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Title: Baseball Joe Saving the League - or, Breaking Up a Great Conspiracy
Author: Chadwick, Lester
Language: English
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[Illustration: HE ROUNDED THE BAG ON HIS WAY TO SECOND]



                             Baseball Joe
                           Saving the League


                    Breaking Up a Great Conspiracy


                         _By_ LESTER CHADWICK

                               Author of
           “BASEBALL JOE OF THE SILVER STARS,” “BASEBALL JOE
               AROUND THE WORLD,” “THE RIVAL PITCHERS,”
                    “THE EIGHT-OARED VICTORS,” ETC.


                             _ILLUSTRATED_


                               NEW YORK
                        CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY



=BOOKS BY LESTER CHADWICK=


=THE BASEBALL JOE SERIES=

=12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.=

  BASEBALL JOE OF THE SILVER STARS
  BASEBALL JOE ON THE SCHOOL NINE
  BASEBALL JOE AT YALE
  BASEBALL JOE IN THE CENTRAL LEAGUE
  BASEBALL JOE IN THE BIG LEAGUE
  BASEBALL JOE ON THE GIANTS
  BASEBALL JOE IN THE WORLD SERIES
  BASEBALL JOE AROUND THE WORLD
  BASEBALL JOE, HOME RUN KING
  BASEBALL JOE SAVING THE LEAGUE


=THE COLLEGE SPORTS SERIES=

=12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.=

  THE RIVAL PITCHERS
  A QUARTERBACK’S PLUCK
  BATTING TO WIN
  THE WINNING TOUCHDOWN
  FOR THE HONOR OF RANDALL
  THE EIGHT-OARED VICTORS

CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, New York


                          Copyright, 1923, by
                        CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY

                   =Baseball Joe Saving the League=

                          Printed in U. S. A.



CONTENTS


 CHAPTER                           PAGE
      I A SUDDEN CRASH                1
     II CROOKED WORK                 14
    III UNDER COVER                  25
     IV LINING IT OUT                35
      V PLAYING THE GAME             48
     VI A HILARIOUS WELCOME          54
    VII GROWING BEWILDERMENT         61
   VIII A BLACK CONSPIRACY           66
     IX THE TELLTALE PHOTOGRAPH      75
      X WONDERFUL WORK               84
     XI ON THE TRAIL                 90
    XII THE POLICE RAID              96
   XIII KEEPING IT CLOSE            105
    XIV A NO-HIT GAME               112
     XV THE STARTLING TELEGRAM      124
    XVI REGGIE TO THE RESCUE        132
   XVII SNATCHED FROM THE FIRE      140
  XVIII THICKENING CLOUDS           148
    XIX A FURIOUS FIGHT             156
     XX TAKEN CAPTIVE               164
    XXI AIR-TIGHT PITCHING          173
   XXII JIM PUTS ONE OVER           180
  XXIII A TERRIBLE ALTERNATIVE      189
   XXIV THE ESCAPE                  198
    XXV DOWN THE ROPE               205
   XXVI SCATTERING THE RASCALS      212
  XXVII LARRY HAS HIS SAY           219
 XXVIII A COUNCIL OF WAR            227
   XXIX WEAVING THE WEB             234
    XXX SAVING THE LEAGUE           240



BASEBALL JOE SAVING THE LEAGUE



CHAPTER I

A SUDDEN CRASH


“How’s the old soup bone to-day, Joe?” asked Jim Barclay, pitcher of
the Giant team, of his special chum, Joe Matson, king boxman of the
same team and known all over the country as the greatest twirler in
either league.

“Fine as a fiddle, old boy,” answered Joe, better known to American
fans as “Baseball Joe,” as he flexed the biceps of his mighty right arm
and swung it around and around as though he were winding up. “Feels
as though I could pitch to-day, even if I did have my turn in the box
yesterday.”

“It must be made of iron then, for you certainly had a strenuous time
yesterday plastering the whitewash on the Dodgers,” answered Jim
admiringly.

“It was a hard game, sure enough,” admitted Joe. “Those fellows are
tough birds, anyway, and always dangerous, especially when they stack
up against the Giants. They had their batting clothes on yesterday,
too, and were out for blood from the ring of the bell. Two or three
times they had me in the hole, and it was only luck that we turned them
back without a run.”

“Luck, nothing!” exclaimed Jim warmly. “It was because you tightened up
at the critical moments and stood them on their heads. You gave them a
sample of the kind of pitching that won the last World Series for us
against the Yanks.”

“Put it down to the kind of support I got from the rest of the team,”
said Joe modestly. “Some of the catches that Wheeler and Curry made
were nothing less than highway robberies. That swipe by Zach Treat in
the third inning had all the labels of a home run, and it was one of
the niftiest bits of playing I’ve ever seen when Curry picked it off
the fence.”

“It was a whale of a catch all right,” Jim conceded. “But to offset
that there was some rotten playing in the infield. McCarney at third
acted as though his fingers were all thumbs. Twice he fell down on easy
ones, and that high throw over Burkett’s head in the seventh let Ryan
leg it all the way to third. It was only that snappy double play that
Iredell engineered that kept us from being scored on in that inning.”

“McCarney did have a bad day,” admitted Joe. “Hupft, too, let a ball
get by him that went for two bases when he ran in to make a catch of
Milton’s hit that he ought to have waited for on the bound. He might
have seen that he couldn’t make it.”

“I can’t quite make out those fellows,” said Jim thoughtfully. “When we
got them on that trade with St. Louis, I thought they were going to be
towers of strength to the team. They had a good record last year both
in fielding and batting, and they certainly played like fiends in the
spring-training practice. But since the regular season opened I haven’t
known what to make of them. One day they’ll play like stars and the
next you’d think they were a couple of bushers.”

“You’re right about that,” agreed Joe. “But it isn’t that which gives
me food for thought, Jim. Ball players are like race horses. One day
they race like stake winners and the next they’re simply selling
platers. There isn’t one of us that doesn’t sometimes have an off day.
But the off days of Hupft and McCarney are different, somehow. There
seems to be a kind of method in their offness.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Jim, with quickened interest. “Do you
think they’re not loyal to the team?”

“Why, I shouldn’t want to think that about anybody unless I had the
goods on him,” answered Joe evasively. “Let’s hurry up now and get
back. We’ve walked further than we intended to, and I want to get in a
little practice this morning to keep my wing in condition.”

The two chums had been strolling along in the parklike section of upper
New York, at no great distance from the Polo Grounds. The time was a
day in late spring, and there was just enough coolness in the air to
make a walk delightful.

Both of them were trained athletes, tall, muscular, and in the pink
of condition. Perfect health and abounding vitality showed in the
springiness of their steps and the easy swing of their shoulders as
they walked along at a rapid pace.

They had reported for duty at the appointed time that season in the
training camp at San Antonio, Texas. During the winter they had kept
themselves fit and hard, and even at the beginning of practice had
shown that they were fit to fight for a man’s life. In both pitching
and fielding they had been doing wonders, and when at last the bell
rang for the beginning of the regular championship season they had
never been in better form. Joe showed that his arm was the same mighty
weapon that had struck fear into opposing batsmen the preceding year.
In batting, too, he was knocking out homers with gratifying regularity.
Jim, too, who now stood next to Joe as the most reliable flinger on
the Giants’ staff, was playing the game of his life in the box. It was
largely owing to the work of these two that the Giants stood up in the
front rank of the competing clubs. The prophecy was, already, that they
would win the championship, as they had won it the preceding year.

“Come now, Joe,” coaxed Jim, as they drew near the family hotel where
they were staying at the time, and which they had chosen for its
proximity to the Polo Grounds. “Don’t go so far as you have without
coming across with whatever’s on your chest. I’ve noticed for some time
past that you were acting as though you had something on your mind.”

“Nothing much except my hat, I guess,” remarked Joe, with a laugh that,
however, did not sound very genuine.

“Yes, you have,” Jim pressed him. “Something’s worrying you. I haven’t
been with you so long, old boy, without being able to read your moods.
A few weeks ago you were kicking up your heels like a colt let out to
pasture. Lately you seem at times to be brooding over something. More
than once when I’ve spoken to you you haven’t seemed to hear me. What’s
bothering you? Out with it!”

“Well,” said Joe, after a moment’s thought, “I suppose I might as well
tell you. You’re the best friend I have on earth and there isn’t
anybody else that I’d breathe a word to about it.”

“Count on me, old boy, to be as silent as the grave,” asseverated Jim.

“You were speaking about McCarney and Hupft and the off days they
seemed to have in their playing,” said Joe slowly. “Well, have you ever
happened to notice that most of those off days have been when I was
pitching?”

“By Jove, I hadn’t!” replied Jim, as his mind ran rapidly over some of
the more recent games. “But now you speak of it, I can remember several
times when they fell down badly when you were in the box. Yesterday
was a case in point. I remember, too, that game with the Bostons when
McCarney made three errors. And then there was that Philly game when
you had them eating out of your hand and yet came within an ace of
losing because of two boob plays by Hupft in center.”

“Yes, that’s what you can remember offhand,” replied Joe. “But I’ve
made a study of it and I could point out three or four other games
when their work seemed queer. On the other hand, when the rest of the
staff are pitching you couldn’t ask for much better support than they
give. Now, once or twice wouldn’t mean anything. One swallow, or even
two, doesn’t make a summer. But when it occurs so often, with me chosen
as the goat, don’t you think there’s something more in it than mere
coincidence?”

“I certainly do,” agreed Jim. “Gee, Joe, you’ve knocked me all in a
heap! What do you think it means? Have you had any words with them?”

“None at all,” replied Joe. “In fact, I’ve tried to be especially nice
to them, chiefly because they came from St. Louis, which, as you know,
was my old team. I’ve gone out of my way to be friendly. But they’ve
never thawed out, and lots of times when I’ve been going past them
they’ve shut up as if they’d been talking about me and only resumed
again after I got out of earshot. But there’s something more than that.

“Do you remember the game we played with Pittsburgh when I came near
to having my head knocked off by that throw from short center to the
plate? The ball whizzed past my ear with the force of a bullet. If it
had hit me, it would have been good night for yours truly.”

“I remember,” replied Jim. “I was sitting near McRae on the bench in
the dugout, and the old boy went white as he saw what a narrow escape
you had.”

“Well, then, do you remember who it was that threw that ball?”

“Reddy Hupft!” exclaimed Jim. “He came in from center and got the ball
only a little way back of second base. Then he threw to the plate to
get Reilly, who was coming in from third.”

“Yes,” said Joe. “And you know that throwing to the plate is his long
suit. But that day it didn’t go to the plate. I had run out of the way
so that he could have a clear field, and the ball followed me. It was
altogether out of Mylert’s reach, and the runner scored. It was marked
up against Hupft as an error.”

“Great Scott!” cried Jim aghast. “Do you mean that he tried to injure
you?”

“I’m not saying anything,” replied Joe. “I’m just stating the cold
facts. One thing more. In that game with Cincinnati last week you
remember that I knocked out a homer in the ninth. At least I thought
it was a homer. It had gone down to the fence, and I was nearly at
third when Gallagher got his hands on the ball. I knew I could make the
plate, but just as I was rounding third, McCarney, who was coaching at
that corner, got in my way and I went down, heels over head. It was
just by an eyelash that I was able to get to my feet and scramble back
to third before the ball got there.”

“I remember that Robbie gave him a good ragging for his clumsiness,”
remarked Jim.

“Clumsiness!” repeated Joe, dwelling significantly on the word. “If
ever a man was deliberately tripped, I was that man. I felt his spikes
as I went down. Going at the pace I was, I might have broken my leg or
my neck. As it was, my ankle was sore for days.”

“The skunks!” cried Jim, seething with rage that had been steadily
growing as one after another of these facts was brought to his
attention. “They ought to be blacklisted and put out of the league
forever. You ought to expose them.”

“No, that’s just what I don’t want to do,” objected Joe slowly. “Give
a rascal rope enough and he’ll hang himself. In the first place, while
I’m pretty well convinced in my own mind that all these things were
done deliberately, I might not be able to convince others beyond a
reasonable doubt. Of course they would be explained away by the men
themselves as accidents, and there would be many who would believe them.

“Then, too, I’m thinking of the good of the game. You know what a black
eye baseball got when that White Sox conspiracy to throw games came to
light. For a time it looked as though it might mean the death of the
game. Luckily, it didn’t have that result, for the bulk of the public
know what you and I know, that as a general thing baseball is as clean
as a hound’s tooth――the whitest game of all American sports, except
perhaps football. For forty years there hadn’t been a breath against
it. But at last that sickening White Sox scandal showed that once in
a blue moon certain ball players were weak enough or foul enough to
betray their teams, their employers and the public.

“That one lapse, that one black spot on the splendid record of the
game, the public has forgiven in justice to the thousands of players
that would cut off their right hands rather than not play the game
fairly and squarely for all that is in them. The fans have wiped that
off the slate. But don’t you see that if anything else of the kind
should break out now it might kill the game beyond recovery?”

“Sure thing,” assented Jim. “But at the same time I don’t see why you
should let those fellows get away with it when perhaps your life might
pay the penalty. It’s all right to think of the good of the game,
but there’s a duty you owe to yourself and to others――to Mabel for
instance.”

“Yes, I’ve thought of all that,” said Joe, a look coming into his eyes
at the mention of Mabel’s name that she would have been glad to see.
“Don’t think for a minute that I’m going to be a martyr or anything
like that. I’m not built that way. If those fellows are really out to
do me, they’ll find before long that they have met their match. You
know how many times rascals have tried to get the best of me and what’s
happened to them. They’ve doped my coffee, they’ve tried to kidnap me,
to smirch my reputation, and more than once they’ve tried to cripple
or kill me. But they’ve never been able to put it over, and I’ve come
out on top every time. And I’ve got a hunch that this present plot, if
it really is a plot, is going to be knocked out like the others.

“But it’s going to be done on the quiet. They’ll get all that’s coming
to them, but if I can help it the public won’t get wise to just what it
is that’s put them down and out. Understand?”

“I get you, old boy,” returned Jim. “If they succeed in their dirty
work, they’ll be the first that ever turned the trick on Baseball Joe.
Count on me to stand right by you.”

“I can always do that,” replied Joe warmly. “You’re always there when
it comes to the showdown. But let’s put the matter out of our mind for
the present. Here we are at the hotel. Let’s go out into the lot at the
back and have a little pitching practice. I want to try out the hop on
the ball that I’ve been developing this last week or two.”

“I saw you used it two or three times yesterday,” said Jim. “It’s a
winner, all right. The boys from over the bridge didn’t know what to
make of it. They were hitting inches under it.”

“I shan’t be satisfied until they are hitting a foot under it,” laughed
Joe, as they went into the house.

It was the work of only a moment to throw off their coats and don
sweaters. Then they picked a ball from their collection and adjourned
to the large open space back of the hotel that gave them abundant room
for practice.

Their temporary home was in a rapidly growing section, and all about
them were buildings in various stages of construction. One of these was
on the adjoining plot of ground. The work on this building had been
temporarily stopped because of some business trouble of the builder,
but there were large piles of building material heaped on the second
floor and on the scaffolding that ran along the side of the building.

For some time Joe and Jim pitched back and forth to each other,
starting slowly, but gradually working out their arms until they were
going under a full head of steam.

Jim uncorked a wild one that Joe leaped for but was unable to reach.
The ball was going with such momentum that it rolled a considerable
distance before Joe finally retrieved it.

“What do you think I am, an outfielder?” queried Joe, in mock reproach.

“Too bad, old man,” laughed Jim. “But I’ve got it out of my system now
and I won’t do it again.”

“That’s what they all say,” remarked Joe, with a grin. “But ‘once
bitten, twice shy,’ and I guess I’ll hunt up a backstop.”

He looked around and found what he wanted in the side of the house that
was being built next door.

“Now you can be as wild as a hawk if you want to,” he laughed. “This
house must be of pretty punk material if it lets the ball go through
it.”

There was no chance to prove whether it would or not, for Jim steadied
down and kept the ball within his comrade’s reach. For perhaps ten
minutes more they tried out their assortment of curves and slants.
Suddenly a look of alarm came into Jim’s face.

“Look out, Joe!” he yelled. “Look out! Jump! Quick!”

The words had barely left his lips when, with a terrific crash a pile
of lumber came tumbling down from the scaffold directly on the spot
where Joe had been standing.



CHAPTER II

CROOKED WORK


Quick as a panther, Joe had leaped at his friend’s shout of warning.

Not so quickly, however, as wholly to escape injury. Two of the falling
boards struck him a glancing blow on legs and arms and threw him to the
ground.

Jim was at his side in a second and pulled him to his feet.

“Are you hurt, Joe?” he cried, frantic with alarm.

“Nothing to speak of, I guess,” replied Joe, as he steadied himself and
found to his infinite relief that his legs held firm under him. “A few
bruises and scratches, but nothing worse. It was a close shave though.
I’d have been a dead man if that pile had caught me full and square.”

The sleeve of his left arm was torn, and there was a slight cut near
the shoulder from which the blood was oozing. This, however, apart from
bruises, was the extent of his injuries.

“Lucky it wasn’t my pitching arm,” he remarked. “That would have been
hard luck. Hello, Jim, where are you going?”

This last ejaculation was caused by Jim’s action in leaving his side
and rushing round to the front of the half-built house from the
scaffold of which the lumber had fallen.

Jim did not stop to make reply, but scurried as fast as he could to the
street in front of the house. It was deserted, except for a solitary
figure that had already covered a large part of the distance to the
next corner. The man was not in overalls and did not look like a
workman.

Jim hallooed to him and the man looked back. But instead of stopping he
broke into a run.

In a moment Jim was after him like a hare. But the man was now near the
corner, and by the speed he put on showed that he was no mean runner
himself. He reached the corner just as a trolley car, going at a rapid
rate, came dashing down the side street.

With a recklessness that might have cost him his life, the man made a
jump for the rear platform, clutching the rail with his extended hand.
The shock seemed as though it might have wrenched his arm from its
socket. But he held on desperately, and finally drew himself up on the
platform and entered the car.

By the time Jim reached the corner the car was a block away.
Jim shouted and waved his hands, but the conductor was inside,
expostulating with his passenger for the risk he had taken, and did not
see or hear him.

The case was hopeless, and Jim, inwardly raging, gave up the chase and
retraced his steps. Joe, who had come to the front of the house to see
what had caused Jim’s sudden departure, came forward to meet him.

“What’s the big idea?” Joe asked, in some wonderment.

“The idea,” panted Jim wrathfully, “is that I came near getting my
hands on a big rascal and just missed doing it.”

“A rascal?” exclaimed Joe.

“That’s what I said,” replied Jim. “Come to the back of the house and
I’ll show you what I mean.”

“All right, Jim.”

“You thought,” said Jim, “that when that pile of lumber came down it
was an accident. So did I at first. I thought the scaffold had given
way under the weight. But when I glanced at it I saw, as you can see
now, that the scaffold hadn’t broken.”

Joe looked and saw that Jim was right.

“You mean――” he began slowly.

“I mean,” said Jim, “that somebody pushed that lumber over the edge of
the scaffold. And whoever that somebody was, he meant that the falling
lumber should cripple you.”

Joe looked at his chum with rage and horror dawning in his eyes. And
while the full meaning of the dastardly act was sinking into his mind,
it may be well for the benefit of those who have not read the preceding
volumes of this series to leave him and his chum for a moment and tell
who Joe was and by what steps he had reached his present position as
the greatest pitcher that baseball had ever known.

Joe Matson’s first experience on the diamond was gained in the little
town of Riverside in a Middle Western State, where he had been born
and brought up. From early boyhood he had loved the game and displayed
a natural aptitude for pitching. His success in this restricted field
soon made him known as one of the best amateur boxmen of his own and
surrounding towns. His early exploits and the difficulties he had to
overcome are narrated in the first volume of this series, entitled:
“Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars; Or, the Rivals of Riverside.”

In the second volume, “Baseball Joe on the School Nine,” can be noted
the steady progress he was making in pitching skill. The bully of the
school did all he could to throw obstacles in his way. But Joe throve
on opposition and his grit first won and then increased his reputation.

When, a little later, he went to Yale, he found a larger field for his
prowess in the box. It is a hard thing for a newcomer to break into
the ranks of the veteran upper classmen who have gained glory in the
athletic field. But by a singular chance Joe found his opportunity
when the “Princeton Tiger came down to put some kinks in the Bulldog’s
tail.” It was a sadly bedraggled Tiger, however, that went back to his
lair when Joe had got through with him and had chalked up a glorious
victory for Yale.

But Joe, although he stood well in his studies, was not altogether
happy at the great university. His mother wanted him to study for the
ministry, but Joe, although he respected that noble profession, felt
too strongly the call to the outdoor life. He felt that he had it in
him to make good in the ranks of professional baseball, and finally
gained his mother’s reluctant consent to make the venture. His chance
came when a minor league manager, who had been struck with his work in
the game with Princeton, made him an offer. Joe promptly accepted, and
it was not long before his manager learned that he had drawn a prize in
getting a man on his team who had all the earmarks of a star. How Joe
began to climb in professional baseball is told in the fourth volume of
the series, entitled: “Baseball Joe in the Central League.”

In these days of keen-eyed scouts no player can long hide his light
under a bushel, and before long Joe, to his great delight, was
drafted by the St. Louis team of the National League and ceased to be
a “busher.” Here he was brought into competition with the greatest
players of the game, and it soon became apparent that he could hold his
own with any of them.

No one realized this sooner than McRae, the famous manager of the New
York Giants. Several books of this series are devoted to his exciting
experiences with this great team, of which he was still the mainstay
when this volume opens. It was his magnificent work in the box that won
for the Giants the championship of the National League and carried them
to victory in several World Series with the champions of the American
League. After one of his greatest years he went with the team on a
tour about the world, in the course of which he had many hazardous and
thrilling adventures.

During this time he was not only showing phenomenal skill as a pitcher,
but was rapidly growing in repute as a batsman. He was a natural
hitter, timing and meeting the ball perfectly and landing on it so
hard that it sought the farthest corner of the field. Before long the
fans began to crowd the grounds not only to see a ball game but to
“see Matson knock out another homer.” How his batting and pitching
combined made him a national baseball idol is narrated in the preceding
volume of this series, entitled: “Baseball Joe, Home Run King; Or, the
Greatest Pitcher and Batter on Record.”

But Joe had also won another victory that he prized above all his
baseball triumphs. He had met and fallen in love with Mabel Varley, a
charming girl whom he had met under romantic circumstances near her
home at Goldsboro, North Carolina. The course of true love did not run
altogether smoothly in his case more than in others, but all attempts
to part them had been triumphantly overcome and at the close of the
previous season on the diamond, Joe and Mabel had been married. Joe
esteemed himself the happiest and luckiest of men.

Joe had as his closest friend, Jim Barclay, a Princeton graduate who
had entered the ranks of organized baseball and joined the Giants as a
“rookie.” Joe had taken to him at once and they were speedily on the
best of terms. Jim had a great deal of pitching ability, and under the
careful tutelage of Joe he had blossomed out into a regular member of
the pitching staff. At the present time he stood only second to Joe
himself as a twirler, and bade fair to become one of the great stars of
the game.

Jim had met Joe’s sister Clara when the latter had come on to see her
brother pitch in one of the World Series games and had lost his heart
at once. She, for her part, had at once conceived a marked admiration
for the stalwart, handsome friend of her brother, and this had soon
ripened into a deeper feeling. So that when Jim the year before had
asked her the momentous question he had got the answer he craved, and
their marriage was to take place as soon as the playing season was over.

Now to return to the two chums as they stood beside the pile of lumber
that a few minutes before had so nearly caused the death of one of them.

“You see then, Jim, that my hunch was right and that what I said to you
a little while ago wasn’t imagination,” said Joe.

“Some one is out to do you, for a fact,” assented Jim soberly. “And all
I ask is that I may get my hands on him for five minutes. Just five
little minutes! I’d make him wish he’d never been born!”

“That fellow you were chasing must have been the one who did it,”
ruminated Joe. “Did you get a good glimpse of him? Had you ever seen
him before?”

“Not that I know of,” replied Jim. “It certainly wasn’t either Hupft
or McCarney, or I should have recognized him at a glance. But that
doesn’t say that he mightn’t have been a tool of theirs. At any rate,
you can be sure that he was the man that actually pushed over that pile
of boards. His very running was a confession of guilt. And, by the way
he ran, I shouldn’t wonder if he were a ball player himself. I’m not so
slow myself, but he almost held his own. What a bit of bad luck it was
that that trolley came along just at that minute.”

“What did he look like?” asked Joe. “Was there anything you could
identify him by if you should happen to meet him again?”

“Well,” said Jim, cudgeling his memory, “I could see that his hair
was light and that his ears stuck out more than most men’s. But I
suppose there are ten thousand men in New York that would answer that
description. He didn’t look like a workman and he didn’t have overalls
on.”

“How did he happen to be Johnny on the spot, I wonder,” mused Joe. “Do
you suppose he’s been following us this morning?”

“Hardly likely,” conjectured Jim. “What is more probable is that he
knew that we were in the habit of practicing in this particular spot.
It hasn’t been any secret, and more than once in the clubhouse I’ve
mentioned what a dandy place we had for morning pitching practice. That
probably led the plotters to reconnoiter about this neighborhood and
get the lay of the land. The scaffold and the pile of lumber carried
their own suggestion. Work on the building has stopped, and there’s
nothing to prevent anybody lurking in the place ready to take advantage
of any chance that might offer itself. Perhaps that fellow has been
hiding in there every day for a week, figuring that some time in the
natural order of things you’d be standing near that scaffold. And that
he didn’t calculate wrongly is shown by what happened this morning.”

“It was an infernal scheme all right,” said Joe. “A cunning one, too.
If that stuff had really landed on me, it would have been put down as
an accident, and no one would ever have been the wiser.”

“Well,” remarked Jim, “a miss is as good as a mile and some good
Providence must have been watching over you this morning. But it gives
you a desperate feeling to realize that enemies are working against you
in the dark and that you have no way of forcing them into the open.”

“They’ll overreach themselves yet,” declared Joe confidently. “There
never yet was a crook that didn’t give himself away at some time or
other. In one way I’m glad this happened. It makes a certainty of what
before had been only a probability. Now we know that somebody is trying
to down me, and it will put us doubly on our guard. But of course I
needn’t tell you, Jim, that Mabel and Clara must never hear a word of
this. It would simply drive them crazy with worry.”

“Trust me,” replied Jim. “We’ll keep this up our sleeves and tell them
nothing about it until we’ve squelched the rascals who have been trying
to get your number. And even then I guess we’d better keep mum. What
they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

“Righto,” assented Joe. “But now I guess we’d better have our lunch and
get ready for the game. We won’t have any more time than we need to
reach the grounds.”

“I’m just as glad that it isn’t the turn of either of us to pitch
to-day,” commented Jim. “I guess we’re both a bit too shaken up to be
in our best form. But if my arm is idle to-day my eyes won’t be, and
you can bet that from this time on I’ll watch Hupft and McCarney like a
hawk.”

“Same here,” responded Joe grimly. “And if I get the goods on them, may
heaven have mercy on them――for I won’t!”



CHAPTER III

UNDER COVER


Joe and Jim ate their lunch that day in a little more thoughtful mood
than usual, and that mood still persisted as they prepared to go to the
grounds.

But the ten minutes of brisk walking in the bracing air soon dissipated
the somber shadow that had tried to settle down upon them. They were
young and vital, the blood coursed strongly through their veins, and
they were soon feeling the sheer joy of living that was natural to them.

And this feeling grew stronger as they drew near the Polo Grounds.
That famous park held a strong place in their affections. It was the
visible symbol of their profession, the place where they had won their
spurs, where they had gained glorious victories that thrilled them
to the marrow as they recalled them, where they had fought memorable
battles in which every particle of their strength and manhood had been
called into play, where they had listened to the plaudits of cheering
thousands who had lauded them to the skies when they had pulled some
hotly contested game out of the fire.

Soon they were in the midst of the procession that even at that early
hour was wending its way towards the gates. It was not long before
they were recognized, and admiring comments began to pass from one to
another of the crowd.

“That’s Baseball Joe, the king of them all.”

“Did you see the game he pitched against the Brooklyns yesterday? It
was a corker, all right.”

“Trust him to show those bimbos from over the bridge where they get
off.”

“And that fellow with him is Barclay. There’s nothing slow about him,
either. Has been going great guns all the season.”

“If they only had two more like them the pennant would be cinched
already. The Giants would win in a walk.”

Joe and Jim would not have been human if such comments had not pleased
them. But they were used to hero worship, and, as the crowd began to
close in upon them and hinder their progress, they were glad enough
when they reached the players’ gate and could slip into the grounds.

Some of the players had preceded them to the clubhouse and were already
getting into their uniforms, and the newcomers speedily followed their
example.

“What’s the matter with your arm, Joe?” asked Larry Barrett, the second
baseman, “Laughing Larry,” as he was called because of his jolly
disposition. “It’s all cut and bruised. Been in a fight?”

“Nothing like that,” replied Joe, making haste to cover the injured
member. “Had a tumble this morning and that arm got the brunt of it.
Little bit sore yet, but it will be all right by to-morrow.”

