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´╗┐Title: Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars - or The Rivals of Riverside
Author: Chadwick, Lester
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 "Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars - or The Rivals of Riverside" ***

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[Illustration: JOE WAS DOING GOOD WORK.]



 Baseball Joe of
 the Silver Stars

 OR

 _The_ Rivals _of_ Riverside

 _By_ LESTER CHADWICK

 AUTHOR OF
 "THE RIVAL PITCHERS," "A QUARTERBACK'S
 PLUCK," "BATTING TO WIN," ETC.

 [Illustration]

 NEW YORK
 CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY



 BASEBALL JOE OF THE SILVER STARS

 Copyright, 1912, by
 Cupples & Leon Company



CONTENTS


 CHAPTER                                   PAGE
       I A Hot Game                           1
      II Tieing the Score                    11
     III Mrs. Matson is Worried              23
      IV A Row with Sam                      31
       V Joe Helps the Manager               41
      VI Joe Has Hopes                       50
     VII Laughed at                          58
    VIII A Mean Protest                      66
      IX Joe in the Game                     73
       X A Tight Contest                     80
      XI Joe's Run                           89
     XII Discontent                          96
    XIII Scientific Practice                103
     XIV A Kettle of Apple Sauce            110
      XV Joe Overhears Something            119
     XVI Mr. Matson is Alarmed              129
    XVII A Throwing Contest                 136
   XVIII Another Defeat                     143
     XIX Joe is Watched                     151
      XX "Would You Like to Pitch?"         161
     XXI To the Rescue                      167
    XXII A Delayed Pitcher                  174
   XXIII Joe in the Box                     185
    XXIV Sam Arrives                        191
     XXV Joe Foils the Plotters             197
    XXVI Sam Resigns                        208
   XXVII Bad News                           215
  XXVIII The Fight                          221
    XXIX The Challenge                      228
     XXX The Winning Throw--Conclusion      233



BASEBALL JOE



CHAPTER I

A HOT GAME


"Come on, Sam, get a move on. I thought you'd be out on the diamond long
ago. What's the matter?"

"Oh, I had to help dad put in some fence posts. I'm through now,
Darrell, and I'll be right with you."

"Setting fence posts; eh?" and Darrell Blackney, the young manager of
the Silver Star baseball nine of Riverside looked critically at Sam
Morton, the team's pitcher. "Well, Sam, I hope it didn't make you stiff
so that you can't put some good balls over the plate. It's going to be a
hot game all right."

"Oh, forget it!" cried Sam, as he finished buttoning his jacket while he
joined his chum. "We'll beat 'em to a frazzle all right. I'm going to
pitch my head off to-day."

"You may--if you don't go to pieces the way you once did."

"Say, what you talking about?" demanded Sam, with some warmth. "I can
pitch all right, and don't you forget it." He seemed unnecessarily
aroused.

"Oh, I know you can pitch," spoke Darrell easily, "only I don't want you
to be too sure about it. You know the Resolutes of Rocky Ford have a
strong team this season, and their pitcher is----"

"Oh, I know what Hen Littell is as well as you," broke in Sam. "He
thinks he's a whole lot, but you wait. I've got a new drop ball,
and----"

"Well, then, you'd ought to have been out on the diamond this morning,
practicing with Bart Ferguson. He's got a new catching glove, and if you
and he can connect on the curves we may do some good work. But I wish
you'd had some practice this morning."

"So do I, but dad made me help him, and I couldn't very well get off. I
tried to sneak away, but he got on to my game and put a stop to it."

"Oh, well, of course if you had to help your father that's different,"
spoke Darrell, who was a manly young chap, somewhat in contrast to Sam,
who was not as upright as he might have been. Sam had a boastful and
confident air that caused many to dislike him, but as he was the best
pitcher the Silver Stars had had in some seasons his short-comings were
overlooked.

And certainly Sam had been pitching pretty good ball thus far. True, at
times, he "went up in the air," but all pitchers are likely to do this
on occasions. Sam had great belief in his own ability.

There was considerable baseball feeling in the little town of Riverside,
located on the Appelby River, in one of our New England States. Though
the nine was an amateur one, and composed of lads ranging from fourteen
to nineteen years of age, yet many fast games had been seen on the
village diamond, which was kept in good shape by volunteers. A small
admission sum was charged to view the contests and from this the boys
were able to buy their uniforms, balls, bats, and other things. With
some of the money the grounds were renovated from time to time, and the
fences, bleachers and grandstand kept in order.

There was a sort of informal county league existing among several nines
in the towns surrounding Riverside, and perhaps the bitterest rivals of
the Silver Stars were the Resolutes of Rocky Ford, a place about five
miles farther up the stream than Riverside. To-day one of the games in
the series was to take place, and the occasion, being Saturday, was a
gala one in the home town of the Silver Stars, on whose grounds the
contest was to take place.

"Well, you'll have a little time for practice before the game begins,"
remarked Darrell as he and Sam walked toward the diamond. "We've got
about an hour yet."

"Are the Resolutes here?"

"They hadn't come when I passed the grounds a little while ago on my way
to see you. I couldn't imagine what kept you."

"Well, it was all dad's fault. Hang it all----"

"Never mind," broke in Darrell quickly. "Dads are all right as a rule."
He had lost his own father not long since, and his heart was still sore.
He could not bear to have any one speak disrespectfully of parents. "I
guess we'll make out all right," he added.

"Oh, sure we will!" exclaimed Sam, full of confidence. "They won't have
a look in."

"Well, hurry up and get in some practice with Bart," advised the
manager.

"Who's going to cover first to-day?" inquired Sam, as they hurried along
the streets, which were already beginning to fill with the crowds making
their way to the game.

"I think I am for most of the time," answered Darrell. "George Rankin
and I talked it over and decided that would be a good way to lead off.
Later, if I find I'm needed on the coaching line, I'll let Tom Davis
take my place."

"Tom isn't much good."

"Oh, I think he is."

"Didn't he miss two hot throws to first base in the game last Saturday?"

"That was because you put them over his head. You want to be careful,
Sam, when there are two on the bags, how you throw to first. Lots of
times I have to jump for your throws, and if I wasn't pretty quick at it
they'd get by me."

"Oh, well, you won't have any complaint to-day. I'll get 'em there all
right. But you'd better stay in the whole game yourself."

"I'll see. Hark, what's that?"

The inspiring notes of a coaching horn echoed down the village street.

"Sounds like a tally-ho," remarked Sam.

Just then there swung into view a large stage, drawn by four horses, the
vehicle filled with a cheering, shouting and laughing crowd of boys.

"That's the Resolute team," said Darrell. "They're coming in style all
right."

Again there came the thrilling notes of the bugle, blown by some one in
the stage. Then followed another large vehicle, filled with a throng of
cheering lads.

"They've brought a crowd along," commented Sam.

"Yes, maybe they're depending on rooters to help them win the game."

"Well, our fellows can root some too," spoke the pitcher. "I'm glad
there's going to be a big crowd. I can pitch better then."

"Well, do your best," urged the manager. "There's Percy Parnell and Fred
Newton over there. I thought they were out on the field long ago."

"Maybe they had to set fence posts too."

"Maybe," assented Darrell with a laugh. "And here comes Tom Davis. Who's
that with him?" and the pitcher and manager glanced at a tall,
well-formed lad who was walking beside the substitute first baseman.
"Evidently a stranger in town," went on Darrell.

"Yes, I've seen him before," remarked Sam. "He lives down on our street.
The family just moved in. His name is Batson, or Hatson, or something
like that. His father works in the harvester factory."

"Hum," mused Darrell. "He looks like a decent sort of chap," and he
gazed critically at the stranger. "Maybe he'd like to join our club,"
for the ball team was a sort of adjunct to a boys' athletic
organization.

"Oh, we've got enough fellows in now," said Sam quickly.

"Always room for one more," commented the manager, who was ever on the
lookout for good material for the nine. Perhaps Sam suspected something
like this, for he glanced quickly at his companion.

"Say, if you think I'm not good enough----" began the pitcher, who was
noted for his quick temper.

"Now, now, drop that kind of talk," said Darrell soothingly. "You know
we're all satisfied with your pitching. Don't get on your ear."

"Well, I won't then," and Sam smiled frankly.

By this time Percy Parnell, the second baseman, and Fred Newton, the
plucky little shortstop, had joined the pitcher and the manager, and
greetings were exchanged.

"Are we going to wallop 'em?" asked Fred.

"Sure thing," assented Sam.

"It's going to be a hot game all right," was Percy's opinion.

"All the better," commented Darrell. "Say the people are turning out in
great shape, though. I'm glad to see it. We need a little money in our
treasury."

They turned in at the players' gate. The Resolute team had preceded
them, and already several of the members of that nine were in their
uniforms and out on the diamond. They were lads of the same age as their
rivals, and had about the same sort of an organization--strictly
amateur, but with desires to do as nearly as possible as the college and
professional teams did.

But there was a great difference, of course, and mainly in the rather
free-and-easy manner in which the rules were interpreted. While it is
true that in the fundamentals they played baseball according to the
general regulations, there were many points on which they were at
variance, and a professional probably would have found much at which to
laugh and be in despair. But what did it matter as long as the boys, and
those who watched them, enjoyed it? Not a bit, in my opinion.

As the Silver Star lads proceeded to the improvised dressing rooms under
the grandstand, several more of the Resolute players hurried out,
buttoning jackets as they ran.

"Oh, we'll get you fellows to-day all right!" shouted Henry (otherwise
known as Hen) Littell, pitcher and captain of the Resolutes.

"All right, the game's yours--if you can take it," called back Darrell,
with a laugh.

The diamond soon presented an animated scene, with many players and a
few substitutes pitching, catching or batting balls about. The crowds
were beginning to arrive and occupy seats in the small grandstand or on
the bleachers. Many preferred to stand along the first and third base
lines, or seat themselves on the grass.

Approaching the grounds about this time were the two lads of whom Sam
and Darrell had spoken briefly. One was Tom Davis, the substitute first
baseman and the other boy whom Sam had referred to as "Batson" or
"Hatson." Sam had it nearly right. The lad was Joe Matson, and as he is
to figure largely in this story I will take just a moment to introduce
him to you.

Joe was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Matson, and had lately moved to
Riverside with his parents and his sister Clara, who was a year his
junior. The family had come from the town of Bentville, about a hundred
miles away. Mr. Matson had been employed in a machine works there, and
had invented several useful appliances.

Located in Riverside was the Royal Harvester Works, a large concern. In
some manner Mr. Isaac Benjamin, the manager, had heard of the appliances
Mr. Matson had perfected, and, being in need of a capable machinist, he
had made Mr. Matson an offer to come to Riverside. It had been accepted,
and the family had moved in shortly before this story opens.

Joe was a tall, well-built lad, with dark hair and brown eyes, and a way
of walking and swinging his arms that showed he had some athletic
training. He had made the acquaintance of Tom Davis, who lived in the
house back of him, and Tom had asked Joe to go to the game that day.

"For it's going to be a good one," said Tom proudly, since he was a
member of the nine, even though only a substitute.

"Who's going to win?" asked Joe, as they approached the grounds.

"We will, if----" and then Tom stopped suddenly, for there was a yell
from inside the fence and a moment later a ball came sailing over it,
straight toward the two lads.

"Look out!" yelled Tom. "That's a hot one! Duck, Joe, duck!"

But Joe did not dodge. Instead, he spread his legs well apart and stood
ready to catch the swiftly-moving horsehide in his bare hands.



CHAPTER II

TIEING THE SCORE


Ping! The ball came in between Joe's palms with a vicious thud, but
there it stuck, and a moment later the newcomer had tossed it back over
the fence with certain and strong aim.

"I guess some one will pick it up," he said.

"Sure," assented Tom. "Say, that was a good stop all right. Have you
played ball before?"

"Oh, just a little," was the modest and rather quiet answer. In fact Joe
Matson was rather a quiet youth, too quiet, his mother sometimes said,
but his father used to smile and remark:

"Oh, let Joe alone. He'll make out all right, and some of these days he
may surprise us."

"Well, that was a pippy stop all right," was Tom's admiring, if slangy,
compliment. "Let's go in, I may get a chance to play."

Joe turned toward the main entrance gate, and thrust one hand into his
pocket.

"Where you going?" demanded Tom.

"Into the grounds of course. I want to get a ticket."

"Not much!" exclaimed his companion. "You don't have to pay. Come with
me. I invited you to this game, and I'm a member of the team, though I
don't often get a chance to play. Members are allowed to bring in one
guest free. I'll take you in. We'll use the players' gate."

"Thanks," said Joe briefly, as he followed his new friend.

"Here's a good place to see it from--almost as good as the grandstand,"
said Tom, as they moved to a spot along the first base line. "Though you
can go up and sit down if you like. I'm going to put on my things. I may
get a chance at first."

"No, I'll stay here," said Joe. "Then I can see you make some good
stops."

"I can if Sam doesn't put 'em away over my head," was the reply.

"Oh, yes, that's so. You started to say that you thought our side--you
see I'm already a Silver Star rooter--that our side would win, if
something didn't happen."

"Oh, yes, and then that ball came over the fence. Well, we'll win, I
think, if Sam doesn't go to pieces."

"Who's Sam?"

"Sam Morton, our pitcher. He's pretty good too, when he doesn't get
rattled."

"Then we'll hope that he doesn't to-day," said Joe with a smile. "But go
ahead and dress."

"All right," assented Tom, and he started off on a run to the dressing
rooms. It was only just in time, too, for at that moment Darrell came
hastening up to him.

"Why haven't you got your suit on?" the manager asked. "You'll probably
play some innings anyhow, and I don't want any delay."

"All right--right away," Tom assured him. "I'm on the job."

"Who do you think will win?" asked a youth sitting next to Joe on the
grass.

"Oh, I don't know," began Joe slowly. "I haven't seen either team play."

"Oh, then you're a stranger here?"

"Yes, just moved in."

"I saw you with Tom Davis. You must be that Matson lad he told me lived
back of him."

"I am, and I hope Tom's side wins."

"That's the stuff! So do I. But those Resolutes have a good nine."

"Aw, go on!" broke in a lad back of Joe. "They haven't any good batters
at all."

"What's the matter with Hank Armstrong?" demanded some one.

"Well, he's pretty good, but Ford Lantry or Seth Potter on our team can
bat all around him."

"How about their pitcher?" asked Joe.

"Well, he's pretty good," admitted the lad who had first addressed Joe.

"But he can't come up to Sam Morton when Sam is at his best," said some
one else, joining in the conversation.

"Yes--_when_ he's at his best," repeated another lad. "Those Resolutes
have it in for us, but we're going to wipe up the ground with them
to-day all right."

"Like fun!" exploded a Resolute sympathizer. "I'll bet you----"

"Play ball!" broke in the voice of the umpire, and the clanging of the
gong warned the players and others to clear the field.

"We're last at the bat," said Tom, "and that means a whole lot."

"Yes," assented Joe, and then the Silver Star pitcher took his place in
the box and exchanged a few preliminary balls with the catcher, Bart
Ferguson.

"Play ball!" yelled the young umpire again, selecting some pebbles with
which to keep score.

Hank Armstrong, the sturdy left fielder of the Resolutes, was the first
at the bat for his side, and with a vicious swing he hit the first ball
which Sam pitched to him. Squarely on the bat he caught it with a
resounding ping!

Away it sailed straight over Sam's head and over the head of the second
baseman. Farther and farther it went, until the centre fielder began
running back to get it.

"Oh, wow! Pretty one! Pretty one!"

"Go on! Go on!"

"Make a three bagger of it!"

"Run, you beggar!"

These and many other cries speeded Armstrong on. He was running fast and
reached second well in advance of the ball. But he dared not go on to
third.

"Hum, if they hit Sam like that too often he won't last very long,"
commented Tom.

"Oh, that was a fluke," declared Rodney Burke, who sat behind Joe.

There was a surprised and disconcerted look on Sam's face as he gazed at
the next batter. No sooner had the ball left Sam's hand, that Armstrong
was away for third like a shot, for he was a notorious base stealer.
Bart threw to third, but the ball went too high and the baseman jumped
for it in vain. Armstrong came in with the first run.

"Begins to look bad!" yelled Tom in Joe's ear, for the cheers and
exultant yells of the Resolute crowd made ordinary talking impossible.

But that was all the visiting team got that inning, for Sam struck out
two men, and the third fouled to Bart.

"Now we'll see what our fellows can do," commented Tom.

Seth Potter, the left fielder, was first up, and he had two strikes and
three balls called on him in short order. Then he got under a pretty one
and made first.

"Watch out now, and run down when he throws!" cried Darrell, who was
coaching.

Seth did run, but was caught at second. Jed McGraw, the centre fielder,
was next up and knocked a safety, getting to first.

Then came Ford Lantry, who played right field, and he knocked a pretty
three-bagger which brought in McGraw and the run. At that the Silver
Star crowd went wild with joy, but it was all they had to crow over as
the next two men struck out and Lantry died on third.

The next two innings were marked by goose eggs for both sides, and in
the fourth inning the Silver Stars brought in two runs, while their
opponents could not seem to connect with the ball.

"Old Sam is doing fine!" cried Tom.

"Yes, he seems to have good control," commented Joe.

"But he lacks speed," said Rodney Burke.

"Oh, cheese it! Do you want to give all our secrets away to these
fellows?" asked Tom in a low voice, indicating the many Resolute
sympathizers who were all about.

"Well, it's true," murmured Rodney, and Joe felt a sudden wild hope come
into his heart.

The game went on enthusiastically, if not correctly from a professional
or college baseball standpoint. Many errors were made and several rules
were unconsciously violated. The young umpire's decisions might have
been questioned several times, and on numerous occasions the game was
stopped while the respective captains, and some of the players, argued
among themselves, or with the umpire. But the disputes were finally
settled, though there was a growing spirit of dissatisfaction on both
sides.

"Play ball!" yelled the umpire, at the conclusion of an argument in the
fifth inning.

It was then that the Resolutes did some heavy stick work, and tallied
three runs to the enthusiastic delight of the team and its supporters.

"We've got to do better than this," murmured Darrell to Captain Rankin
and Sam when they took the field at the end of that inning, and a big
circle stared at them from the score board as the result of their
efforts.

"I'm doing all I can!" snapped Sam. "I'm not getting decent support."

"Aw, cut it out! Of course you are!" asserted Rankin.

A single tally by each side in the sixth, and two for the Silver Stars
and one for the Resolutes in the seventh, brought the game to that usual
breathing spot. The score was now a tie, and the excitement was growing.

"For cats' sake beat 'em out, fellows!" pleaded Darrell. "Use your bats.
They're to hit the ball with, not to fan the air!"

Perhaps his frantic appeal had some effect, for in the next inning the
Resolutes only got one run, while, when the Silver Stars came to bat to
close the inning, they hammered out three, putting them well ahead.

But there was trouble brewing. Sam's arm was giving out. He realized it
himself but he dared not speak of it. Grimly he fought against it, but
he saw that the other side was aware of it.

"Come on now, we'll get his goat!" yelled the captain of the Resolutes.
Then began what may be regarded as the cruel practice of yelling
discouraging remarks at the man in the box. Sam was plainly told that he
was "rotten" while other and less mild epithets were hurled at him.

These had their effect. He gave two men their base on balls, and he made
a number of wild throws to first where Tom Davis had replaced Darrell
Blackney. However, by a strong brace Sam managed to hold his opponents
runless, though in this saving work he was nobly assisted by his
fellows, and by the quickness of Tom in not letting the wild balls get
by him. Tom was a magnificent high jumper, which served him in good
stead.

The ending of the eighth saw the score nine to seven in favor of the
Silver Stars, they having brought in three runs.

It began to look, in spite of Sam's trouble, as if the home team would
win. There was a riot of cheers when the Resolutes went to bat in the
ninth inning, and despite the fact that they were two runs behind, their
supporters did not fail them.

"Win! Win! Win!" they yelled.

"Oh, we'll win all right," said Captain Littell grimly.

And he and his men gave good evidence of doing so a few minutes later.
Sam literally "went to pieces." He lost all control of the ball, and was
fairly "knocked out of the box." There was a look of despair on the
faces of his mates.

"What's the matter with him?" demanded Joe, who was surprised at the
sudden slump.

"Oh, that's what he does every once in a while," said a disgusted Silver
Star supporter. "You can't depend on him. Wow, that's rotten!" for Sam
had delivered a ball that was batted over the right-field fence.

Instantly there was a wild scene. Two men were on second and third base
respectively when this "homer" was knocked and they came racing in. The
home-run batter followed.

"Ring around the rosey!" yelled the Resolute captain. "If we had more on
base they'd all come in. Hit at anything, fellows! Hit everything."

It looked as if they were doing it, for they made six runs that inning,
which brought the score to thirteen to nine in favor of the visitors.

"Five runs to win, and four to tie," murmured Darrell as his men came
in from the field for their inning. "Can we do it?"

How it was done even he scarcely knew, for so fierce was the rivalry
between the teams, and so high the excitement, that several times open
clashes were narrowly averted. But the four runs were secured, and
though the Silver Stars played their best they could not get another
one. But even to tie the score after Sam's slump was something worth
while.

"Ten innings! It gives us another chance for our white alley," murmured
Tom to Joe, as the first baseman made ready to go on the sack again. "If
we can get one run, and hold them down to a goose egg it will do."

But the Resolutes seemed to have struck a winning streak. Sam could not
pull himself together, and got worse. Darrell was in despair, and there
was gloom in the hearts of the Riverside residents.

"Haven't they another pitcher they can put in?" asked Joe of one of his
neighbors.

"No, and if they had Sam would raise such a row that it might bust up
the team. He'll play it out."

In the tenth inning the Resolutes pounded out three more runs, batting
Sam all over the field, and when the Silver Stars came up the score was
sixteen to thirteen against them.

"Oh, for a bunch of runs!" pleaded Darrell, as his men went to bat.

But they couldn't get them. The Resolute pitcher with a grin on his
freckled face sent in curve after curve and struck out two men in short
order. Then Tom Davis knocked a little pop fly which was easily caught,
and the game ended in a riot of yells, as a goose egg went up in the
tenth frame for the Silver Stars. They had lost by a score of sixteen to
thirteen, and there were bitter feelings in their hearts against their
rivals.

"Why don't you get a pitcher who can pitch?" demanded one of the
Resolutes.

"Don't you insult me!" cried Sam striding forward. "I can pitch as good
as your man."

"Aw, listen to him! He's dreaming!" some one yelled, laughingly.

"I am; eh? Well, I'll show you!" cried Sam angrily, and the next
instant, in spite of the effort of Darrell to hold him back, he had
leaped for the lad who had mocked him, and had struck him a heavy blow.



CHAPTER III

MRS. MATSON IS WORRIED


"What do you mean by that?" demanded the lad whom Sam had struck.

"That's what I mean by it. I mean you can't insult me!"

"I can't, eh? Well, I can whip you all right," and with those words Sam
was nearly knocked off his feet by a return blow.

"Here, cut that out!" yelled Darrell.

"Aw, what's eating you?" demanded another of the Resolute crowd. "If you
fellows are looking for a fight you can have it; eh boys?"

"Sure thing!" came in a chorus, as the players crowded up, with bats in
their hands.

"This may be serious," murmured Darrell to Tom. "See if you can't stop
Sam from fighting."

But it was too late, as Sam and his opponent were at each other hammer
and tongs.

"Do you want to fight?" sneered the lad who had accosted the manager.

"No, I don't."

"Afraid?"

"No, of course not."

"Then come on," and the lad, half in fun perhaps, gave Darrell a shove.

Now Darrell, though disliking fistic encounters, was no coward and he
promptly retaliated with a blow that knocked his enemy down.

"Wow! It's a fight all right!" yelled another lad, and then Darrell and
his antagonist were at it.

The crowd from the stands and bleachers now began thronging about the
enraged players. There had always been more or less bad blood between
the two rival nines and now, when the Resolutes had taken a game that
was almost won away from the Silver Stars, the feeling broke out anew.

On all sides there were impromptu battles going on. Some of the lads
were good-natured about it, and only indulged in wrestling contests, but
others were striking viciously at each other and soon there were some
bloody noses and blackened eyes in evidence.

"I'll show you whether I can pitch or not!" yelled Sam, as he aimed a
hard blow at the lad with whom he had first had an encounter. He missed
his aim, and went whirling to one side, to be met by a blow as he turned
about, and almost sent down.

"Do you want anything?" suddenly demanded a lad stopping in front of
Joe, who was standing near Tom. Joe recognized his questioner as the
Resolute shortstop.

"No, he's a stranger here--he isn't on the nine," said Tom quickly.

"Well, can't he fight?" was the sneering demand.

"Yes, if I want to, but I don't want to," and Joe answered for himself.

"I'll make you want to," was the retort, and Joe was struck in the
chest. He was not a lad to stand for that and he retaliated with such
good effect that his opponent went down in a heap on the grass, and did
not arise for some seconds. When he did stagger up, and saw Joe calmly
waiting for him, the lad moved off.

"You can fight all right," he mumbled. "I've had enough."

Meanwhile Darrell had disposed of his lad, and Tom, who was engaged with
a small lad who made a sneering remark, grabbed hold of the chap and
shook him until the lad begged for mercy.

Sam and his opponent were still at it hot and heavy when there arose a
cry:

"Cheese it--here come the cops!"

Riverside boasted of a small police force, and while it was not very
formidable, most of the lads came from homes where a report of their
arrest for fighting would meet with severe punishment. Their ardor
suddenly cooled and, almost as soon as it had started, the impromptu
battle was over. The victorious nine gathered up their belongings and
moved off the diamond, jeering at their defeated rivals.

"It was their fault--they started the fights," declared Tom Davis.

"Yes, I guess it was," admitted Darrell. "Well come on, fellows. They
beat us, and though I think it wasn't exactly square on some of the
decisions, we can take our medicine. We'll do better next time."

"Do you mean me?" demanded Sam half fiercely.

"I mean--all of us," spoke Darrell slowly, "including myself."

"Some excitement; eh?" asked Tom, as he linked his arm in that of Joe
Matson and walked along with him.

"Yes, but it was a good game just the same."

"You play, don't you?"

"I used to, at Bentville, where we moved from," answered Joe.

"Have a good team?"

"Pretty good."

"Where'd you play?"

"Well, mostly at pitching. I like that better than anything else."

"Hum!" mused Tom. "It takes a pretty good one to pitch these days. It
isn't like it used to be. Pitching is a gift, like poetry I guess. You
can't go in and pitch right off the reel."

"I know it," answered Joe quietly. "But it's my one ambition. I want to
go to a good boarding school and get on the team as pitcher."

"Well, I hope you do," and Tom laughed frankly. "I wouldn't mind that
myself, though I don't know as I care so much for pitching."

"It's the best part of the game!" cried Joe, and his eyes shone and he
seemed to lose some of his usual quiet manner. "I'd like it above
everything else!"

"Got any curves?" asked the practical Tom.

"Well, I don't know as I have--yet. I'm practicing though."

"Got any speed?"

"They used to say I had, back there in Bentville."

"Hum! Well, I don't believe there's much chance for you here. Sam has
the Silver Stars cinched. But he was rotten the last half of to-day's
game. That's what made us lose it. Yes, it takes some pumpkins to pitch
now-a-days."

The boys walked on down the street after Tom had discarded his suit.
Before them and behind them were other players and spectators, talking
of nothing but the game and the fight that had followed. The Resolutes,
cheering and singing triumphantly, had departed in their big stages, and
in the hearts of the Silver Stars was gloom and despair.

"Well, come over and see me sometime," invited Tom, as he parted from
Joe.

"I will. You come over and see me."

The boys went their respective ways--Joe walking rather slowly and
thinking of what had just taken place.

"How I would like to pitch--and go to boarding school!" he mused as he
walked toward his house. As he entered the side door he saw his mother
sitting at the dining room table. Something about her attracted his
attention--aroused his fears. The cloth had been spread, and though it
was supper time, for the game had lasted until late, there were no
dishes on the table.

"Why mother!" exclaimed Joe, struck by a queer look on her face. "What
is the matter? Has anything happened?"

"Oh Joe!" she exclaimed starting up, as though she had not heard him
come in. "Oh, no, nothing is the matter," she went on, and she tried to
smile, but it was only an attempt. "I forgot it was so late. Your father
was home, but he went out again."

"Where?"

"I don't know. He said he had some business to attend to. But I must
hurry with the supper. Where were you?"

"At the ball game. There was a fight. Our side lost. Oh, how I wish I
had been pitching! If ever I go to that boarding school I'm going to try
for the nine, first thing!"

"Oh yes, you're always talking about a boarding school, Joe. Well, I--I
hope you can go."

"Mother, I'm sure something has happened!" exclaimed Joe, putting his
arms around her and patting her on the shoulder, for she was a little
woman.

"No, really," she assured him. "I'm just a little worried, that's all.
Now you can help me set the table if you will. Clara has gone to take
her music lesson and isn't back yet."

"Of course I will!" exclaimed Joe. "But what are you worried about,
mother? I wish you'd tell me."

"I can't now, Joe. Perhaps I will some time. It isn't anything
serious--yet," and with that Mrs. Matson hurried out of the room.

She smiled as she left her son, but when she reached the kitchen the
same serious look came over her face again.

"I hope what he fears doesn't come to pass," she remarked to herself.
"Poor Joe! it would be too bad if he couldn't go to a boarding school
when his heart is so set on it. And to become a pitcher! I wish he had
some higher ambition in life, though I suppose all boys are alike at his
age," and she sighed.

"Hum," mused Joe as he went about setting the table, for the Matsons
kept no girl and Joe and his sister often helped their mother with the
housework when their school duties permitted. "Something is worrying
mother," the lad went on. "I hope it isn't anything about father's
business in the harvester works. He took a risk when he gave up his
position in Bentville and took a new one here. But that was an exciting
game all right," and Joe smiled at the recollection as he went on
putting the plates around at their places.



CHAPTER IV

A ROW WITH SAM


"What are you thinking about, Joe?"

It was his sister Clara who asked the question, and she had noticed that
her brother was rather dreaming over his books than studying. It was the
Monday night after the Saturday when the memorable game with the
Resolutes had taken place.

