sees him next."

He began to remove his coat, and Lefty knew the time for action had
come. For an instant his imagination had sought to unnerve him by
presenting a vivid picture of himself as he would appear, battered,
bleeding, beaten up, if the trio of thugs carried out their evil design;
but he put the vision aside promptly. In cases where a smaller force
is compelled to contend with a greater, the advantage is frequently
obtained through swift and sudden assault. Knowing this, Locke did
not wait to be attacked. He hurled himself forward with the spring of a
panther and the force of a catapult.



CHAPTER XXX

ONE AGAINST THREE


Skullen, in the act of removing his coat, was caught unprepared. Before
he could fling the garment aside Locke was upon him, aiming a well-meant
blow for the point of Mit's jaw.

Skullen realized that it was no trifling thing to stop such a blow as
that, and he jerked his head aside, as he dropped his coat. The blow
caught him glancingly and sent him staggering, upsetting the chair from
which he had recently risen. Locke grabbed the edge of the table and
pitched it against the ruffian's two companions, who had hastily started
to get up. They fell over, with the table on top of them.

Lefty followed up his advantage, and kept right on after Skullen.
Uttering a snarl of astonished rage, the latter sought to grapple, but
the southpaw knew that he could not afford to waste time in that sort of
a struggle. Whatever he did must be done swiftly, effectively, and
thoroughly. Delay meant only disaster to him. Avoiding the clutching
hands of his antagonist, he struck Mit on the neck, below the ear,
staggering him again.

Skullen had not looked for such a whirlwind assault. He had fancied
the trapped man would wait until set upon, and he had believed he
would have little trouble in beating Lefty to the full satisfaction of
his revengeful heart. He was strong and ponderous, and he could still
strike a terrible blow, but years had slowed him down, his lack of
exercise had softened his muscles, his eye had lost its quickness,
while indulgence in drink and dissipation had taken the snap and ginger
out of him. He had not realized before how much he had deteriorated, but
now, witnessing the lightning-like movements of Lefty Locke, he began
to understand, and sudden apprehension overcame him.

"Bill! Snuff!" he roared. "Get into it! Get at him, you snails! Soak
him!"

His appeal to his companions was an unintentional admission that he
suddenly realized he was no match for the man he had attempted to beat.
The flickering gaslight had given him a glimpse of a terrible blazing
look in Locke's eyes. Once, in the ring, he had seen a look like that
in the eyes of an opponent who had apparently gone crazy. And he had
been knocked out by him!

Scrambling up from beneath the capsized table, Bill and Snuff responded.
Lefty knew that in a moment they would take a hand in the fight, and
then the odds would be three against one, and none of the three would
hesitate at any brutal methods to smash the one. Once he was beaten
down, they would kick and stamp him into insensibility; and later,
perhaps, he would be found outside somewhere in the back alley, with
broken bones, possibly maimed and disfigured for life.

The knowledge of what would happen to him, if defeated, made him doubly
strong and fierce. He endeavored to dispose of Skullen first, believing
that by doing so he would have half the battle won.

Skullen's howls to his companions came to an abrupt termination. Like
an irresistible engine of destruction, Locke had smashed through the
defense of the ruffian, and, reaching him with a terrible blow, sent
him spinning and crashing into a corner of the room. At the same instant,
Bill, joining in, was met by a back kick in the pit of his stomach, and,
with a grunt, he doubled up, clutching at his middle with both hands.

This gave the southpaw a chance to turn on Snuff, who had not, so
far, shown any great desire to help his pals. The creature had seemed
physically insignificant, sitting at the table, but now, in action,
he moved with the quickness of a wild cat, in great contrast to the
ponderousness of Skullen. And he had a weapon in his hand--a blackjack!

The southpaw realized that, of his three antagonists, the creature
springing at him like a deadly tarantula was the most to be dreaded.
Insanity blazed in the fellow's eyes. He struck with the blackjack,
and Lefty barely avoided the blow.

Locke snapped out his left foot, and caught the toe of the man plunging
past him, sending him spinning to the floor. Snuff's body struck a leg
of the overturned table and broke it off short, but the shock of the
fall seemed to have absolutely no effect upon him; for he rebounded
from the floor like a rubber ball, and was on his feet again in a flash,
panting and snarling.

"Get him, Snuff--get him!" urged Skullen, coming up out of the corner
where he had been thrown.

Bill, recovering his breath, was straightening up. All three of the
thugs would be at the southpaw again in another jiffy. Lefty darted
round the table, avoiding the blackjack, but realizing what a small
chance he had with his bare hands. He could not keep up the dodging
long. Then he saw the broken table leg, and snatched it up. With an
upward swing, he landed a blow on Snuff's elbow, breaking his arm.
The blackjack flew to the smoky ceiling, and then thudded back to the
floor.

Feeling sure he had checked his most dangerous antagonist, Lefty turned,
swinging the table leg, and gave Skullen a crack on the shoulder that
dropped him to his knees. He had aimed at Mit's head, but the fellow
had partially succeeded in dodging the blow.

Another blow, and the cry of alarm that rose to Bill's lips was broken
short. Bill went down, knocked senseless.

But Snuff, in spite of his broken arm, was charging again. He was seeking
to get at the southpaw with his bare left hand! The pitcher, however,
had no compunction, and he beat the madman down instantly.

Groaning and clinging to his injured shoulder, Skullen retreated hastily
to the wall, staring in amazement and incomprehension at the breathless
but triumphant man he had lured into this trap. In all his experience
he had never encountered such a fighter.

There being no one to stop him now, Lefty walked to the door leading into
the alley, found the key in the lock and turned it. One backward look
he cast at the two figures on the floor and the man who leaned against
the wall, clutching at his shoulder.

Policemen seemed to be scarce in that neighborhood, and Locke found one
with difficulty. The officer listened incredulously to Lefty's story.
"Mike's is a quiet place," he said. "Didn't make a mistake about
where this happened, did you? Well, come on; we'll go round there and
see about it."

The saloon was open when they reached it. The red-headed bartender was
serving beer to an Italian and a Swede. The vagrant had vanished. The man
behind the bar listened with a well-simulated air of growing indignation
when the policeman questioned him. He glared at the pitcher.

"What are you tryin' to put across, bo?" he demanded fiercely. "You
never were in here before in your life. Tryin' to give my place a bad
name? Nothin' like what you say ever happened around here. Nice little
yarn about bein' decoyed here by some coves that tried to beat you up!
Say, officer, is this a holdup?"

"I've told you what he told me," said the policeman.

"In my back room!" raged the barkeeper. "There ain't been nobody in
there for the last two hours. Come here an' have a look." He walked
to the door and flung it open.

Skullen and his partners were gone. Even the broken table had been
removed. There was nothing to indicate that a desperate encounter had
taken place there a short time before.

"You cleaned up in a hurry," said Lefty.

At this the barkeeper became still more furious, and was restrained by
the officer, who scowled at the pitcher even as he held the other back.

"You don't look like you'd been hitting the pipe, young feller,"
growled the representative of the law; "but that yarn about being
attacked by three men looks funny. Don't notice any marks of the scrap
on you. They didn't do you much damage, did they? Say, you must have had
a dream!"

Locke saw the utter folly of any attempt to press the matter. "As long
as you insist upon looking at it in that way, officer," he returned,
with a touch of contempt that he could not repress, "we'll have to
let it go at that. But I'll guarantee that there are three men somewhere
in this neighborhood who'll have to have various portions of their
anatomies patched up by a doctor as the aftermath of that dream."



CHAPTER XXXI

LIGHT ON A DARK SPOT


Janet returned from the matinée in a state of great excitement. "She's
here!" she cried, bursting in on Lefty. "You were right about it! I've
seen her!"

The southpaw gazed in surprise at the flushed face of his charming wife.
"You mean--"

"Virginia! I tell you I've seen her!"

"When? Where?"

"As we were leaving the theater. The lobby was crowded, and we were in
the back of the jam. Suddenly I saw her over the heads of the people. She
was just getting into an auto that was occupied by a handsome woman with
snow-white hair. I wasn't mistaken; it was Virginia. I couldn't get to
her. I tried to call to her, but she didn't hear me. I'll never say
you were mistaken again, Lefty. Somehow you seem always to be right."

Locke scarcely heard these final words. He was thinking rapidly. A sudden
ray of hope had struck upon him. Confound it! Where was Stillman? He
sprang to the telephone and called the _Blade_ office again.

"Jack is the one best bet in this emergency," he said, as he waited for
the connections to be made.

He got the reporter on the wire, and Stillman stated that he had not been
in the office ten minutes, and was about to call Lefty. Could he come
up to the Great Eastern right away? Sure.