“Well, for the love of Pete, don’t have any more such tumbles,”
implored Larry. “It might catch your pitching arm next time. And if
anything happened to that wing of yours the Giants would be in the
soup.”

“They’d get out of it again,” countered Joe. “The Giants are too great
a team to be dependent on one man. McRae would simply have to look
around for another pitcher.”

“Sure!” said Larry sarcastically. “Just as simple as that! Look around
for another pitcher! There are plenty of pitchers such as they are, but
there’s only one Matson.”

“And that’s no lie,” broke in Curry, the star left fielder of the team.
“Many’s the time, old boy, that you’ve carried the whole team on your
back. And now that Hughson’s gone we’ll have to rely on you more than
ever if we’re to have a look in for the flag.”

“Good old Hughson,” murmured Joe regretfully. “It won’t seem like the
old team without him. I only hope he’ll prove as great a manager as he
was a pitcher.”

There were murmurs of assent to this from all about him, for Hughson
had been a favorite with every member of the team, as indeed he had
been with players and fans all over the United States.

For many years before Joe had broken into baseball, Hughson had stood
for all that was best and greatest in the game. For more than ten
years he had been recognized as the finest pitcher on the diamond.
Again and again he had led the Giants to the championship. He had
everything that a pitcher should have――speed, curves, slants, drops, in
bewildering variety and profusion. The very fact that he was slated to
pitch against a team was almost enough for that team to count the day
lost. It was not merely the skill and strength of his pitching arm that
inspired terror in his opponents. Still more formidable was the head
set on his sturdy shoulders. He could outguess the batsman in a way
that seemed almost uncanny. He mixed brains with his work, saving his
strength when he could, letting the eight men behind him do their share
of the work. But when the pinch came, he tightened up, and usually it
was all over but the shouting.

Add to this phenomenal skill that he was a gentleman, on and off the
diamond, genial, kindly, always playing fair, an honor and an ornament
to the national game, and it was not hard to understand his wonderful
popularity.

Joe had especial reason for the warm feeling with which he regarded
Hughson. The latter had greeted him cordially when he first came to
the Giant team. He had realized the marvelous skill with which Joe was
endowed and he knew that the time might come when he would take his own
crown as the greatest pitcher of the game. Yet there was no trace of
jealousy or apprehension in his treatment of the newcomer. He coached
him, corrected his faults, brought out his strong points and taught him
all that he knew himself, not omitting the secret of the “fadeaway”
ball that had made him famous. He and Joe had become and always
remained the warmest of friends.

An automobile crash in which Hughson had been caught had injured his
pitching arm, and despite an extended course of treatment its magic had
gone forever. Even after that misfortune, however, he had remained with
the Giants for two seasons. But he was not the Hughson of old. He was
able to get by in many games by favoring his arm and depending chiefly
on headwork.

Now he had left the team with which he had been identified for so many
years and accepted the position of manager of the Cincinnati Reds. The
best wishes of all the Giant team had gone with him. Already under his
management the Reds were improving and seemed to be facing the best
season they had had in years.

Only the week before the Cincinnatis had played the Giants on the
occasion of the first invasion of the Western clubs――played, too, with
such vim and spirit that the best the Giants could do was to break even
on the series.

“Yes, the loss of Hughson has put a dent in our chances for the
pennant,” put in Wheeler, the big center fielder. “Even with that lame
wing of his he won more games for us than any others, except you and
Jim. And you two, good as you are, can’t pitch every other day. McRae
ought to have his lines out for a couple more prospects in the pitching
line. The rookies we got this year haven’t made good in the box. Young
Bradley shows promise, but he needs a year or so yet before he’ll be
ready to take his regular turn.”

“You bet the old man isn’t asleep,” said Burkett, the burly first
baseman of the team. “He’s got his scouts out combing the minor leagues
with a fine tooth comb. I hear he has a line on Merton of the San
Francisco Seals. They say he shows all the signs of a top-notcher. But
even if he gets him, he won’t be able to report till the end of the
season, and by that time the pennant will be either lost or won.”

“How about that Lemblow out in the Middle Western League?” chimed in
Mylert, the Giant catcher. “They say he’s got speed to burn and a
cross-fire delivery that reminds one of Hays of the Yankees. He’s crazy
to break into the big league, and if the old man comes across with the
‘mazuma’ I’ve no doubt he could get him.”

“He may be a good pitcher,” remarked Iredell, the shortstop of the
team. “But I’ve heard that he has a rather shady past. Not that they’ve
ever been able to hang anything on him. Perhaps he’s too cunning for
that. But there have been all sorts of rumors about him not being on
the level, and where there’s so much smoke there may be some fire.”

“I heard that he’s been resting up for a couple of weeks lately,”
volunteered Willis, the Giants’ third baseman. “Hurt one of his fingers
or something like that. I saw him pitch once in a barn-storming tour at
the end of last season. He sure can put some smoke on the ball. Queer
looking duck he is, too. Looks like a rube with his straw-colored hair
and big ears sticking out from his head.”

“What’s that you said?” put in Jim quickly.

“I said that he put smoke on the ball,” replied Willis, in some
surprise. “He just burned it over the plate.”

“Yes, yes,” returned Jim impatiently. “But I was talking about his
looks!”

“I was just telling you he wouldn’t take any beauty prize,” replied
Willis. “Big lob ears standing almost at right angles to his head
and a headful of hair that looks like a stack of hay. Tall and thin,
too, a regular beanpole. But what makes you so interested in the
fellow’s looks? He doesn’t have to be an Apollo Cuticura――or is it
Belvedere?――does he, to take his turn in the box?”

“Not a bit of it,” agreed Jim, with a laugh. “That would rule a good
many of us fellows off the diamond. But come along, Joe,” he added to
his friend. “If we stay in here chinning very much longer, McRae will
be after us with a big stick.”

They went out of the clubhouse and made their way across the field. The
bleachers were already full and there were only a few vacant spots in
the grandstand. As Joe and Jim were recognized a vigorous handclapping
rose from the spectators that told of the place they had in the
affections of the fans.

“Did you catch what Willis was saying about Lemblow?” Jim asked of Joe,
as they got out of earshot of the others.

“I got it all right,” replied Joe. “And I tumbled to your question
about his looks. You thought that the description fitted the fellow
that pushed that pile of lumber down on us.”

“Fits him to a dot,” affirmed Jim emphatically. “The same hair and the
same ears. And this fellow, too, was tall and thin. And what did I tell
you about the way he ran? Only a trained athlete could have legged it
that way.”

“It certainly looks as though you’d hit it right,” admitted Joe
thoughtfully. “Under ordinary circumstances it wouldn’t be possible,
for he’d be playing with his team out West. But there’s the fact that
he’s been laying off for a couple of weeks on account of his injured
finger. That would make it possible for him to come on East. And if
he’s so crazy to break into the big league, what would give him a
better chance than to have one of us, or possibly both of us, disabled?
It may all be a coincidence, but if it is, it’s one of the queerest
things that ever happened.”

“Then, too, there’s his reputation,” rejoined Jim. “What Iredell said
about his not being on the level only fits in with what I’ve heard from
others. He got into trouble near the end of last season about one or
two games that looked crooked, and it took a good deal of hushing up to
smooth the thing over. Now, putting all these things together, doesn’t
it look just as clear as that two and two make four?”

“Not quite so certain as that, perhaps,” replied Joe. “But it certainly
looks as though we were getting a line on what happened to us this
morning. Now if we can only find that there’s some connection between
Lemblow and Hupft and McCarney, a good many puzzling things will be
explained. But there’s McRae beckoning to us to get up to the plate and
knock flies out to the fields in practice. Just keep your eye peeled,
old boy, and I’ll do the same. There never yet was a skein so tangled
that it couldn’t be unraveled if you only get your hand on the end of
the thread. And I think we’ve got the end in our hands right now.”



CHAPTER IV

LINING IT OUT


The Giants’ opponents that day were the St. Louis Cardinals, the last
of the Western clubs to visit the Polo Grounds on the first round of
the inter-sectional games.

Cincinnati, as has been said, had been able to make an even break of it
with the Giants. The Pittsburghs had done even better, for the Smoky
City boys had left the big town with three scalps hanging to their
belts. The Giants had taken sweet revenge on the Chicagos, however,
having made a clean sweep of the whole four games.

For several seasons, the best the Cardinals could do was to finish
at the tail of the first division or the head of the second. They
had an excellent pitching staff and some of the heaviest batters in
either league. Their fielding was good and their shortstop was such
a phenomenon that the St. Louis owners had refused an offer of two
hundred and fifty thousand dollars for him.

But despite these advantages the team had not been able to win the
championship. They did not work with the smoothness and perfection
necessary for a champion team. Perhaps it was the failure of efficient
management or a case of individual stars playing for their own records
instead of for the good of the team. But whatever the reason, the
record showed that while they had started out each season like a house
afire they had failed at the end to take the coveted flag.

This year, however, things were different. A new manager had seemed to
be able to put some of his own vim and determination into the team and
they were playing like a machine. The first four men in the batting
order had been dubbed the “Murderers’ Row” because of the way they were
“killing” the ball, and the rest of the team were not very far behind.
It was perfectly clear that this year the Cardinals were a team to be
reckoned with.

Under ordinary circumstances, Joe would have pitched the first game of
the St. Louis series so that the Giants might have a good chance to get
the jump on their opponents by grabbing off the opening contest. But
the day before had originally been an open date, and the Giants and
Brooklyns had taken advantage of it to play off a postponed game; and
as the Brooklyns had usually been a “Jonah” for the Giants, McRae had
thought it advisable to put Joe in the box. The result had justified
his judgment.

Markwith, the portside flinger of the Giants, had been chosen,
therefore, to open the St. Louis series. He was one of the star
pitchers of the league, and during the season could be counted on to
turn in his fair share of victories. His speed was dazzling and he
had a good assortment of curves and slants. The only trouble with him
was that he was an “in and outer.” When he was good he was very good
indeed, practically unbeatable. But if his support were bad or the
opposing batters began to get to him, he was liable to lose his nerve
and be batted out of the box.

This day, however, he showed up well in practice and seemed to be in
fine fettle, so that it was with less misgiving than usual that McRae
put on him the pitcher’s burden.

“Get right after them, Red,” the manager counseled, as the bell rang
for the Giants to take the field. “I want you to show that Murderers’
Row that you’re some little murderer yourself.”

“I’ll do my best, Mac,” said Markwith, with a grin, as he slipped on
his glove and went to the box.

The first inning was short and sweet. Remley, the lead-off man of
the Cardinals, tried to wait Red out. This was justified perhaps by
the fact that Markwith was a trifle unsteady at the opening and had
difficulty in finding the plate. His first two offerings were balls.
He whipped the third over, however, for a strike and followed it with
another. With two strikes on him, Remley lashed out savagely at the
next ball and missed it.

“You’re out,” called the umpire, as the ball settled in Mylert’s glove.

Remley threw down his bat in vexation and went grumbling to the dugout.

McCarthy came next, swinging three bats of which he flung away two as
he toed the line.

“Put it over, kid, and see me kill it,” he called to Markwith, shaking
his bat at him.

Red grinned and floated up a slow one that looked as big as a balloon
as it approached the plate but small as a pea when it reached it.
McCarthy nearly broke his back reaching for it.

“Strike one,” called the umpire.

“Not so much of a killer after all, are you?” taunted Markwith, as the
catcher returned the ball to him.

McCarthy glowered and gritted his teeth as he waited for the next one.

It came waist high over the plate, and McCarthy caught it on the end
of his bat. It seemed for a moment that he had made his boast good,
for the ball shot on a line toward center. Iredell, however, who was
playing close to second, leaped into the air and speared it with his
gloved hand, while the stands rocked with applause.

Mornsby, the famous shortstop of the Cardinals, was next at bat.

“Oh, see who’s here!” remarked Markwith, with affected surprise.

“Play ball, you clown,” growled Mornsby. “You’re not on the vaudeville
stage now.”

This was a fling at a theatrical venture that Markwith had gone into
the preceding winter.

“So you’re the quarter of a million dollar beauty!” retorted Markwith,
referring to the price that had been offered for Mornsby. “Just watch
me make you look like thirty cents.”

He put over a ball at which Mornsby refused to bite. The next one he
fouled off. The third he struck at too high and the ball dribbled down
to the pitcher’s box. Markwith picked it up with a tantalizing grin and
tossed to Burkett for an easy out at first.

“Thirty cents was too big an offer,” he called to Mornsby, as he drew
off his glove and came into the bench. “I ought to have made it a dime.”

“We’ll get you yet, you false alarm,” snapped Mornsby. “You’ll curl up
before the game’s half over.”

The Giants in their half made a bid for a run but were unable to score.
Curry poled one out between right and center that Cooper gathered in
after a long run. Iredell raised a twisting Texas leaguer over second
that McCarthy and Weston both tried for but failed to reach, narrowly
missing colliding with each other.

In the mixup, Iredell, by fast running, reached second. Burkett came
next, and with two balls and two strikes called on him lined out a
grasser that Mornsby found too hot to handle. He knocked it down,
however, but recovered it too late to get Burkett at first. Iredell,
who had taken a good lead, had no difficulty in making third.

On the first ball pitched to Wheeler, the next batter, Burkett made
a break for second. His aim was not so much to reach the base as to
draw a throw from the catcher which would enable Iredell to make for
home. The catcher threw the ball, not to second but to the pitcher, and
Iredell, who had started for the plate, was caught and run down between
third and home. Burkett in the meantime had reached second and was half
way down the base line between second and third, ready to dash for the
latter if Iredell should be put out. A snap throw to Weston, however,
the moment that Iredell had been tagged, caught Burkett between the
bags and he was also run down, making three out. It was a bit of
stupidity, or at least carelessness, on the part of the Giants and of
smart playing by the visitors.

The next four innings produced no tally for either side. Leadows, the
bespectacled pitcher for the Cardinals, was having one of his best
days, and he set the Giants down almost as fast as they came to the
bat. Markwith, too, was pitching well. He was hit harder and oftener
than Leadows, but so far the breaks of the game had been with him,
and he had had spectacular support on the part of the Giant fielders.
Hupft especially made some almost miraculous catches in the field that
shut off sure home runs and McCarney was guarding third in a way that
recalled the days of Jerry Denny.

“Do you see that?” Joe asked in a low tone of Jim, as McCarney made a
superb stop of a hot grounder and relayed it like a bullet to first.
“You didn’t see him doing that kind of playing yesterday when I was in
the box.”

“Right you are,” replied Jim. “And I noted, too, the one that Hupft
picked off the fence in the last inning. Both of them are playing like
fiends.”

In the sixth inning the Giants broke the ice. Burkett laced out a dandy
two-bagger to right. Wheeler laid down a perfect sacrifice between the
pitcher’s box and first that enabled Burkett to get to third. Willis
sent out a long fly to right center that was caught, but on the throw
in Burkett scored by a long slide to the plate. Larry went out on an
assist from Mornsby to Blair and the inning was over. But the Giants
were a run to the good, and at that stage of the game a single run
might prove the winning tally.

In the seventh the Cardinals went them one better. Blair led off with a
sharp single to left. Atkins followed with a grounder that just touched
the end of Iredell’s glove and went for a hit, Blair reaching third.
Munson was set down on strikes and Bixby sent up a high twisting foul
that Mylert caught at the very edge of the dugout. Remley, however,
whaled out a mighty three-bagger to right that scored both of his
mates. Markwith put on extra steam and struck out McCarthy, leaving
Remley on third.

The Giants’ half of the seventh was fruitless and the eighth opened
with St. Louis one run to the good.

It was not any too good a lead, and they started out to put the game
“on ice.” Mornsby offered at the first ball pitched, and sent the ball
crashing into the bleachers for the first home run of the game. This
mighty hit seemed to rattle Markwith and he passed Nealon to first on
four consecutive balls. Ralston rapped out a two-bagger on which Nealon
went all the way to the plate. Leadows struck out, but Blair made a
pretty single on which Nealon reached third. Markwith passed Atkins and
the bases were full. The score now stood 4 to 1 in favor of St. Louis
with three men on bases and one out.

McRae, the Giants’ manager, beckoned to Markwith, and the latter,
drawing off his glove, came in to the bench.

“Wouldn’t give a dime for me, eh?” jeered Mornsby. “I wouldn’t give a
plugged nickel for you. That home run broke your heart, didn’t it? I
told you you were a false alarm.”

Markwith, usually ready with a retort, was too discomfited to make
reply.

“It’s up to you, Joe,” said McRae. “I know you pitched yesterday, but
I’ll have to call on you to save this game if it isn’t already past
saving.”

Joe was not altogether unprepared for the call, for in the previous
inning McRae, seeing that Markwith was faltering, had sent him out to
do a little warming up.

“All right, Mac,” he responded, and walked out to the box.

His coming was the signal for a storm of cheers from stands and
bleachers. It seemed almost hopeless, but they had seen him so often
lead a forlorn hope to victory.

As was his right, Joe tossed up a few balls to Mylert to get the
location of the plate. Then he took his stand in the box as Munson came
to the plate, eager to send his comrades home. Even a single would
probably bring in two of them. A long sacrifice to the outfield would
account for one run. And a sharp two-bagger would clear the bases.

Joe wound up and shot a fast high one over the plate. Munson missed it
by inches.

“Strike one!” called the umpire, and the crowd cheered boisterously.

Mylert returned the ball to Joe on the bound. Joe muffed it and it
dropped at his feet.

He stooped carelessly to pick it up. Then like lightning he shot it to
Larry at second, catching Blair flat-footed off the bag.

Nealon on third made a dash for the plate. Larry tagged Blair and
returned the ball in a flash to Joe, who had run over to the third base
line. Joe put the ball on Nealon and the side was out.

It had all happened in the twinkling of an eye. For an instant the
crowd was paralyzed. Then it woke up and a perfect tempest of cheers
swept over the field.

Robson, the rotund assistant manager, fairly shouted with glee as he
brought his hand down with a resounding smack on McRae’s knee.

“Did you see that, John?” he roared. “Did you see that fake muff? Did
you see that lightning throw? Did you ever see any foxier playing in
all your life?”

“No, I didn’t,” grinned McRae. “But for the love of Mike, Robbie, keep
that ham of a hand off my knee. Yes, that was some playing. I don’t
know which is the greater, that boy’s arm or his head. They’re both
wonders. Joe hasn’t his match in the baseball world.”

Joe came in smiling, to be mauled and pounded by his rejoicing comrades.

McRae and Robson beamed upon him.

“Great work, Joe,” said McRae. “Now if you hold them down in the next
inning and our boys get busy with their bats we still have a chance to
cop the game.”

But the Giants, although they got two men on bases in their half of the
eighth, were unable to score, and the ninth opened with St. Louis still
three runs ahead.

They made no more, however, for in their half of the ninth Joe mowed
them down in order, and the Giants came in to make their last stand
with three runs to tie and four to win.

Burkett led off with a nicely placed single in short right. Wheeler
followed with a clean hit over second, on which Burkett tried to reach
third. The ball came back too quickly, however, and he had to turn back
to second, which he reached safely only through a muff by Weston,
who was covering the bag. It was a close call and the Giant rooters
breathed a sigh of relief. McCarney, who had already made two hits and
seemed to have his batting clothes on, fell an easy victim on strikes.
Larry came to the rescue with a neat bunt that got him to first and
advanced his comrades each a base.

The bases were now full, and Hupft, who came next to bat, was implored
to give the ball a ride and bring his mates in. But a groan went up
when he raised an easy pop fly to the box that Leadows caught without
moving from his tracks.

Two men were now out and many of the spectators were beginning to rise
from their seats. They sat down suddenly, however, at the mighty roar
that went up when Joe came to the plate.

Leadows looked him over carefully. He had a wholesome respect for Joe’s
prowess, not only as a pitcher, but as a batter. Here was a foeman
worthy of his best.

Leadows took an unusually long time winding up. Then he sent in a
swift incurve that just missed the corner of the plate. Joe remained
motionless.

An outcurve followed, and again Joe let it go by.

The third was a fast one with a hop to it, and came over the plate half
way between knee and waist. Joe met it full on the seam.

There was a resounding crash and the ball started on its journey to the
bleachers.

It started almost on a line, rising steadily as it soared toward
right field. On and on it went as though it had wings. The Cardinal
outfielders started for it and then stopped and threw up their hands in
despair. The ball cleared the field, cleared the bleachers, cleared the
wall. Where it finally landed no one knew, no one cared.

Joe had dropped the bat and started like a deer for first. But as he
rounded the bag on his way to second, a glance at the ball told him
there was no need for hurry. So he jogged around the bases at his
leisure following the three comrades who romped joyously to the plate,
while in his ears were the thunderous cheers of the spectators like the
roaring of the sea.

He had made a homer with the bases full. He had pulled the game out of
the fire. At the very last moment he had snatched victory from defeat!



CHAPTER V

PLAYING THE GAME


If a visitor from Mars had seen the crowd at the Polo Grounds when Joe
knocked out that homer, he would promptly have set down the people of
this planet as madmen. The people in the stands and bleachers simply
went crazy with delight. Cheer after cheer went up. Hats were thrown
into the air and on the diamond by the hundreds. Then the throng swept
down on the field in the frantic desire to surround the hero of the
game and carry him in triumph on their shoulders.

But Joe had seen them coming and was off at top speed for the
clubhouse. The crowd thickened about him as he fled, and for the last
hundred feet he had fairly to fight his way through to get away from
the embarrassing attentions of his admirers.

Even in the clubhouse his troubles were not over, for his comrades were
almost as delirious as the outside throng. They wrung his hand and
slapped his back until he was sore.

McRae was all smiles, while Robbie, as Robson was usually called,
fairly hugged him in his delight.

“Man, you’re a wizard in the box and at the bat!” Robbie cried. “Sure,
it’s magic that you use. You’ve put a come-hither on the ball. You’ve
got it bewitched. You go into the box and you put two men out with only
one ball pitched. You whack the ball and it starts for Kingdom Come.”

McRae, though less exuberant, was none the less delighted.

“Once more you’ve pulled me out of a hole, Joe,” he said earnestly.
“Many’s the time I’ve had to call on you in a tight pinch, and I’ve
never been disappointed yet. You’re my standby and the standby of the
team. You’ve only proved to me again, what needed no proving, that when
the test comes you’re there.”

“I’m glad you feel that way, Mac,” returned Joe. “Although I think you
make too much of what I’ve done. The team’s the biggest thing on earth
to me outside of my home and folks, and it’s always a pleasure to give
it my best efforts.”

There were two notable exceptions to the praise that was heaped on Joe
by his mates. Hupft and McCarney stood aloof, not saying a single word,
and their brows were so black that one might have thought that St.
Louis had won instead of the Giants.

“How sore those spalpeens look,” remarked Larry to Wheeler, as he
finished his dressing. “They’re like corpses at a wedding.”

“I’ve noticed that,” replied Wheeler. “I suppose they’re a little bit
crabbed because they failed to come through in the ninth inning. They
had their chances to send the boys in, but both fell down. I’ve felt
that way myself more than once. They’ll be all over that by to-morrow.”

The grumpiness of the pair had not escaped Joe and Jim, although they
gave no sign until they were clear of the clubhouse and on their way
home.

“I’ll bet a nickel I know what you’re thinking of,” bantered Jim.

“Too easy,” laughed Joe. “Of course, we’re both thinking of the same
thing and that is the sour looks of that precious pair of highbinders
at the end of the game. Even the other fellows, who haven’t the reason
we have to suspect them, were struck by it. You heard what Larry said
to Wheeler.”

“If they were really foxy they’d have made a bluff at feeling good, no
matter how they felt,” remarked Jim. “There were all the other fellows
fairly out of their heads with delight, and they were as black as
thunderclouds. If they don’t look out, other people will tumble to the
fact that there’s something crooked going on.”

“What took place in the game itself showed that our previous suspicion
was right,” observed Joe. “All the time Markwith was pitching they were
fairly eating up every chance that came to them. See the way McCarney
guarded third. Nothing was too hot for him and he tried for everything
at right and left of him. And Hupft played like a miracle-man out in
the field. Compare that with the way they played yesterday when I was
in the box.”

“And the way their batting fell off in the ninth inning,” added Jim.
“They had been clouting the ball for keeps in the early part of the
game. But McCarney stood there like a wooden man when Leadows set him
down on strikes, and that pop fly that Hupft lifted to the box was
just peaches and cream for St. Louis. It’s lucky they didn’t have any
fielding chances in the ninth or they’d probably have fallen down on
those, too.”

“It wasn’t merely luck,” explained Joe. “I had that in mind when I toed
the mound. I made up my mind that I’d work for strikeouts and nothing
else. I was actually afraid to let the ball go to the infield because I
believed that McCarney, if he had the chance, would deliberately fumble
it. Nice, isn’t it, when a pitcher has to feel that way about any of
the men behind him?”

“It’s an awful shame!” exclaimed Jim hotly.

“And here’s one other thing,” continued Joe. “You noticed that when I
caught Blair napping at second, I ran over to the base line and shouted
to Larry to throw the ball to me. Ordinarily I would have left it to
McCarney to make that play and he and Mylert together could have run
Nealon down. But I didn’t dare let McCarney take the throw for fear he
would let it slip through his fingers on purpose. So I tagged Nealon
myself and made sure of it.”

“Gee, but you’ve got a wonderful head on you, Joe!” was the admiring
ejaculation wrung from Jim. “You think of everything.”

“One has to think of a lot of things when his reputation and perhaps
his life is at stake,” replied Joe soberly. “I tell you, Jim, we’re
up against a serious problem, and every day it seems to get more
complicated. Even when we sleep, from now on we’ll have to do it with
one eye open.”

“That’s true,” agreed Jim. “Still, what has happened to-day isn’t
altogether without its bright side. Up to now you’ve been largely in
the dark. You’ve had an uneasy feeling that a web was being woven about
you, and you’ve had certain suspicions about Hupft and McCarney. But
their actions in to-day’s game and their grouchiness after the game
have transformed those suspicions almost into certainties. Now you can
plan to fight them and force them into the open without the fear that
you might be doing them an injustice.

“Then, too, that Lemblow matter has thrown a little more light on
things. It indicates that he’s in cahoots with the other two rascals.
The more there are in any conspiracy, the more likely it is that there
will be a leak somewhere. To-day’s happenings have given you three
sides of a triangle――Hupft, McCarney and Lemblow. Somewhere within that
triangle is the plot that is being hatched. At least we know where to
look, and that is something.”

“And whatever that something is we’ll meet it and we’ll beat it,” cried
Joe, throwing care to the winds. “Let’s think of something pleasant.
The girls will be on for that promised visit soon. In less than a week
now I’ll see the dearest girl in all the world――Mabel.”

“Clara,” corrected Jim.

And both laughed happily.



CHAPTER VI

A HILARIOUS WELCOME


Although naturally burdened by the recent run of events, mystified
as they were concerning the motives of McCarney and Hupft and of
the lob-eared man whom Jim had seen hurrying from the half-finished
structure the day the building material had been pushed from the
scaffold, the chums stuck to their decisions to keep worry and
conjecture as far as possible from their minds. Their job was to play
ball, and to play ball with the best that was in them was what they
intended to do.

And on one particular bright morning it was easier than usual to banish
dull care. Only the day before Joe and Jim had received word that Mabel
and Clara and Mabel’s brother, Reggie, would arrive in New York by noon
of the following day. To say that the boys were joyful would be to
describe too tamely their emotions. They acted like a couple of wild
Indians, brandishing the letters aloft and executing a war dance about
the room. Even now, as they jumped into the car, preparatory to making
a mad dash for the station to meet the twelve o’clock train, they had
not recovered their sanity.

To Joe it seemed as though he had been separated from his young
wife for years instead of weeks, and he drove the machine through
the traffic with a speed and recklessness that caused many a burly
policeman to frown disapprovingly.

“It’s them young speeders that makes all the trouble,” muttered one of
them as Joe, barely waiting for the wave of his hand, rushed by with
a warning roar of the exhaust. “It’s long been a mystery to me why
they must always be in such a terrible hurry.” How could he know, poor
man, that Joe was on his way to meet the most adorable girl in all the
world? Who wouldn’t break all the speed laws, and then some, for a girl
like Mabel?

It had been the purpose of the young folks to settle down in a little
home of their own after the honeymoon, but as Mrs. Matson, who had
never been very strong, missed Mabel and declared she needed her,
the young bride had decided to make her home temporarily with Joe’s
mother――at least until such time as she should be in better health.

Clara, Joe’s pretty sister and Jim’s fiancée, had also delayed her
wedding with Jim because of her mother’s ill-health. Jim did not favor
this arrangement very highly, but he was willing to agree to almost
anything that would make Clara happy.

“It won’t be so very long now,” she had said the last time Jim had seen
her. “I really think mother is getting stronger, and pretty soon――we’ll
be together always,” she had added shyly.

So now, not having seen either Mabel or Clara for what seemed to them a
never-ending period of time, it was no wonder the boys were willing to
break all the traffic laws that had ever been made.