"Oh, nothing much," and Joe roused himself from a reverie and began to
pour over his books.

"Well, for 'nothing much' I should say that it was a pretty deep
subject," went on Clara with a laugh, as she finished doing her
examples. "It isn't one of the girls here, is it Joe? There are a lot of
pretty ones in our class."

"Oh--bother!" exclaimed Joe. "Let a fellow alone, can't you, when he's
studying? We have some pretty stiff work I tell you!" and he ruffled up
his hair, as if that would make his lessons come easier. "It's a heap
worse than it was back in Bentville."

"I think so too, but I like it, Joe. We have a real nice teacher, and
I've met a lot of pleasant girls. Do you know any of the boys?"

"Hu! I guess you want me to give you an introduction to them!" exclaimed
Joe.

"No more than you do to the girls I know," retorted his sister, "so
there!"

"Now, now," gently remonstrated Mrs. Matson, looking up from her sewing,
"you young folks keep on with your lessons. Your father can't go on
reading his paper if you dispute so."

Involuntarily Joe and his sister glanced to where Mr. Matson sat in his
easy chair. But he did not seem to be reading, though he held the paper
up in front of him. Joe fancied he saw a look of worriment on his
father's face, and he wondered if he was vexed over some problem in
inventive work, or whether he was troubled over business matters
concerning his new position.

Then there came to the lad's mind a memory of his mother's anxiety the
night he had come in from the game, and he wondered if the two had any
connection. But he knew it would not do to ask, for his father seldom
talked over business matters at home.

Finally, seeming to feel Joe's look, Mr. Matson, after a quick glance at
his son, began to scan the paper.

"Go on with your studying, Joe and Clara," commanded Mrs. Matson with a
smile. "Don't dispute any more."

"I was only asking Joe if he knew any nice boys," spoke Clara in
vindication. "I know how fond he was of playing baseball back in
Bentville, and I was wondering if he was going to play here."

"Guess I haven't much chance," murmured Joe half gloomily, as he drew
idle circles on the back blank leaf of his book.

"Why not?" asked Clara quickly. "The girls say the boys have a good nine
here, even if they were beaten last Saturday. There's going to be
another game this Saturday, and Helen Rutherford is going to take me."

"Oh, yes, there's a good enough team here," admitted Joe. "In fact the
Silver Stars are all right, but every position is filled. I _would_ like
to play--I'd like to pitch. I want to get all the practice I can on
these small teams, so when I go to boarding school I'll have something
to talk about."

"And you're still set on going to boarding school?" asked Mrs. Matson,
sighing gently as she looked at her son.

"I certainly am--if it can be managed," replied Joe quickly.

Mr. Matson started so suddenly that the paper rattled loudly, and his
wife asked:

"What's the matter, John, did something in the news startle you?"

"Oh--no," he said slowly. "I--I guess I'm a bit nervous. I've been
working rather hard lately on an improvement in a corn reaper and
binder. It doesn't seem to come just right. I believe I'll go to bed.
I'm tired," and with "good-nights" that were not as cheerful as usual he
left the room. Mrs. Matson sighed but said nothing, and Joe wondered
more than ever if any trouble was brewing. He hoped not. As for Clara
she was again bent over her lessons.

The Silver Star nine was variously made up. A number of lads worked in
different town industries, one even being employed in the harvester
works where Mr. Matson was employed. Others attended school.

Joe Matson had attended the academy in the town of Bentville whence they
moved to Riverside, and on arriving in the latter place had at once
sought admission to the high school. He was given a brief examination,
and placed in the junior class, though in some of the studies the pupils
there were a little ahead of him, consequently he had to do some hard
studying.

The ambition to attend a boarding school had been in Joe's mind for a
long while, and as his father was in moderate circumstances, and soon
hoped to make considerable from his patents, Joe reasoned that his
parents could then afford to send him.

Among others on the nine who attended the high school were Darrell
Blackney and Sam Morton, who were in the senior class, and Tom Davis,
whose acquaintance Joe had made soon after coming to Riverside. There
was a school nine, but it was made up of the smaller boys and Joe had no
desire to join this. In fact none of the lads who were on the Silver
Stars belonged to the school team.

"Well, I'm through, thank goodness!" finally exclaimed Clara, as she
closed her books.

"And I am too," added Joe, a moment later. "Hope I don't flunk
to-morrow."

"Are you going to the game Saturday?" asked Clara.

"Oh, I guess so. Wish I was going _in_ it, but that's too much to hope
for."

"Don't you know any one on the nine?"

"Yes, Tom Davis."

"He's the boy back of us, isn't he? His sister Mabel is in my class."

"Yes," assented Joe, "but Tom is only a substitute."

"Maybe you could be that at first, and then get a regular place,"
suggested Clara.

"Um!" murmured Joe. He didn't have a very high opinion of girls'
knowledge of baseball, even his sister's.

When Joe reached home from school the following afternoon he saw his
mother standing on the front steps with a letter in her hand.

"Oh, Joe!" she exclaimed, "I was just waiting for you. Your father----"

"Is there anything the matter with father?" the lad gasped, his thoughts
going with a rush to one or two little scenes that had alarmed him
lately.

"No, nothing at all," answered his mother with a smile. "But he just
hurried home from the factory with this note and he wanted you, as soon
as you came home, to take it to Moorville. It's for a Mr. Rufus Holdney
there. The address is on it, and I guess you can find him all right.
You're to wait for an answer. Go on your wheel. It's only a few miles to
Moorville, and a straight road, so your father says."

"I know where it is," answered Joe. "Tom Davis has relatives there. He
pointed out the road to me one day. I'll go right away. Here, catch
hold of my books, mother, and I'll get my wheel out of the barn," for a
barn went with the house Mr. Matson had rented.

A little later the lad was speeding down the country road that pleasant
spring afternoon. Joe was a good rider and was using considerable
strength on the pedals when suddenly, as he turned a sharp curve, he saw
coming toward him another cyclist. He had barely time to note that it
was Sam Morton, the pitcher of the Silver Stars, and to utter a warning
shout when he crashed full into the other lad.

In a moment there was a mix-up of wheels, legs and arms, while a cloud
of dust momentarily hid everything from sight. At first Joe did not know
whether or not he was hurt, or whether Sam was injured. Fortunately Joe
had instinctively put on the brake with all his strength, and he
supposed the other lad had done likewise.

Then, as the dust cleared away, and Joe began to pull his arms and legs
out of the tangle, and arise, he saw that Sam was doing the same thing.

"Hope you're not hurt much!" was Joe's first greeting.

"Humph! It isn't your fault if I'm not," was the ungracious answer, as
Sam felt of his pitching arm. "What do you mean by crashing into a
fellow that way for, anyhow?"

"I didn't mean to. I didn't know that curve was so sharp. I'd never
ridden on this road before."

"Well, why didn't you blow your horn or ring your bell or--or
something?"

"Why didn't you?" demanded Joe with equal right.

"Never mind. Don't give me any of your talk. You're one of the fresh
juniors at school, aren't you?"

"I don't know that I'm 'fresh,'" replied Joe quietly, "but I am a
junior. I'm sorry if I hurt you, but I couldn't help it."

"Yes you could, if you knew anything about riding a wheel."

"I tell you I couldn't," and Joe spoke a bit sharply. "I was into you
before I knew it. And besides, you ran into me as much as I did into
you."

"I did not. If you don't know enough to ride a wheel, keep off the
roads!" snarled the pitcher. "If I'm stiff for Saturday's game it will
be your fault."

"I hope you won't be stiff," spoke Joe, and he said it sincerely.

"And if my wheel is broken you'll have to pay for it," went on Sam.

"I don't think that's right," said Joe firmly. "It was as much your
fault as mine, and my wheel may be broken too. I'm going to look," he
added as he lifted his bicycle from where it was entangled with Sam's.

A bent pedal, which would not interfere with its use, was all the damage
Joe's wheel had sustained and beyond a few bent spokes and a punctured
tire Sam's seemed to have suffered no great harm.

"I'll help you straighten those spokes," said Joe cheerfully. "It won't
take but a minute. I can have my father straighten my pedal at the
factory. And I'll help you mend and pump up your tire. I'm sorry----"

"Look here!" burst out Sam in a rage, "I don't want any of your help.
You're too fresh. You come banging into a fellow, knocking him all over
and then you think you can square things by offering to help him. I
don't want any of your help!"

"Oh, very well," replied Joe quietly. "Then I'll be going on. I've got
an errand to do. But I'd like to help you."

"Mind your own business!" snapped Sam, still rubbing his pitching arm.
He made no motion to pick up his wheel.

Joe was half minded to make an angry retort but he thought better of it.
He wheeled his bicycle to the hard side-path of the road, and,
ascertaining that his letter was safe, prepared to mount and ride away.

"And mind you, if my arm is stiff, and I can't pitch Saturday it will be
your fault, and I'll tell the fellows so," called Sam as he leaned over
to pick up his wheel.

"All right, only you know it isn't so," replied Joe quietly.

As he pedaled on he looked back and saw Sam straightening some of the
bent spokes. The pitcher scowled at him.

"Hum," mused Joe as he speeded up. "Not a very good beginning for
getting on the nine--a run-in with the pitcher. Well, I guess I wouldn't
be in it anyhow. I guess they think I'm not in their class. But I will
be--some day!" and with a grim tightening of his lips Joe Matson rode
on.



CHAPTER V

JOE HELPS THE MANAGER


"Well now, I'm real sorry," said Mrs. Holdney when, a little later, Joe
dismounted at her door, and held out the letter for her husband. "Rufus
isn't home. You can leave the letter for him, though."

"No, I have to have an answer," replied Joe. "I think perhaps I'd better
wait."

"Well, maybe you had, though I don't know when Rufus will be back. Is it
anything of importance?"

"I guess it must be," spoke the lad, for, though he did not know the
contents of his father's letter, he reasoned that it would be on no
unimportant errand that he would be sent to Moorville.

"Hum," mused Mrs. Holdney. "Well, if you want to wait all right, though
as I said I don't know when my husband will be back."

"Do you know where he's gone? Could I go after him?" asked Joe eagerly.
He was anxious to deliver the letter, get an answer, and return home
before dark.

"Well, now, I never thought of that!" exclaimed Mrs. Holdney. "Of course
you might do that. Rufus has gone down town, and most likely you'll find
him in the hardware store of Mr. Jackson. He said he had some business
to transact with him, and he'll likely be there for some time."

"Then I'll ride down there on my wheel. I guess I can find the place. Is
it on the main street?"

"Yes, turn off this road when you get to the big granite horse-drinking
trough and swing in to your right. Then turn to your left when you get
to the post-office and that's Main Street. Mr. Jackson's store is about
a block in."

The lad repeated the woman's directions over in his mind as he rode
along, and he had no difficulty in picking out the hardware store. He
was wondering how he would know Mr. Holdney, but concluded that one of
the clerks could point him out.

"Yes, Mr. Holdney is here," said a man behind the counter to whom Joe
applied. "He's in the office with Mr. Jackson."

"I wonder if I could send a letter in to him," ventured the lad, for he
did not want to wait any longer than he had to.

"I'm afraid not," answered the clerk. "Mr. Jackson is very strict about
being disturbed when he's talking business."

"Then I guess I'll have to wait," said Joe with a sigh. "I wonder if
he'll be in there long?"

"I wouldn't want to say for sure," spoke the clerk, leaning over the
counter in a confidential manner and speaking in a whisper. "I wouldn't
even dare to guess," he went on with a look toward the private office
whence came the murmur of voices, "but I'll venture to state that it
will be some time. Mr. Jackson never does anything in a hurry."

"Does Mr. Holdney?"

"Yes, he's just the opposite. He's as quick as a steel trap. Too quick,
that's the trouble. He and Mr. Jackson are good friends, but when Mr.
Holdney springs something sudden on my boss, why Mr. Jackson is slower
than ever, thinking it over. I guess you'll have to wait some time. Is
there anything you'd like to buy?"

"No, I think not," said Joe with a smile, and then he sat down on one of
the stools near the counter while the clerk went off to wait on a
customer. The lad was getting impatient after nearly an hour had passed
and there was no sign of Mr. Holdney coming out. The murmur of voices
continued to come from the private office--one voice quick and snappy,
and the other slow and drawling--an indication of the character of the
two men.

"I wish they'd hurry!" thought Joe. He began to pace back and forth the
length of the store, and he was just thinking he would have to ride home
in the darkness, and was wondering whether there was oil in his bicycle
lamp, when the door of the private office opened and two men came out.

"Thank goodness!" exclaimed Joe to himself. The men were still talking,
but Joe concluded that their business was about over so he chanced going
up to them.

"Excuse me," he said, "but I have a letter for Mr. Holdney. It's from my
father, Mr. Matson."

"Eh, what's--that--son?" asked the older of the two men, in drawling
tones.

"It's for me. I'm Mr. Holdney!" exclaimed the other quickly. "From Mr.
Matson, eh? Well tell him I can't help him any more. I haven't any
spare--but wait a minute, I'll write my answer."

"Hadn't--you--better--read--the--letter--first," mildly and slowly
suggested Mr. Jackson.

"Humph! I know what it is all right!" exclaimed the other quickly. "But
I'll read it. Let's have it!" He almost snapped it from the lad's hand
and Joe wondered what could be the business relations between his father
and this man.

With a flourish and a quick motion Mr. Holdney tore open the envelope
and read the letter almost at a glance.

"Hum!" he exclaimed. "Just as I expected. No, I'm done with that
business. I can't do any more. You may tell your father--hold on,
though, I'll write it," and, whipping out a lead pencil Mr. Holdney
scribbled something on the back of Mr. Matson's note.

"So you're John Matson's son; eh?" he asked of Joe.

"Yes, sir."

"Hum! Go to school?"

"Yes, the Riverside High."

"Hum! Ever invent anything?"

"No, not yet," answered Joe with a smile.

"That's right--never do it. It's a poor business. Play ball?"

"I did in Bentville where we lived, but I haven't had a chance here
yet."

"Hum! Yes, Bentville. That's where I met your father. Here's the
answer. There you are. Now don't lose it," and quickly handing the
communication to Joe, Mr. Holdney turned and resumed his talk with the
hardware merchant.

Joe was a little dazed by the quickness of it all, and there were many
questions running through his mind. Somehow the manner of Mr.
Holdney--the message he had started to ask Joe to deliver by word of
mouth, his apparent refusal of something Mr. Matson had evidently asked
him to do--all made Joe vaguely uneasy. He connected it with his
father's nervousness the night before and with his mother's anxiety.

"But there's no use worrying until I have to," concluded Joe with a
boy's philosophy as he left the hardware store, and truth to tell, he
was thinking more of his chances of going to boarding school in the fall
perhaps, and whether or not he would get an opportunity to play ball,
than he was of any possible trouble.

On leaving the hardware store Joe was surprised to find it growing dusk.
Gathering clouds added to the gloom and he made up his mind that the
last part of his homeward journey would be made in darkness.

"Guess I'll see if I have any oil in the lamp," he remarked as he was
about to mount his wheel. "If I haven't I can get some here." But he
found, on shaking the lantern, that it was filled enough to carry him to
Riverside, and he was soon pedaling along that country road.

The clouds continued to gather, and as the journey back was partly up
hill, and as the bent pedal did not permit of fast riding, Joe soon
found it necessary to alight and set the lamp aglow.

He was riding on, looking carefully ahead of him, to avoid stones and
ruts that the gleam of light revealed, when, as he came to rather a
lonely spot on the road, he heard, just ahead of him, a commotion.

There was a sound of carriage wheels scraping on the iron body guards,
the tramping of a horse's feet, and then a voice called out:

"Whoa now! Stand still, can't you, until I see what's the matter? Whoa!
Something's broken, that's evident, worse luck! And I'm two miles from
nowhere. Whoa, now!"

"Where have I heard that voice before?" mused Joe as he rode more slowly
so as not to have another collision in the darkness.

He could hear some one jump to the ground and then the restless horse
quieted down under the soothing words of the driver.

"Yes, it's broken all right," the voice went on. "And how in the
mischief am I going to mend it? Whoa, now!"

Then Joe rode up, and in the glow of his light he saw Darrell Blackney,
the manager of the Silver Stars, who was standing beside a carriage one
side of the shafts of which hung down from the axle. The bolt had
evidently broken.

"What's the matter?" asked Joe, dismounting.

"Who's that?" quickly asked Darrell.

"I'm Joe Matson," was the answer. "I know you. I'm in the junior high
class."

"Oh, yes. Matson, I think I heard Tom Davis speak of you. Well, I've had
an accident. I was out driving when all at once one side of the shafts
fell down. It's a bad break I'm afraid; bolt sheared off."

"It's a wonder your horse didn't run away."

"Oh, Prince is pretty steady; aren't you Prince old fellow?" and Darrell
patted the animal's nose. "But what the mischief am I to do? It's too
far to go to the next town and leave Prince here, and I can't ride him,
for he isn't used to it and might throw me off."

"Can I help you?" asked Joe. "I might ride to the nearest place and get
a bolt, if you told me what kind."

"All the places would be closed by this time I guess," was the rueful
answer. "Much obliged to you just the same. I certainly am in a pickle!
Next time I go out driving I'll bring part of a hardware store along."

"What sort of a bolt is it?" asked Joe.

"Oh, just an ordinary carriage one, flat headed. Bring your light here,
if you don't mind, and I'll take a look at it. I could only tell it was
broken by feeling in the dark."

In the glow of the bicycle lamp it could be seen that the bolt had
broken squarely in two in the middle, and could not be used again. But
at the sight of it, as Darrell held the two parts in his hand, Joe
uttered an exclamation.

"What's the matter?" asked the manager of the Silver Stars.

"I think I have the very thing!" said Joe quickly. "I've got some spare
bolts in my tool bag. They may not be the same size, but they'll hold
the shaft in until you get home I think. I'll take a look."

"Good for you!" cried Darrell. "Most anything will do in a pinch. Even a
piece of wire, but I can't find any along the road in the dark. I hope
you have something," and while Joe opened his tool bag Darrell patted
the somewhat restive horse.



CHAPTER VI

JOE HAS HOPES


"Yes, here's the very thing, I guess!" said Joe, after rummaging about
in his leather tool case. He produced a short but heavy bolt with a nut.

"It isn't exactly the same thing," remarked Darrell, after looking at it
carefully, "but it will do, if it's long enough. Would you mind holding
Prince's head while I try it? He might start up, just as I got the shaft
in place, and hurt my fingers, if he didn't make me drop the bolt. Then
we'd have a sweet time hunting for it in the dark."

Joe went to the animal's head and patted the cold, velvety nose while
the other lad lifted up the dropped shaft and fitted it in place. He was
fumbling about in the flickering light of the bicycle lantern which he
had temporarily fastened to the dashboard.

"Will it do?" asked Joe.

"Yes, it's just the cheese. Lucky I met you, or, rather that you met me,
or I don't know what I would have done. The bolt is just long enough.
Now if I can get the nut on----"

"There's a wrench in my tool bag," interrupted Joe. "Shall I get it for
you?"

"No, thanks, you stay by Prince. I can find it. You haven't been in town
long, have you?" asked Darrell, as he was working away over the nut,
which was a little tight.

"No, about a week. I was at the Resolute ball game though."

"You were? It was a shame it broke up the way it did, but I don't think
it was our fault, though Sam Morton is pretty quick tempered."

Joe had good reason to know that.

"No," he answered from the darkness near the horse's head, "it was the
fault of the Resolutes all right. They ought to have been satisfied
after pulling the game out of the fire the way they did."

"I should say so! They never ought to have won it, and they wouldn't
have, only Sam sort of--well they got his 'goat' I guess."

"Yes," assented Joe, while Darrell went on fumbling with the wrench and
nut.

"Do you play at all?" came the manager's voice from the vicinity of the
flickering light.

"Oh, yes," and Joe's tone was eager while his heart was strangely
beating. It was a chance he had never dared hope for, to have the
manager of the Silver Stars ask him that.

"Where?" came the next inquiry.

"In Bentville, where I used to live."

"Oh. Have a good team?"

"Pretty fair."

"Where'd you play?"

"I used to pitch." There was a pause and then, emboldened by what had
happened, Joe went on. "I don't suppose there's a vacancy in your nine,
is there?" and he laughed half whimsically.

"No, hardly, that is, not in the box," said Darrell slowly. "Sam has his
faults, but he's the best pitcher we've had in a long time and I guess
we'll keep him. There, that's fixed," he went on, tapping the bolt to
see that it was firmly in place. "Now I can go on, I guess. I'm a
thousand times obliged to you. I don't know what I'd have done only for
you. After this I'm going to carry a light, and some spare bolts."

He handed Joe back the wrench and took the lamp off the dashboard.

"I'll give you a bolt in place of this the next time I see you," the
manager went on, as he held the lamp out to our hero.

"Oh, it isn't necessary. I don't need it for my wheel. It was just one
of some odds and ends that I carry with me."

Darrell stood looking at Joe, whose face was illuminated brightly by the
full focus of the lamp. The manager seemed struck by something.

"I say!" he exclaimed, "you look as if you were built to play ball. Were
you at it long?"

"Oh, a couple of years."

"Pitch all that time?"

"Oh, no, only just the last few months of the season. Our regular
pitcher left and I filled in."

"I see. Hum, well, as I said we haven't any vacancy in the box, but by
Jove! come to think of it I might give you a chance!"

Joe's heart leaped wildly and he could hardly answer.

"Can you, really?" he asked.

"Yes, but not as a regular, of course--at least that is not right off
the bat. But if you'd like to try for place at centre field I believe I
can manage it."

Joe's heart was a little despondent. Centre field was not a very
brilliant place in which to shine with the Stars, but it was a start and
he realized that.

"I'd be glad of the chance," he managed to say.

"All right, I'll keep you in mind. You see our regular centre fielder,
Jed McGraw, is going to leave. His folks are moving out west and we'll
have to have some one in his place. I don't know when he's going, but
it's this week or next. I'd like to do something for you, to sort of pay
you for what you did for me to-night, and----"

"Oh, I don't want anything for this!" exclaimed Joe.

"I know you don't, but it just happened so. I might not have known you
except for this accident, and as I said we will need some one to fill in
at centre field. Len Oswald is the regular substitute, but he doesn't
practice much, and he's got a job over at Fordham so he can't always be
sure of getting off Saturday afternoons, which is when we mostly play.
So I'll put you down as sub now and perhaps as regular--it depends on
Len."

"Thanks!" Joe managed to say and he found himself hoping that Len would
have to work every Saturday during the season.

"We need some one with experience," went on Darrell, "and I'm glad I
could give you the chance. Tom Davis was saying you got mixed up in the
row the other day."

"Yes. I seem to be getting the habit," replied Joe with a laugh. "I had
one with Sam Morton on this road a little while ago."

"You don't say so! How did it happen?"

Joe gave all the details.

"Hum! Well, Sam sure has a quick temper," went on the young manager.
"But he's all right soon after it," he added in extenuation. "He'll be
friendly with you in a few days and forget all about it. I wouldn't hold
a grudge against him, if I were you."

"Oh, I shan't. It was both our faults."

"Well, I'll be getting on," remarked Darrell, after a pause. "Come and
see me sometime. I'll see you at school to-morrow, and if there's
anything doing I'll let you know."

The two boys' hands met in a friendly clasp and then the manager,
getting into his carriage, drove off. A little later, his heart filled
with hope, Joe, having put back his lantern and tool bag pedaled toward
home.

"This was a lucky day for me, even if it did look bad after that crash
with Sam Morton," he said to himself. "I'm going to play ball, after
all!"

There was rather a grave look on Mr. Matson's face when Joe handed him
the reply from Mr. Holdney, and told of his interview.

"So he can't help me--Oh, well, never mind," and Mr. Matson turned aside
and went into the room where he kept a desk. Mrs. Matson followed,
closing the door after her, and for some time the voices of the two
could be heard in low but earnest conversation.

"What's the matter; nothing wrong I hope?" asked Clara.

"Oh, I guess not," answered Joe, though he was vaguely uneasy himself.
Then came the thought of his talk with the baseball manager and his
heart was light again.

Supper was rather a quiet affair that night, and Mr. Matson spoke but
little, quite in contrast to his usual cheerful flow of conversation.
Mrs. Matson, too, seemed preoccupied.

"I think I'm going to get on the Stars!" exclaimed Joe, when he got a
chance to tell of his experiences that day.

"That's good," said Mr. Matson heartily. "There's no game like
baseball."

"But it doesn't fit a boy for anything," complained Mrs. Matson. "It
doesn't help in any of the professions."

"It's a profession in itself!" declared Joe stoutly.

"I hope you don't intend to adopt it," spoke his sister.

"Oh, I don't know. I might do worse. Look at some of those big New York
players getting thousands of dollars a year."

"But look how long it takes them to get to that place," objected Clara,
who liked to argue.

"Oh, well, I'm young yet," laughed Joe.

In his room that night, while preparing for bed Joe got to thinking of
the possibility mentioned by Darrell Blackney.

"I'm going to play my head off in centre field," said Joe, "and I'm
going to practice batting, too. Stick work counts. I'm going to practice
pitching, also. Who knows, maybe I'll get a chance in the box if Sam
ever slumps.

"Wow! If I ever do!" and standing before an imaginary batter Joe flung
out his arm as if delivering a swift curve. With a crash his fist hit a
picture on the wall and brought it clattering down to the floor.

"What's that?" called Clara sharply from the next room.

"Oh, I was just practicing pitching," answered Joe sheepishly, as he
picked up the picture, the glass of which had fortunately not broken.

"Well, you'd better practice going to sleep," responded his sister with
a laugh.

Joe smiled. He had great hopes for the future.



CHAPTER VII

LAUGHED AT


"What's that in your pocket, Joe?"

"Which pocket?"

"Your coat. I declare, you've got something in both pockets," and Clara
approached her brother as if with the intention of making a personal
inspection of two big bulges on either side of his coat. "What are
they?" she persisted, as Joe backed away. Brother and sister had just
gotten up from the breakfast table, and were about to start to school.

"Oh, never mind!" exclaimed Joe hastily, as he looked for his cap. "Got
your lessons, Clara?"

"Of course I have. But I'm curious to know what makes your pockets bulge
out so. Don't you know it will spoil your coat?"

"I don't care," and Joe made another hasty move to get out of reach of
Clara's outstretched hand. But he was not successful, and, with a laugh,
his sister caught hold of the bulging pocket on his left side.

"A ball!" she declared. "A baseball upon my word! Two of them! Oh, Joe,
are you really going to play on the nine Saturday?"

"I don't know. Maybe I'll get a chance if Jed McGraw leaves in time. But
I'm taking a couple of old balls to practice throwing this afternoon
when I come from school."

"You're starting in early," commented Clara. "I hope you don't sleep
with a baseball under your pillow the way we girls do with pieces of
wedding cake," and she laughed merrily.

"I'd be willing to sleep with a ball and a bat under my pillow if I
thought I'd get in the game by it," admitted Joe frankly. "But I'm not
hoping too much. Well, I'm going. Good-bye momsey," and he stopped to
kiss his mother before he hastened away to school. He looked at her
closely to discover whether there was any trace of worry, but she smiled
at him.

"I may not be home early," he told her. "I'm going down to the
fairgrounds."

"What for?" she asked quickly. "There isn't a show there, is there?"

"No, but I want to do a little baseball practicing, and that place is
well out of the way."

"Baseball practice on the fairgrounds. How----"

But she did not wait to finish her question for she exclaimed:

"My cake is burning in the oven. Good-bye, Joe!" and she ran to the
kitchen.

"I wonder what Sam Morton will say?" Joe reflected as he walked along.
"I certainly hope his arm isn't lame, even if it was as much his fault
as mine. I don't want him to tell the fellows I'm to blame for him
losing a game--if he should."

Fearing that the same thing might happen to him as when Clara laughed at
him for having the two baseballs in his pockets, Joe slipped to his desk
as soon as he reached the school, and hid the balls away back among his
books. The balls were two old ones he had used when on the Bentville
nine, and they were still in fair condition.

"I'm not going to let the fellows get on to the fact that I'm
practicing, until there's more of a chance for me than there is now,"
thought our hero, as he went out on the school grounds to watch the lads
at play.

An impromptu game was going on, but Joe did not join. Darrell Blackney
passed him, and in answer to Joe's nod of greeting asked:

"Did you get home all right?"

"Oh, yes. How about you?"

"Fine. The bolt was all right. I haven't forgotten. I'll see McGraw
to-day and find out when he's going to leave. Then if Oswald can't say
for sure whether he'll be with us, you'll go in at centre field."

"Good!" exclaimed Joe, his eyes bright with anticipation.

As Darrell passed on, Joe saw Sam Morton approaching. At first he had a
notion of turning away and avoiding what he felt would be an unpleasant
scene. But Joe was nothing of a coward and he realized that, sooner or
later, he would have to meet the pitcher with whom he had had the
collision. So he stood his ground.

"How's your arm?" he asked pleasantly, as Sam approached.

"Hu! None the better for what you did to it."

"What _I_ did?" and Joe's voice took on a surprised tone. "Do you still
insist it was my fault?"

"Pretty near," went on Sam, but Joe noticed that he was not quite so
vindictive as before. "It isn't as stiff as I thought it would be,
though."

"I hope you can pitch all right Saturday," went on Joe. He wanted very
much to hint at the fact that he, too, might be in the game, but Sam was
not a lad to invite confidences, especially after what had taken place.
Joe liked comradeship. He liked the company of boys of his own age and
he was just "hungry" to talk baseball. But, aside from Tom Davis, as
yet he had no chums with whom he could gossip about the great pastime.

In Bentville he was looked up to as one of the nine, and, though the
team was not as good a one as was the Silver Stars, still it was a team,
and Joe was one of the principal players. Coming to a strange town, and
being distinctly out of the game, made him feel like a "cat in a strange
garret," as he said afterward.

But with a grim tightening of his lips he made up his mind not to give
way to gloomy thoughts, and he determined that he would be on the town
team and one of the best players.

As the warning bell rang, Tom Davis came hurrying across the school
campus.

"I called for you!" he shouted to Joe who, with a crowd of other lads,
was going in the building, "but you'd gone."