The feeling of depression and helplessness that had threatened to crush
Locke began to fall away. The door he had sought, the one door by which
there seemed any chance of passing on to success, appeared to be almost
within reach of his hand. In her excitement at the theater, Janet had not
possessed the presence of mind to call the attention of her friends to
the snowy-haired woman, but he knew that she could describe her with
some minuteness.

"Stillman knows everybody," Lefty said. "It may be clew enough for
him."

There was a rap on the door. A messenger boy appeared with a telegram.
Locke ripped it open and read:

    Jones sick. Team busted. I'm busted. Signal of distress. How
    about that five hundred? I knead the dough. Don't shoot! Wire
    cash.                           WILEY.

"Trouble in another quarter," muttered Lefty, handing the message
over to Janet. "How am I going to send him that money? I can't force
Weegman to do it. Wiley has a right to demand it. If I don't come
across, he'll have a right to call the deal off."

"But Jones is sick," said Janet.

"Still it was a square bargain, and I mean to stand by it. Jones is
sick. He was sick that day in Vienna; that was what ailed him. He showed
flashes of form when he braced up, but he was too ill to brace up long.
I've wondered what was the explanation, now I have it. Get him on his
feet again, and he'll be all right. I've got to hold my grip on Jones
somehow."

Kennedy and Stillman appeared at the Great Eastern together. First, Lefty
showed them the message from Cap'n Wiley. Over it the former manager
screwed up his face, casting a sharp look at his successor.

"If you can trust this Wiley," he said, "send him two hundred, and
tell him to bring Jones north as soon as Jones can travel. Don't worry.
Wiley's outfit didn't come under the national agreement, and Jones'
name on a Stockings contract ties him up."

"But without drawing money from the club I haven't the two hundred to
spare now. I can't draw."

"I'll fix that. I've got two hundred or more that you can borrow.
After the training season opens, you'll pretty soon find out whether
or not you've picked a dill pickle in your dummy pitcher."

Janet told Stillman about seeing Virginia Collier, and gave him a fairly
minute description of the woman Virginia was with. The reporter smoked a
cigarette, and considered.

"I think I can find that lady with the snow-white hair," he said, after
a time. "Leave it to me. You'll hear from me just as soon as I have
something to tell."

With a promising air of confidence, he took his departure, leaving
Kennedy and Locke to attend to the matter of Wiley and Mysterious Jones.
Of course, the southpaw told the old manager all about Skullen's attempt
at revenge, but he did not do so within the hearing of Janet, whom he
did not care to alarm. The veteran chuckled over the result of the
encounter in the back room of Mike's saloon.

"Right from the first," he said, "you was picked for something soft
and easy. I knew you was a fighter, son, but Weegman and his gang didn't
know it. Mebbe they'll begin to guess the fact pretty soon."

A few minutes after eight that evening, Stillman returned to the hotel
and found Locke waiting with what patience he could command. The reporter
wore a smile, but he declined to answer questions.

"Mrs. James A. Vanderpool's private car is waiting for us at the
door," he said. "Bring Mrs. Hazelton, Lefty. We're going to make
a call."

"Mrs. Vanderpool? The widow of the traction magnate? Why, what--"

"Now don't waste time! Somebody else can gratify your curiosity a great
deal better than I. In fact, I know so little about the facts at the
bottom of this queer business that any explanations I'd make would be
likely to ball things up."

The magnificent residence of the late James Vanderpool was on upper
Fifth Avenue. They were ushered into a splendid reception room. In a
few minutes an aristocratic-looking woman with white hair entered, her
appearance bringing an involuntary exclamation to Janet's lips.

"It's the very one!" she breathed excitedly, her fingers gripping
Lefty's arm. Stillman introduced them to Mrs. Vanderpool, who met them
graciously.

"Virginia will be down in a minute or two," said the lady. "For
reasons, she has been staying with me since she returned from abroad.
I'll let her tell you about it." She regarded Locke with frank
interest, yet in a manner that was not at all embarrassing, for it
plainly contained a great deal of friendliness. "Virginia has told
me much about you," she stated. "It has never before been my good
fortune to meet a professional baseball player. My niece is very fond of
Mrs. Hazelton."

"Your niece!" exclaimed Lefty.

"Virginia is my niece, although I have scarcely seen her since she was
a very small child. Here she is now."

Virginia ran, laughing, to meet Janet. After the manner of girl friends,
they hugged and kissed each other.

"Really," said Virginia, "I should give you a good shaking for not
answering all my letters!"

"Your letters!" cried Janet. "I've received only two letters from you
in goodness knows how long! I answered them; and wrote you a dozen to
which I got not a word of reply."

They gazed at each other in blank uncertainty for a minute or two, and
every trace of laughter died from Miss Collier's face. Her blue eyes
began to flash.

"Then," she said, "our letters were intercepted. I can't remember
whether I posted any of mine or not, but I was so worried over father
that it is doubtful if I did. I let my maid attend to that. She nearly
always brought the mail to me, too. When I obtained positive proof that
she was dishonest, I discharged her. Even now it's hard to believe she
was so treacherous."

"But why should she intercept our letters? I don't understand,
Virginia."

"There has been a dreadful plot to ruin my father. You'll hardly
believe it when I tell you. I find it difficult to believe, even now."
She shivered, some of the color leaving her face. "It was necessary
to cut us off from any true information of what was happening to his
business interests. Letters from you might have given me an inkling,
Janet, and so they were secured and destroyed before they ever reached
my hands. Other letters met the same fate. Mr. Weegman declared he
wrote several which I know my father never got."

"Weegman!" exclaimed Locke incredulously. "Why, he--"

"Doctor Dalmers warned Mr. Weegman that father must not be disturbed or
excited in the least over business matters. He said such a thing might
have a fatal effect on his heart. Still Weegman says he wrote guardedly
several times, mildly hinting that things were not going right."

"The liar!" whispered Lefty to himself.

A bit in the background, Jack Stillman was listening with keen interest,
thinking what a sensational special article the truth regarding this
affair would make.

"We were surrounded by wretches who had no compunction," declared
Virginia Collier. "It was I who first suspected them. My father was too
ill, and the doctor kept him under opiates almost all the time, so that
his mind was dulled. After I discharged Annette I became suspicious of
the nurse. I spoke to Doctor Dalmers about her, but he insisted that she
was all right. He insisted too earnestly. I began to watch him without
letting him realize I was doing so. Once or twice I found a chance to
change father's medicine for harmless powders and clear water, and
it seemed to me that he was better than when he took the medicine. He was
very weak and ill, but his mind seemed clearer. I kept the medicine away
from him for two days in succession, and got an opportunity to talk to
him alone. I succeeded in convincing him that the change of climate,
the baths, and the stuff the doctor had given him were doing him no good
at all. In London there was a physician whom he knew and in whom he had
confidence, Doctor Robert Fitzgerald. I urged him to go to Doctor
Fitzgerald, but not to tell Doctor Dalmers of his intention, and I
begged him to refuse to take any more of Doctor Dalmers' medicine.
We were in Luchon, and all the way to London I had to watch like a
hawk to keep that medicine from father, but I succeeded, although I
became extremely unpopular with Doctor Dalmers. The minute we reached
London, I went to Doctor Fitzgerald and told him all that I suspected.
Although he could not believe such a thing possible, he accompanied me
at once to our hotel. Doctor Dalmers was taken by surprise, for he had
not anticipated this move. When I discharged both him and the nurse, he
gave me a terrible look. Of course, I could not have carried this
through, had not Doctor Fitzgerald been a close friend of my father.
Dalmers called Fitzgerald's action unprofessional, and made threats,
but we got rid of him."

Despite the fact that she was such a mere slip of a girl, it was evident
that she possessed brains and the courage and resourcefulness to use
them. Mrs. Vanderpool seemed very proud of her. Lefty expressed his
admiration.

"I knew," Virginia continued, "that there must be something behind
such a plot. I did not believe Dalmers had put it through merely to
bleed my father while keeping him ill. I was worried over the fact that
we knew so very little concerning how father's affairs were going over
here. What information we could get by cable or otherwise might be
unsatisfactory. So I determined to come home and investigate for myself.
I got father's consent, and I left him in Doctor Fitzgerald's care. I
intended to sail by the _Victoria_, but there was a misunderstanding
about accommodations, and I was forced to take a later ship. I find
father's affairs involved, and I've sent a statement of conditions as
they appear to be.

"Of course," she concluded, smiling a little, "I was greatly
relieved to learn from Mr. Weegman that he felt sure he had blocked the
contemptible efforts to smash the Blue Stockings. He felt highly elated
over signing Lefty Locke as manager."

"Miss Collier," said the pitcher, "did Weegman offer an explanation
of the raid on the team? Did he say who was at the bottom of it?"

Instantly a little cloud came to her face, and an expression of regret
appeared in her eyes. "Yes," she answered. "He told me. At first I
could not believe it."