“Do you know,” said Joe, with a chuckle, as he slowed down at the curb
opposite the station, “I’ve scarcely given dear old Reggie a thought? I
wonder how the old duffer is, anyway.”

“Probably identically the same old chappie,” laughed Jim. “Monocle,
cane, spats, and all complete. I’d give a lot to know how he makes that
knife-sharp crease in his trousers always stay put.”

“It is a mystery,” agreed Joe, as they made their way through the
crowds that thronged the great station. “I’d like to try him out on the
diamond some time. I’ve a notion that after a slide or two to the home
plate the crease would be no longer there.”

“Might spoil some of his immaculateness,” laughed Jim.

Despite all this joking at his expense, the boys entertained, not only
a warm affection, but a very real respect for Mabel’s brother, Reggie.
Although, as the chums had already laughingly mentioned, Reggie never
appeared anywhere without his monocle, his cane, his spats, and his
English air and accent, he was at heart a fine fellow, always ready
to help where help was needed, truthful and honorable, and an ardent
baseball fan. These qualities helped the boys overlook his many foibles
and affectations. As a matter of fact, once one got used to them, one
rather liked them, as being a part of Reggie’s lovable personality.

The guard at the head of the stairs that led to the station platform
seemed at first inclined to deny the boys admittance. But a neighboring
guard, having recognized Joe and Jim, whispered in his friend’s ear,
with the result that the latter looked away, having first favored the
boys with a wink.

The next moment they had clattered down the stairs and had reached the
station platform, just as the train pulled in.

Eagerly they watched the crowd of passengers pour forth, scanning each
face for those they sought. No sight of Mabel, no Clara, no immaculate
and be-spatted Reggie!

At first they feared that the girls had missed their train and their
faces grew long and anxious. Then, just when they were beginning to
lose hope, Joe saw them.

With a whoop of joy and a rush that nearly bowled over an indignant and
grip-laden porter, he was speeding down the platform with Jim hard at
his heels.

The next moment Mabel found herself in the grip of two bearlike arms,
her smart little hat was pushed far over one ear, while into the other
a voice was saying, over and over again:

“Say, girl, you look good to me――you look good to me.”

“Joe, dear, you’re mussing my hair, and my hat――――”

“Hats!” cried Joe, exuberantly. “What do we care about hats! I’ll buy
you another one, honey, a dozen, if you want them.”

“Be careful, Joe,” Clara broke in, looking flushed and delightfully
pretty herself. “She may take you up. Think of it――a dozen new hats!
Such joy!”

“Speakin’ of hats, don’t you know,” broke in a well-known voice, “I
jolly well need a new one myself. The bally old thing did a double flip
out of the hat rack on our trip up heah in the train. Turned an entire
circle, don’t you know――――”

“Tell them where it landed, Reggie,” chuckled Mabel, flashing a
mischievous glance at Clara. “Be sure you don’t forget any of the
details.”

“By Jove! Do you know,” said Reggie, ruefully, “you would never guess
the truth, not in a thousand years, unless I were to tell it to you
myself! For this mistaken headpiece, don’t you know, instead of falling
to the floor, where at the most it would have gathered a little dust,
must choose a seat whereon a burly gentleman was just in the act of
seating himself. A perfectly harmless and natural thing, don’t you
know, on the part of the old gentleman――――”

“But hard on the hat,” finished Joe, with a grin, adding as he slipped
his arm through Mabel’s and drew her toward the stairs: “Never mind,
old man, there are a dozen places in town where they have hats that
will satisfy even you. Say,” he added happily, looking down into the
smiling eyes of his young wife, “this is my lucky day.”

“You’re not the only one, old son,” said Jim, adding, as he proudly
piloted Clara through the throng: “I tell you, we’ve picked a couple of
girls that will make these bored Manhattanites turn round and stare,
all right.”

“Bah Jove,” sighed Reggie, replacing the tiresome monocle that never
would stay put, “you chappies are enough to make a poor old bachelor
like me homesick, you are, truly. I feel quite out of it, don’t you
know, _de trop_, a gooseberry, as you might say. An Antony without his
Cleopatra, a Romeo without his Juliet. I say, it’s downright pathetic.”

“Poor old Reggie,” chuckled Mabel, snuggling her free hand within his
arm. “It is a sad, sad story, isn’t it? But then, it’s really your own
fault. There are lots of girls in the world, you know.”

“But no more Mabels,” said Joe.

“And no more Claras,” added Jim.

“There you go again,” said poor Reggie, swinging his cane
disconsolately. “Bah Jove, this is no place for a bachelor. It isn’t,
truly!”



CHAPTER VII

GROWING BEWILDERMENT


The boys, in their joy at having the girls with them once more, wanted
to go to one of the big hotels for luncheon, but the girls themselves
protested.

They wanted, they said, to go to some quiet place “where they could
talk,” and, besides, they weren’t “presentable” after the long train
journey.

Although the boys disagreed vehemently with this last statement, they
finally yielded the point and found a quiet little restaurant just
around the corner from Fifth Avenue.

Eagerly Joe plied them with questions about home. “Had the girls been
well?” “How was mother and dear old dad?” and so on until the girls
rebelled, saying that they had come to hear about Joe and Jim, not to
talk about themselves.

“I say, how is the old game coming?” queried Reggie, taking the monocle
from his eye and tapping it gently on the table. “Yesterday’s game was
perfectly ripping, what? Hear you did yourself proud, Joe, old top.”

“He always does,” murmured Mabel proudly, and somehow Joe’s hand
managed to find hers under the table.

“It was a great game,” he said, smiling at recollection of it. “Luck
was with me.”

“Do you boys play to-day?” asked Clara, adding with a little bounce of
delight: “Oh, I’m crazy to see the game!”

“Jim’s the lucky one,” said Joe. “He’s scheduled to pitch. And I tell
you, you girls are going to see some classy work. Jim has the little
ball trained so it comes to his whistle.”

“Spare my blushes,” begged Jim, adding, with a grin: “Anyway, listen
who’s talking!”

“’Spose everything’s goin’ smoothly, is it?” queried Reggie, with a
lift of his eyebrow that sent the monocle sliding down the front of his
waistcoat. “No trouble with the good old teammates? Everything jolly
and happy?”

Both Jim and Joe looked at him quizzically. Was it possible that Reggie
knew something of their suspicions of Reddy Hupft or McCarney? It
seemed hardly possible. Probably the question was merely an idle one.

“Everything’s in tip-top shape,” answered Joe, after the barest
perceptible pause. “The boys are going at top speed and if we keep on
the way we’ve started we ought to beat last year’s record.”

Clara opened her lips as though to speak, then evidently changed her
mind. But as Jim’s eyes met hers it seemed to him they were the least
bit anxious.

As for Mabel, she had reached out and laid a little hand on Joe’s arm.

“Everything is all right, isn’t it, Joe?” she asked.

“Perfectly,” he replied, hoping his tone had sounded as confident as he
wanted it to. “What could be wrong, little girl?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Mabel replied hesitantly. “Perhaps it’s that
trouble you had last year――――”

“Here, here!” interrupted Joe, with mock severity. “I thought you
promised to forget all about that!”

“I am trying,” said Mabel gamely. “But it’s pretty hard when I’m not
with you, Joe.”

Though the boys could have lingered forever at that pleasant little
meal, it was not long before they were reminded that time was flying
and that if they meant to get to the ball grounds in time they must
hurry.

They took the girls to the hotel where they had accommodations ready
for them. There they regretfully left them in Reggie’s care and hurried
off for the field.

“I wonder if Reggie has got wind of something brewing,” said Jim, as,
a few minutes later, they struggled into their uniforms. “He certainly
has a talent for smelling out trouble.”

“Let’s hope there won’t be any serious trouble to smell out and let
the matter go at that,” answered Joe carelessly. Then everything but
baseball and the game on hand was forgotten.

That game was a triumph for the Giants, but it was even a greater one
for Jim. Perhaps the fact that two bright eyes were watching his work
from the grandstand spurred Jim on to greater effort. At any rate it
was certain that he had never done more brilliant work.

Joe, who was resting from his triumphs of the day before, spent most of
his time with the two girls and Reggie. Although ordinarily he would
have been wild to take his place on the diamond, to-day, with McRae’s
consent, he was content just to sit beside Mabel and watch her interest
and enthusiasm in the game.

It was good to have his pretty sister with him too, even though he knew
her interest for the time being was entirely with Jim. And it was good
to have old Reggie with the troublesome monocle and the hat which the
burly old gentleman had inadvertently used as a seat!

Suddenly Clara, who, with the rest of the crowd had been wildly
cheering Jim, straightened in her seat, her eyes widening as they
rested upon one of the Giant team.

She turned and laid a hand on Joe’s arm.

“Joe,” she said excitedly, “who is that man out there? That man on
third base?”

“That’s McCarney,” replied Joe, wondering at her excitement. “Want an
introduction?” he added jokingly. “I could get you one in a jiffy, but
I wouldn’t because he’s no good.”

“Goodness, no!” said Clara, with a motion of the shoulders that was
almost like a shudder. “I know him already.”

“Know him?” repeated Joe, bewildered. “What’s the great idea?”

“Well,” Clara corrected, “I don’t really mean that I know him. But I’ve
seen him at pretty close range.”

Mabel leaned forward suddenly, her troubled eyes on Clara.

“What do you mean?” she asked, but a roar from the crowd drowned
Clara’s answer.

“I’ll tell you later,” she shouted above the tumult of cheers and
whistles and turned once more to watch the game.



CHAPTER VIII

A BLACK CONSPIRACY


During the game Joe wondered once or twice what Clara’s sudden interest
in McCarney meant. His pretty sister was so deeply in love with Jim
that it seemed almost impossible for her even to see another man. Yet
here she was, calling attention to McCarney――――

At this point a spectacular play elicited a mighty roar from the
grandstand, and Joe forgot everything but his interest in the game.

He had been back and forth several times from the bleachers to the
grandstand and now, with a murmured word to Mabel, he slipped away
again.

He wanted to get closer to the field where he could watch the work of
Reddy Hupft, and of McCarney, too. The two men were apparently playing
good ball, and yet, to his experienced eye, there was something queer
about their game. Even while he reproached himself for letting his
imagination run away with him, his eyes narrowed and his mouth grew
grim.

If those fellows were trying to pull anything――――

So it happened that when the game ended in a smashing victory for the
Giants Joe found himself near the clubhouse and allowed himself to be
swept along by the rush of his team mates.

He made his way through to Jim, who was surrounded by a group of
enthusiastic players, and thumped his chum heartily on the back.

“Pretty work, Jim,” he said. “Didn’t I tell the girls you had that
little ball trained?”

“It did come right to papa, didn’t it?” Jim answered, with a grin,
submitting to the rub-down gratefully. “But wait till the girls see
your work,” he added. “That will be the whole show.”

“Maybe it will be an anticlimax,” protested Joe, at which Jim grunted
disdainfully.

“Baseball Joe, an anticlimax!” he jeered, and Joe, smiling
good-naturedly, passed on.

Robson and McRae promptly collared him and engaged him in earnest
conversation and Jim, being unable to disentangle Joe from the society
of the two older men, shouted an “I’ll see you later” to his chum and
started across the field to the grandstand where the two girls and
Reggie were waiting for him.

As he neared the trio he saw that they were talking excitedly and
wondered idly what it was all about. The real thing that engaged his
attention, though, was the fact that Clara looked amazingly sweet and
animated and that the flush in her cheeks was the prettiest thing he
had ever seen.

“Hello, everybody,” he called to them. “Get tired of waiting?”

“Oh, Jim! you were simply wonderful,” said Clara, turning sparkling
eyes upon him. “You ought to have heard what people were saying all
around us.”

“Perhaps it’s jolly good he didn’t,” broke in Reggie, with a twinkle in
the eye behind the monocle. “Might have swelled the old bean, you know,
completely ruined him, what?”

“He’s frightfully spoiled already,” said Clara, with a distracting,
sidewise glance at Jim. “You’ve no idea how conceited he is.”

“On the contrary,” replied Jim, stretching his long length contentedly
in one of the hard-backed seats, “the only time I’m tempted to be
conceited, my dear, is when I realize that I have you.”

“Don’t mind us, Jim,” chuckled Mabel delightedly, and Reggie added
benevolently:

“Bless you, my children. Mabel and I are looking steadily in the
opposite direction. But perhaps, on further reflection, you would enjoy
our absence greater than our presence? What say, Mabel, shall we stroll
on?”

“You’re all so silly!” Clara protested, her face flaming. “I wish you
wouldn’t talk such nonsense, Jim――in public, anyway.”

“I won’t until next time,” promised Jim, then, thinking it about time
he changed the subject, he asked what they had been talking about
so animatedly when he approached. “You seemed all heated up about
something,” he added.

“Jim, where’s Joe?” asked Mabel, her eyes, suddenly anxious, sweeping
the field.

“Talking to McRae and Robbie,” answered Jim. “He’ll be along in a
minute. But say,” he added, with more interest than he had hitherto
shown, “aren’t you going to answer my question?”

“Hold your horses, old chappie,” murmured Reggie. “Patience is a
virtue, what?”

Seeing that, even if patience were a virtue, Jim was at the end of it,
Clara hastened to explain.

“I don’t suppose you will think it very important, Jim,” she said. “But
it seemed rather important to me. I’ll tell you what I know and then
you can judge.”

“Sounds like a mystery,” said Jim, sitting up straight and beginning to
look interested.

Mabel shuddered.

“I hope it isn’t,” she said, adding plaintively: “I don’t like
mysteries.”

“It’s about that man, McCarney, your third baseman,” Clara hastened
on, lacing and unlacing her fingers in an agitation she could no longer
conceal. “I’ve seen him before, Jim. I saw him just before the season
opened.”

“Well, what about it?” asked Jim, interested, but not showing any
especial excitement. “It’s a coincidence, of course.”

“It’s a good deal more than a coincidence,” Clara declared impatiently.
“Wait till you hear what he said――――”

“Yes,” Jim prompted sharply, as she hesitated. “What did he say?”

“It was at the railroad station at Liberty――the second station from
Riverside, you know. I had gone over there to take some things to Aunt
Lydia――――”

“Yes, but what about McCarney?” It was Jim’s turn to be impatient.

“McCarney was there on the station platform,” Clara hurried on. “He was
talking to another man. I couldn’t see them at first――I was around a
corner of the station, but I could hear their voices.”

“Yes?” Jim said again, as once more Clara hesitated, her glance roving
uneasily about the almost-emptied grandstand as though she were afraid
of being overheard.

“They were talking in whispers,” she said then, leaning closer to Jim
while Mabel and Reggie also came a little nearer. “I didn’t hear what
they were saying till suddenly one of them, McCarney, it was, raised
his voice and said, quite distinctly, ‘We ought to be able to make
fifty thousand out of this, maybe more.’”

“Great Scott!” cried Jim, his startled glance fixing the girl’s. “Are
you sure it was McCarney who said that, Clara?”

“Yes,” said the latter, a little frightened at the effect of her
revelation. Jim looked suddenly fierce. “When he said that about the
fifty thousand dollars I was curious and strolled around the corner to
see who it was who expected to make a fortune so easily.”

“Who was the man with him?” Jim’s question came like a pistol shot.
“Did you get a good look at him, too?”

“Yes,” answered the girl. “He was a tall, thin man and something about
him made me think he was a ball player. Of course I was interested, but
that was all. I didn’t think of it again until I saw one of the men,
McCarney, on the field to-day.”

“Did you hear anything else?” asked Jim, alert.

Clara shook her head.

“When the two men saw me they strolled off to a more deserted part of
the station. They started talking in whispers again, but of course I
didn’t follow them. At the time I didn’t see any reason why I should.
Only, I had a feeling that neither of the men was straight.”

“Um-m,” said Jim grimly. His forehead was wrinkled and his fingers
beat a nervous tattoo on the arm of the seat. “You didn’t happen to
recognize the other fellow――the one McCarney was talking to――on the
field to-day, did you?”

Clara shook her head. She looked worried.

“No, I looked for him after I recognized the other man,” she said. “But
I’m sure he wasn’t on the field to-day.”

“Do you think,” asked Jim, in the same grim tone, “that you could
recognize this fellow if I were to show you his picture?”

“Yes, I’m sure of that,” answered Clara quickly. “I was so curious
because of what McCarney had said, that I took a good look at both of
them. And I’m sure I could easily recognize the other man if I should
see him or a picture of him. He was the kind of person,” she added,
thoughtfully, “that one doesn’t very easily forget.”

“What do you think of it, old chappie?” asked Reggie. His monocle had
fallen from his eye and, in his agitation, he had not even bothered to
replace it. “Looks rather like some sort of plot, what? A conspiracy,
you might say.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” answered Jim thoughtfully. Then, seeing
how agitated the girls were growing, he decided to make as light of the
matter as was possible.

“Sounds rather mysterious,” he said, with a reassuring smile; “but the
sound is probably the only mysterious thing about it. These things
often clear up of themselves and you wonder afterward why you were such
a fool as to wonder about them. However, I’ll keep my eyes and ears
open, and if McCarney and his tall friend are cooking up anything, I’ll
soon find it out.”

“I wonder where Joe is?” said Mabel plaintively. “It isn’t like him to
stay away so long.”

“I’ll go and look him up,” Jim volunteered, unwinding his great length
from the seat. “I’ll make Robbie and McRae loosen their grip on him.”

As Jim started across the field the girls looked after his tall figure
thoughtfully.

“I hope,” said Mabel, putting back a lock of hair that the wind had
whipped about her face, “that this doesn’t mean more trouble for the
boys. Perhaps it’s foolish of me, but I’m always just a wee bit worried
about them. And now this McCarney――――”

“Stop your crabbin’,” said Reggie, laying an affectionate hand over
his sister’s little one. “I’m not particularly impressed with this
McCarney chap myself, but from personal observation I have learned
that both Joe and Jim can jolly well take care of themselves. Bah Jove,
it would take a pretty keen chap to put one over on them! It jolly well
can’t be done, you know!”

Meanwhile Jim, not completely sharing Reggie’s optimism, reached the
clubhouse just as Joe emerged from it.

“Hello!” said the latter, his eyes brightening at sight of Jim.
“Thought I’d never be able to give McRae and Robbie the slip? Did the
girls get tired of waiting?”

“Mabel sent me in search of you,” answered Jim, with a grin, then, his
face sobering, he swiftly told Joe the main facts about McCarney and
his mention of the fifty thousand dollar clean-up.

“What do you think of it?” he asked.

“Great Scott!” said Joe, raising a hand to his troubled forehead. “I
don’t know yet. Give me a chance to think!”



CHAPTER IX

THE TELLTALE PHOTOGRAPH


“Clara’s sure the fellow was really McCarney, is she?” Joe asked, as
they hurried across the field toward the grandstand. “She may have made
a mistake in that. A great many fellows look like McCarney, you know.
He isn’t an unusual type.”

“Ask her and see,” returned Jim. “She can answer for herself.”

Clara seemed quite willing to answer for herself. In reply to Joe’s
sober questions she told him just what she had already told the others.
When she came to the part about the tall, thin man who was with
McCarney, Joe and Jim exchanged significant glances.

Mabel caught the interchange and put a beseeching hand on Joe’s arm.

“Joe,” she said, “if you are going to be in danger again――――” but Joe
interrupted with his flashing smile.

“Don’t go to worrying, honey,” he said reassuringly. “Clara’s story
sounds a little queer, but there’s not a thing in the world to worry
about. Let’s get on back to the hotel where we can finish our little
powwow in quiet.”

On the way home the chums tried to keep the conversation on a lighter
plane, but they were, nevertheless, deeply troubled.

Clara seemed strangely sure that the man she had seen on the station
platform at Liberty had been none other than the Giants’ third baseman.
Granted that she was not mistaken in this, then who was his companion?

Lemblow, perhaps. The imaginations of Joe and Jim traveled even
further, connecting McCarney’s companion with the strange man who had
hurried from the half-completed building the day the lumber had fallen
from the scaffold.

When they reached the hotel, the same at which Joe and Jim had been
staying and where the girls were to stay as long as they were in the
city, Joe was all for making plans as to how they should spend their
first evening together.

But it did not take them long to discover that the girls were not
yet in a party mood. They made it quite clear that they wanted this
“mystery business” cleared up first. Clara, especially, seemed fidgety
and nervous, and she had hardly taken off her wraps before she turned
to Joe.

“Joe, dear,” she said, “Jim says you have pictures of every ball player
and near ball player in the world.”

“Not quite,” said Joe modestly. “But, at that, I’ve got quite a scrap
book. What do you want of my rogues’ gallery?”

He knew quite well what she wanted of it, but he had made up his mind,
for the sake of the girls, to treat the whole matter as lightly as
possible.

“I want to see every last picture you have,” said Clara, with pretty
impetuousness. “I want to see if I can’t find some one.”

“Look out, Jim,” said Joe, with a heavy frown. “You have a rival!”

“Oh, dear!” groaned Jim, and Clara heartlessly made a face at him.

“How do you know he has only one?” she asked, evidently referring to
“rivals,” and poor Jim groaned again.

While Joe went off for his “rogues’ gallery,” Reggie stood by the
mantel, idly twirling his monocle, a thoughtful look in his eyes.
However, when he found Mabel’s gaze upon him he smiled brightly and
came over to sit beside her.

“You know, I really should be going,” he said. “But, you know, I have
the oddest desire to see this ‘rogues’ gallery’ for myself. I shouldn’t
linger for a bally second longer, I shouldn’t really. There’s a fellow
I must look up for the gov’nor without delay. I know jolly well I
should be upon my way.”

“Listen here, old boy,” said Joe, returning at that moment with a huge
album which looked as if it might in all truth contain the picture of
every ball player on the globe. “Whether you know it or not, you’re
going to attend to no business to-night. You’re going to help paint
this little town red along with the rest of our merry party. Don’t let
’em tell you different.”

“But I say, old chap, business is business, you know,” protested
Reggie, but this time it was Jim who put down the protest.

“Business!” he snorted. “And you can talk about business on your first
night in the greatest little town in the world? Stow it, Reggie, before
we make you!”

“But, you know”――it came feebly, but it was still a protest――“I’m
afraid I’ll be intruding, you know――the fly in the ointment――the odd
member――all that sort of thing.”

“Oh, Reggie, you ridiculous old dear,” cried Mabel, flinging an arm
about his neck and effectually choking off the last part of his
sentence. “Don’t be so absurd, honey. Don’t you know we couldn’t have
any fun at all without you?”

If Joe thought this was stretching the truth a bit, he did not say
anything. It made Reggie happy, and of course it was fine to have the
fellow along. However, he would not have been quite human if he had not
wanted Mabel all to himself.

As for Reggie, he was fairly beaming with pleasure.

“I didn’t know you felt quite so strongly!” he cried. “Bah Jove I
didn’t, you know.”

“But now you do, and so it’s all settled,” broke in Clara, giving him
an affectionate hug in her turn which brought a laughing remonstrance
from Jim.

“Look here!” he said. “Seems to me Reggie’s getting altogether too
popular around here. If you’re passing that sort of thing around, why
neglect me?”

“I shan’t,” said Clara so softly that nobody heard but Jim, and before
he could do anything about it she had turned swiftly and was holding
out her hand for Joe’s album. “Let me have it, Joe,” she said. She was
adorably flushed and no one――except Jim――understood the reason why.

The two girls enthroned themselves on the couch with the album between
them while the boys grouped themselves back of it. Over Mabel’s
shoulder Joe turned the pages, pointing out the different players as he
did so with a word of explanation for each.

“But I want to see the Giant players, Joe,” said Clara.

“You won’t find Lemblow on the Giants,” said Joe, and instantly could
have bitten his tongue out for the slip. Both girls glanced up at him
quickly.

“Lemblow?” repeated Mabel breathlessly. “Then you know――you suspect――――”

“I don’t know anything,” retorted Joe, almost brusquely, then added,
with an immediate softening of his tone: “I didn’t mean to speak that
way, dear, but I want to get this thing over with. Guess I’m hungry,”
he ended, with a laugh.

“Feed the brute,” added Jim. “I’m just about starved myself.”

But the girls were not to be put off. They deluged them with questions
as to who Lemblow was until in desperation the boys carried the attack
into the enemy’s camp.

“See here!” said Joe. “We refuse to answer any more questions. If we
didn’t, you’d be sitting with that fool album in your laps for the
rest of the night. Altogether, boys: ‘We want dinner!’ Again: ‘We want
dinner!’”

The three gave the cry with a gusto that made the girls laugh in spite
of themselves.

“Oh, well, if you want to be so mean!” said Clara, and again turned her
attention to the album. Almost immediately she cried out, touching one
of the pictures with her finger.

“Look,” she said. “Here’s the one I’ve been looking for all the time!”

“Which one?” asked Jim, as the boys leaned forward to get a better look.

“The man who was talking to McCarney on the station platform,”
explained Clara, so excited that she stammered. Mabel’s earnest eyes
were fixed upon her. “I’d know that face, anywhere. He’s horrid
looking, isn’t he? Like a snake or something scaly. Look at those lob
ears of his.”

She glanced up at the boys just in time to catch the look that flashed
between them.

“Then you do know him!” she exclaimed triumphantly. “Now maybe you’ll
tell me his name.”

“His name,” said Joe slowly, all fun temporarily gone from his eyes,
“is Lemblow.”

“And his reputation,” added Jim, with a faint grin, “is conspicuous by
its absence.”

“Oh, I knew it!” cried Clara, triumph giving place to real anxiety. “I
knew he was a wretch from the first. Oh, Jim, what does it mean?”

Jim looked at Joe and slowly shook his head.

“It’s hard to tell what it means,” he said gravely.

“I’ll jolly well say it is!” burst from Reggie, and at his vehemence
the monocle, as though shocked by such an improper display of feeling,
toppled from his eye. Reggie picked it up and nervously replaced it,
squinting his eye as he did so till he looked like a scheming old
magpie. “But one thing I do know, old chappie,” he added, more mildly,
“these two men are a menace to the Giant team. You might even go so far
as to say they are a menace to the Game itself――you really might, you
know!”

“Reggie, old chap,” said Joe dryly, “I could see that myself, without
the aid of a monocle.”

“But what do you think it means?” asked Mabel, her pretty forehead
puckered in a troubled frown. “How could anybody make fifty thousand
dollars out of baseball all at once?”

“They couldn’t, if they made it straight,” returned Joe. “Of course
there are various ways known to crooks by which a nifty little fortune
may be made――――”

“Such as throwing games and all that sort of thing?” queried Reggie.

Joe nodded.

“There are plenty of other ways too, I reckon, once you get wise
to them,” he said. “The worst of it is,” he added, with a sudden
clenching of his hands and a fierce look in his eyes, “that rascals
like this Lemblow and McCarney not only plot against a special team
or a certain group of men, but go further than that, as you yourself
said, Reggie, and attempt to put a stain on the name of all baseball.
The scoundrels!” he added, throwing back his head with a fierce gesture
that made Mabel proud of him, even while she was half afraid. “Whatever
rotten thing they’re working up, they’ll find they have me to reckon
with.”

“Me too, Joe,” said Jim grimly. “Don’t forget me.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The happy week that the boys spent with the girls flew by as
though on wings. Every moment they could spare from the duties of
their profession was spent in visiting with them the sights of the
metropolis, and they did things in royal style. In the afternoons the
girls were in a box at the Polo Grounds, and their hearts swelled with
pride as they saw the splendid work of Joe and Jim and realized how
high they stood in the affections of the followers of the game.

But at last the time of parting came, and they faced it with sinking
hearts but with brave smiles that showed what sports they were.

“And remember, Joe,” were Mabel’s last words to Joe, as she leaned from
the window of the train, “to keep on your guard against those wicked
men.”

“Don’t worry, honey,” replied Joe. “I still wear your glove against my
heart. That’s my mascot.”



CHAPTER X

WONDERFUL WORK


The Western clubs had come and gone and now the Giants were engaged in
a short series with the rest of the Eastern teams before themselves
starting on an invasion of the West.

The Western clubs were decidedly the stronger half of the National
League, and it was practically certain that one or the other of these
would be the one that the Giants would have to beat if they again won
the pennant.

And there was not one of them that did not have a “look in” for the
flag. St. Louis, as has been said, was especially strong with the bat,
and her sluggers were feared by every pitcher in the league. She had a
strong pitching staff, too, none of them bright particular stars with
the exception of Leadows, but well up to major-league standards.

Pittsburgh, too, was a team to be treated with respect. The boys from
the Smoky City had been the runners-up in the previous season and
during the winter they had secured some very promising material from
the minor leagues. Their infield was a stone wall, and very little got
by it. Their outfielders were batting well over the .300 mark, and one
of them, Morey, the fleet-footed center fielder, was the leading base
stealer of the league.

Cincinnati had been going strong since Hughson had taken the reins of
management and was maintaining a respectable standing compared with
what it had held at the close of the last season. There were some
disorganizing elements in the team, however, that would have to be
rooted out before the nine could be recognized as a serious contender.
Hughson had already spotted these and was casting about for available
talent to take the place of those he intended to oust, but this
promised to take some time.