"Thanks," replied Joe, grateful for the friendly spirit shown. "I'll
wait next time." He liked Tom, and was glad to have him for a chum.

Joe thought lessons would never be finished that day, but the classes
were finally dismissed and then, without waiting for Tom, though he
thought this might be construed as rather unfriendly, our hero hastened
off in the direction of the fairgrounds. There was a high wooden fence
around this plot, and it gave Joe just the chance he wanted, for he was
going to practice pitching, and he didn't want any witnesses.

"I wish I had half a dozen balls," he murmured as he went in through one
of the gates which was unlocked. "I wouldn't have to chase back and
forth so often. But two will do for a while."

He laid his books down on the grass, took out the horsehide spheres and,
measuring a distance from the fence about equal to the space from the
pitcher's box to home plate, he began to pitch the balls.

With dull thuds the balls struck the fence, one after the other, and
fell to the ground. Joe picked them up, took his place again in the
imaginary box, and repeated the performance.

His arm, that was a bit stiff at first, from lack of practice since
coming to Riverside, gradually became limber. He knew that his speed,
too, was increasing. He could not judge of his curves, and, truth to
tell he did not have very good ones as yet, for he had only recently
learned the knack. But he had the right ideas and a veteran professional
pitcher, who was a friend of one of the Bentville nine's members, had
showed Joe the proper manner to hold and deliver the ball.

"I wish I had some one back there to give me a line on myself," thought
Joe, as he pitched away, a solitary figure on the grounds. "I don't know
whether I'm getting them over the plate, or a mile beyond," for he had
laid down a flat stone to serve as "home."

"Anyhow this will improve my speed," he reasoned, "and speed is needed
now-a-days as much as curves."

Time and again he pitched his two horsehides, ran to pick them up as
they dropped at the foot of the fence, and then he raced back to his
"box" to repeat the performance. He was rather tiring of it, and his arm
was beginning to feel numb in spite of his enthusiasm, when he heard
some one laughing. The sound came from behind him, and, turning quickly,
Joe saw Sam Morton standing leaning up against his wheel, and
contemplating him with mirth showing on his face.

"Well, well!" exclaimed Sam. "This is pretty good. What are you trying
to do, Matson, knock the fence down? If you are, why don't you take a
hammer or some stones instead of baseballs? This is rich! Ha! Ha!"

For a moment Joe was tempted to make an angry answer, for the hot blood
of shame mounted to his cheeks. Then he said quietly, and with as much
good-nature as he could summon on the spur of the moment:

"I'm practicing, that's all. I came here as I didn't want to lose the
balls, and the fence makes a good backstop."

"Practicing, eh? What for?" and once more Sam laughed in an insulting
manner.

"To improve my pitching. There may be a chance to get on the team, I
understand."

"What team; the Silver Stars?"

Sam's voice had a harsh note in it.

"Yes." And Joe nodded.

"So you're practicing pitching, eh? And you hope to get on our nine.
Well let me tell you one thing, Matson; you won't pitch on the Silver
Stars as long as I'm on deck, and I intend to remain for quite a while
yet. Pitching practice, eh? Ho! That's pretty good! What you'd better
practice is running bases. We may let you run for some of the fellows,
if you're real good. Or how would you like to carry the bats or be the
water boy? I understand there's a vacancy there. Pitcher! Ha! Ha!" and
Sam doubled up in mirth. Joe's face flushed, but he said nothing.



CHAPTER VIII

A MEAN PROTEST


Finally Sam ceased his laughter, straightened up and prepared to ride
out of the fairgrounds on his wheel.

"I was just going past," he said, in needless explanation, "when I heard
something banging against the fence. First I thought it might be one of
the cattle left over from the last show, but when I saw it was you,
Matson--Oh, my! It's too rich! I'll have to tell the boys."

"Look here!" exclaimed Joe, who disliked as much as any one being
laughed at, "what have you got against me, anyhow? Are you afraid I'll
displace you as pitcher?"

"What's that? Not much. You couldn't do that you know," and Sam laughed
again.

"Then what do you want to be so mean for?" asked Joe.

"None of your business, if you want to know," snapped Sam. "But if you
think you're going to get on our team you've got another think coming.
Look out, now, don't break the fence with those balls, or the fair
committee might make you pay for it," and with this parting insult Sam
rode out of the grounds.

Joe's heart was beating fast, and he clenched his hands. He would liked
to have gone after Sam and given him a well deserved thrashing, but he
knew that would never do.

"I've just got to grin and bear it!" murmured Joe through his clenched
teeth. "If the fellows laugh at me I'll have to let 'em laugh. After all
I can stand it, and I _do_ want to get on the team.

"Queer why Sam Morton should be so down on me. I don't see his reason
unless it's jealousy, or because he's mad at me for running into him.
Maybe it's both.

"Well, there's no use practicing any longer. My arm is tired, and
besides he might be hiding behind the fence to laugh some more. I'll
have to find a different place if I want to practice getting up my speed
and curves."

Picking up the balls and his books Joe slowly made his way out of the
grounds. Sam Morton was nowhere in sight, for which the young ball
player was glad.

"Maybe this will end it," thought Joe. "He just wanted to amuse himself
at my expense." But our hero was soon to find that the vindictive
spirit of the pitcher was not quelled.

"Coming out to see us practice this afternoon?" asked Tom Davis of Joe
several days later. "We're getting ready to play the Red Stockings of
Rutherford, Saturday."

"Sure I'll come," answered Joe. "Will it be a good game?"

"It ought to. The Red Stockings used to have a good nine but they struck
a slump and lately we've been beating them. But I hear they have a new
pitcher and they may make it hard for us. Say, what's this yarn Sam is
telling about you practicing down on the fairgrounds."

"Oh, it's true enough," answered Joe with a flush. "I thought I'd get up
some speed. I've got a chance to get on the nine."

"Is that so; I hadn't heard it. Gee! I hope you do. How you going to
manage it?"

"Well, I don't know as Darrell wants it known," was the answer, "but
I'll tell you," and Joe proceeded to relate his talk with the manager,
about the prospective leaving of McGraw.

"That's so, Jed is going away," admitted Tom. "I had forgotten about
that. Say, I hope he leaves before Saturday and then you can get a
chance to play."

"What about Len Oswald, the substitute centre fielder?"

"Oh, Len is practically out of it. He can't get off Saturday afternoons
any more. Too much business in that Fordham grocery where he works.
That's a good thing for you. I'm real glad of it, Joe. But say, if you
want to practice pitching, why didn't you ask me to catch for you?"

"I didn't want to bother you?"

"Aw, get out. I'd be glad to do it. Next time you want to try it tip me
off and we'll go some place where Sam can't bother us. He's a mean chap
sometimes. I don't like him, but some of the fellows think he's all
there. He sure can pitch, and I guess that's why we keep him. But come
on, let's go to practice. There may be a scrub game and you can get in
on it."

Joe and Tom found quite a crowd assembled on the Riverside diamond when
they arrived. The nine and the substitutes were in uniforms, and Darrell
Blackney and George Rankin were talking to the team, giving them some
points about the coming game with the Red Stockings.

"I guess we've got enough for a scrub game," announced the captain, as
Joe and Tom strolled up. "Tom, you play first on the scrub. And let's
see--what's your name?" and he turned to Joe, who introduced himself.

"He's a friend of mine," added Tom, "so treat him right."

"Good!" exclaimed the captain. "Well, he can play on the scrub if he
wants to. Out in the field," he added.

"Oh, yes, that's Matson, whom I was telling you about," put in the
manager, and then he added something in a low voice which Joe could not
catch.

"Play ball!" called the umpire, and the impromptu contest was underway.
Joe narrowly watched Sam's pitching and even though he regarded the lad
as unfriendly to him, our hero could not but admit that his rival in the
box was doing good work.

"But I think I can equal him if I have a chance," thought Joe, and he
was not given to idle boasting, either. "Oh, if I only get the chance!"
he exclaimed in a whisper.

Then a high fly came his way and he had to get down to business and stop
his day-dreaming. He ran back to get under the ball, and made a pretty
one-handed catch. There was some applause from the little group of
spectators.

"Good eye!" yelled Tom Davis.

"That's the stuff!" cried some one else, and Joe felt a warm thrill of
pleasure as he threw the ball in.

Of course the first team won, for the scrub was composed of odds and
ends, with some substitutes from the Silver Stars, but Joe had done his
best to hold down the score.

"Good work, Matson," complimented Darrell, when the contest was over.
"By the way, I've about decided in your case. You can get ready to play
centre field Saturday. McGraw can't be with us, and we can't count on
Oswald. Have you a uniform?"

"Yes," said Joe eagerly.

"A uniform; what for?" asked Sam Morton quickly. He had come up behind
Joe and Darrell, and had heard the last part of the conversation.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you fellows that Matson is our new member of the
team," went on the manager. "Shake hands with him, boys. I've been
watching him play to-day and I think with a little practice he'll make
good."

"Where's he going to play?" demanded Sam roughly, while the lads crowded
around Joe, congratulating him, asking him questions as to where he had
played ball before, and shaking hands with him. "Where's he going to
play?" and Sam pointed what seemed like an accusing finger at Joe.

"Centre field--McGraw's place," answered the manager briefly.

"Regular or substitute?" demanded Sam.

"Practically a regular," replied Darrell. "We can't count on Oswald any
more, now that his busy season has begun."

Every member of the Silver Stars save Sam had shaken hands with Joe. The
pitcher now stood facing our hero.

"I want to protest!" suddenly exclaimed Sam, looking Joe full in the
face.

"Why?" asked Darrell.

"What business is it of yours, anyhow, Sam?" asked the captain. "Darrell
and I have settled this. Matson plays."

"Then I want my protest noted!" went on Sam angrily. "We're supposed to
be a local team--every one on it belongs in town."

"So does Joe Matson!" broke in Tom Davis.

"Well, he's only just moved in, and how do we know but what he'll move
out again?" demanded Sam. "I protest against him being a regular, or
even a substitute, member of the Silver Stars!"



CHAPTER IX

JOE IN THE GAME


There was a period of silence following Sam's unfair protest. Then could
be heard a low murmur from some of his mates.

"Oh, what's eating him, anyhow?"

"What's he got against Matson?"

"Something has Sam by the ear all right."

"Yes, guess he didn't like the way the scrub batted him around."

These were some of the comments made, not loud enough for Sam to hear,
for he was a power in the nine, and none of the lads wanted to get on
bad terms with him.

For a moment all eyes were turned on Sam and then toward Joe who, it can
easily be imagined, was much embarrassed.

"I don't think your protest is a fair one," said Darrell at length.

"I don't think so either," added Captain George Rankin. "Just because
Matson is a newcomer in town is no reason why he can't play with us."

"Sure, that's right!" put in Seth Potter. "You weren't born here
yourself, Sam, and neither were lots of us. We moved here."

"I've lived in Riverside nearly all my life," snapped the pitcher, "and
I like to see a representative team. If we need a new member why not
pick one who has been living here longer than a couple of weeks?"

"Look here!" exclaimed Darrell. "I don't think this is fair to me."

"How do you mean?" asked Sam, for the manager had spoken with some
warmth.

"Just this much. You elected me manager and the captain and I were to
select the players. Now, when we make our choice, there comes a kick. It
isn't right. Rankin and I decided to give Matson a chance, and he gets
it. That goes, too!" and the manager looked straight at Sam.

"Oh, well, if you put it that way I suppose I might as well keep still
about it," and Sam, shrugging his shoulders, turned away. He had not yet
shaken hands with Joe.

"As for there being other players just as good and who have lived here
longer, that may be true," went on Darrell. "I'm not saying Matson is
the only fellow I could pick for centre field, and I'm not saying
anything against any of the fellows on the scrub when I don't take them.
We want the best team we can get to represent the Silver Stars and
Matson is my choice for the place. If you want to go over my head----"

"No! No!" came a chorus of objections. "It's all right!"

"Then Matson plays Saturday," concluded the manager. "All of you be out
for practice to-morrow afternoon again. Matson, report in uniform."

"All right," and Joe's heart was fairly thumping under his coat. The
chance he had longed for had come at last.

As Sam was walking away Joe resolved on a bold stroke, rather a
grandstand play as he confessed to himself afterward, but he could not
forego it. Striding up to the disgruntled pitcher Joe held out his hand
and asked:

"Won't you shake?"

Sam turned and faced him. For several seconds he stood staring Joe
straight in the eyes while the crowd of boys looked on. Then with a
sneer, and ignoring the proffered hand, Sam said:

"I prefer to pick my own friends. I don't want them made for me."

He turned on his heel and walked off.

There was another period of silence like that following his protest.
Then some one said:

"Well, I'm glad I haven't got _his_ disposition."

"What's that?" cried Sam angrily, and turning back he seemed about to
rush at the throng he faced.

"There now, that'll do!" exclaimed Darrell, who was anxious to avoid a
scene. "Forget it, fellows. Sam, you get your arm good and limber for
Saturday. We want to beat the Red Stockings by a big score to make up
for what the Resolutes did to us last Saturday. I'm going to arrange for
another game with them soon, and maybe we can turn the tables."

"Sure we can!" cried several.

"So limber up, Sam," the manager went on, "and have your arm in good
shape."

"It will be in bad shape if I get run down by any more amateur
cyclists," sneered Sam as he looked meaningly at Joe, but no one made
any further reference to the recent collision.

At practice the next day Joe took his place with the regular Silver Star
team, and he showed up well in the impromptu contest against the scrubs.
He made several good catches, and though his stick work might have been
improved, still it was pretty good, for the scrub pitcher was not to be
despised.

"I guess you'll do," complimented Darrell, at the close of the contest.
"Keep it up, don't get rattled, and you'll be all right. I can see
you've played before."

"I guess I've got lots to learn yet," admitted Joe cheerfully.

"Oh, we all have," assented the manager with a laugh.

On the Saturday of the game with the Red Stockings, Joe was up early. He
had overhauled his old uniform and gotten Clara to put a few needed
stitches in it. He had it out on the clothes line in the back yard,
beating some of the dust and dirt from it to freshen it up, when Tom
hailed him from over the fence.

"I say, Joe, what sort of a shirt have you got?"

"Same one I used on the Bentville Boosters; that was the name of our
nine."

"I see. A good name all right, but it will look funny to see that in
among the uniforms of the Silver Stars. Your stockings and pants will
do, but the shirt----" and Tom paused suggestively.

"That's so," admitted Joe. "I didn't think about that. It's a different
color from yours, and I haven't time to get another."

"Never mind!" called Tom. "I tell you what you can do. Use my shirt.
It's the regular Star one, with the name on."

"Won't you want it?"

"No, I don't think I'm going to get a chance to play. Darrell will
probably hold down first all through the game. If I have to go in I can
borrow some other fellow's. But I want you to look right from the
start."

"Thanks," called Joe as Tom disappeared in the house to get his shirt.
It fitted Joe well, and he arranged to get his own in time for the next
game.

"Say, there's a big crowd here all right!" exclaimed Joe, as he and Tom
neared the enclosed diamond that afternoon, and saw the stands well
filled.

"Yes, so much the better. The Red Stockings always draw well. I hope we
beat. Do your prettiest."

"Sure I will. There's Sam warming up."

"Yes, I hope he doesn't go up in the air. Better hurry up and get in
practice."

Joe ran out on the diamond, which was thronged with the home team and
visiting players. Balls were being caught and batted about, and the new
player was soon doing his share.

"Now keep cool," Darrell advised him, "and above all don't have a row
with Sam. I can't understand why he has such a grudge against you, but
he has and there's no use letting it be known any more than it is."

"I won't do or say anything if he doesn't," promised Joe. "But I'm not
going to let him knock me down and then wipe his feet on me."

"Of course not. I'll see that he's decent, anyhow. Well, I guess it's
time we started. I see they have some new players. Maybe we won't beat
them as easily as I hoped."

The practice balls were called in, players were selecting their sticks,
the batting order had been decided on, and the final arrangements made.

"Play ball!" called the umpire, and the Silver Stars took the field. Joe
walked out to centre. His heart was beating high. It was his first
chance to show what he could do in a match game with his new team and he
wanted to make good. But oh! how he longed to be in the pitching box
occupied by Sam Morton!

"Play ball!" called the umpire again, and Sam, "winding up," let fly a
swift white ball toward the expectant batter.



CHAPTER X

A TIGHT CONTEST


"Strike one!" yelled the young umpire, as the ball landed with a
resounding thud in Bart Ferguson's big mitt.

"That's the stuff!" called several in the crowd.

"Send back the Reds with a whitewash brush," added another enthusiast.

"I guess Sam's in form to-day," remarked Tom Davis to Rodney Burke near
whom he sat. Tom was not playing, for Darrell was holding down the
initial bag.

"Wait a bit and see what happens along about the seventh inning," said
Rodney. "Sam generally falls down then if he's going to."

"Well, I hope he doesn't, that's all," said Tom, and then he gave all
his attention to watching the game.

"Ball one," was the next decision of the umpire.

"Aw what's the matter with you?" cried Sam, starting toward home where
Bart stood holding the ball. "That clipped the plate as good as any one
would want. You'd better get a pair of glasses, Kern. You can't see
straight."

"I can see as well as you!" retorted Frank Kern, the umpire.

"It wasn't anywhere near over the plate," retorted Jack King, the
batter.

"Aw, you don't know a good ball when you get one," snapped Sam. "I
guess----"

"That'll do now!" called Darrell sharply from first. "This isn't a kid
game. Play ball. Don't be always kicking, Sam."

"Who is always kicking?" demanded the pitcher, and it was evident to all
that he was in unusually bad temper.

"I hope it isn't on my account," thought Joe who, from his position in
deep centre, was waiting for anything that might come his way. He had
been told to play far out, for King was known as a heavy hitter.

Sam received the ball from Bart with a scowl and wound up for the next
delivery. Sam was a natural pitcher. That is, he had good control, as a
rule, and he made his shoulder and back do most of the work of the
pitching arm, as all professionals do. Still his unpleasant temper often
made his efforts go to waste.

"Strike two!" called the umpire this time, and there was no doubt about
it for King had swung viciously at the ball. But Sam had sent in a
puzzling little drop, and the knowledge that he had fooled a good batter
brought a smile to his otherwise scowling face.

"Here's where I get you!" he predicted.

But alas for his hopes! The bat met the ball squarely and Sam had made
the mistake of sending a fast ball to a heavy hitter enabling King to
knock out a pretty three bagger. Far back as Joe had stationed himself
he was not far enough and he had to turn and run after the horsehide.
And how he did run! He was thinking desperately what would happen if he
missed it! He made up his mind that he would not, yet it was not within
the power of any one to get to the spot before the ball fell.

Joe felt it graze the tips of his fingers as it rushed downward but that
was all. He heard himself groan involuntarily in anguish as the ball hit
the ground with a thud. He lost no time in idle regrets however, but
picked it up and made a throw to third in time to hold King there, for
the doughty player had a notion of continuing on home.

"Good try old man!" yelled some spectators on the benches nearest Joe.
He felt that his effort was somewhat appreciated but he wondered what
Darrell would think of it. Sam was scowling again, whether at Joe's
perfectly natural miss, or the fact that he was hit for three bases was
impossible to guess.

"Try for the next one," called Darrell cheerfully, and Sam did with such
success that Bigney, who was second up for the Red Stockings, only
pounded out a little drizzler that Sam quickly gathered in and threw to
first. King was still held on third. Smart fanned out, and then came
Steel, who, after knocking a couple of fouls, was fooled on a little
in-shoot which made three out, King dying on third and the side being
retired with no runs.

"Oh, not so bad," said Sam as he walked in to the bench.

"I guess we've got their number all right," assented Darrell. He saw Joe
coming in from centre and the manager stopped to speak to him.

"Nobody could have gotten that ball," he said, for he realized that the
new player might blame himself unjustly. "I didn't think King had it in
him, or I'd have told you to play out to the limit. He won't get you
that way again."

"I guess not!" exclaimed Joe heartily.

The make up and batting order of the Silver Stars was the same as in
the game with the Resolutes save that Joe was in Jed McGraw's place, and
this brought him second to the bat. Potter was up first and managed to
get a single.

"Now, bring him in," commanded Darrell with a smile at Joe, as the
latter picked out a bat. He was very nervous, as any lad would have
been, playing his first game with a new team. He did want to make good!

"I'll try," he said simply.

Painter, the Red Stocking pitcher, had no phenomenal speed and his
curves could not be depended on to break at the right places. Still he
was a good "bluffer" and he made many a batter think that he was getting
a very swift ball. Often it would look as though it was going to hit the
man at the plate and he would instinctively step back, disconcerting his
own aim.

Joe let the first ball pass, and was somewhat surprised to have a strike
called on him. But he did not kick, for, as a matter of fact, the
horsehide had clipped the plate.

"I'll get the next one," thought Joe grimly. Then Painter worked his
usual trick, of throwing a ball close in, and Joe bent his body like a
bow.

"Strike two!" yelled the umpire and Joe felt a flash of anger. But he
said nothing, and when the next ball came he swung viciously at it. He
heard the heart-stirring ping! and, dropping his bat, he legged it for
first as Potter darted to second.

But Joe had not hit the ball nearly as hard as he thought he had, and
the result was that the shortstop gathered it in, and, by a quick throw
to first, caught our hero there.

"Quick, to second!" yelled the coacher, but Potter dropped and slid,
being counted safe.

"One down, only two more!" yelled Murphy, captain and catcher of the
"Reds," as they were called for short.

Joe felt his face burning with shame as he walked back to the bench.

"Humph! I thought we were going to see some wonders!" murmured Sam
Morton sarcastically.

"It's all right, Matson--it was an even chance, and you found the ball,"
said Darrell quickly. He knew the danger of a new player becoming
discouraged.

"Thanks," said Joe quietly.

Lantry got a single which sent Potter to third, but the next two men
struck out and with two men left on bases the Silver Stars had to take
the field again with only a goose egg to their credit.

The game ran along to the ending of the third inning with neither side
getting a run. Each team made some scattering hits but the fielding was
evenly good, and no one crossed the home plate. Joe made one fine catch
in the beginning of the third and received a round of applause that did
his heart good.

Sam was pitching pretty good ball, occasionally being found for a two
bagger, but any short-comings in this line were more than made up in the
support he received from his mates.

"It's going to be a tighter game than I thought it was," murmured
Darrell, at the close of the fourth inning, when his side had managed to
get in one run to tie the tally which the Reds had secured. "They've got
a better team than I gave them credit for."

"You don't think they're going to beat us, do you?" asked Sam anxiously.

"I--well--I hope not," was the hesitating answer.

"Does that mean you don't think I'm doing all I ought to?" demanded the
pitcher defiantly.

"Of course not. I know you wouldn't throw the game. Only I wish we could
strike more of them out," and the manager looked anxiously over the
field as his players were stationing themselves.

"Wait and see what I do this inning," invited Sam. "Perhaps you want
that new fellow to go in the box in my place." His voice was sneering
now.

"Who, Joe Matson?" asked Darrell quickly.

"That's who I mean," replied Sam surlily.

"Don't be foolish," was the manager's quiet answer. "You know he hasn't
had any experience in the box--or at least enough to play on our team,
though I think he'll make a good fielder. Now do your prettiest Sam. You
can, you know."

"All right," assented the pitcher, and once more the game was underway.

The fifth inning was productive of one run for the Silver Stars and this
after they had retired their rivals hitless, for Sam did some excellent
pitching. There was a howl of delight as the first tally came in, making
the score two to one in favor of our friends. And there was none out.

"Now we ought to walk away from them," called Darrell to his players.
Joe came up to bat and to his delight he got a single. He was advanced
to second when the next player connected with the ball, and then
followed some see-sawing on the part of the pitcher and the second
baseman, in an endeavor to catch Joe napping.

Once our hero thought he saw a good chance to steal third and he was
about to take it when something warned him to come back. He did, and
only just in time, for the pitcher threw to second. It was a close
shave.

Joe slid head foremost and as his fingers touched the bag the second
baseman leaped up in the air to catch the ball which the pitcher had
wildly thrown high.

When the baseman came down, making a wild effort to touch Joe, the iron
cleat of one shoe caught the little finger of Joe's left hand and cut it
cruelly.

The plucky centre fielder tried to stifle the groan of anguish that rose
to his lips, but it was impossible. The baseman was aware of the
accident.

Dropping the ball he knelt over Joe.

"I'm mighty sorry, old man!" he exclaimed. "Are you hurt much?"

"No--no. I--I guess not," murmured Joe, and then all got black before
his eyes, and there was a curious roaring in his ears.



CHAPTER XI

JOE'S RUN


"Water here! Bring some water!" yelled Smart, who was holding down
second base for the Reds. "He's fainted I guess."

There was a rush of players toward Joe, and Darrell was the first to
reach him.

"What's the matter, old man?" he asked sympathetically.

"I'm afraid I spiked him," answered Smart, ruefully. "I jumped for the
ball, and came down on his hand I guess."

"Too bad," murmured Darrell.

They turned Joe over, for he was lying on his face, and saw his left
hand covered with blood.

"Where's that first-aid kit?" called Tom Davis, who had rushed on the
field on seeing his friend hurt.

"Here it is," answered Rodney Burke, who acted as the amateur surgeon on
the few times his services had been required. "I'll bandage it up. Had
we better get a doctor?"

Meanwhile some water had been sprinkled in Joe's face and some forced
between his lips. He opened his eyes as the others were washing the
blood from his hand.

"I--I'm all right," he murmured, as he strove to rise.

"Now that's all right--you just lie still," commanded Darrell. "Look at
it Rod, and see how bad it is."

Fortunately the wound was not as serious as had at first seemed and when
cleansed of dirt and blood it was seen to be a long cut, lengthwise of
the finger.

"I'll have that done up in a jiffy," remarked Rodney, who was not a
little proud of his skill. His father was a physician, and had shown the
son how to make simple bandages. The wound was cleansed with an
antiseptic solution and wrapped in the long narrow strips of bandage
cloth. Joe got to his feet while this was being done, and, after a
little water containing aromatic spirits of ammonia had been given to
him, he declared that he was all right.

"Are you sure?" asked Darrell anxiously.

"Sure, I'll bring in a run yet if some one knocks the ball far enough,"
said Joe with a smile, though it was rather a feeble one.

"Nonsense, you can't run after that," exclaimed Murphy, the Red captain.
"Give him a man," he added generously to his rival. "We don't care."

"I think I had better send Newton down to run for you," said Captain
Rankin.

"But I'm going to play," insisted Joe.

"Yes, next inning," he was assured, and the game went on.

However, even the substitution of a runner in Joe's place availed
nothing, as the side was soon afterward retired with the men expiring on
bases, and the one run was all the Silver Stars could gather in. Still
that made the score two to one in their favor.

There was a big surprise in the next inning. The Reds came to bat full
of confidence, and the first man up rapped out as pretty a three bagger
as had been pulled off that day. It went to deep right field, for which
Joe was thankful, as even with his finger protected by a bandage and a
heavy glove on his hand, he felt that he would wince at catching a swift
ball, and might possibly muff it. That was what the right fielder did,
though he managed to pick it up quickly enough to prevent the player
from going on in to home.

Whether the fact of being hit for a long poke made Sam lose his temper,
or the knowledge that part of his support consisted of a wounded player
made him nervous, was not manifest, but the fact remains that the
pitcher "went up in the air" after that. He gave one man his base on
balls, and when the next player came up, and rapped out a two bagger the
man at third went on in, and there was a man holding down third while
one on second nearly made the bases full.

"Easy now," cautioned Darrell to Sam. "Hold 'em down."

"Um!" grunted Sam, and what he meant by it might be imagined, but he
_did_ strike out the next two men. Then came a single which resulted in
a tally being made, being the second run of the inning. Sam shut his
teeth grimly. There were now two out and two men on bases and Sam felt
his nerve leaving him. But by a strong effort he braced himself, and did
the trick to the next man, stopping the winning streak of the Reds just
in time.

"Three to two against us," murmured Darrell as he looked at the score
board when he and his mates came in for their turn at the bat. "That
isn't going as I'd like to see it. Say, fellows, we've got to knuckle
down if we want to pull this game out of the fire."

"That's what," murmured George Rankin, and, perhaps involuntarily, he
glanced at Sam.

"Oh, I know what you fellows mean without you saying so!" snapped the
pitcher. "I wish you'd keep your remarks to yourselves. I can pitch all
right."

"No one said you couldn't," declared Darrell gently.

But it was very little that the Silver Stars could accomplish. Two men
went down to inglorious defeat. The third knocked a nice single but died
on first when the Red pitcher with seeming ease struck out the fourth
batter. And it was not due so much that the visiting boxman had speed or
curves, as to the fact that he could fool the batters with easy balls.

"We seem to have struck a hoodoo," said Darrell in despairing tones as
they took the field again. "Sam, our only hope is in you. Not a run for
us this inning and they got two."

"They won't get any more!" declared Sam savagely.

He made good his boast, for not a man got beyond second, and of those
who performed this feat there was but one. A big circle went up in the
Red's frame for the ending of the first half of the seventh inning.

But the Silver Stars fared no better, and for the next inning the result
was the same, neither side being able to score. The tally was three runs
to two in favor of the visitors when the ninth inning opened.

The Silver Stars didn't like to think of that inning afterward. There
were numerous errors, wild throws and muffs. Joe let a ball slip through
his fingers when by holding it he might have prevented a run, but it
happened to hit on the cut place, and the agony was such that he let out
an exclamation of pain.

But he was not the only one who sinned. Sam was "rotten," to quote Tom
Davis, and "issued a number of passes." One man got to first by virtue
of being hit and when the inning was over there were three runs in the
Red's box.

"Six to two against us," murmured Darrell. "It looks bad, fellows--it
looks bad."

Joe was first up to the bat.

"Do you think you can hit?" asked the captain anxiously.

"Oh, yes. I can hold my little finger away from the bat and I'll be all
right."

"Then hit for all you're worth," begged Darrell. "We need all we can
get."

Joe clenched his teeth grimly and made up his mind he would not be
fooled as he had been several times before.

The Red pitcher was smiling in a tantalizing way and Joe felt himself
almost hating him for it.

"I'm going to hit you! I'm going to hit you!" he found himself murmuring
over and over again in his mind.