Stillman leaned forward, listening, his lips slightly parted. Locke
turned toward him, but turned back quickly, with another question on
his lips. Virginia was speaking again, however.

"I can scarcely believe it now," she said sadly. "It seems too utterly
impossible! I can't imagine any one being such a scoundrel--much less
him! But Weegman has made sure; he has the proof. Of course, he has told
you all about it, Lefty; it was necessary that you should know." Her
manner had grown deeply dejected.

"What did Weegman tell you?" asked the southpaw. "Who did he say was
responsible for what had happened to the Blue Stockings?"

With an effort the girl answered: "Franklin Parlmee!"



CHAPTER XXXII

ONE CHANCE


It was like a staggering blow. While it confirmed Stillman's theory
that Parlmee was the chief rascal of the conspiracy, it shattered the
supposition that Weegman, a blind dupe, wholly unaware of the truth,
was being cleverly manipulated as an unconscious tool. The foundation of
that hypothesis melted away like sand before hydrolytic force.

Locke turned again and looked at the reporter. The latter, standing
like an image of stone, was staring questioningly and incredulously
at Virginia Collier. He, too, realized that this confirmation of his
belief had brought a portion of the postulation fluttering down like a
house of cards, and he was seeking a mental readjustment.

Janet, frozen with lips slightly parted and eyes wide, was aware of it
also. She was about to speak impulsively when Lefty detected her and made
a repressing gesture.

Miss Collier felt that she knew the reason for the sudden silence that
had fallen on every one, and a faint flush crept back into her cheeks.
She appeared to be humiliated and ashamed, as well as sorrowful.

"I understand," she said, in a low tone, "how it must seem to you
to hear me say such a thing about Mr. Parlmee. I have trusted him. I
believed in him, even when my father was losing faith and confidence. I
clung to my own faith, and it hasn't been easy to abandon it, even in
the face of proof. My conscience or something taunts me occasionally.
I--I've cried over it, and I've fought against it. I haven't dared see
him since my return--since I found out the truth--for I knew I should
listen to him and believe in him in spite of everything. I wanted to
face him and accuse him, but Weegman persuaded me to wait. He said it
would merely hasten the crash if we let the scoundrels know they were
suspected."

"The scoundrels!" exclaimed Locke. "Then he told you that more than
one was concerned?"

"He claims that a man named Garrity is operating in conjunction with
Franklin Parlmee."

Another staggerer. To Virginia, Weegman had accused Garrity. Mutely the
southpaw appealed to Stillman. The reporter's forehead was puckered in a
puzzled manner; he caught Lefty's glance, and shook his head slowly.

"When did he name Garrity, Miss Collier?" he asked.

"When he called on me to-day--this afternoon," was the answer. "He
has been at work trying to get at the truth."

Locke improved the opportunity to whisper in Janet's ear: "Keep still!
Don't say a word--now."

Although she did not understand why he wished her to keep silent, she
nodded. He had been right in other matters; it was best to let him have
his way in this.

"My niece has been very much upset," said Mrs. Vanderpool. "It has
practically made her ill. She hasn't felt much like seeing people, and
therefore Mr. Weegman's advice to keep quiet was easy to follow."

Weegman had urged Virginia to remain in obscurity, not to let her friends
know she was in New York; that was evident. He had convinced her that by
doing so she could best assist him in his pretended task of trapping the
conspirators. And while she kept quiet, those conspirators were hastening
to carry through the work they had planned.

"Miss Collier," said Lefty, "do you think it would be possible for
your father to come home at once? Do you think he is strong enough to
stand the voyage? If he can do so, he had better come. He should be here
now."

"I don't know," she replied.

"Give me his address and let me communicate with him," Locke urged.
"He should know something of the truth, at least."

Virginia was persuaded, for Mrs. Vanderpool agreed that it was the best
course to pursue. The southpaw was elated; he felt that at last he was
getting a grip that would enable him to accomplish something. If he could
baffle the rascals now, it would be a feat worth while.

Mrs. Vanderpool was called away to the telephone.

"Auntie has been very kind to me, in spite of her quarrel with father,"
said Virginia, when the lady had left the room. "They have not spoken to
each other for years. It is so ridiculous, so childish, for a brother
and sister who have been devoted! Both are stubborn. And yet Aunt
Elizabeth is the kindest, gentlest woman in the world. She lost an only
daughter, and she says I seem to fill the vacant place. She has made me
feel very much at home."

Then she began chatting with Janet about things of mutual interest. Locke
joined Stillman, who had walked to the far end of the room.

"This Weegman is either a fool or much cleverer than we thought him,"
said the reporter swiftly, in a low tone. "I don't believe he's a
fool."

"How have you figured it out?" Lefty questioned. "It was a mistake
to think him not wise to Parlmee. And why, if he is hand in glove with
Garrity, did he tell her that Garrity was concerned in the miserable
business?"

"He told her that to-day?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't he tell her before? Weegman is in town. Have you seen him?"

The pitcher told of his meeting with both Weegman and Garrity, and how
he had defied them. Stillman's face cleared a little.

"Look here, Locke, that fellow Weegman will double cross any one. You
put him next to the fact that you were wise to Garrity. The whole bunch
must know that Collier has fired his crooked doctor. Of course, Dalmers
notified them. After talking with you, Weegman began to realize that
the whole plot might fall through. He lost no time in beginning to
hedge his bets. He's trying to fix it so that he'll fall safe if the
business blows up."

"But why did he tell her of Parlmee? We thought he didn't know about
that."

"I'm not as sure about Parlmee as I was," admitted the reporter
frankly. "Weegman has been trying to blacken him to her right along.
I'll own up now that it was an anonymous communication that first
put me on the track of Parlmee. There have been others of the same sort
tending to incriminate him. I've wondered where they came from. Now
I think I know. Weegman is the answer."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Lefty. "You believe it was he who directed
suspicion toward Parlmee in the first place?"

"You've got me. That being the case, instead of being a dupe, this
Weegman has put something over that we didn't suspect him of. He's
after Collier's daughter, and it would help him if he could turn her
against his rival."

Locke's face cleared. His relief was evident.

"This is all speculation," said the reporter hastily. "Don't be
too quick to accept it as a settled fact. Parlmee's behavior has been
suspicious enough to require some explaining from him. Perhaps he can
clear it up. We know Weegman has tried to put the Blue Stockings on
the blink, and we're dead certain he hasn't knowingly done so as the
assistant of Parlmee. Now how do you figure on that?"

"Parlmee's innocent, as I fancied. Weegman is the chief rascal."

Stillman smiled. "In which case he's beginning to find himself caught
in a quicksand, and he's trying to save himself by climbing out over
his pal, Garrity. He'll swear he had no finger in it. Garrity won't
dare accuse Weegman of being an accomplice, for by doing that he would
acknowledge that there was a conspiracy. Weegman is in no danger in that
direction of anything further than such private revenge as Garrity may
seek to take."

Lefty turned back and approached Virginia and Janet, addressing the
former:

"Miss Collier, I want you to promise me that, for the present, at least,
you'll say nothing to Bailey Weegman about having seen and talked with
me."

The girl looked surprised. "I was just proposing that Janet should leave
the hotel and stay here with me. I know my aunt will approve."

"I approve anything you may wish, my dear," said Mrs. Vanderpool,
reëntering the room. "It would give me great pleasure to have Mrs.
Hazelton visit us and remain as long as possible."

Locke looked doubtful, for should that arrangement be carried out
Janet might easily be led into telling Virginia more than it seemed
advisable for her to know at the present time. But Mrs. Vanderpool made
her invitation most cordial, and Janet gave him a beseeching glance.
He wavered.

"Weegman calls here. If he should--"

Janet's hand fell on his arm. "Trust me," she urged significantly.
"You can't hope to keep him long in the dark. For the present, if he
calls, I'll not be in evidence. You're so busy that I see very little
of you during the day, anyway."

So he was won over. Janet returned with him to the hotel to gather up the
belongings she would need, and Stillman accompanied them. Lefty made his
wife understand how desirous it was to keep Weegman blinded as long as
possible, explaining that he feared Miss Collier's indignation would
lead her into betraying everything should she learn the whole truth
regarding the two-faced schemer.

"If you can get Collier home quickly enough, Locke," said Stillman,
"there's a chance that you may be able to spike the enemy's guns, even
at this late hour."

"I'm going to make a swift play for that chance," returned Lefty.



CHAPTER XXXIII

ONE IN A MILLION


The clerk of the Great Eastern surveyed with interest the swarthy small
man in the bright green suit and the plaid raglan overcoat, who leaned
an elbow on the desk and jauntily twirled a light cane, puffing at an
excellent Havana cigar.