Chicago was really the club that the Giants were watching most
carefully. Their pitching staff had been greatly strengthened and they
were well provided for in every department of the game. They had got
off on the wrong foot at the beginning of the season, but were now
climbing steadily, and the way the Cubs had clawed their way through
the Giant defense in the series lately concluded showed that they had
to be reckoned with seriously.

If the pennant were to stay in the East at all that season, the Giants
must be depended on for the victory. Brooklyn had flashes of form in
which they were simply unbeatable, especially when their opponents
happened to be the Giants, against whom they always put forth their
best efforts. But the very day after they had decorated their opponents
with a row of goose eggs they were as likely as not to play like a
lot of “bushers.” It seemed impossible for them to maintain a winning
streak, and it was this in and out playing that militated against their
chances for the flag.

Boston had a good team, and when that was said it about “let them out.”
It was not a great team, although there were two or three real stars on
it that helped keep them in the running. At the present time they were
sixth in the race, with very little chance of climbing much higher.

The Phillies were going none too well, although better than the year
before. Their outfield was as good as any in the league, and some
weak spots in the pitching department had been strengthened by the
substitution of new blood. Two or three of their rookies seemed to have
in them the making of stars. With a stronger infield they might well
be pennant contenders. But even as it was, they were always dangerous,
and could stage a rally at the most unexpected moment. Any club that
counted on them as “easy” was likely to have a rude awakening.

But all clubs looked alike to Joe, who this season was showing the best
form of his life. Never had he whipped the ball over the plate with
more terrific speed. Many times the ball was in Mylert’s glove while
the batsman was making a vain swing for it. The “hop” ball that he
was making a specialty of this season had an uncanny jump just before
it reached the plate that completely fooled the opposing batters.
His fadeaway, too, had all the deceptive qualities that had made it
a terror, and his other curves and slants were working with magical
efficiency.

Many elements combined to make him by far the finest pitcher in either
league. One was the fact that he kept himself in perfect condition.
He had no bad habits to sap his strength, no surreptitious drinking,
no “jazzing it up” at all night dancing and card parties, such as too
often have proved the ruin of promising players. He started every day
with a clear head, a rested body, and with strength and vigor pulsing
through his veins.

Moreover, he had gained the knowledge and experience that gave him
confidence when he faced the batters. He knew the strength and weakness
of every player in the league, what kind of balls they liked, what kind
they found hard to hit, and he served them up to them accordingly. And
his control was so perfect that he could split the plate or cut the
corners at will.

With many clubs it is the custom of the catcher to signal the pitcher
just what kind of ball to throw next. It was a tribute to Joe that
Mylert had long since given this up, as he had learned to trust Joe’s
judgment rather than his own.

But apart from his natural pitching ability, there was a special reason
for the wonderful record that Joe was making this season. The very fact
that he felt himself the object of a conspiracy to discredit him roused
all the resistance in his nature and made him determine that he would
not be discredited. Every time he went into the box he put all that he
had on the ball, and pitched as though that special game was one of the
World Series. Of course he lost games once in a while, but they were so
infrequent as to provoke surprise when it happened.

McRae was delighted, and yet at the same time a little anxious for fear
Joe would break down under the tremendous strain.

“You’re doing wonderful work, boy,” he said one day in Philadelphia,
when Joe had pitched a superb game, shutting out the Quaker City boys
and allowing them only two hits, one of them a scratch. “But you want
to be careful not to throw your arm out. If anything happened to that
arm of yours, our chances for the pennant would glimmer away.”

“Nothing to worry about, Mac,” laughed Joe. “It feels as fine as silk.
If I had nothing more than that to worry over I’d be happy.”

The last words had slipped from him before he thought, and the alert
manager pounced upon them like a hawk.

“What do you mean by that?” he asked, in some alarm. “What’s troubling
you? Anything happened at home?”

“Nothing like that,” answered Joe. “I couldn’t possibly be happier than
I am in my home life.”

“Then what is the matter?” persisted McRae. “You’ve as much as admitted
that there is something. Come, out with it! Maybe I can help you in
some way.”

Joe reflected for a moment. He had said too much not to say more. He
liked McRae, not only as a manager but as a man, and he had confidence
in his discretion. Besides, it was something that in a certain sense
McRae had a right to know. But he resolved not to mention names as yet.

“I’ll tell you, Mac,” he said slowly. “I know you’ll keep it under your
hat――for the present, anyway.”



CHAPTER XI

ON THE TRAIL


“You know, Mac, that I’m not easily fussed,” Joe went on, while the
manager listened with strained attention. “I’ve been up against a lot
of things since I’ve been in baseball, but so far have always managed
to come out ahead.”

“I know,” put in McRae. “They say that death loves a shining mark, and
I’ve noticed that crooks do too. Once let a man come into the limelight
as you have, and there’s always a bunch of rascals that begin figuring
how they can make something out of him. I know how they’ve tried to
dope you, cripple you, and even worse. For the love of Pete, don’t tell
me they’ve been at it again.”

“That’s just what has happened,” replied Joe, and then he went on to
tell of the building material that had been pushed off the scaffold and
from which he had so narrowly escaped with his life.

“The scoundrels!” exclaimed McRae, worked up to a white heat. “If I
could only get my hands on one of them there’d be one less rascal out
of prison. Have you any idea who it is that’s trying to put it over on
you? Give me a hint, and I’ll get the police after them in a hurry.”

“That’s just what we’d better be careful about doing, don’t you think?”
suggested Joe. “You know that baseball is on trial now with the public,
and if anything of this kind should come out it might queer the game
beyond recovery. It was a case of touch and go after that White Sox
scandal broke, and anything else just now might prove the straw too
much.”

McRae pondered for a moment, wrinkling his brows.

“I suppose you’re right,” he agreed reluctantly. “But does that mean
that we’re going to lie down and let those rascals carry out their
plans?”

“Not by a jugful!” answered Joe. “We’re going to have those fellows
tripped and hog-tied before they know where they’re at. But we’re going
to do it so quietly that the outside world won’t get on to it. Trust
me, Mac, to handle this matter myself.”

“There’s no one that could do it better; I’m sure of that,” admitted
the manager. “But you haven’t answered my question yet. Have you any
idea who’s doing this?”

“I have an idea,” affirmed Joe. “But I don’t want to do any one an
injustice, and I’m not going to mention names until I’m sure I have the
goods on them. Just leave them to my tender mercies, Mac, and trust
in my lucky star. You know I’m lucky,” he added, with a grin, “or I
wouldn’t be alive and whole to-day.”

“It isn’t luck. It’s brains and pluck,” corrected the manager. “You
weren’t behind the door when those things were handed out. I’ll leave
it to you, then, Joe. But, for the love of goodness, be careful. You
bet I’ll keep my own eyes peeled, too, from now on.”

Robson and some of the other players came along just then and the
conversation turned into other channels. But several times on the train
ride back to New York Joe caught McRae’s eyes turned on him with a
worried expression, and he knew what his manager was thinking about.

The next morning Joe was on his way downtown on a business errand when
he saw McCarney and Hupft get on the platform of a subway train as it
stopped at a station. For a moment they seemed about to enter the car
in which he was sitting, but they changed their minds and went into the
car ahead.

Joe was quite sure they had not seen him, and it occurred to him that
here was an opportunity to follow his renegade team mates and perhaps
discover something of the plot in which they were engaged.

He kept a sharp eye on them, moving up to the front of his own car to
note their movements better, and when he saw them rise as the train was
slowing up at a station he followed suit, taking care to keep in the
rear of the mass of passengers as they hurried out.

The two plotters turned westward and pursued their way, talking
earnestly, toward a disreputable section of the city near the river
front. At the door of a saloon they halted and looked around. Joe had
slipped behind an elevated road pillar and they did not see him.

Apparently satisfied that they were not observed they went into the
saloon.

Joe sauntered along slowly and reached a point abreast of the saloon
just as a rough looking character pushed open the swinging doors. As
they swung back Joe got a glimpse of the interior. There were two or
three men lounging in front of the bar, but McCarney and Hupft were not
in sight.

Joe had seen also that there was a row of stalls along a balcony at the
side of the saloon with dingy curtains over them to insure a certain
amount of privacy. He conjectured that the men he had been following
were probably in one of these. His resolution was taken on the instant.

He entered the place, which in addition to being a saloon was also
run as a cheap hotel and restaurant, and went up to the bar. There he
bought a cigar. While he lighted it, which he did deliberately, he
noted from the sound of voices that one of the stalls was occupied.
He ordered a meal to be brought to him and went up the stairs to the
balcony and into the adjoining stall.

There was a murmur of conversation from the stall next to him,
and although the voices were pitched low he had no difficulty in
identifying them as those of Hupft and McCarney. Hupft seemed to be in
a despondent mood, and McCarney was evidently trying to brace him up.

“I tell you, it’s no use,” Joe heard Hupft say. “That fellow has the
Indian sign on us. No matter how we try to down him, he wins.”

“He’ll break down soon,” McCarney said confidently. “His luck can’t
last forever. You can see he’s throwing his arm out. The harder we make
it for him to win games the sooner he’ll have to quit. And think of the
melon we’ll split between us when he does.”

“We’ll have to floor him before he quits,” muttered Hupft. “And that’s
no easy job either. The fellow has as many lives as a cat. Lemblow
thought he had him dead to rights in that timber tumble, but he got
away with scarcely a scratch.”

Joe was listening with all his ears when the curtain was pushed aside
and a waiter entered with a tray. He set it down on the table and as he
glanced at Joe let out an exclamation.

“Ain’t you Baseball Joe?” he asked. “Sure you are! I’ve seen your
picture many a time!”

Joe motioned him to be silent, but it was too late. There were muttered
exclamations and the scraping of chairs in the adjoining stall, and the
next moment Hupft and McCarney were blocking the door.

“So you were spying on us, were you?” snarled Reddy, whose flushed face
showed he had been drinking.

He lunged forward as he spoke, while McCarney also rushed at Joe.

The latter’s right fist shot out and caught Hupft a terrific blow
straight between the eyes, sending him staggering back against the
partition. The next moment Joe’s left had landed on McCarney’s jaw.

They were back at him a moment later, and they went at it hammer and
tongs. Joe could have handled either one of them easily, but the two
made a formidable combination. Still he was getting the better of it
when his foot slipped in the débris of the meal that had been dashed to
the floor and he went down heavily, striking the back of his head. He
was stunned, and the next instant McCarney and Hupft were both on top
of him.



CHAPTER XII

THE POLICE RAID


What might have happened to Joe at that critical minute is a matter for
conjecture had not fate――or the police――decided to take a hand in the
matter.

Lying there half unconscious, his hands pinioned by McCarney, Reddy’s
bulk on his chest and Reddy’s liquor-laden breath in his face, Joe did
not at first understand the cause of the sudden noise and confusion
below stairs.

All he knew was that his head hurt him unbearably and that in his heart
was a rage that dulled even the pain in his head. Then gradually he
realized that the situation was changed.

The sound of running feet, the sound of raised voices, some bullying,
some fearful, became louder and louder until they penetrated even
Joe’s fading consciousness. He was aware that McCarney had left off
brandishing his fist in his face and that Reddy had suddenly removed
his weight from off his chest.

He stopped not to argue about the cause of this good fortune but
weakly and dizzily raised himself to his knees. When he had, by dint of
all the will power he possessed plus a grip on the rickety table beside
him, managed to raise himself to his feet, he found that Reddy and
McCarney had miraculously disappeared.

He looked toward the window and found that it was open. He pressed his
hand to his aching forehead impatiently and fought to be able to think
clearly.

Then he caught a phrase from among the shouts and cries that filled the
rooms beneath him, and that phrase roused him immediately to the need
for action.

“Get the whisky, boys!” a husky voice ordered. “We’ve got the men――now
what we need is evidence. We’ll wipe this joint off the map!”

“A raid! A prohibition-agents’ raid!” thought Joe, his brain now
functioning quickly enough. That was the reason Reddy and McCarney had
left him so suddenly just when they had him where they wanted him.
Well, it was up to him to leave suddenly, too. If he were caught here!

Swift feet were running up the stairs. No possibility of escape in that
direction. The back stairs? No, that was hopeless too. To reach the
back stairs he must first enter the corridor, and to do that would be
to invite disaster. The window! That was his only chance. In a moment
more police would be entering the room. How could he explain?

He rushed to the window, taking a quick survey. He had but a minute
to think. Eagerly he looked out, but only a blank brick wall met his
anxious gaze. No window underneath this one, no shed to break his fall.

He must take his chance, anyway. It was his only chance. Voices were
even then on the balcony. Quick as a cat, he lifted himself over the
sill, lowering his length along the side of the blank brick wall until
he was hanging by his hands, only the tips of his fingers showing over
the window sill.

Allowing himself no time to think, he dropped, at the same time
flinging his body outward so that it might not strike against the wall.

The ground seemed to come up to meet him and he landed with a jar that
seemed to shake loose every tooth in his head. Lucky for him that the
patch of ground beside the disreputable little hotel had never been
filled in with cement. It was hard enough and lumpy enough, but it was
not as hard as cement.

Satisfied that no bones were broken and that his legs were still in
good working order, Joe wasted no time before making use of them.

Luckily there were no policemen guarding that side of the hotel. There
were few windows, and those high, and no doors and evidently the
prohibition agents had discounted the possibility of any one escaping
from that quarter. Also they had come after “evidence” more than
prisoners, a fact which also worked in Joe’s favor.

After skirting the rear of the building next to the hotel, Joe,
straightening his clothing as well as he could, ventured out on the
sidewalk. It was at that moment that he realized he had left his hat
inside.

Probably no one, except the poor wretch who is unfortunate enough to
have been in a similar predicament at one time or another, can possibly
imagine what Joe felt at that moment. Also he had never before realized
what an important part of a man’s attire a hat really is.

“You sort of get to take your head gear for granted, I guess,” he mused
unhappily, as he walked along as nonchalantly as he could, trying to
look as if it were his regular custom to appear hatless in the street.

But in spite of his valiant attempt to seem unconcerned he soon
realized that, even in that rather disreputable quarter of the town, he
was attracting unwelcome attention.

“Maybe I’ve got a black eye or a cut lip,” he mused miserably as he
hurried along, trying not to notice the stares that followed him and
the occasional laugh and gibe of some humorously inclined passer-by.
“Shouldn’t wonder if I were a fit candidate for a circus side show.
Some mess that was to get mixed up in!”

But when an impertinent “newsie,” grinning from ear to ear, held out
a disreputable and tattered cap for his inspection, inviting him
gleefully to “help yourself――it ain’t much, but it’s the best I got,
Mister,” Joe lost what little aplomb he had left.

A passing taxicab caught his eye and he made a running jump for it, saw
that it was empty, opened the door and got in before the surprised and
outraged driver could do more than open his mouth and shut it again.

A minute later the car slowed down and the chauffeur glared in at the
occupant of his cab.

“Say, what d’you think you’re doin’?” he growled, but he got no
further. All the pent-up irritation and wrath that had been simmering
in Joe for the past hour was poured forth on that unfortunate
chauffeur’s head.

This had the effect of ending the discussion right there as far as the
chauffeur was concerned. Having firmly come to the conclusion in his
own mind that a lunatic had taken possession of his cab he decided to
take his passenger to his destination and there to drop him at the
first possible minute.

So it happened that a short time later, having paid the taxicab
driver, Joe entered the rear of his hotel and made a break for the
stairs.

He was not going to trust himself even to the mercies of the elevator
boy, who knew and revered him as an idol. As a matter of fact, Joe was
not particularly eager to meet anybody until he had had a chance to
look at himself in the mirror and discover to what extent――if any――his
features had been damaged. Also, he wanted a hat! Oh, he very badly
wanted a hat!

In the corridor Baseball Joe met Jim, evidently sallying forth to
practice, and the latter stood and stared――at least, that is what he
would have done had the exasperated Joe given him a chance.

In another moment they were both within Joe’s room with the door closed
against unwelcome intrusion.

“Now out with it!” Joe said. “Do your worst. Am I a total wreck?”

“I think you’re a total loss as far as appearances are concerned,” Jim
retorted. “Where’s your hat?”

Joe groaned and made a rush for the bathroom beyond. There he could
examine his countenance for himself. To his intense relief he found
that Reddy and McCarney had left no signs of their attack other than a
rather large bump on the back of the head.

He was fingering this gingerly when Jim entered the room. In the
mirror Joe caught sight of the worried expression his chum wore and
grinned broadly. He was beginning at last to see the funny side of his
adventure.

“I say, Joe,” Jim said, not returning his chum’s grin, “what’s up,
anyway? You’ve run into something. Stop grinning and give me the story.”

“If you’ll wait till I get a bath and jump into some clean things, I’ll
tell you the fool I made of myself――and more besides,” answered Joe,
with a longing glance at the tub.

So, after he had splashed around in hot water that took the ache out
of his bones and then splashed his face with cold water that assuaged
the ache in his head, Joe told Jim the startling events that had taken
place since his determination to follow Hupft and McCarney and find out
what they were up to.

“Whew!” whistled Jim, as, a few minutes later, he watched Joe put
on a clean collar. “You certainly did stage some little show all by
yourself, didn’t you? Pity you couldn’t let a fellow in on it.”

“You ought to be glad I didn’t,” retorted Joe. “It was no nice party,
I’m telling you.”

“But, say!” Jim went on excitedly. “This thing about Reddy and McCarney
being in cahoots, joining hands in the great conspiracy stuff――what are
you going to do about that?”

“What is there to do about it?” asked Joe, with a shrug of his
shoulders as he turned from the mirror and caught up a hat. “We don’t
really know any more than we did before, only that our suspicions have
been to some extent verified. If that fool waiter hadn’t come around
just as he did I might have listened to some purpose. I haven’t learned
yet what ring is backing them up. We’d better be on our way,” he added.
“We’ll be late for practice as it is. Plenty of time to finish our talk
on the way down.”

“I can’t get this thing straight in my mind yet,” Jim complained, as
they hurried along toward the field. “It begins to look as if McRae
were right――as if this gang of crooks were really out for blood. But,
Joe, I’m glad the cops chose that time to raid the hotel.”

“What’s the idea?” asked Joe, as he skillfully wriggled and darted
through the traffic. “I don’t get you.”

“You poor old simpleton!” retorted Jim affectionately. “Do you know
where you would be now if that raid hadn’t scared off McCarney and
Hupft?”

“I don’t know,” returned Joe, with a grin. “But I have a strong
suspicion it would be somewhere far away from here.”

“Just so,” returned Jim, adding with more than a little anxiety in his
tone: “You’ve got to stop jumping in where angels fear to tread. Or,
if you must do it, at least seek company in your jumpings. You’ve more
than yourself to think of, you know. There’s Mabel.”

“I know,” said Joe steadily. “Don’t suppose I’m not always thinking of
her, old man. But I’ve got my duty to the league and the great game
too. Not even Mabel would want me to forget that.”

“Just the same,” retorted Jim stubbornly, “it won’t help the game any
if you get injured!”



CHAPTER XIII

KEEPING IT CLOSE


“What are you going to do about telling McRae and Robbie?” queried Jim,
as the two players neared the baseball park. “Don’t you suppose they
ought to know?”

“I’ve thought about that,” said Joe. “But I haven’t found out very
much――――”

“Except that two of the Giants’ players frequent disreputable hotels
and partake of contraband liquor while they hatch up their evil
schemes,” Jim reminded him dryly. “That information ought to go a long
way toward discrediting McCarney and Reddy Hupft for life.”

“But it wouldn’t stop their plotting,” Joe retorted. “They’d go on
hatching their rotten schemes just the same, only in such a way that
we’d have hard work bringing the guilt home to them. No, I’d rather
have them where I can watch them until some time when I have the chance
to get the real goods on them.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” said Jim doubtfully, adding suddenly: “How do
you know they didn’t get pinched in the raid?”

“I don’t,” answered Joe. “Only they beat it at the first sign of
trouble and probably had a chance to get away. It would be some joke,”
he added, as they walked together toward the entrance of the field, “if
they had been caught.”

“Some joke on them――but one also on the team,” added Jim.

“Yes, there it is again. You can’t punish one member of a nine without
reflecting more or less on the whole team.” Joe stopped short and
stared out to the field where several of the players were already in
practice. “Say, Jim, do you see what I see, or am I dreaming again?”

“It’s Reddy and his pal McCarney all right,” said Jim grimly. “They
gave the police the slip that time, and I suppose they’ll do it many
times more before they’re caught.”

“But when they’re caught, oh, boy!” said Joe, with relish.

They were still standing, staring out toward the diamond, when Robbie
hurried up to them.

“What do you boys think this is, a star-gazing contest?” he demanded.

“You’ve got your time wrong, Robbie,” said Joe, grinning. “There are no
stars.”

“You bet there ain’t!” retorted Robbie, with heavy sarcasm. “Not on
this team, anyway!”

The boys chuckled and, still chuckling, entered the clubhouse.

“Well, if Robbie hasn’t any stars on the team he certainly has a couple
of crooks,” commented Jim.

“Wonder how long it will be before he tumbles to it,” conjectured Joe.

“What do you suppose those two will do, Hupft and McCarney, I mean, when
they see you back safe and sound and in your normal state?” asked Jim,
in a carefully lowered voice.

“That’s what I intend to find out,” said Joe, with a chuckle of
amusement. “I bet they’ll be surprised to see me.”

Jim stared at him for a minute, then chuckled in his turn.

“Never thought of that,” he said. “I suppose they’ve had it all fixed
up in their own minds that you were caught in the raid.”

Joe nodded.

“And it’s just due to the barest chance in the world,” he added
seriously, “that I wasn’t.”

Jim considered this new angle of the case for a moment.

“Just what would you have done, Joe, if the police had found you in
that place?” he asked.

“I’d have told them the truth, of course. What else could I have done?”

“Do you think they would have believed you?” asked Jim.

Joe shrugged his shoulders.

“No telling,” he answered. “I had no proof, you know. No witnesses,
only my word. They would have let me off, probably, but it would have
made an ugly story――something for Hupft and McCarney to chuckle over.
No, sir, it’s lucky for me I found a means of exit.”

“Even if you did nearly break your neck,” added Jim.

“You notice I didn’t,” laughed Joe.

As the two were leaving the clubhouse Joe grasped his friend’s arm and
reiterated what he had said more than once:

“Not a word of this to Mabel, you know, old man, or Clara either. It
would only worry them, and they’ve had enough to worry over since Clara
overheard McCarney and Lemblow in their scheming. Not a word!”

“Not a word!” returned Jim emphatically.

As the chums approached the diamond they looked at Hupft and McCarney,
who were tossing the ball to each other――looked at them with a more
than ordinary degree of interest.

Aside from the suspicion of a black rim around Reddy’s left eye and a
slight swelling of McCarney’s naturally thick and heavy upper lip, no
sign could be seen of the hearty fight in which they two and Joe had
participated.

“That’s tough luck,” Joe murmured, in a crestfallen aside to Jim. “I
surely thought I landed at least a couple of good rights. It seems as
though, someway or other, I’d missed doing my duty.”

“At that, they got more out of it than you did,” returned Jim, in the
same modulated voice. “Your face has the smoothness of a babe, as it
were.”

“Yes, but you ought to feel the back of my head,” said Joe ruefully.
“I’ve got a bump there the size of a hen’s egg.”

“That’s probably where you hit the floor,” said Jim, and then it was
necessary to discontinue the _sub rosa_ conversation, as they had come
within earshot of the two players.

If Joe was curious as to just the manner in which his erstwhile
assailants meant to greet him, he was not long kept in doubt.

As his glance crossed that of Reddy Hupft the latter merely scowled
faintly and looked away, shouting something to Larry, who had just come
up.

“Snubbed, by Jiminy!” murmured Joe, and Jim replied with a grin as he
turned and loped off toward the pitcher’s box.

Later, when Joe and McCarney came face to face, the experience was
repeated, only that there was a little more ferocity in the latter’s
stony glance.

“That fellow McCarney surely does hate me like poison,” Joe communed,
as he played with the ball in practice, sending little teasers over the
plate that kept the unfortunate batters in a state somewhere between
apoplexy and nervous prostration. “I’d like to meet him again some time
when the odds aren’t two to one.”

It was hard for him to make up his mind in the hour or two that
followed whether to tell McRae of his experience or whether to let the
matter go by, for the time at least.

One minute he was not sure but what it was McRae’s right to know the
story and the next moment he was telling himself that, since he had
really learned nothing from the overheard conversation between McCarney
and Hupft, there was no vital reason why he should say anything about
it.

He was in the latter frame of mind when, after practice, McRae led him
to a secluded corner of the field. The manager looked about him to make
sure that no one was within earshot, and then turned to Joe, saying
abruptly:

“See here, Joe, I’m worried. There’s something wrong with this
team――all-fired wrong. And that something is Reddy Hupft and McCarney.
They’re not working right. They’re going stale and they’re having an
effect on the rest of the team. Did you notice them to-day?”

“What about them?” Joe asked evasively.

“They’ve been drinking,” said McRae, pounding a big fist in the palm of
his hand by way of emphasis. “I talked to Reddy, and his breath nearly
knocked me over. And when a ball player begins to drink, you know as
well as I do that that’s the end of him. I tell you, something’s got to
be done or we’ll be getting new men for third base and center-field.”

For several minutes longer the manager aired his grievances with Joe as
a sympathetic and equally worried listener and several times it was on
the point of Joe’s tongue to tell McRae what had happened that day. But
always something held him back.

“Wait,” said a voice within his brain. “Wait till you have some real
evidence. Then you can not only talk, but act!”



CHAPTER XIV

A NO-HIT GAME


The time had now come for the Giants’ invasion of the West, and they
started out in fine fettle, although they knew they had hard work ahead
of them.

This year there was to be no runaway race for the pennant. All the
Western teams were up on their toes to bring the flag to their own
section. Since Joe had come to the Giants that team had won the
championship for several years in succession, and from the Western
point of view that would never do. Each team, of course, wanted it for
themselves, but at any rate if they could not win it they wanted it to
go to some other Western team. So the slogan was: “Anything to beat the
Giants.”

Their best pitchers were carefully groomed and kept in reserve for the
games with the conquering New Yorkers, while the other pitchers did
the bulk of the twirling in the less important games. In each series
of four games the various managers maneuvered so that their king-pin
pitcher worked in the first and fourth games, so that they could hurl
their pitching star twice at least against the invaders. This was
perfectly legitimate from the standpoint of shrewd management, but it
can easily be seen that it made the Giants’ task a good deal harder
than that of any other club.

But the Giants were a fighting club, made up for the most part of
veterans of many a hard-fought campaign, and the stiffer the opposition
the more their battling spirit rose to meet it. The very bitterness
of the opposition was a compliment in itself, and with Joe and Jim
pitching the game of their lives they faced the foe with confidence.

That confidence, to be sure, would have been still greater had it not
been for the indifferent playing of Hupft and McCarney that was now
becoming a matter of comment among all the players. McRae had his lines
out for likely material to supplant those two, but he had not yet been
able to land what seemed like major league material and so was forced
to keep them on a little longer.

But the demon pitching done by Joe and Jim had thus far made up for the
deficiencies at third and center, and the Giants started their swing
around the Western circle at the head of the league and two games to
the good. That, of course, was only a slender margin, and might be
wiped out in a few days of hard luck, but it at least gave them an
“edge” on their rivals. McRae was figuring on taking at least ten of
the sixteen games to be played on the present trip, and if he could do
that there was every prospect that the Giants would return home in the
lead. Then, with a long series on their home grounds in prospect, there
was a good chance that the Giants could get so far out in the lead that
they would never be headed.

Their first series was with Cincinnati, and here they struck a snag in
Hughson’s rejuvenated team. The Reds were playing championship ball
and ran away with three games out of four. This was a setback, but
the Giants evened the score when they made a similar killing with the
Pittsburghs as the victims. At St. Louis the team met with rain on one
of the days scheduled, and were able to play only three games. But as
they annexed two of these, McRae, to use his own phrase, “had no kick
coming.”

It was at Chicago that the real test came. The Windy City boys had
their fighting togs on and neither gave nor asked for quarter. The
games were for blood from the tap of the bell. Joe won the first by a
shut out――won in a double sense by hitting a homer for the only run
scored by his side. Jim was next and pitched superbly in a game that
went for thirteen innings, and was only won by Chicago in the last by
an error of McCarney. The Cubs repeated the dose on the following day,
when a perfect deluge of hits came from their bats that drove Markwith
to the showers and gave Chicago the game by a score of 11 to 5.

Chicago players, fans and newspapers were jubilant and implored the
Cubs to put on the finishing touch by winning the last game of the
series.

The Giants had now won seven and lost seven of their Western trip and
the result of the final game would decide whether they should go back
to New York with the tally on the right or wrong side of the ledger.

“Those fellows are calling themselves Giant-killers, Joe,” said McRae,
as the teams were warming up in practice before a tremendous crowd
that packed every inch of the stands and bleachers on the day of the
final game. “I want you to go out and show them that you’re some little
Cub-killer yourself.”

“I’ll try to bring their pelt back to the clubhouse,” responded Joe,
with a grin.

The Cubs were relying on their great pitcher Axander, who was regarded
as being only second to Joe himself in the National League, and the
fans settled down to witness a battle royal.

