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Title: Baseball Joe in the Central League - or, Making Good as a Professional Pitcher
Author: Chadwick, Lester
Language: English
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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.

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LEAGUE***


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[Illustration: JOE STEADIED HIMSELF, AND SMILED AT HIS OPPONENT.]


BASEBALL JOE IN THE CENTRAL LEAGUE

Or

Making Good as a Professional Pitcher

by

LESTER CHADWICK

Author of
"Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars," "Baseball Joe at Yale,"
"The Rival Pitchers," "The Eight-Oared Victors," etc.

Illustrated



[Illustration]

New York
Cupples & Leon Company


       *       *       *       *       *

=BOOKS BY LESTER CHADWICK=


 =THE BASEBALL JOE SERIES=
 =12mo. Cloth. Illustrated=


 BASEBALL JOE OF THE SILVER STARS
     Or The Rivals of Riverside

 BASEBALL JOE ON THE SCHOOL NINE
     Or Pitching for the Blue Banner

 BASEBALL JOE AT YALE
     Or Pitching for the College Championship

 BASEBALL JOE IN THE CENTRAL LEAGUE
     Or Making Good as a Professional Pitcher

 (_Other Volumes in Preparation_)


 =THE COLLEGE SPORTS SERIES=
 =12mo. Cloth. Illustrated=


 THE RIVAL PITCHERS
     A Story of College Baseball

 A QUARTER-BACK'S PLUCK
     A Story of College Football

 BATTING TO WIN
     A Story of College Baseball

 THE WINNING TOUCHDOWN
     A Story of College Football

 THE EIGHT-OARED VICTORS
     A Story of College Water Sports

 (_Other Volumes in Preparation_)

 =CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, New York=

       *       *       *       *       *

Copyright, 1914, by
Cupples & Leon Company

=Baseball Joe in the Central League=

Printed in U. S. A.



CONTENTS


 CHAPTER                           PAGE
       I  DANGER                      1
      II  OFF FOR THE SOUTH          13
     III  AN ACCUSATION              23
      IV  IN TRAINING                30
       V  THE CLASH                  41
      VI  A STRAIGHT THROW           50
     VII  THE GIRL                   58
    VIII  A PARTING                  67
      IX  THE FIRST LEAGUE GAME      74
       X  BITTERNESS                 84
      XI  OLD POP CONSOLES           92
     XII  THE QUEER VALISE           98
    XIII  MABEL                     105
     XIV  BAD NEWS                  113
      XV  JOE'S PLUCK               120
     XVI  A SLIM CHANCE             128
    XVII  OLD POP AGAIN             136
   XVIII  IN DESPAIR                144
     XIX  A NEW HOLD                153
      XX  JOE'S TRIUMPH             161
     XXI  A DANGER SIGNAL           168
    XXII  VICTORY                   176
   XXIII  THE TRAMP AGAIN           185
    XXIV  ON THE TRACK              191
     XXV  REGGIE'S AUTO             198
    XXVI  THE TRAMP RENDEZVOUS      206
   XXVII  THE SLOW WATCH            212
  XXVIII  THE RACE                  220
    XXIX  A DIAMOND BATTLE          228
     XXX  THE PENNANT               237



BASEBALL JOE IN THE CENTRAL LEAGUE



CHAPTER I

DANGER


"Why, here's Joe!"

"So soon? I didn't expect him until night."

The girl who had uttered the first exclamation, and her mother whose
surprise was manifested in the second, hurried to the door of the
cottage, up the gravel walk to which a tall, athletic youth was then
striding, swinging a heavy valise as though he enjoyed the weight of it.

"Hello, Mother!" he called gaily. "How are you, Sis?" and a moment later
Joe Matson was alternating his marks of affection between his mother and
sister.

"Well, it's good to be home again!" he went on, looking into the two
faces which showed the pleasure felt in the presence of the lad. "Mighty
good to be home again!"

"And we're glad to have him; aren't we, Mother?"

"Yes, Clara, of course," and Mrs. Matson spoke with a hesitation that
her son could not help noticing. "Of course we just love to have you
home Joe----"

"There, now, Mother, I know what you're going to say!" he interrupted
with good-natured raillery. "You rather wish I'd stuck on there at Yale,
turning into a fossil, or something like that, and----"

"Oh, Joe! Of course I didn't want you to turn into a fossil," objected
his mother, in shocked tones. "But I did hope that you might----"

"Become a sky-pilot! Is that it, Momsey?" and he put his arm about her
slender waist.

"Joe Matson! What a way to talk about a minister!" she cried. "The
idea!"

"Well, Mother, I meant no disrespect. A sky-pilot is an ancient and
honorable calling, but not for me. So here I am. Yale will have to worry
along without yours truly, and I guess she'll make out fairly well. But
how is everything? Seen any of the fellows lately? How's father? How's
the business?"

The last two questions seemed to open a painful subject, for mother and
daughter looked at one another as though each one was saying:

"You tell him!"

Joe Matson sensed that something disagreeable was in the air.

"What is it?" he demanded, turning from his mother to his sister. "What
has happened?" It was not Joe's way to shrink from danger, or from a
disagreeable duty. And part of his success as a baseball pitcher was due
to this very fact.

Now he was aware that something had gone amiss since his last visit
home, and he wanted to know what it was. He put his arms on his mother's
shoulders--frail little shoulders they were, too--yet they had borne
many heavy burdens of which Joe knew nothing. What mother's shoulders
have not?

The lad looked into her eyes--eyes that held a hint of pain. His own
were clear and bright--they snapped with life and youthful vigor.

"What is it, Momsey?" he asked softly. "Don't be afraid to tell me. Has
anything happened to dad?"

"Oh, no, it isn't anything like that, Joe," said Clara quickly. "We
didn't write to you about it for fear you'd worry and lose that last big
game with Princeton. It's only that----"

"Your father has lost some money!" interrupted Mrs. Matson, wishing to
have the disagreeable truth out at once.

"Oh, if that's all, we can soon fix that!" cried Joe, gaily, as though
it was the easiest thing in the world. "Just wait until I begin drawing
my salary as pitcher for the Pittston team in the Central League, and
then you'll be on Easy Street."

"Oh, but it's a great deal of money, Joe!" spoke Clara in rather awed
tones.

"Well, you haven't heard what my salary is to be."

"You mustn't make it so serious, Clara," interposed Mrs. Matson. "Your
father hasn't exactly lost the money, Joe. But he has made a number of
investments that seem likely to turn out badly, and there's a chance
that he'll have to lose, just as some others will."

"Oh, well, if there's a chance, what's the use of worrying until you
have to?" asked Joe, boy-like.

"The chances are pretty good--or, rather, pretty bad--that the money
will go," said Mrs. Matson with a sigh. "Oh, dear! Isn't it too bad,
after all his hard work!"

"There, there, Mother!" exclaimed the lad, soothingly. "Let's talk about
something pleasant. I'll go down to the works soon, and see dad. Just
now I'm as hungry as a--well, as a ball player after he's won out in the
world's series. Got anything to eat in the house?"

"Of course!" exclaimed Clara, with a laugh, "though whether it will suit
your high and mightiness, after what you have been used to at college, I
can't say."

"Oh, I'm not fussy, Sis! Trot out a broiled lobster or two, half a
roast chicken, some oysters, a little salad and a cup of coffee and I'll
try and make that do until the regular meal is ready!"

They laughed at his infectious good-humor, and a look of relief showed
on Mrs. Matson's face. But it did not altogether remove the shadow of
concern that had been there since Joe wrote of his decision to leave
Yale to take up the life of a professional baseball player. It had
been a sore blow to his mother, who had hopes of seeing him enter
the ministry, or at least one of the professions. And with all his
light-heartedness, Joe realized the shattered hopes. But, for the life
of him, he could not keep on at college--a place entirely unsuited to
him. But of that more later.

Seated at the dining-room table, the three were soon deep in a rather
disjointed conversation. Joe's sister and mother waited on him as only a
mother and sister can serve a returned son and brother.

Between bites, as it were, Joe asked all sorts of questions, chiefly
about his father's business troubles. Neither Mrs. Matson nor her
daughter could give a very clear account of what had happened, or was in
danger of happening, and the young pitcher, whose recent victory in the
college championship games had made him quite famous, remarked:

"I'll have to go down and see dad myself, and give him the benefit of
my advice. I suppose he's at the Harvester Works?"

"Yes," answered Mrs. Matson. "He is there early and late. He is working
on another patent, and he says if it's successful he won't mind about
the bad investments. But he hasn't had much luck, so far."

"I'll have to take him out to a ball game, and get the cobwebs out of
his head," said Joe, with a laugh. "It's a bad thing to get in a rut.
Just a little more bread, Sis."

"And so you have really left Yale?" asked his mother, almost hoping
something might have occurred to change her son's mind. "You are not
going back, Joe?"

"No, I've quit, Mother, sold off what belongings I didn't want to keep,
and here I am."

"And when are you going to begin pitching for that professional team?"
asked Clara, coming in with the bread.

"I can't exactly say. I've got to go meet Mr. Gregory, the manager and
the largest stockholder in the club. So far I've only dealt with Mr.
James Mack, his assistant and scout. He picked me up and made a contract
with me."

"Perhaps it won't go through," ventured Mrs. Matson, half-hopefully.

"Oh, I guess it will," answered Joe, easily. "Anyhow, I've got an
advance payment, and I can hold them to their terms. I expect I'll
be sent South to the training camp, where the rest of the players
are. The season opens soon, and then we'll be traveling all over the
circuit--mostly in the Middle West."

"Then we won't see much of you, Joe," and his sister spoke regretfully.

"Well, I'll have to be pretty much on the jump, Sis. But I'll get home
whenever I can. And if ever you get near where the Pittston club is
playing--that's my team, you know--" and Joe pretended to swell up with
pride--"why, just take a run in, and I'll get you box seats."

"I'm afraid I don't care much for baseball," sighed Mrs. Matson.

"I do!" cried Clara with enthusiasm. "Oh, we've had some dandy games
here this Spring, Joe, though the best games are yet to come. The Silver
Stars are doing fine!"

"Are they really?" Joe asked. "And since they lost my invaluable services
as a twirler? How thoughtless of them, Sis!"

Clara laughed.

"Well, they miss you a lot," she pouted, "and often speak of you. Maybe,
if you're going to be home a few days, you could pitch a game for them."

"I wouldn't dare do it, Clara."

"Why not, I'd like to know," and her eyes showed her surprise.

"Because I'm a professional now, and I can't play in amateur
contests--that is, it wouldn't be regular."

"Oh, I guess no one here would mind, Joe. Will you have some of these
canned peaches?"

"Just a nibble, Sis--just a nibble. I've made out pretty well. You can
make as good bread as ever, Momsey!"

"I'm glad you like it, Joe. Your father thinks there's nothing like
home-made bread."

"That's where dad shows his good judgment. Quite discriminating on dad's
part, I'm sure. Yes, indeed!"

"Oh, Joe, you're so--so different!" said Clara, looking at her brother
sharply.

"In what way, Sis?"

"Oh, I don't know," she said, slowly. "I suppose it's--the college
influence."

"Well, a fellow can't live at Yale, even for a short time, without
absorbing something different from the usual life. It's an education in
itself just to go there if you never opened a book. It's a different
world."

"And I wish you had stayed there!" burst out Mrs. Matson, with sudden
energy. "Oh, I don't like you to be a professional ball player! It's no
profession at all!"

"Well, call it a business then, if you like," said Joe good-naturedly.
"Say it isn't a profession, though it is called one. As a business
proposition, Mother, it's one of the biggest in the world to-day. The
players make more money than lots of professional men, and they don't
have to work half so hard--not that I mind that."

"Joe Matson! Do you mean to tell me a ball player--even one who tosses
the ball for the other man to hit at--does he make more than--than a
_minister_?" demanded his mother.

"I should say so, Mother! Why, there are very few ministers who make as
much as even an ordinary player in a minor league. And as for the major
leaguers--why, they could equal half a dozen preachers. Mind, I'm not
talking against the ministry, or any of the learned professions. I only
wish I had the brains and ability to enter one.

"But I haven't, and there's no use pretending I have. And, though I do
say it myself, there's no use spoiling a good pitcher to make a poor
minister. I'm sorry, Mother, that I couldn't keep on at Yale--sorry on
your account, not on mine. But I just couldn't."

"How--how much do you suppose you'll get a year for pitching in this
Central League?" asked Mrs. Matson, hesitatingly.

"Well, they're going to start me on fifteen hundred dollars a year,"
said Joe rather proudly, "and of course I can work up from that."

"Fifteen hundred dollars!" cried Mrs. Matson. "Why, that's more than a
hundred dollars a month!"

"A good deal more, when you figure that I don't have to do anything in
the Winter months, Mother."

"Fifteen hundred dollars!" murmured Clara. "Why, that's more than father
earned when he got married, Mother. I've heard you say so--lots of
times."

"Yes, Clara. But then fifteen hundred dollars went further in those days
than it does now. But, Joe, I didn't think you'd get so much as that."

"There's my contract, Mother," and he pulled it from his pocket with a
flourish.

"Well, of course, Joe--Oh! I _did_ want you to be a minister, or a
lawyer, or a doctor; but since you feel you can't--well, perhaps it's
all for the best, Joe," and she sighed softly. "Maybe it's for the
best."

"You'll see that it will be, Mother. And now I'm going down street and
see some of the boys. I suppose Tom Davis is around somewhere. Then I'll
stroll in on dad. I want to have a talk with him."

"Shall I unpack your valise?" asked Clara.

"Yes. I guess I'll be home for a few days before starting in at the
training camp. I'll be back to supper, anyhow," and, with a laugh he
went out and down the main street of Riverside, where the Matsons made
their home.

As Baseball Joe walked along the thoroughfare he was greeted by many
acquaintances--old and young. They were all glad to see him, for the
fame of the pitcher who had won the victory for Yale was shared, in a
measure, by his home town. In the case of baseball players, at least,
they are not "prophets without honor save in their own country."

Joe inquired for his old chum, Tom Davis, but no one seemed to have
noticed him that day, and, making up his mind he would locate him later,
the young pitcher turned his footsteps in the direction of the Royal
Harvester Works, where his father was employed. To reach the plant Joe
had to cross the railroad, and in doing this he noticed a man staggering
along the tracks.

The man was not a prepossessing specimen. His clothes were ragged and
dirty--in short "tramp" was written all over him.

"And he acts as though he were drugged, or had taken too much whiskey,"
said Joe. "Too bad! Maybe he's had a lot of trouble. You can't always
tell.

"But I'm sure of one thing, and that is he'd better get off the track.
He doesn't seem able to take care of himself.

"Look out there!" cried the young pitcher, with sudden energy. "Look out
for that freight, old man! You're walking right into danger!"

A train of freight cars was backing down the rails, right upon the man
who was staggering along, unheeding.

The engineer blew his whistle shrilly--insistently; but still the ragged
man did not get off the track.

Joe sprinted at his best pace, and in an instant had grasped
the man by the arm. The tramp looked up with bleary, blood-shot
eyes--uncomprehending--almost unseeing.

"Wha--wha's matter?" he asked, thickly.

"Matter--matter enough when you get sense enough to realize it!" said
Joe sharply, as he pulled him to one side, and only just in time, for a
second later the freight train thundered past at hardly slackened speed
in spite of the fact that the brakes had been clapped on.

The man staggered at Joe's sudden energy, and would have toppled over
against a switch had not the young pitcher held him.



CHAPTER II

OFF FOR THE SOUTH


Sweeping past, in the cab of the locomotive, the engineer leaned out and
shook his fist at the tramp.

"You ought to be locked up!" he yelled, with savage energy. Then, lest
he might not seem to appreciate Joe's action in saving the man's life
and preventing a lot of trouble for the railroad authorities, the
engineer added:

"Much obliged to you, young fellow. You saved us a bad mess. Better turn
that hobo over to one of the yard detectives. He'll take care of him,
all right."

"No, I'll get him off the tracks and start him home, if I can," answered
Joe, but it is doubtful if the engineer heard.

"You had a close call, old man," went on Joe, as he helped the tramp to
stand upright. "Better get off the railroad. Where do you want to go?"

"Hey?"

"I ask you where you want to go. I'll give you a hand, if it isn't too
far. It's dangerous here--for a man in your--condition."

"Uh! Don't make no difference where I go, I reckon," replied the man,
thickly. "No difference at all. I'm down and out, an' one place's good's
nuther. Down--an'--out!"

"Oh, well, maybe you can come back," said Joe, as cheerfully as he
could. "Don't give up."

"Come back! Huh! Guess you don't know the game. Fellers like me never
come back. Say, bo, you've got quite an arm on you," he said admiringly,
as he noted the ease with which the young pitcher helped him over the
tracks. The unfortunate man could hardly help himself. "You've got an
arm--all right."

"Oh, nothing much. Just from pitching. I expect."

"Pitching!" The man straightened up as though a lash had struck him.
"Pitching, did you say? In--er--in what league?"

"Not in any league yet, though I've signed with the Central."

"The Central? Huh! A bush league."

"I left the Yale 'varsity to go with them," said Joe, a little nettled
at the tone of the man whose life he had just saved.

"Oh--you pitched for Yale?" There was more deference shown now.

"Yes, and we beat Princeton."

"You did? An' you pitched? Say, young feller, put her there! Put
her--there!" The man held out an unsteady hand, which Joe, more to
quiet him than for any other reason, clasped firmly.

"An' you beat Princeton! Good for you! Put her there! I--er--I read
about that. I can read--I got a good education. But I--er--Oh, I'm a
fool, that's what I am. A fool! An' to think that I once--Oh, what's the
use--what's the use?"

The energy faded away from his voice, and he ended in a half sob. With
bowed head he allowed Joe to lead him across the tracks. A number of
railroad men who had seen the rescue looked at the pair, but once the
tramp was off the line, and out of immediate danger, they lost interest.

"Can I help you--do you want to go anywhere in particular?" asked Joe,
kindly.

"What's the use of goin' anywhere in particular?" was the demand. "I've
got nowhere to go. One place is as good as another when you're down--and
out. Out! Ha! Yes, out! He's out--out at first--last--out all the time!
Out!"

"Oh, quit!" exclaimed Joe, sharply, for the man was fast losing his
nerve, and was almost sobbing.

"That's right, young feller--that's right!" came the quick retort. "I do
need pullin' up. Much obliged to you. I--I guess I can take care of
myself now."

"Have you any--do you need any--money?" hesitated Joe.

"No--no, thank you. I've got some. Not much, but enough until I can
get--straightened out. I'm much obliged to you."

He walked straighter now, and more upright.

"Be careful to keep off the tracks," warned Joe.

"I--I will. Don't worry. Much obliged," and the man walked off into the
woods that adjoined the railroad.

"Poor old chap," mused the young pitcher, as he resumed his way to his
father's shop. And while I have just a few moments I will take advantage
of them to make my new readers better acquainted with Joe, and his
achievements, as detailed in the former books of this series.

The first volume is entitled "Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars," and
tells how Joe began his career as a pitcher. The Silver Stars were made
up of ball-loving lads in Riverside, a New England town where Joe lived
with his parents and his sister Clara. Mr. Matson was an inventor of
farming machinery, and had perfected a device that brought him in
substantial returns.

Joe, Tom Davis, and a number of other lads formed a team that was to
represent Riverside. Their bitterest rivals were the Resolutes of Rocky
Ford, a neighboring town, and many hot battles of the diamond were
fought. Joe rapidly developed as a pitcher, and it was due to his
efforts that his team made such an excellent showing.

In the second book, entitled, "Baseball Joe on the School Nine," I
related what happened when our hero went to Excelsior Hall, a boarding
institution just outside of Cedarhurst.

Joe did not find it so easy, there, to make a showing as a pitcher.
There was more competition to begin with, and he had rivals and enemies.
But he did not give up, and, in spite of many difficulties, he finally
occupied the mound when the annual struggle for the Blue Banner took
place. And what a game that was!

Joe spent several terms at Excelsior Hall, and then, more in deference
to his mother's wishes than because he wanted to, he went to Yale.

For an account of what happened there I refer my readers to the third
book of the series, called "Baseball Joe at Yale." Joe had an uphill
climb at the big university. Mingled with the hard work, the hopes
deferred and the jealousies, were, however, good times a-plenty. That is
one reason why Joe did not want to leave it. But he had an ambition to
become a professional ball player, and he felt that he was not fitted
for a college life.

So when "Jimmie" Mack, assistant manager of the Pittston team of the
Central League, who was out "scouting" for new and promising players,
saw Joe's pitching battle against Princeton, he made the young collegian
an offer which Joe did not feel like refusing.

He closed his college career abruptly, and when this story opens we find
him coming back from New Haven to Riverside. In a day or so he expected
to join the recruits at the training camp of the Pittston nine, which
was at Montville, North Carolina.

As Joe kept on, after his rescue of the tramp, his thoughts were busy
over many subjects. Chief among them was wonder as to how he would
succeed in his new career.

"And then I've got to learn how dad's affairs are," mused Joe. "I may
have to pitch in and help him."

Mr. Matson came from his private office in the Harvester Works, and
greeted Joe warmly.

"We didn't expect you home quite so soon," he said, as he clasped his
son's hand.

"No, I found out, after I wrote, that I was coming home, that I could
get an earlier train that would save me nearly a day, so I took it. But,
Dad, what's this I hear about your financial troubles?"

"Oh, never mind about them, Joe," was the evasive answer.

"But I want to mind, Dad. I want to help you."

Mr. Matson went into details, with which I will not tire the reader.
Sufficient to say that the inventor had invested some capital in certain
stocks and bonds the value of which now seemed uncertain.

"And if I have to lose it--I have to, I suppose," concluded Joe's father,
resignedly. "Now, my boy, tell me about yourself--and--baseball," and he
smiled, for he knew Joe's hobby.

Father and son talked at some length, and then, as Mr. Matson had about
finished work for the day, the two set out for home together. On the way
Joe met his old chum, Tom Davis, and they went over again the many good
times in which they had taken part.

Joe liked his home--he liked his home town, and his old chums, but still
he wished to get into the new life that had called him.

He was not sorry, therefore, when, a few days later he received a
telegram from Mr. Mack, telling him to report at once at Montville.

"Oh, Joe!" exclaimed his mother. "Do you really have to go so soon?"

"I'm afraid so, Momsey," he answered. "You see the league season will
soon open and I want to begin at the beginning. This is my life work,
and I can't lose any time."

"Pitching ball a life work!" sighed Mrs. Matson. "Oh, Joe! if it was
only preaching--or something like that."

"Let the boy alone, Mother," said Mr. Matson, with a good-humored
twinkle in his eye. "We can't all be ministers, and I'd rather have a
world series winner in my family than a poor lawyer or doctor. He'll do
more good in society, too. Good luck to you, Joe."

But Joe was not to get away to the South as quietly as he hoped. He
was importuned by his old baseball chums to pitch an exhibition game
for them, but he did not think it wise, under the circumstances, so
declined.

But they wanted to do him honor, and, learning through Tom Davis--who, I
may say in passing, got the secret from Clara--when Joe's train was to
leave, many of the old members of the Silver Stars gathered to wish
their hero Godspeed.

"What's the matter with Baseball Joe?" was the cry outside the station,
whither Joe had gone with his sister and mother, his father having
bidden him good-bye earlier.

"What's the matter with Joe Matson?"

"_He's--all--right!_" came the staccato reply.

Again the demand:

"Who's all right?"

"_Baseball Joe!_"

"Why--what--what does it mean?" asked Mrs. Matson in bewilderment as
she sat near her son in the station, and heard the cries.

"Oh, it's just the boys," said Joe, easily.

"They're giving Joe a send-off," explained Clara.

Quite a crowd gathered as the members of the amateur nine cheered Joe
again and again. Many other boys joined in, and the scene about the
railroad depot was one of excitement.

"What's going on?" asked a stranger.

"Joe Matson's going off," was the answer.

"Who's Joe Matson?"

"Don't you know?" The lad looked at the man in half-contempt. "Why, he
pitched a winning game for Yale against Princeton, and now he's going to
the Pittstons of the Central League."

"Oh, I see. Hum. Is that he?" and the man pointed to the figure of our
hero, surrounded by his friends.

"That's him! Say, I wish he was me!" and the lad looked enviously at
Joe.

"I--I never knew baseball was so--so popular," said Mrs. Matson to
Clara, as the shouting and cheers grew, while Joe resisted an attempt on
the part of the lads to carry him on their shoulders.

"I guess it's as much Joe as it is the game," answered Clara, proudly.

"Three cheers for Joe!" were called for, and given with a will.

Again came the question as to who was all right, and the usual answer
followed. Joe was shaking hands with two lads at once, and trying to
respond to a dozen requests for letters, or passes to the league games.

Then came the whistle of the train, more hurried good-byes, a last
kiss for his mother and sister--final cheers--shouts--calls for good
wishes--and Joe was on his way to the Southern baseball camp.



CHAPTER III

AN ACCUSATION


"Whew!" exclaimed Joe, as he sank into a car seat and placed his valise
beside him. "Some doings--those!"

Several passengers looked at him, smiling and appreciative. They had
seen and heard the parting ovation tendered to our hero, and they
understood what it meant.

Joe waved his hand out of the window as the train sped on, and then
settled back to collect his thoughts which, truth to tell, were running
riot.

Pulling from his pocket some books on baseball, one of which contained
statistics regarding the Central League, Joe began poring over them. He
wanted to learn all he could about the organization with which he had
cast his fortunes.

And a few words of explanation concerning the Central League may not be
unappreciated by my readers.

In the first place let me be perfectly frank, and state that the Central
League was not one of the big ones. I have not masqueraded a major
league under that title. Some day I hope to tell you some stories
concerning one of the larger leagues, but not in this volume.

And in the second place Joe realized that he was not going to astonish
the world by his performances in this small league. He knew it was but a
"bush league," in a sense, yet he had read enough of it to know that it
was composed of clean-cut clubs and players, and that it bore a good
reputation. Many a major league player had graduated from this same
Central, and Joe--well, to put it modestly--had great hopes.

The Central League was of the Middle West. It played its eight clubs
over a circuit composed of eight well-known cities, which for the
purposes of this story I have seen fit to designate as follows:
Clevefield, Pittston (to which club Joe had been signed), Delamont,
Washburg, Buffington, Loston, Manhattan and Newkirk. Perhaps, as the
story progresses, you may recognize, more or less successfully, certain
players and certain localities. With that I have nothing to do.

The train sped on, stopping at various stations, but Joe took little
interest in the passing scenery, or in what took place in his coach.
He was busy over his baseball "dope," by which I mean the statistics
regarding players, their averages, and so forth.

"And my name will soon be among 'em!" exulted Joe.

As the train was pulling out of a small station, Joe looked out of the
window, and, to his surprise, saw, sitting on a baggage truck, the same
tramp he had saved from the freight train some days before.

"Hum!" mused Joe. "If he's beating his way on the railroad he hasn't
gotten very far," for this was not many miles from Riverside. "I guess
he's a sure-enough hobo, all right. Too bad!"

Others beside Joe seemed to have noticed the tramp, who, however, had
not looked at our hero. One of two men in the seat back of Joe spoke,
and said:

"I say, Reynolds, see that tramp sitting there?"

"You mean the one on the truck?"

"Yes. Do you recognize him?"

"Recognize him? I should say not. I'm not in the habit of----"

"Easy, old man. Would you be surprised if I told you that many times
you've taken your hat off to that same tramp, and cheered him until you
were hoarse?"

"Get out!"

"It's a fact."

"Who is he?"

"I don't know who he is now--not much, to judge by his looks; but that's
old Pop Dutton, who, in his day, was one of the best pitchers Boston
ever owned. He was a wonder!"

"Is that Pop Dutton?"

"That's the wreck of him!"

"How have the mighty fallen," was the whispered comment. "Poor old Pop!
Indeed, many a time I have taken my hat off to him! He sure was a
wonder. What caused his downfall?"

"Bad companions--that and--drink."

"Too bad!"

Joe felt an irresistible impulse to turn around and speak to the two
men. But he refrained, perhaps wisely.

"And to think that I saved his life!" mused Joe. "No wonder he talked as
he did. Pop Dutton! Why, I've often read of him. He pitched many a
no-hit no-run game. And now look at him!"

As the train pulled out Joe saw the wreck of what had once been a fine
man stagger across the platform. A railroad man had driven him from the
truck. Joe's heart was sore.

He realized that in baseball there were many temptations, and he knew
that many a fine young fellow had succumbed to them. But he felt himself
strong enough to resist.

If Joe expected to make the trip South with speed and comfort he was
soon to realize that it was not to be. Late that afternoon the train
came to an unexpected stop, and on the passengers inquiring what was
the trouble, the conductor informed them that, because of a wreck ahead,
they would be delayed at a little country station for several hours.

There were expostulations, sharp remarks and various sorts of suggestions
offered by the passengers, all of whom seemed to be in a hurry. Joe,
himself, regretted the delay, but he did not see how it could be avoided.

"The company ought to be sued!" declared a young man whose rather "loud"
clothes proclaimed him for an up-to-date follower of "fashion." He had
with him a valise of peculiar make--rather conspicuous--and it looked to
be of foreign manufacture. In fact, everything about him was rather
striking.

"I ought to be in New York now," this young chap went on, as though
everyone in the train was interested in his fortunes and misfortunes.
"This delay is uncalled for! I shall start suit against this railroad.
It's always having wrecks. Can't we go on, my good man?" he asked the
conductor, sharply.

"Not unless you go on ahead and shove the wreck out of the way," was the
sharp answer.

"I shall report you!" said the youth, loftily.

"Do! It won't be the first time I've been reported--my good fellow!"

The youth flushed and, taking his valise, left the car to enter the
small railway station. Several other passengers, including Joe, did the
same, for the car was hot and stuffy.