"Beyond a modicum of a doubt you have me, your excellency," said the
stranger. "I'm the real thing, the only and original Cap'n Wiley. It
is frequently embarrassing to be encumbered by fame, and my modesty
often compels me to travel incog-nit-o; but just now, having a yearning
desire to hobnob with my old college chump, Lefty Locke, I am blushingly
compelled to reveal my identity. When Lefty learns that I am here he
will fly like a bird to greet me. Notify one of yon brass-buttoned
minions to inform him of my immediate proximity."

"Mr. Locke is out at present," said the man behind the desk, winking
slyly at a fellow clerk; "but if you will leave your card--"

"If one isn't sufficient, I'll leave the whole pack of fifty-two. It
is my habit to carry a deck with me for emergencies. Perchance, however,
you can tell me when Lefty is liable to return."

At that moment Locke, coming in, saw the sailor, and hurried forward. The
Marine Marvel teetered to meet him, beaming broadly. They shook hands,
and Locke drew the sailor toward two vacant chairs.

"Jones?" questioned Lefty as they sat down. "Where is he? How is he?"

"He's right here in this little old burg," was the answer. "Nothing
short of his demise could have prevented me from keeping my agreement
to deliver him to you. He is on the mend, and it is probable that he'll
soon be as frisky and formidable as ever. But I have qualms. I fear
greatly that something has happened to cause Jonesy to lose interest
in baseball forever and for aye. Were I in his boots, I'd go on one
long spree that would reach from here to Hongkong, and even farther.
Hold your breath, Lefty, and hold it hard. Jones has come into a modest
little fortune of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars or thereabouts."

"Quite a joke!" said the pitcher.

"I don't blame you for doubting me. In your place I'd have made a
remark a shade more violent. But the seal of voracity is on my lips. I
didn't know it when I saw you last, but at that time he had practically
sold his interest in his Alaska possessions. I have stated the sum he
received for his share in that pretty bit of property."

"Enough to keep him in pin money for some time," replied Lefty, still
skeptical.

"If he could be induced to use it for his own wants he could dodge
becoming a pauper for quite a while. But, Lefty, you can't guess what
he's going to do with it. Excuse me while I sigh. I have argued and
pleaded until my fingers became tongue-tied; but I've failed to move him
from his fixed determination. He is going to give every dollar of that
money away!"

Of course, Locke thought that Wiley was drawing the long bow, as usual.
"I hope he won't overlook his friends when he passes it around," he
said, smiling.

"His friends won't get a dollar!" declared Wiley. "He's going to
give it to his enemies."

This was too much for the southpaw. "Let's cut the comedy," he urged.

The sailor gave him a chastening look. "It isn't comedy; it's tragedy,
Lefty. He believes it his duty. He believes he is bound, as a man of
honor, to do it. Listen and I will elucidate. Did you ever hear of the
Central Yucatan Rubber Company?"

"I don't think so."

"Well, it was a fraudulent concern that flourished like a green bay tree
some seven or eight years ago, and withered like a fragile plant when
the government got after it for fraudulent use of the mails. Like many
such grafting stock-selling companies, it had a dummy board of officers
who appeared to be in control, while the real rogues who were harvesting
the coin kept in the background. Jones was president of that company. He
believed it to be on the level, and he had invested some of his own
money--superficially all he had--in it. When the government got busy,
Jones was indicted as the head of the concern. He was thought to be
the originator of the scheme. The real crook had fixed it so that he
seemed to be one of the innocent victims, and he helped swear Jones
into prison. Jones got five years. He served his time."

At last Locke was impressed. He had never seen Wiley so serious. For
once, the flippant and superficial manner of the swarthy little man
had been discarded; his flamboyant style of speech had been dropped.
Ordinarily he gave one the impression that he was gleefully fabricating;
now, of a sudden, the listener was convinced that he was hearing the
naked truth. It explained the atmosphere of somber sadness, the
appearance of brooding over a great injustice, which had infolded the
mysterious dumb pitcher of the Wind Jammers. For Jones Lefty felt a
throb of genuine sympathy.

"With the unclothed eye I can perceive that you get me," the sailor
continued. "You can imagine how you would feel if you had been sent
to the jug for five years, as punishment for a crime perpetrated by
somebody else. What if the one who concocted the scheme and benefited
by it swore your liberty away and escaped scot-free himself?"

"It was monstrous!" exclaimed the pitcher.

"Precisely so. In prison Jones took a foolish oath. He registered a vow
to pay back every dollar to those who had lost their good money in that
fake rubber company. He didn't know how he was going to do it, but he
was determined that he would. In a way, they were his enemies, for they
had helped prosecute him; the courts had adjudged him guilty, and he felt
that he could never hold up his head as an honest man until those who
had been defrauded got the last cent of coin back. In some way he must
acquire a huge amount of filthy lucre, and acquire it honestly. He
dreamed of gold mines. When the prison spat him forth he made his way
up into Alaska. There his dream came true, for, with his partners, he
located and developed a great mine. They could have sold out a dozen
times, but never for a sum that would permit Jones to accomplish his
purpose with his share of the price. So he held on. And at last a
syndicate made an offer that was sufficient. Jones was notified by his
partners. He accepted. But not until the deal was put through and he had
the certified check for his interest in his clutches did he breathe a
word of it to any one. Then he told me. He was sick, but his success
helped cure him. He was eager to hurry North and set into action the
machinery for distributing that money to the rubber company's victims.
At this very moment he is interviewing a reputable firm of lawyers
and giving them instructions to proceed about the work. He can supply a
full list of the persons defrauded. They'll get back what they lost, and
Jones will find himself poor again--but satisfied."

Lefty's eyes were shining. "In these days of the great American idea of
grafting and fraud," he said, "a man with a conscience like Jones' is
one in ten thousand."

"Say, rather, one in a million, mate. I have reviled him
extemporaneously. I have told him that he is a fool. I'm honest
myself--when it's absolutely necessary. But to part with a scandalous
sum like two hundred and fifty thousand without being positively
compelled to do so--oh, pardon me while I sob!"

"A man with such principles, and Jones' ability to pitch, will not come
to grief. He has a job before him with the Blue Stockings."

Wiley shook his head. "Apprehension percheth upon me, Lefty. Jones has
accomplished the great purpose of his life. It was what fired him and
spurred him on. I regret to elucidate that since that money came to him
he has displayed no interest whatever in baseball. When I sought to
make him talk about it he wouldn't even wigwag a finger on the subject.
Something seems to tell me that he'll never again ascend the mound
and shoot the horsehide over the pentagon."



CHAPTER XXXIV

WEEGMAN'S PROPOSAL


For four days Weegman had not troubled Locke, four days during which
Lefty sought in vain to get some word from Charles Collier. His
cablegrams remained unanswered. At the time when he had felt the
most sanguine he seemed to find himself blocked again. He did not
seek to delude himself with the belief that silence on the part of the
conspirators meant they were inactive. Doubtless they were at work
harder than ever. What were they doing? He confessed that he would give
a great deal to know.

Then Weegman reappeared. His manner was ingratiating. His chuckle seemed
intended to be genial and friendly.

"A private room where we can talk without the slightest chance of being
overheard, that's what we want," he said. "Your own room should be
all right, as long as your wife is stopping with Miss Collier and her
aunt." He knew about that. How long he had known was a question.

Locke felt like turning the rascal down flatly. He was on the verge of
doing so when something led him to decide differently. Perhaps a little
patience and cleverness would enable him to get an inkling of what the
enemy was doing. He took Weegman to his room, and shot the door bolt
behind them when they had entered.

"That's right," said Collier's private secretary. "We don't want to
be interrupted by anybody. I took a great deal of pains that no one who
knew me should see me come here. Garrity mustn't get wise. He ordered me
to keep away from you." Laughing, he flung himself down on a chair.

"Garrity!" cried Lefty, astonished at the confession. "Then you admit
that you are taking your orders from him?"

"He thinks I am," was the grinning answer. "Perhaps he'll find
himself fooled. If you and I can get together, I'm sure he will."

Locke stifled a sense of repulsion. The man was more detestable than
ever. It did not appear possible, and yet he still seemed to think that
Locke would accept a proposal from him.

"How do you mean?" asked the pitcher, with masterly self-control. "Get
together how?"

"I hope you realize you can't do anything alone. The combination
against you is too strong, and too much had been done before you began to
get wise to the situation. Let me tell you now that I didn't expect
this affair would go as far as it has when I entered into it."

The creature was shamelessly acknowledging his participation in the plot,
chuckling as he did so. Lefty waited.

"Of course," pursued Weegman, "you've been aware for some time of
my unbounded admiration and regard for Miss Collier. The old man favored
me, but I couldn't bring her round. To do so, I decided, it would be
necessary for me to accomplish a coup. If I could apparently save her
father from ruin she might alter her views. Out of gratitude she might
marry me. I'm a man who gets what he wants, by hook or crook. Garrity
approached me with a scheme. I listened to it. I believed I saw a way to
turn that scheme to my own advantage with Virginia. But I'll tell you
now that it never was my intention to put Charles Collier wholly on the
blink. At that time even I didn't know how badly involved he was."