The Giants, as the visiting club, were first at bat, and Axander
made short work of them. Curry fouled out on the second ball pitched.
Iredell sent up a twisting fly to short that Harker gathered in. The
redoubtable Burkett was completely buffaloed and struck out.

Axander was received with a tempest of cheers as he went to the bench
and was compelled to doff his cap in acknowledgment.

But Joe went him one better by setting down the Cubs on strikes in
their half. The ball whizzed over the plate with the whine of a bullet.
He had speed to burn and the Cub batsmen never had a chance.

It was evident that a pitching duel was impending, and this was what
McRae was praying for. Let it come to a matter of twirling, and he was
willing to bet on Joe against the world.

The second, third and fourth innings were also scoreless for either
side. Wheeler had found Axander for a single and Joe had poled out a
crashing triple, but their comrades were unable to bring them in.

Not a hit as yet had been scored on Joe. When the Cubs connected
with the ball at all, they hit it on the under side for a fly to the
outfielders or dribbled easy ones that were gobbled up by the infield.
But his chief reliance was on strike-outs, as he wanted to give
McCarney and Hupft as few chances as possible.

In the fifth, two singles in succession got Giants on bases, but
Axander tightened up and they got no farther. Still they were finding
that Axander could be hit, and that it itself was something.

But no such encouragement came to the Cubs. Try as they might, they
could not solve Joe’s delivery. He mixed up his fast ones with an
occasional slow one that they broke their backs reaching for, while Joe
grinned at them tantalizingly. His hop ball was working to perfection
and his fadeaway stood the Chicagos on their heads.

“You’re a lot of old women,” stormed the Chicago manager, Evans, as one
after the other of his men came discomfited to the bench. “Why don’t
you go in and knock his head off, you bunch of sand-lot boobs?”

“Aw, that feller ain’t a pitcher, he’s a wizard,” growled Burton, the
Cub’s heaviest slugger. “He’s got the ball bewitched.”

“Here, let’s see that ball,” shouted Evans, walking out toward the box
as Joe was winding up. “Come here, umps,” he added, motioning to the
umpire. “I want you to examine this ball and make sure there’s nothing
phony about it.”

Joe surrendered it with a laugh. He had never resorted to the tricks
used by some pitchers of “roughening” or “shining” or putting resin on
the ball so as to give it a peculiar motion. His arm and his head had
been his only reliance.

The umpire and manager examined the ball with the utmost care but could
find no fault with it. A huge guffaw came from the Giants, as Evans
reluctantly handed back the ball, and even the Chicago fans gave him
the laugh.

“Satisfied, Mr. Evans?” grinned Joe with elaborate politeness. “Now,
just to show you that there are no hard feelings, trot out your
rough-necks and I’ll strike them out in order――one, two, three, just
like that.”

This he did in jig time and in such a masterly fashion that the Chicago
rooters, eager as they were to see the home team win, could not refrain
from applauding him. They were beginning to realize that they were
watching the performance of the greatest pitcher that had ever walked
into the box.

In the very next inning they realized also that they were watching the
mightiest slugger that had ever swung a bat, when Joe, with one man on
base, caught one of Axander’s fast ones on the end of his bat and sent
it screaming over the center-field wall for the longest homer that had
ever been clouted on the Chicago grounds. The ice was broken, and the
score stood 2 to 0 in favor of the Giants.

“You’re a miracle man to-day, Joe!” exclaimed McRae, beaming on him.
“You’re winning your own game with a vengeance. Now all you have to do
is to hold those birds down and we’ll have bagged the game.”

One other thing was being borne in on the Chicago fans, and that was
that they were possibly to see that rarest of things on the diamond――a
no-hit game. Here it was the seventh inning, and not even the semblance
of a hit had been scored on Joe. Axander had yielded five in all, of
which Joe had gathered two. But Joe had an absolutely clean score.
Could he keep it up?

The Chicago manager growled and raged and implored his men to do
something. They tried desperately, but it was Joe’s day and he would
not be denied. They resorted to all the tricks of the trade, tried to
bunt, tried to get hit with the ball, anything to get on first. Their
coachers roared from the side lines in an attempt to rattle Joe. But he
was as cold as ice, as hard as steel.

He had never felt more sure of himself. He had thrown aside his cap and
looked like a young Viking as he stood in the box, hurling the ball
over with such tremendous speed that it defied the eye to follow it,
or sending it in with such deceptive slants that he had the batsman
striking wildly at the air. His control was perfect. The ball seemed
inspired with almost human intelligence. It whizzed, it dodged, it
jumped, it dropped, as though guided by a spring.

The seventh inning passed. Not a hit.

The eighth inning passed. Still no hit. Joe was simply toying with the
batsmen. He held his enemies in the hollow of his hand.

Axander had also kept the Giants from scoring any more runs, and was
pitching a brand of ball that would have won nine games out of ten.

In the last half of the ninth, the Chicagos came in for their final
stand with the head of their batting order at the bat. Yells of
encouragement came from the rooters as they implored them to stage a
last-inning rally.

Burton came to the plate. “One strike.” “One ball.” “Foul strike.”
“Three strikes.” “Out!”

Next came Gallagher. “One ball.” “Two balls.”

“Wait him out,” yelled Evans. “He’s getting wild. He’s weakening. We’ll
get him yet.”

“One strike.” “Two strikes.” “Three strikes.” “Out!”

Weston, the Chicago’s last hope, came third.

“One strike.” “Two strikes.” “Three strikes.” “Out!”

The greatest game that Chicago had seen for years was over, and the
Giants had won by a score of 2 to 0.

Not a run had been scored by Chicago. Not a Cub had touched a base. Not
a man had been passed to first on balls. Not a Cub had made a hit!

It was a no-hit game without a blemish, the greatest that Joe had
pitched in his whole great career. And to cap it all, his own homer had
brought the Giants out at the big end of the score.

The jubilation of McRae and Robson and the rest of the Giants, with the
exception of Hupft and McCarney, was beyond description. Their most
formidable foe had been humbled, and the Giants could go back to New
York in a blaze of glory.

Joe had been so pounded and knocked about by his hilarious comrades
that he was later in dressing than most of his mates, many of whom had
finished and drifted away from the clubhouse to get ready for the train
ride home. By the time Joe had completed his bath, the only occupants
besides himself and Jim were Hupft and McCarney.

Just as Joe stepped from under the shower Hupft came past him hurriedly
and stepped on Joe’s bare foot with his own heavily shod foot. The pain
was excruciating and Joe gave vent to an exclamation.

“What do you mean by that?” he demanded.

“Aw, what are you grouching about?” growled Hupft. “Do you think I did
it on purpose?”

But Joe had caught a triumphant gleam in his eyes that belied his words.

“I know you did!” he cried. “Now, Reddy Hupft, I’m going to pay you
something of what I owe you.”

His fist shot out with a terrific impact against Reddy’s jaw. The
latter staggered and almost fell, but, recovering himself, rushed
furiously at Joe.

The latter met him with a straight left that shook him from head to
heels. Two others followed, delivered with such force that Hupft
measured his length on the floor.

McCarney had made a move to rush to Hupft’s assistance, but Jim barred
the way with blazing eyes.

“No, you don’t!” he cried. “One move, and I’ll smash you to bits!”

McCarney “curled up” promptly, while Jim with clenched fists kept guard
over him.

“Come,” cried Joe, as he stood over his fallen antagonist. “Stand up so
that I can knock you down again. I’m just getting warmed up.”

“I’ve had enough,” growled Reddy, spitting out a tooth. “But you can
bet McRae will hear of this.”

“Tell him and welcome,” returned Joe, as he started to resume his
dressing. “But pick yourself up now and get out of this clubhouse. If
you’re here when I get my shoes on, I’ll kick you out.”

The precious pair slouched out of the house, their eyes burning with
rage and malice.

“They’re bad medicine, Joe,” remarked Jim, as he watched them depart.
“Be on the watch, for they’ll try to get even for this. But, gee, it
warmed my heart to see the trimming you gave Hupft! Those smashes you
handed him were beauties.”

Jim’s prophecy was quickly realized, for that night, as the chums were
hurrying for the train that was to carry them to New York, a jagged
piece of railroad iron came whizzing past Joe’s head, missing him by no
more than a couple of inches. They looked about, but could see nobody,
and as their time was limited they had no chance to hunt for their
unknown assailant. But in their hearts they had no doubt as to the
source of the attack.

“One more debt I owe to Hupft and McCarney,” commented Joe, as they
settled into their train seats. “The account is getting pretty long,
but heaven help them when the time comes for settling!”



CHAPTER XV

THE STARTLING TELEGRAM


“Want to do the biggest work of your young life to-day, Joe?”

It was McRae speaking shortly after the team’s return to New York, and
Joe grinned at him cheerfully.

“Surest thing you know,” he said. “Before I get through with them
to-day that Boston gang are going to wish they’d never been born. Maybe
it’s the air, but I never felt more fit than I do at this minute.”

It was the truth. At that moment Baseball Joe had never felt more
confident, never felt more utterly sure that he could make the ball
dance to his whistle.

It was the early afternoon of the day when they were to play the big
game with Boston. The boys had turned out early, hoping to get in a
little extra practice before the game began. They were working out in
fine shape and things looked extremely hopeful for the Giants.

It was the kind of day just made for a game; cool for the time of year
but clear as a bell. The air itself was a tonic, and as Joe tossed the
ball with a speed and brilliance that delighted his mates it seemed
indeed as though the spirit of the day had entered that good right arm
of his. He was invincible.

“Going to give it to them right where they live to-day all right, old
boy,” said Jim gleefully, as they paused for a breathing space. “Boston
hasn’t a pitcher that’s in the same class with you. But say,” he added
seriously, with a quick lowering of his voice, “have you noticed
anything queer about Reddy and McCarney?”

“Nothing more than usual,” said Joe absently. His mind was on the
beating they were going to give Boston and in his eyes was the light
of battle. At that moment he had no thoughts to waste on anything as
insignificant as Hupft and McCarney.

But as Jim seemed to want to talk about them Joe listened absently, his
eager eyes still on the diamond.

“They’ve been watching you all morning when you didn’t know it,” Jim
said, and there was no mistaking the worried note in his voice. “Once
I caught them whispering together, and Reddy looked toward you and
laughed. I tell you, Joe, I’ll bet anything I own those two are cooking
up mischief for this afternoon.”

“That seems to be their favorite outdoor sport,” returned Joe,
with a grin. Then, seeing that his chum was still grave, he added,
reassuringly, “Don’t worry, old man. There isn’t a thing in the world
can stop me to-day.”

Some say it is bad luck to boast, and in this particular instance it
certainly looked as though there was some truth in the saying. For the
words were scarcely out of Joe’s mouth when McRae appeared with a small
uniformed boy in tow.

“Here’s your man, Johnnie,” he said to the lad, indicating Joe, and the
boy, with a look of utter adoration on his freckled face, handed Joe a
yellow envelope.

“You’re Baseball Joe, ain’t you?” he queried eagerly, and when Joe
nodded an amused assent he rattled on excitedly: “I knowed you wuz
’cause I’ve seen your pitchers in de paper. An’ onct in a while I have
a grandstand seat. Gee, it’s swell! See dat hole in de fence?” He
pointed with one small, grubby finger. “Dat’s him.”

“Sure,” said Joe, gravely. “You have the right idea, old man. Why,
that’s where I began my first education in baseball――through a hole in
the fence!”

“Didjou?” breathed the small fan devoutly. “Gee!”

“Got a pencil and a bit of paper?” asked Joe, and still as though in a
trance the boy handed over the stump of a pencil and a scrap of paper
that had once been white.

On this scrap of paper Joe scribbled something and handed it to the boy.

“There, son,” he said, with a smile, “this will let you in at the gate
if you can get the afternoon off.”

The boy looked first at the scrap of paper, then at Joe, and over his
freckled face spread a grin of sheer joy.

“Say, Mister, you’re sure de berries!” he said, adding with scorn, as
he moved away: “You said, could I get de afternoon off! What you don’t
git give to you, you takes. Dat’s me.”

“There,” said Joe, with a grin, as his eyes followed the lad, “goes a
future baseball star, or I’ll miss my guess.”

“And you’ve made a friend for life,” added Jim.

“But, Joe, how about that telegram?” McRae was patently anxious. “No
bad news, I hope.”

Joe looked at the almost-forgotten yellow envelope in his hand and
frowned.

“I’m not expecting bad news,” he said, as he hastily tore open the
envelope. “Mabel often sends me telegrams on the eve of a great game,
wishing me luck, you know. Hello!” There was a sudden vibrant quality
in his voice that made the two men stare at him.

“What’s up, old boy?” Jim asked. But, without answering, Joe crumpled
the paper in his hand and started on a run for the clubhouse.

“Now what’s up?” groaned McRae. “If anything happens to put Joe out
of his stride now, we’re gone coons. Go after him, Jim, and find out
what’s wrong. Club the information out of him, if necessary.”

Without replying, Jim departed on his mission of force while McRae
followed more slowly, dismally shaking his head.

“We’re sure up against a jinx,” he muttered. “If anything else happens
to this team, it’ll have to look around for a new manager, that’s all.
I can’t stand the pace.”

Jim found Joe in the act of changing into his street clothes. His face
was drawn and white and when Jim spoke to him he looked at his chum as
though he hardly saw him.

“Matter enough,” he said, in answer to Jim’s twice-repeated query.
“Mabel’s sick, Jim, and she wants me. Get out of my way, old boy. This
is no time to argue.”

“Where’s the telegram?” asked Jim. “Will you let me see it?”

“Good gracious, how do I know where it is?” Joe roared at him. “Get out
of my way, will you, Jim? I tell you, Mabel’s sick!”

At that moment Jim saw the crumpled bit of yellow paper where Joe, in
his frantic haste, had dropped it. Jim picked it up and hurried to the
light with it. When he returned, his face was grim.

“See here, Joe,” he said, slowly, “you can’t go off half-cocked like
this. We’ve got to talk this matter over a bit.”

Joe turned a haggard, impatient face to him.

“Talk it over! Are you crazy, Jim?” he cried. “And while we’re talking
it over, Mabel may be――dying! For the love of Pete, Jim, get out of my
way.”

“Not till you calm down and use your head a bit,” retorted Jim
determinedly. “Three minutes won’t make any difference one way or
another, and that’s all it will take me to say――――”

“Oh, for the love of Pete, say it then and have it over!” exploded Joe,
taking out his watch. Jim saw that his hand was shaking as he opened
it. “I’ll give you just three minutes.”

“Listen,” cried Jim, an imperative hand on Joe’s arm. “There’s
something phony about that telegram, Joe. Of course I can’t prove it,
but I’d be willing to stake my reputation on it just the same.”

“Phony!” repeated Joe softly. He put the watch back in his pocket and
stared at Jim as though he were seeing him for the first time. “What
makes you think that?”

“From the fact that it isn’t signed,” Jim explained hurriedly, fearful
of losing Joe’s attention. “And from the fact, also, that it comes at
a time when your absence would be a horrible handicap to the team. Get
me, old boy?”

“Yes, I get you,” admitted Joe. “But, good gracious, man, don’t you
see, I can’t afford to take a chance? This may be all as you say. I
admit that this may be a clever, sure-fire scheme to lure me away at
the pinch.”

“It is, Joe. It must be,” insisted Jim earnestly. “The whole thing is
too opportune to be merely coincidence. That grin that passed between
Hupft and McCarney this morning――――”

“And all the time we’re talking here,” groaned Joe, “Mabel may be――――
Great Scott, Jim, we’ve got to act!”

“Now what?” asked Jim anxiously, as he followed his chum toward McRae’s
office.

“I’m going to find a ’phone and see if I can call Riverside,” said Joe
tersely, over his shoulder.

“Now you’re talking turkey,” said Jim, to which commendation Joe merely
grunted.

They had the office to themselves for the time being and they made
good use of it. At the telephone, his face still drawn, a look of keen
anxiety in his eyes, Joe put in his call for Riverside.

Then came the long sickening wait. Moments, hours, it seemed to Joe,
went by. Finally came back the answer that it was impossible to get
the number wanted in Riverside. Half an hour had gone by! A valuable
half hour wasted!

“I can’t stand this, Jim,” Joe cried, an agony of apprehension in his
voice. “What is the losing of a game compared with Mabel? Good-by. I’m
gone.”



CHAPTER XVI

REGGIE TO THE RESCUE


“Not yet!” snapped Jim, resolutely. “You’re going to give me a moment
more, or I’ll know the reason why.”

Just then McRae entered the room. He gazed upon the tableau in
surprise, then his eyes rested on Joe’s street clothes.

“Why the glad rags, Joe?” he asked, trying to mask his growing concern
by an air of easy good nature. “Not going to beat up the Bostons in
that rig, are you?”

“McRae,” said Joe in the tone of one whose patience is being pushed too
far, “I’m sorry this has happened. I can’t even stop to explain now. My
wife’s sick and I’ve got to go. Jim will give you all the details you
want. Good-by.”

“Just a minute, Joe,” Jim’s voice broke in crisply. “I think you owe
it to yourself――to say nothing of McRae and the team――to make one more
attempt to get in touch with Mabel.”

“How?” Joe demanded. “The ’phone――――”

“We can get Reggie. He’s staying within a short distance of Riverside
just now, you know.”

“All right, we’ll try to get Reggie,” Joe broke in impatiently. “Though
what he can tell us I’m sure I don’t know,” he added, as he picked up
the telephone again and called long distance.

Luckily the chums happened to know that Reggie was staying with some
friends in Ridersville, a little town not far from Riverside, while he
looked after some business for his father. Reggie had given them not
only the address of his friends but the telephone number as well, and
the latter had stuck in Joe’s head.

So now, more with the idea of pacifying McRae and Jim than from any
hope of help from Reggie, Joe called the number, raging inwardly at
the delay. Mabel, his little Mabel, was ill, perhaps seriously ill,
and these two stood in the way of his going to her! What was a game,
anyway, compared to the fact that his bride needed him? At that, it did
not follow that the game would be lost even if he, Joe, were unable to
pitch. What was the matter with Jim, with Bradley, with Markwith? But
in his heart he knew that it was his, Joe’s, mighty batting arm as much
as his prowess in the box that McRae was counting on to turn the tide
against the Bostons.

“It isn’t so much what Reggie can tell us as what he can find out for
us,” he heard Jim saying. “He’s only a stone’s throw from Riverside.”

Just then the telephone rang.

“Here’s your party,” came from the operator.

Joe’s tall form straightened and his expression became more tense. It
was not long before he had Reggie on the line.

“This you, Reggie? Joe speaking. Joe Matson――Joe――J-O-E――Baseball Joe,
get me? Yes, that’s right. Say, Reggie, how is Mabel? Have you heard
anything of her lately? What’s that? Speak a little louder, will you? I
can’t hear you.”

Both McRae and Jim leaned closer as Joe tried to make meaning of the
sentences that floated so faintly over the wire, yet unmistakably
uttered in Reggie’s familiar drawl.

“What’s that?” Joe cried. “Say that over again, Reggie, and say it
slow. You saw her? When? A week ago? Was she well then, perfectly
well?... Yes, I got a telegram saying she’s very ill, calling me to
Riverside.... Yes, it’s the big game with Boston to-day.... I can’t
help it. Mabel needs me.... What’s that you say?”

Reggie’s drawl was hardly noticeable. The urbane, bland Reggie was very
much agitated. He spoke so quickly that Joe had hard work to follow
him. McRae and Jim, of course, had to guess at the conversation from
Joe’s part in it.

“You’ll go right out there?” asked Joe in a relief that was mixed with
uncertainty. “That’s fine of you, Reggie, but I think I ought to come
back anyway.... What say?... Speak more slowly, old man.... You’ll let
us know as soon as you find out?... What’s that?... Provided I stay
around and play ball?... Say, what is this anyway, blackmail?... All
right, all right, I promise.... All right, I’ll stick around till I
hear from you, but make it swift, will you, old man? You know how I
feel.... All right.... Thanks.... So long.”

Joe hung up, took out his handkerchief, and wiped beads of perspiration
from his face.

“Well?” demanded Jim and McRae together.

“I don’t know that it is well,” groaned Joe. “Here I’ve promised Reggie
I’ll wait here till he calls up――a thing I’ll probably spend the rest
of my life regretting.”

“He said he would go right up there, didn’t he?” asked Jim, adding, as
Joe nodded miserably: “Well, you see, he’ll be there hours before you
could hope to. The chances are he’ll find Mabel as fit as a fiddle.”

“But if he doesn’t――――”

“Well, then,” said Jim reassuringly, “it will only mean the delay of an
hour or so, anyway. Or no delay at all. Through express trains don’t
run like trolleys. You can’t get away before to-night at best.”

“And meanwhile I might suggest,” said McRae dryly, “that the hour of
battle draws near and that Baseball Joe had better get into something
more nearly resembling a uniform. Buck up, Joe,” he added, giving the
latter a hearty thump on the shoulder. “You’re not going to turn the
Giants down now, are you, when the team needs the best that’s in you?”

Joe made no answer in words but rose and turned toward the locker room.

“Great Scott!” he said to himself, passing a shaking hand through his
hair. “How am I going to play ball?”

Now he was out on the field once more with the sun beating down
blindingly upon the newly marked diamond and the tremendous crowds in
the grandstand and bleachers voicing approval of the husky home team.
The bell had rung and McRae had been compelled to start the game with
Markwith in the box.

Joe wondered what had become of the confident mood he had felt so short
a time before when he had proclaimed that no one could beat him. As
he thought of the telegram which had so completely changed everything
for him, he spared a fleeting thought to the small messenger boy. He
was probably squeezed in somewhere among that tight-packed mass of
humanity, the freckles standing out on his snub nose and his shrill
voice joyfully murdering the English language in an attempt to make his
enthusiasm audible.

Joe smiled fleetingly, but instantly his face was grave again.

Mabel――Mabel lying sick and lonely, wanting him, and he was failing
her! He had been a fool to say that he would wait for Reggie to find
out what was wrong. He was the one who should be investigating, not
Reggie.

Of course there was the chance――his reason told him it was a good
chance――that the whole thing was a scheme to get him out of the way. At
the thought his fists clenched and his mouth shut in a straight line.
If it was a trick and he could find the identity of the player of it,
that trick would be the last that fellow would play!

Now as he sat on the bench, he remembered certain small signs and
tokens that up to that time had almost entirely escaped his memory.

He remembered having discovered a sort of triumphant hostility in
McCarney’s gaze as it was fixed upon him, a look which had surprised
and annoyed him only momentarily. He was used to the enmity of
McCarney, but it was only at this moment that he remembered that
triumph had outweighed hostility in the eyes of the man.

Was that triumph caused by the certainty in McCarney’s mind that he,
Joe, would not play in that day’s game? At the thought Joe experienced
a sharp thrill of gladness that he had not permitted himself to be
tricked into abandoning his team.

Then came back the tormenting uncertainty again. Was it a trick? How
could he be sure of that? What was wrong with Reggie? Why didn’t he let
him know? Fool that he had been to trust to Reggie! Then he awoke to
the unpleasant realization that the Bostons’ half of the first inning
was ended and that the visitors had scored two runs.

Markwith had started well by striking out the first man up. The
second, however, he had passed to first. The next man laid down a neat
sacrifice on which the man on first had got to second. Still there were
two out and the chances were against scoring.

But Bradbury, batting in the clean-up position, had caught a low ball
that came singing over the plate just where he wanted it and sent it
whistling into the bleachers for the prettiest kind of a homer.

The clout rather unnerved Markwith, and he sent the next one to first
on a free pass. But the next man hit a sharp grasser to Iredell that
the latter handled cleanly and got to first in plenty of time for the
out.

“Fine pitching――I don’t think,” grumbled McRae, as Markwith came
in rather sheepishly. “You poor boob,” he added to the discomfited
pitcher, “don’t you know better than to give Bradbury a low one in the
groove? Haven’t you seen often enough that he just eats up that kind?”

Markwith merely grunted.

“I’ll let you start the second in the hope you’ll settle down,”
continued McRae. “But at the least sign of faltering, it’s you for the
showers.”



CHAPTER XVII

SNATCHED FROM THE FIRE


Although his heart was with Mabel, Joe’s mind was once more thoroughly
alert. Two runs at the very beginning of a game is not much, to be
sure, under ordinary circumstances. But it did not take him long to see
that the team was not running right. Something was decidedly wrong even
though he could not put his finger on just what that something was.

From the way the second inning began it looked as though the Giants
were going to have their work cut out for them simply to keep the
opposing team from scoring further, let alone the making up of those
two runs.

Joe felt something of the old fighting spirit rising within him again
and then, at thought of Mabel, his heart sank. He wondered, as he had
wondered before, how, with every moment a torment of apprehension to
him, he was going to play ball.

“Go to it, Joe,” McRae ordered brusquely. “Get out there and see if
you can’t pull this team together. Looks as if this game was lost
before it began. Go in and give ’em a sample of pitching that’ll open
their eyes.”

Joe tried his best to smile his old joyful smile as he started for the
box, but it was hard work. His muscles felt drawn and tight and the
best he could manage was a rather sickly grin.

Then his gaze met Reddy Hupft’s and he was suddenly conscious of a wave
of dislike and disgust that made his former resentment of the fellow
seem a lukewarm emotion. There was more than malice in Reddy’s eyes
too――this time Joe was sure of it. Instinctively he threw back his
shoulders and his head went up.

“If Hupft and McCarney think they can put one over on me they’ll soon
find out their mistake.”

He wound up deliberately, then sent over a ball so swift that it seemed
but the barest second from the time it left his hand till it dropped
with a thud in the catcher’s glove. Three men he struck out in swift
succession and the crowd was in an uproar.

“At a boy, Joe, don’t let ’em sass you!” shrilled a voice Joe thought
he recognized, and he grinned in the direction of the grandstand.

Thereafter followed some of the most brilliant work Joe had ever given
the fans to marvel at, and though the Giants failed to score, he at
least kept the opposing team from scoring.

But that was not enough. Joe knew it, and every member of the team, as
well as the clamoring crowd in grandstand and bleachers, knew it too.

Three, four, five innings passed without changing the score. Then in
the first part of the sixth Neale of the Bostons knocked a homer that
made wild men of their little band of supporters.

Three to nothing the score stood now, in the first half of the sixth,
and the Giants were in the throes of what promised to be a first-class
slump.

“Looks as if you had to carry the whole team on your shoulders, Joe,”
said Robbie, adding, with a comprehensive glance: “They look broad
enough to stand it, at that. Listen, Joe, pretty soon you’re going
behind that bat and you’re going to smash that score into little bits
and make a brand new one, understand?”

And Joe did. He waited till he was sure of his ball, and then with all
the weight of his shoulders behind it he caught the ball squarely on
the end of his bat, sent it winging skyward as though its ambition were
to see just how far up in the clouds it could go and manage to get back
to earth at all.

At the crack of the bat Joe started and reached home without sliding
just as the ball connected with the catcher’s glove.

The crowd went mad. There was a storm of cheering and stamping and
frantic yells, but Joe took no notice of them. He was thinking of
Mabel. Was his little wife waiting for him, wondering why he did not
come, perhaps reproaching him?

At the end of the sixth the score stood as Joe had made it: 3 to 1 in
favor of Boston. In various innings there had been men on first and
second and, at one time, on all three, but, somehow, they fell just
short of scoring.

“It’s just what I tell you, Joe,” growled Robbie. “You have to carry
the whole team. You give them an opening and they don’t even see it.”

“That was great work, Joe,” Jim told him a few moments later. “I’d give
anything to be able to bat as you do. It sure is a privilege to see you
knock out one of those home runs.”

“Say, Jim,” Joe broke in with an abruptness that showed he had not
heard one word of Jim’s tribute, “what do you suppose is the matter
with Reggie? Why don’t we hear from him?”

“I wish you’d give me an easy one,” answered Jim anxiously. “I’ve been
wondering that same thing myself. However,” he added, “I suppose no
news is good news.”

“That’s pretty thin comfort for me,” growled Joe, adding quickly, the
feverish light in his eyes showing plainly the strain he had been
under: “I tell you I can’t stand this any longer, Jim. I’m going up
there and try to get in touch with Riverside again, and if I can’t get
them, I’ll try Reggie. Then, if that fails, I’m going to Mabel!”

“You can’t do that, Joe,” Jim protested. “Why, you’re the only one who
has a ghost of a show to pull this game out of the fire. Look at the
score!”

“Hang the score!” cried Joe explosively, as he got up. “I can’t stand
this any longer, I tell you! I’ve got to find out!”

As he started toward the clubhouse he found himself face to face with
McRae. The game had evidently fretted the manager, and he was in a bad
temper.

“’Phone call for you, Joe,” he snapped. “And say, hurry back, will you?
Something tells me I’m going to need you.”

But the last words failed entirely to reach Joe. He was already half
way to the clubhouse.

At last he was going to know! He was eager, yet fearful. He did not
know what awful news awaited him at the other end of that wire.

Somehow he found his way to McRae’s office, and with shaking fingers
lifted the receiver to his ear. He did not notice Jim, who had followed
him in and now stood close beside him.