Joe took a seat near one where the modish young man set down his queer
valise. Some of the other passengers, after leaving their baggage
inside, went out on the platform to stroll about. Joe noted that the
young man had gone to the telegraph office to send a message.

Our hero having nothing else to do, proceeded to look over more of his
baseball information. He was deep in a study of batting averages when he
was aware that someone stood in front of him.

It was the young man, who had his valise open, and on his face was a
puzzled expression, mingled with one of anger.

"I say now! I say!" exclaimed the young chap. "This won't do! It won't
do at all, you know!" and he looked sharply at Joe.

"Are you speaking to me?" asked the young pitcher. "If you are I don't
know what it is that won't do--and I don't care."

"It won't do at all, you know!" went on the young man, speaking with
what he probably intended to be an English accent. "It won't do!"

"What won't?" asked Joe sharply.

"Why, taking things out of my valise, you know. There's a gold watch
and some jewelry missing--my sister's jewelry. It won't do!"

"Do you mean to say that I had anything to do with taking jewelry out of
your valise?" asked Joe hotly.

"Why--er--you were sitting next to it. I went to send a wire--when I
come back my stuff is missing, and----"

"Look here!" cried the young pitcher in anger. "Do you mean to accuse
me?" and he jumped to his feet and faced the young man. "Do you?"

"Why--er--yes, I think I do," was the answer. "You were next my bag, you
know, and--well, my stuff is gone. It won't do. It won't do at all, you
know!"



CHAPTER IV

IN TRAINING


For a moment Joe stood glaring at the modish young man who had accused
him. The latter returned the look steadily. There were superciliousness,
contempt and an abiding sense of his own superiority in the look, and
Joe resented these too-well displayed feelings fully as much as he did
the accusation.

Then a calmer mood came over the young pitcher; he recalled the
training at Yale--the training that had come when he had been in
troublesome situations--and Joe laughed. It was that laugh which formed
a safety-valve for him.

"I don't see what there is to laugh at," sneered the young man. "My
valise has been opened, and my watch and some jewelry taken."

"Well, what have I got to do with it?" demanded Joe hotly. "I'm not a
detective or a police officer!"

Joe glanced from the youth to the bag in question. It was a peculiar
satchel, made of some odd leather, and evidently constructed for heavy
use. It was such a bag as Joe had never seen before. It was open now,
and there could be noticed in it a confused mass of clothes, collars,
shirts of gaudy pattern and scarfs of even gaudier hues.

The young pitcher also noticed that the bag bore on one end the initials
"R. V." while below them was the name of the city where young "R. V."
lived--Goldsboro, N. C.

"Suffering cats!" thought Joe, as he noted that. "He lives in Goldsboro.
Montville is just outside that. I hope I don't meet this nuisance when
I'm at the training camp."

"I did not assume that you were an officer," answered the young man,
who, for the present, must be known only as "R. V." "But you were the
only one near my valise, which was opened when I went to send that wire.
Now it's up to you----"

"Hold on!" cried Joe, trying not to let his rather quick temper get the
better of him. "Nothing is 'up to me,' as you call it. I didn't touch
your valise. I didn't even know I sat near it until you called my
attention to it. And if it was opened, and something taken out, I beg to
assure you that I had nothing to do with it. That's all!"

"But if you didn't take it; who did?" asked "R. V." in some bewilderment.

"How should I know?" retorted Joe, coolly. "And I'd advise you to be
more careful after this, in making accusations."

He spoke rather loudly--in fact so did "R. V.," and it was but natural
that several of the delayed passengers should gather outside the
station, attracted by the voices.

Some of them looked in through the opened windows and doors, and, seeing
nothing more than what seemed to be an ordinary dispute, strolled on.

"But this won't do," insisted "R. V.," which expression seemed to be a
favorite with him. "This won't do at all, you know, my good fellow. My
watch is gone, and my sister's jewelry. It won't do----"

"Well, I have nothing to do with it," declared Joe, "and I don't want to
hear any more about it. This ends it--see!"

"Oh, but I say! You were nearest to my valise, and----"

"What's the trouble?" interrupted the ticket agent, coming from his
little office. "What's the row here?"

"My valise!" exclaimed "R. V." angrily. "It's been opened, and----"

"He thinks I did it just because I sat near it!" broke in Joe,
determined to get in his word first. "It's absurd! I never touched his
baggage."

The agent looked at the modish youth.

"Is that the only reason you accuse him--because he sat near your
satchel?" he asked.

"Why--er--yes, to be sure. Isn't that reason enough?"

"It wouldn't be for me, young man. I don't see that you can do anything
about it. You say he took something of yours, and he says he didn't.
That's six of one and a half-dozen of the other. You ought to have your
satchel locked if you carry valuables in it."

"It was locked, but I opened it and forgot to lock it again."

"That's up to you then," and the agent's sympathies seemed to be with
Joe.

"Well, but it won't do, you know. It won't do at all!" protested "R.
V.," this time pleadingly. "I must have my things back!"

"Then you had better go to the police," broke in the agent.

"If you like, though I've never done such a thing before, I'll submit to
a search," said Joe, the red blood mantling to his cheeks as he thought
of the needless indignity. "I can refer to several well-known persons
who will vouch for me, but if you feel----"

"All aboard!" suddenly called the conductor of the stalled train, coming
into the depot. "We just got word that we can proceed. If we can reach
the next junction before the fast mail, we can go ahead of her and get
around the wreck. Lively now! All aboard!"

There was a scramble in which Joe and "R. V." took a part. All of the
passengers were anxious to proceed, and if haste meant that they could
avoid further delay they were willing to hasten. The engineer whistled
impatiently, and men and women scrambled into the coaches they had left.

"R. V." caught up his peculiar bag and without another look at Joe, got
aboard. For a moment the young pitcher had an idea of insisting on
having the unpleasant matter settled, but he, too, wanted to go on. At
any rate no one he knew or cared about had heard the unjust accusation
made, and if he insisted on vindication, by means of a personal search,
it might lead to unpleasant complications.

"Even if he saw that I didn't have his truck on me that wouldn't prove
anything to him--he'd say it 'wouldn't do,'" thought Joe. "He's
altogether too positive."

And so, leaving the matter of the missing articles unsettled, Joe
sprinted for the train.

Joe saw his accuser enter the rear coach, while the young ball player
took his place in the second coach, where he had been before.

"If he wants to take up this matter again he knows I'm aboard," mused
Joe, as the train pulled out of the way-station.

But the matter was not reopened, and when the junction was reached our
hero saw "R. V." hurrying off to make other connections. As he turned
away, however, he favored Joe with a look that was not altogether
pleasant.

The remainder of our hero's trip to Montville was uneventful, save that
it was rather monotonous, and, the further South he went the worse the
railroad service became, until he found that he was going to be nearly
half a day late.

But he was not expected at any special time, and he knew that he had
done the best possible. Arriving in Montville, which he found to be a
typical small Southern town, Joe put up at the hotel where he had been
told by "Jimmie" Mack to take quarters.

"Are any of the Pittston players around--is Mr. Gregory here?" asked Joe
of the clerk, after registering. It was shortly after two o'clock.

"They're all out practicing, I believe," was the answer. "Mr. Gregory
was here a while ago, but I reckon as how he-all went out to the field,
too. Are you a member of the nine, sir?"

The clerk really said "suh," but the peculiarities of Southern talk are
too well known to need imitating.

"Well, I suppose I am, but I've only just joined," answered Joe, with a
smile. "I'm one of the new pitchers."

"Glad to know you. We enjoy having you ball players here. It sort of
livens things up. I believe your team is going to cross bats with our
home team Saturday."

"That's good!" exclaimed Joe, who was just "aching" to get into a game
again.

He ate a light luncheon and then, inquiring his way, went out to the
ball field.

He was rather disappointed at first. It was not as good as the one where
the Silver Stars played--not as well laid out or kept up, and the
grandstand was only about half as large.

"But of course it's only a practice field," reasoned Joe, as he looked
about for a sight of "Jimmie" Mack, whom alone he knew. "The home field
at Pittston will probably be all right. Still, I've got to remember that
I'm not playing in a major league. This will do for a start."

He looked over the men with whom he was to associate and play ball for
the next year or so--perhaps longer. The members of the team were
throwing and catching--some were batting flies, and laying down
grounders for others to catch or pick up. One or two were practicing
"fungo" batting. Up near the grandstand a couple of pitchers were
"warming-up," while the catchers were receiving the balls in their big
mitts.

Several small and worshipping boys were on hand, as always is the case,
gathering up the discarded bats, running after passed balls and
bringing water to their heroes.

"Well, I'm here, anyhow," thought Joe. "Now to see what sort of a stab I
can make at professional ball."

No one seemed to notice the advent of the young pitcher on the field,
and if he expected to receive an ovation, such as was accorded to him
when he left home, Joe was grievously disappointed.

But I do not believe Joe Matson looked for anything of the sort. In fact
I know he did not, for Joe was a sensible lad. He realized that however
good a college player he might be he was now entering the ranks of men
who made their living at ball playing. And there is a great deal of
difference between doing a thing for fun, and doing it to get your bread
and butter--a heap of difference.

Joe stood on the edge of the diamond looking at the players. They seemed
to be a clean-cut set of young fellows. One or two looked to be veterans
at the game, and here and there Joe could pick out one whose hair was
turning the least little bit gray. He wondered if they had slid down the
scale, and, finding their powers waning, had gotten out of the big
leagues to take it a little easier in one of the "bush" variety.

"But it's baseball--it's a start--it's just what I want!" thought Joe,
as he drew a deep breath, the odors of crushed green grass, the dry dust
and the whiff of leather mingling under the hot rays of the Southern
sun.

"It's baseball, and that's enough!" exulted Joe.

"Well, I see you got here!" exclaimed a voice behind him, and Joe turned
to see "Jimmie" Mack, in uniform, holding out a welcoming hand.

"Yes," said Joe with a smile. "I'm a little late, but--I'm here."

"If the trains arrive on time down here everybody worries," went on
Jimmie. "They think something is going to happen. Did you bring a
uniform?"

Joe indicated his valise, into which he had hastily stuffed, at the
hotel, one of his old suits.

"Well, slip it on--take any dressing room that's vacant there," and
Jimmie motioned to the grandstand. "Then come out and I'll have you meet
the boys. We're only doing light practice as yet, but we'll soon have to
hump ourselves, for the season will shortly open."

"Is Mr. Gregory here?" asked Joe, feeling that he ought to meet the
manager of the team.

"He'll be here before the day is over. Oh, Harrison!" he called to a
passing player, "come over and meet Joe Matson, one of our new pitchers.
Harrison tries to play centre," explained the assistant manager with a
smile.

"Quit your kiddin'!" exclaimed the centre fielder as he shook hands with
Joe. "Glad to meet you, son. You mustn't mind Jimmie," he went on. "Ever
played before?"

"Not professionally."

"That's what I meant."

"Joe's the boy who pitched Yale to the championship this year,"
explained Jimmie Mack.

"Oh, ho! Yes, I heard about that. Well, hope you like it here. I'm going
out in the field. See you there," and Harrison passed on.

Joe lost no time in changing into his playing togs. The dressing rooms
in the Montville grandstand were only apologies compared with what Joe
was used to.

But he knew that this was only a training camp, and that they would not
be here long.

He walked out on the field, feeling a little nervous and rather
lonesome--"like a cat in a strange garret," as he wrote home to his
folks. But Joe's school and college training stood him in good stead,
and when he had been introduced to most of the players, who welcomed him
warmly, he felt more at home.

Then he went out in the field, and began catching flies with the
others.

"But I wish they'd put me at pitching," mused Joe. "That's what I want
to do."

He was to learn that to make haste slowly is a motto more or less
followed by professional ball players. There would be time enough to put
on speed before the season closed.



CHAPTER V

THE CLASH


"That's the way! Line 'em out, now!"

"Put some speed into that!"

"Look out for a high one!"

"Oh, get farther back! I'm going to knock the cover off this time!"

These were only a few of the cries and calls that echoed over the ball
field at Montville. The occasion was the daily practice of the Pittston
nine, and orders had come from the manager and trainer to start in on
more lively work. It was Joe's third day with the professionals.

He had made the acquaintance of all the players, but as yet had neither
admitted, nor been admitted to, a real friendship with any of them. It
was too early.

Joe held back because he was naturally a bit diffident. Then, too, most
of the men were older than he, and with one exception they had been in
the professional ranks for several seasons. That one exception was
Charlie Hall, who played short. He, like Joe, had been taken that
Spring from the amateur ranks. Hall had played on a Western college
team, and had been picked out by one of the ever-present professional
scouts.

With Charlie, Joe felt more at home than with any of the others and yet
he felt that soon he would have good friends among the older men.

On their part they did not become friendly with Joe at once simply for
the reason that they wanted to "size him up," or "get his number," as
Jimmie Mack put it in speaking of the matter.

"But they'll cotton to you after a bit, Joe," said the assistant manager,
"and you'll like them, too. Don't get discouraged."

"I won't," was the answer.

There was one man on the team, though, with whom Joe felt that he would
never be on friendly terms, and this was Jake Collin, one of the
pitchers--the chief pitcher and mainstay of the nine on the mound, from
what Joe picked up by hearing the other men talk. And Collin himself was
not at all modest about his ability. That he had ability Joe was ready
to concede. And Collin wanted everyone else to know it, too. He was
always talking about his record, and his batting average, which, to do
him credit, was good.

Collin was not much older than Joe, but a rather fast life and hard
living counted for more than years. Joe heard whispers that Collin
could not last much longer.

Perhaps it was a realization of this that made Collin rather resent the
arrival of our hero on the Pittston nine. For he gave Joe but a cold
greeting, and, as he moved off to practice, the young pitcher could hear
him saying something about "college dudes thinking they can play
professional ball."

Joe's faced flushed, but he said nothing. It was something that called
more for deeds than words.

"Everybody lively now! I want some snappy work!" called Jimmie Mack as
the practice progressed. "If we're going to play the Montville team
Saturday we want to snow them under. A win by a few runs won't be the
thing at all, and, let me tell you, those boys can play ball.

"So step lively, everybody. Run bases as if you meant to get back home
some time this week. Slug the ball until the cover comes off. And you,
Collin, get a little more speed on your delivery. Is your arm sore?"

"Arm sore? I guess not! I'm all right!" and the man's eyes snapped
angrily.

"Well, then, show it. Let's see what you've got up your sleeve, anyhow.
Here comes Gregory now--he'll catch a few for you, and then we'll do
some batting."

The manager, whom Joe had met and liked, came out to join in the
practice. He nodded to our hero, and then took Collin off to one side,
to give him some instructions.

Joe under the direction of Jimmie Mack was allowed to do some pitching
now. With Terry Hanson the left fielder, to back him up, Joe began
throwing in the balls on a space in front of the grandstand.

Joe noticed that Collin regarded him sharply in the intervals of his own
practice, but he was prepared for a little professional jealousy, and
knew how to take it. He had seen it manifested often enough at school
and college, though there the spirit of the university was paramount to
personal triumph--every player was willing to sacrifice himself that the
team might win. And, in a large measure, of course, this is so in
professional baseball. But human nature is human nature, whether one is
playing for money or for glory, and in perhaps no other sport where
money counts for as much as it does in baseball, will you find more of
the spirit of the school than in the ranks of the diamond professionals.

"Take it easy, Joe; take it easy," advised Terry, with a good-natured
smile, as the lad stung in the balls. "You've got speed, and I'm willing
to admit it without having you split my mitt. But save yourself for a
game. You're not trying to pitch anyone out now, you know, and there's
no one looking at you."

"I guess I forgot this was just practice," admitted Joe with a laugh.
"I'll throw in some easy ones."

He did, and saw an admiring look on Terry's face.

"They seem to have the punch--that's a nice little drop you've got. But
don't work it too much. Vary your delivery."

From time to time as the practice proceeded Terry gave Joe good advice.
Occasionally this would be supplemented by something Mack or Gregory
would say and Joe took it all in, resolving to profit by it.

The practice came to an end, and the players were advised by their
trainer, Mike McGuire, to take walks in the country round-about.

"It'll be good for your legs and wind," was the comment.

Joe enjoyed this almost as much as the work on the field, for the
country was new to him and a source of constant delight. He went out
with some of the men, and again would stroll off by himself.

Saturday, the day when the first practice game was to be played, found
Joe a bit nervous. He wondered whether he would get a chance to pitch.
So too, for that matter, did Tom Tooley, the south-paw moundman, who
was nearer Joe's age than was Collin.

"Who's going to be the battery?" was heard on all sides as the Pittston
players went to the grounds.

"The old man hasn't given it out yet," was the reply of Jimmie Mack. The
"old man" was always the manager, and the term conveyed no hint of
disrespect.

The Montville team, a semi-professional one, was a good bit like the
Silver Stars, Joe thought, when he saw the members run out on the
diamond for practice. Still they looked to be a "husky lot," as he
admitted, and he was glad of it, for he wanted to see what he and his
team-mates could do against a good aggregation.

"Play ball! Play ball!" called the umpire, as he dusted off the home
plate. There was quite a crowd present, and when Gregory handed over his
batting list the umpire made the announcement:

"Batteries--for Pittston, Collin and Gregory. For Montville, Smith and
Jennings."

"Um. He's going to pitch Collin," murmured Tooley in Joe's ear. "That
means we warm the bench."

Joe was a little disappointed, but he tried not to show it.

This first game was neither better nor worse than many others. Naturally
the playing was ragged under the circumstances.

The Pittstons had everything to lose by being beaten and not much to
gain if they won the game. On the other hand the home nine had much to
gain in case they should win. So they took rather desperate chances.

Pittston was first at bat, and succeeded in getting two runs over. Then
came a slump, and in quick succession three men went down, two being
struck out. The Montville pitcher was a professional who had been in a
big league, but who had drifted to a minor, and finally landed in the
semi-pro ranks. But he had some good "heaves" left.

Collin walked to the mound with a rather bored air of superiority. There
was a little whispered conference between him and the catcher-manager,
and the second half of the first inning began.

Collin did well, and though hit twice for singles, not a run came in,
and the home team was credited with a zero on the score-board.

"Oh, I guess we can play some!" cried one of the professionals.

"What are you crowing over?" demanded Jimmie Mack. "If we win this I
suppose you fellows will want medals! Why this is nothing but a kid
bunch we're up against."

"Don't let 'em fool you, though," advised the manager, who overheard the
talk.

And then, to the surprise and dismay of all, the home team proceeded to
"do things" to the professionals. They began making runs, and succeeded
in stopping the winning streak of the Pittstons.

The detailed play would not interest you, and, for that matter it was a
thing the Pittstons did not like to recall afterward. There was a bad
slump, and when the seventh inning arrived Gregory called:

"Matson, you bat for Collin."

Joe felt the blood rush to his face.

"Does that mean I'm going to be taken out of the box?" asked the chief
pitcher, stalking angrily over to the manager.

"It means just that, son. I can't afford to lose this game, and we sure
will the way you're feedin' 'em in to 'em. I guess you drew it a little
too fine the last few days. You need a rest."

"But--I--er--I----" protested Collin.

"That'll do," said Gregory, sharply. "Joe Matson will pitch. It's a
chance, but I've got to take it."

"What's the matter with Tooley?" demanded Collin. "What do you want to
go shove this raw college jake in ahead of us for? Say!"

"Go to the bench!" ordered the manager. "I know what I'm doing, Collin!"

The pitcher seemed about to say something, and the look he gave Joe was
far from friendly. Then, realizing that he was under the manager's
orders, he stalked to the bench.

"You won't do this again, if I can prevent it!" snapped Collin at Joe,
as he passed him. "I'll run you out of the league, if you try to come it
over me!"

Only a few players heard him, and one or two whispered to him to quiet
down, but he glared at Joe, who felt far from comfortable.

But he was to have his chance to pitch at last.



CHAPTER VI

A STRAIGHT THROW


Joe had hopes of making a safe hit when he came up, but pitchers are
proverbially bad batsmen and our hero was no exception. I wish I could
say that he "slammed one out for a home run, and came in amid wild
applause," but truth compels me to state that Joe only knocked a little
pop fly which dropped neatly into the hands of the second baseman, and
Joe went back to the bench.

"Never mind," consoled Jimmie Mack, "you're not here to bat--we count on
you to pitch, though of course if you can hit the ball do it--every
time. But don't get nervous."

"I'm not," answered Joe.

And, to do him justice, his nerves were in excellent shape. He had not
played on the school and Yale nines for nothing, and he had faced many a
crisis fully as acute as the present one.

Then, too, the action of Collin must have had its effect. It was not
pleasant for Joe to feel that he had won the enmity of the chief pitcher
of the nine. But our hero resolved to do his best and let other matters
take care of themselves.

Whether it was the advent of Joe into the game, or because matters would
have turned out that way anyhow, was not disclosed, but Pittston seemed
to brace up, and that inning added three runs to their score, which put
them on even terms with the home team--the members of which were playing
phenomenal ball.

"And now we've got to go in and beat them!" exclaimed Manager Gregory,
as his men took the field. "Joe, I want to see what you can do."

Enough to make any young pitcher nervous; was it not? Yet Joe kept his
nerves in check--no easy matter--and walked to the box with all the ease
he could muster.

He fingered the ball for a moment, rubbed a little dirt on it--not that
the spheroid needed it, but it gave him a chance to look at Gregory and
catch his signal for a fast out. He nodded comprehendingly, having
mastered the signals, and wound up for his first delivery.

"Ball one!" howled the umpire.

Joe was a little nettled. He was sure it had gone cleanly over the
plate, curving out just as he intended it should, and yet it was called
a ball. But he concealed his chagrin, and caught the horsehide which
Gregory threw back to him--the catcher hesitating just the least bit,
and with a look at the umpire which said much.

Again came the signal for a fast out.

Joe nodded.

Once more the young pitcher threw and this time, though the batter swung
desperately at it, not having moved his stick before, there came from
the umpire the welcome cry of:

"Strike--one!"

Joe was beginning to make good.

I shall not weary you with a full account of the game. I have other, and
more interesting contests to tell of as we proceed. Sufficient to say
that while Joe did not "set the river afire," he did strike out three
men that inning, after a two-bagger had been made. But Joe "tightened
up," just in time to prevent a run coming in, and the score was still a
tie when the last man was out.

In the next inning Pittston managed, by hard work, and a close decision
on the part of the umpire, to add another run to their score. This
put them one ahead, and the struggle now was to hold their opponents
hitless. It devolved upon Joe to accomplish this.

And he did it.

Perhaps it was no great feat, as baseball history goes, but it meant
much to him--a raw recruit in his first professional league, "bush"
though it was. Joe made good, and when he struck out the last man (one
of the best hitters, too, by the way) there was an enthusiastic scene on
that little ball field.

"Good, Joe! Good!" cried Jimmie Mack, and even the rather staid Mr.
Gregory condescended to smile and say:

"I thought you could do it!"

Collin, suffering from his turn-down, sulked on the bench, and growled:

"I'll show that young upstart! He can't come here and walk over me."

"He didn't walk over you--he pitched over you," said George Lee, the
second baseman. "He pitched good ball."

"Bah! Just a fluke! If I hadn't strained my arm yesterday I'd have made
this home team look like a sick cat!"

"Post-mortems are out of style," said Lee. "Be a sport! It's all in the
game!"

"Um!" growled Collin, surlily.

The team played the game all over again at the hotel that night. Of
course it was not much of a victory, close as it was, but it showed of
what stuff the players were made, and it gave many, who were ignorant of
Joe's abilities, an insight into what he could do.

"Well, what do you think of my find?" asked Jimmie Mack of his chief
that night.

"All right, Jimmie! All right! I think we'll make a ball-player of him
yet."

"So do I. And the blessed part of it is that he hasn't got a swelled
head from his college work. That's the saving grace of it. Yes, I think
Joe is due to arrive soon."

If Joe had heard this perhaps he would have resented it somewhat.
Surely, after having supplanted a veteran pitcher, even though of no
great ability, and won his first professional game, Joe might have been
excused for patting himself on the back, and feeling proud. And he did,
too, in a sense.

But perhaps it was just as well he did not hear himself discussed.
Anyhow, he was up in his room writing home.

The next day was Sunday, and in the afternoon Joe went for a long
walk. He asked several of the men to go with him, but they all made
good-enough excuses, so Joe set off by himself.

It was a beautiful day, a little too warm, but then that was to be
expected in the South, and Joe was dressed for it. As he walked along
a country road he came to a parting of the ways; a weather-beaten
sign-post informed him that one highway led to North Ford, while the
other would take him to Goldsboro.

"Goldsboro; eh?" mused Joe. "That's where that 'R. V.' fellow lives, who
thought I robbed his valise. I wonder if I'll ever meet him? I've a
good notion to take a chance, and walk over that way. I can ask him if
he found his stuff. Maybe it's risky, but I'm going to do it."

He set off at a swinging pace to limber up his muscles, thinking of many
things, and wondering, if, after all, he was going to like professional
baseball. Certainly he had started in as well as could be expected, save
for the enmity of Collin.

Joe got out into the open country and breathed deeply of the sweet air.
The road swept along in a gentle curve, on one side being deep woods,
while on the other was a rather steep descent to the valley below. In
places the road approached close to the edge of a steep cliff.

As the young pitcher strode along he heard behind him the clatter of
hoofs. It was a galloping horse, and the rattle of wheels told that the
animal was drawing a carriage.

"Someone's in a hurry," mused Joe. "Going for a doctor, maybe."

A moment later he saw what he knew might at any moment become a tragedy.

A spirited horse, attached to a light carriage, dashed around a bend in
the road, coming straight for Joe. And in the carriage was a young girl,
whose fear-blanched face told that she realized her danger. A broken,
dangling rein showed that she had tried in vain to stop the runaway.

Joe formed a sudden resolve. He knew something of horses, and had more
than once stopped a frightened animal. He ran forward, intending to cut
across the path of this one, and grasp the bridle.

But as the horse headed for him, and caught sight of the youth, it
swerved to one side, and dashed across an intervening field, straight
for the steep cliff.

"Look out!" cried Joe, as if that meant anything.

The girl screamed, and seemed about to jump.

"I've got to stop that horse!" gasped Joe, and he broke into a run. Then
the uselessness of this came to him and he stopped.

At his feet were several large, round and smooth stones. Hardly knowing
why he picked up one, just as the horse turned sideways to him.

"If I could only hit him on the head, and stun him so that he'd stop
before he gets to the cliff!" thought Joe. "If I don't he'll go over
sure as fate!"

The next instant he threw.

Straight and true went the stone, and struck the horse hard on the head.

The animal reared, then staggered. It tried to keep on, but the blow had
been a disabling one. It tried to keep on its legs but they crumpled
under the beast, and the next moment it went down in a heap, almost on
the verge of the steep descent.

The carriage swerved and ran partly up on the prostrate animal, while
the shock of the sudden stop threw the girl out on the soft grass, where
she lay in a crumpled heap.

Joe sprinted forward.

"I hope I did the right thing, after all," he panted. "I hope she isn't
killed!"



CHAPTER VII

THE GIRL


Joe Matson bent over the unconscious girl, and, even in the excitement
of the moment, out of breath as he was from his fast run, he could not
but note how pretty she was. Though now her cheeks that must usually be
pink with the flush of health, were pale. She lay in a heap on the
grass, at the side of the overturned carriage, from which the horse had
partly freed itself. The animal was now showing signs of recovering from
the stunning blow of the stone.

"I've got to get her away from here," decided Joe. "If that brute starts
kicking around he may hurt her. I've got to pick her up and carry her.
She doesn't look able to walk."

In his sturdy arms he picked up the unconscious girl, and carried her
some distance off, placing her on a grassy bank.

"Let's see--what do you do when a girl faints?" mused Joe, scratching
his head in puzzled fashion. "Water--that's it--you have to sprinkle her
face with water."

He looked about for some sign of a brook or spring, and, listening, his
ear caught a musical trickle off to one side.

"Must be a stream over there," he decided. He glanced again at the girl
before leaving her. She gave no sign of returning consciousness, and one
hand, Joe noticed when he carried her, hung limp, as though the wrist
was broken.

"And she's lucky to get off with that," decided the young pitcher. "I
hope I did the right thing by stopping the horse that way. She sure
would have gone over the cliff if I hadn't."

The horse, from which had gone all desire to run farther, now struggled
to its feet, and shook itself once or twice to adjust the harness. It
was partly loose from it, and, with a plunge or two, soon wholly freed
itself.

"Run away again if you want to now," exclaimed Joe, shaking his fist at
the brute. "You can't hurt anyone but yourself, anyhow. Jump over the
cliff if you like!"

But the horse did not seem to care for any such performance now, and,
after shaking himself again, began nibbling the grass as though nothing
had happened.

"All right," went on Joe, talking to the horse for companionship, since
the neighborhood seemed deserted. "Stay there, old fellow. I may need
you to get to a doctor, or to some house. She may be badly hurt."

For want of something better Joe used the top of his cap in which to
carry the water which he found in a clear-running brook, not far from
where he had placed the girl.

The sprinkling of the first few drops of the cold liquid on her face
caused her to open her eyes. Consciousness came back quickly, and, with
a start, she gazed up at Joe uncomprehendingly.

"You're all right," he said, reassuringly. "That is, I hope so. Do you
think you are hurt anywhere? Shall I get a doctor? Where do you live?"

Afterward he realized that his hurried questions had given her little
chance to speak, but he meant to make her feel that she would be taken
care of.

"What--what happened?" she faltered.

"Your horse ran away," Joe explained, with a smile. "He's over there
now; not hurt, fortunately."

"Oh, I remember now! Something frightened Prince and he bolted. He never
did it before. Oh, I was so frightened. I tried--tried to stop him, but
could not. The rein broke."

The girl sat up now, Joe's arm about her, supporting her, for she was
much in need of assistance, being weak and trembling.