Even while he told the truth in a way, Weegman was lying in the effort to
palliate his act to some degree. His conscience was warped to such an
extent that he seemed to believe there could be an excuse for the milder
forms of conspiracy and crime. In a bungling way he was actually making
a bid for Locke's sympathy.

"You must have known of the dastardly arrangement with a crooked doctor
to keep Mr. Collier drugged into apparent illness and detain him in
Europe beyond reach of the friends who might tell him, Weegman. Who
got to that doctor and bought him up?"

"Not I," was the denial. "I didn't have the money."

"Was it Garrity?"

"Of course. Garrity had something on Dalmers, who was concerned in
some mighty shady practices at one time. But he told me that Dalmers was
simply going to keep watch of the old man. I didn't know anything about
the drugging business. When I found that out I was mad as blazes."

The southpaw fought to prevent his lips from curling with scorn, and to
suppress a look of triumph in his eyes. "What's your proposition to me,
Weegman?"

The self-acknowledged rascal seemed to hesitate. "You're sure no one
can hear us?" he asked, his eyes roving around the room.

"You can see that we're quite alone."

Weegman drummed nervously on the arm of his chair. "I'm sorry this
thing has gone so far," he protested. "I didn't look for it to, at
first. I got involved and couldn't back out. In fact, Garrity threatened
me when I showed signs of holding back. That," he declared, with an
attempt at indignant resentment, "made me sore. Without my help in the
beginning he never could have done a thing. Now he thinks he's got me
foul, he's going to gobble everything. We'll see about that! Perhaps it
isn't too late to stop him. Maybe we can do it, you and I. I'd like
to show him."

So the rascals had quarreled over the division of the spoils, as rascals
so often do. And now one of them was ready to betray the other, if he
could do so without disaster to himself. At the same time, he hoped to
make an alliance with Lefty by which he might reap some actual benefit
from his underhanded work. Suddenly Locke thought of another man who had
been suspected of complicity.

"How about Parlmee?" he asked. "Where does he fit in? Did Garrity
send him over the pond to wrench the control of the Blue Stockings from
Collier?"

"I don't know what Garrity has been doing with Parlmee," Weegman
confessed. "It was natural that I should want to turn Virginia against
Parlmee, but I swear I didn't know he was in this thing when I got
the idea of making her believe he was. That was an inspiration that
came to me all of a sudden. I had to keep her away from him. I faked up
some evidence. She refused to believe at first. Then, by Jove, I found
out that Garrity and Parlmee were really up to something. They've had
dealings."

Lefty's heart, which had bounded high for a moment, sank heavily. After
all, could it be true that two cleverer scoundrels had combined to work
Weegman as a dupe? Had the confirmation of this fact helped Weegman to
make up his mind to go back on Garrity? Was it not possible that this
was the real cause of the quarrel between the worthy pair?

The southpaw continued to lead the other on. "What is Garrity's scheme?
What has he told you that he proposed to do?"

"Unless Collier receives outside assistance, Garrity's got him
cornered. Collier has met reverses generally. Garrity has got hold of a
certain amount of Blue Stocking stock. Collier still holds enough to keep
the balance of power, but he won't hold it long. If he tries to his
interest in the Northern Can Company will go to glory. Garrity has
placed himself in a position to shake the old man out of that concern.
If Collier loses that, he's broke--a pauper. He can't hang on, because
he hasn't the ready resources. He'll have to sell his Blue Stockings
stock to save Northern Can. If he had a hundred and fifty thousand
dollars in ready cash he could pull through. It'll take half of that to
oust Garrity from Northern Can, and the other half is needed for the
team. Garrity will put it up to him to-morrow. In the meantime, can
you and I raise one hundred and fifty thousand?"

"You and I!" cried Lefty. "Not a dollar! Not a cent! How will Garrity
put it up to Collier to-morrow? Collier is in--"

"Philadelphia!" cut in Weegman sharply.

The southpaw stared, thunderstruck. "Philadelphia! You mean that he's
in this country?"

"He arrived to-day, and took a train at once for Philadelphia. I cabled
him to come, and to keep his coming secret. Those were Garrity's
orders."

Locke sat down heavily, still staring at Weegman.



CHAPTER XXXV

THE SHATTERING STROKE


That explained it. Now Lefty knew why he had received no answer to his
cablegrams. Before the first was sent, Charles Collier was on the high
seas, bound for America. He was home, and Garrity held him in the hollow
of his hand. On the morrow the owner of the Blue Stockings was to feel
the crushing grip of the triumphant schemer.

Weegman watched the southpaw's face, noting the look of consternation
upon it. Suddenly snapping his fingers, he began speaking again:
"That's why I came to you, Locke. What's done must be done quickly.
After eleven o'clock to-morrow it will be too late. You know what
that means for you. Garrity hates you like poison, and you won't last
any time after he gets control. You can raise that money."

"A hundred and fifty thousand dollars! You're crazy!"

"You can do it, and save yourself. If you'll do the right thing by me,
I'll tell you how to raise the needful. Together we'll hand Garrity
his bumps. What do you say? Is it a go?" He sprang up and approached,
his hand extended.

Locke rose and faced him. The scorn and contempt upon his face would have
withered a man less calloused. Weegman recoiled a little, and his hand
dropped to his side.

"Weegman," Lefty said, "you're the most treacherous scoundrel I
ever had the bad fortune to meet. You're just about as trustworthy as
a rattlesnake. Heaven knows I need money, and I certainly want to hold
my job, but not even to save my own father and mother from being turned
out of the home that has sheltered them so long would I enter into any
sort of partnership with you."

A look of astonished wrath contorted Weegman's features, and a snarling
laugh broke from his lips. "You poor fool!" he cried. "You've
thrown away your last chance! I did think you would know enough to save
yourself, but I see you haven't an atom of sense in your head."

There was something almost pitying in the smile Lefty gave him.
Something, also, that caused the man a sudden throb of apprehension.

"You're the fool, Weegman," returned the southpaw. "You have
confessed the whole rotten scheme. You have betrayed yourself and your
fellow conspirator, Garrity."

"Bah!" the rascal flung back, snapping his fingers again. "What good
will it do you? I'll deny everything. You can't prove a thing. I was
careful that there should be no witnesses, no one to hear a word that
passed between us."

Locke grabbed him by the wrist, and snapped him round with a jerk, facing
one wall of the room. "And I," he cried, "took care that every word
we uttered should be heard by two reliable persons. I set the trap for
Garrity, but I have been unable to decoy him into it. You walked into
it unbidden. Look!"

With two strides he reached a dresser that stood against the wall. He
seized it and moved it aside. With one finger he pointed to a small,
square, black object that clung to the wall two feet from the floor.

"Look!" he commanded again.

Weegman stared uncomprehendingly, yet with the perspiration of dread
beginning to bead his forehead.

"What is it?" he asked huskily.

"A dictograph!" answered Lefty. "I had it put in two days ago.
When you met me a short time ago and asked for a private interview I
started to turn you down. Then I saw old Jack Kennedy and Stillman, the
reporter, in the background. They gave me a signal. Thirty seconds after
we entered this room they were in the room adjoining, listening by
means of that dictograph to every word that passed between us. We've
got you, Weegman, and we've got Garrity, too. Criminal conspiracy is a
rather serious matter."

All the defiance had faded from Bailey Weegman's eyes. He trembled; he
could not command even a ghost of a laugh. He started violently, and
gasped, as there came a sharp rap on the door.

"They want to take another good look at you to clinch matters so that
they can make oath to your identity," said Locke, swiftly crossing and
flinging the door open. "Come in, gentlemen!"

Kennedy and Stillman entered. Weegman cowered before them. They regarded
him disdainfully.

"You beaned him all right, Lefty," said the ex-manager. "He wasn't
looking for the curve you put over that time."

The reporter paused to light a cigarette. "After your arrest, Weegman,"
he said, "I advise you to make haste to turn State's evidence. It's
your only chance to escape doing a nice long bit in the stone jug."
He turned, closed the door behind him, and shot the bolt again. "In the
meantime," he added, "I think we can persuade you to refrain from
warning Garrity regarding what is coming to him shortly after eleven
o'clock to-morrow."

Looking feeble and broken, Charles Collier sat at his desk in the office
of the Blue Stockings Baseball Club. On the desk before him lay the
books of the club and a mass of letters and documents. At one end of the
desk sat Tom Garrity, smoking a big cigar and looking like a Napoleon
who dreamed of no impending Waterloo. He was speaking. His words and
manner were those of a conqueror.

"You can see how the land lies, Collier. You should have sold out your
interest in the team before going abroad. Weegman made a mess of it.
To-day you can't realize fifty cents on the dollar. I've offered you
my Northern Can stock for your holdings. That's the best way out for
you now. If you refuse you'll lose Northern Can and the team, both.
Better save one by sacrificing the other."