And hit Joe did. The first delivery was a ball, but the second Joe knew
was just where he wanted it. With all his force he swung at it and as he
sped away toward first, with all the power of his legs he saw the
horsehide sailing on a clean hit in a long, low drive over the centre
fielder's head.

Joe heard the ball strike the farther fence and a wild hope came into
his heart that he might make a home run.

"I'm going to do it! I'm going to do!" he whispered to himself as he
turned first and sped like the wind for second base. Could he beat the
ball in? That was what he was asking himself. That was what hundreds of
frantic fans were asking themselves.



CHAPTER XII

DISCONTENT


"Leg it, Joe! Leg it!"

"Keep on! Keep on!"

"He can't get you in time!"

"A home run! A homer, old man!"

"Keep a-going! Keep a-going!"

These and other frantic appeals and bits of advice were hurled at Joe as
he dashed madly on. He had a glimpse of the centre fielder racing madly
after the ball, and then he felt for the first time that he really had a
chance to make a home run. Still he knew that the ball travels fast when
once thrown, and it might be relayed in, for he saw the second baseman
running back to assist the centre fielder.

"But I'm going to beat it!" panted Joe to himself.

The grandstand and bleachers were now a mass of yelling excited
spectators. There was a good attendance at the game, many women and
girls being present, and Joe could hear their shrill voices mingling
with the hoarser shouts of the men and boys.

"Keep on! Keep on!" he heard yelled encouragingly at him.

"That's the stuff, old man!" shouted Darrell, who was coaching at the
third base line.

"Shall I go in?" cried Joe as he turned the last bag.

Darrell took a swift glance toward the field. He saw what Joe could not.
The centre fielder instead of relaying in the ball by the second baseman
(for the throw was too far for him), had attempted to get it to third
alone. Darrell knew it would fall short.

"Yes! Yes!" he howled. "Go on in, Joe! Go on in!"

And Joe went.

Just as the manager had anticipated, the ball fell short, and the
pitcher who had run down to cover second had to run out of the diamond
to get it. It was an error in judgment, and helped Joe to make his
sensational run.

He was well on his way home now, but the pitcher had the ball and was
throwing it to the catcher.

"Slide, Joe! Slide!" yelled Darrell above the wild tumult of the other
players and the spectators.

Joe kept on until he knew a slide would be effective and then, dropping
like a shot, he fairly tore through the dust, feet first, toward home
plate. His shoes covered it as the ball came with a thud into the
outstretched hands of the catcher.

"Safe!" yelled the umpire, and there was no questioning his decision.

"Good play!" yelled the crowd.

"That's the stuff, old man!" exclaimed Darrell, rushing up and clapping
Joe on the back.

"A few more like that and the game will either go ten innings or we'll
have it in the ice-box for ourselves," commented Captain Rankin
gleefully.

But the hopes of the Silver Stars were doomed to disappointment. Try as
the succeeding men did to connect with the ball, the best that could be
knocked out was a single, and that was not effective, for the man who
did it was caught attempting to steal second and two others were struck
out.

That ended the game, Joe's solitary run being the only one tallied up,
and the final score was three to six in favor of the Red Stockings.

"Three cheers for the Silver Stars!" called the captain of the
successful nine and they were given with right good feeling.

"Three cheers for the Red Stockings," responded Darrell. "They were too
much for us," and the cheers of the losers were none less hearty than
those of their rivals.

"And three cheers for the fellow who made the home run!" added a Red
Stocking player, and our hero could not help blushing as he was thus
honored.

"It was all to the pepper-castor, old man," complimented Darrell. "We
didn't put up a very good game, but you sort of stand out among the
other Stars."

"And I suppose the rest of us did rotten!" snarled Sam Morton as he
walked past.

"Well, to be frank, I think we _all_ did," spoke Darrell. "I'm not
saying that Joe didn't make any errors, for he did. But he made the only
home run of the game, and that's a lot."

"Oh, yes, I suppose so," sneered the disgruntled pitcher. "You'll be
blaming me next for the loss of the game."

"Nothing of the sort!" exclaimed Darrell quickly. "I think we've all got
to bear our share of the defeat. We ought to have played better, and
we've got to, if we don't want to be at the tail end of the county
league."

"And that means that I've got to do better pitching, I suppose?" sneered
Sam.

"It means we've _all_ got to do better work," put in Captain Rankin.
"You along with the rest of us, Sam. You know you were pretty well
batted to-day."

"Any fellow is likely to be swatted once in a while. Look at some of the
professionals."

"I'm not saying they're not," admitted the captain. "What I do say is
that we've all got to perk up. We've got to take a brace, and I'm not
sparing myself. We're not doing well."

"No, that's right," admitted several other players. In fact there was a
general feeling of discontent manifested, and it was very noticeable.
Darrell Blackney was aware of it, and he hoped it would not spread, for
nothing is so sure to make a team slump as discontent or
dissatisfaction.

"Oh, Joe!" exclaimed a girl's voice, and he turned to see his sister
walking toward him over the field. "That was a fine run you made." She
had two other girls with her and Joe, who was a bit bashful, turned to
execute a retreat.

"I believe you never met my brother," went on Clara, and there was a
trace of pride in her tone. "Miss Mabel Davis," said Clara, presenting
her to Joe, "and Miss Helen Rutherford."

"I've heard my sister speak of you," murmured the young centre fielder.

"And I've heard my brother speak of _you_," said Mabel, and Joe was
conscious that he was blushing.

"I've got to wash up now," he said, not knowing what to talk about when
two pretty girls, to say nothing of his own sister, were staring at him.

"Does your hand hurt you much?" asked Mabel.

"No--it's only a scratch," said Joe, not with a strict regard for the
truth.

"Oh, I thought I'd faint when I saw you lying there so still," spoke
Clara with a little shudder.

"So did I," added Helen, and then Joe made his escape before they could
"fuss" over him any more.

There was considerable talk going on in the dressing room when Joe
entered. He could hear the voice of Sam Morton raised in high and
seemingly angry tones.

"Well, I'm not going to stand for it!" the pitcher said.

"Stand for what?" asked Darrell in surprise.

"Being accused of the cause for the loss of this game!"

"No one accuses you," put in the captain.

"You might as well say it as look it," retorted Sam. "I tell you I won't
stand for it. Just because that new fellow made a home run you're all up
in the air about him, and for all the hard work I do, what do I get for
it? Eh? Nothing, that's what!"

"Now, look here," said Darrell soothingly, "you know you're talking
foolishly, Sam."

"I am not!" cried the pitcher petulantly. "Either Joe Matson leaves the
team or I do, and you can have my resignation any time you want it!"



CHAPTER XIII

SCIENTIFIC PRACTICE


There was a period of silence following Sam's offer of his resignation,
and no one seemed to know just what to say. Several of the lads glanced
at Joe, as if expecting him to say something in his own defense. In fact
the young centre fielder was about to speak but he did not get the
chance, for Sam exclaimed again:

"Well, do you want my resignation, Darrell?"

"You know I don't!" declared the manager.

"Then things have got to be changed!"

"Look here!" burst out Darrell. "I've stood about all I'm going to from
you, Sam Morton. There has got to be a change in this team."

"That's just what I'm giving you a chance to make," the pitcher fairly
sneered. "You can fill my place any time you like."

"But I'm not going to," and though Darrell spoke pleasantly there was a
sternness in his words. "Fellows, it's like this," he went on. "The
Silver Stars are a good team and you know it. So does every one in this
town, but the last two games we've played in hard luck, and----"

"Do you mean to say it was my pitching?" demanded Sam.

"No more than it was the way we all played. As I said, we've got to take
a brace. I don't know what's gotten into you, Sam, to say you'll resign
if Joe Matson plays. What have you against him?"

"Well, I hate to see a newcomer made so much of. Here we fellows have
worked hard all season, and----"

"And you're going to work hard the _rest_ of the season!" exclaimed
Darrell. "Let me tell you that! I'm not going to hear any more talk of
resignations, and this bickering has got to stop. Otherwise we'll be the
laughing stock of the county. You all played pretty well to-day, but you
all need to do better."

"All but Matson; I suppose he's the star," sneered Sam.

"Look here," burst out Joe, unable to stand the taunts of the pitcher
any longer, "if you think----"

"Now, go easy," advised Darrell with a smile. "I'm giving this little
lecture. I give Matson due credit for one of the three runs we got," he
went on, "but that's not saying that he didn't make errors. We all did.

"Oh, fellows!" he pleaded and they could see that he was very much in
earnest, "let's get together and wallop every nine we play against from
now on! Take a brace. Forget all this feeling and get together. Matson
and Morton, I want you to shake hands, will you?"

"I'm willing," assented Joe eagerly, advancing toward Sam.

The latter hesitated a moment and then, feeling the eyes of all in the
dressing room on him, he mumbled:

"Well, as long as you don't think he's the star of the Stars, I'll
shake. Maybe I was a bit hasty," he went on, and this was a great deal
for Sam Morton to admit. He and Joe shook hands, though it cannot be
said that there was any warmth on the part of the pitcher. Still it was
better than open enmity, though Joe wondered if Sam would be really
friendly.

"That's better," commented the manager with something like a sigh of
relief.

"And don't let this go any further," suggested the captain. "We don't
want it known that there came near being a break in the Stars. Now get
together, fellows. Show up at practice strong next time, and we'll win
our next game!"

"That's the way to talk!" cried Tom Davis, and the crisis was
passed--for a time.

And, to the delight of Joe, he found that he had made many new friends,
chiefly because of his sensational run. The members of the team, of
course, crowded around him congratulating him, and asking him how he did
it. But, in addition, there now flocked into the dressing room a crowd
of lads who had witnessed the game. Some of them were high school pupils
who knew Joe, at least by sight, but they now came up and spoke to him.
Other town lads did the same thing.

"Gee! It's great to be popular!" exclaimed Tom, with a mock sigh. "Why
wasn't I born a home-run hitter instead of good looking, I wonder?"

"Get out!" laughed Joe. "Don't make me get a swelled head."

"No danger, I guess," retorted Tom.

Darrell and the captain strolled up to Joe, who had finished dressing.

"Well, that's over, for a while," said Darrell in a low voice, evidently
referring to the unpleasant little incident. "I want to ask you to do
some practicing, Matson. You need to try throwing a bit, for it's a long
heave in from centre field and, to be frank, you aren't any too good at
it."

"I'll practice every day," exclaimed our hero eagerly.

"And I'll coach him," added Tom.

"Get out, you lobster, you need coaching yourself," said the captain
with a laugh. "You'll get rusty if Darrell doesn't get off first and
give you a chance."

"I'll do it more often now," said the manager. "I want to be more on the
coaching line. Two wallops in two weeks is more than the Stars can
stand."

"Who do we play next week?" asked Tom.

"The Denville Whizzers, but I don't imagine we'll have much trouble with
them," said the manager. "However, it won't do to take any chances.
Practice hard, fellows," and with that he left the dressing room.

Sam Morton had gone out some time before and Joe and Tom soon followed.
As they strolled down the street toward their homes Tom said:

"Say Joe, I was in earnest in saying I'd coach you. I believe you do
need practice in throwing, and if you haven't given up the idea of
pitching some day----"

"I'll never give up the idea until I'm knocked out of the box," declared
Joe.

"Good! Then I'll help coach you. I was going to say it wasn't much fun
practicing alone, and as a matter of fact it doesn't do much good."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I've been reading up about baseball lately. I got a book on
pitching, and----"

"Say, will you lend it to me?" asked Joe eagerly. "Or tell me where I
can buy one?"

"Sure I will. I was going to say that it has articles in it by star
professional pitchers and a lot of them agree that it isn't much use
just to go out and throw a ball at a spot on the backstop or the fence."

"What's the best way then?" asked Joe, who had supposed from his limited
knowledge that to practice at hitting a certain spot with the ball was
about the best he could do.

"Why, they say the best is to get something like a home plate--a flat
stone say--and pitch over it with some one to catch for you."

"I suppose that would be a good way," began Joe doubtfully, "but who's
going to catch for me?"

"I am!" exclaimed Tom quickly. "I said just now that I'd coach you. I'll
do more than that, I'll catch for you. And the book I spoke of has other
tricks of practice, so a fellow can get good control of a ball. That's
the thing pitchers need it says--control. Say, we'll have some fun, you
and I, down in a vacant lot practicing. When can you come?"

"How about Monday afternoon?"

"Suits me first rate."

"All right, we'll make it then, and we'll get in some scientific
practice for you. Maybe after all, you'll pitch in Sam's place before
the season is over."

"I wouldn't want to do it, if it's going to make a row in the team."

"Oh, don't let that worry you. Lots of the fellows don't like Sam any
too well. They'd as soon have some one else in the box if he could
deliver the goods. Well, so long; see you Monday, if not before."

"I guess I'm glad dad moved to Riverside after all," mused Joe as he
walked toward home. "I was afraid I wouldn't like it at first, but now
I'm on the team it's all right. I hope dad doesn't have any business
troubles though. I wonder what is wrong for I'm sure something is. I
hope it doesn't prevent me from going to boarding school next year," and
with this reflection Joe went in the house.



CHAPTER XIV

A KETTLE OF APPLE SAUCE


"Well, Joe, are you all ready?" It was Tom Davis, and he had called at
Joe's house on his way from school, as Tom had to remain in physics
class to finish an experiment, and Joe had gone on ahead.

"I sure am, Tom. Where are we going to practice? Over on the
fairgrounds?"

"No, that's too far. We'll go down in the vacant lots back of Mrs.
Peterkin's house. There's a high fence back of her house and that will
be a good backstop, in case I can't hold your hot ones."

"Oh, I guess you can all right," replied Joe with a laugh, "though I
wish I did have lots of speed."

"Say now, don't make that mistake," said Tom earnestly, as Joe came out
to join him, having picked up some old balls and a pitcher's glove.

"What mistake?"

"Trying for speed before you have control. I saw an article about that
in the pitching book last night. I brought it along. Here it is," and
both boys looked eagerly over the book as they walked along.

As Tom had said, some of the best authorities on pitching did advocate
the trying for control before a prospective boxman endeavored to get
either speed or curves.

"The thing seems to be," remarked Joe, "to get a ball just where you
want it, ten times out of ten if you can, and then when you can do that,
try for the in and out shoots and the drop."

"That's it," agreed Tom. "Are you any good at throwing stones?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"Well, one fellow says that the lad who can throw a stone straight can
generally throw a ball straight. We'll have a contest when we get down
to the lots. Nobody will see us there."

"I hope not," remarked Joe. "I don't want to be laughed at the way I was
when Sam caught me down at the fairgrounds. I guess he thought I was
trying for his place then, and that's what made him mad."

The two friends were soon down behind the high board fence that marked
the boundaries of the Peterkin property. It was rather a large
place--the Peterkin one--and was occupied by an aged couple. Mrs.
Alvirah Peterkin was quite a housewife, always engaged in some kitchen
or other household duties, while Ebenezer, her husband "puttered" around
the garden, as the folks of Riverside expressed it.

"Well, I guess we're all ready," remarked Tom, when he had picked out a
large flat stone to represent home plate. He took his position behind
it, with his back to the fence, so that if any balls got by him they
would hit the barrier and bound back.

Joe began to pitch, endeavoring to bear in mind what the book had said
about getting the balls where he wanted them.

"That was pretty far out from the plate," called Tom dubiously, after
one effort on the part of his chum.

"I know it was. Here's a better one."

"Good! That's the stuff. It was a strike all right--right over the
middle. Keep it up."

For a time Joe kept this up, pitching at moderate speed, and then the
temptation to "cut loose" could not be resisted. He "wound up" as he had
seen professional pitchers do and let the ball go. With considerable
force it went right through Tom's hands and crashed up against the fence
with a resounding bang. It was the first ball Tom had let get past him.

"That was a hot one all right!" the catcher called, "but it was away
out."

"All right, I'll slow down again," said Joe. He was a little
disappointed that he could not combine speed and accuracy.

The boys were about to resume their practice when a face, fringed with a
shock of white hair on top, and a little ring of whiskers encircling it
below, was raised over the edge of the fence, and a mild voice demanded:

"What you boys up to now--tryin' to knock down my fence?"

"Oh, hello, Mr. Peterkin," called Tom. "We're just playing
baseball--that's all."

"Where's the rest of ye?" the old man wanted to know.

"This is all there are of us," replied Tom, waving his hand toward Joe.

"Humph! Fust time I ever heard of two boys playin' a ball game all by
themselves," commented the aged man with a chuckle. "But I s'pose it's
one of them new-fangled kind. Land sakes, what th' world a-comin' t'
anyhow, I'd like t' know? Wa'al, keep on, only don't knock any boards
offen my fence," he stipulated as he resumed the making of his garden.

The boys laughingly promised and resumed their practice. Tom was a good
catcher and he had an accurate eye. He did not hesitate to tell Joe when
the balls were bad and he was a severe critic, for he had taken an
honest liking to the newcomer, and wanted to see him succeed.

"Just try for control," was the gist of his advice. "The rest if it will
take care of itself."

"Don't you want to pitch and let me catch for you?" asked Joe after a
bit, fearing that he was somewhat selfish.

"No, I don't specially need any practice at throwing," said Tom. "First
is my position. I like it better than any other, and catching is the
best practice I can have for that. Keep it up."

So Joe kept on, using moderate speed after the warning of Mr. Peterkin,
so that no more balls struck the fence. But then again came the almost
irresistible desire to put on "steam," and indulging in this Joe sent in
another "hot one."

Almost the instant it left his hand Joe realized that he had lost
control of the ball and that it was going wild. He instinctively reached
out to pull it back, but it was too late.

"Grab it!" he yelled to Tom.

The plucky little first baseman made a magnificent jump up in the air,
but the ball merely grazed the tip of his up-stretched glove. Then it
went on over the fence at undiminished speed. An instant later there
was the cry of alarm.

"Who did that?" demanded the voice--a voice full of anger. "Who threw
that ball? Oh! Oh! Of all things! I demand to know who did it?"

Joe and Tom were silent--looking blankly one at the other. Up over the
fence rose the mild and bewhiskered face of Mr. Peterkin.

"Boys," asked the aged man gently. "Did anything happen? It sounds like
it to me."

"I--I threw the ball over the fence," admitted Joe.

"Hum! Then I'm afraid something _did_ happen," went on Mr. Peterkin
still more gently. "Yes, I'm _sure_ of it," he added as the sound of
some one coming down the garden path could be heard. "Here comes
Alvirah. Something has happened. Do--do you want to run?" he asked, for
rumor had it that Mrs. Peterkin was possessed of no gentle temper and
Mr. Peterkin--well, he was a very mild-mannered man, every one knew
that. "Do you want to run?" he asked again.

"No," said Tom.

"Of course not," added Joe. "If we broke a window we'll pay for it--I'll
pay for it," he corrected himself, for he had thrown the ball.

Mrs. Peterkin advanced to where her husband was working in the garden.
The boys could not see the lady but they could hear her.

"You didn't throw that ball, did you, Ebenezer?" she asked. "If you
did--at your age--cutting up such foolish tricks as playing
baseball--I--I'll----"

"No, Alvirah, I didn't do it, of course not," Mr. Peterkin hastened to
say. "It was a couple of boys. Tom Davis and a friend of his. They were
playing ball back of the fence and----"

"And they've run off now, I'll venture!" exclaimed the rasping voice of
Mrs. Peterkin.

"No--no, I don't think so, Alvirah," said Mr. Peterkin mildly. "I--I
rather think they're there yet. I asked 'em if they didn't want to run
and----"

"You--asked them--if--they--didn't--want--to--run?" gasped Mrs.
Peterkin, as if unable to believe his words. "Why, the very--idea!"

"Oh, I knew they'd pay for any damage they did," said her husband
quickly, "and I--er--I sort of thought--well, anyhow they're over
there," and he pointed to the fence.

"Let me see them! Let me talk to them!" demanded Mrs. Peterkin.

"Stand on that soap box an' ye kin see over the fence," said Mr.
Peterkin. "But look out. The bottom is sort of soft an' ye may----"

He did not finish his sentence. The very accident he feared had
happened. Mrs. Peterkin, being a large and heavy woman, had stepped in
the middle of the box. The bottom boards, being old, had given way and
there she was--stuck with both feet in the soap box.

"Ebenezer!" she cried. "Help me! Don't you know any better than to stand
there staring at me? Haven't you got any senses?"

"Of course I'll help you, Alvirah," he said. "I rather thought you'd go
through that box."

"Then you'd no business to let me use it!" she snapped.

"It allers held _me_ up when I wanted to look over the fence," he said
mildly. "But then of course I never stepped in the middle of it," he
added as he helped his wife pull aside the broken boards so she could
step out. "I kept on the edges."

"Have those boys gone?" she demanded when free.

"I don't think so. I'll look," he volunteered as he turned the soap box
up on edge and peered over the fence. "No, they're here yet," he
answered as he saw Joe and Tom standing there, trying their best not to
laugh. "Was you wantin' to speak with 'em, Alvirah?"

"Speak with them! Of course I do!" she cried. "Tell them to come around
to the side gate. I'll _speak_ to them," and she drew herself up like an
angry hen.

"Did--did they smash a window?" asked Mr. Peterkin.

"Smash a window? I only wish it was no worse than that!" cried his wife.
"They threw their nasty baseball into a kettle of apple sauce that was
stewing on the stove, and the sauce splashed all over my clean kitchen.
Tell them to come around. I'll _speak_ to them!"

"I--I guess you'd better come in, boys," said Mr. Peterkin softly, as
he delivered the message over the fence. Then he added--but to
himself--"Maybe you might better have run while you had the chance."

"We're in for it I guess," murmured Tom, as he and Joe went around to
the side gate.



CHAPTER XV

JOE OVERHEARS SOMETHING


"Are you the boys who threw the baseball through my kitchen window into
my kettle of apple sauce?" demanded Mrs. Peterkin, as she confronted the
two culprits.

"I threw it," admitted Joe.

"But we didn't know it went into the apple sauce," added Tom.

"Nor through the window," spoke Joe for want of something better to say.
"It was a wild throw."

"Humph!" exclaimed the irate lady. "I don't know what kind of a throw it
was but I know _I_ was wild when I saw my kitchen. I never saw such a
sight in all my born days--never! You come and look at it."

"If--if you please I'd rather not," said Joe quickly. "I'll pay you
whatever damages you say, but I--I----"

"I just want you to see that kitchen!" insisted Mrs. Peterkin. "It's
surprising how mischievous boys can be when they try."

"But we didn't try," put in Tom. "This was an accident."

"Come and see my kitchen!" repeated Mrs. Peterkin firmly and she seemed
capable of taking them each by an ear and leading them in.

"You--you'd better go," advised Mr. Peterkin gently.

So they went, and truly the sight that met their eyes showed them that
Mrs. Peterkin had some excuse for being angry. On the stove there had
been cooking a large kettle of sauce made from early apples. The window
near the stove had been left open and through the casement the ball,
thrown with all Joe's strength, had flown, landing fairly into the
middle of the soft sauce.

The result may easily be imagined. It splattered all over the floor,
half way up on the side walls, and there were even spots of the sauce on
the ceiling. The top of the stove was covered with it, and as the lids
were hot they had burned the sugar to charcoal, while the kitchen was
filled with smoke and fumes.

"There!" cried Mrs. Peterkin, as she waved her hand at the scene of
ruin. "Did you ever see such a kitchen as that? And it was clean
scrubbed only this morning! Did you ever see anything like that? Tell
me!"

Joe and Tom were both forced to murmur that they had never beheld such a
sight before. And they added with equal but unexpressed truth that they
hoped they never would again.

"I'm willing to pay for the damage," said Joe once more, and his hand
went toward his pocket. "It was an accident."

"Maybe it was," sniffed Mrs. Peterkin. "I won't say that it wasn't, but
that won't clean my kitchen."

Joe caught at these words.

"I'm willing to help you clean up!" he exclaimed eagerly. "I often help
at home when my mother is sick. Let me do it, and I'll pay for the apple
sauce I spoiled."

"I'll help," put in Tom eagerly.

"Who is your mother?" asked Mrs. Peterkin, looking at Joe.

"Mrs. Matson," he replied.

"Oh, you're the new family that moved into town?" and there was
something of a change in the irate lady's manner.

"Yes, we live in the big yellow house near----"

"It's right back of our place, Mrs. Peterkin," put in Tom eagerly.

"Hum! I've been intending to call on your mother," went on Mrs.
Peterkin, ignoring Tom. "I always call on all the new arrivals in town,
but I've been so busy with my housework and Spring cleaning----"

She paused and gazed about the kitchen. _That_, at least, would need
cleaning over again.

"Yes," she resumed, "I always call and invite them to join our Sewing
and Dorcas Societies."

"My mother belonged to both!" exclaimed Joe eagerly. "That is in
Bentville where we lived. I heard her saying she wondered if there was a
society here."

"There is," answered Mrs. Peterkin majestically, "and I think I shall
call soon, and ask her to join. You may tell her I said so," she added
as if it was a great honor.

"I will," answered Joe. "And now if you'll tell me where I can get some
old cloths I'll help clean up this muss."

"Oh, I don't know," said Mrs. Peterkin slowly. Clearly her manner had
undergone a great change. "I suppose boys must have their fun," she said
with something like a sigh. "I know you didn't mean to do it, but my
apple sauce is spoiled."

"I'll pay for it," offered Joe eagerly. He was beginning to see a rift
in the trouble clouds.

"No," said Mrs. Peterkin, "it's all right. I have plenty more apples."

"Then let us help clean the place?" asked Tom.

"No, indeed!" she exclaimed, with as near a laugh as she ever indulged.
"I don't want any men folks traipsing around my kitchen. I'll clean it
myself."

"Well, let us black the stove for you," offered Tom.

"That's it, Alvirah," put in Mr. Peterkin quickly. He rather sided with
the boys, and he was glad that the mention of Joe's mother, and the
possibility of Mrs. Peterkin getting a new member for the societies, of
both of which she was president, had taken her mind off her desire for
revenge. "Let the boys black the stove. You know you always hate that
work."

"Well, I suppose they could do _that_," she admitted somewhat
reluctantly. "But don't splatter it all over, though the land knows
this kitchen can't be worse."

Behold then, a little later, two of the members of the Silver Star nine
industriously cleaning hardened apple sauce off the Peterkin kitchen
stove, and blackening it until it shone brightly.

"I'm glad Sam Morton can't see us," spoke Tom in a whisper.

"Yes; we'd never hear the last of it," agreed Joe.

They finished the work and even Mrs. Peterkin, careful housekeeper that
she was, admitted that the stove "looked fairly good."

"And be sure and tell your mother that I'm coming to call on her," she
added, as Joe and Tom were about to leave.

"Yes, ma'am," answered the centre fielder, and then he paused on the
threshold of the kitchen.

"Have you forgotten something?" asked Mrs. Peterkin, who was preparing
to give the place a thorough scrubbing.

"We--er--that is----" stammered Joe.

"It's their baseball, I guess," put in Mr. Peterkin. "It is in the
kettle of apple sass, Alvirah."

"Oh, yes; so it is," she agreed, and this time she really laughed.
"Well, you may have it," she added. "I don't want it." With a dipper she
fished it up from the bottom of the kettle, put it under the water
faucet to clean it, and held it out to Joe.

"Thanks," he said as he took it and hurried off with Tom, before
anything more could be said.

"Whew!" exclaimed Tom, when they were out in the lots again. "That was a
hot time while it lasted. And we got out of it mighty lucky, thanks to
your mother. Mrs. Peterkin is great on the society business, and I guess
she thought if she gave it to us too hot your mother wouldn't call on
her. Yes, we were lucky all right. Want to practice some more?"

"Not to-day," replied Joe with a smile. "I've had enough. Besides, this
ball is all wet and slippery. Anyhow there's lots more time, and I guess
the next day we do it we'll go down to the fairgrounds."

"Yes, there's more room there, and no kettles of apple sauce," agreed
Tom, with a laugh.

As Tom had an errand to do down town for his father he did not accompany
Joe back to their respective homes.

"I'll see you to-night," he called to his chum, as they parted, "and
we'll arrange for some more practice. I think it's doing you good."

"I know my arm is a bit sore," complained Joe.

"Then you want to take good care of it," said Tom quickly. "All the
authorities in the book say that a pitching arm is too valuable to let
anything get the matter with it. Bathe it with witch hazel to-night."

"I will. So long."

As Joe had not many lessons to prepare that night, and as it was still
rather early and he did not want to go home, he decided to take a
little walk out in the country for a short distance. As he trudged along
he was thinking of many things, but chief of all was his chances for
becoming at least a substitute pitcher on the Silver Stars.

"If I could get in the box, and was sure of going to boarding school, I
wouldn't ask anything else in this world," said Joe to himself. Like all
boys he had his ambitions, and he little realized how such ambitions
would change as he became older. But they were sufficient for him now.

Before he knew it he had covered several miles, for the day was a fine
Spring one, just right for walking, and his thoughts, being subject to
quick changes, his feet kept pace with them.

As he made a turn in the road he saw, just ahead of him, an old building
that had once, so some of the boys had told him, been used as a
spring-house for cooling the butter and milk of the farm to which it
belonged. But it had now fallen into disuse, though the spring was there
yet.

The main part of it was covered by the shed, but the water ran out into
a hollowed-out tree trunk where a cocoanut shell hung as a dipper.

"Guess I'll have a drink," mused Joe. "I'm as dry as a fish and that's
fine water." He had once taken some when he and Tom Davis took a
country stroll.

As he was sipping the cool beverage he heard inside the old shed the
murmur of voices.

"Hum! Tramps I guess," reasoned Joe to himself. But a moment later he
knew it could not be tramps for the words he heard were these:

"And do you think you can get control of the patents?"

"I'm sure of it," was the answer. "He doesn't know about the reverting
clause in his contract, and he's working on a big improvement in a
corn----"

Then the voice died away, though Joe strained his ears in vain to catch
the other words. Somehow he felt vaguely uneasy.

"Where have I heard that first voice before?" he murmured, racking his
brains. Then like a flash it came to him. The quick, incisive tones were
those of Mr. Rufus Holdney, of Moorville, to whom he had once gone with
a letter from Mr. Matson.