"Then he bolted into a field," she resumed, "and he was headed for
a cliff. Oh, how I tried to stop him! But he wouldn't. Then--then
something--something happened!"

She looked wonderingly at Joe.

"Yes, I'm afraid _I_ happened it," he said with a smile. "I saw that
your horse might go over the cliff, so I threw a stone, and hit him on
the head. It stunned him, he fell, and threw you out."

"I remember up to that point," she said with a faint smile. "I saw
Prince go down, and I thought we were going over the cliff. Oh, what an
escape!"

"And yet not altogether an escape," remarked Joe. "Your arm seems hurt."

She glanced down in some surprise at her right wrist, as though noticing
it for the first time. Then, as she moved it ever so slightly, a cry of
pain escaped her lips.

"It--it's broken!" she faltered.

Joe took it tenderly in his hand.

"Only sprained, I think," he said, gravely. "It needs attention at once,
though; I must get you a doctor. Can you walk?"

"I think so."

She struggled to her feet with his help, the red blood now surging into
her pale cheeks, and making her, Joe thought, more beautiful than ever.

"Be careful!" he exclaimed, as she swayed. His arm was about her, so she
did not fall.

"I--I guess I'm weaker than I thought," she murmured. "But it isn't
because I'm injured--except my wrist. I think it must be the shock. Why,
there's Prince!" she added, as she saw the grazing horse. "He isn't
hurt!"

"No, I only stunned him with the stone I threw," said Joe.

"Oh, and so you threw a stone at him, and stopped him?" She seemed in
somewhat of a daze.

"Yes."

"What a splendid thrower you must be!" There was admiration in her
tones.

"It's from playing ball," explained Joe, modestly. "I'm a pitcher on the
Pittston nine. We're training over at Montville."

"Oh," she murmured, understandingly.

"If I could get you some water to drink, it would make you feel better,"
said Joe. "Then I might patch up the broken harness and get you home. Do
you live around here?"

"Yes, just outside of Goldsboro. Perhaps you could make a leaf answer
for a cup," she suggested. "I believe I would like a little water. It
would do me good."

She moistened her dry lips with her tongue as Joe hastened back to the
little brook. He managed to curl an oak leaf into a rude but clean cup,
and brought back a little water. The girl sipped it gratefully, and the
effect was apparent at once. She was able to stand alone.

"Now to see if I can get that horse of yours hitched to the carriage,"
spoke the young pitcher, "that is, if the carriage isn't broken."

"It's awfully kind of you, Mr.----" she paused suggestively.

"I'm Joe Matson, formerly of Yale," was our hero's answer, and, somehow,
he felt not a little proud of that "Yale." After all, his university
training, incomplete though it had been, was not to be despised.

"Oh, a Yale man!" her eyes were beginning to sparkle now.

"But I gave it up to enter professional baseball," the young pitcher
went on. "It's my first attempt. If you do not feel able to get into the
carriage--provided it's in running shape--perhaps I could take you to
some house near here and send word to your folks," he suggested.

"Oh, I think I can ride--provided, as you say, the carriage is in shape
to use," she answered, quickly. "I am Miss Varley. It's awfully good of
you to take so much trouble."

"Not at all," protested Joe. He noticed a shadow of pain pass over her
face, and she clasped her sprained wrist in her left hand.

"That must hurt a lot, Miss Varley," spoke Joe with warm sympathy. "I
know what a sprain is. I've had many a one. Let me wrap a cold, wet rag
around it. That will do until you can get to a doctor and have him
reduce it."

Not waiting for permission Joe hurried back to the brook, and dipped his
handkerchief in the cold water. This he bound tightly around the already
swelling wrist, tying it skillfully, for he knew something about first
aid work--one needed to when one played ball for a living.

"That's better," she said, with a sigh of relief. "It's ever so much
better. Oh, I don't know what would have happened if you had not been
here!"

"Probably someone else would have done as well," laughed Joe. "Now about
that carriage."

Prince looked up as the youth approached, and Joe saw a big bruise on
the animal's head.

"Too bad, old fellow, that I had to do that," spoke Joe, for he loved
animals. "No other way, though. I had to stop you."

A look showed him that the horse was not otherwise injured by the
runaway, and another look showed him that it would be impossible to use
the carriage. One of the wheels was broken.

"Here's a pickle!" cried Joe. "A whole bottle of 'em, for that matter. I
can't get her home that way, and she can't very well walk. I can't carry
her, either. I guess the only thing to do is to get her to the nearest
house, and then go for help--or 'phone, if they have a wire. I'm in for
the day's adventure, I guess, but I can't leave her."

Not that he wanted to, for the more he was in the girl's presence, the
more often he looked into her brown eyes, the more Joe felt that he was
caring very much for Miss Varley.

"Come, Matson!" he chided himself, "don't be an idiot!"

"Well?" she questioned, as he came back to her.

"The carriage is broken," he told her. "Do you think you could walk to
the nearest house?"

"Oh, I'm sure of it," she replied, and now she smiled, showing two rows
of white, even teeth. "I'm feeling ever so much better. But perhaps I am
keeping you," and she hung back.

"Not at all. I'm glad to be able to help you. I suppose I had better tie
your horse."

"Perhaps."

As Joe turned back to the grazing animal there was the sound of a motor
car out in the road. He and the girl turned quickly, the same thought in
both their minds. Then a look of pleased surprise came over Miss
Varley's face.

"Reggie! Reggie!" she called, waving her uninjured hand at a young man
in the car. "Reggie, Prince bolted with me! Come over here!"

The machine was stopped with a screeching of brakes, and the young
fellow leaped out.

"Why, Mabel!" he cried, as he came sprinting across the field. "Are you
hurt? What happened? Dad got anxious about you being gone so long, and I
said I'd look you up in my car. Are you hurt, Mabel?"

Joe made a mental note that of all names he liked best that of
Mabel--especially when the owner had brown eyes.

"Only a sprained wrist, Reggie. This gentleman hit Prince with a stone
and saved me from going over the cliff."

"Oh, he did!"

By this time the youth from the auto was beside Joe and the girl. The
two young men faced each other. Joe gave a gasp of surprise that was
echoed by the other, for the youth confronting our hero was none other
than he who had accused Joe of robbing that odd valise.



CHAPTER VIII

A PARTING


"Why--er--that is--I'm awfully obliged to you, of course, for saving my
sister," spoke the newcomer--his name must be Reggie Varley, Joe rightly
decided. "Very much obliged, old man, and--er----"

He paused, evidently quite embarrassed.

"You two act as though you had met before," said Miss Varley, with a
smile. "Have you?"

"Once," spoke Joe, drily. "I did not know your brother's name then." He
did not add that he was glad to find that he was Mabel's brother, and
not a more distant relation.

"How strange that you two should have met," went on Mabel Varley.

"Yes," returned Joe, "and it was under rather strange circumstances. It
was while I was on my way down here to join the ball team, and your
brother thought----"

"Ahem!" exclaimed Reggie, with a meaning look at Joe. "I--er--you'd
better get in here with me, Mabel, and let me get you home. Perhaps
this gentleman----"

"His name is Joe Matson," spoke the girl, quickly.

"Perhaps Mr. Matson will come home with--us," went on Reggie. Obviously
it was an effort to extend this invitation, but he could do no less
under the circumstances. Joe felt this and said quickly:

"No, thank you, not this time."

"Oh, but I want papa and mamma to meet you!" exclaimed Mabel,
impulsively. "They'll want to thank you. Just think, Reggie, he saved my
life. Prince was headed for the cliff, and he stopped him."

There were tears in her eyes as she gazed at Joe.

"It was awfully good and clever of you, old man," said Reggie, rather
affectedly, yet it was but his way. "I'm sure I appreciate it very much.
And we'd like--my sister and I--we'd like awfully to have you come on
and take lunch with us. I can put the horse up somewhere around here, I
dare say, and we can go on in my car."

"The carriage is broken Reggie," Mabel informed him.

"Too bad. I'll send Jake for it later. Will you come?"

He seemed to wish to ignore, or at least postpone, the matter of the
valise and his accusation. Perhaps he felt how unjust it had been. Joe
realized Reggie's position.

"No, thank you," spoke the young pitcher. "I must be getting back to my
hotel. I was just out for a walk. Some other time, perhaps. If you like,
I'll try and put the horse in some near-by barn for you, and I'll drop
you a card, saying where it is."

"Will you really, old man?" asked Reggie, eagerly. "It will be awfully
decent of you, after--well, I'd appreciate it very much. Then I could
get my sister home, and to a doctor."

"Which I think would be a wise thing to do," remarked Joe. "Her wrist
seems quite badly sprained. I'll attend to the horse. So now I'll say
good-bye."

He turned away. He and Reggie had not shaken hands. In spite of the
service Joe had rendered he could not help feeling that young Varley
harbored some resentment against him.

"And if it's her jewelry that is missing, with his watch, and he tells
her that he suspects me--I wonder how she'll feel afterward?" mused Joe.
"I wonder?"

Mabel held out her uninjured hand, and Joe took it eagerly. The warm,
soft pressure lingered for some little time afterward in his hardened
palm--a palm roughened by baseball play.

"Good-bye," she said, softly. "I can't thank you enough--now. You must
come and get the rest--later."

"I will," he said, eagerly.

"Here is my card--it has our address," spoke Reggie holding out a small,
white square. "I trust you will come--soon."

"I shall try," said Joe, with a peculiar look at his accuser. "And I'll
drop you a card about the horse."

Reggie helped his sister into the auto, and they drove off, Mabel waving
a good-bye to Joe. The latter stood for a minute in the field, looking
at the disappearing auto. Then he murmured, probably to the horse, for
there was no other sign of life in sight:

"Well, you've gone and done it, Matson! You've gone and done it!"

But Joe did not admit, even to himself, what he had gone and done.

Prince seemed tractable enough after his recent escapade, and made no
objection to Joe leading him out to the road. The young pitcher soon
came to a farmhouse, where, when he had explained matters, the man
readily agreed to stable the animal until it should be called for.

And, as Joe Matson trudged back to the hotel he said, more than once to
himself:

"You've gone and done it, old man! You've gone and done it!"

And a little later, as Joe thought of the look on Reggie's face when he
recognized the youth he had accused, our hero chuckled inwardly.

"He didn't know what to do," mused Joe. "I sure had him buffaloed, as
the boys say."

Joe was welcomed by his fellow players on his return to the hotel. It
was nearly meal time, but before going down to the dining room Joe wrote
a short note giving the name of the farmer where he had left the horse.

"Let's see now," mused our hero. "To whom shall I send it--to
him--or--her."

When he dropped the letter in the mail box the envelope bore the
superscription--"Miss Mabel Varley."

Practice was resumed Monday morning, and Joe could note that there was a
tightening up all along the line. The orders from the manager and his
assistant came sharper and quicker.

"I want you boys to get right on edge!" exclaimed Gregory. "We'll play
our opening game in Pittston in two weeks now. We'll cross bats with
Clevefield, last season's pennant winners, and we want to down them. I'm
getting tired of being in the ruck. I want to be on top of the heap."

Joe, from his study of the baseball "dope," knew that Pittston had not
made a very creditable showing the last season.

The practice was sharp and snappy, and there was a general improvement
all along the line. Joe was given several try-outs in the next few days,
and while he received no extravagant praise he knew that his work
pleased. Jake Collin still held his enmity against Joe, and perhaps it
was but natural.

Wet grounds, a day or so later, prevented practice, and Joe took
advantage of it to call on the girl he had rescued. He found her home,
her wrist still bandaged, and she welcomed him warmly, introducing him
to her mother. Joe was made to feel quite at home, and he realized that
Reggie had said nothing about the articles missing from the valise--or,
at least, had not mentioned the accusation against Joe.

"Will you tell me how, and when, you met my brother?" asked Mabel, after
some general talk.

"Hasn't he told you?" inquired Joe, with a twinkle in his eyes.

"No, he keeps putting it off."

"Then perhaps I'd better not tell," said Joe.

"Oh, Mr. Matson, I think you're horrid! Is there some reason I shouldn't
know?"

"Not as far as I am concerned. But I'd rather your brother would tell."

"Then I'm going to make him when he comes home."

Joe was rather glad Reggie was not there then. For, in spite of
everything, Joe knew there would be a feeling of embarrassment on both
sides.

"I have come to say good-bye," he said to the girl. "We leave for the
North, soon, and the rest of the season will be filled with traveling
about."

"I'm sorry you're going," she said, frankly.

"Are you?" he asked, softly. "Perhaps you will allow me to write to
you."

"I'd be glad to have you," she replied, warmly, and she gave him a quick
glance. "Perhaps I may see you play sometime; I love baseball!"

"I'm very glad," returned Joe, and, after a while--rather a long while,
to speak the truth--he said good-bye.



CHAPTER IX

THE FIRST LEAGUE GAME


"All aboard!"

"Good-bye, everybody!"

"See you next Spring!"

"Good-bye!"

These were some of the calls heard at the Montville station as the
Pittston ball team left their training grounds for the trip to their
home city, where the league season would start. Joe had been South about
three weeks, and had made a few friends there. These waved a farewell to
him, as others did to other players, as the train pulled out.

Joe was not sure, but he thought he saw, amid the throng, the face of a
certain girl. At any rate a white handkerchief was waved directly at
him.

"Ah, ha! Something doing!" joked Charlie Hall, with whom Joe had struck
up quite a friendship. "Who's the fair one, Joe?"

"I didn't see her face," was the evasive answer.

"Oh, come now! That's too thin! She's evidently taken a liking to you."

"I hope she has!" exclaimed the young pitcher, and then blushed at his
boldness. As the train pulled past the station he had a full view of the
girl waving at him. She was Mabel Varley. Charlie saw her also.

"My word!" he cried. "I congratulate you, old man!" and he clapped Joe
on the shoulder.

"Cut it out!" came the retort, as Joe turned his reddened face in the
direction of the girl. And he waved back, while some of the other
players laughed.

"Better be looking for someone to sign in Matson's place soon, Mack,"
remarked John Holme, the third baseman, with a chuckle. "He's going to
trot in double harness if I know any of the symptoms."

"All right," laughed the assistant manager. "I'll have to begin scouting
again, I suppose. Too bad, just as Joe is going to make good."

"Oh, don't worry," advised our hero coolly. "I'm going to play."

The trip up was much more enjoyable than Joe had found the one down,
when he came alone. He was beginning to know and like nearly all of
his team-mates--that is, all save Collin, and it was due only to the
latter's surly disposition that Joe could not be friendly with him.

"Think you'll stay in this business long?" asked Charlie of Joe as he
sank into the seat beside him.

"Well, I expect to make it my business--if I can make good."

"I think you will."

"But I don't intend to stay in this small league forever," went on Joe.
"I'd like to get in a major one."

"That isn't as easy as it seems," said the other college lad. "You know
you're sort of tied hand and foot once you sign with a professional
team."

"How's that?"

"Why, there is a sort of national agreement, you know. No team in any
league will take a player from another team unless the manager of
that team gives the player his release. That is, you can quit playing
ball, of course; but, for the life of you, you can't get in any other
professional team until you are allowed to by the man with whom you
signed first."

"Well, of course, I've read about players being given their release, and
being sold or traded from one team to another," spoke Joe, "but I didn't
think it was as close as that."

"It is close," said Hall, "a regular 'trust.' Modern professional
baseball is really a trust. There's a gentleman's agreement in regard to
players that's never broken. I'm sorry, in a way, that I didn't stay an
amateur. I, also, want to get into a big league, but the worst of it is
that if you show up well in a small league, and prove a drawing card,
the manager won't release you. And until he does no other manager would
hire you. Though, of course, the double A leagues can draft anyone they
like."

Joe whistled softly.

"Then it isn't going to be so easy to get into another league as I
thought," he said.

"Not unless something happens," replied his team-mate. "Of course, if
another manager wanted you badly enough he would pay the price, and
buy you from this club. High prices have been paid, too. There's
Marquard--the Giants gave ten thousand dollars to have him play for
them."

"Yes, I heard about that," spoke Joe, "but I supposed it was mostly
talk."

"There's a good deal more than talk," asserted Charlie. "Though it's a
great advertisement for a man. Think of being worth ten thousand dollars
more than your salary!"

"And he didn't get the ten," commented Joe.

"No. That's the worst of it. We're the slaves of baseball, in a way."

"Oh, well, I don't mind being that kind of a slave," said Joe,
laughingly.

He lay back in his seat as the train whirled on, and before him, as he
closed his eyes, he could see a girl's face--the face of Mabel Varley.

"I wonder if her brother told her?" mused the young pitcher. "If he did
she may think just as he did--that I had a hand in looting that valise.
Oh, pshaw! I'm not going to think about it. And yet I wish the mystery
was cleared up--I sure do!"

The training had done all the players good. They were right "on edge"
and eager to get into the fray. Not a little horse-play was indulged in
on the way North. The team had a car to itself, and so felt more freedom
than otherwise would have been the case.

Terry Blake, the little "mascot" of the nine, was a great favorite, and
he and Joe soon became fast friends.

Terry liked to play tricks on the men who made so much of him, and late
that first afternoon he stole up behind Jake Collin, who had fallen
asleep, and tickled his face with a bit of paper. At first the pitcher
seemed to think it was a troublesome fly, and his half-awake endeavors
to get rid of it amused Terry and some others who were watching.

Then, as the tickling was persisted in, Collin awoke with a start.
He had the name of waking up cross and ugly, and this time was no
exception. As he started up he caught sight of the little mascot, and
understood what had been going on.

"You brat!" he cried, leaping out into the aisle. Terry fled, with
frightened face, and Collin ran after him. "I'll punch you for that!"
cried the pitcher.

"Oh, can't you take a joke?" someone asked him, but Collin paid no heed.
He raced after poor little Terry, who had meant no harm, and the mascot
might have come to grief had not Joe stepped out into the aisle of the
car and confronted Collin.

"Let me past! Let me get at him!" stormed the man.

"No, not now," was Joe's quiet answer.

"Out of my way, you whipper-snapper, or I'll----"

He drew back his arm, his fist clenched, but Joe never quailed. He
looked Collin straight in the eyes, and the man's arm went down. Joe was
smaller than he, but the young pitcher was no weakling.

"That'll do, Collin," said Jimmie Mack, quietly. "The boy only meant it
for a joke."

Collin did not answer. But as he turned aside to go back to his seat he
gave Joe a black look. There was an under-current of unpleasant feeling
over the incident during the remainder of the trip.

Little Terry stole up to Joe, when the players came back from the
dining-car, and, slipped his small hand into that of the pitcher.

"I--I like you," he said, softly.

"Do you?" asked Joe with smile. "I'm glad of that, Terry."

"And I'll always see that you have the bat you want when you want it,"
went on the little mascot. Poor little chap, he was an orphan, and Gus
Harrison, the big centre fielder, had practically adopted him. Then he
was made the official mascot, and while perhaps the constant association
with the ball players was not altogether good for the small lad, still
he might have been worse off.

Pittston was reached in due season, no happenings worth chronicling
taking place on the way. Joe was eager to see what sort of a ball field
the team owned, and he was not disappointed when, early the morning
after his arrival, he and the others went out to it for practice.

It was far from being the New York Polo Grounds, nor was the field equal
to the one at Yale, but Joe had learned to take matters as they came,
and he never forgot that he was only with a minor league.

"Time enough to look for grounds laid out with a rule and compass when I
get into a major league," he told himself. "That is, if I can get my
release."

Joe found some letters from home awaiting him at the hotel where the
team had its official home. But, before he answered them he wrote to
Mabel. I wonder if we ought to blame him?

The more Joe saw of his team-mates the more he liked them--save Collin,
and that was no fault of the young pitcher. He found Pittston a pleasant
place, and the citizens ardent "fans." They thought their team was about
as good as any in that section, and, though it had not captured the
pennant, there were hopes that it would come to Pittston that season.

"They're good rooters!" exclaimed Jimmie Mack. "I will say that for this
Pittston bunch. They may not be such a muchness otherwise, but they're
good rooters, and it's a pleasure to play ball here. They warm you up,
and make you do your best."

Joe was glad to hear this.

The new grounds were a little strange to him, at first, but he soon
became used to them after one or two days' practice. Nearly all the
other players, of course, were more at home.

"And now, boys," said Manager Gregory, when practice had closed one day.
"I want you to do your prettiest to-morrow. I've got a good team--I know
it. Some of you are new to me, but I've heard about you, and I'm banking
on your making good. I want you to wallop Clevefield to-morrow. I want
every man to do his best, and don't want any hard feelings if I play one
man instead of another. I have reasons for it. Now that's my last word
to you. I want you to win."

There was a little nervous feeling among the players as the time for the
first league game drew near. A number of the men had been bought from
other clubs. There was one former Clevefield player on the Pittston
team, and also one from the pennant club of a previous year.

That night Joe spent some time studying the batting averages of the
opposing team, and also he read as much of their history as he could get
hold of. He wanted to know the characteristics of the various batters if
he should be fortunate enough to face them from the pitching mound.

There was the blare of a band, roars of cheers, and much excitement. The
official opening of the league season was always an event in Pittston,
as it is in most large cities. The team left their hotel in a body,
going to the grounds in a large 'bus, which was decorated with flags. A
mounted police escort had been provided, and a large throng, mostly
boys, marched to the grounds, accompanying the players.

There another demonstration took place as the home team paraded over the
diamond, and greeted their opponents, who were already on hand, an
ovation having also been accorded to them.

The band played again, there were more cheers and encouraging calls, and
then the Mayor of the city stepped forward to throw the first ball.
Clevefield was to bat first, the home team, in league games, always
coming up last.

The initial ball, of course, was only a matter of form, and the batter
only pretended to strike at it.

Then came the announcement all were waiting for; the naming of the
Pittston battery.

"For Clevefield," announced the umpire, "McGuinness and Sullivan. For
Pittston, Matson and Nelson."

Joe had been picked to open the battle, and Nelson, who was the regular
catcher, except when Gregory took a hand, would back him up. Joe's ears
rang as he walked to the mound.

"Play ball!" droned the umpire.



CHAPTER X

BITTERNESS


Joe glanced over to where Gregory sat on the bench, from which he would
engineer this first game of the season. The manager caught the eye of
the young pitcher, and something in Joe's manner must have told the
veteran that his latest recruit was nervous. He signalled to Joe to try
a few practice balls, and our hero nodded comprehensively.

The batter stepped back from the plate, and Joe thought he detected a
smile of derision at his own newness, and perhaps rawness.

"But I'll show him!" whispered Joe fiercely to himself, as he clinched
his teeth and stung in the ball. It landed in the mitt of the catcher
with a resounding thud.

"That's the boy!" called Gregory to him. "You'll do, old man. Sting in
another."

Joe threw with all his force, but there was a sickening fear in his
heart that he was not keeping good control over the ball. Nelson
signalled to him to hold his curves in a little more, and Joe nodded to
show he understood.

"Play ball!" drawled the umpire again, and the batter took his place at
the plate.

Joe looked at the man, and reviewing the baseball "dope" he recalled
that the player batted well over .300, and was regarded as the despair
of many pitchers.

"If I could only strike him out!" thought Joe.

His first ball went a little wild. He realized that it was going to be a
poor one as soon as it left his hand, but he could not for the life of
him recover in time.

"Ball one!" yelled the umpire.

"That's the way!"

"Make him give you what you want!"

"Wait for a pretty one!"

"That's their ten thousand dollar college pitcher! Back to the bench for
his!"

These were only a few of the remarks, sarcastic and otherwise, that
greeted Joe's first performance. He felt the hot blood rush to his face,
and then, as he stepped forward to receive the ball which the catcher
tossed back to him, he tried to master his feelings. The catcher shook
his head in a certain way, to signal to Joe to be on his guard. Joe
looked over at Gregory, who did not glance at him.

"I'll do better this time!" whispered Joe, fiercely.

He deliberated a moment before hurling in the next ball.

"Here goes a home run! Clout it over the fence, Pike!" called an
enthusiastic "fan" in a shrill voice and the crowd laughed.

"Not if I know it!" muttered Joe.

The ball clipped the corner of the plate cleanly, and the batter, who
had made a half motion to hit at it, refrained.

"Strike one!" yelled the umpire, throwing up his arm.

"That's the way, Matson!"

"Two more like that and he's a dead one!"

Joe caught the signal for a drop, but shook his head. He was going to
try another out. Again his catcher signalled for a drop, but Joe was,
perhaps, a trifle obstinate. He felt that he had been successful once
with an out, and he was going to do it again. The catcher finally nodded
in agreement, though reluctantly.

Joe shot in a fast one, and he knew that he had the ball under perfect
control. Perhaps he was as disappointed as any of the home players when
there came a resounding crack, and the white sphere sailed aloft, and
well out over centre field.

"That's the way, Pike! Two bags anyhow!"

But the redoubtable Pike was to have no such good fortune, for the
centre fielder, after a heart-breaking run, got under the fly and caught
it, winning much applause from the crowd for his plucky effort.

"One down!" called Gregory, cheerfully. "Only two more, Joe."

Joe wished that he had struck out his man, but it was some consolation
to know that he was being supported by good fielding.

The next man up had a ball and a strike called on him, and Joe was a bit
puzzled as to just what to offer. He decided on a swift in, and thought
it was going to make good, but the batter was a crafty veteran, and
managed to connect with the ball. He sent a swift liner which the
shortstop gathered in, however, and there was another added to the list
of outs.

"One more and that'll be about all!" called the Pittston catcher. Joe
threw the ball over to first for a little practice, while the next
batter was picking out his stick, and then came another try.

"I've got to strike him out!" decided the young pitcher. "I've got to
make good!"

His heart was fluttering, and his nerves were not as calm as they
ought to have been. He stooped over and made a pretence of tying his
shoe-lace. When he straightened up he had, in a measure, gained a
mastery of himself. He felt cool and collected.

In went the ball with certain aim, and Joe knew that it was just what he
had intended it should be.

"Strike!" called the umpire, though the batter had not moved. There was
some laughter from the grandstand, and the batter tapped the plate
nervously. Joe smiled.

"Good work!" called Gregory from the bench.

Again the ball went sailing in, but this time Joe's luck played him a
shabby trick, or perhaps the umpire was not watching closely. Certainly
Joe thought it a strike, but "ball" was called. Joe sent in the next one
so quickly that the batter was scarcely prepared for it. But it was
perfectly legitimate and the umpire howled:

"Strike two!"

"That's the boy!"

"Good work!"

"Another like that now, Joe!"

Thus cried the throng. Gregory looked pleased.

"I guess Mack didn't make any mistake picking him up," he said.

The batter knocked a little foul next, that the catcher tried in vain to
get. And then, when he faced Joe again, our hero sent in such a puzzling
drop that the man was deceived and struck out.

"That's the boy!"

"What do you think of our ten thousand dollar college pitcher now?"

"Come on, Clevefield! He's got some more just like that!"

The home team and its supporters were jubilant, and Joe felt a sense of
elation as he walked in to the bench.

"Now see what my opponent can do," he murmured.

McGuinness was an old time pitcher, nothing very remarkable, but one any
small club would be glad to get. He had the "number" of most of the
Pittston players, and served them balls and strikes in such order that
though two little pop flies were knocked no one made a run. The result
of the first inning was a zero for each team.

"Now Joe, be a little more careful, and I think you can get three good
ones," said Gregory, as his team again took the field.

"I'll try," replied Joe, earnestly.

He got two men, but not the third, who knocked a clean two-bagger, amid
enthusiastic howls from admiring "fans."

This two-base hit seemed to spell Joe's undoing, for the next man
duplicated and the first run was scored. There were two out, and it
looked as though Clevefield had struck a winning streak, for the next
man knocked what looked to be good for single. But Bob Newton, the right
fielder, caught it, and the side was retired with one run.

Pittston tried hard to score, but the crafty pitcher, aided by effective
fielding, shut them out, and another zero was their portion on the score
board.

"Joe, we've got to get 'em!" exclaimed Gregory, earnestly.

"I'll try!" was the sturdy answer.

It was heart-breaking, though, when the first man up singled, and then
came a hit and run play. Joe was not the only player on the Pittston
team who rather lost his head that inning. For, though Joe was hit
badly, others made errors, and the net result was that Clevefield had
four runs to add to the one, while Pittston had none.

They managed, however, to get two in the following inning, more by good
luck than good management, and the game began to look, as Jimmie Mack
said, as though the other team had it in the "refrigerator."

How it happened Joe never knew, but he seemed to go to pieces. Probably
it was all a case of nerves, and the realization that this game meant
more to him than any college contest.

However that may be, the result was that Joe was effectively hit the
next inning, and when it was over, and three more runs had come in,
Gregory said sharply:

"Collin, you'll pitch now!"

It meant that Joe had been "knocked out of the box."

"We've got to get this game!" explained the manager, not unkindly. But
Joe felt, with bitterness in his heart, that he had failed.



CHAPTER XI

OLD POP CONSOLES


Collin flashed a look of mingled scorn and triumph on Joe as he walked
past him. It needed only this to make our hero feel that he had stood
about all he could, and he turned away, and tried to get rid of a lump
in his throat.

None of the other players seemed to notice him. Probably it was an old
story to them. Competition was too fierce--it was a matter of making a
living on their part--every man was for himself, in a certain sense.
They had seen young players come and old players go. It was only a
question of time when they themselves would go--go never to come back
into baseball again. They might eke out a livelihood as a scout or as a
ground-keeper in some big league. It was a fight for the survival of the
fittest, and Joe's seeming failure brought no apparent sympathy.

Understand me, I am not speaking against organized baseball. It is a
grand thing, and one of the cleanest sports in the world. But what I am
trying to point out is that it is a business, and from a business
standpoint everyone in it must do his best for himself. Each man, in a
sense, is concerned only with his own success. Nor do I mean that this
precludes a love of the club, and good team work. Far from it.