“Hello,” said Joe, surprised that his voice sounded so nearly normal.
“This you, Reggie? Confound it, why didn’t you ’phone long ago? How is
she?”

“Joe!” came the voice that was the sweetest music in the world to his
ears. Just now it was eager and a little breathless. “Is this you, Joe
dear? What in the world is the matter?”

“Mabel――――” for a minute Joe could not go on. Then he cleared his
throat noisily and demanded to know, in a voice from which all anxiety
had not yet disappeared, if she was all right. “You’re sure you’re not
sick?” he insisted, and Mabel’s reassuring little laugh floated back to
him.

“Of course I’m not sick, silly boy,” she said, adding with a sudden
swift realization of what he must have suffered: “I’m so sorry you have
been worried, honey. Who do you suppose could have done such a wicked
thing as to send you that telegram? What do you think it means?”

“I don’t know,” said Joe, feeling as though a thousand-ton weight had
been lifted from his heart. “We’ll find out about that later. The
important thing to me just now is that you’re well. But tell me,” he
added, “why didn’t Reggie call me as soon as he found you were all
right?”

“He did,” said Mabel. “You see, a neighbor of Mother Matson’s bought
himself a new car and he insisted on our going out riding with him.
Poor Reggie had nearly collapsed with worry when we finally got back.
Thought we had been abducted or something, I suppose.” Then followed
a bit of conversation that would not have been a bit interesting to
any one but Joe and Mabel but which they seemed to find eminently
satisfactory.

When Joe finally hung up the receiver and faced about to find Jim
there, his face was beaming.

“Hello, Jim, you old shadow!” he cried. “Have you been here long?”

“Long enough to learn the glad news,” returned Jim, and he could not
quite resist adding: “Didn’t I tell you not to go off half-cocked,
especially when Reddy Hupft and McCarney are on the same lot with you?”

“You did,” admitted Joe, adding with a frown as they turned to leave
the place together: “You think the responsibility for this contemptible
trick can be traced to Hupft or McCarney then?”

“Who else?” returned Jim. “It was somebody else who actually sent the
telegram, of course, but I’d be willing to stake my hat that the scheme
originated with one or the other of them.”

“Well,” drawled Joe, with a glint in his eye that boded no good for
either McCarney or Hupft or any of their gang, “it seems to me it’s
time there was some housecleaning done on this lot.

“And now,” he added, as his gaze traveled joyfully out to the field,
“we’re going to show those Bostonians how ball should be played!”

To say that Joe made good his boast would be to understate the facts in
the case.

From that time on he set the side down with the ease and precision of a
machine. The Bostons came up to the bat like so many automatons, made
futile swings at the ball, and went back growling to the bench. And
in the eighth, when, the score still stood 3 to 1 in favor of Boston,
Joe lammed out a mighty three-bagger that brought home three of his
comrades who had filled the bases. That made the score 4 to 3 in the
Giants’ favor, and so it remained when Joe struck out the last Boston
batsman in the ninth.

It was a glorious triumph for Joe――two triumphs in fact, for he had
not only beaten the Bostons, he had thwarted the dastardly plot of his
enemies.



CHAPTER XVIII

THICKENING CLOUDS


If up to this time Joe had entertained any lingering doubts that an
attempt was afoot to put him out of the game for good, the receipt of
the false telegram at a critical moment served effectually to dispel
them. In addition, it was now evident that his enemies were willing to
stoop to any means to achieve their ends.

Joe was one not to be easily alarmed, but he realized the gravity of
the situation and knew that it could not be solved by hiding his head
in the sand like an ostrich and ignoring it.

“The matter is getting worse and worse, Jim,” he remarked, when they
were discussing the affair in their room on the evening of the last
game. “It is not simply a personal matter against me that may be the
thing that they are aiming at. I have noticed lately that they are
playing bad ball not only when I am in the box, but when the other
fellows are, too. It is a matter that involves not only our personal
fortunes, but those of the Giant team and possibly of the whole
league. They may have confederates elsewhere in the league, and I guess
it’s up to you and me to see what we can do toward putting a spoke in
their wheel. It’s bad enough when they confine their attentions to us,
but when they go to mixing up our families in it they’re going a bit
too far.”

“A whole lot too far,” agreed Jim grimly. “It’s a shame that there
should be such players in the game. But in they are, and the only
thing for us to do is show them up and get them thrown out as soon as
possible.”

“I only hope that I have a hand in the throwing,” remarked his friend.
“Baseball is such a fine, naturally clean game that I hate to see a
crooked bunch like that horning in. It wouldn’t take many of them to
queer the whole outfit with the fans. There are always a lot of them
that try to argue that baseball is crooked, even when it’s absolutely
on the level.”

“Yes, I’ve heard plenty of that breed, too,” agreed Jim. “I imagine
they know in their hearts that they’d take dirty money if they got the
chance, and it’s hard for them to believe that everybody else wouldn’t.
But this bunch we’ve got on the team now are sure to make big trouble
for us and for the whole league if we don’t manage to show them up in
some way.”

“Give them enough rope, and they’ll hang themselves,” quoted Joe. “It’s
plain enough to me what they’re up to, but we’ve got to have proof.
They and the gamblers who are backing them bet against our team, and
then they do their level best to lose the game for us.”

“There’s not much encouragement in playing under those conditions.”

“We’ll get to the bottom of their game, never fear,” declared Joe.
“In the meantime, Jim, it’s up to the rest of the team to play such a
high-grade brand of baseball that we’ll win in spite of the crooks.”

“That’s right,” agreed his friend, a grin lighting up his erstwhile
gloomy countenance. “The other teams can’t win unless they make runs,
no matter what McCarney, Hupft, Lemblow and Company does. And you and I
are in a position to see that they don’t make the runs.”

“Shake on that, old pal!” exclaimed Joe, and the two friends clasped
hands. “We’re out after the pennant, and it’s going to take a powerful
aggregation to stop us.”

“It looks as though you and I would have to turn detectives for a
while, and get to the root of this mystery,” said Jim. “I know we don’t
have much time for that sort of thing, but some day when we’re neither
of us slated to pitch, we can try our hands at the sleuth game, if you
think it would do any good.”

“Sure thing,” grinned Joe. “But the way things are going now, we won’t
have many days when one or the other of us isn’t going to pitch. The
boss is up against it for twirlers, and no mistake.”

McRae was “up against it” in more ways than one. He knew well enough
that there was something wrong with his new players. Any man might make
a mistake at times, and fumble a ball or muff an easy fly, but when a
man is good enough to get into a big league team he is not supposed to
do these things often. And Hupft and McCarney had developed a trick of
making such blunders at the most crucial periods of the game――at times
when an error meant a run or two for the opposing team. He had many
anxious conferences with Robson, but no substitutes were available, and
while they suspected the center-fielder and third baseman of underhand
work, they could not be quite sure.

Had it not been for the sterling work of the other members of the
team, the Giants would have been slipping steadily downward instead of
holding their place among the leaders. They all played like demons,
backing up their pitchers in a manner that brought joy and applause
from the fans. In spite of costly mistakes on the part of the new
players, the team climbed steadily toward the coveted first position.

As the weather settled down to steady summer heat, Markwith rounded
into better form and pitched several steady games, winning three out of
five. He was really entitled to that fifth game, but was robbed of it
by a bad misplay on the part of McCarney. In the ninth inning the score
was 1 to 0 in favor of the Giants, with the opposing team at bat for
the last half of the ninth inning. Markwith struck out the first man to
face him, but the second one singled between first and second base, and
on the next pitched ball stole second.

Markwith watched the runner out of the corner of his eye and saw that
he was getting ready to make a dash for third base. Accordingly,
instead of throwing the ball to the batter, he suddenly whirled and
threw to McCarney at third. By this time the runner was well on his
way to third and McCarney should have had an easy put-out. But as the
ball smacked into his glove he fumbled it and it dropped to the ground
several feet from the base. He made a dash for it, but as he leaned
down to lift it he struck the ball with the toe of his shoe, kicking it
fifteen feet away.

It looked like an accident, but whether or no, the runner instantly
seized his chance and raced for home. Even then McCarney by quick work
might have thrown him out at the plate, but his recovery of the sphere
was slow, and when he finally did get it and threw it to the bag, the
runner had arrived well ahead of it.

This tied the score, and while Markwith held the opposing team down for
the rest of the inning without any further runs, the game had to go
into extra innings. Finally, in the eleventh, the other team manged to
score one more run, which lost the game to the Giants when it should
have been won.

Joe and Jim had narrowly watched every move of this game, especially
the actions of the players whom they suspected of crooked dealing. When
McCarney fumbled the ball in that crucial ninth inning, Joe clenched
his fists and muttered various uncomplimentary things about the baseman.

“That settles it!” he exploded at last, when the opposing player
crossed the plate with the tying run. “McCarney’s a good actor, Jim,
but he was just a bit too clumsy in that play to be natural. He can
play good enough ball when he wants to, and it isn’t easy for him to be
quite as clumsy as all that. I could see him purposely drop that ball
after he had really caught it. Didn’t it look the same way to you, Jim?”

His friend nodded.

“No doubt of it,” he agreed. “I’d like to keep track of McCarney
after he leaves the clubhouse and see where he goes, but I’ve got an
appointment with Curry and I don’t see how I can. Why don’t you shadow
him, Joe, and see if you can find out anything? I’ll take my turn at it
to-morrow.”

“All right, I will!” exclaimed Joe. “I’ll beat it for the clubhouse
right after the game is over, and I’ll be ready to leave as soon as
he is. I may not find out a thing, but it will be worth the chance,
anyway.”

In accordance with this plan, Joe was one of the first under the
showers and was in his street clothes before McCarney had finished
dressing.

The latter was surly and resentful of the criticism directed at him by
his team mates. They were not sparing of this, and did not hesitate to
tell him what they thought of such bungling. Every big league player
knows that mistakes are unavoidable at times, but McCarney and Hupft
had begun to get on their nerves. In almost every game lately it seemed
that one or the other was sure to make a bad play at a crucial time.

“We could pick half a dozen fans out of the bleachers who could hold
on to a baseball tighter than you can, Mac,” growled Mylert, the burly
catcher. “You must have grease on your fingers, the way that ball
slides through them. Why don’t you see if you can hold on to it once in
a while?”

“Shure, and I’ll bet if the ball wuz a twinty dollar gold piece he’d
kape holt of it, all right, all right,” chirped up Larry Barrett.

A shout of appreciative laughter followed this sally, and McCarney
glared around at the circle of derisive faces.

“I suppose you fellows are too blamed good to ever make a mistake,
ain’t you?” he growled. “If Markwith hadn’t shot the pill at me so
doggone fast I wouldn’t have dropped it. There wasn’t any need of
putting so much smoke on it.”

“Aw, get out of here before we throw you out,” snapped Mylert
disgustedly. “Be a man and admit you made a punk play without trying to
blame it on some one else.”

McCarney seemed tempted to throw himself at the big catcher, but then
thought better of it and flung out of the clubhouse, slamming the door
behind him. A minute later Joe slipped quietly out and glanced quickly
about to locate the renegade ball player. McCarney was only half a
block away, and Joe set out to follow him.



CHAPTER XIX

A FURIOUS FIGHT


It was no easy matter to trail McCarney without himself being
discovered, especially as the third baseman had a trick of glancing
back over his shoulder from time to time. More than once Joe felt
sure that he had been discovered, but fortune favored him, and he
successfully evaded detection.

At the first car track that McCarney reached he hesitated, in doubt,
apparently, whether to take a car or walk to the subway. Joe slipped
into a convenient doorway, where he could see without being seen, and
waited for the other to make the next move.

McCarney was still hesitating when a trolley car came into view. This
evidently settled the third baseman’s doubts. As the car drew near he
signaled it to stop, and then swung to the back platform.

This left Joe in a quandary. He realized that it would be practically
impossible to board the car himself without being discovered, and yet
if he did not it meant that his first attempt at “shadowing” would end
almost as soon as it had begun.

The trolley started on, and Joe was revolving the possibility of
keeping up with it on foot when a taxicab came careering out of a side
street not a block away. With a heartfelt prayer of gratitude Joe
dashed to the corner and hailed the vehicle just in the nick of time.

“Keep that trolley car in sight until I tell you to stop, and I’ll
double your fare,” Joe promised the driver.

“That’s easy,” replied the other. “Them cars don’t go so fast but what
this boiler can keep up with ’em without half tryin’. Just leave it to
me.”

Joe kept an anxious eye on the trolley car, fearful that McCarney might
alight with some other passengers and escape him. But nothing of the
kind happened. The chase continued for a long distance before Joe saw
the familiar figure of the third baseman come out to the back platform
and hang on to the lowest step, evidently preparing to drop off at the
next corner.

“Pull up, driver,” called Joe, and the man swung into the curb. Joe
hastily paid him double the amount that the meter registered, together
with a generous tip, and hastened after the retreating form of his
quarry.

The neighborhood in this section was of a poor description, the houses
being ramshackle affairs with a run-down and neglected appearance.
McCarney was evidently on familiar ground, however, for he hurried
along at a fast pace, apparently in such a hurry that he even forgot to
glance behind him as was his usual custom.

This was a fortunate thing for Joe, as the street offered few places of
concealment. He kept close to the houses on the opposite side of the
street, keeping a wary eye on the suspected ball player. The latter
had gone about two blocks when he suddenly stopped at the door of a
house that looked even a little more dirty and out of repair than its
neighbors, and rang the bell.

Joe was about half a block away at this time, and he glanced about for
a place in which to conceal himself until McCarney should be safely
inside. In the basement of a house near him there was a dirty looking
little candy store, and Joe turned into this. He bought a bar of
chocolate and made shift to talk with the storekeeper until he judged
that McCarney must be inside the house.

When he ventured into the street again, the third baseman had
disappeared, and Joe set himself to formulate some scheme that would
get him inside the house. This project might well have daunted one less
courageous than the star pitcher of the Giants. The neighborhood was
close to the lower West Side waterfront of New York, and Joe knew that
if he did manage to get inside the house he would probably find himself
in the abiding place of a desperate set of men. However, he hesitated
only long enough to decide on a plan of action, and then set boldly
about its execution.

He felt that there was a chance that whoever had opened the door to
admit McCarney had failed to fasten it securely. At any rate, he
decided to try this first. Accordingly, he walked boldly over to the
house and ascended the steps. If discovered, he could simply ask for a
“fake” name, like one who has gotten the wrong house by mistake.

He reached the front door unchallenged, and gently tried the knob. As
he suspected, the latch had not quite caught, and as he pressed against
the door it swung open before him. Noiselessly he entered the dark
hallway and closed the door gently behind him.

Within the house it was so dark that at first Joe could see nothing at
all. As his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, however, objects in
the dark hallway became apparent to him.

To right and left were closed doors, while directly ahead a long narrow
staircase wound upward to the floor above. Joe listened intently
for some sound to guide him, but at first he could hear nothing. He
tiptoed cautiously over to one of the closed doors and listened there,
and then at the other, but could hear no sound. Suddenly, he heard a
subdued murmur of voices on the floor above, and he decided that in all
probability McCarney was up there. He was about to start the ascent
of the stairs when he was startled by the ringing of an electric bell
almost over his head, and at the same time some one tried the handle of
the front door by which Joe had entered.

A chair was pushed back in the room upstairs, and Joe surmised that in
another moment one or more of the inhabitants would descend the stairs
in answer to the ring of the newcomer. There was not a second to lose
if he were to escape detection, and Joe’s mind acted with lightning
rapidity. Escape to the street was barred, he knew, and it would be
hopeless to try to get to the upper landing in time to avoid whoever it
was who was coming to open the door.

His only chance was to get through one of the doors that flanked the
hall on either side, and as this thought flashed through his mind he
stepped swiftly to the one to his right and turned the knob. The door
held fast, and he knew that it must be locked from the inside.

A door opened upstairs, and Joe could hear heavy footsteps starting
down the stairs. Fortunately, the staircase made a sharp turn near
the top, so that as yet Joe was concealed from the sight of the man
descending.

Again the bell rang, as the ringer grew impatient of waiting. Another
instant, and Joe’s last chance of escaping detection would be gone.
Swiftly he stepped to the other door, his one remaining chance, and
breathed a heartfelt prayer of gratitude when he found that the door
opened to his touch.

In a second he was within the room, with the door closed behind him. He
glanced swiftly about, taking stock of his surroundings. Luckily there
was nobody in the place, which was sparsely furnished with a table and
a few shabby chairs.

With his ear close to the door, Joe could hear the newcomer enter and
then he heard two persons ascending the stairs. There came the bang of
a closing door from the upper floor, and Joe judged that it would be
safe enough to venture out again.

A less courageous fellow might have been glad to take this opportunity
to get out the front door and so to safety. But this idea did not
enter Joe’s head. He had come here to get information about the
gambling ring, and to abandon the quest was the thing furthest from his
thoughts.

From the floor above he could still hear the murmur of voices, growing
louder at times in a manner that suggested a quarrel. Impatient to
learn what was going on, Joe made for the stairs and ascended them
cautiously, treading warily to avoid making a noise on the creaking
boards. At length he reached the upper landing and paused to take stock
of his surroundings.

He found himself on a small square landing, from which doors gave into
adjoining rooms. The sound of excited voices came from a room to the
left of the stairs, and Joe edged close to this until he could make out
what was being said within.

But he was just a few minutes too late. Whatever subject had been under
discussion had apparently been settled, for there came a scraping of
chairs, and before Joe could move the door was thrown open, leaving him
in plain sight of those in the room.

There was a chorus of startled exclamations, and then those in the room
made a concerted rush for Joe. He turned to make for the stairs, but
found that avenue of escape cut off by two rough looking men dressed in
sweaters and caps, who had ascended so quietly that Joe had no inkling
of their approach until he saw them stepping on to the landing.

Fairly cornered, Joe realized that his only chance lay in fighting
his way out, and he had faith in the theory that the attacker has an
advantage. With a shout he hurled himself at the two men who had just
come up the stairs, and who had stopped at the landing, uncertain as
to what was going on. His rush had the power and speed of a stampeding
buffalo, and in spite of their bulk the two newcomers could not bar his
path. One reeled back from a stunning blow on the jaw, while the other
staggered aside as Joe’s elbow caught him in the pit of the stomach.
Before him the path to the front door lay clear, and he would have made
it but for an unlucky accident.

As the second man reeled and fell, his foot projected out over the top
step, and as Joe started to leap downward he tripped over the sprawling
leg, staggered wildly for a brief moment, and then crashed head first
down the steep stairs.



CHAPTER XX

TAKEN CAPTIVE


So great was the force of the fall that when Joe brought up at the
foot of the stairs the breath was knocked out of him, and before he
could get to his feet the crowd of rough men were on him like dogs
on a wounded wolf. Stunned though he was, Joe would not submit to
overpowering numbers without a struggle, and more than one of the crowd
bore marks of the fight for many a day afterward. Joe was in the very
finest physical condition, and as he fought the effects of the fall
wore off somewhat, and he struck out with a force and power that sent
his opponents reeling back. At one time Joe actually had his hand on
the knob of the street door, but he was dragged back, fighting like a
madman. His adversaries were hampered by their own numbers, and in the
narrow hall only one or two could get at Joe at once. He was engaged
with two of the fellows, when suddenly some heavy object landed on his
head with paralyzing force, and he crumpled to the floor.

“Guess that fixes that guy,” remarked one of the fellows, as he
returned a “blackjack” to his pocket.

“I hope you haven’t fixed him too well,” said the leader of the gang, a
corpulent, flashily dressed man. “It’s all right to put him to sleep,
but we don’t want any killings, you know.”

“Leave that to me, boss,” said the other. “He’ll soon come back from
the land o’ nod, an’ when he does, we’d better have his hands an’ feet
tied. He’s got a punch in each mitt that’s fit to knock a mule out.”

The others seemed to agree heartily with this statement, and they
lost no time in following their companion’s advice. When Joe regained
consciousness, some ten minutes later, he found himself securely tied
in a chair, while the members of the gang sat about at their ease,
planning what disposition to make of their captive.

The first thing Joe did was to look for McCarney, but he was nowhere
to be seen. During the fight he had kept in the background, and as
soon as it was over he had slipped out of the house. He had little
doubt that the gang would overcome Joe, but he had a great respect
for the capabilities of the young pitcher, and he thought that in
case Joe ever got away from them he would accuse him, McCarney, of
being an accomplice of the gang. In that case, the less he was seen
in their company the better. Besides this, he was anxious to bet some
money against the Giants on the coming games, as he knew that Joe’s
disappearance would be very likely to demoralize the whole team.

Up to this time the Giants had been considered the favorites in the
pennant race, and among the gamblers they had been better than even
money. But when McCarney, in sporting circles familiar enough to him,
tried to place some cash, he found that already the odds were against
the Giants to win, and he was at no loss to guess the reason for this.
Some of the gang that held Joe prisoner had begun to plunge heavily
against the Giants, and the gamblers who did not know were suspicious
and not over-anxious to back the team that was apparently the best in
the league by a fair margin. Gamblers as a class are quick to take
fright, and those manipulating the “baseball ring” as it was already
called in the underworld, were no exceptions to the rule.

When Joe did not put in an appearance at their hotel that night Jim
was very uneasy, but he comforted himself with the reflection that Joe
might have found it necessary in the course of his sleuthing expedition
to keep close to the trail. He fully expected to see Joe at the
baseball field the following afternoon, especially as he was slated to
pitch that day. But there was no sign of the missing star, and when it
was almost time for the game to start McRae sought out Jim where he was
warming up with Mylert back of the clubhouse.

“Where’s Joe, Jim?” he asked anxiously. “It isn’t like him to be late.
Did he tell you he wouldn’t show up to-day?”

“I don’t know much more about him than you do, Mac,” replied Jim, a
worried look in his eyes. “He didn’t show up at the hotel last night,
and I thought he was probably with one of the other fellows. But now
that he isn’t here for the game I’m getting worried for fair. I know
that if he isn’t here it’s because he couldn’t get here.”

“Couldn’t get here!” echoed McRae. “What in thunder would stop him from
getting here if he wanted to come?”

“You know well enough that both Joe and I have had trouble with the
gambling ring before now,” said Jim. “They’ve been after both of us,
and it looks as though they’d landed on Joe this time. If they have――”
Jim did not finish the sentence, but his flashing eyes and the grim set
of his mouth supplied the rest.

“That goes for the whole team,” said McRae. “Anybody that tampers with
any member of this team is going to have trouble. I’ll get a couple of
detectives on the job right away, and we’ll see if we can’t locate Joe
in a hurry. In the meantime, you’ll have to pitch to-day’s game, Jim.
I was counting on Joe for this afternoon, but I guess you can turn the
trick, too.”

“I’m here to try,” said Jim. “But after the game is over, I’m going to
look for Joe on my own hook. And what’s more, I’m willing to bet that
there’s at least one member of this team that could tell you right now,
if he wanted to, where he is.”

“Who?” demanded McRae quickly. “Give me his name.”

“You’d better keep this quiet for the time, Mac,” said Robson who came
up just at this juncture. “We don’t want any of this to get into the
papers, if we can help it.”

“That’s right,” admitted McRae. “Come with us, Barclay, and we’ll talk
this over in private.”

In the manager’s office under the grandstand Jim told of Joe’s resolve
to follow McCarney the previous afternoon. McRae and Robson listened
with worried frowns on their faces. Robson was the first to speak.

“This is a thing we won’t be able to hush up, Mac,” he said. “The
newspaper men know that we intend to pitch Matson to-day, and they’ll
want to know the reason why he isn’t in the box. They’d soon find out
the reason why, and if we tell them what we know, they may be able to
help us find him.”

“That’s true, in a way,” said McRae slowly. “But we won’t tell them
about our suspicions of McCarney――not yet. Remember, we haven’t any
proof against him, and we don’t want to make any false moves.”

By the time this decision was reached it was almost time for the game
to start, and the three hurried out on to the field, where the rest
of the team had already congregated. They were warming up, one or two
knocking flies to the others while a few were pitching balls back
and forth to each other with that long, effortless swing of the arm
characteristic of a good ball player. Jim started pitching to Mylert,
taking it easy on the first few balls and gradually warming up to his
regular speed and control. But it was hard for him to keep his mind on
the work in hand, as his thoughts kept wandering to his missing friend
while his heart was filled with gloomy forebodings. He knew that Joe
would never have been absent from the ball field that afternoon unless
he were actually in captivity, or perhaps worse yet, actually injured
by his enemies to keep him from playing. The only thing that kept Jim
from throwing down his glove and starting to search for his chum then
and there was the knowledge that Joe would want him to pitch the game
for the sake of the team and to frustrate the gamblers. Jim made up
his mind that he would pitch such a game in the absence of his chum
that the opposing team would not have even a look-in. His arm had never
felt better, and he had an uncanny control over the ball that made him
confident of winning.

There was little time for practice before the umpire called “Play ball”
and the game was on.

The Giant fans were expecting a great battle that day, and they were
not disappointed. The team was playing the Pittsburghs, and the latter
were no mean adversaries. In addition to an all-around good team, they
had a young pitcher who was one of the sensations of the season. He
had been taken right from a high school team, where his phenomenal
ability had earned him the attention of a big league scout. He had a
big variety of curves, although a little erratic on control, a defect
that time would probably remedy. He was considered the best pitcher
the Pittsburghs had, and their manager had decided to work him that
afternoon before he heard of Joe’s non-appearance. After learning of
this, he decided to pitch him anyway, in order to “put the game on
ice.” The Pittsburghs were close on the trail of the Giants; so close,
that every game was important.

However, Jim was nothing daunted by this, and was confident that he
could pitch his team to victory. He had never played in a game against
Miles, the Pittsburghs’ star, but from the bench he had studied him
closely and had a pretty good line on his offerings. In addition, he
and Joe knew the weak points of every batter in the league, and just
what kind of delivery was least to his liking. This counted for a
tremendous lot in a tight place, and the two chums had worked it out to
a science.

The Pittsburghs were disposed of in the first inning in quick order.
Then the Giants came in for their turn with Curry as the first man
in the batting order. He was a dependable batter as a rule, but he
found himself helpless against the puzzling shoots dished up to him
by the star pitcher of the Pittsburghs. He knew that Miles was short
on control, and tried to wait him out, but after the pitcher had
had three balls chalked against him, he sent over three strikes in
succession, and Curry threw down his bat disgustedly and went over to
the players’ bench to meet the gibes of his team mates. But Iredell,
who followed him, was little more successful, popping up a high fly
that Miles caught without moving from the mound. Burkett struck out
in one-two-three order, and the Pittsburghs came trotting in from the
field for their second turn at bat.

“Guess our kid has got you fellows eating out of his hand,” gibed
O’Connor, the Pittsburgh captain, as he passed the Giants on their way
out to the field positions. “You fellows haven’t a chance in the world
of winning this game.”

“‘He who laugh last, irritates,’” retorted Mylert. “We’ve got as many
runs as you so far.”

O’Connor grunted and went to the dugout to get his favorite bat. In a
few seconds he was back at the plate with it, swinging it slowly back
and forth as he waited for Jim’s delivery.



CHAPTER XXI

AIR-TIGHT PITCHING


O’Connor had a big reputation throughout the league as a heavy batter,
and he was. But Joe and Jim had noticed that he invariably swung at
comparatively low balls. High ones he did not like, so, of course, Jim
was careful to give him nothing but high balls. O’Connor waited grimly
for one to come across that was to his liking, but he waited in vain.
Two strikes had been called on him, with no balls, and he realized that
the time for waiting had gone by. The next one that Jim pitched was a
high fast one that just clipped the corner of the plate. “Str-r-rike
three,” chanted the umpire, and O’Connor threw his bat to the ground
and walked over to the dugout.

“What’s the matter?” inquired Mylert, as the discomfited batsman passed
him. “It looked as though you were standing there waiting for next
Christmas to come. I thought you said you were going to win this game.”

O’Connor glared at him, but could not think of a fitting reply. The
next man to face Jim was Jenkins. Jenkins was not a heavy batter, but
when he did connect with the ball he was so fast on the bases that he
often stretched an ordinary one base hit into a two-bagger. But his
speed availed him little to-day, for he never got away from the home
plate. Three times he swung wildly at the whispering breezes, and then
retired sheepishly to the bench. The next man up fouled to Mylert for
an easy out, and the Pittsburghs’ half of the inning was over, with no
runs scored by either side.

“Good work, Jim,” chortled Robson. “Hold ’em down tight, and in a
little while we’ll blow their pitcher out of the box. The kid’s good,
all right, but he lacks steadiness. If we can once get a man or two
on the sacks, he’ll blow up with a bang that they can hear over in
Hoboken.”

But it was not an easy thing to “get a man or two on the sacks.” Miles
seemed to get better and better as the innings began to mount up, and
the game settled down into a spectacular pitchers’ duel. As the end of
the fourth inning the score still stood nothing to nothing, and bade
fair to stay that way. The mightiest batsmen on both sides were mowed
down one after the other.

In spite of the gnawing anxiety that bit at his heart whenever he
thought of his missing chum, Jim was pitching the game of his life.