"And if you can get the patents," went on Mr. Holdney, "then it means a
large sum of money."

"For both of us," came the eager answer, and Joe wondered whom the other
man could be.

"You are sure there won't be any slip-up?" asked Mr. Holdney.

"Positively. But come on. We've been here long enough and people might
talk if they saw us here together. Yet I wanted to have a talk with you
in a quiet place, and this was the best one I could think of. I own this
old farm."

"Very well, then I'll be getting back to Moorville. Be sure to keep me
informed how the thing goes."

"I will."

There was a movement inside the shed as if the men were coming out.

"I'd better make myself scarce," thought Joe.

He had just time to drop down behind a screen of bushes when the two men
did emerge. Joe had no need to look to tell who one was, but he was
curious in regard to the other. Cautiously he peered up, and his heart
almost stopped beating as he recognized Mr. Isaac Benjamin, the manager
of the Royal Harvester Works where the boy's father was employed.

"There's some crooked work on hand, I'll bet a cookie!" murmured Joe, as
he crouched down again while the two men walked off up the country
road.



CHAPTER XVI

MR. MATSON IS ALARMED


Joe Matson did not know what to do. He wanted to rush away from where he
was concealed, get home as quickly as possible, and tell his father what
he had overheard. While Mr. Matson's name had not been mentioned,
knowing, as Joe did, that his parent was engaged on some patents, seeing
Mr. Benjamin, manager of the Harvester works, and having heard the
conversation between him and Mr. Holdney, the lad was almost certain
that some danger threatened his father.

"And yet I can't get away from here until they're well out of sight,"
reasoned Joe. "If I go now they'll see or hear me, and they'll be bound
to suspect something. Yet I'd like to warn dad as soon as I can. There's
no telling when they may put up some job against him."

But Joe could only crouch down there and wait.

At length he could stand it no longer. He reasoned that the men must be
far enough away by this time to make it safe for him to emerge.

"They're on the road to Riverside," thought Joe, "and I may run into
them, but if I see them I can slip into the fields and go around. Mr.
Benjamin doesn't know me, for he's hardly ever noticed me when I've been
to the Harvester works to see dad. But Mr. Holdney might remember me. I
can't take any chances."

Cautiously he emerged from the bushes, and looked as far down the road
as he could. There was no one in sight, and he started off. A little
distance farther on, the road made a sharp turn and, just at the angle
stood an old barn which hid the rest of the highway from sight until one
was right at the turn. It was a dangerous place for vehicles, but the
owner of the barn had refused to set it back.

No sooner had Joe turned this corner than he came full upon Mr. Benjamin
and Mr. Holdney standing just around the barn, apparently in deep
conversation. At the sight of Joe they looked up quickly, and Mr.
Benjamin exclaimed:

"Ha! Perhaps this lad can tell us. We want to hire a carriage. Do you
know any one around here who would let us take one for a short time?"

Joe, who had started back at the unexpected sight of the two men, took
courage on hearing this, and realizing that he had not yet been
recognized.

"I don't know any one around here," he said. "I'm pretty much of a
stranger myself, but have you tried at this farmhouse?" and he pointed
toward the one where the owner of the barn lived.

"Oh, we don't want a farm horse!" exclaimed Mr. Holdney. "We want
something that has some speed." Then, as he looked more fully at Joe he
exclaimed: "Haven't I seen you somewhere before, my lad? I'm sure I
have!"

He took a step toward our hero, and Joe's heart gave a flutter. He was
almost certain that Mr. Holdney would recognize him and then the next
step would be to ask where he had been. The men might at once suspect
that he had at least come past the place where they had been talking in
secret, and they might even suspect that he had listened to them. Joe
was in a predicament.

"I'm sure I've met you somewhere before," went on Mr. Holdney, in his
quick, nervous tones. "Do you live around here?"

"Yes," answered Joe vaguely. "But I don't know where you could get a
fast horse unless it's in town--in Riverside."

He was about to pass on, hoping the men would not further bother him,
when Mr. Holdney, coming a step nearer, said with great firmness:

"I'm sure I've seen you before. What's your name?"

Like a flash a way out of it came to Joe, and that without telling an
untruth.

"I play on the Silver Stars," he said quickly. "You may have seen me at
some of the games," which was perfectly possible.

"That's it!" exclaimed Mr. Holdney. "I knew it was somewhere. Now----"

"I'm going into Riverside," went on Joe quickly. "If you like I'll stop
at the livery stable and tell them to send out a rig for you if you want
to wait here for it."

"The very thing!" exclaimed Mr. Benjamin. "Let him do that, Rufus.
Here's a quarter to pay for your trouble, my lad."

"No, thank you!" exclaimed Joe with a laugh. "I'm glad to do you a
favor."

"All right," assented Mr. Benjamin. "If you'll send out a two-seated
carriage and a man to drive it we'll be obliged to you. Then we can
drive over and see Duncan," he added to Mr. Holdney. "We'll fix this
thing all up now."

"Yes, and if it's my father you're trying to 'fix,'" mused Joe, "I'll do
my best to put a stop to it. Now, it's up to me to hurry home," and
telling the men that he would do the errand for them, the lad hastened
off down the road, leaving the two conspirators in earnest conversation.

The livery stable keeper readily agreed to send out the carriage, and
then Joe lost no time in hurrying to his house.

"Has father come home yet?" he asked of his mother, for sometimes Mr.
Matson came from the harvester works earlier than the regular stopping
time.

"No," answered Mrs. Matson, "why, what is the matter, Joe? Has anything
happened?" for she noticed by his face that something out of the usual
had occurred.

"Oh, I don't know," he answered slowly. He was revolving in his mind
whether or not he ought to tell his mother. Then, as he recollected that
his father always consulted her on business matters, he decided that he
would relate his experience.

"Mother," he said, "isn't father interested in some sort of a patent
about corn?"

"About corn? Oh, I know what you mean. Yes, he is working on an
improvement to a corn reaper and binder. It is a machine partly owned by
the harvester people, but he expects to make considerable money by
perfecting the machine. It is very crude now, and doesn't do good work."

"And if he does perfect it, and some one gets the patents away from
him, he _won't_ make the money!" exclaimed Joe.

"Joe, what do you mean?" cried his mother in alarm. "I am sure something
has happened. What is it?"

"It hasn't happened yet, but it may any time," answered the lad, and
then he told of what he had overheard, and his ideas of what was
pending.

"That's why I wanted to see father in a hurry, to warn him," he
concluded.

"Joe, I believe you're right!" exclaimed Mrs. Matson. "Your father ought
to be told at once. I don't know what he can do--if anything--to prevent
these men getting ahead of him. Oh, it's too bad! I know he always
suspected Mr. Benjamin of not being strictly honest, but Mr. Holdney
used to be his friend and on several occasions has loaned your father
money. Oh, this is too bad, but perhaps it isn't too late. If I were you
I'd go down toward the harvester works and you may meet father coming
home. Then you can tell him all about it, and he may want to go back and
get some of his papers, or parts of the machine, from his office so
those men can't take them."

"That's the very thing, mother!" cried Joe. "You ought to have been a
man--or a boy and a baseball player! You can think so quickly. That
reminds me; I had quite an experience to-day. Just say 'apple sauce' to
me when I get back, and I'll tell you all about it."

"It can't be possible!" exclaimed Mr. Matson, when Joe, having met him
just outside the harvester works, told him of what he had heard. "It
hardly seems possible that they would do such a thing. But I'm glad you
told me, Joe."

"Do you think they meant you, dad? I didn't hear them mention your
name."

"Of course they meant me!" declared Mr. Matson. "The warning came just
in time, too, for only to-day I finished an important part of the
machinery and the pattern of it is in my office now. I must go back and
get it. Wait here for me."

As Joe stood at the outer gate of the big harvester plant he heard the
sound of a carriage approaching, and turning around he saw Mr. Benjamin
and Mr. Holdney coming along in the rig Joe had had sent out to them
only a little while before.

"I thought better to drive back here first, and go see Duncan later,"
Mr. Benjamin was saying, and then both men caught sight of our hero.



CHAPTER XVII

A THROWING CONTEST


"Ha!" exclaimed Mr. Benjamin. "There's that same lad again!"

"What lad?" quickly demanded Mr. Holdney. "Oh, the one who sent us out
this rig. I wonder----"

"Did you want to see any one around the works?" interrupted Mr.
Benjamin. "I don't want to seem impolite, after the service you
rendered, but we don't allow loiterers here."

A number of thoughts passed rapidly through Joe's mind. He realized that
his father might come out at any moment and be seen by the manager
carrying off the valuable patterns. Mr. Matson ought to be warned, for
Joe realized that if they were to frustrate the conspiracy it would be
best that the men did not know that they were on the verge of discovery.

"I want to take a message to Mr. Matson," said Joe boldly, for this was
the truth. He had quickly formed a plan in his mind, and he hoped that
it would not be discovered that he was Mr. Matson's son. It was this
very trick of quick thinking that afterward became of so much service to
Joe in his notable career on the diamond.

"Oh, then it's all right," said Mr. Benjamin. "You may go in. You'll
find Mr. Matson in his office, I dare say." He smiled at Joe in what he
doubtless meant to be a friendly fashion, but the young baseball player
could not help but see the hypocrisy in it.

Not pausing to exchange any other talk, Joe slipped in through the big
iron gate and made his way to his father's office. He had been there
before.

Just as he reached it the heavy whistle blew, announcing closing time,
and hundreds of hands began pouring from the various machine and casting
shops.

"Hello, Joe!" called Seth Potter, who played left field for the Silver
Stars. "What you doing here, looking for a job?" Seth was employed in
one of the offices, and was considered a valuable young man.

"Yes, I want to learn how to make a machine so I don't miss any flies
that come my way," laughed Joe.

"That's right! Going to play with us Saturday?"

"I hope so," and then, with a few other pleasant words, Seth hurried on,
and Joe sought his father. He found Mr. Matson wrapping up some models.

"Quick dad!" he exclaimed. "Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Holdney are out at the
gate. They just drove up. I slipped in to warn you!"

"Good, Joe! I'm glad you did. I wouldn't want them to see me taking
these things away, for it would tell them that their game was
discovered, and I want to find out more of what their plans are before
they are aware of it."

"But how you going to get out?" asked his son. "They're there yet," he
added, for he could look from a window and see the carriage still at the
gate.

"Oh, you and I can slip out the back way. It's lucky you told me. There,
I'm ready," and having locked his desk, Mr. Matson took his package and
with Joe went out of a rear exit, going home by a roundabout way so that
the conspirators did not see them.

"My! I wish this thing hadn't happened, or that it was postponed for a
while," said Mr. Matson thoughtfully as he walked along.

"Why, is it likely to be serious, dad?"

"I'm afraid so. You see I have a peculiar arrangement with the harvester
concern in regard to things that I might invent. It is too complicated
to go into all the details, but I have to trust to their honor to give
me my rights in certain matters. If they wanted to they could deprive me
of the benefits of my patents and the law could not help me. So I have
to be very careful. Up to now I have trusted Mr. Benjamin implicitly,
but now--now I will be on my guard. It is a lucky thing you overheard
that talk."

There was an earnest consultation between Mr. and Mrs. Matson that
night, to which Joe and his sister were not admitted, for it was
business they would not have understood. But at the close they were told
to say nothing of what had happened that day.

"I will keep right on at the harvester works as if nothing had
occurred," said Mr. Matson, "and then they will not get suspicious. But
I will do the most important and secret work on my invention here at
home."

"Now that it is all settled," said Clara, "I'm going to say 'apple
sauce' to you, Joe. What does it mean?"

"Oh, yes," and the young baseball player laughed. "Well I guess you've
got to join the Dorcas and Sewing societies, mother, to keep me out of a
scrape," and with many funny touches Joe told about his wild throw that
day, making an amusing story of it.

"Oh, I would have given anything if some of the girls and I could have
been there when you and Tom were blacking the stove!" exclaimed Clara
with a laugh.

"I'm glad you weren't," declared Joe, "though it's lucky we didn't have
to mop up the floor. After this I'm going to go a mile away from her
house when I want to practice throwing."

"I should think you would," agreed Mr. Matson.

"But you'll join those societies; won't you mother?" asked Joe.

"Oh, I suppose I'll have to, in order to keep you out of prison," she
agreed with a laugh. "But please don't make any more engagements for me,
as my time is pretty well occupied."

It was two days after this when Tom Davis, coming out of school, caught
up with Joe who was a little in advance of him.

"Got anything special to do?" asked the substitute first baseman.

"No, why?"

"I thought maybe you'd like to go out in the lot again, and have some
more practice."

"Back of Mrs. Peterkin's house?" asked Joe with a smile.

"I should say not! But I've got a new scheme. I read about it in that
baseball book. We'll have a contest for long distance throwing and
accuracy."

"How do you mean?"

"Why you and I'll go down in the same lots but we'll throw in the other
direction. Then we can't hit anything. We'll see who can throw the
farthest. You'll need to practice that if you are to play centre field."

"What's the other contest?"

"For straight aim. I'll get an old basket, and we'll see who can land
the most balls in it. Want to try?"

"Sure. Anything to improve myself," said Joe earnestly.

A little later he and his chum were on their way to the vacant lots. As
they walked along they met several other lads, some of whom played on
the regular team, a few from the High School nine, and some from the
Silver Star scrub.

"What's doing?" demanded Rodney Burke.

"We're going to see who is the best thrower," answered Tom.

"Give us a show at it?" requested Ford Wilson.

"Sure," assented Joe. "The more, the merrier."

Soon a jolly crowd of youngsters were taking turns at the long distance
throwing. After several tries the record lay between Joe and Rodney
Burke, and they played off a tie, Joe winning by about seven feet.

"That's a good throw all right," complimented the loser.

"A fellow who's playing centre field needs to have a pretty good heave,"
said Joe. "Especially if he's up against a heavy-hitting team."

"And that's been our luck for some time past," spoke Tom. "Well, now for
the basket test."

This was more difficult than straight throwing for distance and several
of the lads dropped out, being disqualified by failures. But Tom, Joe
and Rodney remained in, and for a time it was pretty even between them.
Finally it narrowed down to Tom and Joe, and they were just ready to
throw the deciding round when a new voice called out:

"Any objections to me joining?"

Joe and the others turned, to see the half-mocking face of Sam Morton.



CHAPTER XVIII

ANOTHER DEFEAT


For a moment there was some embarrassment, as Sam was not in the habit
of mingling with this crowd of boys. He had his own friends, not very
many, to tell the truth, but he was usually with them. The lads did not
know exactly how to take his request, but Joe came to the rescue.

"Sure you can come in," he said heartily. "We're just seeing who can put
the most balls in the basket."

"What good do you think that does?" asked Sam.

"Well, doesn't it help a fellow to get a straight aim?" asked Tom, half
defiantly.

"Oh, I don't know," was the rather sneering answer. "It might, if you
kept at it long enough."

"Let's see you try it," suggested Rodney Burke, who did not hold Sam in
much awe.

Carelessly the Silver Star pitcher accepted a ball that Joe obligingly
held out. He threw quickly and the ball landed squarely in the basket.
Then he did the trick again, and there was a little murmur of applause,
for only a few of the boys had "two straight" to their credit.

"Joe did three straight a while ago," said Tom proudly. "He and I are
playing off a tie."

Sam did not answer but threw again, and the ball went wide of the basket
by two feet at least. Rodney laughed.

"You're not such a much, even if you are the pitcher," he declared.

"Who asked you anything about it?" demanded Sam savagely.

He darted a look of anger at the lad, but as Rodney was well built and
had a reputation for "scrappiness" Sam concluded not to tackle him just
then.

"I'll show you how to throw!" he exclaimed the next moment, and two
balls went squarely in the basket. "Now, let's see you and Matson play
it off," commanded Sam to Tom as though he was in the habit of having
his wishes complied with.

Whether it was nervousness or not, or whether he wanted to see his chum
do well when Sam was present, was not made manifest, but Tom did not
come up to his previous record, and Joe easily won. In fact Joe made a
much better score than Sam, and there were several curious glances
directed at the pitcher.

"Don't you want to try it some more?" asked Rodney Burke, and there was
mockery in his voice.

"No!" half-growled Sam. "I've got to save my arm for the next game.
We're going to win that sure. So long," and with that he turned and
strode away.

"As cheerful as a bear with a sore nose," remarked Rodney.

Ordinarily but little importance would have been attached to the coming
game with the Denville Whizzers, but on account of two previous defeats,
Darrell Blackney and George Rankin had several conferences concerning
it. The captain and manager were plainly worried.

"Do you wish you had some one else to put in the box?" asked Rankin.

"Well, not exactly," was the answer. "I haven't lost faith in Sam, but I
do wish we could depend more on him. He'll pitch fine for several
innings and then go to pieces. He tries to use too much speed and too
many varieties of curves, I think."

"By the way, what do you think of young Matson?" asked the captain.

"I think a good deal of him. He doesn't amount to much as yet, but he's
in earnest and he's got grit. In time I think he'll make a player."

"He wants to pitch."

"I know he does, but it's out of the question yet. Have you any line on
him?"

"Not yet," answered Rankin, "but I'll keep my eyes open. He's a good
fielder all right, now that he isn't so nervous. He wants to play his
head off. But Sam--well, we can't do any better right away, and--well, I
guess we'll win this game."

"We've got to!" insisted the manager earnestly, "if we want the people
of Riverside to support us. They won't come to see a losing home team
all the while."

The game with the Whizzers was to take place on their grounds, and early
on that morning the Silver Stars, some substitutes, and a crowd of
"rooters" got ready for the trip. Denville was about seven miles from
Riverside, back from the stream, and could be reached by trolley. A
special car had been engaged for the team.

The game started off well, and the Silver Stars got three runs in their
half of the first inning. The home team was blanked and for a time it
looked as if there would be an easy victory for the visitors.

Sam was pitching in good form, and had struck several men out. For three
innings the home team did not get a run, and there was only one to their
credit in the fourth. There was gloom and despair among their supporters
while the "rooters" of the visiting team were happy singing songs and
yelling.

Joe played well and had two outs to his credit on long flies, with no
errors to mar his record. But he noticed that as the home team came to
the bat in their half of the fifth, in which the Silver Stars had made
two runs, that Darrell and the captain were in earnest consultation with
Sam. They seemed to be remonstrating with him, and Joe heard the manager
say:

"Take it easy now; we have the game on ice."

"Oh, I know how to play ball," retorted the pitcher.

Then began a series of happenings. With a lead of four runs when the
last half of the fifth started it would have seemed that the Stars might
have won out. But Sam fell a prey to the applause of the crowd and began
to do "grandstand" work. He contorted his body unnecessarily in winding
up for a delivery. He hopped about before pitching the ball and he
failed to study the batters, though he had had plenty of chance to do
so.

The result was that he went to pieces through sheer weariness and began
giving balls. Then the home team, realizing what was happening, began to
pound him, and to steal bases. In their half of the fifth the home team
made six runs, putting them two ahead.

"We've got to stop that!" said Darrell, with a shake of his head.

"We sure have," agreed the captain.

There was somewhat of a brace on the part of the Stars and they made one
run in their part of the sixth. But the Whizzers kept pace with them.
The seventh inning resulted in one run for the visitors and none for the
home team and that made only a lead of one for the home nine.

Joe brought in a run in the eighth, but as if it had been prearranged
the home team duplicated so the score at the beginning of the ninth
stood eight to nine in favor of the home team.

"We need two runs to win, if we can serve them goose eggs for lunch,"
said the Silver Star captain grimly. "Go to it, boys; beat 'em out."

"Sure we will," said Sam airily, and he brought in one of the needed
two runs. Darrell contributed the other, and when the visiting team took
the field they were one ahead.

"Don't let a man get to first!" cried Captain Rankin.

But it was not to be. Sam gave the first man his base on balls and there
was a groan of anguish from his fellows and the Riverside crowd. Then
the second man whacked out what appeared to be a pretty three bagger,
scoring the runner from first. The batter slipped on his way from second
to third, however, and was put out when Joe made a magnificent throw in
from deep centre.

With one out Sam gathered himself together and struck out the next man.
Then came to the bat the mightiest walloper of the rival team.

"Wait for a good one. Make him give you what you want," advised the
coacher to the batter.

And the latter did wait, for when he got what he wanted he "slammed it"
away out in centre field.

"A home run! A home run!" yelled the frantic crowd.

"And win the game!" shouted a score of the players' friends. "Come on,
baby-mine!"

Joe was madly racing after the ball, which had gone away beyond him. He
got it and hurled it to second for a relay home, as a quick glance had
shown him the man rounding third.

Straight and true the ball went and the baseman had it. Then he sent it
to Catcher Ferguson as the runner was racing in. Sam had run from his
box and stood watching and expectant near home plate.

The runner dropped and slid and Bart Ferguson, as the ball landed in his
mitt, reached over to touch him.

"Safe!" howled the umpire, and it meant the defeat of the Silver Stars.

For a moment there was silence and then Sam, stepping up to the umpire,
a lad smaller than himself, said:

"Safe, eh? Not in a thousand years! You don't know how to umpire a game.
Safe! I guess not!" and drawing back his fist Sam sent it crashing into
the face of the other lad.



CHAPTER XIX

JOE IS WATCHED


There was an uproar in an instant. Players started for Sam and the
unoffending lad whom he had struck. There were savage yells, calling for
vengeance. Even Sam's mates, used as they were to his fits of temper,
were not prepared for this. The Whizzer players were wild to get at him,
but, instinctively Darrell, Joe, Rankin, and some of the others of the
Silver Stars formed a protecting cordon about their pitcher.

"Are you crazy, Sam? What in the world did you do that for?" demanded
the manager.

"He made a rank decision, an unfair one!" cried Sam, "and when I called
him down he was going to hit me. I got in ahead of him--that's all."

"That's not so!" cried the Whizzer captain. "I saw it all."

"That's right!" chimed in some of his mates.

"Farson never raised his hand to him!" declared another lad, who had
been standing near the umpire. "You're a big coward to hit a chap
smaller than you are!" he called tauntingly to Sam.

"Well, I'm not afraid to hit you!" cried the pitcher, who seemed to have
lost control of himself. "And if you want anything you know how to get
it."

"Yes, and I'm willing to take it right now," yelled the other, stepping
up to Sam.

There might have been another fight then and there, for both lads were
unreasonable with anger, but Darrell quickly stepped in between them.

"Look here!" burst out the Stars' manager, in what he tried to make a
good-natured and reasoning voice, "this has got to stop. We didn't come
here to fight, we came to play baseball and you trimmed us properly."

"Then why don't you fellows take your medicine?" demanded the home
captain. "What right has he got to tackle our umpire?"

"No right at all," admitted Darrell. "Sam was in the wrong and he'll
apologize. He probably thought the man was out."

"And he _was_ out!" exploded the unreasonable pitcher. "I'll not
apologize, either."

"Wipe up the field with 'em!" came in murmurs from the home players.
Several of the lads had grasped their bats.

It was a critical moment and Darrell felt it. He pulled Sam to one side
and whispered rapidly and tensely in his ear:

"Sam, you've got to apologize, and you've got to admit that the runner
was safe. There's no other way out of it."

"Suppose I won't?"

There was defiance in Sam's air. Darrell took a quick decision.

"Then I'll put you out of the team!" was his instant rejoinder, and it
came so promptly that Sam winced.

Now it is one thing to resign, but quite another to be read out of an
organization, whether it be a baseball team or a political society. Sam
realized this. He might have, in his anger, refused to belong to the
Silver Stars and, later on he could boast of having gotten out of his
own accord. But to be "fired" carried no glory with it, and Sam was ever
on the lookout for glory.

"Do you mean that?" he asked of Darrell. "Won't you fellows stick up for
me?"

He looked a vain appeal to his mates.

"I mean every word of it," replied the manager firmly. "We fellows would
stick up for you if you were in the right, but you're dead wrong this
time. It's apologize or get out of the team!"

Once more Sam paused. He could hear the angry murmurs of the home
players as they watched him, waiting for his decision. Even some of his
own mates were regarding him with unfriendly eyes. He must make a virtue
of necessity.

"All right--I--I apologize," said Sam in a low voice. "The runner was
safe I guess."

"You'd better be sure about it," said the captain of the Whizzers, in a
peculiar tone as he looked at Sam.

"Oh, I'm sure all right."

"And you're sorry you hit our umpire?" persisted the captain, for Sam's
apology had not been very satisfactory.

"Yes. You needn't rub it in," growled the pitcher.

"Then why don't you shake hands with him, and tell him so like a man?"
went on the home captain.

"I won't shake hands with him!" exclaimed the small umpire. "I don't
shake hands with cowards!"

There was another murmur, and the trouble that had been so nearly
adjusted threatened to break out again. But Darrell was wise in his
day.

"That's all right!" he called, more cheerily than he felt. "You fellows
beat us fairly and on the level. We haven't a kick coming, but we may
treat you to a dose of the same medicine when we have a return game; eh,
old man?" and he made his way to the opposing captain and the manager
and cordially shook hands with them. There was a half cheer from the
Whizzers. They liked a good loser.

"Yes, maybe you can turn the tables on us," admitted the other manager,
"but I hope when we do come to Riverside you'll have a different
pitcher," and he glanced significantly at Sam.

"No telling," replied Darrell with a laugh. "Come on, fellows. We'll
give three cheers for the team that beat us and then we'll beat it for
home."

It was rather a silent crowd of the Silver Stars that rode in the
special trolley. Following them was another car containing some of the
"rooters." They made up in liveliness what the team members lacked in
spirits, for there were a number of girls with the lads, Joe's sister
and Tom's being among them, and they started some school songs.

And the gloom that seemed to hang over the Stars was not altogether
because of their defeat. It was the remembrance of Sam's unsportsmanlike
act, and it rankled deep.

On his part it is doubtful if Sam felt any remorse. He was a
hot-tempered lad, used to having his own way, and probably he thought he
had done just right in chastising the umpire for what he regarded as a
rank decision.

Darrell, Rankin and some of the others tried to be jolly and start a
line of talk that would make the lads forget the unpleasant incident,
but it is doubtful if they succeeded to any great extent.

The manager was seriously considering the future of the team. Was it
wise to go on with such a pitcher as Sam who, though talented, could not
be relied upon and who was likely to make "breaks" at unexpected times?

"Yet what can we do?" asked Darrell of the captain. "Is there another
man we could put in or get from some other team?"

"I don't believe any other team would part with a good pitcher at this
time of the season," replied Rankin. "Surely not if he was a real good
one, and we want one that _is_ good. As for using some of the other
fellows in Sam's place, I don't know of any one that's anywhere near as
good as he is."

"How about Percy Parnell? He's pitched some, hasn't he?"

"Yes, but you know what happened. He was knocked out of the box and we
were whitewashed that game."

"Say!" exclaimed Darrell. "I just happened to think of it. That
new fellow--Joe Matson. He told me he used to pitch in his home
town--Bentville I think it was. I wonder if he'd be any good?"

"Hard telling," replied the captain, somewhat indifferently. "We ought
to do something, anyhow."

"I tell you what I'm going to do," went on Darrell. "I'm going to write
to some one in Bentville. I think I know an old baseball friend there,
and I'll ask him what Matson's record was. If he made good at all we
might give him a tryout."

"And have Sam get on his ear?"

"I don't care whether he does or not. Things can't be much worse; can
they?"

"No, I guess not. Go ahead. I'm with you in anything you do. Three
straight wallops in three weeks have taken the heart out of me."

"Same here. Well, we'll see what we can do."

Joe reached home that night rather tired and discouraged. He felt the
defeat of his team keenly, and the more so as the nine he had played
with in Bentville had had a much better record than that of the Silver
Stars--at least so far, though the Silver Stars were an older and
stronger team.

"I wonder if I'm the hoodoo?" mused Joe. "They lost the first game I saw
them play, and the next one I played in they lost, and here's this one.
I hope I'm not a jinx."

Then he reviewed his own playing in the two games where he had had a
chance to show what he could do, and he had no fault to find with his
efforts. True, he had made errors; but who had not?

"I'm going to keep on practicing," mused Joe. "If I can work up in speed
and accuracy, and keep what curving power I have already, I may get a
chance to pitch. Things are coming to a head with Sam, and, though I
don't wish him any bad luck, if he _does_ get out I hope I get a chance
to go in."

Following this plan, Joe went off by himself one afternoon several days
later to practice throwing in the empty lot. He used a basket to hold
the balls he pitched and he was glad to find that he had not gone back
any from the time when he and Tom, with the other lads, had had their
contest.

"If I can only keep this up," mused the lad, "I'll get there some day.
Jove! If ever I should become one of the big league players! Think of
taking part in the World's series! Cracky! I'd rather be in the box,
facing the champions, than to be almost anything else I can think of.
Forty thousand people watching you as you wind up and send in a swift
one like this!"

And with that Joe let fly a ball with all his speed toward the basket.
He was not so much intent on accuracy then as he was in letting off some
surplus "steam," and he was not a little surprised when the ball not
only went _into_ the basket but _through_ it, ripping out the bottom.

"Wow!" exclaimed Joe. "I'm throwing faster than I thought I was. That
basket is on the fritz. But if I'd been sending a ball over the plate it
would have had some speed back of it, and it would have gone to the
right spot."

As Joe went to pick up the ball and examine the broken basket more
closely a figure peered out from a little clump of trees on the edge of
the field where the lad was practicing. The figure watched the would-be
pitcher closely and then murmured:

"He certainly has _speed_ all right. I'd like to be back of the plate
and watch him throw them in. I wonder if he has anything in him after
all? It's worth taking a chance on. I'll wait a bit longer."

The figure dodged behind the trees again as Joe once more took his
position. He had stuffed some grass in the hole in the peach basket he
was using, and again he threw in it.

He was just as accurate as before, and, now and then, when he cut
loose, he sent the ball with unerring aim and with great force into the
receptacle, several times knocking it down off the stake on which it
was fastened.

"I don't know as there's much use in writing to Bentville to find out
about him," mused the figure hidden by the trees. "If he's got that
speed, and continues to show the control he has to-day, even without any
curves he'd be a help to us. I'm going to speak to Rankin about it," and
with that the figure turned away.