Nor were Joe's feelings made any the less poignant by the fact that
Collin did some wonderful pitching. He needed to in order to pull the
home team out of the hole into which it had slipped--and not altogether
through Joe's weakness, either.

Perhaps the other players braced up when they saw the veteran Collin in
the box. Perhaps he even pitched better than usual because he had, in a
sense, been humiliated by Joe's preference over himself. At any rate,
whatever the reason, the answer was found in the fact that Pittston
began to wake up.

Collin held the other team hitless for one inning, and the rest of the
game, ordinary in a sense, saw Pittston march on to victory--a small
enough victory--by a margin of two runs, but that was enough. For
victory had come out of almost sure defeat.

Poor Joe sat on the bench and brooded. For a time no one seemed to take
any notice of him, and then Gregory, good general that he was, turned to
the new recruit and said:

"You mustn't mind a little thing like that, Joe. I have to do the best
as I see it. This is business, you know. Why, I'd have pulled Collin
out, or Tooley, just as quick."

"I know it," returned Joe, thickly.

But the knowledge did not add to his comfort, though he tried to make it
do so.

But I am getting a little ahead of my story.

The game was almost over, and it was practically won by Pittston, when a
voice spoke back of where Joe sat on the players' bench. It was a husky,
uncertain, hesitating sort of voice and it said, in the ear of the young
pitcher:

"Never mind, my lad. Ten years from now, when you're in a big league,
you'll forget all about this. It'll do you good, anyhow, for it'll
make you work harder, and hard work makes a good ball player out of a
middle-class one. Brace up. I know what I'm talking about!"

Joe hesitated a moment before turning. Somehow he had a vague feeling
that he had heard that voice before, and under strange circumstances. He
wanted to see if he could place it before looking at the speaker.

But it was baffling, and Joe turned quickly. He started as he saw
standing behind him, attired rather more neatly than when last he had
confronted our hero--the tramp whom he had saved from the freight train.

On his part the other looked sharply at Joe for a moment. Over his face
passed shadows of memory, and then the light came. He recognized Joe,
and with a note of gladness in his husky voice--husky from much shouting
on the ball field, and from a reckless life--he exclaimed:

"Why it's the boy! It's the boy who pulled me off the track! It's the
boy!"

"Of course!" exclaimed Joe. Impulsively he held out his hand.

A shout arose as one of the Pittston players brought in the winning run,
but Joe paid no heed. He was staring at old Pop Dutton.

The other player--the "has-been"--looked at Joe's extended hand a moment
as if in doubt. Then he glanced over the field, and listened to the glad
cries. He seemed to straighten up, and his nostrils widened as he
sniffed in the odors of the crushed green grass. It was as though a
broken-down horse had heard from afar the battle-riot in which he never
again would take part.

Back came the blood-shot eyes to Joe's still extended hand.

"Do you--do you mean it?" faltered the old ball player.

"Mean it? Mean what?" asked Joe, in surprise.

"Are you going to shake hands with me--with a----"

He did not finish his obvious sentence.

"Why not?" asked Joe.

The other did not need to answer, for at that moment Gregory came up. He
started at the sight of Dutton, and said sharply:

"How did you get in here? What are you doing here. Didn't I tell you to
keep away?"

"I paid my way in--_Mister_ Gregory!" was the sarcastic answer. "I still
have the price."

"Well, we don't care for your money. What are you doing here? The
bleachers for yours!"

"He came--I think he came to see me," spoke Joe, softly, and he reached
for the other's reluctant hand. "I have met him before."

"Oh," said Gregory, and there was a queer note in his voice. "I guess
we've all met him before, and none of us are the better for it. You
probably don't know him as well as the rest of us, Joe."

"He--he saved my life," faltered the unfortunate old ball player.

"In a way that was a pity," returned Gregory, coolly--cuttingly, Joe
thought, "for you're no good to yourself, Dutton, nor to anyone else, as
near as I can make out. I told you I didn't want you hanging around my
grounds, and I don't. Now be off! If I find you here again I'll hand you
over to the police!"

Joe expected an outburst from Dutton, but the man's spirit was evidently
broken. For an instant--just for an instant--he straightened up and
looked full at Gregory. Then he seemed to shrink in his clothes and
turned to shuffle away.

"All--all right," he mumbled. "I'll keep away. But you've got one fine
little pitcher in that boy, and I didn't want to see him lose his nerve
and get discouraged--as I often did. That--that's why I spoke to him."

Poor Joe felt that he had rather made a mess of it in speaking to
Dutton, but, he said afterward, he would have done the same thing over
again.

"You needn't worry about Matson," said the manager, with a sneer.
"I'll look after Joe--I'll see that he doesn't lose his nerve--or get
discouraged."

"I--I hope you do," said the old player, and then, with uncertain gait,
he walked off as the victorious Pittston players swarmed in. The game
was over.



CHAPTER XII

THE QUEER VALISE


"Matson, I hope you didn't misunderstand me," remarked the manager as he
walked beside Joe to the dressing rooms. "I mean in regard to that
Dutton. He's an intolerable nuisance, and I didn't want you to get mixed
up with him. Perhaps I spoke stronger than I should, but I'm exasperated
with him. I've tried--and so have lots of us--to get him back on the
right road again, but I'm afraid he's hopeless."

"It's too bad!" burst out the young pitcher. "Yes, I thought you were a
little severe with him."

"I have to be. I don't want him hanging around here. I haven't seen him
for some time. He drifts all about--beating his way like a tramp, I
guess, though he's better dressed now than in a long while. What's that
he said about you saving his life?"

"Well, I suppose I did, in a way," and Joe told of the freight train
episode. "But that happened a long distance from here," he added. "I was
surprised to turn around and see him."

"Oh, Pop travels all over. You've probably heard about him. In his day
there wasn't a better pitcher in any league. But he got careless--that,
bad companions and dissipation spelled ruin for him. He's down and out
now, and I'm sure he can never come back. He lives off what he can
borrow or beg from those who used to be his friends. Steer clear of
him--that's my advice."

Joe did not respond and after a moment Gregory went on with:

"And you mustn't mind, Joe, being taken out of to-day's game."

"Oh, I didn't--after the first."

"It was for your own good, as well as for the good of the team,"
proceeded the manager. "If I hadn't taken you out you might have gone to
pieces, and the crowd would have said mean things that are hard to
forget. And I want you to pitch for us to-morrow, Joe."

"You do!" cried the delighted young pitcher, all his bitterness forgotten
now. "I thought maybe----"

He paused in confusion.

"Just because you got a little off to-day, did you imagine I was willing
to give you your release?" asked Gregory, with a smile.

"Well--something like that," confessed Joe.

The manager laughed.

"Don't take it so seriously," he advised. "You've got lots to learn yet
about professional baseball, and I want you to learn it right."

Joe felt a sense of gratitude, and when he reached the hotel that
afternoon, he took a refreshing shower bath, attired himself in his
"glad rags," and bought a ticket to the theatre.

Then, before supper, he sat down to write home, enclosing some of his
salary to be put in a savings bank at Riverside. Joe also wrote a
glowing account of the game, even though his part in it was rather
negligible. He also wrote to-- But there! I shouldn't tell secrets that
way. It's taking too much of an advantage over a fellow.

There was an air of elation about the hotel where the players lived, and
on all sides were heard congratulations. The evening papers had big
headlines with the victory of the home team displayed prominently.
Collin's picture was there, and how much Joe wished that his own was so
displayed only he himself knew.

Clevefield played four games with Pittston, and they broke even--each
side winning two. Joe was given another chance to pitch, and was mainly
responsible for winning the second game for his team.

Joe was fast becoming accustomed to his new life. Of course there was
always something different coming up--some new problem to be met. But he
got in the way of solving them. It was different from his life at
boarding school, and different from his terms at Yale. He missed the
pleasant, youthful comradeship of both places, but he found, as he grew
to know them better, some sterling men in his own team, and in those of
the opposing clubs.

But with all that, at times, Joe felt rather lonesome. Of course the
days were busy ones, either at practice or in play. But his nights were
his own, and often he had no one with whom he cared to go out.

He and Charlie Hall grew more and more friendly, but it was not a
companionship of long enough standing to make it the kind Joe really
cared for.

He had much pleasure in writing home, and to Mabel, who in turn, sent
interesting letters of her life in the South. One letter in particular
made Joe rather eager.

"My brother and I are coming North on a combined business and pleasure
trip," she wrote, "and we may see your team play. We expect to be in
Newkirk on the twentieth."

Joe dropped everything to look eagerly at the official schedule.

"Well, of all the luck!" he cried. "We play in Newkirk that date. I
wonder if she knew it? I wonder----?"

Then for days Joe almost prayed that there would be no rainy days--no
upsetting of the schedule that would necessitate double-headers, or
anything that would interfere with playing at Newkirk on the date
mentioned. That city, as he found by looking at a map, was on a direct
railroad line from Goldsboro.

"I hope nothing slips up!" murmured the young pitcher. From then on he
lived in a sort of rosy glow.

The ball season of the Central League was well under way now. A number
of games had been played, necessitating travel from one city to another.
Some of the journeys Joe liked, and some were tiresome. He met all sorts
and conditions of men and was growing to be able to take things as he
found them.

Joe worked hard, and he took a defeat more to heart than did any of the
others. It seemed to be all in the day's work with them. With Joe it was
a little more. Not that any of the players were careless, though. They
were more sophisticated, rather.

The third week of the season, then, found Pittston third in line for
pennant honors, and when the loss of a contest to Buffington had set them
at the end of the first division there were some rather glum-looking
faces seen in the hotel corridor.

"Boys, we've got to take a brace!" exclaimed Gregory, and the manner in
which he said it told his men that he meant it. Joe went to bed that
night wildly resolving to do all sorts of impossible things, so it is no
wonder he dreamed that he pitched a no-hit no-run game, and was carried
in triumph around the diamond on the shoulders of his enthusiastic
comrades.

I shall not weary you with an account of the ordinary games. Just
so many had to be played in a certain order to fulfill the league
conditions. Some of the contests were brilliant affairs, and others
dragged themselves out wearily.

Joe had his share in the good and bad, but, through it all, he was
gradually acquiring a good working knowledge of professional baseball.
He was getting better control of his curves, and he was getting up speed
so that it was noticeable.

"I'll have to get Nelson a mitt with a deeper pit in it if you keep on,"
said Gregory with a laugh, after one exciting contest when Joe had
fairly "pitched his head off," and the game had been won for Pittston by
a narrow margin.

Gradually Joe's team crept up until it was second, with Clevefield still
at the head.

"And our next game is with Newkirk!" exulted Joe one morning as they
took the train for that place. They were strictly on schedule, and Joe
was eager, for more reasons than one, to reach the city where he hoped a
certain girl might be.

"If we win, and Clevefield loses to-morrow," spoke Charlie Hall, as he
dropped into a seat beside Joe, "we'll be on top of the heap."

"Yes--if!" exclaimed the young pitcher. "But I'm going to do my best,
Charlie!"

"The same here!"

It was raining when the team arrived in Newkirk, and the weather was
matched by the glum faces of the players.

"No game to-morrow, very likely," said Charlie, in disappointed tones.
"Unless they have rubber grounds here."

"No such luck," returned Joe.

As he walked with the others to the desk to register he saw, amid a pile
of luggage, a certain peculiar valise. He knew it instantly.

"Reggie Varley's!" he exclaimed to himself. "There never was another bag
like that. And it has his initials on it. Reggie Varley is here--at this
hotel, and--and--she--must be here too. Let it rain!"



CHAPTER XIII

MABEL


Joe Matson stood spell-bound for a second or so, staring at the valise
which had such an interest for him in two ways. It meant the presence at
the hotel of the girl who had awakened such a new feeling within him,
and also it recalled the unpleasant occasion when he had been accused of
rifling it.

"What's the matter, Matson?" asked Gus Harrison, the big centre fielder,
who stood directly behind the young pitcher, waiting to register. "Have
you forgotten your name?"

"No--oh, no!" exclaimed our hero, coming to himself with a start.
"I--er--I was just thinking of something."

"I should imagine so," commented Harrison. "Get a move on. I want to go
to my room and tog up. I've got a date with a friend."

As Joe turned away from the desk, after registering, he could not
refrain from glancing at the odd valise. He half expected to see Reggie
Varley standing beside it, but there was no sign of Mabel's brother.

"Quite a coincidence that she should be stopping at this hotel," thought
Joe, for a quick glance at the names on the register, ahead of those of
the ball team, had shown Joe that Miss Varley's was among them. "Quite a
coincidence," Joe mused on. "I wonder if she came here because she knew
this was where the team always stops? Oh, of course not. I'm getting
looney, I reckon."

Then, as he looked at the valise again another thought came to him.

"I do wish there was some way of proving to young Varley that I didn't
take the stuff out of it," reasoned Joe. "But I don't see how I can
prove that I didn't. It's harder to prove a negative than it is a
positive, they say. Maybe he has found his stuff by this time; I must
ask him if I get a chance. And yet I don't like to bring it up again,
especially as she's here. She doesn't know of it yet, that's evident, or
she'd have said something. I mean Reggie hasn't told her that he once
suspected me."

Joe went to his room, and made a much more careful toilet than usual. So
much so that Charlie Hall inquired rather sarcastically:

"Who's the lady, Joe?"

"Lady? What do you mean?" responded Joe, with simulated innocence.

"Oh, come now, that's too thin!" laughed the shortstop. "Why all this
gorgeousness? And a new tie! Upon my word! You are going it!"

"Oh, cut it out!" growled Joe, a bit incensed.

But, all the while, he was wondering how and when he would meet Mabel.
Would it be proper for him to send her his card? Or would she know that
the ball team had arrived, and send word to Joe that he could see her?
How were such things managed anyhow?

Joe wished there was some one whom he could ask, but he shrank from
taking into his confidence any of the members of the team.

"I'll just wait and see what turns up," he said.

Fate was kind to him, however.

Most of the ball players had gone in to dinner, discussing, meanwhile,
the weather probabilities. There was a dreary drizzle outside, and the
prospects for a fair day to follow were remote indeed. It meant almost
certainly that there would be no game, and this was a disappointment to
all. The Pittston team was on edge for the contest, for they wanted
their chance to get to the top of the league.

"Well, maybe it's just as well," confided Gregory to Jimmie Mack. "It'll
give the boys a chance to rest up, and they've been going the pace
pretty hard lately. I do hope we win, though."

"Same here," exclaimed Jimmie earnestly.

As Joe came down from his apartment, and crossed the foyer into the
dining room, he turned around a pillar and came face to face with Reggie
Varley--and his sister.

They both started at the sight of the young pitcher, and Mabel blushed.
Joe did the same, for that matter.

"Oh, why how do you do!" the girl exclaimed graciously, holding out her
hand. "I'm awfully glad to see you again! So you are here with your
team? Oh, I do hope you'll win! Too bad it's raining; isn't it? Reggie,
you must take me to the game! You remember Mr. Matson, of course!"

She spoke rapidly, as though to cover some embarrassment, and, for a few
seconds, Joe had no chance to say anything, save incoherent murmurs,
which, possibly, was proper under the circumstances.

"Oh, yes, I remember him," said Reggie, but there was not much cordiality
in his tone or manner. "Certainly I remember him. Glad to meet you again,
old man. We haven't forgotten what you did for sis. Awfully good of you."

Joe rather resented this tone, but perhaps Reggie could not help it. And
the young pitcher wondered whether there was any significance in the way
Reggie "remembered."

Young Varley glanced over toward where his odd valise had been placed,
in a sort of checking room.

"Excuse me," he said to his sister and Joe. "I must have my luggage sent
up. I quite forgot about it."

"Then there isn't any jewelry in it this time," spoke Joe significantly,
and under the impulse of the moment. A second later he regretted it.

"No, of course not. Oh, I see!" exclaimed Reggie, and his face turned
red. "I'll be back in a moment," he added as he hurried off.

Mabel glanced from her brother to Joe. She saw that there was something
between them of which she knew nothing, but she had the tact to ignore
it--at least for the present.

"Have you dined?" she asked Joe. "If you haven't there's a vacant seat
at our table, and I'm sure Reggie and I would be glad to have you sit
with us."

"I don't know whether he would or not," said Joe, feeling that, as his
part in the story of the valise and the missing jewelry would have to
come out sometime, now was as good as any.

"Why--what do you mean?" asked Mabel in surprise.

"Hasn't he told you?" demanded Joe.

"Told me? Told me what? I don't understand."

"I mean about his watch and some of your jewelry being taken."

"Oh, yes, some time ago. You mean when he was up North. Wasn't it too
bad! And my lovely beads were in his valise. But how did you know of
it?"

"Because," blurted out Joe, "your brother accused me of taking them!"

Mabel started back.

"No!" she cried. "Never! He couldn't have done that!"

"But he did, and I'd give a lot to be able to prove that I had no hand
in the looting!" Joe spoke, half jokingly.

"How silly!" exclaimed the girl. "The idea! How did it happen?"

Joe explained briefly, amid rather excited ejaculations from Mabel, and
had just concluded when Reggie came back. He caught enough of the
conversation to understand what it was about, and as his sister looked
oddly at him, he exclaimed:

"Oh, I say now, Matson! I was hoping that wouldn't get out. I suppose I
made rather a fool of myself--talking to you the way I did, but----"

"Well, I resented it somewhat at the time," replied Joe, slowly, "but I
know how you must have felt."

"Yes. Well, I never have had a trace of the stuff. I was hoping sis,
here, wouldn't know how I accused you--especially after the plucky way
you saved her."

"I thought it best to tell," said the young pitcher, quietly.

"Oh, well, as you like," and Reggie shrugged his shoulders. "It was
certainly a queer go."

"And I'm living in hope," went on Joe, "that some day I'll be able to
prove that I had no hand in the matter."

"Oh, of course you didn't!" cried Mabel, impulsively. "It's silly of
you, Reggie, to think such a thing."

"I don't think it--now!"

But in spite of this denial Joe could not help feeling that perhaps,
after all, Reggie Varley still had an undefined suspicion against him.

"I say!" exclaimed Joe's one-time accuser, "won't you dine with us? We
have a nice waiter at our table----"

"I had already asked him," broke in Mabel.

"Then that's all right. I say, Matson, can't you take my sister in? I've
just had a 'phone message about some of dad's business that brought me
up here. I've got to go see a man, and if you'll take Mabel in----"

"I shall be delighted."

"How long will you be, Reggie?"

"Oh, not long, Sis. But if I see Jenkinson to-night it will save us time
to-morrow."

"Oh, all right. But if I let you off now you'll have to take me to the
ball game to-morrow."

"I will--if it doesn't rain."

"And you'll be back in time for the theatre?"

"Surely. I'll run along now. It's awfully good of you, Matson, to
take----"

"Not at all!" interrupted Joe. The pleasure was all his, he felt.

He and Mabel went into the hotel dining room, and Joe's team-mates
glanced curiously at him from where they sat. But none of them made any
remarks.

"It was dreadful of Reggie, to accuse you that way," the girl murmured,
when they were seated.

"Oh, he was flustered, and perhaps it was natural," said Joe. "I did sit
near the valise, you know."

"I know--but----"

They talked over the matter at some length, and then the conversation
drifted to baseball. Joe had never eaten such a delightful meal, though
if you had asked him afterward what the menu was made up of, he could
not have told you. It was mostly Mabel, I think, from the soup to the
dessert.



CHAPTER XIV

BAD NEWS


Grounds that were soggy and wet, and a dreary drizzle of rain, prevented
a game next day, and there was much disappointment. Weather reports were
eagerly scanned, and the skies looked at more than once.

"I think it'll clear to-morrow," remarked Joe to Charlie Hall.

"I sure hope so. I want to see what sort of meat these Newkirk fellows
are made of since we played against 'em last."

"Oh, they're husky enough, as we found, Charlie," for there had been
several league games between this team and the Pittston nine, but in the
latter town. Now the tables might be turned.

"They've got some new players," went on Charlie, "and a pitcher who's
said to be a marvel."

"Well, you've got me," laughed Joe, in simulated pride.

"That's right, old man, and I'm glad of it. I think you're going to
pull us to the top in this pennant race."

"Oh, I haven't such a swelled head as to think that," spoke Joe, "but
I'm going to work hard--I guess we all are. But what does it look like
for Clevefield to-day? You know she's got to lose and we've got to win
to put us on top."

"I know. There wasn't any report of rain there, so the game must be
going on. We ought to get results soon. Come on over to the ticker."

It was after luncheon, and the game in Clevefield, with the Washburg
nine, would soon start. Then telegraphic reports of the contest that, in
a way, meant so much for Pittston would begin coming in.

After the delightful dinner Joe had had with Mabel his pleasure was
further added to when he went with her to the theatre. Reggie telephoned
that he could not get back in time, and asked Joe to take his sister,
she having the tickets.

Of course the young pitcher was delighted, but he could not get over the
uneasy feeling that young Varley was suspicious of him.

"Hang it all!" exclaimed Joe, mentally. "I've just got to get that out
of his mind! But how? Only by finding his watch or Mabel's jewelry, and
I suppose I might as well look for a needle in a haystack."

Joe sat in the hotel corridor, looking over a newspaper, and waiting
for some news of the Clevefield game, as many of his team were doing. An
item caught the eye of the young pitcher that caused him to start. It
was to the effect that the unfortunate Pop Dutton had been arrested for
creating a scene at a ball park.

"Poor old man!" mused Joe. "I wish I could do something for him. I feel
sort of responsible for him, since I saved his life. I wonder if he
couldn't be straightened up? I must have another talk with Gregory about
him."

A yell from some of the players gathered about the news ticker in the
smoking room brought Joe to his feet.

"What is it?" he called to Charlie Hall.

"Washburg got three runs the first inning and Clevefield none!" was the
answer. "It looks as if Washburg would have a walk-over. And you know
what that means for us."

"Yes, if we win to-morrow."

"Win! Of course we'll win, you old bone-head!" cried Charlie, clapping
Joe affectionately on the back.

Further news from the game was eagerly awaited and when the last inning
had been ticked off, and Washburg had won by a margin of three runs, the
Pittston team was delighted.

Not at the downfall of fellow players, understand, but because it gave
Pittston the coveted chance to be at the top of the first division.

"Boys, we've just got to win that game to-morrow!" cried Gregory.

"If they don't I'll make them live on bread and water for a week!" cried
Trainer McGuire, with a twinkle in his blue eyes.

The second day following proved all that could be desired from a weather
standpoint for a ball game, the grounds having dried up meanwhile. It
was bright and sunny, but not too warm, and soon after breakfast the
team was ordered out on the field for light practice.

This was necessary as their day of comparative idleness, added to the
damp character of the weather, had made them all a little stiff.

"Get limbered up, boys," advised Jimmie Mack. "You'll need all the speed
and power you can bring along to-day. Joe, how's your arm?"

"All right, I guess," answered the young pitcher.

"Well, do some light practice. Come on. I'll catch for you a while."

There had been some slight changes made in the Newkirk grounds since
last season, and Gregory wanted his players to familiarize themselves
with the new layout. Joe was delighted with the diamond. Though Newkirk
was a smaller city than Pittston the ball field was kept in better
shape.

"Of course it isn't the Polo Grounds," Joe confided to Charlie Hall,
"but they're pretty good."

"I wonder if I'll ever get a chance to play on the Polo Grounds?"
murmured Charlie, half enviously. "It must be great!"

"It is!" cried Joe, with memories of the Yale-Princeton contest he had
taken part in there. "And I'm going to do it again, some time!"

"You are?"

"I sure am. I'm going to break into a big league if it's possible."

"Good for you, Joe!"

"Still, the grounds aren't everything, Charlie," went on Joe. "We've got
to play the best ball to win the game."

"And we'll do it, too! Don't worry."

The practice was worked up to a fast and snappy point, and then Gregory
sent his men for a brisk walk, to be followed by a shower bath in
preparation for the afternoon contest.

Certainly when the Pittston team started for the grounds again they were
a bright, clean-looking lot of players. Joe was wondering whether he
would have a chance to pitch, but, following his usual policy, the
crafty manager did not announce his battery until the last moment.

There was a big crowd out to see the game, for the rivalry in the
Central League was now intense, and interest was well keyed up. Joe had
seen Mabel and her brother start for the grounds, and he wished, more
than ever before, perhaps, that he would be sent to the mound to do
battle for his team.

The Newkirk men were out on the diamond when the Pittston players
arrived, and, after an interval the latter team was given a chance to
warm up. Joe and the other pitchers began their usual practice, and Joe
felt that he could do himself justice if he could but get a chance.

There was silence as the batteries were announced, and Joe could not
help feeling a keen disappointment as Tooley, the south-paw, was named
to open the contest.

"There's a lot of queer batters on the Newkirks," Joe heard Bob Newton,
the right fielder, say to Terry Hanson, who played left. "I guess that's
the reason the old man wants Tooley to feel them out."

"I reckon."

"Play ball!" droned the umpire as the gong clanged, and George Lee, the
second baseman, who was first at bat, strolled out to pick up his club.

The first part of the game was rather a surprise to the Pittston
players. Lee was struck out with amazing ease, and even Jimmie Mack,
who had the best batting average of any on the team, "fell" for a
delusive "fade-away" ball.

"But I've got his number!" he exclaimed, as he nodded at the opposing
pitcher. "He won't get me again."

Pittston did not get a run, though she had three men on bases when the
last one went down, and it looked as though her chances were good.

Then came more disappointment when Tooley failed to get his batters, and
Newkirk had two runs chalked up to her credit. The second inning was
almost like the first and then at the proper time, Gregory, with a
decisive gesture, signalled to Joe.

"You'll have to pitch us out of this hole!" he said, grimly. Collin, who
had said openly that he expected to be called on, looked blackly at our
hero.

As Joe started to take his place a messenger boy handed him a telegram.
He was a little startled at first, and then laughed at his fears.

"Probably good wishes from home," he murmured, as he tore open the
envelope. And then the bright day seemed to go black as he read:

     "Your father hurt in explosion. No danger of death, but may
     lose eyesight. If you can come home do so.    MOTHER."



CHAPTER XV

JOE'S PLUCK


Joe's distress at receiving the bad news was so evident, at least to
Gregory, that the manager hurried over to the young pitcher and asked:

"What's the matter, old man? Something upset you?"

For answer Joe simply held out the message.

"I say! That's too bad!" exclaimed Gregory sympathetically. "Let's see
now. You can get a train in about an hour, I think. Skip right off. I'll
make it all right." It was his business to know much about trains, and
he was almost a "walking timetable."

"Awfully sorry, old man!" he went on. "Come back to us when you can.
You'll find us waiting."

Joe made up his mind quickly. It was characteristic of him to do this,
and it was one of the traits that made him, in after years, such a
phenomenal pitcher.

"I--I'm not going home," said Joe, quietly.

"Not going home! Why?" cried Gregory.

"At least not until after the game," went on Joe. "The telegram says my
father isn't in any immediate danger, and I could not gain much by
starting now. I'm going to stay and pitch. That is, if you'll let me."

"Let you! Of course I'll let you. But can you stand the gaff, old man? I
don't want to seem heartless, but the winning of this game means a lot
to me, and if you don't feel just up to the mark----"

"Oh, I can pitch--at least, I think I can," said Joe, not wishing to
appear too egotistical. "I mean this won't make me flunk."

"That's mighty plucky of you, Joe, and I appreciate it. Now don't make a
mistake. It won't hurt your standing with the club a bit if you go now.
I'll put Collin in, and----"

"I'll pitch!" said Joe, determinedly. "After that it will be time enough
to start for home."

"All right," assented Gregory. "But if you want to quit at any time,
give me the signal. And I'll tell you what I'll do. Have you a 'phone at
home?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll have someone get your house on the long distance wire, and
find out just how your father is. I'll also send word that you'll start
to-night."

"That will be fine!" cried Joe, and already he felt better. The bad news
had shocked him for the time, though.

"Play ball!" called the umpire, for there had been a little delay over
the talk between Joe and the manager.

"Just keep quiet about it, though," advised the manager to the young
pitcher. "It may only upset things if it gets out. Are you sure you can
stand it?"

"I--I'm going to stand it!" responded Joe, gamely.

He faced his first batter with a little sense of uncertainty. But
Nelson, who was catching, nodded cheerfully at him, and gave a signal
for a certain ball that Joe, himself, had decided would best deceive
that man with the stick. He sent it in rushingly, and was delighted to
hear the umpire call:

"Strike one!"

"That's the way!"

"Two more like that and he's a goner!"

"Slam 'em in, Matson!"

Joe flushed with pleasure at the encouraging cries. He wondered if Mabel
was joining in the applause that frequently swept over the grandstand at
a brilliant play.

Again Joe threw, and all the batter could do was to hit a foul, which
was not caught.

Then came a ball, followed by another, and Joe began to get a bit
anxious.

"That's the boy!" welled up encouragingly from the crowd.

Joe tried a moist ball--a delivery of which he was not very certain as
yet, but the batter "fell for it" and whirled around as he missed it
cleanly.

"Three strikes--batter's out!" howled the umpire, and the man went back
to the bench.

The next candidate managed to get a single, but was caught stealing
second, and Joe had a chance to retire his third man.

It was a chance not to be missed, and he indulged in a few delaying
tactics in order to place, in his mind, the hitter and his special
peculiarities.

With a snap of his wrist Joe sent in an out curve, but the manner in
which the batter leaped for it, missing it only by a narrow margin, told
our hero that this ball was just "pie," for his antagonist.

"Mustn't do that again," thought Joe. "He'll slam it over the fence if I
do."

The next--an in-shoot--was hit, but only for a foul, and Joe, whose heart
had gone into his throat as he heard the crack of the bat, breathed
easier. Then, just to puzzle the batter, after delivering a "moistener"
that fell off and was called a ball, Joe sent in a "teaser"--a slow
one--that fooled the player, who flied out to shortstop.

Joe was beginning to feel more confidence in himself.