At first he had hoped against hope that Joe had only been delayed,
and would show up at the ball field after all, but as inning followed
inning this hope faded out. But Jim was determined to win that game,
for he considered that he stood in Joe’s place and that he owed it to
his absent friend to chalk up a victory, as he was sure Joe would have
done had he been there.

Moreover, the thrill and tingle of the game were in his blood, his
brain, his pitching arm. No matter what emergency of the game might
arise, he had supreme confidence that he would be equal to it.

In the first half of the fifth inning O’Connor, the captain of the
Pittsburgh team, drove a vicious twisting grounder directly at Jim,
a ball that fairly smoked as it traveled. But Jim picked it off the
ground with a movement so swift that the eye could hardly follow
it and tossed the runner out at first with a big margin of safety.
When Burkett, the Giants’ first baseman, was forced far off from his
position by a high fly between first and second base, Jim covered first
base on the chance that Burkett might drop the ball. It was a difficult
ball to handle, and while the first baseman managed to knock it down
with his glove, he was unable to hold on to it. He made a snappy
recovery, however, and tossed to Jim, putting the runner out. Had the
Giant pitcher not been right where he was, the runner would have been
safe.

But the big test came in the eighth inning. Up to this time, so perfect
had been Jim’s pitching, that neither McCarney nor Hupft had had
anything to do. Jim knew that if any break came in the Giant defense,
it would in all probability be because of some error, intentional or
otherwise, on the part of one of the two men.

This break came in the first half of the eighth inning. Ralston, of
the Pittsburghs, swung wildly at a fast, straight ball, after two
strikes had been called on him, and more by luck than good management
connected squarely with it. The ball whistled straight over Jim’s head
and almost into the hands of Hupft, who was playing center-field. But
Hupft, instead of waiting for the ball, which was all he had to do, ran
in on it instead, and the ball passed over his head. At the last second
he made an ineffectual leap for it, but to no avail. The ball bounded
along the grass until it was finally retrieved by Curry. But by this
time the runner had reached third base and would probably have made the
home sack had not Curry made a wonderful long throw to Jim, which made
the runner think better of the attempt.

Still the Pittsburghs had not scored, but they had a man on third base,
with only one out. Baskerville was the next man at bat, and he made a
sacrifice bunt in the direction of third base. It was McCarney’s ball,
and he picked it up in snappy style, and threw to Mylert to keep the
runner at third from reaching home. It was an easy play, but McCarney
threw wild, so wild that Mylert, in spite of a back-breaking reach for
it, was unable to connect. Throwing aside his mask he dashed after the
ball, recovered it, and seeing that it was too late to nail Ralston at
home, he made a superb toss to Larry Barrett, who nailed Baskerville at
second. Jim struck out the next batter with three pitched balls, which
shot over the plate so fast that the batter seemed dazed when he walked
back to the dugout.

But the Pittsburghs had scored, and that lone run looked pretty big
at this stage of the game. The Giants had only two chances left to
overcome it, and Miles seemed to be pitching better at this time than
when he started.

Larry was the first Giant batter to face the Pittsburgh pitcher, and
the grim look on his usually jovial face showed that he appreciated the
gravity of the situation.

“Knock the cover off that pill, Barrett, and I’ll buy you a new one
covered with ten dollar bills,” said McRae, as Larry started for the
plate.

“Shure, an’ I’ll do ut, thin,” promised Larry, with a flash of his
usual happy grin. “This’ll be an expensive wallop for you, Mac.”

Larry did his best, but luck was against him. He poled a hot grounder
between first and second base, but the Pittsburgh shortstop smothered
it and pitched Larry out at first.

“Good night!” he exclaimed, as he reached the bench. “Thim
Pittsburghers has more luck than brains. Shure, it wuz a lovely hit,
and I had your money spint already, Mac, whin that spalpeen tuck it
away from me.”

“Well, it’s the safe ones that count,” remarked the manager. “Anybody
can hit them at the fielders.”

Allen was next at bat, and his team mates sat tense, waiting to see
what he would do. The chances of the Giants winning the game were
getting poor, and already many of the more pessimistic rooters were
leaving the stands. Allen was not noted as a slugger, and Jim followed
him. Many thought that McRae would substitute a pinch hitter for Jim,
as a pitcher is not supposed to be a very heavy slugger, and Jim had
not the reputation in that line that Joe possessed.

Two strikes were called on Allen, when the Pittsburgh pitcher loosed a
wild throw that struck the batter on the arm. This sent Allen to first
base and put the next move up to Jim. To many of the fans it seemed as
though McRae should put in his heaviest slugger at this point, but the
manager, with that knowledge of men’s hearts and minds that had made
him famous in the game, thought otherwise. He understood Jim’s desire
to win this game above all others, and he believed that Jim, backed by
that desire, would be more apt to slam out a hit than any other man on
the team.

“Go in and win your own game, Jim,” he admonished his young pitcher.
“Make the crooks wish that they’d let Joe pitch this game. Show them
that dirty work doesn’t pay.”

“That’s exactly what I hope to do,” said Jim, with a grim set to his
square jaw. “I’d be willing to give my next year’s pay to win this
game.”

Miles seemed a trifle rattled by hitting Allen, and the first two balls
he pitched were wide of the plate. The next was a low, fast one, and
Jim scooped it up, sending it whistling straight at Miles. The ball
came so fast that the pitcher was unable to hang on to it, but he
succeeded in stopping it, and it rolled along a few feet toward first
base.



CHAPTER XXII

JIM PUTS ONE OVER


As soon as Jim felt the bat connect with the ball he started down the
base line at top speed, and top speed with Jim meant covering ground
fast. Every bit of energy in him was concentrated on beating that
ball to first base, and no sprinter could have made the distance more
quickly. He was two-thirds of the way to first when Miles recovered the
ball and straightened up for the throw. Fifteen feet from the bag Jim
leaped through the air in a headlong dive for the sack, reaching it in
a cloud of dust. A fraction of a second later he heard the smack of the
ball in the first baseman’s glove, but it came too late. The umpire
declared Jim safe, and he got to his feet, slapping clouds of dust from
his uniform.

Miles really should have thrown the ball to second and tried to cut off
Allen; but, as it was, the latter reached the second hassock safely,
and a moment later stole third. Things now began to look brighter
for the home team, especially as Mylert, who was always a dependable
slugger, was next at bat.

Miles wound up and delivered a slow, elusive curve that would have
fooled most batters. But Mylert judged it to a nicety and poled a safe
one-base hit into right field. Allen and Jim sprinted around, the
former crossing home plate with the tying run.

By this time the Pittsburgh fielder had recovered the ball. He shot it
to third base, in the hope of catching Jim there. But the Giant pitcher
had already reached this base and was making for home, covering ground
like a frightened jack-rabbit. The grandstand and bleachers rose to
their feet _en masse_ and a roar of excited shouting swept over the
field.

It looked as though Jim had ventured too much and would surely be
thrown out at the home plate. But he ran as he had never run before,
and slid for the bag like a human catapult. The ball actually reached
the catcher ahead of him, but such was the force of the slide that when
the catcher tried to touch him out, the ball was knocked from his hand
and bounded over the grass several feet away. Jim was safe, and the
score stood 2 to 1 in favor of the Giants!

At that the rooters went wild, and for five minutes the racket startled
even the hardened residents of that neighborhood. Jim was surrounded
by his team mates and pounded and thumped enthusiastically. But there
was little time for this now as the game was not yet finished, and was
far from being a certainty, as the Pittsburghs still had an inning at
bat.

Mylert was still at first base, and Curry came to the bat next. He did
his best, but hit into a fast double play, which cut short the Giant
rally.

Now it was up to Jim to retain the one-run lead that he and his team
mates had acquired. The Pittsburghs were wild at having the game
snatched from their grasp so near the end, and went to the bat with
determination writ large on their features.

Now everything depended on Jim. His support could not be relied on.
He knew that if the ball were once delivered into the hands of either
Hupft or McCarney they would manage in some way to mishandle it and
let in a run or two. He realized that the only sure thing was to keep
the opposing batsmen from even hitting the ball, and to this end he
summoned all his resource and skill.

His arm still felt strong, and his control was little short of
marvelous. The first man to face him was struck out on three pitched
balls, the second fouled weakly to Mylert and was put out easily.
The third man lifted a high fly toward third base. This ball really
belonged to McCarney, but in an instant Jim resolved to take no
chances. He started running for the ball at the same instant as
McCarney.

“It’s my ball! Keep away!” shouted McCarney.

Jim paid no heed. He grabbed the ball as it descended and at the same
instant collided with McCarney. The third baseman was hurled sprawling
several feet away, but Jim kept his feet, although he was badly shaken.
But the batter was out, and the Giants had won the game.

“Confound you!” growled McCarney, as he struggled to his feet. “What do
you mean by taking that play out of my hands? I’ll get you for this,
you see if I don’t!”

“You know blamed well why I took it,” retorted Jim. “I took it because
I couldn’t trust you to make a straight play on it. And if you want to
make a fuss about it I’ll tell the whole world the same thing.”

“Aw, you’ve got me wrong,” protested McCarney, his threat changing to a
whine. “I’ve just been running in a streak of bad luck lately, and here
you and your pal try to hang it on me that I’m throwing the games. Lay
off, can’t you?”

Jim did not even take the trouble to answer this, but made the best of
his way to the clubhouse. A mob of cheering fans was pouring down on
to the field by this time, and he had to hurry his pace in order to
escape their attentions.

In the clubhouse there was a hot discussion going on over the merits of
Jim’s play. The general attitude was that “all’s well that ends well,”
though some thought that Jim should have left the play to McCarney.
However, the wiser ones had been suspicious of the new players of late,
and could guess pretty accurately the motives that had impelled Jim to
act as he did. But above all else was rejoicing that they had won the
game, and Jim was the hero of the hour.

The one thought uppermost in the pitcher’s mind was to be off in search
of his missing friend, and he was impatient of delay. As soon as
possible he slipped out of the clubhouse and set off on his difficult
quest.

In this he had little to guide him, and he had no other plan save to
watch for McCarney and shadow him, as Joe had done the day before. But
this was not so simple a matter now, for the recreant third baseman had
been rendered wary by Joe’s discovery of the gamblers’ house, and when
he came out of the clubhouse he glanced cautiously in every direction
before he started off at a brisk walk in the direction of the nearest
subway station.

The streets were so crowded, however, that Jim managed to escape
detection, and in the subway boarded the same train as McCarney. The
latter took a seat inside and Jim stuck to the platform, where he could
keep an eye on his quarry without much likelihood of being seen himself.

At Ninety-sixth Street McCarney changed to an express, and Jim did
likewise. They were whisked rapidly downtown. McCarney got off at
Fourteenth Street, with Jim still on his trail.

From that point McCarney strode rapidly westward, and more than once
Jim escaped detection by a miracle, as McCarney continually cast
suspicious glances behind him. Eventually he reached the street where
the gamblers’ house was located, and turned down it. Jim waited at the
corner, as the street was deserted and McCarney would be almost certain
to see him if he turned the corner.

From his post of vantage he saw McCarney ascend the steps of the house
and ring the bell. The door was opened a few inches and the ball player
held a short conversation with some unseen person inside, after which
he descended the steps and walked rapidly toward the corner where Jim
was observing his actions.

The latter had only time to dodge into a convenient hallway when
McCarney passed the corner, apparently on his way back to the subway
station. Jim gave him plenty of time to get well out of the way before
he stepped into the street again. He had no definite plan in mind as
yet, except to get inside the house someway and aid his friend to
escape, provided he was there. But how to get in was the knotty problem.

He sauntered down the street and past the house, examining it from the
corners of his eyes without seeming to take undue interest in it, as
he did not know who might be on the lookout. He walked on to the next
corner and stood there a few minutes, trying to think of a feasible
plan. He then started back to have another look at the place, and had
reached a point about opposite when a big automobile came sweeping
around the corner and drew up at the curb only a few feet from where he
was standing.

The car was filled with a crowd of rough looking men. Almost before
he could realize what was happening, Jim was surrounded and attacked
by these fellows. He fought desperately, but the odds were too great,
and he was carried, still struggling, to the waiting automobile. Here
he was pinned to the floor, a gag was stuffed into his mouth, and his
hands and feet were securely tied.

It was hardly two minutes from the time that the car drew up before it
was again on its way, and the dexterity of Jim’s captors spoke of much
practice in similar episodes. The gamblers, finding that the removal
of Joe from the team was not sufficient to cause its defeat, had not
hesitated to go further and abduct the only other pitching ace the team
possessed, thus making it practically impossible for it to win the
pennant.

Meanwhile McRae, not knowing of this fresh disaster, was hiring
detectives to find Joe and trying to plan a series of games in which he
might employ Jim to the best advantage in the event that Joe was not
found.

He called at Jim’s hotel that evening to talk over matters with him,
and when told that Jim had not been there since leaving for the ball
field, he became wildly excited. He hunted up Robson, and together
they held a conference. In the end McRae called up the head of the
most famous detective agency in the country and, after swearing him to
secrecy, commissioned him to hunt for the missing ball players.

“Well, we’ve done all that we can do just now, and we might as well
get a night’s sleep,” said Robson. “Don’t forget that both Matson and
Barclay are resourceful lads and know how to handle themselves. I
wouldn’t be surprised to see them both turn up in time for to-morrow’s
game.”

“If they don’t we’ll lose,” predicted McRae gloomily. “The team can’t
pull together when things like this are going on. It’s getting so
that nobody trusts anybody else on the team, and I never yet saw an
aggregation of ball players win a pennant under those conditions.”

The game next day proved the truth of this assertion. Both Joe and
Jim were still missing, and while Bradley pitched a game that would
ordinarily have been good enough to win, his team mates failed to
support him in their usual masterly style, and the game was a walkover
for their opponents, the score being 7 to 0 against them. Suspicion was
rife on the team and the outlook for winning the pennant seemed gloomy
indeed.



CHAPTER XXIII

A TERRIBLE ALTERNATIVE


The interest and speculation caused by the disappearance of the two
crack pitchers of the Giants was at fever pitch. The sporting pages of
all the papers were filled with special articles and the story in many
was featured on the first page. Fans collected on every street corner
and discussed the many strange features of the occurrence. Many were
the ingenious solutions proposed, and McRae’s mail in the morning was
flooded with advice from amateur sportsmen and detectives.

All this, however, was of little service to either Joe or Jim. After
the former had been finally overborne by sheer weight of numbers in the
dark hallway of the gamblers’ house, he was conveyed to a dark room in
the basement of the old building. The place was as dark as pitch, and
was infested with rats and other vermin. For several hours they were
his only company, and he had ample leisure for some bitter reflections
on the hard fate that had brought him to this pass. Too late he wished
that he had summoned aid before entering the house. He thought of the
team waiting for him and counting on him for the game the following
day, and a feeling of hot resentment and rage against his captors
welled up in him. Following this came a resolve to outwit his enemies
and escape, and with this idea in mind he made a careful exploration of
the place in which he was confined.

The walls were of stone or cement, and were clammy and dripping with
water. The air was cold and damp, and although in the world outside it
was a lovely summer evening, Joe shivered in the dark atmosphere of his
prison.

The hours dragged slowly by, for what seemed an interminable time, and
Joe was preparing to make a bed on the floor and get what sleep he
could under the circumstances, when he heard the sound of a key being
turned in a lock. The door of the place opened on complaining hinges,
and the big, flashily dressed man who had directed his capture in the
hallway entered, carrying a lantern. At his back came two rough looking
men, each carrying a club.

“Well, young feller, you seem to have got yourself into a nice mess
now, haven’t you?” inquired the fat man.

“You mean you’ve got me into it,” retorted Joe. “I’m not here because I
want to be here.”

“Well, don’t get gay, now, or maybe we can make you wish you hadn’t,”
threatened the other. “All you’ve got to do is to follow the directions
we give you, and you won’t get hurt.”

“If you didn’t have those ruffians with you, you might get hurt
yourself,” said Joe.

“I brought them along on purpose so that wouldn’t happen, young
feller,” said the other. “After watching you in action upstairs a while
back, I’m ready to admit that you know how to handle yourself, but I
don’t propose to have you make a punching bag of me.”

“What is it you want me to do?” asked Joe curtly. “I can probably tell
you in advance that I won’t do it, but it won’t hurt to listen to you.”

“I don’t see that you have much choice,” said his captor. “But I don’t
think I’ll tell you what I want you to do――not yet. Maybe a night in
this hole will make you readier to listen to reason. The rats are
rather thick down here, and I imagine by to-morrow you’ll be glad to
get out on any terms. I wouldn’t like it much here myself.”

The two fellows behind the speaker laughed hoarsely at this attempt at
humor.

“Better let us tap him a few wid de persuaders, boss,” said one. “The
feller is too fresh. I kin see that with half an eye. Let’s rough ’im
up a bit.”

The leader seemed undetermined, but finally decided against this.

“A night in this place will fix him, all right,” he said. “If it don’t,
there are lots of other ways to make him act nice. When my bunch wants
a man to do something, he does it, or he’s mighty sorry, that’s all.”

With this the fellow turned, followed by the two with him. For
an instant Joe had a mad impulse to attack the trio, but he was
weaponless, and he told himself that better opportunities of escape
were sure to offer. The door creaked on its rusty hinges, a lock
snapped, and he was left alone with his thoughts.

Needless to say, these were not of the pleasantest description. What
was it that the fellow wanted of him? Whatever it was, Joe felt sure
that it would be something with which he could not honorably comply,
and he was ready to face any hardship before doing a dishonorable thing.

That night stood out in his memory ever after like some horrible
nightmare. He was badly bruised from the effects of his fall and the
struggle that followed, and besides was cold and hungry. He craved
sleep, but sleep in that rat-ridden den was impossible. He could hear
the rats scurrying about in the darkness, and more than once he felt
the nip of small but sharp teeth as he flung some rodent away from
him. As the night wore on the rats became bolder in their attacks, and
it was all Joe could do to ward them off. Every hour seemed like an
eternity, and it was with boundless relief that he at last heard the
key turn in the lock.

This time there were three different men from those he had seen the
night before, but he recognized two of them as having been among his
assailants the previous day. The third man he had never seen before.

“The boss wants to see you upstairs,” said this individual. “He sent us
to take you up.”

“Lead the way,” said Joe. “Any place is better than this filthy den.”

The man eyed him curiously.

“Say, you’re Matson, the pitcher of the Giants, ain’t you?” he asked,
with a note of surprise in his voice.

“You’re right the first time,” Joe assured him. “Anything I can do for
you?”

The other made no reply to this, but merely motioned to Joe to follow
him. They passed through a long cellar and then up a flight of stairs
that let them into the rear of the hall where Joe had had the battle
the previous day. Then they climbed the main staircase, and Joe was
conducted into the room where the rascals had been congregated.

The leader of the gang was there, in company with another man whose
face seemed familiar to Joe from the first. He could not place the man,
however, and had little time to think of this before the ringleader
spoke.

“Well, young feller, how did you enjoy the night?” he asked, and there
was a cruel leer on his big, flabby face.

“You know well enough what that place is like without my telling you,”
said Joe. “Tell me what your game is and let’s get it over with. You
won’t gain anything by putting it off.”

The other regarded him searchingly for a few moments.

“Well, in your case, perhaps not,” he said at last. “What you have got
to do is to sign a paper saying that you won’t play baseball again this
season. You sign the paper, and you walk out the door a free man.”

“And what if I refuse?” asked Joe.

“Then you’re going toward the river. There’s too much of our money sunk
in this game now to let us hesitate about what happens to one baseball
player more or less.”

“You must have a lot of confidence in me,” said Joe. “Suppose I sign
this paper and then go right ahead and play ball anyway? What’s to
stop me from doing that?”

“Say, son, you must think we’re easy!” he said. “When you sign this
paper it will tie the can to your career as a ball player. In it
you’ll admit that you threw several games last season, and this
for pay. You’ll name the dates and the games, and we’ll have other
framed evidence to back it up. Oh, you won’t play any more games this
season――nor any other season, I guess. But if you _don’t_ sign this
paper, you won’t play any more games, either,” he added significantly.

For the first time the full measure of his extremity dawned on Joe.
On the one hand he was asked to sign a paper that would disgrace him
and make him an outcast in the eyes of the world――such a paper as no
decent man would care to sign and live after signing it. And if he did
not sign, there might be even death waiting for him, without the chance
of saying good-by to his young wife and to his parents and friends,
certainly such an injury as would forever put him out of baseball. Of
the two hard alternatives he quickly made his choice.

“I guess it will have to be the river for mine, then,” he said, in a
steady voice. “You can rest assured I won’t sign any such blackguard
paper as that.”

The ringleader gave an exclamation.

“Take him back to the cellar, men,” he ordered. “You can have until
to-night to change your mind, young feller. If you don’t do what I want
you to then, you――well, you’ll take the consequences, that’s all.”

The others closed in on Joe to take him away, but Joe wrenched himself
free and with a movement like that of a leaping panther he was at the
scoundrel. His fist shot out and caught the fellow squarely between the
eyes. A look of vacant surprise spread over the flabby features and the
man crumpled to the floor.

Before Joe could strike another blow his hands were pinned to
his sides, and he was hustled out of the room on the way to the
subterranean cell.

“You couldn’t have done a worse thing than that, Matson,” said the man
who had recognized him as being the Giants’ pitcher. “The boss will
have it in for you worse than ever now. It’ll be personal hate, as well
as money.”

“He’d probably do his worst, anyway, and that will give him something
to remember me by,” said Joe grimly.

“You’ve got nerve, kid. I’ve got to hand it to you,” said the other.
“I’m sorry they’ve got you slated for the river. I used to be a ball
player myself once, and I guess I’ve got some idea of how you feel
about it.”

Joe paid little attention to the man’s words, for his mind was busy
trying to place the man whom he had seen when he first entered the room
upstairs. He was sure he had seen him somewhere.

His captors conducted him to the room in the cellar, thrust him in, and
locked the door. Joe felt that he might perhaps go to his death when
that door opened in the evening. The men were desperate. They planned
injury, and a step too far―― A crowd of thoughts and memories came
thronging through his mind. A bitter end, this, to his work for fame
and fortune.

But was there, in fact, no chance of escape from that dark pit? He
paced to the wall and started to examine every square inch of it with
his fingers. Nothing but hard, smooth cement met his search, and after
an hour of fruitless effort he was about to give over the attempt when
he heard a stealthy, scratching sound from the direction of the door.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE ESCAPE


The scratching sound continued, and then Joe could hear the sound
of the lock being stealthily shot back. But why should his captors
exercise such caution? There was dead silence for a few seconds, and
then the door swung slowly open, letting in a dim, sickly light from
the cellar beyond.

This slow approach of some unseen person was beginning to get on Joe’s
nerves, and he was about to utter a challenge when a sibilant whisper
warned him to be quiet.

The door was now open a foot or so, and a dark figure edged itself into
the room. Joe stood tense, waiting for the attack that he thought was
coming.

But no attack came. Instead, a tiny shaft of light, reflected from a
flashlight in the newcomer’s hand, lit the place dimly. By its rays Joe
recognized the man who had said that he used to be a ball player and
who had seemed to take an interest in him.

“Don’t make a sound, Matson,” he warned. “If they catch me, there’ll be
two of us in a desperate plight to-night, instead of one. The big chief
has sworn to get you to-night, and he’d just as soon knock me out at
the same time.”

“What has he got against you?” asked Joe curiously.

“Nothing yet. But he would have if he knew I was helping you escape.”

“Escape!” echoed Joe, hardly willing to believe his ears. “Do you
really mean that you’re going to help me get away from this place?”

“That’s what,” averred the other. “I’m taking my life in my hands to do
it, but I couldn’t stand by and let them injure――or worse――a game ball
player like you. I’ve seen you pitch more than once, and you’re too
good to have a fate like that. I told you I used to be a ball player
myself, before drink put me down and out. But we can’t waste time
talking here. Follow me, and I’ll see if I can get you out.”

He led Joe through the cellar until they reached the stairs leading to
the first floor. They had started to ascend when the guide stopped,
and Joe could hear voices from above. Joe recognized the voice of the
leader, raised in angry protest.

“I’m not going to argue with you any more now,” he shouted. “The bunch
will be at Bill Davendorp’s to-night, and we’ll hash out the whole
thing then and make our plans. If that doesn’t suit you, I can’t help
it.”

Joe could not hear what the other man said, but he apparently spoke
soothingly, and their voices dropped to an indistinguishable monotone.

“I’ll have to get you out another way,” whispered Joe’s guide.

He noiselessly descended the steps to the cellar, with Joe at his
heels. They had not gone far when Joe’s guide stopped at a stout door
set in the cellar wall and fitted a key into the lock. Cautiously he
swung the door open and then for a full minute stood listening intently.

In the silence Joe could hear the wash and lap of water at no great
distance, and the thought flashed across his mind that perhaps this man
was leading him into some death trap. But he was totally in the power
of the man, who had only to shout to bring members of the gang to his
assistance. Joe resolved to follow him unhesitatingly, since, after
all, it seemed his only chance.

After listening for some time, the ex-ball player apparently decided
that the way was clear, for he motioned to Joe to follow him. They
entered the black tunnel, for such it seemed to be, and went slowly
forward, the path being dimly lighted by the little flashlight. The
walls were wet and moldy, and there was hardly room for one man to
pass along. Ever as they walked the splash and gurgle of running water
came nearer, until, after rounding a corner, Joe saw the cause.

The tunnel ended at the river, only a foot or two above the high water
mark. The tide was at flow, and the waters of the mighty Hudson raced
and swirled past, moaning and gurgling about the piles of an old dock
under which the tunnel had its exit. Joe could not repress a shudder as
he gazed at the green water lapping past almost under his feet, for he
reflected that possibly he had been close to an ignominious death in
its cold depths.

“There are spikes driven into the far side of that pile,” said Joe’s
rescuer, indicating a slippery green post to the right of the tunnel.
“When you get to the top you’ll find a trap door that will let you out
on the dock. From there you can easily enough reach the street. Then
see how fast you can get away from this neighborhood. And one more
thing: Take a little advice and don’t go around alone much for the rest
of the baseball season.”

Joe extended his hand.

“I don’t even know your name,” he said, “but I know you’re a real man
in spite of the set you’re running with. Why don’t you shake them and
play the game on the level? If I can ever help you with cash or in
any other way, all you’ll ever have to do is to say so. I owe my whole
future to you.”

The other took the extended hand.

“Your dope sounds good, kid, and maybe I’ll do it,” he said. “But don’t
think about me any more. Go in and bring your team out at the top of
the heap, and I’ll be paid for my trouble. I used to belong to the
Giants once.”

Joe wanted to ask him more, but the man only waved his hand and
disappeared in the black mouth of the tunnel. Joe felt for the spikes
in the slippery pile and found them just as his rescuer had said.
Three minutes later he was standing on the hot planks of the dock, the
glorious summer sun beating down on him, deep joy and thanksgiving in
his heart.

The dock was deserted, and Joe started for the landward end, on his
guard for any sign of his enemies. But nothing occurred to hinder him,
and in a few minutes he had reached West Street. Here he turned south
for a few blocks and then east until he reached a subway station. Here
he boarded a subway train that would take him to the Polo Grounds.

As the train whizzed uptown it almost seemed to Joe as though he had
been through a terrible dream, from which he had just awakened. In his
ears was still the voice of the man, saying:

“The gang will meet at Bill Davendorp’s to-night and we’ll make our
plans then.”

Joe had heard of this Davendorp before. He was a shady character, known
to the police but never actually convicted of any crime. He was the
proprietor of “Davendorp’s Sporting Parlors,” a resort much frequented
by people who led an evil life.

Already Joe was beginning to revolve plans in his mind for discovering
the schemes of the plotters, but, warned by his recent terrible
experience, he had no intention of going into the venture single-handed.
He planned to tell the whole story to McRae and leave the matter to the
greater experience and resources of the manager.

When Joe entered the clubhouse a shout went up that brought McRae and
Robson on the run, under the impression that a riot had broken out. Joe
was bombarded with questions from every side, and the delight of his
team mates passed all bounds. It was some time before McRae and Robson
could drag him away to the former’s office, where Joe gave a complete
account of his harrowing experiences.

“But how about Jim?” asked McRae, when Joe had finished. “Wasn’t he
with you?”

“Jim?” exclaimed Joe. “Don’t tell me that the gang has got him, too!”

“It looks that way,” said the manager grimly. “He went in search of
you the day following your disappearance, and nobody’s seen nor heard
from him since.”

This news came as a terrible blow to Joe and put a damper on his
happiness at his own escape. But he resolved to hunt for his missing
friend right away.

This was not so easy, however, as news of his arrival had gone out on
to the field and spread to grandstand and bleachers, where the greatest
excitement prevailed. Joe had to go out and show himself, whereupon the
fans rose and gave him a greeting that any one might have been proud
to receive as a tribute. They all wanted Joe to pitch the game that
afternoon, but McRae would not hear of it.

“After what you’ve been through, Matson, you need a good rest before
you’ll be ready to pitch again. Take the afternoon off, and forget
about baseball for that length of time.”



CHAPTER XXV

DOWN THE ROPE


It was not easy for Joe to “forget about baseball,” but the thought of
his chum in captivity, perhaps as bad as that from which he himself had
just escaped, did much to take his mind from the game that he loved so
well.