Had Joe looked he would have seen Darrell Blackney, manager of the
Silver Stars, who had been playing the innocent spy on him.



CHAPTER XX

"WOULD YOU LIKE TO PITCH?"


"Come now, fellows, let's get into practice. Are all the scrub here?"

Darrell Blackney looked around over the diamond, where about twenty lads
were assembled one fine afternoon.

"I don't know about the scrub, but all our fellows are on hand," replied
Rankin. "Is it all arranged about the game Saturday?"

"Yes, we're to play the Fayetteville Academy lads on their grounds."

"A trip out of town, eh? That's two in two weeks."

"Well it gives our fellows experience in playing on some other diamond
than their own."

"Oh, it doesn't much matter. The Fayettevilles will be easy fruit for
us."

"Don't be too sure. They're a younger team, that's true, and they
haven't been doing well this season, but neither have we of late."

"Oh, we'll beat 'em," declared the captain confidently.

"I think so myself, but I don't want you to take too many chances. Here
comes Sam. You and he get in for some warm-up work, Bart, and I'll get
the scrub together."

Darrell went about the diamond, calling to the various members of the
"scrub," or second team.

"We haven't any pitcher," remarked Blake Carrington, who acted as
captain of the scrub organization.

"What's the matter with Slater?"

"He hasn't showed up, and none of the other fellows feel like getting in
the box against you boys. You'll have to find us a pitcher before we can
play."

A sudden idea came to Darrell.

"All right," he answered. "I guess I can. Wait a minute."

He ran over to where Rankin was talking to some of his players.

"Can you play Tom Davis in centre field for to-day?" asked the manager.

"Yes, I guess so. Why?"

"I'm going to have Joe Matson pitch on the scrub. It will be a good time
to get a line on him, and I'll see if he shapes up as well as the day
he did when I watched him practice."

"All right; maybe it will be a good idea."

Joe hardly knew what to say when Darrell, as calmly as if he had done it
several times before, asked him to go in the box for the scrub and pitch
against the Silver Stars.

"And do your best," added Darrell. "I don't care how many of our fellows
you strike out. Every one, if you can."

Joe's heart gave a bound of delight. It might be the beginning of the
very chance he had been waiting for so long. He calmed himself with an
effort for he did not want to get "rattled."

"All right," he answered as though he had been used to such sudden
emergency calls all season. "I'll see what I can do. I'd like a chance
to warm up, though."

"Sure. You and Jake Bender go over there and practice for five minutes.
Then we'll play a five-inning game."

The Stars were to bat first, and there was a mocking smile on the face
of Sam Morton as he watched his rival go to the box.

"Don't strike us all out," called Sam. "We've had hard luck enough
lately."

The game began, and it was for "blood" from the very start. Joe was a
trifle nervous, especially when he had two balls called on his first two
efforts. Then he braced himself, and, not trying for speed, sent in a
slow, easy ball that completely fooled the batter, who eventually struck
out.

"Pretty good for a starter," complimented Darrell. Sam Morton scowled.

The next batter hit an easy fly which was so promptly gathered in by the
shortstop that there was little use in the player starting for first.
Then Joe struck out the next lad after he had hit a couple of fouls.

"That's the stuff!" cried Tom Davis, as he patted his chum on the back.
"You'll be in the box for the Stars yet."

"Don't get me all excited," begged Joe with a smile. Yet he could not
help feeling elated.

There was a viciousness in the pitching of Sam when he toed the plate
that showed how his feelings had been stirred. He was evidently going to
show how much superior he was.

He did strike out two men, and then came Joe's turn at the bat. Our hero
thought he detected a gleam of anger in Sam's eyes.

"He'd just as soon hit me with a ball as not," thought Joe, "and if he
does it will hurt some. And he may be trying to bluff me so that I
won't stand up to the plate. I'll see what I can do to him."

Consequently, instead of waiting for the ball to get to him Joe stepped
up and out to meet it before the curve "broke." He "walked right into
it," as the baseball term has it, and the result was that he whacked out
a pretty two-bagger that brought his mates to their feet with yells. Sam
bit his lips in anger, but he kept his temper by an effort and struck
out the next man so that Joe's effort resulted in nothing.

The game went on, and when Sam at bat faced Joe, our hero could not help
feeling a trifle nervous. He had sized up Sam's style of batting,
however, and was prepared.

"I'm going to give him a slow ball with an in-shoot to it," decided Joe.
"He keeps back from the plate and this will make him get still farther
back. I'm going to strike him out."

And strike him out Joe did, though not until after Sam had hit one foul
that was within a shade of being fair. But when on his next two strikes
he fanned the wind, there was a look of wonder and gratification on the
face of Darrell.

"I believe Joe is going to make good," he said to Rankin.

"It sure looks so. What about it?"

"You'll see in a minute. I'm going to give him a chance to pitch part of
the game against the Fayetteville Academy nine--that is if you agree to
it."

"Sure, go as far as you like."

At the close of the game, which was won by the Stars, though by a small
margin, Darrell approached Joe.

"Well?" asked the new pitcher diffidently.

"You did first rate. How would you like to pitch part of the game
Saturday?"

"Do you mean it?" was the eager question.

"Certainly. I'll put you in for a few innings toward the end, after
we've cinched it, for I think it will be easy for us."

It was not the highest honor that could have come to Joe, but he
realized what it meant.

"I'd like it immensely," he said, "but won't Sam--what about him?"

"I don't care anything about him," said Darrell quickly. "I'm running
this team. Will you pitch?"

"I sure will!" and Joe's heart beat high with hope.



CHAPTER XXI

TO THE RESCUE


Joe Matson felt as though he was walking in the air when he went home
that afternoon following the scrub game. That his ambition was about to
be realized, and so soon after joining the team, was almost
unbelievable.

"Why, what's the matter, Joe?" asked Clara, as her brother fairly
pranced into the house, caught her around the waist and swung her in the
start of a waltz.

"Matter? Plenty's the matter! I'm going to pitch on the Stars Saturday.
Hurray!"

"My! Any one would think you were going to pitch up _to_ the stars the
way you're going on. Let go of me; you'll have my hair all mussed up!"

"That's easily fixed. Yes, I'm going to pitch."

"Against whom?"

"The Fayetteville Academy, on their grounds. It won't be much of a game,
and I'm not to go in until it's in the ice box----"

"In the ice box?"

"Yes, the refrigerator you know--safe. Then I'm to try my hand at
putting 'em over. Of course I'd like to go the whole nine innings but I
can't have everything at the start. It's mighty decent of Darrell to
give me this chance. Aren't you glad, sis?"

"Yes, of course I am. I'd like to see the game, but I've used up all of
my allowance for this week, and----"

"Here!" and Joe held out a dollar. "Blow yourself, sis."

"Oh, what horrid slang!"

"I mean go to the game on me. I'll stand treat. Take a girl if you want
to and see yours truly do himself proud."

Joe hunted up his mother to tell her the good news. He found her in the
room which his father had fitted up as a workshop since the suspicious
actions of Mr. Benjamin at the harvester factory. Mrs. Matson was
looking over some papers, and there was on her face the same worried
look Joe had seen there before.

"Has anything happened, mother?" he asked quickly, his own good news
fading away as he thought of the trouble that might menace his father.

"No, only the same trouble about the patent," she said. "There is
nothing new, but your father thinks from the recent actions of Mr.
Benjamin that the manager suspects something. Your father is getting
some papers ready to go to Washington, and I was looking them over for
him. I used to work in a lawyer's office when I was a girl," she went on
with a smile, "and I know a little about the patent business so I
thought I would help your father if I could."

"Then there's nothing wrong?"

"Not exactly, and if all goes right he will soon have his patent
granted, and then those men can not harm him. But you look as though you
had good news."

"I have," and the lad fairly bubbled over in telling his mother of the
chance that had so unexpectedly come to him.

Mr. Matson was quite enthusiastic about Joe's chance when he came home
from work, and together they talked about it after supper.

"I wish I could go see the game," said Mr. Matson, "but I am too busy."

"How is the patent coming on?" asked Joe.

"Oh, pretty good. Thanks to you I was warned in time. If I had left my
drawings, patterns and other things in the shop I'm afraid it wouldn't
be going so well. Mr. Benjamin evidently suspects something. Only to-day
he asked me how I was coming on with it, and he wanted to know why I
wasn't working on it any more. I had to put him off with some excuse and
he acted very queer. Right after that I heard him calling up Mr. Holdney
on the telephone."

"But your worry will be over when your application is allowed,"
suggested Mrs. Matson.

Joe went to his baseball practice with a vim in the days that intervened
before the game that was to be so important to him. Tom Davis helped
him, and several times cautioned his chum about overdoing himself.

"If your arm gets stiff--it's good-night for you," he declared, in his
usual blunt way. "You've got to take care of yourself, Joe."

"I know it, but I want to get up more speed."

"That's all right. Speed isn't everything. Practice for control, and
that won't be so hard on you."

And, as the days went on, Joe realized that he was perfecting himself,
though he still had much to learn about the great game.

It was the day before the contest when our hero was to occupy the box
for the first time for the Stars. He and Tom had practiced hard and Joe
knew that he was "fit."

Joe wondered how Sam Morton had taken the news of his rival's advance,
but if Sam knew he said nothing about it, and in the practice with the
scrub he was unusually friendly to Joe. For Darrell decided not to have
the new pitcher go into the box for the Stars until the last moment. He
did not want word of it to get out, and Joe and the catcher did some
practice in private with signals.

The last practice had been held on the afternoon prior to the game, and
arrangements completed for the team going to Fayetteville. Joe was on
his way home on a car with Tom Davis, for Riverside boasted of a trolley
system.

"How do you feel?" asked Tom of his chum.

"Fine as a fiddle."

"Your arm isn't lame or sore?"

"Not a bit, I can----"

Joe was interrupted by a cry from two ladies who sat in front of them,
the only other occupants of the vehicle save themselves. The car was
going down hill and had acquired considerable speed--dangerous speed Joe
thought--and the motorman did not seem to have it well under control.

But what had caused the cry of alarm was this. Driving along the street,
parallel with the tracks, and about three hundred feet ahead of the car,
was a boy in an open delivery wagon. He was going in the same direction
as was the electric vehicle.

Suddenly his horse stumbled and fell almost on the tracks, the wagon
sliding half over the animal while the boy on the seat was hemmed in and
pinned down by a number of boxes and baskets that slid forward from the
rear of the wagon.

"Put on your brakes! Put on your brakes!" yelled the conductor to the
motorman. "You'll run him down!"

The motorman ground at the handle, and the brake shoes whined as they
gripped the wheels, but the car came nearer and nearer the wagon. The
conductor on the rear platform was also putting on the brakes there.

Suddenly the horse kicked himself around so that he was free of the
tracks, lying alongside them, and far enough to one side so that the car
would safely pass him. There was a sigh of relief from the two women
passengers, but a moment later it changed to a cry of alarm, for the boy
on the seat suddenly fell to one side, and hung there with his head so
far over that the car would hit him as it rushed past. The lad was
evidently pinned down by the boxes and baskets on his legs.

"Stop! Stop the car!" begged one of the ladies. The other had covered
her eyes with her hands.

"I--I can't!" cried the motorman. "It's got too much speed! I can't stop
it."

Joe sprang to his feet and made his way along the seat past Tom, to the
running board of the car, for the vehicle was an open one.

"Where are you going?" cried Tom.

"To save that lad! He'll be killed if the car strikes him!"

"Let the motorman do it!"

"He can't! He's grinding on the brakes as hard as he can and so is the
conductor. I've got to save him--these ladies can't! I can lean over and
pull him aboard the car."

"But your arm! You'll strain your arm and you can't pitch to-morrow."

For an instant Joe hesitated, but only for an instant. He realized that
what Tom said was true. He saw a vision of himself sitting idly on the
bench, unable to twirl the ball because of a sprained arm. Then Joe made
up his mind.

"I'm going to save him!" he cried as he hurried to the front end of the
running board. Then, clinging to the upright of the car with his left
arm, he stretched out his other to save the lad from almost certain
death, the conductor and motorman unable to lend aid and the women
incapable. There was not room on the running board for Tom to help Joe.



CHAPTER XXII

A DELAYED PITCHER


The motorman was grinding away at the brakes but the heavy car continued
to slide on, for the hill was steep. The horse lay quiet now, for a man
had managed to get to him and sit on his head, so the animal could not
kick and thresh about with the consequent danger of getting his legs
under the trolley. The car would pass the horse and the wagon by a good
margin, but the boy, leaning far over, was sure to be hit unless Joe
saved him, and no one in the street seemed to think of the boy's danger.
He said later that he did not realize it himself.

The lad was struggling to free himself but could not, and he did not
seem to be able to raise himself to an upright position on the seat, in
which case he would have been safe.

"Steady now!" called Joe, and he braced himself for the shock he knew
would come.

The next instant, as the car kept on, Joe found himself opposite the lad
and reaching forward his right hand he grasped him by the collar,
shoving him away so the car would not strike him. Then, holding on in
grim despair Joe pulled the youth toward him, aided by the momentum of
the vehicle. His idea was to get him aboard the car to prevent his being
struck by it, and in this he succeeded.

There was a ripping sound, for some part of the lad's clothing was
caught on the seat and tore loose. A shower of boxes and baskets
followed the body as it slid forward, and a moment later Joe had the lad
on the foot board beside him, safe and sound, but very much astonished
by his sudden descent from the wagon seat.

Joe felt an excruciating pain shoot through his arm--his pitching arm.
It was numb from the shock but even yet he did not dare let go, for the
lad was on uncertain footing. The pain increased. It was like being
kicked by the back-fire of an auto or motor boat. For a moment there was
a dull sensation and then the outraged nerves and muscles seemed to cry
out in agony.

"There--there!" murmured Joe between his clenched teeth to the lad he
had saved. "You're all right I guess. Will--will somebody----"

He did not finish, but turned to the conductor, who had rushed toward
him on the running board, ready to relieve him of the lad's weight. But
the boy was able to look after himself now, for the vehicle was almost
at a standstill, and the motorman had it under control.

"Much--much obliged to you," the boy stammered his thanks to Joe who was
slowly making his way back to where Tom awaited him. Joe did not know
whether he could get there or not, passing himself along by clinging
with his left hand to the successive car uprights.

"He saved your life all right," said the conductor, who had hold of the
delivery wagon lad.

"That's what!" chimed in several other men from the street, as they
crowded up around the car.

By this time the motorman had succeeded in bringing the vehicle to a
full stop and Joe, fearing he might fall, for the pain was very severe,
got off. Tom hurried up to him.

"Did it strain you much?" he asked eagerly.

"A little--yes; considerable I guess," admitted Joe, making a wry face.
"But it will be all right--I guess." His right arm--the arm he hoped to
use in the game on the morrow--the first game with him in the box--hung
limp at his side.

Tom Davis saw and knew at once that something serious was the matter. He
realized what it meant to Joe, and he lost no time in useless talk.

"You come with me!" he commanded, taking hold of Joe's left arm.

"Where are you going?" demanded our hero.

"To our old family doctor. That arm of yours will need attention if
you're going to pitch to-morrow."

"I don't know that I can pitch, Tom."

"Yes you can--you've _got_ to. Dr. Pickett will give you something to
fix it up. You can't let this chance slip. I was afraid this would
happen when I saw what you were going to do."

"Yes," said Joe simply, "but I couldn't let him be hit by the car."

"No, I suppose not, and yet--well, we'll see what Dr. Pickett says. Come
on," and Tom quickly improvised a sling from his own and Joe's
handkerchiefs, and was about to lead his chum away.

"Oh, are you hurt? I'm sorry!" exclaimed the lad whom Joe had saved.

"It's only a strain," said the pitcher, but he did not add what it might
mean to him.

The lad thanked Joe again, earnestly, for his brave act and then
hastened to look after his horse, that had been gotten to its feet. The
motorman, too, thanked Joe for, though had an accident resulted it
would not have been his fault, yet he was grateful.

"Oh, come on!" exclaimed Tom impatiently as several others crowded up
around Joe. "Every minute's delay makes it worse. Let's get a move on,"
and he almost dragged his chum to the doctor's office.

Dr. Pickett looked grave when told of the cause of the injury.

"Well, let's have a look at the arm," he suggested, and when he saw a
slight swelling he shook his head. "I'm afraid you can't pitch
to-morrow," he said.

"I've _got_ to," replied Joe simply.

"Can't you give him some liniment to rub on to take the stiffness out,
doctor?" asked Joe.

"Hum! Nature is something that doesn't like to be hurried, young man,"
responded the physician. "However, it might be worse, and perhaps if
that arm is massaged half the night and up to the time of the game
to-morrow, he might pitch a few innings."

"That's good!" exclaimed Joe.

"And it's me for the massage!" cried Tom. "Now give us some stuff to rub
on, doctor."

Dr. Pickett showed Tom how to rub the arm, and how to knead the muscles
to take out the soreness, and gave the boys a prescription to get
filled at the drug store.

"Come on!" cried Tom again. He seemed to have taken charge of Joe as a
trainer might have done. "I must get you home and begin work on you."

And Tom did. He installed himself as rubber-in-chief in Joe's room, and
for several hours thereafter there was the smell of arnica and pungent
liniment throughout the house. Tom was a faithful massage artist, and
soon some of the soreness began to get out of the wrenched arm.

"Let me try to throw a ball across the room," the pitcher begged of Tom
about nine o'clock. "I want to see if I can move it."

"Not a move!" sternly forbade the nurse. "You just keep quiet. If you
can pitch in the morning you'll be lucky."

At intervals until nearly midnight Tom rubbed the arm and then, knowing
that Joe must have rest, he installed himself on a couch in his chum's
room, and let Joe go to sleep, with his arm wrapped in hot towels
saturated with witch hazel, a warm flat iron keeping the heat up.

"Well, how goes it?" Joe heard some one say, as he opened his eyes to
find the sun streaming in his room. The young pitcher tried to raise
his arm but could not. It seemed as heavy as lead and a look of alarm
came over his face.

"That's all right," explained Tom. "Wait until I get off some of the
towels. It looks like an Egyptian mummy now."

Tom loosed the wrappings and then, to Joe's delight, he found that he
could move his arm with only a little pain resulting. He was about to
swing it, as he did when pitching, but Tom called out:

"Hold on now! Wait until I rub it a bit and get up the circulation." The
rubbing did good, and Joe found that he had nearly full control of the
hand and arm. They were a bit stiff to be sure, but much better.

"Now for a good breakfast, some more rubbing, then some more, and a
little light practice," decided Tom, and Joe smiled, but he gave in and
ate a hearty meal.

Once more faithful Tom massaged the arm, and rubbed in a salve designed
to make the sore muscles and tendons limber. Not until then would he
allow Joe to go down in the yard and throw a few balls.

The delivery of the first one brought a look of agony on the pitcher's
face, but he kept at it until he was nearly himself again. Then came
more rubbing and another application of salve and liniment, until Joe
declared that there wouldn't be any skin left on his arm, and that he'd
smell like a walking drug store for a week.

"Don't you care, as long as you can pitch," said Clara. "I'm going to
the game and I'm going to take Mabel Davis and Helen Rutherford. They
both want to see you pitch, Joe."

"That's good," said her brother with a smile.

"Now we'll take another trip to the doctor's and see what he says," was
Tom's next order. The physician looked gratified when he saw the arm.

"Either it wasn't as badly strained as I thought it," he said, "or that
medicine worked wonders."

"It was my rubbing," explained Tom, puffing out his chest in pretended
pride.

"Well, that certainly completed the cure," admitted the physician.

"And I can pitch?" asked Joe anxiously.

"Yes, a few innings. Have your arm rubbed at intervals in the game, and
wear a wrist strap. Good luck and I hope you'll win," and with a smile
he dismissed them.

Wearing a wrist strap helped greatly, and when it was nearly time to
leave for Fayetteville Joe found that his arm was much better.

"I don't know how long I can last," he said to Darrell, "and maybe I'll
be batted out of the box."

"It's too bad, of course," replied the manager, when the accident had
been explained to him, "but we won't work you very hard. I want you to
get your chance, though."

And Joe felt his heart beat faster as he thought how nearly he had lost
his chance. Yet he could not have done otherwise, he reflected.

"I don't see what's keeping Sam Morton," mused Captain Rankin, as the
team prepared to take the special trolley car. "He met me a little while
ago and said he'd be on hand."

"It's early yet," commented the manager. "I guess he'll be on hand. I
told him Joe was going to pitch a few innings."

"What did he say?"

"Well, he didn't cut up nearly as much as I thought he would. He said it
was only fair to give him a show, but I know Sam is jealous and he won't
take any chances on not being there."

All of the players, save the regular pitcher, were on hand now and they
were anxiously waiting for Sam. One of the inspectors of the trolley
line came up to where the boys stood about the special car that was on a
siding.

"Say," began the inspector, "I'll have to send you boys on your way
now."

"But our special isn't due to leave for half an hour," complained
Darrell. "We're waiting for Sam Morton."

"Can't help that. I've got to start you off sooner than I expected.
There's been a change in the schedule that I didn't expect, and if I
don't get you off now I can't for another hour, as the line to
Fayetteville will be blocked."

"That means we'll be half an hour later than we expected," said Darrell.
"Well, I suppose we'd better go on. Sam can come by the regular trolley,
I guess."

"Sure, he'll be in Fayetteville in plenty of time," suggested the
inspector. "I'll be here and tell him about it."

There was no other way out of it, and soon the team and the substitutes,
with the exception of Sam, were on their way. There was quite a crowd
already gathered on the Academy grounds when they arrived and they were
noisily greeted by their opponents as well as by some of their own
"rooters." The Academy lads were at practice.

"They're a snappy lot of youngsters," commented Darrell, as he watched
them.

"Yes, we won't have any walk-over," said the captain.

The Silver Star lads lost no time in getting into their uniforms. Tom
gave Joe's arm a good rubbing and then he caught for him for a while
until Joe announced that, aside from a little soreness, he was all
right.

"Try it with Ferguson now," ordered Darrell, motioning to the regular
catcher, and Joe did so, receiving compliments from the backstop for his
accuracy.

"A little more speed and you'll have 'em guessing," said the catcher
genially. "But don't strain yourself."

The minutes ticked on. Several of the regular cars had come in from
Riverside but there was no sign of Sam Morton. Darrell and Captain
Rankin held an earnest conversation.

"What do you suppose is keeping him?" asked the manager.

"I can't imagine. Unless he is deliberately staying away to throw the
game."

"Oh, Sam wouldn't do that. He's too anxious to pitch. We'll wait a few
more cars."

"And if he doesn't come?"

Darrell shrugged his shoulders and looked over to where Joe was
practicing with Bart Ferguson.



CHAPTER XXIII

JOE IN THE BOX


"Well, when are you fellows going to start?" asked Tony Johnson, captain
of the Academy nine, as he ceased his catching practice with Ed. Wilson,
the pitcher. "The game ought to have been called ten minutes ago."

"Our pitcher isn't here," said Darrell anxiously. "We're expecting him
every minute. If you could wait a little longer----"

"Haven't you any one else you can put in?" asked Ferd Backus, the
manager. "I saw some one practicing a while ago."

"He isn't our regular pitcher," said George Rankin, "but if Sam doesn't
come we'll have to lead off with him."

Joe had been aware that Sam was not on hand. He looked up as car after
car passed the grounds, thinking to see Sam enter, for the electric
vehicles from Riverside ran close to the Academy diamond.

"I suppose they'll put Parnell in at the start," Joe mused, naming the
second baseman who sometimes acted as pitcher for the Stars. Joe did not
dare hope that he himself would be chosen.

"Well, how much longer?" demanded Johnson, when two more cars had passed
and Sam was on neither of them. "We want to finish this game before
dark."

"All right," assented Darrell briskly. "Get your men ready, Rankin."

"But who will pitch?"

"Joe Matson, of course. It's the only thing we can do. Take the field,
fellows. Joe, take your place in the box!"

"Who--me?" gasped our hero, unable to believe the words.

"Yes, you," and Darrell smiled. "Do your prettiest now. You're going in
at the beginning instead of at the end. It's different from what I
planned, but I guess I can depend on you. Hold 'em down!"

"I will!" cried Joe fiercely and he forgot his injured arm.

"Play ball!" ordered the umpire and Joe took his place as pitcher for
the Silver Stars for the first time. No wonder his heart beat faster
than usual. The Stars were to bat last, Rankin having won the toss. It
must be remembered that these boys were amateur players and did not
always follow league rules of having the home team up last.

The usual number of practice balls were allowed between Joe and the
catcher at the plate and Bart noted with satisfaction that Joe was cool
and steady and that he did not try for speed.

Then the first man for the Academy--their best hitter--faced our hero.
Bart gave the signal for a slow straight ball over the plate at an
angle. It was the beginning of a cross-fire which he and Joe had quickly
agreed upon, and, as is well known, the ability of a pitcher to deliver
a good cross-fire wins many games. Cross-firing is merely sending the
ball first over one side of the plate then the other and then right over
centre. Joe had done it in practice. Could he do it in the game?

"Strike one!" called the umpire, when the first ball found lodgment in
Bart's big glove. There was a little gasp of protest from the Academy
crowd, but they said nothing. Their man had not struck at the ball, but
it had been in the right place and Joe knew he had a fair umpire with
whom to deal.

His next delivery was a ball, but the third was a strike though the man
had not moved his bat.

"Hit it--hit it!" pleaded his friends.

The batter swung fiercely at the next ball and knocked a little pop fly
which Bart gathered in and one man was down.

"Do it again!" called Darrell to his pitcher, and Joe smiled. His arm
pained him a little, but he gritted his teeth and delivered the next man
a strike, for the batter missed it cleanly. He was not so lucky in his
following trial, for the batter got to first mainly because of an error
in the play of Fred Newton, at short, who fumbled the pick-up and
delayed in getting the ball to Darrell.

Joe succeeded in striking out the third man up, though the one who had
gone to first managed to steal second. There were now two out and a man
on the middle bag when Joe faced his fourth opponent. He tried for a
slow out but something went wrong and the man hit for two sacks,
bringing in the run. But that was all, for the next batter fell for some
slow, easy balls and fanned the air.

The Academys had one run and it looked a trifle disheartening to the
Silver Stars until they came up and found that the pitcher opposed to
them was very weak. They hammered him pretty badly in the last half of
the first, and three runs were credited to them ere they had to take the
field again.

"Not so bad; eh?" asked Rankin of Darrell.

"Fine, if Joe can only keep it up. How's your arm?" he asked him.

"Fine!" exclaimed our hero, but in truth it pained him considerably in
spite of the treatment Tom Davis gave it.

The Academy team didn't get a run in the second inning though Joe was
found for some short, scattering hits. A man got to second and one to
third, mainly through errors in the outfield force, one bad one being
furnished by Tom, who was at centre in Joe's place.

"But we'll forgive you for getting Joe's arm in shape," said the manager
with a smile.

In their half of the second the Stars got two runs, and succeeded in
forcing another goose egg on their opponents in the home team's half of
the third. Joe did not do so well this time, for he was beginning to
tire and only a brace on the part of his supporting players saved him
from having a number of runs come in on his errors.

One run for the Stars marked their efforts in the third and when the
fourth inning began it looked as if it was a foregone conclusion that
the visiting team would go home with the scalp of their enemy. But Joe
could not keep up the pace he had set for himself. No young and
inexperienced pitcher could, much less one with a sore arm.

The muscles ached very much in spite of all Tom could do with rubbing in
the liniment, but Joe gritted his teeth and keep his place in the
pitcher's box. He knew he dared not give in. Only two runs were earned,
however, though he was pretty badly pounded, and this only made the
score three to six in favor of the Stars, when their half of the fourth
came. But they were unable to better it for the Academy lads took a
brace after an earnest appeal by their captain and manager.

"Make 'em take a goose egg!" yelled the student lads to their friends,
and the Stars were forced to be content with this.

In the fifth inning neither side scored, Joe holding his own well, and
only allowing one hit, which amounted to nothing. And in the sixth when,
with only three scattered hits, not a run was chalked up for the home
team, Darrell ran over to Joe and cried:

"Fine, old man! Can you keep it up?"

"I--I'm going to!" burst out Joe, though he had to grit his teeth to
keep back an expression of pain when he moved his pitching arm.



CHAPTER XXIV

SAM ARRIVES


Whether the Stars were determined to show their opponents what they
could do when they tried or whether it was because they wanted to show
their confidence in Joe, or even whether it was due to a slump in the
playing of the Academy team, was not made manifest, but at any rate in
their half of the sixth inning our friends gathered in four runs, making
the score ten to three in their favor.

"Oh, it's a walk-over," boasted Tom Davis as he did an impromptu war
dance.

"Yes, we've got 'em beat a mile," added Seth Potter.

"Don't be too sure," commented the Academy captain. "No game is won
until it's over and we've got three more innings yet. The seventh is
always our lucky number."

"You're welcome to all you can get," rejoined Captain Rankin with a
laugh. "Seven is where we always eat pie, too."

The Stars were about to take the field for the beginning of the seventh
when there was a commotion over at one entrance gate. A lad came running
through the crowd.

"Hold on!" he cried. "Wait! I'm going to play. Let me pitch!"

"Sam Morton!" burst out Tom Davis. "Why couldn't he stay away until we
had the game won? I'll bet we slump as soon as he goes in the box."

Sam came on running. He was panting and out of breath.

"What's the matter? Where were you?" demanded Darrell.

"I got on--the wrong car. I thought it--came here. They--took me off--in
the woods--somewhere. I've had an awful time--getting here. Is the
game--over?"

"No, we're just starting the seventh."

"Can't I pitch?"

Darrell hesitated. It was a perfectly natural request for Sam and yet
Joe had been doing so well that both the manager and the captain
disliked to take him off the mound.

"Can't I pitch?" again demanded Sam. "You don't mean to tell me that Joe
Matson has----"

"Joe hasn't done anything but what we wanted him to," put in Rankin
quickly, "and he's made a good record."

"Oh, I suppose so," sneered Sam. "Well, if you don't want me to----"

"Of course you can pitch," said Darrell quietly. It was unquestioningly
Sam's right and though he was in rather an exhausted condition still the
manager and captain knew that he was at his best early in his game.