Collier wearily lifted a protesting hand. "You don't have to repeat it,
Garrity; I know you've got me cornered. I'm merely waiting for Weegman.
He promised to be here at eleven. It's past that hour."

Without asking permission, Garrity reached for the desk phone. "I'll
call in my lawyers," he said. "They'll be here in a few minutes."

Before he could lift the receiver from the hook the door swung open,
and Weegman came in, pale and shrinking. At his heels followed Locke,
Kennedy, and Stillman. With an astonished exclamation, Garrity put the
instrument down.

"I hope we don't intrude," said Lefty, smiling on the startled owner
of the Rockets. "Having learned from Weegman of this little business
meeting, we decided to drop in. I'm very glad to see that you have
arrived home in time, Mr. Collier."

"Too late!" sighed the hopeless man at the desk. "Too late! You're
just in time to witness the transference of the Blue Stockings to
Garrity."

"On the contrary," returned the southpaw easily, "we have come to
purchase Mr. Garrity's Blue Stockings stock at the prevailing price.
Likewise his interest in Northern Can."

Garrity rose, his face purple with wrath. A tremendously explosive
ejaculation burst from his lips. "What in blazes do you mean?" he
roared.

"Just what I have said," Locke answered calmly. "Since arriving in
town I have made arrangements for this little business matter. I have
opened an account with the New Market National by depositing a certified
check for one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which is more than
enough to make the purchases mentioned. Mr. Collier's attorney will
arrive in ten minutes or so to see that everything is done in a legal
manner."

"But you can't buy a dollar's worth of my holdings in either concern."

"You may think so now. I'm sure you'll change your mind in a few
moments. It is also reported that, for the good of the game, you'll get
out of organized baseball. Have you brought a copy of the second edition
of the _Morning Blade_ with you, Stillman? Show it to Mr. Garrity,
please."

The reporter drew a newspaper from his pocket, opened it, passed it to
Garrity. One finger indicated a half-column article, with headlines.

    GARRITY TO GET OUT.

    WILL DISPOSE OF HIS INTERESTS IN THE ROCKETS AND ABANDON
    BASEBALL. HINTS OF A CONSPIRACY TO WRECK THE BLUE STOCKINGS.

Garrity's eyes glared. His breath whistled through his nostrils. His
wrath was volcanic. "Somebody'll pay for that!" he shouted, swinging
his ponderous fist above his head like a sledge hammer. "What's it
mean?"

"It means," answered Stillman, "that more will follow, giving complete
details of the conspiracy--unless you decide to quit baseball for the
good of the game."

"I'll institute a suit for libel!"

"No, you won't. You won't dare. We've got the goods on you. Let me
tell you how it happened." He did so with unrepressed satisfaction, and
the man's air of bluster gradually evaporated as he listened. But he
gave Weegman a murderous look.

The door swung open again, and a sharp-faced little man entered briskly.

"Here's Mr. Collier's attorney," said Lefty. "Now we can get down
to real business."



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE TEST OF MYSTERIOUS JONES


The unscrupulous Garrity had long been a menace to organized baseball,
but such efforts as had been made to jar him loose from it had failed.
At last, however, like a remorseless hunter, he was caught in a trap of
his own setting. Twist and squirm as he might, the jaws of that trap
held him fast. Even when the representatives of a syndicate met him
by agreement to take the team over at a liberal price, he showed a
disposition to balk. Stillman was there. He handed Garrity a carbon copy
of a special article giving a complete and accurate statement of the
conspiracy.

"If you own the Rockets to-morrow morning," said the reporter, "that
will appear, word for word, in the _Blade_. Criminal action against you
will be begun at the same time."

Upon the following day Garrity was no longer interested in the Rockets.

The _Blade_ had put over a scoop by being the first paper to announce
that Garrity would retire. It could have created a tremendous sensation
by publishing the inside facts relative to the method by which he had
been forced out. But organized baseball was under fire, and already the
suspicious public was beginning to regard it askance. The menacing
Federals were making no end of trouble. The cry of "rottenness" was
in the air. Through the publication of the story thousands of hasty,
unthinking patrons could be led to believe that, square and honest
though it seemed to be on the field, the game was really rotten at the
core. Stillman knew how that would hurt, and he loved the game. He
was tempted to the limit, but he resisted. Not even his editor ever
found out just how much he knew and suppressed.

On the usual date the Blue Stockings went South for spring training. Old
Jack Kennedy was among the very first to arrive at the camp. He had been
engaged as coach and trainer.

The newspapers had a great deal to say about how the Federals had taken
the heart out of the once great machine Collier controlled. Few of
them seemed to think that Locke, the new manager, could repair the
damages in less than a year or two. He would do well, they declared,
if he could keep the club well up in the second division. For it was
said that Lefty himself would pitch no more, and the rest of his staff,
filled out with new men and youngsters, must necessarily be weak and
wabbly. Occasionally a new deaf-mute pitcher, Jones, was mentioned as
showing great speed, but who had ever heard of Jones? Of course he
would lack the experience and steadiness a pitcher must possess to make
good in fast company.

Behind the bat the Stockings seemed all right, for Brick King would be
there. Still, it was strange that Frazer had let King go. Old Ben was
wise as the serpent, and he certainly had his reasons. The Stockings were
trying out a young fellow named Sheridan in center field, but surely
Herman Brock was worth a dozen ordinary youngsters. Some of the papers
had a habit of speaking of all youngsters as "ordinary."

Jack Keeper, who seemed slated to hold down the far cushion for the
Stockings, was also a youngster Frazer had not seen fit to retain.
In the few games he had played with the Wolves Keeper had made a
good showing, but the general impression was that the manager had
not considered him quite up to Big League caliber. Various other
youngsters who had been farmed out to the minors were being used at
second and short, and two of them, Blount and Armstrong, from the
Cotton States League, seemed to be the most promising. But what an
infield it would be, with three-fourths of the players "unripened"!
The interest of the fans who read this sort of "dope" turned to the
Wolves, who were almost universally picked as probable pennant winners.

All this was natural enough. The Wolves had held together before the
Federal raids better than any team in the league. Certainly no one
who knew much about baseball would have chosen the Blue Stockings in
advance for a come-back. But in baseball, and nearly everything else,
there is no fixed rule of reckoning that can't be smashed. Plenty of
old-timers will say this is not so, just as men assert that there is
nothing like luck in the game. The Stockings continued to attract little
attention during their tour North, although they won exhibition games
regularly and with ease. Jones pitched in some of these games. Locke
did not.

All the same, no day passed that Lefty failed to get out and warm up with
his pitchers. Dillon, Reilley, Lumley, and Savage were the old flingers
left with the staff. The "Glass Arm Brigade," it was called. Savage
was regarded as the only one of the quartet who possessed the stamina
to work through nine hard innings. Counting him out, the team would
have to depend on young twirlers. Of course, Locke warmed up merely from
habit and as an example for the others. Otherwise he would try to pitch
sometimes in a game.

The season opened with the Blue Stockings playing against the Dodgers,
away from home. Mysterious Jones pitched and shut the Dodgers out, his
team making five runs behind him. Even that created no more than a slight
flurry, for the Dodgers were chronic subcellar champions. Jones had
speed, and it had dazzled them. But wait until he went up against real
batters!

Reilley and Lumley, taking turns on the mound, succeeded in handing
the Dodgers the second game by a one-sided score. Savage went in and
captured the third contest, but Pink Dillon dropped the fourth after
making a fight for it up to the eighth inning. If that was the best
the Blue Stockings could get, an even break, when facing the habitual
tailenders, what would happen to them when they tackled the Wolves in the
series to follow?

The crowd turned out loyally to witness the opening game on the home
grounds, but even the most hopeful among the fans permitted their
courage to be tinged with pessimism. They were in that state of mind
that would lead their sympathies easily to turn to the opposition.
True, they hailed Lefty cheerfully and encouragingly from the stands and
bleachers, but they could not have the faith in him as a manager that
they had had as a pitcher. They were stirred, however, by the sight of
old Jack Kennedy, and they gave him a rousing cheer. It warmed the
cockles of the veteran's heart. He doffed his cap to them.

Frazer came over from the visitors' bench and shook hands with Locke
and Kennedy.

"I hope," said Ben, "that you're going to give us a crack at that
dummy speed merchant to-day, Lefty. We want to see if he is a real
pitcher."

Coming forth from the home team's dugout, a swarthy small man, who wore
knickerbockers and a wrist watch, overheard these words.