The others of the Pittston team grinned encouragingly at Joe, and
Gregory clasped his arms about the young pitcher as he came in to the
bench.

"Can you stick it out?" he asked.

"Sure! Have you any word yet on the 'phone?"

"No. Not yet. I'm expecting Hastings back any minute," naming a
substitute player who had not gone into the game, and whom the manager
had sent to call up Joe's house. "But are you sure you want to keep on
playing?"

"Sure," answered Joe. He had a glimpse of Collin, and fancied that the
eager look on the other pitcher's face turned to one of disappointment.

"You're beating me out," said Tooley, the south-paw, with an easy laugh.

"I'm sorry," said Joe, for he knew how it felt to be supplanted.

"Oh, I'm not worrying. My turn will come again. One can't be up to the
mark all the while."

Pittston managed to get a run over the plate that inning, and when it
came time for Joe to go to the mound again he had better news to cheer
him up.

Word had come over the telephone that Mr. Matson, while making some
tests at the Harvester Works, had been injured by an explosion of
acids. Some had gone into his face, burning him badly.

His life was in no danger, but his eyesight might be much impaired, if
not lost altogether. Nothing could be told in this respect for a day or
so.

Hastings had been talking to Joe's sister Clara, to whom he explained
that Joe would start for home as soon as the game was over. Mrs. Matson
was bearing up well under the strain, the message said, and Joe was told
not to worry.

"Now I'll be able to do better," said the young pitcher, with a little
smile. "Thanks for the good news."

"You're doing all right, boy!" cried Gregory. "I think we're going to
win!"

But it was not to be as easy as saying it. The Newkirk men fought hard,
and to the last inch. They had an excellent pitcher--a veteran--who was
well backed up with a fielding force, and every run the Pittstons got
they fully earned.

Joe warmed up to his work, and to the howling delight of the crowd
struck out two men in succession, after one had gone out on a pop fly,
while there were two on bases. That was a test of nerve, for something
might have broken loose at any moment.

But Joe held himself well in hand, and watched his batters. He so varied
his delivery that he puzzled them, and working in unison with Nelson
very little got past them.

Then came a little spurt on the part of Newkirk, and they "sweetened"
their score until there was a tie. It was in the ninth inning,
necessitating another to decide the matter.

"If we can get one run we'll have a chance to win," declared Gregory.
"That is, if you can hold them in the last half of the tenth, Joe."

"I'll do my best!"

"I know you will, my boy!"

For a time it looked as though it could not be done. Two of the Pittston
players went down in rapid succession before the magnificent throwing of
the Newkirk pitcher. Then he made a fatal mistake. He "fed" a slow ball
to John Holme, the big third baseman, who met it squarely with his
stick, and when the shouting was over John was safely on the third sack.

"Now bring him home, Joe!" cried the crowd, as the young pitcher stepped
to the plate. It was not the easiest thing in the world to stand up
there and face a rival pitcher, with the knowledge that your hit might
win the game by bringing in the man on third. And especially after the
advent of the telegram. But Joe steadied himself, and smiled at his
opponent.

He let the first ball go, and a strike was called on him. There was a
groan from grandstand and bleachers.

"Take your time, Joe!" called Gregory, soothingly. "Get what you want."

It came. The ball sailed for the plate at the right height, and Joe
correctly gaged it. His bat met it squarely, with a resounding "plunk!"

"That's the boy!"

"Oh, what a beaut!"

"Take third on that!"

"Come on home, you ice wagon!"

"Run! Run! Run!"

It was a wildly shrieking mob that leaped to its feet, cheering on Joe
and Holme. On and on ran the young pitcher. He had a confused vision of
the centre fielder running back to get the ball which had dropped well
behind him. Joe also saw Holme racing in from third. He could hear the
yells of the crowd and fancied--though of course it could not be
so--that he could hear the voice of Mabel calling to him.

On and on ran Joe, and stopped, safe on second, Holme had gone in with
the winning run.

But that was all. The next man struck out, and Joe was left on the
"half-way station."

"But we're one ahead, and if we can hold the lead we've got 'em!" cried
Gregory. "Joe, my boy, it's up to you! Can you hold 'em down?"

He looked earnestly at the young pitcher.

"I--I'll do it!" cried Joe.



CHAPTER XVI

A SLIM CHANCE


There was an almost breathless silence as Joe walked to the mound to
begin what he hoped would be the ending of the final inning of the game.
If he could prevent, with the aid of his mates, the Newkirk team from
gaining a run, the Pittstons would be at the top of the list. If not----

But Joe did not like to think about that. He was under a great nervous
strain, not only because of the news concerning his father, but because
of what his failure or success might mean to the club he had the honor
to represent.

"I've just got to win!" said Joe to himself.

"Play ball!" called the umpire.

Joe had been holding himself a little in reserve up to now; that is, he
had not used the last ounce of ability that he had, for he could see
that the game was going to be a hard one, and that a little added
"punch" at the last moment might make or break for victory.

The young pitcher had a good delivery of what is known as the "jump"
ball. It is sent in with all the force possible, and fairly jumps as it
approaches the plate. It is often used to drive the batsman away from
the rubber. It is supposed to go straight for the plate, or the inside
corner, and about shoulder high. A long preliminary swing is needed for
this ball, and it is pitched with an overhand delivery.

Joe had practiced this until he was a fair master of it, but he realized
that it was exhausting. Always after sending in a number of these his
arm would be lame, and he was not good for much the next day. But now he
thought the time had come to use it, varying it, of course, with other
styles of delivery.

"I've got to hold 'em down!" thought Joe.

He realized that the attention of all was on him, and he wished he could
catch the eyes of a certain girl he knew sat in the grandstand watching
him. Joe also felt that Collin, his rival, was watching him narrowly,
and he could imagine the veteran pitcher muttering:

"Why do they send in a young cub like that when so much depends on it?
Why didn't Gregory call me?"

But the manager evidently knew what he was doing.

"Play ball!" called the umpire again, at the conclusion of the sending
in of a practice ball or two.

Joe caught his breath sharply.

"It's now or never!" he thought as he grasped the ball in readiness for
the jump. "It's going to strain me, but if I go home for a day or so I
can rest up."

In went the horsehide sphere with great force. It accomplished just what
Joe hoped it would. The batter instinctively stepped back, but there was
no need. The ball neatly clipped the corner of the plate, and the umpire
called:

"Strike one!"

Instantly there was a howl from the crowd.

"That's the way!"

"Two more, Matson, old man!"

"Make him stand up!"

"Slam it out, Johnson!"

The batter had his friends as well as Joe.

But the battle was not half won yet. There were two men to be taken care
of after this one was disposed of, and he still had his chances.

Joe signalled to his catcher that he would slip in a "teaser" now, and
the man in the wire mask nodded his understanding. The batter smiled, in
anticipation of having a "ball" called on him, but was amazed, not to
say angry, when he heard from the umpire the drawling:

"Strike--two!"

Instantly there came a storm of protest, some from the crowd, a
half-uttered sneer from the batter himself, but more from his manager
and team-mates on the players' bench.

"Forget it!" sharply cried the umpire, supreme master that he was. "I
said 'strike,' and a strike it goes. Play ball!"

Joe was delighted. It showed that they were now to have fair treatment
from the deciding power, though during the first part of the game the
umpire's decisions had not been altogether fair to Pittston.

The crowd was breathlessly eager again, as Joe wound up once more. Then
there was a mad yell as the batter hit the next ball.

"Go on! Go on! You----"

"Foul!" yelled the umpire, and there was a groan of disappointment.

Joe was a little nervous, so it is no wonder that he was called for a
ball on his next delivery. But following that he sent in as neat an out
curve as could be desired. The batter missed it by a foot, and throwing
his stick down in disgust walked to the bench.

"Only two more, old man!" called Gregory encouragingly. "Only two more.
We've got their number."

Then came an attempt on the part of the crowd, which naturally was
mostly in sympathy with their home team, to get Joe's "goat." He was
hooted at and reviled. He was advised to go back to college, and to let
a man take his place. Joe only grinned and made no answer. The nervous
strain under which he was playing increased. He wanted, no one perhaps
but Gregory knew how much, to get away and take a train for home, to be
with his suffering father.

But there were two more men to put out. And Joe did it.

That is, he struck out the next man. The third one singled, and when the
best batter of the opposing team came up, Joe faced him confidently.

After two balls had been called, and the crowd was at the fever point of
expectancy, Joe got a clean strike. It was followed by a foul, and then
came a little pop fly that was easily caught by the young pitcher, who
hardly had to move from his mound.

"Pittston wins!"

"Pittston is up head!"

"Three cheers for Joe Matson!"

They were given with a will, too, for the crowd loved a plucky player,
even if it was on the other side.

But Joe did not stay to hear this. He wanted to catch the first train
for home, and hurried into the dressing room. He spoke to Gregory,
saying that he was going, and would be back as soon as he could.

"Take your time, old man; take your time," said the manager kindly.
"You did a lot for us to-day, and now I guess we can hold our own until
you come back."

There were sympathetic inquiries from Joe's fellow players when they
heard what had happened. Joe wanted to say good-bye to Mabel, but did
not quite see how he could do it. He could hardly find her in that
crowd.

But chance favored him, and as he was entering the hotel to get his
grip, he met her.

"Oh, it was splendid!" she cried with girlish enthusiasm, holding out
her slim, pretty hand. "It was fine! However did you do it?"

"I guess because I knew you were watching me!" exclaimed Joe with a
boldness that he himself wondered at later.

"Oh, that's awfully nice of you to say," she answered, with a blush. "I
wish I could believe it!"

"You can!" said Joe, still more boldly.

"But you--you look as though something had happened," she went on, for
surely Joe's face told that.

"There has," he said, quietly, and he told of the accident to his
father.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed, clasping his hand again. "And you
pitched after you heard the news! How brave of you! Is there anything
we can do--my brother--or I?" she asked anxiously.

"Thank you, no," responded Joe, in a low voice. "I am hoping it will not
be serious."

"You must let me know--let Reggie know," she went on. "We shall be here
for some days yet."

Joe promised to write, and then hurried off to catch his train. It was a
long ride to Riverside, and to Joe, who was all impatience to be there,
the train seemed to be the very slowest kind of a freight, though it
really was an express.

But all things must have an end, and that torturing journey did. Joe
arrived in his home town late one afternoon, and took a carriage to the
house. He saw Clara at the window, and could see that she had been
crying. She slipped to the door quickly, and held up a warning finger.

"What--what's the matter?" asked Joe in a hoarse whisper. "Is--is he
worse?"

"No, he's a little better, if anything. But he has just fallen asleep,
and so has mother. She is quite worn out. Come in and I'll tell you
about it. Oh, Joe! I'm so glad you're home!"

Clara related briefly the particulars of the accident, and then the
doctor came in. By this time Mrs. Matson had awakened and welcomed her
son.

"What chance is there, Doctor," asked the young pitcher; "what chance
to save his eyesight?"

"Well, there's a chance; but, I'm sorry to say, it is only a slim one,"
was the answer. "It's too soon to say with certainty, however. Another
day will have to pass. I hope all will be well, but now all I can say is
that there is a chance."

Joe felt his heart beating hard, and then, bracing himself to meet the
emergency if it should come, he put his arm around his weeping mother,
and said, as cheerfully as he could:

"Well, I believe chance is going to be on our side. I'm going to use a
bit of baseball slang, and say I have a 'hunch' that we'll win out!"

"That's the way to talk!" cried Dr. Birch, heartily.



CHAPTER XVII

OLD POP AGAIN


Dr. Birch remained for some little time at the Matson home, going over
in detail with Joe just what the nature of his father's injuries were.
In brief, while experimenting on a certain new method of chilling steel,
for use in a corn sheller, Mr. Matson mixed some acids together.

Unknown to him a workman had, accidentally, substituted one very strong
acid for a weak one. When the mixture was put into an iron pot there was
an explosion. Some of the acid, and splinters of iron, flew up into the
face of the inventor.

"And until I can tell whether the acid, or a piece of steel, injured his
eyes, Joe, I can't say for sure what we shall have to do," concluded the
doctor.

"You mean about an operation?"

"Yes. If we have to perform one it will be a very delicate one, and it
will cost a lot of money; there are only a few men in this country
capable of doing it, and their fees, naturally, are high. But we won't
think of that now. I think I will go in and see how he is. If he is
well enough I want you to see him. It will do him good."

"And me, too," added Joe, who was under a great strain, though he did
not show it.

Mr. Matson was feeling better after his rest, and Joe was allowed to
come into the darkened room. He braced himself for the ordeal.

"How are you, Son," said the inventor weakly.

"Fine, Dad. But I'm sorry to see you laid up this way."

"Well, Joe, it couldn't be helped. I should have been more careful. But
I guess I'll pull through. How is baseball?"

"Couldn't be better, Dad! We're at the top of the heap! I just helped to
win the deciding game before I came on."

"Yes, I heard your mother talking about the telephone message. I'm glad
you didn't come away without playing. Have you the pennant yet?"

"Oh, no. That won't be decided for a couple of months. But we're going
to win it!"

"That's what I like to hear!"

Dr. Birch did not permit his patient to talk long, and soon Joe had to
leave the room. The physician said later that he thought there was a
slight improvement in Mr. Matson's condition, though of course the
matter of saving his eyesight could not yet be decided.

"But if we do have to have an operation," said Mrs. Matson. "I don't see
where the money is coming from. Your father's investments are turning
out so badly----"

"Don't worry about that, Mother," broke in Joe.

"But I have to, Joe. If an operation is needed we'll have to get the
money. And from where is more than I know," she added, hopelessly.

"I'll get the money!" exclaimed the young pitcher in energetic tones.

"How?" asked his mother. "I'm sure you can't make enough at ball
playing."

"No, perhaps not at ordinary ball playing, Mother, but at the end of the
season, when the deciding games for the pennant are played off, they
always draw big crowds, and the players on the winning team come in for
a good share of the receipts. I'll use mine for the operation."

"But your team may not win the pennant, Joe," said Clara.

"We're going to win!" cried the young pitcher. "I feel it in my bones!
Don't worry, Mother."

But, naturally, Mrs. Matson could not help it, in spite of Joe's brave
words. Clara, though, was cheered up.

"There's more to baseball than I thought," she said.

"There's more in it than I'll ever learn," admitted Joe, frankly. "Of
course our pennant-deciding games aren't like the world series, but I
understand they bring in a lot of money."

Mr. Matson was quite improved the next day, but Dr. Birch, and another
physician, who was called in consultation, could not settle the matter
about the eyes.

"It will be fully a month before we can decide about the operation,"
said the expert. "In the meanwhile he is in no danger, and the delay
will give him a chance to get back his strength. We shall have to wait."

As nothing could be gained by Joe's staying home, and as his baseball
money was very much needed at this trying time, it was decided that he
had better rejoin his team.

He bade his parents and sister good-bye, and arranged to have word sent
to him every day as to his father's condition.

"And don't you worry about that money, Mother," he said as he kissed
her. "I'll be here with it when it's needed."

"Oh, Joe!" was all she said, but she looked happier.

Joe went back to join the team at Delamont, where they were scheduled
to play four games, and then they would return to their home town of
Pittston.

From the newspapers Joe learned that his team had taken three of the
four contests in Newkirk, and might have had the fourth but for bad
pitching on the part of Collin.

"Maybe he won't be so bitter against me now," thought Joe. "He isn't
such a wonder himself."

Joe was glancing over the paper as the train sped on toward Delamont. He
was looking over other baseball news, and at the scores of the big
leagues.

"I wonder when I'll break into them?" mused Joe, as he glanced rather
enviously at several large pictures of celebrated players in action.
"I'm going to do it as soon as I can."

Then the thought came to him of how hard it was for a young and promising
player to get away from the club that controlled him.

"The only way would be to slump in form," said Joe to himself, "and then
even if he did get his release no other team would want him. It's a
queer game, and not altogether fair, but I suppose it has to be played
that way. Well, no use worrying about the big leagues until I get a call
from one. There'll be time enough then to wonder about my release."

As Joe was about to lay aside the paper he was aware of a controversy
going on a few seats ahead of him. The conductor had stopped beside an
elderly man and was saying:

"You'll have to get off, that's all there is to it. You deliberately
rode past your station, and you're only trying to see how far you can go
without being caught. You get off at the next station, or if you don't
I'll stop the train when I get to you and put you off, even if it's in
the middle of a trestle. You're trying to beat your way, and you know
it! You had a ticket only to Clearville, and you didn't get off."

"Oh, can't you pass me on to Delamont?" pleaded the man. "I admit I was
trying to beat you. But I've got to get to Delamont. I've the promise of
work there, and God knows I need it. I'll pay the company back when I
earn it."

"Huh!" sneered the conductor, "that's too thin. I've heard that yarn
before. No, sir; you get off at the next station, or I'll have the
brakeman run you off. Understand that! No more monkey business. Either
you give me money or a ticket, or off you go."

"All right," was the short answer. "I reckon I'll have to do it."

The man turned and at the sight of his face Joe started.

"Pop Dutton!" exclaimed the young pitcher, hardly aware that he had
spoken aloud.

"That's me," was the answer. "Oh--why--it's Joe!" he added, and his face
lighted up. Then a look of despair came over it. Joe decided quickly.
No matter what Gregory and the others said he had determined to help
this broken-down old ball player.

"What's the fare to Delamont?" Joe asked the conductor.

"One-fifty, from the last station."

"I'll pay it," went on Joe, handing over a bill. The ticket-puncher
looked at him curiously, and then, without a word, made the change, and
gave Joe the little excess slip which was good for ten cents, to be
collected at any ticket office.

"Say, Joe Matson, that's mighty good of you!" exclaimed Old Pop Dutton,
as Joe came to sit beside him. "Mighty good!"

"That's all right," spoke Joe easily. "What are you going to do in
Delamont?"

"I've got a chance to be assistant ground-keeper at the ball park.
I--I'm trying to--trying to get back to a decent life, Joe, but--but
it's hard work."

"Then I'm going to help you!" exclaimed the young pitcher, impulsively.
"I'm going to ask Gregory if he can't give you something to do. Do you
think you could play ball again?"

"I don't know, Joe," was the doubtful answer. "They say when they
get--get like me--that they can't come back. I couldn't pitch, that's
sure. I've got something the matter with my arm. Doctor said a slight
operation would cure me, and I might be better than ever, but I haven't
any money for operations. But I could be a fair fielder, I think, and
maybe I could fatten up my batting average."

"Would you like to try?" asked Joe.

"Would I?" The man's tone was answer enough.

"Then I'm going to get you the chance," declared Joe. "But you'll have
to take care of yourself, and--get in better shape."

"I know it, Joe. I'm ashamed of myself--that's what I am. I've gone
pretty far down, but I believe I can come back. I've quit drinking, and
I've cut my old acquaintances."

Joe looked carefully at Pop Dutton. The marks of the life he had led of
late were to be seen in his trembling hands, and in his blood-shot eyes.
But there was a fine frame and a good physique to build on. Joe had
great hopes.

"You come on to Delamont with me," said the young pitcher, "and I'll
look after you until you get straightened out. Then we'll see what the
doctor says, and Gregory, too. I believe he'll give you the chance."

"Joe! I don't know how to thank you!" said the man earnestly. "If I can
ever do something for you--but I don't believe I ever can."

Pop Dutton little realized how soon the time was to come when he could
do Joe a great favor.



CHAPTER XVIII

IN DESPAIR


Joe and Pop Dutton arrived at the hotel in Delamont ahead of the team,
which was on the way from Newkirk after losing the last game of the
four. But at that Pittston was still in the lead, and now all energies
would be bent on increasing the percentage so that even the loss of a
game now and then would not pull the club from its place.

"Now look here, Joe," said Pop, when he and Joe had eaten, "this may be
all right for me, but it isn't going to do you any good."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean consorting with me in this way. I can't stay at this hotel with
you, the other players would guy you too much."

"I don't care about that."

"Well, but I do. Now, look here. I appreciate a whole lot what you're
doing for me, but it would be better if I could go to some other hotel.
Then, if you can, you get Gregory to give me a chance. I'll work at
anything--assistant trainer, or anything--to get in shape again. But it
would be better for me not to stay here where the team puts up.

"If things go right, and I can go back to Pittston with the boys, I'll
go to some quiet boarding house. Being at a hotel isn't any too good for
me. It brings back old times."

Joe saw the logic of Pop's talk, and consented. He gave the broken-down
player enough money to enable him to live quietly for several days. When
the team came Joe determined to put the question to the manager.

As Joe had registered he looked over the book to see if he knew any of
the guests at the hotel. Though he did not admit so to himself he had
half a forlorn hope that he might find the name of Mabel and her brother
there. He even looked sharply at the various pieces of luggage as they
were carried in by the bell boys, but he did not see the curious valise
that had played such an unpleasant part in his life.

Joe was feeling very "fit." The little rest, even though it was broken
by anxiety concerning his father, had done him good, and the arm that
had been strained in the game that meant so much to Pittston was in fine
shape again. Joe felt able to pitch his very best.

"And I guess we'll have to do our prettiest if we want to keep at the
top of the heap," he reasoned.

Then the team arrived, and noisily and enthusiastically welcomed Joe to
their midst again.

Seeking the first opportunity, Joe had a talk with the manager concerning
Pop Dutton. At first Gregory would not listen, and tried to dissuade Joe
from having anything to do with the old player. But the young pitcher had
determined to go on with his rescue work, and pleaded with such good
effect that finally the manager said:

"Well, I'll give him a chance, providing he shows that he can keep
straight. I don't believe he can, but, for your sake, I'm willing to
make the experiment. I've done it before, and been taken in every time.
I'm sure this will only be another, but you might as well learn your
lesson now as later."

"I don't believe I'll have much to learn," answered Joe with a smile. "I
think Pop can come back."

"The players who can do that are as scarce as hens' teeth," was the
rejoinder of the manager. "But I'll take this last chance. Of course he
can't begin to play right off the bat. He's got to get in training. By
the way, I suppose he has his release?" The manager looked questioningly
at Joe.

"Oh, yes. He's free and clear to make any contract he likes. He told me
that."

"I imagined so. No one wants him. I'm afraid I'm foolish for taking him
on, but I'll do it to please you. I'll take his option, and pay him a
small sum."

"Then I'll do the rest," returned Joe, eagerly. "I'm going to have his
arm looked at, and then couldn't you get him a place where he could do
out-door work--say help keep our grounds in shape?"

"Well, I'll think about it, Joe. But about yourself? Are you ready to
sail in again?"

"I sure am. What are the prospects?"

"Well, they might be better. Collin isn't doing any too well. I'm
thinking of buying another pitcher to use when there's not much at
stake. Gus Harrison is laid up--sprained his knee a little making a mean
slide. I've got to do some shifting, and I need every game I can get
from now on. But I guess we'll come out somehow."

But the team did not come out "somehow." It came out "nohow," for it
lost its first game with Delamont the next day, and this, coupled with
the winning of a double-header by Clevefield, put that team in the lead
and sent Pittston to second place.

Joe worked hard, so hard that he began to go to pieces in the seventh
inning, and had to be replaced by Tooley, who came into the breach
wonderfully well, and, while he did not save the day, he prevented a
disgraceful beating. Joe was in the dumps after this despite the
cheerful, optimistic attitude of the manager.

Joe's one consolation, though, was that Pop Dutton was in the way of
being provided for. The old pitcher was holding himself rigidly in line,
and taking care of himself. He had a talk with Gregory--a shame-faced
sort of talk on Pop's part--and was promised a place at the Pittston
ball park. It was agreed that he would go into training, and try to get
back to his old form.

Gregory did not believe this could be done, but if a miracle should
happen he realized that he would own a valuable player--one that would
be an asset to his club.

And then something happened. How it came about no one could say for a
certainty, but Joe went "stale."

He fell off woefully in his pitching, and the loss of several games was
attributable directly to his "slump."

Joe could not account for it, nor could his friends; but the fact
remained. Pittston dropped to third place, and the papers which gave
much space to the doings of the Central League began to make sarcastic
remarks.

On the diamond, too, Joe had to suffer the gibes of the crowd, which is
always ready to laud a successful player, and only too ready, also, to
laugh at one who has a temporary setback.

Joe was in despair, but in his letters home he kept cheerful. He did not
want his folks to worry. Regularly he sent money to his mother, taking
out of his salary check almost more than he could really afford. Also he
felt the drain of looking after Pop, but now that the latter had regular
work on the diamond, keeping it in order, the old pitcher was, in a
measure, self-supporting.

Pop was rapidly becoming more like his former self, but it would take
some time yet. He indulged in light practice, Joe often having him
catch for him when no one else was available. As yet Pop attempted no
pitching, the doctor to whom Joe took him warning him against it.

"There will have to be a slight operation on certain muscles," said the
medical man, "but I prefer to wait a bit before doing it. You will be in
better shape then."

"You're taking too much trouble about me, Joe," remarked the veteran
player one day.

"Not a bit too much," responded Joe, heartily.

From Joe's father came slightly encouraging news. The need of an
operation was not yet settled, and Mr. Matson's general health had
improved.

"And we can bless baseball a lot!" wrote Mrs. Matson to her son. "I'm
sorry I ever said anything against it, Joe. If it were not for the money
you make at the game I don't know what we'd do now."

Joe was glad his mother saw matters in a different light, but he was
also a little disturbed. His pitching was not what it should be, and he
felt, if his form fell off much more, that he would not last long, even
in a small league.

Occasionally he did well--even brilliantly, and the team had hopes. Then
would come a "slump," and they would lose a much-needed game that would
have lifted them well toward front place.

Joe's despair grew, and he wondered what he could do to get back to his
good form. Clevefield, the ancient rivals of Pittston, were now firmly
entrenched in first place, and there remained only about a quarter of
the league season yet to play.

"We've got to hustle if we want that pennant!" said Gregory, and his
tone was not encouraging. Joe thought of what he had promised about
having the money for his father's operation, and wondered whether he
could do as he said.

But I must not give the impression that all was unhappiness and gloom in
the Pittston team. True, the members felt badly about losing, but their
nerve did not desert them, and they even joked grimly when the play went
against them.

Then came a little diversion. They played a contest against a well-known
amateur nine for charity, and the game was made the occasion for
considerable jollity.

Gregory sent in most of his second string players against the amateurs,
but kept Joe as a twirler, for he wanted him to see what he could do
against some fairly good hitters.

And, to Joe's delight, he seemed more like his old self. He had better
control of the ball, his curves "broke" well and he was a source of
dismay to the strong amateurs. Of course Pittston, even with her
substitutes in the game, fairly walked away from the others, the
right-handed batters occasionally doing left stick-work, on purpose to
strike out.

But the little change seemed to do them all good, and when the next
regular contest came off Pittston won handily, Joe almost equalling his
best record.

It was at a hotel in Buffington, whither they had gone to play a series
of games with that team, that, one afternoon, as Joe entered his room,
after the game, he surprised a colored bell boy hurriedly leaving it.

"Did you want me?" asked the young pitcher.

"No, sah, boss! 'Deed an' I didn't want yo'all," stammered the dusky
youth.

"Then what were you doing in my room?" asked Joe, suspiciously.

"I--I were jest seein', boss, if yo'all had plenty ob ice water. Dat's
whut I was doin', boss! 'Deed I was."

Joe noticed that the boy backed out of the room, and held one hand
behind him. With a quick motion the young pitcher whirled the intruder
about and disclosed the fact that the colored lad had taken one of Joe's
neckties. But, no sooner had our hero caught sight of it than he burst
into a peal of laughter which seemed to startle the boy more than a
storm of accusation.



CHAPTER XIX

A NEW HOLD


"What--what all am de mattah, Massa Matson?" asked the colored lad, his
eyes bulging, and showing so much white that the rest of his face seemed
a shade or two darker. "What all am de mattah? Ain't yo'all put out
'bout me takin' dish yeah tie? I didn't go fo' to steal it, suh! 'Deed
an' I didn't. I were jest sort ob borrowin' it fo' to wear at a party
I'se gwine t' attend dis ebenin'."

"Put out about you!" laughed Joe. "Indeed I'm not. But don't say you're
going to borrow that tie," and he pointed to the one the lad had tried
unsuccessfully to conceal. It was of very gaudy hue--broad stripes and
prominent dots. "Don't say you were going to borrow it."

"'Deed an' dat's all I were gwine t' do, Massa Matson. I didn't go fo'
t' take it fo' keeps. I was a gwine t' ask yo'all fo' de lend ob it, but
I thought mebby yo'all wasn't comin' in time, so I jest made up mah mind
t' 'propriate it on mah own lookout, an' I was fixin' t' put it back
'fo' yo'all come in. I won't hurt it, 'deed an' I won't, an' I'll bring
yo'all ice water any time yo'all wants it. I--I'd laik mighty much,
Massa Matson, t' buy dish yeah tie offen yo'all."

"Buy it!" cried Joe, still laughing, though it was evident that the
colored lad could not understand why.

"Well, suh, that is, not exactly _buy_ it, 'case I ain't got no money,
but yo'all needn't gib me no tips, suh, fo' a--fo' a long time, an' I
could buy it dat way. Yes, suh, you needn't gib me no tips fo' two
weeks. An' yo'all is so generous, Massa Matson, dat in two weeks' time
I'd hab dis tie paid fo'. It's a mighty pert tie, it suah am!"

He gazed admiringly at it.

"Take it, for the love of mush!" cried Joe. "I'm glad you have it!"

"Yo'all am glad, Massa Matson?" repeated the lad, as though he had not
heard aright.

"Sure! That tie's been a nightmare to me ever since I bought it. I don't
know what possessed me to buy a cross section of the rainbow in the
shape of a scarf; but I did it in a moment of aberration, I reckon. Take
it away, Sam, and never let me see it again."

"Does yo'all really mean dat?"

"Certainly."