"What are you going to do; change pitchers?" demanded the manager of the
Academy team, striding up to Darrell and Captain Rankin.

"Yes."

"You can't do it now."

"Why not?"

"It's against the rules. You've got to have some one bat for him first.
You can't change until next inning."

There was quite a mix-up, and rules were quoted and mis-quoted back and
forth, for, as I have said, the lads were far from being professional or
even college players. The upshot of it was that Sam was allowed to go
in, whether or not in accordance with the rules the boys did not decide,
and the little feeling that had been raised soon subsided, for they were
all true sportsmen.

As for Joe, at first he felt humiliated that he was displaced but he
realized that he had had more honor that he had at first expected, and
his arm was beginning to pain him very much. So, on the whole, he was
glad Sam had arrived when he did.

Not so the captain, manager and other Star players, however, for Sam
allowed two runs while he occupied the box, and the Academy team and
their friends were jubilant.

The Stars managed to get two runs in their half of the seventh. Joe did
not play, his place at centre field continuing to be filled by Tom. Joe
was glad of the rest and he watched the efforts of his rival closely.

In the eighth Sam did not seem able to pull himself together and three
runs were due to his poor pitching.

"Say, if we play innings enough we'll beat 'em even with their new
pitcher!" called some one in the crowd, anxious to get Sam's "goat," or
nerve.

And this seemed likely. In their half of the eighth the Stars only got
one run, and when the ninth inning opened there were some anxious hearts
among the members of the visiting team.

And then came a terrible slump. Sam grew wild, allowed bases on balls,
struck one man and muffed an easy fly. When the route and riot were over
there were five runs to the credit of the schoolboy players and they had
tied the score, pulling up from a long way in the rear. The crowd went
wild for them.

"Fellows, we've got to make our half of this inning count," said Darrell
earnestly. "They're making fools of us and they're not in our class at
all. We've got to beat them! Sam, wake up!" he said sharply.

"I'm not asleep!" retorted the pitcher. "If you think I am why don't you
send that Matson in again?"

"Easy now, easy," spoke Rankin. "You can pitch if you pull yourself
together, and if we can't make a run this inning and it goes to the
tenth you'll have to unwind some curves."

"I will, but it won't go to the tenth."

It didn't, for the Stars took a brace and pulled off one run, winning
the game by a score of fourteen to thirteen. But it had been a close
call.

"Well, you beat us," acknowledged the Academy manager as the winning run
came in. "But it took two pitchers to do it, and you'd have done better
if you'd stuck to the first one."

"Perhaps," admitted Darrell. "You played better than I gave you credit
for."

"Why don't you use that first pitcher regularly?" the home captain
wanted to know.

"Oh, maybe----" began Darrell, and then he saw Sam standing close
beside him, and he did not finish.

"What were you going to say?" demanded Sam roughly.

"Nothing," answered the manager in some confusion. He was saved a
further reply by the approach of a boy who held a note in his hand.

"Is Joe Matson here?" the lad asked.

"Right over there," said Darrell, pointing to where the young pitcher
was talking to Tom Davis.

"I've got a letter for him," the messenger went on.

Joe rapidly tore open the envelope and read the few words the note
contained.

"I've got to leave here," he said to Tom.

"Why? What's the matter? Nothing wrong I hope."

"I don't know," answered Joe. "The note says I'm to come home at once.
They've sent a carriage for me. I hope nothing has happened to--to
anybody," and gulping down a suspicious lump in his throat Joe followed
the lad off the diamond.



CHAPTER XXV

JOE FOILS THE PLOTTERS


There was a carriage waiting just outside the ball grounds, a carriage
drawn by one horse. A man whom Joe had never seen before, so far as he
knew, held the reins.

"There's the man who wants you," explained the lad who had acted as
messenger.

"Who is he?" asked the young pitcher quickly. "I don't know him. Where
did he come from? Where did you meet him?"

"I guess he'll tell you all you want to know," said the lad. "All I know
is that I was standing outside the ball grounds after the game, and he
give me that note to bring in to you. I didn't come with him."

"Oh, I see," replied Joe, but he was wondering who the man was, and how
the fellow came to know that he was in Fayetteville.

"Hope I didn't take you away from the game," began the man with what he
evidently meant for a pleasant smile. Yet, somehow Joe did not like
that smile. The man seemed to have a shifty glance and Joe mistrusted
him.

"Oh, the game is over," answered the young pitcher. "I didn't play in
the last part. But what is the matter? Is my mother or father ill?"

"It's nothing serious," spoke the man. "No one is ill. I came to get you
about your father's patents."

"Oh!" exclaimed Joe. He felt a sensation of relief until he realized the
danger that threatened his father's inventions. Then he asked: "What's
wrong? Is Mr.----" Then he stopped for he did not know whether or not to
mention names to this stranger.

"I can't give you any particulars," said the man with another smile.
"All I can say is that they engaged me to come and get you to save
time."

"Who engaged you?" asked Joe.

"Your father," replied the man. "He sent me off in a hurry and said I'd
find you at this game. I sent you in the note by the lad. Your father
had no time to write one, but you are to go to him at once. He wants you
to help him about the patent models I think. We'd better hurry."

Joe's suspicions vanished at once. He knew his father was preparing to
send on some models to Washington and now probably some need of haste
had arisen necessitating his aid. He climbed up into the carriage, and
though he noted at the time that the rig did not seem to be from the
local livery stable, which had only a few, he thought nothing of it
then.

The man flicked the horse with the whip and the animal started off on
the jump. Just outside the ball grounds there was a private road leading
into the main one. On reaching the chief thoroughfare the man turned
north whereas, to reach Riverside, he should have gone south.

"Hold on!" cried Joe, "you're going the wrong way."

"Be easy. It's all right," answered the man with a smile. "Your father
has taken all his things to a little shop in Denville. He had to have
some changes made in the models I believe, and he wanted to be in a
machine shop where he could work quietly. He told me to bring you
there."

Joe remembered that on one or two occasions Mr. Matson had had some work
done in Denville, and once more the suspicions that had arisen were
lulled. Joe sank back on the cushions and began thinking of the game
just played. His arm was getting quite stiff.

"I'll have to attend to it as soon as I get home," he mused. "It won't
do to have it go back on me just when things are in such good shape. If
they keep on I may become the regular pitcher. Sam certainly did poorly
in his part of the game, and I'm not getting a swelled head, either,
when I say that." Joe knew he had done good work, considering his sore
arm, and he made up his mind to do still better.

The man drove along rapidly, and in about an hour had reached the
outskirts of Denville. He turned down a road that was evidently little
used, to judge by the grass growing in it, and halted the horse in front
of a small building. It did not look like a place where inventors'
models would be made. In fact the shack had a forlorn and forsaken air
about it, and Joe looked curiously at it. His suspicions were coming
back.

"Where is my father?" he demanded. "I don't see him."

"It's all right now--it's all right," said the man quickly. "Hello in
there!" he called.

The next instant Joe saw a face at the window. Then it disappeared, but
that momentary glance had showed him it was the face of Mr. Isaac
Benjamin. In a second it was all clear to him. He had been trapped. He
attempted to spring from the carriage seat.

"I'm on to your game!" he exclaimed to the man.

"Oh, are you? Well, you're not going to get away!" and with that the man
grabbed Joe around the waist, pinning his arms to his sides. Then from
the little building came running Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Holdney.

"Did you get him all right?" asked the manager of the harvester works
eagerly.

"I certainly did," panted the other man, for Joe was struggling to get
loose. "Didn't give me any trouble either, until just now."

"Well, I'll make lots of trouble for you, if you don't let me go!" cried
Joe.

"Now, young man, take it easy," advised Mr. Benjamin. "We don't intend
to do you a bit of harm, and we only brought you to this place to have a
quiet talk with you. It's in your father's interest and I hope you'll
overlook the unconventional way we took to get you here. Bring him in,"
he added to the man in the carriage and, despite Joe's struggles he was
lifted out and carried into the little building. The door was shut and
locked, and he was alone with his three captors.

"What do you want of me?" hotly demanded the lad.

"Now don't get excited and we'll tell you," said Mr. Benjamin. "It's
about your father's patents."

"Yes," broke in Mr. Holdney, "we want to know where they are. He had no
right to take the papers and models away from the harvester works. Those
inventions are the property of the company and aren't your father's at
all. We want----"

"Better let me talk to him," advised Mr. Benjamin. "Now Joe, you can't
understand all the ins and outs of this business, for it's very
complicated. You know that your father is working on certain patents
about a corn reaper and binder; don't you?"

"Yes," admitted Joe cautiously, "but I'm not going to tell you anything
about it."

"Perhaps you will after you hear all I have to say," went on Mr.
Benjamin. "Now, it's like this: Your father is unduly alarmed about the
safety of his rights in the patents, and I will admit that he has some
rights. For some reason he saw fit to take his models and papers away
from the shop at the harvester works where he was engaged on them."

Joe smiled--well he knew why his father had removed the valuable models
and papers.

"What we want," said Mr. Benjamin, "is to get access to those models. We
want to see them for a short time, and also look over the papers. Now
you can fix that for us if you will."

"Why don't _you_ ask my father?" inquired Joe.

"We have, but----" began Mr. Holdney.

"He won't listen to reason," put in Mr. Benjamin. "He thinks we would
deprive him of his rights." Joe thought so too, but he said nothing.
"Now if you can quietly get those models and papers and let us have a
look at them they will be returned to you without fail," said the
manager. "Your father's rights will be fully protected. It may seem
strange to you for us to make this proposition in this way, and bring
you here as we have done, but it was necessary."

"Suppose I refuse?" asked Joe.

"Then we'll----" began Mr. Holdney, in blustering tones.

"Now, now, easy," cautioned Mr. Benjamin. "The consequences may be
disastrous for your father," he said quietly. "I am doing this for his
own good. He will not hear of showing the models, but if you can get
them for us it will save much trouble and annoyance for--well, for all
of us. If you don't, your father may lose all he possesses and be
without a position. I know what inventors are. They can only see one
thing at a time. It is a simple thing that we ask of you. Will you do
it? Now, you needn't answer at once. Take a little time to think it
over. Go in that room there and wait. We'll give you half an hour. If by
that time you don't decide to help us we'll----"

"We'll _make_ you!" exclaimed Mr. Holdney. "I've got too much money tied
up in this to see it lost by the obstinacy of a boy."

"Well, if you refuse, we will have to take other measures," said Mr.
Benjamin, with a shrug of his shoulders.

Joe's heart was beating fast. He did not know what to do. Being
practically kidnapped after he had worked so hard in the game, his fears
for his father aroused, it is no wonder that he could not think clearly.
He welcomed the chance to go off quietly by himself, but never for a
moment did he think of betraying his father. Only for an instant did he
place any confidence in what the wily manager had said. Then he knew
there must be a trick in it all.

"But if I let them trap me it's my own fault," thought Joe. "I've got to
think up some way of escape."

"Well?" asked the manager as Joe hesitated.

"I--I'll think it over," answered the young pitcher.

"All right. You can go in that room," and Mr. Benjamin opened the door
of an apartment leading out of the main one.

Joe cast a quick glance about it as the door closed behind him. He noted
that it was not locked, but that with three men in the outer room the
boy knew he could not escape that way.

"And I'm going to escape if I can," he told himself. "I don't need any
more time to think over what I'm going to do. They shan't have a glance
at dad's models and papers."

A rapid survey of the room showed him that it had but one window and
that was heavily barred. He raised the sash softly and tried the bars.
They were rusty but held firmly in the wood.

"No use trying that way," murmured Joe. He heard the hum of voices in
the outer room and listened at the keyhole.

"Don't you think he can get away?" he heard the man who had brought him
to the place ask the others.

"I don't believe he'll try," was the answer from Mr. Benjamin. "After
all, we couldn't hope to keep him a prisoner long. There would be too
much hue and cry over it. All I expect is that he'll be so worried and
frightened that he'll tell us what we want to know."

"Oh, you've got another think coming," whispered Joe.

He walked back to the window once more and, as he crossed the room he
saw what looked like a trap door in the floor. Kneeling down he applied
his nose to the crack. There came up the damp, musty smell of a cellar.

"That's it!" cried Joe. "If I can get that door up I can drop into the
cellar even if there aren't any stairs, and I guess I can get out of the
cellar. But can I get that door up?"

There was no ring to lift it by, and no handle, but Joe was a
resourceful lad and in an instant his knife was out. With the big blade
inserted in the crack he managed to raised the door a trifle. He
endeavored to hold the advantage he had gained until he could take out
the knife blade and insert it again farther down, but the door slipped
through his fingers.

"I've got to get some way of holding it up after each time I pry," he
thought. A hurried search through his pockets brought to light part of a
broken toe plate. He had had a new one put on for the Academy game, and
had thrust the broken piece in the pocket of his trousers.

"This ought to do it," he reasoned, and it did, for with the aid of that
Joe was able to hold up and raise the trap door. The damp, musty smell
was stronger now, and Joe was glad to see, in the dim darkness of the
cellar, a flight of steps. "They're pretty rotten, but I guess they'll
hold me," he murmured.

The next instant he was going down them, and he let the trap door fall
softly into place over his head. It was so dark in the cellar now that
he could see nothing, but when his eyes became accustomed to the
blackness he saw the dim light of an outer window.

It was the work of but a moment to scramble through it, and a few
seconds later Joe was running away from the place of his brief
captivity.

"I guess I won't give you an answer to-day," he murmured as he looked
back.

He heard a shout and saw Mr. Benjamin rush out. Then our hero caught
sight of the horse and carriage and like a flash he made for it. Jumping
in he called to the animal and was soon galloping down the road while
the shouts behind him became fainter and fainter.

"This is the time I fooled you!" cried Joe exultantly, as he urged on
the horse.



CHAPTER XXVI

SAM RESIGNS


"Those desperate men! You must have them arrested at once!" exclaimed
Mrs. Matson when Joe, a little later, had reached home, having left the
horse and carriage at the local livery stable to be claimed. "You ought
to go to the police at once, John! Why think of what might have happened
to Joe," for the boy had told the whole story.

"Oh, it wasn't so bad," said Joe who, now that the excitement was over,
and he had so completely turned the tables on the plotters, was rather
inclined to laugh at the experience.

"There are worse things than that done to get possession of valuable
patents," said Mr. Matson. "Those men are evidently desperate, though
why Mr. Holdney should turn against me I cannot understand. But I would
rather wait, and take no action right away. My work is almost finished
and if all goes well I shall soon be independent of the harvester
people. If, however, there is a slip-up I will be dependent on my
position for a living. I think I will wait and see what develops."

But in the morning there was a new turn to affairs. It was announced at
the harvester factory that Mr. Benjamin had gone away for an indefinite
stay, and a new manager had his place. This made it unnecessary for Mr.
Matson to say anything. He wrote a strong letter of protest to Mr.
Holdney, and then worked harder than ever to get his patents in shape so
he would be fully protected in them.

As for Joe he said nothing to any of his chums about his experience. The
rig was claimed later by a man who would not give his name, and who
drove off hurriedly, as if he feared arrest.

"And now I'm going to get back to baseball," announced the young
pitcher.

His arm got better rapidly after the Academy game, and he was soon
pitching in practice with his former vim and vigor. He was now regarded
as the regular substitute twirler for the Silver Stars.

Sam Morton, too, was regular in his practice, and there seemed to be
something different about him. He was more careful in his conduct, and
not as surly as he had been. He accepted criticism in a better spirit,
and in one game against the scrub he did such unusually excellent work
that the manager complimented him.

"Just keep that up on Saturday," said Darrell, "and we won't let the
Fairdale Blues have a run."

"Oh, I'll be there with the goods all right," boasted Sam. He glanced at
Joe as he said this as much as to intimate that his rival would not get
a chance in the box.

The Fairdale Blues were a strong team, and, as they had beaten the Stars
several times, and had also won from the Resolutes, who were considered
the strongest team in the county, more than the usual interest attached
to the coming contest.

It was to be played on the Stars' grounds, and early on the day of the
game the grandstand and bleachers began to fill. The Blues arrived in
several big carryalls with a noisy crowd of "rooters" carrying horns,
bells and clappers--anything with which to make a racket.

"They'll get Sam's goat if he isn't careful," observed Rodney Burke,
when the Stars went out to practice.

"Don't you fool yourself," retorted Sam. "I'm going to pitch a no-hit
no-run game to-day."

"That's like Sam--boasting as usual," commented Rodney.

"Well, I think he'll make good," said an admirer of the pitcher.

"Wait until you see what kind of hitters the Blues have," cautioned
Rodney. "They may knock Sam out of the box. Then if Joe goes in----"

"Aw, Joe won't get a chance to-day," was the retort. "He hasn't had
enough practice."

"Look what he did to the Academy team," reminded Rodney.

And then further talk was stopped, for the gong rang to clear the
diamond. The game was about to begin.

The Stars took the field, for they were to bat last, and Sam faced his
first opponent with a smile of confidence on his face. It faded away a
moment later, however, as the lad knocked as pretty a three bagger as
had been seen on the grounds in many a day.

"That's the stuff!"

"Line 'em out!"

"Oh, we're on to his curves all right!" yelled the crowd. Joe, who was
on the bench as a reserve pitcher, jumped to his feet and watched the
ball roll past Tom who was playing centre. It looked almost as if the
batter would come on home, but he held third and the fears of the Stars
subsided.

"Fool him now, Sam," called Darrell to the pitcher.

"Make him give you a nice one," was the advice the next batter got from
his friends. And he did, though it was only good for one bag. However,
the run came in, and there were gloomy hearts in the camp of the Silver
Stars.

Sam managed to strike out the next man, and his confidence came back.
But it was only for a short time. The crowd of Blue "rooters" was making
a terrific racket and this may have gotten on Sam's nerves, at any rate
he gave the next man his base on balls and was later hit for two two
baggers.

"Oh, we've got his goat! We've got 'em going! Everybody take a run!"
yelled the visiting captain, jumping up and down at the third base
coaching line.

Darrell ran over to Sam.

"You've got to pull yourself together," he said quickly. "We can't
afford to lose this game."

"I'm doing the best I can," retorted Sam. "The ball slips."

"Don't let it slip--slips are dangerous," said the manager sharply.
"You've got to do better or----"

"Play ball!" yelled the umpire and Darrell ran back to his place at
first base. Sam scowled at him, and then wound up for his next delivery.

Somehow they managed to get three out, but there were five runs in the
Blue frame when that inning ended, and only two for the Stars.

"We can't stand this," said Rankin to the manager.

"No, if Sam doesn't improve this inning I'm going to put in Joe."

"Sam will raise a row."

"I don't care if he does. Why doesn't he pitch decent ball if he wants
to hold his place? They're laughing at the Stars now, and they didn't
used to."

"I know it. Well, maybe he'll improve."

But Sam didn't. He could not seem to control the ball, his curves broke
just about where the batters wanted them and they knocked out three runs
that inning.

"Matson bats for Morton!" announced the umpire when it came the turn of
the Stars and the change had been mentioned to the score keepers by
Darrell.

"What does that mean?" cried Sam, striding to where the captain and
manager sat.

"It means that Joe is going to pitch the rest of this game," was the
quiet answer.

"He is?" Sam's voice rose high in anger.

"He certainly is. You can't seem to do it, Sam. I'm sorry, but we can't
afford to lose. We're near the tail end of the league now."

Sam shot a look at the captain. Rankin nodded his head to confirm what
the manager had said. Then the deposed pitcher strode over to where the
score keepers sat. Taking up a piece of paper and a pencil he rapidly
wrote something and handed it to Darrell.

"What's this?" asked the manager.

"My resignation from the Silver Star Baseball Club," snapped Sam. "I'm
done pitching for you. It was all a put-up job to get me out, and that
Matson lad in. I'm through," and he turned aside.

"Very well," assented Darrell quietly. "If you feel that way about it
perhaps it is better that you quit. But I'm sorry."

"Play ball!" yelled the umpire.

"Joe, bat for Sam and then take the box," said the manager, and there
was a little subdued applause from the other Star players on the bench.
It was their way of congratulating Joe.



CHAPTER XXVII

BAD NEWS


Joe was plainly nervous. Being called on so suddenly had its effect as
did the unexpected action of Sam in resigning because Joe had supplanted
him. But the young pitcher knew that he must pull himself together.

The game was slipping away from the Stars and the crowd of shouters that
accompanied the Blues would redouble their efforts to get Joe's "goat"
as soon as he got in the box.

He had a foretaste of what they would do when he got up to bat in Sam's
place and struck out. It was no discredit to Joe, for the Blues had a
fine pitcher, still it added to his nervousness.

"If that's a sample of what your new pitcher can do we'll take a few
more runs!" yelled a Blue sympathizer.

"Oh, he only did that for fun!" yelled Rodney.

"Yes," added Tom Davis. "He's saving his arm to strike you fellows out.
Go to it, Joe! Don't let 'em rattle you."

The Stars took a brace, whether it was the knowledge that Joe was to
pitch or not, but they certainly braced, and in that inning got enough
runs to make the score six to eight in favor of the visiting team.

"Now, Joe, hold 'em down!" pleaded Darrell, "and we can do the rest, I
think."

"I'll try," answered our hero.

It would be too much to expect Joe to do wonders, but he did very well.
He only allowed two hits in the inning when he first pitched and only
one run came in, chiefly through an error on the part of the third
baseman.

"I guess we've got their number now," exulted Darrell, when it came the
turn of the Stars to bat. "Keep up the good work, boys. We've got 'em
going."

The Stars managed to knock out two runs in their half of the third
inning and that made the score eight to nine--one extra tally only
against them.

And then began what was really a remarkable game for one played between
amateur nines. For the next four innings neither side got a run. Talk of
a "pitchers' battle" began to be whispered, and for the credit of the
visitors be it said that they no longer tried to get Joe's "goat."

Both pitchers were on their mettle. Of course they were not perfect and
probably some deliveries that the umpire called strikes were balls, just
as some that he designated as balls were good strikes. But it was all in
the game. Joe was doing good work. There were only a few scattered hits
off him and these were easily taken care of by the in or out fielders.
In this the Blues rather excelled, however, there being more errors
charged up against the home team than to them.

But the Stars had this in their favor; that, while there were a number
of good stick men among the visitors, they were not speedy base-runners
and thus a number of men were nabbed on the sacks, through playing off
too far, or not connecting in time, who otherwise might have brought in
runs.

"Oh, fellows, we've got to do something!" cried the captain at the close
of the usual lucky seventh, when no runs had been registered for either
side. "Can't some of you pull off a run?"

But it was the Blue team who scored first, getting one run on a ball hit
by the first man up. It was manifestly a foul, but the umpire called it
fair and the man held his base. Then Joe's arm gave him a twinge and he
was hit for a three bagger by the next man up, scoring the player
preceding him. But that was all.

With grimly tightened lips Joe faced his next opponent and after that
not a man got to first, and the player on third dared not steal home, so
keenly was he watched.

With the score eight to ten against them the Stars came in more
confidently than might have been expected. And when they had hammered
out two runs, tieing the score, there was wild enthusiasm.

"Here's where we walk away from them!" yelled Rodney, as the second run
came in, and with only one man out. But there came a slump and the
opposing pitcher braced up, striking out two men in succession.

The ninth inning saw a single run tallied up for the visitors, and in
this connection Joe did some great work, pulling down a fly that was
well over his head and receiving a round of applause for his pluck, for
it was a "hot" one.

The unexpected happened in the ending of the ninth, when the visitors
were one ahead. Seth Potter, never reckoned as a heavy hitter brought in
a home run, and the score was once more a tie for no one else crossed
home plate.

"Ten innings!" was the cry and the spectators began "sitting up and
taking notice" as Rodney Burke said.

"Now, Joe, it's up to you to shut them out," advised the captain. The
young pitcher nodded and then he cut loose.

His arm was paining him very much for by a sudden twist he had wrenched
the muscles injured in saving the lad from the trolley car. But Joe
would not give up, and he struck out three men neatly, only one, the
second up, getting any kind of a hit, and that only good for the initial
bag.

"A goose egg!" yelled Rodney Burke. "Now one run will do the trick!"

"Snow 'em under!" cried Darrell.

And the Stars did, for they rapped out the necessary run amid a jubilant
riot of cheers, making the final score twelve to eleven.

"Oh, I knew you could do it! I knew you could!" cried the captain,
trying to embrace all his lads at once. They had won handily though at
one time it looked like defeat.

"Good work, Joe," complimented Darrell. "You're the regular pitcher from
now on."

"But if Sam reconsiders his resignation?"

"He can't," rejoined the manager. "He's out for good."

Joe could hardly wait to get home and tell the good news. He fairly
raced into the house, but he stopped short at the sight of his father
and mother in the dining room. They were seated at the table and a look
of anxiety was on their faces.

"What's the matter?" gasped Joe, all his joy in the victory and his new
position leaving him as he looked at his parents. On the table between
them lay a number of papers.

"I've been served with a summons from the court," said Mr. Matson
slowly. "It's a move on the part of Benjamin and Holdney. The court has
taken my patent models and documents away from me, and I may lose
everything. It's hard, just as I was about to succeed--very hard."

"And you may lose everything, dad?" asked Joe huskily.

"Yes--everything son--I may have to start all over again. I'm out of the
harvester works now."

For a moment one disappointing thought came to Joe. He would not be able
to go to a boarding school as he had hoped. Then the look of trouble on
his father's face drove all other thoughts from his mind.

"Don't you care, dad!" he exclaimed stepping close to him. "You can beat
those fellows yet. We whipped the Blues to-day, and I'm the regular
pitcher for the Stars!"



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE FIGHT


There was a moment of silence following Joe's remark about being made
regular pitcher. Then Clara laughed and it was almost a laugh of relief,
for she had been under quite a strain since she came in and heard the
bad news.

"Oh, you silly boy!" cried Clara. "Just as if your being made pitcher
was going to help. I suppose you'll turn all your salary in to help out
now; won't you?" but there was no sting intended in her words and,
fearing there might have been just the touch of it, she crossed the room
and tried to slip her arm up around Joe's neck.

"No, you don't!" he cried as gaily as possible under the circumstances,
"fen on kissing. But say, dad, is it as bad as all that? Have Benjamin
and his crowd beaten you?"

"I'm afraid so, son. At least they've won the first skirmish in the
battle. Now it's up to the courts, and it may take a year or more to
settle the question of whether or not I have any rights in the
inventions I originated. But don't let that worry you," he went on more
cheerfully. "We'll make out somehow. I'm glad you got the place you
wanted. How was the game?"

"Pretty good. It was so tight we had to play ten innings. But can't I do
something to help you, dad?"

"We can't do anything right away," rejoined Mr. Matson. "We can only
wait. I shall have to see a lawyer, and have him look after my
interests. I never thought that Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Holdney would treat
me this way.

"But don't worry. Perhaps we shall come out all right, and in the end
this may be a good thing. It will teach me a lesson never again to trust
any one where patents are concerned. I should have had a written
contract and not taken their mere word that they would treat me right."

"And you are out of the harvester works?" asked Joe.

"Out completely," and Mr. Matson smiled. "I have a holiday, Joe, and I'm
coming to see you pitch some day."

"But--but," ventured Clara, "if you haven't any work, dad, you won't get
any money and----"

"Oh, so that's what is worrying you!" cried her father with a laugh as
he placed his arm around her. "Well, have no fears. There are still a
few shots in the locker, and we're not going to the poorhouse right
away. Now, Joe, tell us all about the ball game."

Which the young pitcher did with great enthusiasm.

"But won't this Sam Morton be angry with you?" asked Mrs. Matson, who
was a gentle woman, always in fear of violence.

"Oh, I don't suppose he'll be very _friendly_ toward me," replied Joe.

"Then he may do you some injury."

"Well, I guess I can take care of myself. I'm not afraid of him, mother,
and if it comes to a fight----"

"Oh, you horrid boys--always thinking about fighting!" interrupted
Clara. "Don't you fight, Joe!"

"I won't if I can help it, sis."

Next morning, Joe was in two states of mind. He was delighted at being
the regular pitcher for the Stars, but he was downcast when he thought
that to go to the boarding school was now out of the question. And that
it would be impossible for him to think of it under the present
financial state of the family was made plain to him when he spoke of the
matter to his mother.

"I'm sorry, Joe," she said, "but you'll have to give up the idea."

"All right," he answered, as cheerfully as he could, but he went out of
the house quickly for there was a suspicious moisture in his eyes, and a
lump in his throat that would not seem to go down, no matter how hard he
swallowed.

"Oh, I'm a chump!" he finally exclaimed. "I shouldn't want to go to an
expensive boarding school when dad is in such trouble. And yet--and
yet--Oh! I _do_ want to get on a big team and pitch!"

In the days that followed Joe saw little of his father, for Mr. Matson
was out of town trying to get matters in shape for the court
proceedings. But Joe was kept busy at practice with the Stars, and in
playing games.

The season was in full swing and the Silver Stars seemed to have struck
a streak of winning luck. Some said it was Joe's pitching, for really he
was doing very well. Others laid it just to luck and talked darkly of a
"slump."

"There won't be any slump if you fellows keep your eyes open, and hit
and run," said the manager.

The county league season was drawing to a close, and as it stood now the
championship practically lay between the Stars and their old enemies
the Resolutes. There was some talk of playing off a tie, if it should
come to that, but when Darrell mentioned this to the Resolute manager he
was told that the latter team had all dates filled to the end of the
season.

"We can't give you a game," he announced.

"It's too bad," said Darrell, "for we ought to decide which is the best
team."

"Oh, ours is, of course. Didn't we wallop you once?"

"Well, you can't do it again," was the quick retort.

It was several days after this when Joe was coming home from afternoon
practice in preparation for a game Saturday with the Red Stockings. As
he took a short cut over the fields to get home more quickly, he was
aware of a figure coming toward him. When too late to turn back he saw
it was Sam Morton. Sam saw Joe and came to a halt.

"Well," asked Sam with a sneer, "how is the high-and-mighty pitcher? I
suppose you've been doing nothing else but handing out no-hit and no-run
games?"

"Not quite as good as that," admitted Joe with what he meant for a
friendly smile.

"Who you laughing at?" demanded Sam fiercely.

"I wasn't laughing," replied Joe.