"Bo-lieve me, Frazy," said Cap'n Wiley, "you'll never ask for
him again with any great avidity after you face him once. I hope
you'll excuse me for butting in and making that statement without the
polite formality of an introduction to you, but I am so impetuous!
I'm the proud party who sold Jonesy to Lefty. Shortly after that little
transaction I was unnecessarily worried lest he should decide to
abandon baseball, but he has just informed me that, having succeeded in
giving away the last of an infinitesimal fortune of two hundred and
fifty thousand dollars, he is now excruciatingly happy and ready to
follow pitching as a profession."

Frazer looked the odd character over tolerantly. "So you're the
party who bunkoed Lefty, are you?" He laughed. "You're very much in
evidence before the game begins, but I fancy it'll be difficult to
find you with a microscope when it's finished--if Locke has the nerve
to pitch your dummy wonder."

"I think I'll start him on the hill, at any rate," said the manager
of the Blue Stockings.

Apparently Wiley started to cheer, but checked himself abruptly. "I'll
conserve my vocal cords," he tittered. "I doubt not that my voice will
be frazzled to a husky whisper before the contest terminates. Take a
tip from me, Mr. Frazer, and send your premier twirler on to the firing
line. Smoke Jordan's the only pitcher you have who can make the game
interesting with Jones pastiming for the Stockings."

"Jordan has asked to pitch," returned Ben, "but I have half a dozen
others who would do just as well."

Locke was passing in front of the section occupied by the newspaper men
when Stillman called to him. "I don't see your wife here, nor Miss
Collier," said the reporter. "I looked for both to be on hand for the
opening game on the home grounds."

"Unfortunately neither was able to get here, although they planned to
do so," explained Lefty. "You know they have been spending the past
eight weeks in Southern California with Virginia's aunt, who invited
them to accompany her and would not take no for an answer. They'll be
on hand to-morrow, however."

Stillman leaned toward the wire netting and lowered his voice. "Has
Collier ever caught on to the fact that the sister with whom he had
quarreled furnished the capital to save him from going to smash?" he
questioned.

"Not yet. It's still a mystery to him how I was able to come forward
at the psychological moment with that loan."

The newspaper man laughed softly. "He came near passing away from heart
failure that day. He was shocked almost as much as Garrity, but in a
different way." His manner changed to one of concern. "You're going
to use Jones to-day, aren't you? Think you have any chance to win?"

"Unless I've made a mistake in estimating that man," replied Locke,
"it won't be his fault if we lose. But it'll be a test for the whole
team as well as Jones."

It was truly a test. A pitcher who was merely a "speed merchant"
could not have lasted three innings against the Wolves, who "ate
speed." It was not long, however, before the anxious crowd, and the
visiting team as well, began to realize that the mute twirler had
something more than speed. Now and then he mixed in a sharp-breaking
curve, and his hopper was something to wonder at, something that made
the batters mutter and growl as they slashed at it fruitlessly. But,
best of all, besides coolness and judgment, he had that prime essential
of all pitchers, control. With never-failing and almost monotonous
regularity, he seemed to put the sphere precisely where he tried to put
it.

In Brick King, Jones had a valuable aid. King knew his old associates;
if any one of them had a batting weakness, he was aware of it. And not
once during the game did Jones question a signal given him by King. What
Brick called for he pitched, and put it just where it should be put.
With such rifle accuracy, the work of the man behind the bat seemed easy,
save for the fact that occasionally Jones' smokers appeared almost to
lift the backstop off his feet. But King held them as if his big mitt
had been smeared with paste.

Smoke Jordan was also in fine fettle. It was a pitcher's battle, with
the crowd watching and gasping and waiting for "the break." It must
not be imagined that the Wolves did not hit the ball at all, but for
a long time they could not seem to hit it safely, and for four innings
they could not get a runner on. In the first of the fifth, however, a
cracking single and two errors permitted them to score an unearned run.

"If I know what I'm talking about," said Ben Frazer, "we had no
license to get that tally. Now, Smoke, you've got to hold 'em. If that
dummy don't crack, I'll acknowledge that he's a real pitcher."

"I'll hold 'em," promised Jordan.

But he couldn't keep his promise. In the sixth, with one down, King
beat out an infield hit, reaching the initial sack safely by an eyelash.
He stole second on the catcher for whom he had been discarded, to the
disgust of Frazer. The crowd seemed to forget that Jones was deaf and
dumb, for it entreated him to smash one out, and Cap'n Wiley, from
his place in a box, howled louder than any ten others combined. Jones
drove a long fly into left, but the fielder was there, and King was
held at second.

Hyland followed. Jordan, a bit unsteady, bored him in the ribs.

Then Keeper, another Wolf discard, came up and singled to right field.
Covering ground like a hundred yards' sprinter, King registered from
second on that hit, tying the score up.

The crowd went wild. The Blue Stockings and Mysterious Jones had the fans
with them after that. Constantly that great gathering rooted for another
run--just one more. Hyland perished on third when Spider Grant popped
weakly.

If possible, the Wolves were fiercer than ever. In the first of the
eighth they got Jones into a hole again through another hit and errors
which peopled the corners, with not a man down. Then Jones won a
roaring ovation from the standing multitude by striking out three men in
succession.

The game was settled in the last of the ninth, and again Jack Keeper
figured in the play. He had reached second, with one out, when Grant hit
into the diamond. The ball took an amazingly high bound. The shortstop
went for it, at the same time seeing Keeper scudding for third, and
realizing that it would be impossible to get him at that sack. The
moment he got the ball, the shortstop whipped it to first, catching
Grant by a foot.

There was a shout of warning. Keeper had not stopped at third. Over the
sack at full speed he had flashed, and on toward home. The first baseman
lined the sphere to the catcher, who had leaped into position. Keeper
hit the dirt, twisting his body away from the catcher, who got the ball
and jabbed at him--a fraction of a second too late.

Keeper had accomplished a feat that is the desire of every base runner's
heart. He had scored from second on an infield out. And that performance
gave the Blue Stockings the game.

While the crowd was still shouting its rejoicing, Cap'n Wiley found
Frazer shaking hands with Lefty.

"I demand an apology!" croaked Wiley, barely able to speak.

"I apologize," said Frazer. "Your dummy _can_ pitch! But a team with
one real pitcher is scarcely equipped to cut much figure in the race.
Who'll you use to-morrow, Locke?"

"I am thinking of trying out another one of our uncertainties,"
answered the southpaw, with an enigmatical smile.



CHAPTER XXXVII

THE RETURN OF LEFTY


The work of patching up his team and whipping it into shape had kept
Lefty Locke busy pretty nearly every minute of his time while awake,
since the beginning of the training season. With that task before
him, and knowing how little attention he could spare for Janet, he had
raised no objections when she had asked to accompany Mrs. Vanderpool
and Virginia on the California trip. While he was not foolish enough to
believe that the reconstructed team could become a pennant contender
that season, he did have hopes of finishing in the first division,
which, under the circumstances, would be a triumph indeed.

He had found Janet's letters interesting enough, but his concentration
on other matters had prevented him from giving them much thought once
they were read through. She had told him of the rumor that Bailey
Weegman, having been lucky in escaping prosecution for his part in the
conspiracy, had started some sort of mail-order business and was said to
be taking in money "hand over fist."

Far more interesting, however, although almost as quickly forgotten, was
the gossip about Virginia and Franklin Parlmee. Having returned from his
hasty and fruitless voyage across the pond, Parlmee had felt not only
injured but outraged by the treatment he had received. It was impossible
for Virginia honestly to deny that she had been led to distrust him--and
by Weegman! That cut the deepest. She had kept him ignorant of the fact
that she had returned home, thus allowing him to go rushing off to
Europe in an attempt to find her. That had been his sole purpose; he had
been in no way concerned with Garrity in a scheme to wrest the control
of the Blue Stockings from Collier. It was true that, having come
into a limited inheritance, he had purchased two or three small lots of
the club's stock. His judgment had told him that the price to which
it had dropped made it a good investment. Garrity had been anxious to
get hold of that stock. He had pursued Parlmee and endeavored to buy the
certificates at a price that would have permitted the holder of them to
realize a good profit. But what Garrity had wanted so badly Parlmee
had considered still more valuable, and he had refused to part with
a single share.

A sense of injury on one side and shame and false pride on the other
had prevented complete reconciliation between Parlmee and Virginia. But
Janet wrote that Miss Collier was not happy, although she made a brave
pretense of being so. Once or twice Janet had detected her alone, crying.

Lefty had practically forgotten about these things until, on that second
day of battle with the Wolves, only a few minutes before the game was
to begin, he looked toward the club owner's box, occupied as he knew by
Virginia and Janet, and made the discovery that Franklin Parlmee was
likewise there. The southpaw stood still in his tracks, and stared,
smiling; for he saw that Parlmee and Virginia were chatting and laughing,
while Janet watched them with an expression of complete satisfaction
and pleasure.

"Patched it up at last, thank goodness!" muttered Locke. "I think
I'll keep away until after this game is over. Plenty of time to
congratulate them then."