"Well, suh, I thanks yo'all fo' de compliment--I suah does. An' yo'all
ain't vexted wif me?"

"Not at all!"

"An'--an' yo'all won't stop giving me tips?"

"No, Sam."

"Golly! Dat's fine! I suah does thank you, mightily, suh! Won't all dem
odder coons open dere eyes when dey sees me sportin' dis yeah tie!
Yum-yum! I gass so!" and Sam bounced out of the room before Joe might
possibly change his mind. The colored lad nearly ran into Charlie Hall,
who was coming to have his usual chat with Joe, and the shortstop,
seeing the tie dangling from the bell boy's hand, guessed what had
happened.

"Was he making free with your things, Joe?" asked Charlie, when Sam had
disappeared around a corner of the hall.

"Oh, I caught him taking my tie, that's all."

"Yes, I did the same thing to one of the boys on my floor the other day.
I gave him a flea in his ear, too."

"And I gave Sam the tie," laughed Joe.

"You _gave_ it to him?"

"Yes, that thing has been haunting me. I never wore it but once and I
got disgusted with it." Joe failed to state that Mabel had showed a
dislike for the scarf, and that it was her implied opinion that had
turned him against it.

"You see," the young pitcher went on, "I didn't know just which of the
fellows to give it to, and two or three times I've left it in my hotel
room when we traveled on. And every blamed time some chambermaid
would find it, give it to the clerk, and he'd forward it to me. That
monstrosity of a scarf has been following me all over the circuit.

"I was getting ready to heave it down some sewer hole, when I came in to
find Sam 'borrowing' it. I had to laugh, and I guess he thought I was
crazy. Anyhow he's got the tie, and I've gotten rid of it. So we're both
satisfied."

"Well, that's a good way to look at it. How are things, anyhow?"

"They might, by a strain, be worse," answered Joe, a bit gloomily. The
game that day had been a hard one, and Gregory had used a string of
three pitchers, and had only been able to stop the winning streak of
Buffington. Joe had been taken out after twirling for a few innings.

"Yes, we didn't do ourselves very proud," agreed Charlie. "And to-morrow
we're likely to be dumped. Our record won't stand much of that sort of
thing."

"Indeed it won't. Charlie, I've got to do something!" burst out Joe.

"What is it? I can't see but what you're doing your best."

"My hardest, maybe, but not my best. You see this league pitching is
different from a college game. I didn't stop to figure out that I'd have
to pitch a deal oftener than when I was at Yale. This is business--the
other was fun."

"You're tired, I guess."

"That's it--I'm played out."

"Why don't you take a vacation; or ask Gregory not to work you so often?"

"Can't take any time off, Charlie. I need the money. As for playing the
baby-act--I couldn't do that, either."

"No, I reckon not. But what are you going to do?"

"Hanged if I know. But I've got to do something to get back into form.
We're going down."

"I know it. Has Gregory said anything?"

"No, he's been awfully decent about it, but I know he must think a lot.
Yes, something's got to be done."

Joe was rather gloomy, nor was Charlie in any too good spirits. In fact
the whole team was in the "dumps," and when they lost the next game they
were deeper in than ever.

Some of the papers began running headlines "Pittston Loses Again!" It
was galling.

Jimmie Mack worked hard--so did Gregory--and he, and Trainer McGuire,
devised all sorts of plans to get the team back in form again. But
nothing seemed to answer. The Pittstons dropped to the rear of the first
division, and only clung there by desperate work, and by poor playing
on the part of other teams.

In all those bitter, dreary days there were some bright spots for Joe,
and he treasured them greatly. One was that his father was no worse,
though the matter of the operation was not definitely settled. Another
was that he heard occasionally from Mabel--her letters were a source of
joy to him.

Thirdly, Old Pop Dutton seemed to be "making good." He kept steadily at
work, and had begun to do some real baseball practice. Joe wrote to him,
and his letters were answered promptly. Even cynical Gregory admitted
that perhaps, after all, the former star pitcher might come into his own
again.

"When will you give him a trial?" asked Joe, eagerly.

"Oh, some day. I'll put him in the field when we're sure of an easy
game."

The time came when the tail-enders of the league arrived for a series of
contests with Pittston, and Pop Dutton, to his delight, was allowed to
play. There was nothing remarkable about it, but he made no errors, and
once, taking a rather desperate chance on a long fly, he beat it out and
retired the batter.

He was roundly applauded for this, and it must have warmed his heart to
feel that once more he was on the road he had left so long before. But
coming back was not easy work. Joe realized this, and he knew the old
pitcher must have had a hard struggle to keep on the narrow path he had
marked out for himself. But Joe's influence was a great help--Dutton
said so often. The other players, now that they found their former mate
was not bothering them, begging money, or asking for loans, took more
kindly to him. But few believed he could "come back," in the full
meaning of the words.

"He may be a fairly good fielder, and his batting average may beat
mine," said Tooley, "but he'll never be the 'iron man' he once was." And
nearly all agreed with him.

Joe was faithful to his protegé. Often the two would saunter out to
some quiet place and there pitch and catch for each other. And Joe's
trained eye told him that the other's hand had lost little of its former
cunning.

Meanwhile the fortunes of Pittston did not improve much. Sometimes they
would struggle to second place, only to slip back again, while victorious
Clevefield held her place at the top.

There was only one consolation--Pittston did not drop out of the first
division. She never got lower than fourth.

Joe was being used less and less on the pitching mound, and his heart
was sore. He knew he could make good if only something would happen to
give him back his nerve, or a certain something he lacked. But he could
not understand what.

Properly enough it was Pop Dutton who put him on the right track. The
two were pitching and catching one day, when Joe delivered what he had
always called a "fade-away" ball, made famous by Mathewson, of the New
York Giants. As it sailed into Pop's big mitt the veteran called:

"What was that, Joe?"

"Fade-away, of course."

"Show me how you hold the ball when you throw it."

Joe did so. The old pitcher studied a moment, and then said:

"Joe, you've got it wrong. Have you been pitching that way all the
while?"

"Always."

"No wonder they have been hitting you. Let me show you something. Stand
behind me."

The old pitcher threw at the fence. Joe was amazed at the way the ball
behaved. It would have puzzled the best of batters.

"How did you do it?" asked Joe, wonderingly.

"By using a different control, and holding the ball differently. I'll
show you. You need a new hold."



CHAPTER XX

JOE'S TRIUMPH


Then began a lesson, the learning of which proved of great value to Joe
in his after life as a ball player. If Old Pop Dutton had not the nerve
to "come back" as a pitcher in a big league, at least he could show a
rising young one how to correct his faults. And a fault Joe certainly
had.

For several years he had been throwing the fade-away ball in the wrong
manner. Not entirely wrong, to be sure, or he never would have attained
the results he had, but it was sufficiently wrong to prevent him from
having perfect control of that style of ball, and perfect control is the
first law of pitching.

For some time the two practiced, unobserved, and Joe was glad of this.
He felt more hopeful than at any time since his team had commenced to
"slump."

"Am I getting there?" Joe anxiously asked of the veteran, one day.

"Indeed you are, boy! But that's enough for to-day. You are using some
new muscles in your arm and hand, and I don't want you to tire out.
You'll probably have to pitch to-morrow."

"I only wish I could use this style ball."

"It wouldn't be safe yet."

"No, I suppose not. But I'm going to keep at it."

It was not easy. It is always more difficult to "unlearn" a wrong way of
doing a thing, and start over again on the right, than it is to learn
the proper way at first. The old method will crop up most unexpectedly;
and this happened in Joe's case more times than he liked.

But he persisted and gradually he felt that he was able to deliver the
fade-away as it ought to come from a pitcher's hand. Now he waited the
opportunity.

Meanwhile baseball matters were going on in rather slow fashion. All the
teams, after the fierce rush and enthusiasm of the opening season, had
now begun to fall off. The dog-days were upon them, and the heat seemed
to take all the energy out of the men.

Still the games went on, with Pittston rising and falling on the
baseball thermometer from fourth to second place and occasionally
remaining stationary in third. First place was within striking distance
several times, but always something seemed to happen to keep Joe's team
back.

It was not always poor playing, though occasionally it was due to this.
Often it was just fate, luck, or whatever you want to call it. Fielders
would be almost certain of a ball rolling toward them, then it would
strike a stone or a clod of dirt and roll to one side.

Not much, perhaps, but enough so that the man would miss the ball, and
the runner would be safe, by a fraction of time or space. It was
heart-breaking.

Joe continued to work at the proper fade-away and he was getting more
and more expert in its use. His control was almost perfect. Still he
hesitated to use it in a game, for he wanted to be perfect.

A new pitcher--another south-paw, or left-hander--was purchased from
another league club, at a high price, and for a time he made good. Joe
was fearful lest he be given his release, for really he was not doing as
well as he had at first. Truth to tell he was tired out, and Gregory
should have realized this.

But he did not until one day a sporting writer, in a sensible article
telling of the chances of the different teams in the Central League for
winning the pennant, wrote of Joe:

"This young pitcher, of whom bright things were predicted at the opening
of the season, has fallen off woefully. At times he shows brilliant
flashes of form, but it seems to me that he is going stale. Gregory
should give him a few days off."

Then the manager "woke up."

"Joe, is this true?" he asked, showing the youth the article.

"Well, I am a bit tired, Gregory, but I'm not asking for a vacation,"
answered Joe.

"I know you're not, but you're going to get it. You just take a run home
and see your folks. When you come back I'm going to pitch you in a
series of our hardest games. We go up against Clevefield again. You take
a rest."

Joe objected, but half-heartedly, and ended by taking the train for
home.

His heart felt lighter the moment he had started, and when he got to
Riverside, and found his father much improved, Joe was more like himself
than at any time since the opening of the ball season. His folks were
exceedingly glad to see him, and Joe went about town, renewing old
acquaintances, and being treated as a sort of local lion.

Tom Davis, Joe's chum, looked at the young pitcher closely.

"Joe," he said, "you're getting thin. Either you're in love, or you
aren't making good."

"Both, I guess," answered Joe, with a short laugh. "But I'm going to
make good very soon. You watch the papers."

Joe rejoined his team with a sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step
that told how much good the little vacation had done him. He was warmly
welcomed back--only Collin showing no joy.

Truth to tell Collin had been doing some wonderful pitching those last
few days, and he was winning games for the team. The advent of Joe gave
him little pleasure, for none knew better than he on how slim a margin a
pitcher works, nor how easily he may be displaced, not only in the
affection of the public, always fickle, but in the estimation of the
manager.

"Hang him! I wish he'd stayed away!" muttered Collin. "Now he's fresh
and he may get my place again. But I'll find a way to stop him, if
Gregory gives him the preference!"

Joe went back at practice with renewed hope. He took Gregory and the
catchers into his confidence, and explained about the fade-away. They
were enthusiastic over it.

"Save it for Clevefield," advised the manager.

The day when Pittston was to play the top-notchers arrived. There were
to be four games on Pittston's grounds, and for the first time since his
reformation began, Pop Dutton was allowed to play in an important
contest.

"I'm depending on you," Gregory warned him.

"And you won't be disappointed," was the reply. Certainly the old player
had improved greatly. His eyes were bright and his skin ruddy and
clear.

Joe was a bit nonplussed when Collin was sent in for the opening game.
But he knew Gregory had his reasons. And perhaps it was wise, for Collin
was always at his best when he could deliver the first ball, and open
the game.

Clevefield was shut out in the first inning, and, to the howling delight
of the crowd of Pittston sympathizers and "fans," the home team got a
run.

This gave the players much-needed confidence, and though the visitors
managed to tie the score in their half of the second inning, Pittston
went right after them, and got two more tallies.

"We're going to win, Joe!" cried Charlie Hall. "We're going to win. Our
hoodoo is busted!"

"I hope so," said the young pitcher, wishing he had a chance to play.

It came sooner than he expected. Collin unexpectedly "blew up," and had
to be taken out of the box. Joe was called on, at the proper time, and
walked nervously to the mound. But he knew he must conquer this feeling
and he looked at Nelson, who was catching. The back-stop smiled, and
signalled for a fade-away, but Joe shook his head.

He was not quite ready for that ball yet.

By using straight, swift balls, interspersed with ins and drops, he
fooled the batter into striking out. The next man went out on a pop
fly, and Joe teased the third man into striking at an elusive out.
Clevefield was retired runless and the ovation to Pittston grew.

But it was not all to be as easy as this. Joe found himself in a tight
place, and then, with a catching of his breath, he signalled that he
would use the fade-away.

In it shot--the batter smiled confidently--struck--and missed. He did it
twice before he realized what was happening, and then when Joe felt sure
that his next fade-away would be hit, he swiftly changed to an up-shoot
that ended the matter.

Clevefield fought hard, and once when Joe was hit for a long fly, that
seemed good for at least two bases, Pop Dutton was just where he was
most needed, and made a sensational catch.

There was a howl of delight, and Gregory said to Joe afterward:

"Your man is making good."

Joe was immensely pleased. And when, a little later, at a critical
point in the game, he struck out the third man, again using his famous
fade-away, his triumph was heralded in shouts and cries, for Pittston
had won. It was a triumph for Joe in two ways--his own personal one, and
in the fact that he had been instrumental in having Pop Dutton play--and
Pop's one play, at least that day, saved a run that would have tied the
score.



CHAPTER XXI

A DANGER SIGNAL


"Boys, we're on the right road again!" exclaimed the enthusiastic
manager at the conclusion of the game, when the team was in the dressing
room. "Another like this to-morrow, and one the next day, if it doesn't
rain, and we'll be near the top."

"Say, you don't want much," remarked Jimmie Mack, half sarcastically,
but with a laugh. "What do you think we are anyhow; wonders?"

"We'll have to be if we're going to bring home the pennant," retorted
Gregory.

"And we're going to do it!" declared Joe, grimly.

Collin went to pieces in more ways than one that day. Probably his
failure in the game, added to Joe's triumph, made him reckless, for he
went back to his old habit of gambling, staying up nearly all night, and
was in no condition to report for the second game of the series.

"He makes me tired!" declared Gregory. "I'd write his release in a
minute," he went on, speaking to Jimmie Mack, "only I'm up to my neck in
expenses now, and I can't afford to buy another pitcher. I need all I've
got, and Collin is good when he wants to be."

"Yes, it's only his pig-headedness about Joe that sets him off. But I
think we've got a great find in Matson."

"So do I. There was a time when I was rather blue about Joe, but he
seems to have come back wonderfully."

"Yes," agreed Jimmie Mack, "that fade-away of his is a wonder, thanks to
Pop Dutton."

"Pop himself is the greatest wonder of all," went on Gregory. "I never
believed it possible. I've seen the contrary happen so many times that I
guess I've grown skeptical."

"He and Joe sure do make a queer team," commented the assistant manager.
"Joe watches over him like a hen with one chicken."

"Well, I guess he has to. A man like Pop who has been off the right road
always finds lots of temptation ready and waiting to call him back. But
Joe can keep him straight.

"Now come over here. I want to talk to you, and plan out the rest of the
season. We're in a bad way, not only financially, but for the sake of
our reputations."

If Joe could have heard this he would have worried, especially about
the financial end. For he counted very much on his baseball money--in
fact, his family needed it greatly.

Mr. Matson's savings were tied up in investments that had turned out
badly, or were likely to, and his expenses were heavy on account of
the doctor's and other bills. Joe's salary was a big help. He also
earned something extra by doing some newspaper work that was paid for
generously.

But Joe counted most on the final games of the series, which would
decide the pennant. These were always money-makers, and, in addition,
the winning team always played one or more exhibition games with some
big league nine, and these receipts were large.

"But will we win the pennant?" queried Joe of himself. "We've got to--if
dad is going to have his operation. We've just got to!"

The news from home had been uncertain. At one time Dr. Birch had decided
that an operation must be performed at once, and then had come a change
when it had to be delayed. But it seemed certain that, sooner or later,
it would have to be undertaken, if the inventor's eyesight was to be
saved.

"So you see we've just got to win," said Joe to Charlie Hall.

"I see," was the answer. "Well, I'll do my share toward it, old man,"
and the two clasped hands warmly. Joe was liking Charlie more and more
every day. He was more like a college chum than a mate on a professional
team.

But Pittston was not to have a victory in the second game with
Clevefield. The latter sent in a new pitcher who "played tag," to use a
slang expression, with Joe and his mates, and they lost the contest by a
four to one score. This in spite of the fact that Joe did some good work
at pitching, and "Old Pop," as he was beginning to be called, knocked a
three-bagger. Dutton was one of those rare birds, a good pitcher and a
good man with the stick. That is, he had been, and now he was beginning
to come back to himself.

There was a shadow of gloom over Pittston when they lost the second
game, after having won the first against such odds, and there was much
speculation as to how the other two contests would go.

Gregory revised his batting order for the third game, and sent in his
latest purchase, one of the south-paws, to do the twirling. But he
soon made a change in pitchers, and called on Tooley, who also was a
left-hander.

"I may need you later, Joe," he said as he arranged to send in a "pinch"
hitter at a critical moment. "Don't think that I'm slighting you, boy."

"I don't. I understand."

"How's your fade-away?"

"All right, I guess."

"Good. You'll probably have to use it."

And Joe did. He was sent in at the seventh, when the Clevefield nine was
three runs ahead, and Joe stopped the slump. Then, whether it was this
encouragement, or whether the other team went to pieces, did not
develop, but the game ended with Pittston a winner by two runs.

The crowd went wild, for there had been a most unexpected ending, and so
sure had some of the "fans" been that the top-notchers would come out
ahead, that they had started to leave.

But the unexpected happens in baseball as often as in football, and it
did in this case.

Pittston thus had two out of the four games, and the even break had
increased her percentage to a pleasing point. If they could have taken
the fourth they would have fine hopes of the pennant, but it was not to
be. An even break, though there was a close finish in the last game, was
the best they could get.

However, this was better than for some time, and Gregory and his
associates were well pleased.

Then came a series of games in the different league cities, and matters
were practically unchanged. In turn Buffington, Loston and Manhattan
were visited, the Pittston nine doing well, but nothing remarkable.

Joe seemed firmly established in the place he most desired, and his fine
delivery was increasing in effectiveness each day. His fade-away
remained a puzzle to many, though some fathomed it and profited thereby.
But Joe did not use it too often.

The secret of good pitching lies in the "cross-fire," and in varying the
delivery. No pitcher can continue to send in the same kind of balls in
regular order to each batter. He must study his man and use his brains.

Joe knew this. He also knew that he was not alone a pitcher, but a ball
player, and that he must attend to his portion of the diamond. Too many
twirlers forget this, and Joe frequently got in on sensational plays
that earned him almost as much applause as his box-work did.

Joe was always glad to get back to Pittston to play games. He was
beginning to feel that it was a sort of "home town," though he had few
friends there. He made many acquaintances and he was beginning to build
up a reputation for himself. He was frequently applauded when he came
out to play, and this means much to a baseball man.

Then, too, Joe was always interested in Pop Dutton. He was so anxious
that the former fine pitcher should have his chance to "come back."
Often when scouts from bigger leagues than the Central stopped off to
more or less secretly watch the Pittstons play, Joe would have a talk
with them. Sometimes he spoke of Pop, but the scouts did not seem
interested. They pretended that they had no special object in view, or,
if they did, they hinted that it was some other player than Dutton.

To whisper a secret I might say that it was Joe himself who was under
observation on many of these occasions, for his fame was spreading. But
he was a modest youth.

Joe was not inquisitive, but he learned, in a casual way, that Pop
Dutton was seemingly on the right road to success and prosperity. It was
somewhat of a shock to the young pitcher, then, one evening, as he was
strolling down town in Pittston, to see his protegé in company with a
shabbily dressed man.

"I hope he hasn't taken to going with those tramps again," mused Joe.
"That would be too bad."

Resolving to make sure of his suspicions, and, if necessary, hold out a
helping hand, the young pitcher quickened his pace until he was close
behind the twain.

He could not help but hear part of the conversation.

"Oh, come on!" he caught, coming from Dutton's companion. "What's the
harm?"

"No, I'll not. You don't know how hard it is to refuse, but I--I
can't--really I can't."

"You mean you won't?"

"Put it that way if you like."

"Well, then, I do like, an' I don't like it! I'll say that much. I don't
like it. You're throwin' me down, an' you're throwin' the rest of us
down. I don't like it for a cent!"

"I can't help that," replied Dutton, doggedly.

"Well, maybe _we_ can help it, then. You're leaving us in the lurch just
when we need you most. Come on, now, be a sport, Pop!"

"No, I've been too much of a sport in the past--that's the trouble."

"So you won't join us?"

"No."

"Will you come out and tell the boys so? They maybe won't believe me."

"Oh, well, I can't see any harm in that."

"Come on, then, they'll be glad to see you again."

Joe wondered what was afoot. It was as though he saw a danger signal
ahead of Pop Dutton.



CHAPTER XXII

VICTORY


Joe hardly knew what to do. He realized that all his efforts toward
getting the old ball player back on the right road might go for naught
if Pop went off with these loose companions.

And yet would he relish being interfered with by the young pitcher? Pop
was much older than Joe, but so far he had shown a strong liking for the
younger man, and had, half-humorously, done his bidding. Indeed Pop was
under a deep debt not only of gratitude to Joe, but there had been a
financial one as well, though most of that was now paid.

"But I don't want to see him slip back," mused Joe, as he walked along
in the shadows, taking care to keep far enough back from the twain. But
Pop never looked around. He seemed engrossed in his companion.

"What shall I do?" Joe asked himself.

He half hoped that some of the other members of the nine might come
along, and accost Pop, perhaps taking him off with them, as they had
done several times of late. For the old player was becoming more and
more liked--he was, in a way, coming into his own again, and he had a
fund of baseball stories to which the younger men never tired listening.

"If some of them would only come along!" whispered Joe, but none did.

He kept on following the two until he saw them go into one of the less
disreputable lodging houses in a poor quarter of the city. It was a house
where, though some respectable workingmen, temporarily embarrassed, made
their homes for a time, there was more often a rowdy element, consisting
of tramps, and, in some cases, criminals.

At election time it harbored "floaters" and "repeaters," and had been
the scene of many a police raid.

"I wonder what he can want by going in there?" thought Joe. "It's a good
thing Gregory can't see him, or he'd sure say my experiment was a
failure. It may be, after all; but I'm not going to give up yet. Now,
shall I go in, and pretend I happened by casually, or shall I wait
outside?"

Joe debated the two propositions within himself. The first he soon gave
up. He was not in the habit of going into such places, and the presence
of a well-dressed youth, more or less known to the public as a member
of the Pittston nine, would excite comment, if nothing else. Besides, it
might arouse suspicion of one sort or another. Then, too, Pop might
guess why Joe had followed him, and resent it.

"I'll just have to wait outside," decided Joe, "and see what I can do
when Pop comes out."

It was a dreary wait. From time to time Joe saw men slouch into the
place, and occasionally others shuffled out; but Pop did not come, nor
did his ragged companion appear.

Joe was getting tired, when his attention was attracted to a detective
whom he knew, sauntering rather aimlessly past on the opposite side of
the street.

"Hello!" thought the young ball player, "I wonder what's up?" He eyed
the officer closely, and was surprised, a moment later, to see him
joined by a companion.

"Something sure is in the wind," decided Joe. "I'm going to find out."

He strolled across the highway and accosted the detective with whom he
had a slight acquaintance.

"Oh, it's Matson, the Pittston pitcher!" exclaimed the officer.

"What's up, Regan?" asked Joe.

"Oh, nothing much. Do you know Farley, my side partner? Farley, this is
Matson--Baseball Joe, they call him. Some nifty little pitcher, too,
let me tell you."

"Thanks," laughed Joe, as he shook hands with the other detective.

"Why, we're looking for a certain party," went on Regan. "I don't mind
telling you that. We'll probably pull that place soon," and he nodded
toward the lodging house. "Some of the regulars will be along in a
little while," he added.

"Pull," I may explain, is police language for "raid," or search a
certain suspected place.

"Anything big?" asked Joe.

"Oh, nothing much. There's been some pocket-picking going on, and a few
railroad jobs pulled off. A lot of baggage belonging to wealthy folks
has been rifled on different lines, all over the country, and we think
we're on the track of some of the gang. We're going to pull the place
and see how many fish we can get in the net."

Joe did not know what to do. If the place was to be raided soon it might
mean that his friend, the old pitcher, would be among those arrested.
Joe was sure of his friend's innocence, but it would look bad for him,
especially after the life he had led. It might also be discouraging to
Pop, and send him back to his old companions again.

"How long before you'll make the raid?" asked Joe.

"In about half an hour, I guess," replied Regan. "Why, are you going to
stick around and see it?"

"I might. But there's a friend of mine in there," spoke Joe, "and I
wouldn't like him to get arrested."

"A friend of yours?" repeated Regan, wonderingly.

"Yes. Oh, he's not a hobo, though he once was, I'm afraid. But he's
reformed. Only to-night, however, he went out with one of his old
companions. I don't know what for. But I saw him go in there, and that's
why I'm here. I'm waiting for him to come out."

"Then the sooner he does the better," observed Farley, grimly. "It's a
bad place."

"Look here," said Joe, eagerly, "could you do me a favor, Mr. Regan?"

"Anything in reason, Joe."

"Could you go in there and warn my friend to get out. I could easily
describe him to you. In fact, I guess you must know him--Pop Dutton."

"Is Old Pop in there?" demanded the officer, in surprise.

"Yes," responded Joe, "but I'm sure he's all right. I don't believe you
want him."

"No, he's not on our list," agreed Regan. "Well, say, I guess I could do
that for you, Joe. Only one thing, though. If Farley or I happen in
there there may be a scare, and the birds we want will get away."

"How can we do it, then?" asked Joe.

A figure came shuffling up the dark street, and, at the sight of the two
detectives and the young pitcher, hesitated near a gas lamp.

"Hello! There's Bulldog!" exclaimed Regan, but in a low voice. "He'll
do. We'll send him in and have him tip Pop off to come out. Bulldog is
on our staff," he added. "He tips us off to certain things. Here,
Bulldog!" he called, and a short, squat man shuffled up. His face had a
canine expression, which, Joe surmised, had gained him his name.

"Slip into Genty's place, Bulldog," said Regan in a low voice, "and tell
a certain party to get out before the bulls come. Do you know Pop
Dutton?"

"Sure. He and I----"

"Never mind about that part of it," interrupted the detective. "Just do
as I tell you, and do it quietly. You can stay in. You might pick up
something that would help us."

"What, me stay in there when the place is going to be pulled, and get
pinched? Not on your life!" and the man turned away.

"Hold on!" cried Regan. "We'll get you out all right, same as we always
do. You're too valuable to us to go to jail for long."

Then, as Bulldog started for the dark entrance to the lodging house, Joe
realized that he had seen what is called a "stool-pigeon," a character
hated by all criminals, and not very much respected by the police whom
they serve. A "stool-pigeon" consorts with criminals, that he may
overhear their plans, and betray them to the police. Often he is himself
a petty criminal. In a sense he does a duty to the public, making it
more easy for the authorities to arrest wrong-doers--but no one loves a
"stool-pigeon." They are the decoy ducks of the criminal world.

I am making this explanation, and portraying this scene in Joe Matson's
career, not because it is pleasant to write about, for it is not. I
would much rather take you out on the clean diamond, where you could
hear the "swat" of the ball. But as Joe's efforts to make a new man of
the old pitcher took him into this place I can do no less than chronicle
the events as they happened. And a little knowledge of the sadder,
darker and unhappy side of life may be of value to boys, in deterring
them from getting into a position where it would appeal to them--appeal
wrongly, it is true, but none the less strongly.

The Bulldog had not been in the building more than a minute before the
door opened again, and Pop Dutton, alone, and looking hastily around,
came out. Joe got in a shadow where he could not be seen. He did
not want his friend humiliated, now that he had seen him come out
victorious.

For the young pitcher could see that Pop was the same straight and sober
self he had been since getting back on the right road. His association
with his former companions had evidently not tempted him.

"Oh, I'm glad!" exulted Joe.

Pop Dutton looked curiously at the two detectives.

"Thanks," he said briefly, as he passed them, and they knew that he
understood. Not for a long time afterward did the former pitcher know
that to Joe he owed so much. For, though his intention in going to the
rendezvous of the unfortunates of the under-world was good, still it
might have been misconstrued. Now there was no danger.

Afterward Joe learned that Pop had been urged by the man he met on the
street to take part in a robbery. The old pitcher refused, but his false
companion tried to lure him back to his old life, on the plea that only
from his own lips would his associates believe that Pop had reformed.
And Pop made them plainly understand that he had.

Pop Dutton passed on down the street, and, waiting a little while, Joe
followed. He did not care to see the raid. The young pitcher soon
reached his hotel, and he felt that Pop was safe in his own boarding
house.

The next morning Joe read of the wholesale arrests in the lodging house,
though it was said that the quarry the detectives most hoped to get
escaped in the confusion.

"Baggage robbers, eh?" mused Joe. "I wonder if they were the ones who
went through Reggie Varley's valise? If they could be caught it would
clear me nicely, providing I could prove it was they."



CHAPTER XXIII

THE TRAMP AGAIN


Baseball again claimed the attention of Joe and his mates. They were
working hard, for the end of the season was in sight, and the pennant
ownership was not yet decided.

Clevefield was still at the top of the list, but Pittston was crowding
her hard, and was slowly creeping up. Sometimes this would be the result
of her players' own good work, and again it would be because some other
team had a streak of bad luck which automatically put Joe's team ahead.

The young pitcher was more like himself than at any time since he had
joined the club. He was really pitching "great" ball, and Gregory did
not hesitate to tell him so. And, more than this, Joe was doing some
good work with the bat. His average was slowly but steadily mounting.

Joe would never be a great performer in this line, and none realized it
better than himself. No clubs would be clamoring for his services as a
pinch hitter. On the other hand many a pitcher in the big leagues had
not Joe's batting average, though of course this might have been because
they were such phenomenal twirlers, and saved all their abilities for
the mound.