"Yes, you were! You were laughing at me and I won't stand it. You worked
and schemed to get me out of the nine so you could go in, and now you're
making fun of me, I won't stand it, I tell you. You think you're a
pitcher! Well you're not, and you'll never be. I won't be made fun of!"
All the pent-up anger--unreasoning as it was,--all the hate that had
been accumulating for weeks in Sam, burst out at once.

He made a spring for Joe, but the pitcher stepped back. Not in time,
however, for he received a blow on the chest.

Now I am not defending Joe for what he did. I am only telling of what
happened. Joe was a manly lad yet he had all the instincts and passions
that normal lads have. When he was hit his first instinct was to hit
back, and he did it in this case.

His left fist shot forward and clipped Sam on the chin. The blow was a
staggering one and for a moment the former pitcher reeled. Then with a
roar of rage he came back at Joe, and the pair were at it hammer and
tongs.

"I'll show you that you can't come sneaking around here and steal my
place!" blubbered Sam, as he aimed a blow at Joe's face.

"I didn't sneak!" retorted Joe, as he dodged the blow and got a
right-hander near Sam's solar plexus.

Both lads were evenly matched and the fight might have gone on for some
time but for Sam's rage which made him reckless. He left unguarded
openings of which Joe took quick advantage, and finally, with a straight
left, he sent Sam to the grass.

"I--I'll fix you for that!" yelled the former pitcher as he rushed at
Joe. It was easy to step aside and avoid the clumsy blow, and once more
Sam went down. This time he did not get up so quickly, and there was a
dazed look on his face.

"See here!" cried Joe, stepping over to him. "This has gone far enough.
I didn't want to fight, but you made me. I can beat you and you know it.
If you don't stop now I'll knock you down every time you get up until
you've had enough."

It was brutal talk, perhaps, but it was well meant. For a moment Sam
looked up at his antagonist. Then he murmured:

"I've had enough--for the present."



CHAPTER XXIX

THE CHALLENGE


The fight was over. Sam arose and started away. Joe called after him:

"Won't you shake hands? I'm sorry this happened, but can't we be friends
after this?"

"No!" snarled Sam. "I don't want anything to do with you."

There was nothing more to be said, and Joe walked away. He was somewhat
stiff and sore, for a number of Sam's blows had landed with telling
effect. One in particular, on the muscles of his right forearm, made
that member a bit stiff and numb.

"I've got to take care of that," thought Joe, "or I can't pitch
Saturday." He had only a few marks of the fight on his face and he was
glad of it, for he did not want his mother or sister to know.

Joe's mother did not ask embarrassing questions. In fact she was
thinking of other things, for she had received a letter from her
husband that day, sent from a distant city. Matters it appeared were not
going as well as they might, but Mr. Matson had hopes that all would
come out right in the end.

Joe rubbed his sore arm well that night, and when Saturday came he
pitched a great game against the Red Stockings, allowing only a few
scattered hits. The Stars took the contest by a big margin.

"Now, if we could wind up with a game against the Resolutes and wallop
them we'd finish out the season in great shape," commented Captain
Rankin, as he followed his lads off the diamond.

"I'm going to make another try to get them to play us," said Darrell.
"I'm going to send a challenge, and intimate that they're afraid to
tackle us since we've got our new pitcher."

It was several days later when the nine was at practice and Darrell had
not come out. Tom Davis was in his place at first and Rodney Burke was
in centre field.

"I wonder what's keeping Darrell?" said the captain. "He hardly ever
misses practice."

"Here he comes now," announced Joe, "and he's got a letter," for Darrell
was waving a paper as he ran across the field.

"Good news, boys!" he cried. "The Resolutes will play us. I just got
word in a special delivery letter. That's what kept me. Hurray! Now
we'll show 'em what's what. It will be a grand wind-up for the season
and will practically decide the county championship."

"That's the stuff!" cried the lads.

"When do we play?" asked Joe.

"This coming Saturday."

"I thought they said all their dates were filled," commented Tom Davis.

"They were, but some team they counted on busted up and that left an
opening. Then, too, I fancy that little dig I gave them about being
afraid had its effect. Joe, it's up to you now."

"All right!" and our hero accepted the responsibility with a smile.

There was considerable excitement among the Silver Stars over the
prospective game. They were almost too excited to keep on with the
practice against the scrub, but Darrell talked like a "Dutch uncle" to
them, to quote Rodney Burke, and they went at their work with renewed
vigor.

When Joe got home that evening after some hard practice there was
another letter from his father. It was brief, merely saying:

"In a few days I will know all. My next will contain good news--or bad."

"Oh, this suspense is terrible," complained Mrs. Matson.

The day of the game between the Silver Stars and their old enemies drew
nearer. Joe had practiced hard and he knew he was in good shape to
pitch. In fact the Stars were much improved by their season's work, and
they were as good an amateur nine in their class as could be found in
the country.

Word came to them, however, that the Resolutes were trained to the
minute, and were going to put up a stiff fight for the county
championship.

"Let 'em," said Darrell briefly. "We don't want a walk-over."

"Well," remarked Clara to her brother, on the Saturday of the game,
"isn't it almost time for you to start if you're going to Rocky Ford?"

"Yes, I guess I had better be going," answered Joe. "I want to put a few
stitches in my glove. It's ripped."

"I'll do it," offered Clara and she had just finished when the door bell
rang.

"I'll go," volunteered Joe, and when he saw a messenger boy standing
there, with a yellow envelope in his hands somehow the heart of the
young pitcher sank.

Quickly he took the telegram to his mother, to whom it was addressed.

"You open it, Joe," she said. "I can't. I'm afraid it's bad news. My
hand trembles so."

Joe tore open the telegram. It was from his father.

"I'm afraid it's all up," the message read. "I have practically lost my
case, and it looks as if I'd have to start all over again. But don't
worry. I'm coming home."

A silence followed Joe's reading of the few words aloud. Then indeed it
was all over. He could not go to boarding school after all. He looked at
his mother. There were tears in her eyes but she bore the shock bravely.
Clara was very pale.

"Well, it might be worse!" said Joe philosophically. "There is just a
bare chance--but it's mighty slim."

And then from outside came the hail of Tom Davis:

"Come on, Joe! Come on! It's time you started for Rocky Ford. We're
going to wallop the Resolutes!" and with the freedom of an old friend,
Joe's chum burst into the room.



CHAPTER XXX

THE WINNING THROW--CONCLUSION


For a moment Tom stood there a bit embarrassed, for he saw that
something unusual had happened.

"I--I hope I'm not intruding," he stammered. "I didn't think--I came
right in as I always do. Has anything----"

"It's all right!" exclaimed Joe quickly. "We just got word that dad has
lost his patent case."

"Gee! That's too bad!" exclaimed Tom, who knew something of the affair.
"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to pitch against the Resolutes, the first thing I do!" cried
Joe. "After that I'll decide what's next. But is my glove mended, Clara?
Come on, Tom, we mustn't be late. We're going to wallop them--just as
you said."

"I hope you do!" burst out Clara.

"Play a good game and--and--don't worry," whispered Mrs. Matson to her
son as he kissed her good-bye.

The team and substitutes were to go to Rocky Ford in two big stages, in
time to get in some practice on the grounds that were none too familiar
to them. A crowd of Silver Star "rooters" were to follow on the trolley.
The captain and managers of the rival teams watched their opponents
practice with sharp eyes.

"They're snappier than when they beat us before," was Darrell's
conclusion.

"They've got a heap sight better pitcher in Joe than Sam Morton ever
was," concluded Captain Hen Littell of the Resolutes, who twirled for
his team. "I shouldn't wonder but what we'd have a mighty close game."

The last practice was over. The scattered balls had been collected, the
batting list made out and final details arranged. Once more came the
thrilling cry of the umpire:

"Play ball!"

The Resolutes were to bat last, and Seth Potter went up to bat first for
the Stars.

"Swat it," pleaded the crowd, and Seth smiled. But he fanned the air
successively as well as successfully and soon went back to the bench.
Then came Fred Newton's turn and he knocked a little pop fly that was
easily caught before he reached first. Captain Rankin himself was up
next and managed to get to first on a swift grounder that got past the
shortstop. But he died on second, for the next man up fanned. No runs
for the Stars.

The Resolutes were jubilant, thinking this augured well for them, but
they looked a little blank when Joe retired their first two men hitless.
For Joe had started off in good form. With the first ball he delivered
he knew that he was master of the horsehide--at least for a time.

"But oh! I hope I don't slump!" and he almost found himself praying that
such a thing would not happen.

He was in an agony of fear when he heard the crack of the bat on the
ball when the third man came up. The spheroid went shooting off in
centre field, but by a magnificent stop Percy Parnell gathered it in and
the side was retired runless. Things were not so bad for the Stars.

For the next two innings neither side got a run, though there were some
scattered hits. Again was there talk of a pitchers' battle, though in
the strict sense of the word this was not so, as both Joe and Hen
Littell were hit occasionally, and for what would have been runs only
for the efficient fielding on both sides.

"See if we can't do something this inning!" pleaded Rankin when his side
came up in their half of the fourth. The lads all tried hard and Joe
knocked a pretty one that was muffed by the second baseman. However, he
quickly picked it up and hurled it to first. Joe got there about the
same time as the ball did, and to many he seemed safe, but he was called
out.

"Aw, that's rotten!" cried Tom Davis.

"Let it go!" said Darrell sharply, and Tom subsided.

The Stars got another goose egg--four straight--and in their half of the
fourth the Resolutes got their first run. The crowd went wild and Joe
found himself clenching his hands, for the run came in because he had
given a man his base on balls. The runner had successively stolen second
and third, and went home on a nice fly.

"I hope I'm not going to slump!" thought Joe and there was a lump in his
throat. For an instant he found himself thinking of his father's
troubles, and then he firmly dismissed them from his mind. "I've got to
pitch!" he told himself fiercely.

"We've got him going!" chanted the Resolute "rooters." Joe shut his
teeth grimly and struck out the next man. Then he nipped the runner
stealing second and threw him out with lightning speed. That somewhat
silenced the jubilant cries and when Joe managed to retire one of the
Resolute's heaviest hitters without even a bunt a big crowd rose up and
cheered him.

"They're only one ahead," said Rankin as his lads came in to bat. "Let's
double it now."

And double it they did, the Star boys playing like mad and getting
enough hits off Littell to make two runs.

"That's the way to wallop 'em!" sang some one in the visiting crowd and
the song composed for the occasion was rendered with vim.

Desperately as the Resolutes tried in their half of the fifth to catch
up to their rivals, they could not do it. Joe was at his best and in
that half inning did not allow a hit. He had almost perfect control, and
his speed was good. Only once or twice did he pitch at all wild and then
it did no harm as there was no one on base.

The sixth inning saw a run chalked up for each team, making the score
three to two in favor of the Stars.

"Oh, if we can only keep this up!" exclaimed Darrell, "we'll have them.
Can you do it, Joe?"

"I guess so--yes, I can!" he said with conviction.

Then came the lucky seventh, in which the Stars pounded out three runs,
setting the big crowd wild with joy, and casting corresponding gloom
over the cohorts of the Resolutes. The Stars now had six runs and their
rivals were desperate. They even adopted unfair tactics, and several
decisions of the umpire were manifestly in their favor. The crowd hooted
and yelled, but the young fellow who was calling strikes and balls held
to his opinion, and the Resolutes closed their half of the seventh with
two runs.

"Six to four in our favor," murmured the Stars' manager. "If we can only
keep this lead the game is ours."

"That word 'if' is a big one for only two letters," spoke Captain Rankin
grimly. "But maybe we can."

Neither side scored in the eighth and then came the final trial of the
Stars unless there should be a tie, which would necessitate ten innings.

Joe was to the bat in this inning, and oh! how hard he tried for a run!
He knocked a two bagger and stole third. There was one out when Bart
Ferguson came up, and Bart was a heavy hitter. But somehow he did not
make good this time. He managed to connect with the ball, however, and
as soon as Joe heard the crack he started for home.

But there was brilliant playing on the part of the Resolutes. With a
quick throw to home the shortstop nipped Joe at the plate, and then the
catcher, hurling the ball to first, got the horsehide into the baseman's
hands before Bart arrived. It was a pretty double play and retired the
Stars with a goose egg.

Still they had a lead of two runs and they might be able to hold their
rivals down. It was a critical point in the game. As Joe took his place
and faced the batter he felt his heart wildly throbbing. He knew he must
hold himself well in hand or he would go to pieces. The crowd of
Resolute sympathizers was hooting and yelling at him. Darrell saw how
things might go and ran out to the pitcher.

"Hold hard!" he whispered. "Just take it easy. Pitch a few balls to Bart
and your nerve will come back. We've _got_ to win."

"And we will!" exclaimed Joe. The delivery of a few balls, while the
batter stepped away from the plate, showed Joe that he still had his
speed and control. He was going to be wary what kind of curves he
delivered.

He struck out the first man up with an ease that at first caused him
wild elation, and then he calmed himself.

"There are two more," he reasoned. "I've got to get two more--two
more."

He was almost in despair when he was hit for a two bagger by the next
player, and he was in a nervous perspiration about the man stealing to
third. Then Darrell signalled him to play for the batter, and Joe did,
getting him out with an easy fly.

Then there was a mix-up when the next man hit, and by an error of the
left fielder the man on second, who had stolen to third, went home with
a run, while the man who had brought him in got to the last bag.

"That's the stuff!" yelled the crowd. "Now one more to make it a tie and
another to win!"

"Steady, boys! Steady!" called Darrell, as he saw his team on the verge
of a breakdown. "We can beat 'em!"

There were now two out, one run was in, a man was on third and a heavy
batter was up--one of the best of the Resolutes.

"Swat it, Armstrong! Swat it!" cried the crowd, and the big left fielder
smiled confidently.

"Ball one!" cried the umpire, after Joe's first delivery.

There was a gasp of protest from Bart behind the plate, for the sphere
had come over cleanly. Darrell signalled to the catcher to make no
protest. Joe felt a wave of anger, but he endeavored to keep cool. But
when the second ball was called on him he wanted to run up and thrash
the umpire. The latter was grinning derisively.

"Here's a strike!" cried Joe, in desperation and he was gratified when
Armstrong struck at it and missed.

"Why didn't you call that a ball?" asked Bart of the umpire. The latter
did not answer.

Another ball was called and then a strike. Now came the supreme moment.
Two men out, a man on third waiting to rush in with the tieing run, a
heavy hitter at bat and three balls and two strikes called on him. No
wonder Joe's hand trembled a little.

"Easy, old man!" called Darrell to him. "You can make him fan."

Joe thought rapidly. He had studied the batter and he thought that by
delivering a swift in-shoot he could fool Armstrong. It was his last
chance, for another ball meant that the batter would walk, and there was
even a better stick-man to follow.

Joe wound up, and sent in a swift one. His heart was fluttering, he
could hardly see, there was a roaring in his ears. And then he dimly saw
Armstrong strike at the ball desperately. Almost at the same moment Joe
knew he would miss it.

The ball landed in the centre of Bart's big glove with a resounding
whack. He held it exactly where he had caught it. Joe had delivered the
winning throw.

"Strike three--batter's out!" howled the umpire, and then his voice was
drowned in a yell of joy from the sympathizers of the Stars.

For their team had won! The Resolutes were retired with but one run in
the ninth and the final score was five to six in favor of our friends.
They had beaten their old rivals on their own grounds and they had won
the county championship!

"Great work, old man! Great!" yelled Darrell in Joe's ear. "You saved
the day for us."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Joe modestly.

"Three cheers for Baseball Joe!" yelled Tom Davis, and how those cheers
did ring out.

"Three cheers for the Stars--they beat us fair and square!" called
Captain Littell, and this was quite a different ending than that which
had marked the previous game.

Some wanted to carry Joe around on their shoulders but he slipped away,
and got off his uniform. Soon the team was on its way back to Riverside.

"You ought to be in a bigger team," Darrell told Joe. "You've got the
making of a great pitcher in you."

"Well, I guess I'll have to stick around here for a while yet," replied
our hero, as he thought of the fallen finances of his father. Never in
all his life had he so longed for the chance to go to boarding school,
and thence to college. But he knew it could not be, chiefly through the
treachery of Benjamin and Holdney. Joe felt a wave of resentment against
them sweep over him, and his thoughts were black and bitter.

Tom walked as far as Joe's street with him. He had a silent sympathy
that spoke more than mere words could have done.

"So long," he said softly as they parted. "It was a great game, Joe, and
I'm almost glad you've got to stay with the Stars."

"Well, did you win?" asked his mother, as Joe entered the house--entered
it more listlessly than winning a big game would seem to warrant. "Did
you beat the Resolutes, Joe?"

"Yes, we did--why, mother, what's the matter?" cried the young pitcher,
for there was a look of joy and happiness on her face, a look entirely
different than when he had left her after the bad news. "Has
anything--anything good happened?" he asked.

"Yes!" she exclaimed, "there has. I just had another telegram from your
father. Everything is all right. He gets back his patents."

"No!" cried Joe, as if unable to believe the news.

"But I tell you yes!" repeated Mrs. Matson, and there was joy in her
voice. "At first your father believed that all was lost, just as he
wired us. Then, most unexpectedly he tells me, they were able to obtain
some evidence from outside parties which they had long tried for in
vain.

"It seems that a witness for Mr. Benjamin and his side, on whom they
very much depended, deserted them, and went over to your father and his
lawyer, and----"

"Hurray for that witness, whoever he was!" cried Joe.

"Be quiet," begged Clara, "and let mother tell."

"There isn't much to tell," went on Mrs. Matson. "With the unexpected
evidence of this witness your father's lawyer won the case, almost at
the last moment. In fact your father had given up, and was about ready
to leave the court when the man sent in word that he would testify for
them. That was after your father sent the telegram that came just before
you went off to the game, Joe."

"Oh, I'm so glad!" cried Clara.

"Now it's your turn to be quiet and listen," admonished Joe, with a
smile at his sister.

"I have about finished," went on their mother. "The judge decided in
your father's favor, and he doesn't even have to share the profits of
the invention with the harvester company or with Mr. Rufus Holdney, as
he at one time thought he would, for they have violated their contract.
So we won't be poor, after all, children. Aren't you glad?"

"You bet!" exploded Joe, throwing his arms around his mother's neck.

"And we won't have to leave this nice house," added Clara, looking
around the comfortable abode.

"Then I can go to boarding school--and pitch on the school nine; can't I
mother?" cried Joe, throwing his arms around her.

"Oh, yes; I suppose so," she answered, with half a sigh. "But I do wish
you'd do something else besides play baseball."

"Something else besides baseball, mother! Why, there's nothing to be
compared to it. Hurray! I'm going to boarding school! I'm going to
boarding school!" and Joe, catching Clara around the waist, waltzed her
around the room. Then he caught his mother on his other arm--the arm
that won the victory for the Stars that day--and her, too, he whirled
about until she cried for mercy.

"Oh, but this is great!" Joe cried when he stopped for breath. "Simply
great! I must go and tell Tom. Maybe he can go to boarding school with
me."

And whether Tom did or not, and what were our hero's further fortunes on
the diamond, will be related in the next volume, to be called: "Baseball
Joe on the School Nine; or, Pitching for the Blue Banner."

There was an impromptu feast that night for the victorious Silver Stars
and Joe was the hero of the occasion. He was toasted again and again,
and called upon to make some remarks, which he did in great confusion.
But his chums thought it the best speech they had ever heard.

"Three cheers for Baseball Joe!" called Tom Davis, and the room rang
with them, while Joe tried to hide his blushes by drinking glass after
glass of lemonade.

And now, for a time, we will take leave of him, crying as his chums did
after the great victory on the diamond: "Hurrah for Baseball Joe!"


THE END


     _Dear Reader_:

     If you enjoyed Baseball Joe and wish to follow his further
     adventures see the books listed on the following page.



THE BASEBALL JOE SERIES

By LESTER CHADWICK

_12mo. Illustrated. Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents
additional._

[Illustration]

  1. BASEBALL JOE OF THE SILVER STARS
     _or The Rivals of Riverside_

  2. BASEBALL JOE ON THE SCHOOL NINE
     _or Pitching for the Blue Banner_

  3. BASEBALL JOE AT YALE
     _or Pitching for the College Championship_

  4. BASEBALL JOE IN THE CENTRAL LEAGUE
     _or Making Good as a Professional Pitcher_

  5. BASEBALL JOE IN THE BIG LEAGUE
     _or A Young Pitcher's Hardest Struggles_

  6. BASEBALL JOE ON THE GIANTS
     _or Making Good as a Twirler in the Metropolis_

  7. BASEBALL JOE IN THE WORLD SERIES
     _or Pitching for the Championship_

  8. BASEBALL JOE AROUND THE WORLD
     _or Pitching on a Grand Tour_

  9. BASEBALL JOE: HOME RUN KING
     _or The Greatest Pitcher and Batter on Record_

  10. BASEBALL JOE SAVING THE LEAGUE
      _or Breaking Up a Great Conspiracy_

  11. BASEBALL JOE CAPTAIN OF THE TEAM
      _or Bitter Struggles on the Diamond_

  12. BASEBALL JOE CHAMPION OF THE LEAGUE
      _or The Record that was Worth While_

  13. BASEBALL JOE CLUB OWNER
      _or Putting the Home Town on the Map_

  14. BASEBALL JOE PITCHING WIZARD
      _or Triumphs Off and On the Diamond_


_Send for Our Free Illustrated Catalogue._

CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers New York



THE BOMBA BOOKS

By ROY ROCKWOOD

_12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. With Colored jacket._

_Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents additional._

[Illustration]


_Bomba lived far back in the jungles of the Amazon with a half-demented
naturalist who told the lad nothing of his past. The jungle boy was a
lover of birds, and hunted animals with a bow and arrow and his trusty
machete. He had only a primitive education, and his daring adventures
will be followed with breathless interest by thousands._

  1. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY
  2. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AT THE MOVING MOUNTAIN
  3. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AT THE GIANT CATARACT
  4. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY ON JAGUAR ISLAND
  5. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY IN THE ABANDONED CITY
  6. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY ON TERROR TRAIL
  7. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY IN THE SWAMP OF DEATH
  8. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AMONG THE SLAVES
  9. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY ON THE UNDERGROUND RIVER
  10. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AND THE LOST EXPLORERS
  11. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY IN A STRANGE LAND
  12. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AMONG THE PYGMIES
  13. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AND THE CANNIBALS
  14. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AND THE PAINTED HUNTERS
  15. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AND THE RIVER DEMONS
  16. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AND THE HOSTILE CHIEFTAIN

These books may be purchased wherever books are sold

_Send for Our Free Illustrated Catalogue_

CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers New York



CHAMPION SPORTS STORIES

By NOEL SAINSBURY, JR.

[Illustration]

_Every boy enjoys sport stories. Here we present three crackerjack
stories of baseball, football, and basketball, written in the vernacular
of the boy of to-day, full of action, suspense and thrills, in language
every boy will understand, and which we know will be enthusiastically
endorsed by all boys._

_Large 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in color. Price 50 cents per
volume._

_Postage 10 cents additional._


  1. CRACKER STANTON
     _Or The Making of a Batsman_

Ralph Stanton, big, rawboned and serious, is a product of the backwoods
and a crack rifle shot. Quick thinking and pluck bring him a scholarship
to Clarkville School where he is branded "grind" and "dub" by
classmates. How his batting brings them first place in the League and
how he secures his appointment to West Point make CRACKER STANTON an
up-to-the-minute baseball story no lover of the game will want to put
down until the last word is read.

  2. GRIDIRON GRIT
     _Or The Making of a Fullback_

A corking story of football packed full of exciting action and good,
clean competitive rivalry. Shorty Fiske is six-foot-four and the product
of too much money and indulgence at home. How Clarkville School and
football develop Shorty's real character and how he eventually stars on
the gridiron brings this thrilling tale of school life and football to a
grandstand finish.

  3. THE FIGHTING FIVE
     _Or the Kidnapping of Clarkville's Basketball Team_

Clarkville School's basketball team is kidnapped during the game for the
State Scholastic Championship. The team's subsequent adventures under
the leadership of Captain Charlie Minor as he brings them back to the
State College Gymnasium where the two last quarters of the Championship
game are played next evening, climaxes twenty-four pulsating hours of
adventure and basketball in the FIGHTING FIVE....

CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers New York



SORAK JUNGLE SERIES

By HARVEY D. RICHARDS

_The name Sorak means War Cry in the Malay country. He grows up among
the most primitive of the Malay aborigines, and learns to combat all
the terrors of the jungle with safety. The constant battle with
nature's forces develop Sorak's abilities to such an extent that he is
acknowledged the chief warrior in all his section of the jungle._

_12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in color. Price 50 cents per volume._

_Postage 10 cents additional._

[Illustration]


  1. SORAK OF THE MALAY JUNGLE
     _or How Two Young Americans Face Death and Win a Friend_

Two boys, Dick and Jack Preston are shipwrecked off the Malay Peninsula
and are rescued by Sorak. Their adventures in trying to get back to
civilization make an absorbing story.

  2. SORAK AND THE CLOUDED TIGER
     _or How the Terrible Ruler of the North Is Hunted and Destroyed_

A huge clouded tiger, almost human, leads a pack of red dholes into
Sorak's country, and it takes all of Sorak's ingenuity, and the aid of
his friends to exterminate the pack.

  3. SORAK AND THE SULTAN'S ANKUS
     _or How a Perilous Journey Leads to a Kingdom of Giants_

Sorak and his friends are trapped by a herd of elephants, and finally
run away with by the leader to an unknown valley where a remnant of
Cro-Magnon race still exists. Their exciting adventures will hold the
reader enthralled until the last word.

  4. SORAK AND THE TREE-MEN
     _or the Rescue of the Prisoner Queen_

Captured by a band of Malay slavers, Sorak and his friends are wrecked
on an island off the coast of Burma in the Mergui Archipelago. Their
escape from the island with the Prisoner Queen after a successful
revolution brings the fourth book of this series to an exciting and
unusual conclusion.

CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers New York



TOP NOTCH DETECTIVE STORIES

By WILLIAM HALL

[Illustration]

_Each story complete in itself_

_A new group of detective stories carefully written, with corking plots;
modern, exciting, full of adventure, good police and detective work._

_Large 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in color. Price 50 cents per
volume._

_Postage 10 cents additional._


  1. SLOW VENGEANCE
     _or the Mystery of Pete Shine_

A young newspaper man, whose brother is on the police force, becomes
strangely involved in the mysterious killing of an Italian bootblack.
Suspicion points to a well-known politician but he proves that it was
impossible for him to have done the deed. Then the reporter, who for a
time turns detective, gets a clue revolving about a startling, ancient
method of combat. He follows this up, watches a masked duelist and, with
the help of a girl, catches the murderer who justifies his deed on the
plea of Slow Vengeance. You will be interested in reading how the
reporter got out of a tight corner.

  2. GREEN FIRE
     _or Mystery of the Indian Diamond_

A golf caddy who has a leaning toward amateur detective work, together
with his younger cousin, are accidentally mixed up in the strange loss,
or theft, of a valuable diamond, known as Green Fire. It was once the
eye of an East Indian idol. To clear his young cousin of suspicion, the
older boy undertakes to solve the mystery which deepens when one man
disappears and another is found murdered on the golf course. But, by a
series of clever moves on the part of the young sleuth, the crime is
solved and the diamond found in a most unusual hiding place. A rapidly
moving, exciting tale. You will like it.

  3. HIDDEN DANGER
     _or The Secret of the Bank Vault_

A young detective, who, in his private capacity, has solved several
mysteries, decides to open an office in another city. He meets a young
bank clerk and they become partners just when the clerk's bank is
mysteriously bombed and the cashier is reported missing. It is not until
next day that it is discovered that the bank vault has been entered in
some secret manner and a large sum stolen. The regular detectives
declared "spirits" must have robbed the bank but the two young
detectives prove that a clever gang did it and also kidnapped the aged
cashier. Not a dull page from first to last. A clever story.

CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers New York



NORTHWEST STORIES

By LeROY W. SNELL

[Illustration]

_A new group of stories laid in the Canadian Northwest by Mr. Snell, a
master writer of the glories and the thrilling adventures of the
Canadian Northwest Mounted Police. Each book is an individual story,
well written, beautifully bound, and contains a story that all boys will
enjoy._

_Large 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in color. Price 50 cents per
volume._

_Postage 10 cents additional._


1. THE LEAD DISK

Tom Baley, leaving college goes north into Canada, hoping to join the
Northwest Mounted Police. His application is turned down by his own
uncle, an officer on the force, but after many thrilling adventures and
encounters with the Disk Gang he is able to win the coveted uniform.

2. SHADOW PATROL

Luke Myers is sent into the Caribou Mountains to solve the mystery of
The Shadow, about whom many conflicting stories are told. There are
struggles with the outlaws, and finally a great running battle down the
fog-obscured mountain trails ... at the end of which the outlaws are
captured and the mystery of The Shadow is solved.

3. THE WOLF CRY

Donald Pierce is sent to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance,
into the unmapped barrens where King Stively weaves his web of
wickedness, and rules a territory the size of a small empire with a
ruthlessness and cunning that baffles the best of the Mounted Police.
Behind all is the dread Wolf Cry which causes brave men to shudder....

4. THE SPELL OF THE NORTH

Sergeant David Stanlaw, stationed at Spirit River, is puzzled by a local
killing, the disappearance of the body, the finding of a code message,
and by the mystery of the "Listening Forest," which casts a shadow of
dread over the little town of Wiggin's Creek. With the help of Jerry
Bartlett they capture the leaders of the gang and solve the mystery of
the "Listening Forest."

5. THE CHALLENGE OF THE YUKON

Robert Wade whose patrol runs from Skagway on Chattam Strait north into
the Yukon country follows in the wake of a stampede to a new gold
strike. With the aid of his friend, Jim MacPhail, Wade frustrates the
outlaws, who try to trap the whole town behind the "Pass of the Closing
Door," and then races them to and across the breaking ice floes of the
Yukon. A strong adventure story all boys will enjoy.

CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers New York



 Transcriber's Notes:

 --Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).

 --Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.

 --Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

 --Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.





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