He had been warming up, as usual, but to-day it was observed that he did
so alone with Brick King. Many of those who took note of this were led
to speculate. Jack Stillman saw it, and smiled wisely to himself.

A crowd, bigger than that of the previous day, had turned out. The Blue
Stockings' unexpected opening victory over the Wolves was the cause.
Perhaps that had been no more than a flash in the pan, but the fans
wanted to see for themselves. Deep down in the hearts of most of them
was a sprouting hope that it presaged something more.

Practice was over. The home team was spreading out on the field and
making ready. Scrappy Betts, first man up for the visitors, was swinging
two bats, prepared to drop one of them and advance to the plate. The
announcer lifted his megaphone, and, sitting forward on the edges of
their seats, the crowd strained their ears to catch the names of the
battery men. "Who's going to pitch for US?" was the question they had
been asking.

Through the megaphone came the usual hoarse bellow. For an instant
it seemed to strike the great gathering dumb. Then a wild yell of
astonishment and delight went up. Everywhere in the stands and on
the bleachers fans turned to their neighbors and shouted:

"Locke! It's Lefty! Good old Lefty! Yow! Ye-ee!"

They rose as one person and roared at him in a mighty chorus when he
walked out to the mound. If he believed in himself, if he had the courage
to go in there against Frazer's hungry Wolves, they believed in him.

The umpire adjusted his wind pad. Betts dropped one bat and came forward,
pausing a moment a few feet from the plate while Locke sent two or three
across to get the range. That good left arm swung free and unrestrained,
without a single sign to indicate that there had ever been anything
the matter with it. Smiling, the southpaw nodded to Betts as King
pulled on the wire cage.

"You can patch up crockery, Lefty, old man," said Scrappy as he
stepped into the box, "but you never can make it as good as new." Then,
having tried to work the portsider to the limit, he finally whaled out a
safety. "I knew it!" he cried from first. "Bluff won't mend a
busted wing, old boy!"

Whether or not Locke was nervous, he passed the next man.

The cheering of the crowd died away. Disappointment and apprehension
brought silence, save for the confident chattering of the Wolf coachers
and the attempted encouragement of the players behind the southpaw. Hope
began to sicken and wilt.

Cool and unruffled, Brick King smiled. "An accidental hit and a pass
won't count in the result to-day," he said. "Show Kipper the ball in
your hand. He won't see it again."

Kipper whiffed three times without making as much as a foul tip. The
crowd began to wake up again.

Herman Brock sauntered out. Frazer had given him Bob Courtney's position
in the batting order, the "clean-up" place. No man knew Herman better
than Lefty, and the efforts of the German were quite as futile as those
of Kipper.

The crowd was cheering again as Brock retired disgustedly. Confidence
had been restored suddenly.

"Oh, you Lefty!" was the cry. "You're there!"

Locke easily forced the following batter to pop to the infield. He had
settled into his stride. If he could keep it up, the shouting throng
knew he had indeed "come back" as strong as ever. Already they were
telling one another what that meant. With three first-string pitchers
like Lefty and Jones and Savage, the team would have a fighting chance.
The principal question was whether the southpaw could "go the distance."

Not only did Lefty make it, but as the game progressed he seemed to
take it more and more easily. The desperate Wolves could not get at
him effectively. He certainly had everything he had ever possessed; some
claimed that he had more. His arm showed no sign of weakening. But he
used his head quite as much as his arm. With the support of a catcher
who also had brains, and who worked with him perfectly, he made the
snarling, snapping Wolves appear about as dangerous as tame rabbits.
Before the ninth inning was reached he knew that in Brick King he had
found the one catcher with whom he could do the best work of his career.

The Blue Stockings won by a score of two to nothing. What fortune the
season brought them in their fight for the pennant is told in the
following volume of the Big League Series, which is entitled, "Guarding
the Keystone Sack."

The moment it was over Locke made a dash for the clubhouse, getting away
from the furiously rejoicing fans who came pouring down upon the field.
Jones was there ahead of him. As he panted in, Lefty saw the man of
mystery standing in a peculiar attitude not far from the closed door of
Charles Collier's office. He seemed to be _listening_. Involuntarily
the southpaw paused and listened himself.

From beyond the door came the sound of voices. He heard a man speaking,
and then, suddenly, another man who appeared to be both excited and
distressed. Then he saw Jones spring like a panther toward that door and
hurl it open. Astonished, Lefty quickly followed Jones into the office.

They burst in upon four persons. Two of them, who looked like
plain-clothes officers, seemed to have a third in charge. This man was
desperately and wildly appealing to Charles Collier. It was Bailey
Weegman.

"It's an outrage, I tell you!" Weegman was crying. "It's a lie! I
haven't used the mails to defraud. I learned an hour ago that officers
were after me on that charge, and I hurried to you, Mr. Collier. They
followed me here. You must help me! I served you--"

"You served me a crooked turn," interrupted Collier coldly. "You have
your nerve to come to me!"

Locke's eyes were on Jones. The man's face was aflame with triumph
and joy and fathomless satisfaction. He flung out his hand, his finger
pointing like a pistol at Weegman.

"Hanson Gilmore!" he cried in a terrible voice.

The mute had spoken! Frozen with amazement, Lefty saw Weegman twist
round, saw a light of terror come into his eyes, saw him cower and
cringe, pale as death and shaking like an aspen.

"You swore away my liberty, you dog!" the voice of Jones rang through
the room. "You were the scoundrel who conceived the Central Yucatan
Rubber Company, and profited by it! When the prison doors closed upon me
I swore I'd never speak again until every dollar you had taken from the
victims of that concern was paid back--until you were brought to book
for your crime. I've kept that vow. I've searched for you, determined
to bring you to justice somehow. Now you have brought justice upon
yourself."

Crouching like a creature stung by the pitiless lashing of a whip, the
accused wretch appealed chokingly to the officers who had arrested him:
"Don't let him touch me! Look at his eyes! He's mad! Keep him off!
Take me away!"

"Yes, take him away," said Jones. "And if he doesn't get a prison
sentence for this last piece of work, I'll keep after him until he's
punished for his other crimes."

"Take him away!" said Charles Collier, with a wave of his hand.

Tottering weakly, the rascal who had met retribution at last was led out.

The rejoicing players were stripping for their showers. Locke and Jones
appeared among them.

"Boys," said Lefty, "let me introduce Martin Bowman, whom you have
hitherto known as Jones. For reasons of his own, he made a vow never to
speak until a certain thing should happen. Happily, events now make it
possible for him to talk."

"For which I am very thankful," said Martin Bowman quietly.

They stared at him in limitless astonishment. At last Spider Grant said:

"Well, this game to-day was enough to make a deaf-and-dumb man talk!"

Eph, the colored rubber, touched Locke on the arm.

"Yo' wife and a pahty o' frien's am outside, sah," he said. "Dey
said as how dey'd wait fo' you."

"Tell them I'll join them as soon as possible," directed Lefty.


THE END


The next title in this series is "Guarding the Keystone Sack."

SEE REVERSE SIDE OF COLORED JACKET FOR LIST OF TITLES IN THIS SERIES AND
MANY OTHER SERIES FOR BOYS AND GIRLS OF ALL AGES.



THE BIG LEAGUE SERIES

(Trade Mark Registered)

By BURT L. STANDISH

Endorsed by such stars as Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson.

An American boy with plenty of grit--baseball at its finest--and the girl
in the case--these are the elements which compose the most successful of
juvenile fiction. You don't have to be a "fan" to enjoy these books;
all you need to be is really human and alive with plenty of red blood
in your veins.

The author managed a "Bush League" team a number of years ago and is
thoroughly familiar with the actions of baseball players on and off the
field. Every American, young or old, who has enjoyed the thrills and
excitement of our national game, is sure to read with delight these
splendid stories of baseball and romance.

Cloth--Large 12 mo. Illustrated

     1. LEFTY O' THE BUSH.
     2. LEFTY O' THE BIG LEAGUE.
     3. LEFTY O' THE BLUE STOCKINGS.
     4. LEFTY O' THE TRAINING CAMP.
     5. BRICK KING, BACKSTOP.
     6. THE MAKING OF A BIG LEAGUER.
     7. COURTNEY OF THE CENTER GARDEN.
     8. COVERING THE LOOK-IN CORNER.
     9. LEFTY LOCKE, PITCHER-MANAGER.
    10. GUARDING THE KEYSTONE SACK.
    11. THE MAN ON FIRST.
    12. LEGO LAMP, SOUTHPAW.
    13. THE GRIP OF THE GAME.
    14. LEFTY LOCKE, OWNER.
    15. LEFTY LOCKE WINS OUT.
    16. CROSSED SIGNALS.

Publishers

BARSE & CO.

New York, N. Y.--Newark, N. J.





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