Also did Joe pay attention to the bases. He wished he was a south-paw,
at times, or a left-hand pitcher, for then he could more easily have
thrown to first. But it was too late to change now, and he made up his
mind to be content to work up his reputation with his good right arm.

But, even with that, he made some surprisingly good put-outs when
runners took chances and got too long a lead. So that throughout the
circuit the warning began to be whispered:

"Look out for Matson when you're on first!"

Joe realized that a good pitcher has not only to play the game from the
mound. He must field his position as well, and the failure of many an
otherwise good pitcher is due to the fact that they forget this.

Much of Joe's success, at this time, was due to the coaching and advice
he received from Pop Dutton. The veteran could instruct if he could not
pitch yet, and Joe profited by his experience.

No reference was made by Joe to the night Pop had gone to the lodging
house, nor did the old pitcher say anything to his young friend. In fact
he did not know Joe had had any hand in the matter. Pop Dutton went on
his reformed way. He played the game, when he got a chance, and was
increasingly good at it.

"Joe!" he cried one day, when he had played a full game, "we're getting
there! I hope I'll soon be pitching."

"So do I!" added Joe, earnestly. True, the game Pop had played at centre
for the full nine innings was with the near-tailenders of the Central
League, but it showed that the veteran had "come back" sufficiently to
last through the hard work.

"How is your arm?" asked Joe.

"Not good enough to use on the mound yet, I'm sorry to say," was Pop's
answer. "I guess I'll have to have that operation, after all. But I
don't see how I can manage it. I'm trying to pay back some of my old
debts----"

"Don't let that part worry you," spoke Joe, quickly. "If things turn out
right I may be able to help you."

"But you've done a lot already, Joe."

"I'll do more--if I can. Just wait until the close of the season, when
we have the pennant."

What Joe meant was that he would have the money for an operation on the
pitcher's arm if the cash was not needed to put Mr. Matson's eyes in
shape through the attention of a surgeon.

And this matter was still undecided, much to the worriment of Joe, his
mother and sister, to say nothing of his father. But it is necessary,
in such matters, to proceed slowly, and not to take any chances.

Joe felt the strain. His regular salary was much needed at home, and he
was saving all he could to provide for his father's possible operation.
That cost would not be light.

Then there was Pop Dutton to think of. Joe wanted very much to see the
old player fully on his feet again. He did not know what to do, though,
should all the money he might get from the pennant series be required
for Mr. Matson.

"Well, I'll do the best I can," thought Joe. "Maybe if Gregory and the
others see how well Pop is doing they'll take up a collection and pay
for the operation. It oughtn't to cost such an awful lot."

Joe shook his head in a puzzled way. Really it was a little too much for
him to carry on his young shoulders, but he had the fire of youth in his
veins, and youth will dare much--which is as it should be, perhaps.

Then, too, Joe had to be on edge all the time in order to pitch winning
ball. No pitcher is, or can be, at top notch all the while. He can
hardly serve in two big games in quick succession, and yet Joe did this
several times, making an enviable record for himself.

The rivalry between him and Collin grew, though Joe did nothing to
inflame the other's dislike. But Collin was very bitter, and Pop gave
Joe some warning hints.

"Oh, I don't believe he'd do anything under-handed," said Joe, not
taking it seriously.

"Well, be on the lookout," advised the veteran. "I don't like Collin,
and never did."

There came a series of rainy days, preventing the playing of games, and
everyone fretted. The players, even Joe, grew stale, though Gregory
tried to keep them in form by sending them off on little trips when the
grounds were too wet even for practise.

Then came fine bracing weather, and Pittston began to stride ahead
wonderfully. It was now only a question of whether Joe's team or
Clevefield would win pennant honors, and, in any event, there would have
to be several games played between the two nines to decide the matter.

This was due to the fact that the league schedule called for a certain
number of games to be played by each club with every other club, and a
number of rainy days, and inability to run off double headers, had
caused a congestion.

Pittston kept on playing in good form, and Joe was doing finely. So much
so that on one occasion when a big league scout was known to be in
attendance, Gregory said in a way that showed he meant it:

"Joe, they're going to draft you, sure."

The larger or major league clubs, those rated as AA, have, as is well
known, the right to select any player they choose from a minor league,
paying, of course a certain price. Thus the big leagues are controllers
in a way of the players themselves, for the latter cannot go to any club
they choose, whereas any big league club can pick whom it chooses from
the little or "bush" leagues. If two or more of the big clubs pick the
same player there is a drawing to decide who gets him.

"Well, I'm not worrying," returned Joe, with a smile.

After a most successful game, in Washburg, which team had been playing
good ball--the contest having been won by Pittston--Joe was walking
across the diamond with Pop Dutton, when the young pitcher saw
approaching them the same tramp with whom his protegé had entered the
lodging house that night.

"Hello, Pop!" greeted the shabby man. "I want t' see you." He leered
familiarly. Pop Dutton stopped and gazed with half-frightened eyes at
Joe.



CHAPTER XXIV

ON THE TRACK


"Well, are you comin'?" demanded the tramp, as Dutton did not answer. "I
said I want to see you, an' I'm dead broke! Took all I had t' git a seat
on th' bleachers t' see de bloomin' game."

"Well, you saw a good game--I'll say that," commented the old player,
though his voice was a bit husky. He seemed to be laboring under some
nervous strain.

"Huh! I didn't come to see th' game. I want t' see you. Are you comin'?"

Pop did not answer at once. About him and Joe, who still stood at his
side, surged the other players and a section of the crowd. Some of the
members of the team looked curiously at Pop and the ragged individual
who had accosted him. Collin, the pitcher, sneered openly, and laughed
in Joe's face.

"Who's your swell friend?" he asked, nodding toward the tramp. Joe
flushed, but did not answer.

"Well, I'm waitin' fer youse," spoke the tramp, and his tone was surly.
"Come on, I ain't got all day."

"Nothing doing," said Pop, shortly. "I'm not coming with you, Hogan."

"You're not!"

There was the hint of a threat in the husky tones, and the glance from
the blood-shot eyes was anything but genial.

"No, I'm not coming," went on Pop, easily. He seemed to have recovered
his nerve now, and glanced more composedly at Joe.

"Huh! Well, I like that!" sneered the tramp. "You're gettin' mighty
high-toned, all of a sudden! It didn't used to be this way."

"I've changed--you might as well know that, Hogan," went on Pop. There
were not so many about them now. All the other players had passed on.

"Well, then, if you won't come with me, come across with some coin!"
demanded the other. "I need money."

"You'll not get any out of me."

"What!"

There was indignant protest in the husky voice.

"I said you'll not get any out of me."

"Huh! We'll see about that. Now look here, Pop Dutton, either you help
me out, or----"

Dutton turned to one of the officers who kept order on the ball field.

"Jim, see that this fellow gets out," the old player said, quietly.

"All right, Pop. What you say goes," was the reply. "Now then, move on
out of here. We want to clean up for to-morrow's game," spoke the
officer shortly to the man whom Pop had addressed as Hogan.

"Ho! So that's your game is it--_Mister_ Dutton," and the ragged fellow
sneered as he emphasized the "Mister."

"If you want to call it a game--yes," answered Dutton, calmly. "I'm done
with you and yours. I'm done with that railroad business. I don't want
to see you again, and I'm not going to give you any more money."

"You're not!"

"I am not. You've bled me enough."

"Oh, I've bled you enough; have I? I've bled you enough, my fine bird!
Well then, you wait! You'll see how much more I'll bleed you! You'll
sing another tune soon or I'm mistaken. I've bled you enough; eh? Well
you listen here! I ain't bled you half as much as I'm goin' to. And some
of the others are goin' t' come in on the game! You wait! That's all!"

And he uttered a lot of strong expressions that the ground officer
hushed by hustling him off the field.

Joe took no part in this. He stood quietly at the side of Pop as though
to show, by his presence, that he believed in him, trusted him and would
help him, in spite of this seeming disgrace.

They were alone--those two. The young and promising pitcher, and the old
and almost broken down "has-been." And yet the "has-been" had won a
hard-fought victory.

Pop Dutton glanced curiously at Joe.

"Well?" he asked, as if in self-defence.

"What's the answer?" inquired Joe, trying to make his tones natural.
"Was it a hold-up?"

"Sort of. That's one of the fellows I used to trail in with, before you
helped me out of the ditch."

"Is he a railroad man?" asked Joe. "I thought he said something about
the railroad."

"He pretends to be," said Dutton. "But he isn't any more. He used to be,
I believe; but he went wrong, just as I did. Just as I might be now, but
for you, Joe."

His voice broke, and there was a hint of tears in his eyes.

"Oh, forget it!" said Joe, easily. "I didn't do anything. But what sort
of a fellow is this one, anyhow?"

The man had been hustled off the grounds by the officer.

"Oh, he's just a plain tramp, the same as I was. Only he hasn't anything
to do with the railroad any more, except to rob baggage. That's his
specialty. He hangs around the depots, and opens valises and such when
he gets a chance."

"He does!" cried Joe, with sudden interest. "Is he the fellow the
detectives wanted to get the time they raided the Keystone Lodging
House?"

Pop Dutton flushed red.

"What--what do you know about that?" he asked.

"Oh--I--er--I happened to be around there when the police were getting
ready to close in," answered Joe, truthfully enough. He did not want to
embarrass his friend by going into details.

"Oh," said Pop, evidently in relief. "Yes, I think he was one of the
gang they wanted to get. But they didn't."

"He's taking a chance--coming here now."

"Oh, he's let his whiskers grow, and I suppose he thinks that disguises
him. He's had a hold over me, Joe, but I'm glad to say he hasn't any
longer. I won't go into details, but I will say that he had me in his
power. Now I'm out."

"So he used to rob travelers' baggage, did he?"

"Yes, and he does yet I guess, when he gets the chance. Jewelry is his
specialty. I remember once he was telling me of a job he did.

"It was at a small station. I forget just where. Anyhow this
fellow--Hogan is one of his names--he pretended to be a railroad
freight brakeman. You know they are rather roughly dressed, for their
work is not very clean. Well, he got a chance to open a certain valise.
I remember it because he said it was such an odd bag."

Joe felt a queer sensation. It was as though he had heard this same
story years before. Yet he knew what it meant--what it was leading
to--as well as if it had all been printed out.

"Hogan made a good haul, as he called it," went on Pop. "He thought he
was going to have a lot of trouble opening the bag when he came into the
station pretending he wanted a drink of water. It was a foreign-make
valise, he said, but it opened easier than he thought and he got a watch
and a lot of trinkets that ladies like."

"He did?" asked Joe, and his voice sounded strange, even to himself.

"Yes. Why, do you know anything about it?" asked Pop in some surprise.

"I might," said Joe, trying to speak calmly. "Would you remember how
this bag looked if I told you?"

"I think so."

"Was it a yellow one, of a kind of leather that looked like walrus hide,
and did it have two leather handles, and brass clips in the shape of
lions' heads?"

"Yes--that's exactly how Hogan described it," said Pop. "But--why----"

"And would you remember the name of the station at which the robbery
took place?" asked Joe. "That is if you heard it?"

"I think so."

"Was it Fairfield?"

"That's it! Why, Joe, what does this mean? How did you know all this?
What is Hogan to you?"

"Nothing much, Pop, unless he proves to be the fellow who took the stuff
I was accused of taking," answered Joe, trying to speak calmly. "Do you
know where we could find this man again?"

"You mean Hogan?"

"Yes. I'm going to tackle him. Of course it's only a chance, but I
believe it's a good one."

"Oh, I guess we can easily locate him," said Pop. "He hasn't any money
to get far away."

"Then come on!" cried Joe, eagerly. "I think I'm at last on the track of
the man who took the stuff from Reggie Varley's valise. Pop, this means
more to me than you can imagine. I believe I'm going to be cleared at
last!"

"Cleared! You cleared? What of?" asked the old ball player in
bewilderment.

"I'll tell you," said Joe, greatly excited. "Come on!"



CHAPTER XXV

REGGIE'S AUTO


Hardly understanding what was afoot, and not in the least appreciating
Joe's excitement, Pop Dutton followed the young pitcher across the
diamond.

"What are you going to do?" asked the old player, as he hurried on after
Joe.

"Get into my street togs the first thing. Then I'm going to try and find
that fellow--Hogan, did you say his name was?"

"One of 'em, yes. But what do you want of him?"

"I want him to tell when and where he took that stuff from the queer
valise. And I want to know if he has any of it left, by any chance,
though I don't suppose he has. And, in the third place, I want to make
him say that I didn't take the stuff."

Pop Dutton drew a long breath.

"You, Joe!" he exclaimed. "You accused?"

"Yes. It's a queer story. But I'm beginning to see the end of it now!
Come on!"

They hurried into the dressing rooms. Most of the other players had
gone, for Joe and Pop had been delayed out on the diamond talking to
Hogan. Charlie Hall was there, however, and he looked curiously at Joe.

"Anything the matter?" asked the young shortstop.

"Well, there may be--soon," answered his friend. "I'll see you later.
Tell Gregory that I may be going out of town for a while, but I'll sure
be back in time for to-morrow's game."

"All right," said Charlie, as he went in to take a shower bath.

"Now, Pop," spoke Joe, as he began dressing, "where can we find this
Hogan?"

"Oh, most likely he'll be down around Kelly's place," naming a sort of
lodging-house hang-out for tramps and men of that class.

"Then down there we'll go!" decided the young pitcher. "I'm going
to have an interview with Hogan. If I'd only known he was the one
responsible for the accusation against me I'd have held on to him while
he was talking to you. But I didn't realize it until afterward, and then
the officer had put him outside. He was lost in the crowd. But suppose
he isn't at Kelly's?"

"Oh, someone there can tell us where to find him. But it's a rough
place, Joe."

"I suppose so. You don't mind going there; do you?"

"Well, no, not exactly. True, a lot of the men I used to trail in with
may be there, but, no matter. They can't do any more than gibe me."

"We could take a detective along," suggested Joe.

"No, I think we can do better by ourselves. I don't mind. You see after
I--after I went down and out--I used to stop around at all the baseball
towns, and in that way I got to know most of these lodging-house places.
This one in Washburg is about as rough as any."

"How did you come to know Hogan?"

"Oh, I just met him on the road. He used to be a good railroad man, but
he went down, and now he's no good. He's a boastful sort, and that's how
he came to tell me about the valise. But I never thought you'd be mixed
up in it."

"Of course I can't be dead certain this is the same valise that was
robbed," said Joe; "but it's worth taking a chance on. I do hope we can
find him."

But they were doomed to disappointment. When they reached Kelly's
lodging-house Hogan had gone, and the best they could learn, in the
sullen replies given by the habitués, was that the former railroad man
had taken to the road again, and might be almost anywhere.

"Too bad!" exclaimed Pop sympathetically, as he and Joe came out.

"Yes, it is," assented the young pitcher, "for I did want Reggie Varley
to know who really robbed his valise." Perhaps Joe also wanted a certain
other person to know. But he did not mention this, so of course I cannot
be sure. "Better luck next time!" exclaimed the young pitcher as
cheerfully as he could.

They endeavored to trace whither Hogan had gone, but without success.
The best they could ascertain was that he had "hopped a freight," for
some point west.

Joe did not allow the disappointment to interfere with his baseball
work. In the following games with Washburg he fitted well into the tight
places, and succeeded, several times, when the score was close, in being
instrumental in pulling the Pittston team out a winner.

On one occasion the game had gone for nine innings without a run on
either side, and only scattered hits. Both pitchers--Joe for Pittston,
and young Carrolton Lloyd for Washburg--were striving hard for victory.

The game came to the ending of the ninth, with Washburg up. By fortunate
chance, and by an error on the part of Charlie Hall, the home team got
two men on bases, and only one out. Then their manager made a mistake.

Instead of sending in a pinch hitter--for a hit was all that was needed
to score the winning run, the manager let the regular batting order be
followed, which brought up the Washburg pitcher. Lloyd was tired out,
and, naturally, was not at his best. He popped up a little fly, which
Joe caught, and then sending the ball home quickly our hero caught
the man coming in from third, making a double play, three out and
necessitating the scoring of another zero in the ninth frame for
Washburg.

Then came the tenth inning. Perhaps it was his weariness or the memory
of how he had had his chance and lost it that made Lloyd nervous.
Certainly he went to pieces, and giving one man his base on balls,
allowed Joe to make a hit. Then came a terrific spell of batting and
when it was over Pittston had four runs.

It was then Joe's turn to hold the home team hitless, so that they might
not score, and he did, to the great delight of the crowd.

This one feat brought more fame to Joe than he imagined. He did not
think so much of it himself, which is often the case with things that we
do. But, in a way, it was the indirect cause of his being drafted to a
big league, later on.

The season was now drawing to a close. The race for the pennant was
strictly between Pittston and Clevefield, with the chances slightly in
favor of the latter. This was due to the fact that there were more
veteran players in her ranks, and she had a better string of pitchers.

A week or so more would tell the tale. Pittston and Clevefield would
play off the final games, the best three out of four, two in one town
and two in the other.

Interest in the coming contests was fast accumulating and there was
every prospect of generous receipts.

The winners of the pennant would come in for a large share of the gate
receipts, and all of the players in the two leading teams were counting
much on the money they would receive.

Joe, as you may well guess, planned to use his in two ways. The major
part would go toward defraying the expenses of his father's operation.
It had not yet been definitely settled that one would be performed, but
the chances were that one would have to be undertaken. Then, too, Joe
wanted to finance the cost of getting Dutton's arm into shape. A
well-known surgeon had been consulted, and had said that a slight
operation on one of the ligaments would work wonders. It would be rather
costly, however.

"Joe, I'm not going to let you do it," said Pop, when this was spoken
of.

"You can't help yourself," declared Joe. "I saved your life--at least
I'm not modest when it comes to that, you see--and so I have, in a way,
the right to say what I shall do to you. Besides, if we win the pennant
it will be due, as much as anything, to the instruction you gave me. Now
will you be good!"

"I guess I'll have to," agreed Pop, laughingly.

Pittston closed all her games with the other teams, excepting only
Clevefield. The pennant race was between these two clubs. Arrangements
had been made so that the opening game would be played on the Pittston
grounds. Then the battle-scene would shift to Clevefield, to come back
to Pittston, and bring the final--should the fourth game be needed, to
Clevefield.

"If we could only win three straight it would be fine," said Joe.

"It's too much to hope," returned Pop.

It was the day before the first of the pennant games. The Pittstons had
gone out for light practice on their home grounds, which had been
"groomed" for the occasion. As far as could be told Pittston looked to
be a winner, but there is nothing more uncertain than baseball.

As Joe and his mates came off the field after practice there shuffled up
to the veteran player a trampish-looking man. At first Joe thought this
might be Hogan again, but a second look convinced him otherwise. The man
hoarsely whispered something to the old pitcher.

"He says Hogan and a gang of tramps are in a sort of camp in Shiller's
Woods," said Pop, naming a place that was frequently the abiding place
of "gentlemen of the road."

"He is?" cried Joe. "Then let's make a beeline for there. I've just got
to get this thing settled! Are you with me, Pop?"

"I sure am. But how are we going to get out there? It's outside the city
limits, no car line goes there, and trains don't stop."

"Then we've got to have an auto," decided Joe. "I'll see if we can hire
one."

He was on his way to the dressing rooms, when, happening to glance
through the big open gate of the ball ground he saw a sight that caused
him to exclaim:

"The very thing! It couldn't be better. I can kill two birds with one
stone. There's our auto, and the man in it is the very one I want to
convince of my innocence! That's Reggie Varley. I'll make him take us to
Shiller's Woods! We'll catch Hogan there. Come on!"

Never stopping to think of the peculiar coincidence that had brought
Reggie on the scene just when he was most needed, Joe sprinted for the
panting auto, Pop following wonderingly.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE TRAMP RENDEZVOUS


"Come on!" cried Joe to Reggie Varley, not giving that astonished young
man a chance to greet him. "Come on! Got plenty of gas?"

"Gas? Yes, of course. But where? What is it? Are they after you?"

"Not at all. We're after _them_!" laughed Joe. He could afford to laugh
now, for he felt that he was about to be vindicated.

"But I--er--I don't understand," spoke Reggie, slowly. "Where is it you
want to go?"

"After the tramp who rifled the valise you suspected me of opening in
that way-station some time ago," answered Joe quickly. "We're after him
to prove I didn't do it!"

"Oh, but my dear Matson--really now, I don't believe you took it. Sis
went for me red-hot, you know, after you told her. She called me all
kinds of a brute for even mentioning it to you, and really----"

He paused rather helplessly, while Joe, taking the situation into his
own hands, climbed up beside Reggie, who was alone in his big car. The
young pitcher motioned for Pop to get into the tonneau, and the veteran
did so, still wondering what was going to happen.

"It's all right," laughed Joe, more light-hearted than he had been in
many months. "If you'll take us to Shiller's Woods you may see something
that will surprise you."

"But still I don't understand."

Joe explained briefly how Hogan, the railroad tramp, had boasted of
robbing a valise corresponding to Reggie's. Hogan was now within five
miles of Pittston, hiding in a tramps' camp, and if he was arrested, or
caught, he might be made to tell the truth of the robbery, clear Joe,
and possibly inform Reggie where the watch and jewelry had been disposed
of.

"I don't suppose he has any of it left," said Reggie, simply. "There was
one bracelet belonging to sis that I'd like awfully much to get back."

"Well, we can try," answered Joe, hopefully.

"Sometimes," broke in Pop, "those fellows can't dispose of the stuff
they take, and then they hide it. Maybe we can get it back."

"Let's hope so," went on Reggie. "And now, where do you want to go? I'll
take you anywhere you say, and I've got plenty of gas."

"Shiller's Woods," returned Joe. "Do you know where it is, Pop?"

"Yes. I've been there--once or twice."

"And now," went on Joe, as he settled back in the seat, still in his
baseball uniform, as was Pop Dutton, "how did you happen to be here?"
and he looked at Reggie.

"Why, I had to come up in this section on business for dad, and sis
insisted that I bring her along. So we motored up, and here we are. Sis
is at the Continental."

"Our hotel!" gasped Joe. "I didn't see her!" His heart was beating
wildly.

"No, I just left her there," returned Reggie. "She is wild to see these
final games----"

"I hope she sees us win," murmured Joe.

"But about this chase," went on Reggie. "If we're going up against a lot
of tramps perhaps we'd better have a police officer with us."

"It wouldn't be a bad idea," agreed Pop. "We can stop and pick up a
railroad detective I know. They'll be glad of the chance to raid the
tramps, for they don't want them hanging around."

"Good idea," announced Joe, who was still puzzling over the manner in
which things fitted together, and wondering at the absurdly simple way
in which Reggie had appeared on the scene.

The car sped away from the ball field, purring on its silent, powerful
way. Pop Dutton gave directions as to the best roads to follow, and a
little distance out of Pittston he called a halt, in order that a
railroad detective might be summoned.

They found one at a small branch freight station, and this man called a
companion, so there were five who proceeded to the rendezvous of the
tramps in Shiller's Woods.

It is not a difficult matter to raid the abiding place of the men,
unfortunates if you will, who are known as "hoboes," and tramps. They
are not criminals in the usual sense of the term, though they will
descend to petty thievery. Usually they are "pan-handlers," beggars and
such; though occasionally a "yegg-man," or safe-blower, will throw in
his lot with them.

But for the most part the men are low characters, living as best they
can, cooking meager meals over a camp fire, perhaps raiding hen-roosts
or corn fields, and moving from place to place.

They have no wish to defy police authority, and usually disappear at the
first alarm, to travel on to the next stopping place. So there was no
fear of any desperate encounter in this raid.

The railroad detectives said as much, and expressed the belief that they
would not even have to draw their revolvers.

"We'll be glad of the chance to clean the rascals out," said one
officer, "for they hang around there, and rob freight cars whenever
they get the chance."

"But we'd like a chance to talk to them--at least to this Hogan,"
explained Joe. "We want to find what he did with Mr. Varley's jewelry."

"Well, then, the only thing to do is to surround them, and hold them
there until you interview them," was the decision. "I guess we can do
it."

Shiller's Woods were near the railroad line, in a lonesome spot, and the
outskirts were soon reached. The auto was left in charge of a switchman
at his shanty near a crossing and the occupants, consisting of the two
detectives, Joe, Pop and Reggie, proceeded on foot. They all carried
stout cudgels, though the officers had revolvers for use in emergency.

But they were not needed. Pop Dutton knew the way well to a little
hollow where the tramps slept and ate. He led the others to it, and so
quietly did they approach that the tramps were surrounded before they
knew it.

Down in a grassy hollow were half a dozen of them gathered about a fire
over which was stewing some mixture in a tomato can, suspended over the
flame on a stick, by means of a bit of wire.

"Good afternoon, boys!" greeted one of the officers, as he stood up, and
looked down on the men. It was apparent at first glance that Hogan was
one of them. Pop had silently indicated him.

The tramps started up, but seeing that they were surrounded settled back
philosophically. Only Hogan looked eagerly about for a way of escape.

"It's no go," said one of the railroad detectives. "Just take it easy,
and maybe you won't be so badly off as you imagine."

Hogan had been found at last. It developed that Pop had asked his former
"friends of the road" to keep track of him, and send word when located.
This had been done by the ragged man who accosted the old player on the
diamond that afternoon.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE SLOW WATCH


"Well, what do you want?" growled Hogan, for he seemed to feel that
attention was centered on him.

"Nothing much--no more than usual, that is," said one of the detectives,
to whom the story of the looted valise had been told. "Where did you put
the stuff you got from this gentleman's bag some time last Spring?" was
the sharp question.

"Whose bag?" Hogan wanted to know, with a frown.

"Mine!" exclaimed Reggie. "That is, if you're the man. It was a yellow
bag, with lions' heads on the clasps and it contained a Swiss watch,
with a gold face; some jewelry, including a bracelet of red stones was
also taken."

Hogan started as this catalog was gone over.

"Now look here!" broke in the officer. "These gentlemen are willing to
make some concessions to you."

"Yes?" spoke Hogan, non-committally. He seemed easier now.

"Yes. If you'll own up, and give back what you've got left we'll call it
off, providing you get out of the State and keep out."

"An' s'posin' I don't?" he asked, defiantly.

"Then it's the jug for yours. You're the one we want. The rest of you
can go--and keep away, too," added the detective, significantly.

The tramps slunk off, glad enough to escape. Only Hogan remained.

"Well," he said, but now his nerve was gone. He looked surlily at Pop,
and wet his lips nervously.

"Go on," urged the officer.

"I guess I did get a few things from his bag--leastwise it was a satchel
like the one he tells about," confessed Hogan.

"Then that clears me!" cried Joe, joyfully.

Reggie Varley held out his hand to the young pitcher.

"It was silly of me ever to have suspected you," he said, contritely.
"Will you forgive me?"

"Of course!" Joe would have forgiven Reggie almost anything.

"Where's the stuff now?" asked the chief detective, sharply.

Hogan laughed.

"Where do you s'pose?" he asked. "Think I can afford to carry Swiss
watches with gold faces, or ladies' bracelets? I look like it; don't
I?"

Truly he did not, being most disreputable in appearance.

"Did you pawn it?" asked the other officer.

"Yes, and precious little I got out of it. You can have the tickets if
you like. I'll never redeem 'em," and he tossed a bunch of pawn tickets
over to Reggie, who caught them wonderingly.

"Are--er--are these stubs for the things?" he asked. "How can I get them
back?"

"By paying whatever the pawnbrokers advanced on the goods," answered Pop
Dutton, who looked quickly over the tickets. He knew most of the places
where the goods had been disposed of.

"I'll be glad to do that," went on the young man. "I'm much obliged to
you, my good fellow."

Hogan laughed again.

"You're a sport!" he complimented. "Is that all you want of me?"

The detectives consulted together a moment. Then one of them asked Joe
and his two friends:

"What do you say? There isn't much to be gained by arresting him. You've
got about all you can out of him. I suppose you might as well let him
go."

"I'm willing," spoke Joe. "All I wanted was to have my name cleared, and
that's been done."

"I don't care to have him prosecuted," spoke Reggie. "It might bring my
sister into unpleasant prominence, as most of the things were hers."

"I say, my good fellow," he went on--he would persist in being what he
thought was English, "does the ticket for that bracelet happen to be
among these you've given me."

"No, here's the thing itself--catch!" exclaimed Hogan, and he threw
something to Joe, who caught it. It proved to be a quaint wrist-ornament.

The young pitcher slipped it into his pocket.

"It'll have to be disinfected before she can wear it," he said in a low
voice to Reggie. "I'll give it to her, after I soak it in formaldehyde."

Reggie nodded--and smiled. Perhaps he understood more than Joe thought
he did.

"Is that all you want of me?" asked Hogan, looking uneasily about.

"I guess so," answered one of the officers. "But how did you come to get
at the valise?"

"Oh, it was easy. I spotted it in the depot and when that chap wasn't
looking,"--he nodded at Reggie--"I just opened it, took out what I
wanted, and slipped out of the station before anyone saw me. You'd never
have gotten me, either, if I hadn't been a dub and told him," and he
scowled at Pop Dutton.

"Well, I'm glad, for my own sake, that you did tell," spoke Joe.

"Now you'd better clear out," warned the officer, "and don't let us find
you near the railroad tracks again, or it will be the jug for yours.
Vamoose!"

"Wait a minute," said Pop Dutton, softly. "Have you any money, Hogan?"

"Money! No, how should I get money? I couldn't pawn that bracelet, or
I'd have some though. They all said it wasn't worth anything."

"My sister values it as a keepsake," explained Reggie to Joe in a low
voice. "She'll be awfully glad to get it back."

"Here," went on the old pitcher to his former companion of the highway,
and he passed him a bill. "It's all I can spare or I'd give you more."

Hogan was greatly surprised. He stared at the money half comprehendingly.

"You--do you mean it?" he stammered.

"Certainly," answered Pop.

"Well, I--er--I--I'm sorry!" burst out the tramp, and, making a quick
grab for the bill, he turned aside and was soon lost to sight amid the
trees.

"Hum! That's a queer go!" commented one of the officers.

"I guess he's got some feeling, after all," said Joe, softly.

They had accomplished what they set out to do--proved the innocence of
the young pitcher. And they had done more, for they were in the way of
recovering most of the stolen stuff. Joe anticipated much pleasure in
restoring to Mabel her odd bracelet.

They motored back to the city from the rendezvous of the tramps, talking
over the strange occurrence. But they took none of the members of the
ball team into their confidence--Joe and Pop. They thought the fewer who
knew of it the better.

"And now if I was sure dad would be all right, and Pop's arm would get
into pitching shape again, I wouldn't ask for anything more," said Joe
to Reggie that night, when he called on the youth and his sister.

"Don't you want to win the pennant?" asked Mabel, softly. She had
thanked Joe--and her brother--with blushing cheeks for the return of her
keepsake bracelet. But her blushes were not for her brother.

"The pennant! Of course!" cried Joe. "I almost forgot about that! And
we're going to win it!"

"I'm going to see every game, too!" exclaimed Mabel, with brilliant
cheeks and eyes.

The first pennant game with Clevefield was a hard-fought one. Collin
took the mound in the opening of the battle, and for a time all went
well. He made some mistakes, and the heavy batters on the other side
began "finding" him. But he was well supported by the fielders and
basemen, and three innings ran along with the visitors securing nothing
but zero tallies.

Then came a break. A swift ball glanced off Collin's glove, and Charlie
Hall, the shortstop, after a magnificent jump, by which he secured the
horsehide, made a wild throw to first. Then began a slump, and Collin
had his share in it.

Joe was called on, but too late to be of any real service, though he
stopped the rout.

Score: Pittston three, Clevefield nine.

"We've got to take three straight, or make a tie so as to get another
game--making five instead of four," said Gregory, gloomily that evening.

The next contest would take place in Clevefield and the teams made a
night journey there. Reggie and his sister went on by auto early the
next day, arriving in time to visit Joe before practice was called.

"Joe, you're nervous!" exclaimed Reggie, when he met the young pitcher,
just before lunch. "You ought to come out in the country for a little
run. I'll take you in my car. It will do you good."

"Yes, do come," urged Mabel.

"All right," agreed Joe. "But I'll have to be back soon. No telling
which one of us Gregory will call on to pitch."

"Oh, I'll get you back in time," promised Reggie.

So Joe, with the permission of Gregory, who warned him not to be late,
started off for an auto ride.

They went for some distance into the beautiful country and Joe was
beginning to feel in fit condition to pitch a great game. As they passed
through one small town, Joe looked at the clock in a jeweler's window.
Then he glanced at his watch.

"I say!" he cried in dismay. "Either my watch is slow, or that clock is
fast. Why, I haven't time enough to get back to play! What time have
you, Reggie?"

"My watch has stopped. But we can ask the jeweler if his time is right."

It was, as Joe learned to his dismay. They had been going by his watch,
and now it developed that it was nearly an hour slow!

"Jove! If I should be late!" cried the young pitcher in a panic of
apprehension.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE RACE


There was but one thing to do--make all speed back to the ball park.
Already, in fancy, Joe could see his team trotting out for warming-up
practice, and wondering, perhaps, why he was not there with them.

"This is fierce!" he gasped. "I had no idea it was so late!"

"Neither had I," admitted Reggie. "It was such easy going that I kept
on. It was my fault, Joe."

"No, it was my own. I ought to have kept track of the time on such an
important occasion. Of course I don't mean to say that they won't win
the game without me, but if Gregory should happen to call on me and I
wasn't there it would look bad. I'm supposed to be there for every game,
if I'm able, whether they use me or not."

"Then I'll get you there!" cried Reggie. "I'll make this old machine
hum, take my word for that! We'll have a grand old race against time,
Joe!"

"Only don't get arrested for speeding," cautioned the young pitcher.
"That would be as bad as not getting there at all."

He looked at his watch while Reggie turned the car around in a narrow
street, necessitating some evolutions. Again Joe compared his timepiece
with the clock in the window of the jewelry store. His watch was more
than an hour slow.

"I can't understand it," he murmured. "It never acted like this before."

Joe's watch was not a fancy one, nor expensive, but it had been
recommended by a railroad friend, and could be relied on to keep perfect
time. In fact it always had, and in the several years he had carried it
the mechanism had never varied more than half a minute.

"Maybe the hair spring is caught up," suggested Reggie. "That happens to
mine sometimes."

"That would make it go fast, instead of slow," said Joe. "It can't be
that."

He opened the back case, and looked at the balance wheel, and the
mechanism for regulating the length of the hair spring, which controls
the time-keeping qualities of a watch.

"Look!" he cried to Reggie, showing him, "the pointer is shoved away
over to one side. And my watch has been running slow, no telling for how
long. That's what made us late. My watch has been losing time!"

"Did you do it?" asked Reggie.

"Of course not."

"Then it was an accident. You can explain to your manager how it
happened, and he'll excuse you."

"It was no accident!" cried Joe.

"No accident! What do you mean?"

"I mean that someone did this on purpose!" cried Joe. "Someone got at my
watch when I wasn't looking, and shoved the regulator lever over to
slow. That was so it would lose time gradually, and I wouldn't notice.
It has lost over an hour. This is too bad!"

"Well, don't worry," advised Reggie, as he speeded the car ahead,
turning into a long, country road that would take them almost directly
to the ball park. "I'll get you there on time if I have to do it on bare
rims. Let the tires go! But who do you imagine could have slowed down
your watch?"

"I wouldn't like to say--not until I have more proof," answered Joe,
slowly. "It would not be fair."

"No, I suppose not. Yet it was a mean trick, if it was done on purpose.
They didn't want you to get back in time to pitch. Say! Could it have
been any of the Clevefield players? They have plenty of cause to be
afraid of you for what you did in the game yesterday--after you got a
chance."

"No, it wasn't any of them," said Joe, with a shake of his head.
"They're too good sports to do a thing like that. Besides, I didn't do
so much to them yesterday. We couldn't have had a much worse drubbing."

"But you prevented it from being a regular slaughter."

"Maybe. But it was none of them who slowed my watch."

"You don't mean it was one of your own men!" cried Reggie.

"I won't answer now," returned Joe, slowly. "Let's see if we can get
there on time."

Joe was doing some hard thinking. There was just one man on the Pittston
nine who would have perpetrated a trick like this, and that man was
Collin. He disliked Joe very much because of his ability, and since the
game of yesterday, when Collin, unmercifully batted, had been taken out
to let Joe fill his place, there was more cause than ever for this
feeling of hatred--no good cause, but sufficient in the eyes of a
vindictive man.

Joe realized this. He also realized that Collin might even throw away
the chance for his team to win in order to gratify a personal grudge.
Other players had said as much to Joe, and it was almost an open secret
that Gregory intended giving Collin his release at the end of the
season. But Joe had not believed his enemy would go to such lengths.

"He must be afraid I'll be put in first to-day," thought Joe, "and that
he won't get a chance at all. Jove, what a mean trick!"

Joe had no "swelled head," and he did not imagine, for a moment, that he
was the best pitcher in the world. Yet he knew his own abilities, and he
knew he could pitch a fairly good game, even in a pinch. It was but
natural, then, that he should want to do his best.

For Joe was intensely loyal to the team. He had always been so, not only
since he became a professional, but while he was at Yale, and when he
played on his school nine.

"Hold on now!" called Reggie, suddenly breaking in on Joe's musings.
"I'm going to speed her up!"

The car sprang forward with a jump, and Joe was jerked sharply back.
Then the race was on in earnest.

The young pitcher quickly made up his mind. He would say nothing about
the slowed watch, and if he arrived too late to take part in the
game--provided he had been slated to pitch--he would take his medicine.
But he resolved to watch Collin carefully.

"He might betray himself," Joe reasoned.

He could easily see how the trick had been worked. The players came to
the ball field in their street clothes, and changed to their uniforms in
the dressing rooms under the grandstand. An officer was always on guard
at the entrance, to admit none but the men supposed to go in. But Collin
could easily have gone to Joe's locker, taken out his watch and shoved
over the regulator. It was the work of only a few seconds.

Naturally when one's watch had been running correctly one would not stop
to look and see if the regulator was in the right position. One would
take it for granted. And it was only when Joe compared his timepiece
with another that he noticed the difference.

Could they make it up? It was almost time for the game to start, and
they were still some distance from the grounds. There was no railroad or
trolley line available, and, even if there had been, the auto would be
preferable.

"I guess we'll do it," Joe murmured, looking at his watch, which he had
set correctly, also regulating it as well as he could.

"We've just got to!" exclaimed Reggie, advancing the spark.

They were certainly making good time, and Reggie was a careful driver.
This time he took chances that he marveled at later. But the spirit of
the race entered into him, and he clenched his teeth, held the steering
wheel in a desperate grip, with one foot on the clutch pedal, and the
other on the brake. His hand was ready at any moment to shoot out and
grasp the emergency lever to bring the car up standing if necessary.

And it might be necessary any moment, for though the road was good
and wide it was well crowded with other autos, and with horse-drawn
vehicles.

On and on they sped. Now some dog would run out to bark exasperatingly
at the flying machine, and Reggie, with muttered threats, would be ready
to jam on both brakes in an instant. For a dog under an auto's wheels is
a dangerous proposition, not only for the dog but for the autoist as
well.

"Get out, you cur!" yelled Joe, as a yellow brute rushed from one house.
"I wish I had something to throw at you!"

"Throw your watch!" cried Reggie grimly, above the noise of the machine.

"No, it's a good watch yet, in spite of that trick," answered Joe. "It
wasn't the fault of the watch."

Once more he looked at it. Time was ticking on, and they still had
several miles to go. The game must have been called by this time, and
Joe was not there. He clenched his hands, and shut his teeth tightly.

"We'll do it--or bust!" declared Reggie.

His car was not a racer, but it was capable of good speed. He did not
dare use all that was available, on account of the traffic. Many autos
were taking spectators to the game, and they were in a hurry, too.

Amid dust clouds they sped on, the engine whining and moaning at the
speed at which it was run. But it ran true and "sweet," with never a
miss.

"They're playing now!" spoke Joe, in a low voice. In fancy he could hear
the clang of the starting gong, and hear the umpire cry:

"Play ball!"

And he was not there!

"We'll do it!" muttered Reggie.

He tried to pass a big red car that, unexpectedly, swerved to one side.
Reggie, in desperation, as he saw a collision in prospect, whirled the
steering wheel to one side. His car careened and almost went over. Joe
clung to the seat and braced himself.

An instant later there was a sharp report, and the car, wobbling from
side to side, shot up a grassy bank at the side of the road.

"A blow-out!" yelled Reggie, and then, as he managed to bring the car to
a sudden stop, the vehicle settled over on one side, gently enough,
tossing Joe out on the grass with a thud.



CHAPTER XXIX

A DIAMOND BATTLE


Confusion reigned supreme for a moment. Several autos that were passing
stopped, and men and women came running up to be of assistance if
necessary.

But neither Joe nor Reggie was hurt.

Slowly the young pitcher picked himself up, and gazed about in some
bewilderment. For a moment he could not understand what had happened.
Then he saw Reggie disentangling himself from the steering wheel.

"Hurt?" asked Joe, anxiously.

"No. Are you?"

"Not a scratch."

"Rotten luck!" commented Reggie. "Now you'll never get to the game on
time."

"Lucky you weren't both killed," commented an elderly autoist. "And your
car isn't damaged to speak of. Only a tire to the bad. That grassy bank
saved you."

"Yes," assented Reggie. "All she needs is righting, but by the time
that's done it will be too late."

"Where were you going?" asked another man.

"To the game," answered Reggie.

"I'm on the Pittston team," said Joe. "I'm supposed to be there to pitch
if I'm needed. Only--I won't be there," he finished grimly.

"Yes you will!" cried a man who had a big machine. "I'll take you
both--that is, if you want to leave your car," he added to Reggie.

"Oh, I guess that will be safe enough. I'll notify some garage man to
come and get it," was the reply.

"Then get into my car," urged the gentleman. "I've got plenty of
room--only my two daughters with me. They'll be glad to meet a
player--they're crazy about baseball--we're going to the game, in fact.
Get in!"

Escorted by the man who had so kindly come to their assistance, Joe and
Reggie got into the big touring car.

The other autoists who had stopped went on, one offering to notify a
certain garage to come and get Reggie's car. Then the young pitcher was
again speeded on his way.

The big car was driven at almost reckless speed, and when Joe reached
the ball park, and fairly sprang in through the gate, he was an hour
late--the game was about half over.

Without looking at Gregory and the other players who were on the bench,
Joe gave a quick glance at the score board. It told the story in mute
figures.

                   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
    PITTSTON       0 0 0 0
    CLEVEFIELD     1 0 2 3

It was the start of the fifth inning, and Pittston was at bat. Unless
she had made some runs so far the tally was six to nothing in favor of
Clevefield. Joe groaned in spirit.

"Any runs?" gasped Joe, as he veered over to the bench where his mates
sat. He was short of breath, for he had fairly leaped across the field.

"Not a one," said Gregory, and Joe thought he spoke sharply. "What's the
matter? Where have you been?"

Joe gaspingly explained. When he spoke of the slow watch he looked at
Collin sharply. For a moment the old pitcher tried to look Joe in the
face. Then his eyes fell. It was enough for Joe.

"He did it!" he decided to himself.

"How many out?" was Joe's next question.

"Only one. We have a chance," replied Gregory. "Get into a uniform as
fast as you can and warm up."

"Are you going to pitch me?"

"I guess I'll have to. They've been knocking Collin out of the box."
Gregory said the last in a low voice, but he might as well have shouted
it for it was only too well known. Collin himself realized it. He fairly
glared at Joe.

As Joe hurried to the dressing room--his uniform fortunately having been
left there early that morning--he looked at the bases. Bob Newton was on
second, having completed a successful steal as Joe rushed in. Charlie
Hall was at bat, and Joe heard the umpire drone as he went under the
grandstand:

"Strike two!"

"Our chances are narrowing," thought Joe, and a chill seemed to strike
him. "If we lose this game it practically means the loss of the pennant,
and----"

But he did not like to think further. He realized that the money he had
counted on would not be forthcoming.

"I'm not going to admit that we'll lose," and Joe gritted his teeth.
"We're going to win."

Quickly he changed into his uniform, and while he was doing it the stand
above him fairly shook with a mighty yell.

"Somebody's done something!" cried Joe aloud. "Oh, if I was only there
to see!"

The yelling continued, and there was a sound like thunder as thousands
of feet stamped on the stand above Joe's head.

"What is it? What is it?" he asked himself, feverishly, and his hands
trembled so that he could hardly tie the laces of his shoes.

He rushed out to find the applause still continuing and was just in time
to see Charlie Hall cross the rubber plate.

"He must have made a home run! That means two, for he brought in Bob!"
thought Joe.

He knew this was so, for, a moment later he caught the frantic shouts:

"Home-run Hall! Home-run Hall!"

"Did you do it, old man?" cried Joe, rushing up to him.

"Well, I just _had_ to," was the modest reply. "I'm not going to let you
do all the work on this team."

Gregory was clapping the shortstop on the back.

"Good work!" he said, his eyes sparkling. "Now, boys, we'll do 'em! Get
busy, Joe. Peters, you take him off there and warm up with him."

Charlie had caught a ball just where he wanted it and had "slammed" it
out into the left field bleachers for a home run. It was a great effort,
and just what was needed at a most needful time.

Then the game went on. Clevefield was not so confident now. Her pitcher,
really a talented chap, was beginning to be "found."

Whether it was the advent of Joe, after his sensational race, or
whether the Pittston players "got onto the Clevefield man's curves," as
Charlie Hall expressed it, was not quite clear. Certainly they began
playing better from that moment and when their half of the fifth closed
they had three runs to their credit. The score was

    PITTSTON     3
    CLEVEFIELD   6

"We only need four more to win--if we can shut them out," said Gregory,
as his men took the field again. He sat on the bench directing the game.
"Go to it, Joe!"

"I'm going!" declared our hero, grimly.

He realized that he had a hard struggle ahead of him. Not only must he
allow as few hits as possible, but, with his team-mates, he must help to
gather in four more tallies.

And then the battle of the diamond began in earnest.

Joe pitched magnificently. The first man up was a notoriously heavy
hitter, and Joe felt tempted to give him his base on balls. Instead
he nerved himself to strike him out if it could be done. Working a
cross-fire, varying it with his now famous fade-away ball, Joe managed
to get to two balls and two strikes, both the latter being foul ones.

He had two more deliveries left, and the next one he sent in with all
the force at his command.

The bat met it, and for an instant Joe's heart almost stopped a beat.
Then he saw the ball sailing directly into the hands of Charlie Hall.
The man was out.

Joe did not allow a hit that inning. Not a man got to first, and the
last man up was struck out cleanly, never even fouling the ball.

"That's the boy!" cried the crowd as Joe came in. "That's the boy!"

His face flushed with pleasure. He looked for Collin, but that player
had disappeared.

The rest of that game is history in the Central League. How Pittston
rallied, getting one run in the sixth, and another in the lucky seventh,
has been told over and over again.

Joe kept up his good work, not allowing a hit in the sixth. In the
seventh he was pounded for a two-bagger, and then he "tightened up," and
there were no runs for the Clevefields.

They were fighting desperately, for they saw the battle slipping
away from them. Pittston tied the score in the eighth and there was
pandemonium in the stands. The crowd went wild with delight.

"Hold yourself in, old man," Gregory warned his pitcher. "Don't let 'em
get your goat. They'll try to."

"All right," laughed Joe. He was supremely happy.

There was almost a calamity in the beginning of the ninth. Pittston's
first batter--Gus Harrison--struck out, and there was a groan of
anguish. Only one run was needed to win the game, for it was now evident
that the Clevefield batters could not find Joe.

George Lee came up, and popped a little fly. The shortstop fumbled it,
but stung it over to first. It seemed that George was safe there, but
the umpire called him out.

"Boys, we've got a bare chance left," said Gregory. "Go to it."

And they did. It was not remarkable playing, for the Clevefields had put
in a new pitcher who lost his nerve. With two out he gave Joe, the next
man, his base. Joe daringly stole to second, and then Terry Hanson made
up for previous bad work by knocking a three-bagger. Joe came in with
the winning run amid a riot of yells. The score, at the beginning of the
last half of the ninth:

    PITTSTON          7
    CLEVEFIELD        6

"Hold 'em down, Joe! Hold 'em down!" pleaded Gregory.

And Joe did. It was not easy work, for he was tired and excited
from the auto run, and the close call he had had. But he pitched
magnificently, and Clevefield's last record at bat was but a single hit.
No runs came in. Pittston had won the second game of the pennant series
by one run. Narrow margin, but sufficient.

And what rejoicing there was! Joe was the hero of the hour, but his
ovation was shared by Charlie Hall and the others who had done such
splendid work. Pop Dutton did not play, much to his regret.

"Congratulations, old man," said the Clevefield manager to Gregory.
"That's some little pitcher you've got there."

"That's what we think."

"Is he for sale?"

"Not on your life."

"Still, I think you're going to lose him," went on Clevefield's manager.

"How's that?" asked Gregory in alarm.

The other whispered something.

"Is that so! Scouting here, eh? Well, if they get Joe in a big league I
suppose I ought to be glad, for his sake. Still, I sure will hate to
lose him. He was handicapped to-day, too," and he told of the delay.

"He sure has nerve!" was the well-deserved compliment.



CHAPTER XXX

THE PENNANT


The pennant was not yet won. So far the teams had broken even, and
unless Pittston could take the next two games there would be a fifth one
necessary.

"If there is," decided Gregory, "we'll make it an exhibition, on some
neutral diamond, and get a big crowd. It will mean a lot more money for
us."

"Will it?" asked Joe. "Then let's do it!"

"We can't make sure of it," went on the manager. "We'll not think of
that, for it would mean throwing a game away if we won the next one, and
I've never thrown a game yet, and never will. No, Joe, we'll try to win
both games straight, even if it doesn't mean so much cash. Now take care
of yourself."

"I'll try," promised Joe.

The next contest would take place at Pittston, and thither the two teams
journeyed that evening. Before they left Joe spent a pleasant time at
the hotel where Reggie and his sister had rooms.

"Are you coming back to Pittston, or stay here for the fourth game?" the
young pitcher asked.

"We're going to see you play--of course!" exclaimed Mabel. "I wouldn't
miss it for anything."

"Thank you!" laughed Joe, and blushed. "Did you get your auto all
right?" he asked Reggie.

"Yes. The man brought her in. Not damaged a bit. Sis and I are going to
motor in to-morrow. But I won't take a chance in giving you a ride
again--not so close to the game."

"I guess not," agreed Joe, laughing.

"Did you find out anything?" Reggie went on. "About who meddled with
your watch?"

"I didn't ask any questions. It was too unpleasant a thing to have come
out. But my first guess was right. And I don't think that player will
stay around here."

I may say, in passing, that Collin did not. He left town that night and
was not seen in that part of the country for some years. He broke his
contract, but Gregory did not much care for that, as he was about ready
to release him anyhow. Joe told the story to the manager only, and they
kept it a secret between them. It was a mystery to Collin's team-mates
why he disappeared so strangely, but few ever heard the real story.

The third game with Clevefield came off before a record-breaking crowd.
It was a great contest, and was only won for Pittston in the tenth
inning, when Jimmie Mack, the doughty first-baseman, scored the winning
run.

The crowd went wild at that, for it had looked as though Clevefield
would take the game home with them. But they could not stand against
Joe's terrific pitching.

This made the pennant series stand two to one in favor of the Pittston
team. Another victory would clinch the banner for them, but the
following game must take place in Clevefield, and this fact was rather
a disadvantage to Joe's team.

"Now, boys, do your best," pleaded Gregory, as he sat with his men on
the bench, making up the batting order. "We want to win!"

Tom Tooley was to pitch in Joe's place, for our hero's arm really needed
a rest.

"I may have to use you anyhow, toward the end, if we get in a hole,
Joe," said the manager. "So hold yourself in readiness."

Much as Joe liked to pitch he was really glad that he did not have to
go in, for he was very tired. The strain of the season, added to the
responsibility of the final big games, was telling on him.

The battle opened, and at first it seemed to favor Pittston. Then her
best hitters began to "slump," and the game slipped away from them.
Clevefield came up strong and though, as a desperate resort, Joe was
sent in, it was too late. Clevefield won the fourth game by a score of
nine to seven.

"That means a fifth game!" announced Gregory. "Well, we'll have a better
chance in that! Oh, for a rain!"

"Why?" asked Jimmie Mack, as they walked off the field.

"To give Joe a chance to rest up. He needs it."

And the rain came. It lasted for two days, and a third one had to pass
to let the grounds at Washburg dry up. It had been decided to play
off the tie there, for the diamond was a fine one, and Washburg was
centrally located, insuring a big attendance.

"We should have arranged this series to be the best three out of five in
the beginning," said Gregory. "We'll know better next time. There's too
much uncertainty in a three out of four--it practically means five games
anyhow."

Reggie and Mabel saw every contest, and announced their intention of
going to Washburg for the last. At least Mabel did, and Reggie could do
no less than take her.

The rest had done Joe good, though of course it had also allowed his
opponents to recuperate. Joe felt fit to play the game of his life.

The grandstands were filled--the bleachers overflowed--the band
played--the crowds yelled and cheered. There was a riot of
color--represented by ladies' hats and dresses; there was a forest of
darkness--represented by the more sober clothes of the men. It was the
day of the final game.

"Play ball!" called the umpire, and Joe went to the mound, for Pittston
had been lucky in the toss-up and could bat last.

Joe hardly knew whether he was more elated over his own chance of
shining in this deciding game or over the fact that Pop Dutton was
playing. The old pitcher had improved wonderfully, and Gregory said, was
almost "big league stuff" again. So he had been put in centre field. His
batting, too, was a bulwark for Pittston.

Just before the game Joe had received a letter from home, telling him
news that disconcerted him a little. It was to the effect that an
operation would be necessary to restore his father's sight. It was
almost certain to be successful, however, for a noted surgeon, who had
saved many by his skill, would perform it. But the cost would be heavy.

"So I've just got to win this game; to make my share of the money
bigger," Joe murmured. "I'll need every cent of it for dad--and Pop."

The winner of the pennant, naturally, would receive the larger share of
the gate money, and each man on the winning team, the manager had
promised, was to have his proportion.

"We've just got to win!" repeated Joe.

It was a desperately fought battle from the very start. Joe found
himself a trifle nervous at first, but he pulled himself together and
then began such a pitching battle as is seldom seen.

For five innings the game went on without a hit, a run or an error on
either side. It was almost machine-perfect baseball, and it was a
question of which pitcher would break first. Joe faced batter after
batter with the coolness of a veteran. Little "no count" flies were all
he was hit for, not a man getting to first.

There came a break in the sixth. How it happened Joe never knew, but he
hit the batter, who went to first, and a runner had to be substituted
for him. Naturally this made Joe nervous and he was not himself. Then
one of the Clevefield players knocked a home run, bringing in the man
from first, and there were two runs against none for Pittston, and only
one man out.

Then, if ever, was a crucial moment for Joe. Many young pitchers would
have gone to pieces under the strain, but by a supreme effort, Joe got
back his nerve. The crowd, always ready to be unfriendly when it sees a
pitcher wavering, hooted and howled. Joe only smiled--and struck out
the next man--and the next. He had stopped a winning streak in the nick
of time.

"Get some runs, boys! Get some runs!" pleaded Gregory, and his men got
them. They got three, enough to put them one ahead, and then Joe knew he
must work hard to hold the narrow margin so hardly won.

"I've got to do it! I've just got to do it!" he told himself. "I want to
win this game so I'll have money enough for dad--and Pop! I'm going to
do it!"

And do it he did. How he did it is history now, but it is history that
will never be forgotten in the towns of that league. For Joe did not
allow another hit that game. He worked himself to the limit, facing
veteran batters with a smile of confidence, sending in a deadly
cross-fire with his famous fade-away until the last tally was told, and
the score stood:

    PITTSTON      3
    CLEVEFIELD    2

When the last batter had gone down to defeat in the first half of the
ninth Joe drew off his glove, and, oblivious to the plaudits of the
crowd and his own mates, hurried to the dressing rooms.

"Where are you going?" cried Charlie Hall. "They're howling for you.
They want to see you--hear you talk."

Joe could hear the voices screaming:

"Speech! Speech! Speech, Matson! Baseball Joe!"

"I just can't! I'm all in, Charlie. Tell them," pleaded Joe. "I want to
send a telegram home, telling the folks that I'll be with them when
dad's operated on. I can't make a speech!"

Charlie told the crowd, and Joe was cheered louder than before.

And so ended the race for the pennant of the Central League, with
Pittston the winner.

As Joe walked off the field, on his way to the telegraph office, being
cheered again and again, while he made his way through the crowd, a
keen-faced man looked critically at him.

"I guess you're going to be mine," he said. "I think we'll have to draft
you."

"What's that?" asked Pop Dutton, who recognized the man as a well-known
scout, on the lookout for promising players.

"Oh, nothing," answered the keen-faced one, with a laugh. Pop laughed
also, but it was a laugh of understanding.

And what it meant--and what the man's remark meant to Joe, may be learned
by reading the next volume of this series, to be called: "Baseball Joe in
the Big League; Or, a Young Pitcher's Hardest Struggles."

Joe hurried home that night, stopping only to say good-bye to Mabel,
and promising to come and see her as soon as he could. The operation on
Mr. Matson was highly successful. It cost a large sum, and as his father
had no money to pay for it, Joe used much of the extra cash that came to
him as his share in the pennant series. Had his team not won he would
hardly have had enough.

But there was enough to spare for the simple operation on Pop Dutton's
arm.

"Joe, I hate to have you spend your money this way--on me," objected the
grizzled veteran of many diamonds. "It doesn't seem right."

"Oh, play ball!" cried Joe, gaily. "You can pay me back, if you want to,
you old duffer, when you get into a bigger league than the Central, and
are earning a good salary."

"I will!" cried Pop, enthusiastically. "For I know I'm good for some
years yet. I have 'come back,' thanks to you, Joe."

They clasped hands silently--the young pitcher at the start of his
brilliant career, and the old one, whose day was almost done.

Pop's operation was successful, and he went South for the Winter, there,
in company with an old friend, to gradually work up into his old form.
Hogan seemed to have vanished, but Reggie got all the pawned jewelry
back. The Pittston players, in common with the others in the league
teams, went their several ways to their Winter occupations, there to
remain until Spring should again make green the grass of the diamond.

"Oh, Joe!" exclaimed Mrs. Matson, with trembling voice, when it was
certain her husband would see again, "how much we owe to you, my son."

"You owe more to baseball," laughed Joe.

Clara came in with a letter.

"This is for you, Joe," she said, adding mischievously:

"It seems to be from a girl, and it's postmarked Goldsboro, North
Carolina. Who do you know down there?"

"Give me that letter, Sis!" cried Joe, blushing.

And while he is perusing the missive, the writer of which you can
possibly name, we will, for a time, take leave of Baseball Joe.


THE END



THE BASEBALL JOE SERIES

By LESTER CHADWICK

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  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_


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       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

 --Printer, punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently
   corrected, except as noted below.

 --Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

 --Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.

 --Author's em-dash style has been preserved.

 --Changed "Rocky-ford" (p. 17) to "Rocky Ford", the Resolutes ball
   team's home town, for consistency with previous and subsequent
   books in the series.





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