How was he to find out where Jim was held captive? New York is a
tremendously big city, and Joe had not the faintest clue on which to
work. McCarney would be likely to know something about it, Joe thought,
but if he did there was little hope of getting the information out of
him.

Joe decided that the first step would be to go to his hotel, get a bath
and put on some respectable clothes before starting the hunt for Jim.
The clothes he had on were torn and bedraggled, and when he caught a
glimpse of himself in a mirror he realized that he looked more like a
tramp than the spruce star pitcher of the New York Giants.

When he arrived at the family hotel the clerk, a young woman, threw up
her hands in mingled wonder at his unkempt appearance and delight at
his return. She had a keen interest in both Joe and Jim, and had been
sorely grieved at their disappearance.

Joe gave her a brief sketch of his experience and told her that Jim was
still missing.

“Oh, that reminds me!” exclaimed the clerk. “A note came from Mr.
Barclay not an hour ago, and as you weren’t here I was going to call up
Mr. McRae and tell him about it.”

“A note from Jim!” exclaimed Joe. “Who brought it? Let’s have a look at
it.”

The clerk turned to her desk, and finally produced a crumpled scrap of
paper.

“There it is,” she said, handing it to Joe. “It was brought by the
dirtiest boy I ever saw. He said that he saw it thrown out of a window,
and when he saw that it was addressed to Joe Matson he pretty near
killed himself to bring it here. He seemed awfully disappointed when I
told him you weren’t here. He talked to me the longest while about what
a wonderful pitcher you were, and it was all I could do to get rid of
him. I never could understand why people think it’s such a wonderful
thing to be able to throw a baseball around,” and she smiled.

But Joe did not hear a word that she was saying. He was engrossed in
the note, which had been scribbled on a torn piece of brown wrapping
paper.

    “The crooks have got me in a house opposite to number 821
    East 17th St. Am taking a chance that you’ve got clear and
    can help me. Come if you can.                        JIM.”

“Will I!” exclaimed Joe. “I’ll tell the world!” and he bounded up the
stairs to his room.

“Tell the world what?” called the clerk after him, but she got no
answer. Joe scrubbed the worst of the dirt off his hands and face,
jumped into another suit of clothes, and was out the door like a shot,
much to the disappointment of the young woman clerk, who was consumed
with curiosity to know his plans.

As a matter of fact, Joe did not have any definite plan, but his
friend had called on him for aid and his one thought was to fly to his
assistance. The idea uppermost in his mind was to locate the building,
reconnoiter it, and then see what he could do. It seemed hours before
he finally got out of the subway at East Eighteenth Street, although
really the trip was a short one. He walked rapidly in the direction of
the East River, scanning the house numbers as he went.

It did not take him long to find the address that Jim had scribbled in
his note. Opposite this house was a big building that looked as though
it had once been used as a warehouse. There seemed to be no sign of
life about it now, however. There were few windows, and most of these
were tightly boarded up.

Joe scanned the front anxiously, wondering if the note had been a fake
after all. Even if Jim were in the place, how could he let Joe know it?

These and many other doubts passed through Joe’s mind as he stood
looking at the high, drab wall of the place. But suddenly, from a small
window close to the roof, a hand was waved and a moment later Joe saw
the face of his friend framed in the opening.

Joe waved back to him, and a few minutes later he saw a bit of paper
come fluttering down. Joe picked it up almost before it had touched the
roadway and scanned its contents.

“Be careful, Joe, and whatever you do, don’t call the police,” read the
note. “If this place is raided, the first thing they’ll do is get me
out of the way. Try and get a rope up to me some way. If you can’t, it
will be bad for me.”

Joe measured the height of the window with his eye. It was at least one
hundred feet from the ground, but suddenly Joe had an inspiration.

He waved his hand to let Jim know that he had gotten the note and
understood, and then walked at top speed toward Second Avenue. After a
further walk of a few short blocks, he saw a small hardware store. He
purchased a long coil of stout hemp rope and a ball of light but strong
twine. Then in a small stationery store he bought a baseball, and with
his newly acquired property he hurried back to the place where his
friend was held prisoner.

Fortunately for Joe’s project, that part of the city, close to the
East River, is a quiet neighborhood, far removed from the roaring
tides of traffic that go surging up and down the main avenues. The
inhabitants of that neighborhood are prone to mind their own business,
and while several people whom he passed looked curiously at his unusual
equipment, no embarrassing questions were asked. The old warehouse was
the last building between the street and the river, and when Joe got to
it the street seemed deserted, for which he was duly grateful.

Taking the baseball from his pocket, he wound it firmly about with
twine and then attached a long string of that material to it. While he
was making these preparations, he could see Jim peering from the little
window, and he knew that his friend would quickly understand his plan.

Joe carefully measured the distance with his eye, wound up, and pitched
the ball with all his strength toward the small opening high in the
wall. It struck within a few inches of the window, but bounded off and
bounced down into the street. Joe picked it up, untangled the twine,
and tried again. This time the ball went right through the center of
the open window. The throw must have been all of a hundred feet from
the sidewalk to the window, and in addition the ball was weighted with
the trailing twine. It is doubtful if any other pitcher in the big
leagues could have equaled the wonderful throw. Joe, however, never
gave the matter a thought. Jim had one end of the twine, and Joe was
elated that his scheme had been successful so far.

He glanced cautiously about, but as far as he could tell his actions
had not attracted any attention. Half way up the block a few people
were going in and out of the shabby tenement houses, but they took no
notice of him. However, he judged it wise to wait a few minutes before
proceeding farther, and so sat down on his coil of rope and whittled
nonchalantly at a sliver of wood. The thin string hanging down the
front of the old warehouse would never be noticed from the street, and
Joe felt reasonably secure so far.

After about ten minutes of waiting there came a time when the street
was again almost deserted, and Joe was not slow in taking advantage
of this. Crossing swiftly over, he attached the end of the one-inch
hemp line to the twine, and gave a gentle pull to let Jim know that
everything was all right.

The latter had grasped Joe’s idea as soon as the baseball with the
twine attached came bounding into the room. Now, when he felt the tug
on the cord, he pulled the rope up hand over hand, and soon had the end
in the room. There were several big hooks in the room, and he quickly
fastened the cord to one of these. This done, he prepared to essay the
perilous descent.



CHAPTER XXVI

SCATTERING THE RASCALS


It required nerve to climb out on the narrow window sill and trust his
life to that swaying rope, but Jim was plentifully equipped with that
article, and he hesitated not a second. He twisted the rope several
times about one leg, so as to take some of the strain off his arms, and
then started sliding slowly down.

Down on the sidewalk, Joe held the lower end of the rope, to prevent
its swinging, and gazed anxiously up at his friend. One false move or a
moment of dizziness, and Jim would be dashed to death on the paving.

So engrossed was Joe in watching his chum that he forgot to watch for
anything else, and he was not conscious of the presence of a man who
had come out of the warehouse a moment before and who now stood gazing
in stupefied silence at the sight that met his eyes.

His period of inaction, however, did not last long. With a startled
shout he sprang into action and dashed back into the building, calling
at the top of his lungs.

Jim was still less than half way down, and Joe gazed desperately about
in the hope of assistance.

There was none in sight. Jim had heard the man’s shout, and, knowing
that his actions were discovered, slid down the rope at increased
speed. But he was still thirty or forty feet from the sidewalk when the
man who had raised the alarm dashed out, followed by three others. They
made furiously for Joe, and he let go the rope and rushed to meet them.
He knew that he would have to beat them off until Jim could join him.

The fellows did not recognize Joe, and they were chiefly concerned
lest Jim should escape them. They tried to get at the rope, but Joe
would not have it so. Hot rage boiled up in him at the thought of the
unprovoked attacks on him and his friend. He saw red, and the four
ruffians were staggered by the force and fury of his onslaught. They
gave back momentarily, then returned to the attack.

One of them had a club in his hand. He edged behind Joe, waiting for a
chance to use it. The weapon was poised in readiness for a blow when
its owner was sent sprawling to the ground. Jim stood at his friend’s
side.

He also had the memory of recent wrongs and insults to avenge, and
together the two friends charged into their assailants, striking right
and left and feeling a fierce joy as their flailing fists smashed and
battered at their shrinking opponents.

But reënforcements were at hand for the ball players’ opponents. With a
yell, three more fellows dashed out of the warehouse and charged into
the fray.

“Time for a getaway, Jim,” panted Joe, realizing that these odds were
too great. As he spoke, he saw the club that one of the ruffians had
dropped lying on the sidewalk. Like a flash he picked it up and laid
about him like a madman. As his weapon landed with terrific force, the
scoundrels momentarily gave ground.

“Come on, Jim!” shouted Joe, and the two friends charged through the
ring of assailants like a couple of maddened bulls.

Then they took to their heels, with the rascals after them. But the
latter were no match for fleet base runners like the two Giant ball
players. Reaching the corner, the two boys raced up the avenue a block
or so, but the ruffians appeared to have given up the pursuit, and they
slowed down to a walk.

They kept up a rapid pace, however, and did not feel secure until they
were seated in a subway train and speeding uptown.

Both of them bore signs of the struggle they had been through, but
they little minded this nor the curious stares of the other passengers.
They were both safe, after having gone through adventures that might
well have ended in tragedy for one or both.

Joe looked at his friend, and Jim looked at him. Then they both grinned.

“I don’t blame people for looking at us as though we were a couple of
freaks,” said Joe. “If I look as bunged up as you do, Jim, I must be a
terrible sight.”

“You are,” said Jim frankly. “I guess I am too, though. And make out my
hands aren’t sore!” and he exhibited two blistered palms. “After that
gang came swarming out of the house I slid down that rope so fast that
it smoked.”

“You didn’t get down a minute too soon,” answered Joe. “But your hands
look pretty bad. I’m afraid you won’t be able to pitch for a week, at
the least.”

“Well, if I hadn’t slid down fast, I’d probably never have pitched
again at any time,” said Jim. “A few blisters are a cheap price to pay
to get away from that gang.”

“Don’t forget the rope that I contributed,” Joe reminded him. “Not to
mention the baseball.”

“That was some rock,” said Jim. “When it landed in the room I thought
it would go through the floor. I’ve got to hand it to you for thinking
up that scheme, Joe. Likewise, that was a wonderful throw you made, up
to the window. When I saw you winding up for it, I never thought you’d
make it.”

“It was a case of where I had to make it,” said Joe. “Anyway, I think I
could have hoisted it a little higher if I’d had to. You can never tell
what you can do till you try. But now tell me how you happened to get
in that place. I’ll bet they had a scrimmage before they persuaded you
to make them a visit.”

“Well, I can’t claim much of a battle, at that,” confessed Jim. “I
trailed you to that house on the West Side, and I was trying to think
up a plan to get inside when a big automobile came along and stopped
right near me. I didn’t think much of it, but the next thing I knew
a crowd of six or seven rascals landed on my devoted head and I went
down for the count. They carried me over to that joint near the East
River, and locked me in a little room on the top floor. I’d have had to
be a human fly to get out, and I guess they thought they had me safely
cooped up.”

“Did they want you to sign a framed-up paper that would have run you
out of the game?” asked Joe. “That’s what they handed me.”

“That was the idea, all right,” replied his friend. “Of course I
refused, and then they told me I could starve until I came around to
their terms. I haven’t had anything to eat in twenty-four hours, and,
believe me, a nice beefsteak would be mighty easy to take.”

“Good night!” exclaimed Joe. “Why didn’t you get something before we
got on the sub train? They don’t run dining cars on this line.”

“I guess I was too excited to think about it,” said Jim. “I’m getting
more starved every second, though. Let’s get off at the next station
and hunt up a restaurant.”

“Fine! I could take a little nourishment myself,” said Joe, and at the
next station they proceeded to put this plan into effect.

While Jim was ordering a meal that made the waiter gasp, Joe slipped
out to a telephone and got McRae on the wire. The delight and
excitement of the manager was manifest over the wire, and Joe promised
to report with Jim as soon as they had eaten.

When he got back to the table Jim, unable to await his coming, had
already started, and Joe was treated to an unusual exhibition of
eating. His friend finished one large steak and called for another. The
waiter looked scandalized, but he filled the order nevertheless.

When Jim at last finished and leaned back to drink a cup of black
coffee, Joe solemnly extended his hand across the table.

“Shake, old man,” he said, with feeling. “I never knew any man could
pack away food like that and live to tell the story. I used to think I
was fairly good myself, but now I’ve got to admit that I’m not even in
your class.”

“I always knew that, but I never thought you’d come around to my way
of thinking,” answered Jim with a grin. “I feel now as though I could
lick my weight in wildcats. Let’s go back and clean out that joint on
Seventeenth Street.”

“You can go if you’re looking for a quick death,” said Joe.
“Personally, I’d just as soon live a little longer. Besides, I’ve
promised McRae that we’ll report to him as soon as possible. Those
hands of yours need a doctor’s attention, too.”

“They can still handle a knife and fork,” said Jim complacently.

Joe and Jim found McRae at his hotel, but he would not listen to a word
until he had taken Jim to a doctor and his hands were swathed in white
bandages. Then they went back to the hotel, and the manager listened to
Jim’s story, with many grunts and interjections and angry mutterings.



CHAPTER XXVII

LARRY HAS HIS SAY


“I’m so glad to have both of you back, safe and sound, that I can’t sit
down right now and figure out the best way to punish those scoundrels,”
McRae said, when the recital was ended. “You’ve both shown wonderful
pluck and nerve, and I’m proud of you. I’d have given quite a few
dollars to have been around when that scrap down by the East River
started. I haven’t been in a real good fracas for a long time, and it
would surely have been a pleasure to have landed on one or two of those
rascals. You must have put up a peach of a scrap to get away from them
as neatly as you did.”

“It’s a wonder they didn’t start some gun play,” remarked Joe. “We’d
have been out of luck for fair if they had.”

“I imagine they wanted to capture you both, rather than settle your
hash for good,” observed the manager.

“If you don’t mind, Mac,” said Joe, getting to his feet, “I think we’d
better go to our hotel and get cleaned up. Jim says I look as bad as he
does, but I’d hate to believe it.”

“Go on!” exclaimed his friend. “You look worse. I guess it won’t hurt
either of us to have a bath, though, and get some decent clothes on.
I’ve got to admit that we both look a little mussed up.”

“Well, beat it along, and look out for those hands of yours, Jim,” said
McRae. “I want to get you back into the box just as soon as I can. That
last game you pitched is still being talked about by the fans, and I
want you to repeat the performance.”

“I’ll do the best I can,” promised Jim. “I don’t see where there was
anything so wonderful about that game, though. I was just trying to
pitch as well as I knew Joe would have done if he had been there.”

“Thanks for the compliment,” laughed Joe. “But I haven’t heard about
that game yet, Jim. On the way home you’ve got to tell me about it.”

“All right, I will. But let’s beat it now,” said his friend, and the
two said good-by to McRae and headed for their hotel. Joe insisted on
Jim’s telling him the details of the last game when Jim had pitched to
victory, and he chuckled with satisfaction when his friend told him
about the way he had bowled McCarney over.

“You had the right dope, all right,” declared Joe. “I’ll bet that shady
ball player was all set to muff that fly and then blame it on the sun
getting in his eyes. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s pulled that
excuse, but it’s beginning to wear pretty thin.”

“Yes, that’s what I figured,” agreed Jim. “I couldn’t afford to take a
chance right then. We needed that game too badly. It’s a wonder to me,
though, that I pitched as well as I did, I was worrying so about you
all the time.”

“Well, I might have had an off day and gotten knocked out of the box,
so maybe it was a lucky thing for the team that I wasn’t there,” said
Joe.

“I’ll take a chance on you any time, old scout,” declared Jim. “But
here we are at the old hangout, and make out our lady clerk won’t be
surprised to see us come walking in together.”

The interested woman was surprised, indeed, and delighted as well. She
fairly deluged them with questions, which they answered as well as they
could. McRae had warned them to keep their experiences to themselves,
for a while, at least, but they told the clerk as much as they could
and evaded the other questions. At last they succeeded in satisfying
her curiosity to some extent, and went on upstairs to their rooms.
Their bathroom was equipped with a shower bath, and they fairly reveled
in this. Then, when each had donned a complete set of fresh clothing,
they felt almost “one hundred per cent efficient,” as Jim put it,
although his hands still bothered him a good deal.

“You’ll have to take my turn at pitching as well as your own, Joe,”
he said ruefully. “I’m afraid I shan’t be able to handle a ball for a
week, at least.”

“Well, I’m the boy that can do it,” said his friend confidently. “I
feel as though I could pitch a double header right now and never be any
the worse for it. It’s one of my ambitions to do it some day, too.”

“It looks as though you might have the chance, all right,” remarked
Jim. “But there’s somebody at the door. Let him in, Joe; you’re nearest
to it.”

Joe did so, and they were both delighted to see Larry Barrett standing
on the threshold. He rushed in, delighted at seeing them, and they all
shook hands joyously.

“Glory be, but it’s glad Oi am to see you both again!” he exclaimed.
“Shure, an’ we thought you’d both been bumped off, fur good, when ye
neither one showed up for practice. Phwat in the name of all that’s
good have ye been doin’ wid yerselves?”

“Oh, just off on a little vacation,” said Jim, airily. “It looked at
one time as though it might turn into a permanent one, but they say
‘only the good die young,’ and that probably explains why we’re still
decorating the landscape.”

“It’s happy Oi am that ye’re both back,” said the jovial Irishman.
“Shure, an’ the Giants would soon have been in the cellar position if
ye hadn’t got back pretty soon.”

“Oh, we’re not as important as all that,” protested Joe. “There was a
Giant team before we were ever heard of, and chances are there will be
one after we’re buried and forgotten. The team is right up among the
leaders, and they ought to be able to cop the pennant, anyway.”

“Up wid the leaders is right, me bye, but stayin’ there is another
matter,” said Larry. “Why is ut that when we’re wid the leaders, as
you so truly remarked but a short time ago, that everybody’s bettin’
against us? It looks as though some of the baseball sharps wuz bankin’
pretty heavy on the Giants losin’ the pennant. Am Oi right or am Oi
not?”

“The gamblers don’t know everything, not by a long shot,” observed Jim.
“Often their plans slip up on a banana peel. Don’t they, Joe?”

“Yes, once in a while,” replied his friend, grinning. “But, anyway,
Larry, here we are back in the game, so what do you suppose the
gamblers will do now?”

“Faith, an’ Oi think if it’s wise they are, they’ll bet on the Giants,
instid of aginst thim,” said Larry. “We’ll wipe up the diamond wid thim
other teams now. That is,” he added, “if we don’t git double crossed by
some of the fellers on our own team. That’s the thing that’s worryin’
me now, an’ Oi don’t care who knows it.”

Joe and Jim exchanged glances.

“Whom do you mean?” asked the former.

“An’ who should Oi mean but thim two, McCarney an’ Hupft?” demanded
Larry, in a belligerent tone. “You fellers know who Oi mean, well
enough. For phwat did ye take that pop fly away from McCarney the other
day, Jim, if ut wasn’t because you had a hunch that he wouldn’t field
ut? Some of the other fellers didn’t get on to what wuz in back o’ that
play, but you can’t fool yer Uncle Larry so easy.”

“Well, there’s no use denying that we are suspicious of those two
birds, to say the least,” admitted Joe. “But just keep that under your
hat, Larry, and don’t talk to the other fellows about it. We want to
get the goods on McCarney and Hupft before we make any move to get them
off the team.”

“That sounds raysonable,” admitted Larry. “But I gave one o’ thim birds
a piece o’ me mind yesterday, and I wish now Oi’d taken a swing at his
left ear for luck.”

“It wouldn’t have been much luck for the fellow on the receiving end,
though,” laughed Jim. “What did you tell him, Larry?”

“Oi told him if he couldn’t hold on to the ball better, he ought to be
playin’ checkers instid o’ baseball. ‘Ye’ve got no man’s grip in yer
hands, or the ball wouldn’t slip through thim so easy,’ I told him.”

“Who was that, McCarney or Hupft?” asked Joe.

“’Twas the spalpeen of a third baseman,” replied Larry. “If he’d been
half a man he’d have answered me back, and maybe started a little
scrap, which Oi’d have been thankful for that same. But he only gives
me an ugly, sideways look an’ says somethin’ under his breath that Oi
cuddn’t hear. Oi should have swung at him, an’ me conscience has been
botherin’ me ever since fur not doin’ ut.”

“I never knew you had a conscience,” laughed Joe. “Doesn’t it ever
bother you when you argue with the umpire over calling a strike against
you, when you know all the time it was a strike?”

“Oh, that’s different,” answered the good-natured Irishman, grinning.
“That’s a matter of principle wid me, an’ me conscience would bother
me if I didn’t do ut. You’re both ball players yerselves, an’ should
realize that widout me havin’ to tell ye.”

“I guess we know how you feel about it,” returned Jim, chuckling. “An
umpire has to be kept in his place, or a ball player’s life would be
harder than it is.”

Larry stayed with them for some time before taking his departure.
Joe and Jim then decided to go back to the manager’s hotel and find
out what he intended to do in the matter of the gamblers and their
high-handed proceedings.

They found McRae in no very pleasant temper. He was pacing up and down
the room, and his face wore the look that members of his team knew
boded trouble for some one. He waved them to chairs, and then gave vent
to his anger against the crooks who he believed were ruining baseball.



CHAPTER XXVIII

A COUNCIL OF WAR


“This sort of thing has gone far enough!” exclaimed the Giants’
manager, pounding on a table with his fist. “No bunch of tin-horn
gamblers can play ducks and drakes with my ball team and get away with
it. If their dirty plans had gone through, both Joe and Jim would have
been out of the game for good, branded as crooks, and the Giant team
would be so shot to pieces you’d need a vacuum cleaner to clear up the
remains. I’m going to turn this thing over to the police right here and
now,” and he started for a telephone in the corner of the room.

“Easy there, Mac, easy,” warned Robson, who was also one of the party.
“Take a little time to think this thing over before you go to making
any bad breaks.”

“What do you mean――bad breaks?” queried the fiery manager. “If somebody
lifts your watch, is it a bad break to go to the police about it? What
are the cops for, anyway?”

“That’s all right, as far as the crooked gamblers are concerned,” said
Robson. “But how about the crooked ball players we’ve got on the team
right now? That’s a matter for organized baseball, more than for the
police.”

“The crooked ball players will get theirs to-morrow, don’t doubt that
for a minute!” growled McRae. “I’ll settle their hash for good, but
I don’t see yet why we can’t put the police on the track of the gang
that captured my two pitchers. We know their hangouts now, and the cops
ought to be able to round them up easily enough.”

“Not a chance in the world,” said Robson, shaking his head. “You don’t
suppose those birds will sit around in their nests and wait for the
patrol wagon to come and get them, do you? I’ll bet any money that if
you went to either of their hangouts right now you’d find them first
cousins to the deserted village.”

McRae thought a moment.

“Well, I suppose you’re right,” he growled at last. “You always are,
confound you! But if we don’t get the police in on this, what are we
going to do? We can’t let this business go on unchecked, and not raise
a finger to stop it, can we?”

“Not by a long shot!” exclaimed Robson. “But it would be better to
worry along almost any way to the end of the season than it would
to get this scandal in the newspapers. It would leave a stain on
organized baseball that it would be almost impossible to wipe out.
Let’s keep what we know to ourselves for the time being, and see if we
can’t find some better way of handling the problem.”

“I’ll agree with you in that,” said McRae. “You’ll have to admit,
though, that we can’t leave McCarney and Hupft to throw games for us
at will. I’ll follow your advice as far as not publicly throwing them
off the team goes, but I’m not going to have them play those important
positions any more. The race is getting closer every day, and we can’t
afford to take chances.”

“Yes, you’re right there,” admitted Robson. “The trouble of it is, that
we haven’t any good substitutes to put in their places.”

“Even a rookie that’s honestly trying to do his best is better than
the finest ball player in the world that’s trying to make mistakes,”
McRae pointed out. “I’ll let them stay until they make some other bone
play accidentally on purpose, and then I’ll have a good excuse to
retire them to the bench. Maybe our rookies will do more than we hope
for. I’ll leave it to your judgment which ones to put in when the time
comes.”

“But what are you going to do about that meeting at Bill Davendorp’s
to-night, Mac?” asked Jim. “There will be a choice assortment of
crooks there, including the ringleader of the crowd. I’d say, capture
the whole bunch red-handed, if possible, even if we have to get the
police in on it. I know that a public scandal will be a bad thing for
baseball, but if this sort of thing keeps on there’s bound to be a big
blow-up some time, anyway, and when it comes it may be a lot worse than
at the present time.”

“You told it, Jim!” exclaimed Joe. “Round up the whole bunch and get it
over with right away, is what I say. And nothing will please me more
than to be in at the finish. I owe that crowd a thing or two, and I’m
anxious to pay them off.”

“They’re right, at that, Robson,” said McRae. “This looks like a golden
opportunity, and we’d be foolish to miss it, it seems to me.”

“Well, yes and no,” said Robson slowly. “As you say, it looks like the
opportunity of a lifetime to round up the gang and put them out of
business. But don’t you think we could do it quietly, without letting
the police and newspapers in on the show? I want to see those fellows
get their deserts, all right, but if there’s some way to do it without
hurting the game I want to do it that way.”

“Yes, yes,” said McRae, a trifle impatiently. “But what way is there?
These men are desperate characters, and won’t submit tamely to be
captured. If you’ve got a plan, tell us the details.”

“There’s another thing we’ve got to consider,” pointed out Joe. “If
we go easy we can probably find out what the plans of the fellows are.
If we can find some way to listen in on them and learn what they’re up
to, we’d have evidence that would put them out of harm’s way for a few
years.”

“That’s the idea, exactly,” said Robson approvingly. “That’s just
about what I was going to say when you beat me to it, Matson. Get the
evidence first, and then it will do some good to round them up. How
does that sound to you, Mac?”

“Why, all right, I suppose,” said the manager irascibly. “As long as
we get that bunch of crooks behind bars, it doesn’t matter much to me
what methods we use. But if we don’t let the police in on the game, how
do you propose to capture the bunch? There’s apt to be a pretty lively
scrap, and if anybody gets hurt, you and I will get the blame for it.”

“Oh, well, we’re used to getting blamed for things that aren’t our
fault,” said the genial trainer, with a touch of his usually cheerful
philosophy. “You ought to be used to having the can tied to you by this
time, Mac.”

“You’re right enough there,” admitted the manager. “Let’s get down
to brass tacks on this proposition, though. We haven’t got much time
to make our plans, so we’d better get busy right away. Who’s got
something to suggest?” and he looked inquiringly from one to the other.

They were all silent for a few moments, as they thought of and rejected
various plans. Of the four, Joe was the first to break the meditative
silence.

“I don’t imagine there will be very many in the gang at Davendorp’s
to-night,” he said, speaking slowly. “Probably not more than fifteen
altogether, if there’s that many. The rascals will know that they are
in a bad position, due to having let Jim and me get away from them,
and there won’t be any one but the ringleaders at the conference, it’s
likely. It seems to me that if we got all the men on our team together
and put the thing up to them, they’d all volunteer for the job. They’re
as anxious as we are to clean up the game and throw out the crooked
ones.”

“It’s probably true, as you say, Matson, that only the leaders will
be in at conference,” said Robson. “We know, though, that Davendorp’s
place has a pretty shady reputation, and probably a lot of the
gamblers’ hangers-on will be loafing about the place. I should say we’d
need more men than the team can muster, to be on the safe side. We’ve
got to count out McCarney and Hupft, and even with the rookies we would
have only about fifteen men.”

“Yes, but they all know how to handle themselves in a scrap,” said Jim.

“That’s true enough. But we can’t afford to take chances,” said Robson,
with the caution for which he was noted. “We ought to have five or six
more, and the question is, where to get them.”

“Before we go any further I’m going to get Hughson here, and we’ll have
the benefit of his advice,” said McRae. “He’s in the city on business
connected with his team. I still think this is a matter for the police,
but if he sides with you fellows, I won’t put up any more opposition.
This is a serious thing, and we don’t want to go rushing into it before
we know we’re right.”

“It won’t take long to get him here, I think,” said Robson. “He told
me he was going to stay in this evening, so I think we can get hold of
him right away. I think I know where I can find him, so I’ll give him a
ring.”



CHAPTER XXIX

WEAVING THE WEB


Robson took the telephone and called a number. In a few seconds he
heard the familiar voice of the veteran baseball man over the wire,
and he explained that he and the manager wanted his advice. Hughson
promised to join the council as soon as possible, and it was not
fifteen minutes later that he was shown up to the room.

“What’s going on here, anyway?” he asked, when he had exchanged
greetings with the little group. “You all look as serious as the
mourners at a funeral.”

“It may end in a funeral for some one,” said McRae pessimistically.
“Sit down, Hughson, and I’ll give you the facts in as few words as
possible.”

The manager sketched a brief outline of the happenings of the last
few days and the project that they were considering for that evening.
Hughson listened attentively, throwing in a terse question here and
there, and when McRae finished he sat silent awhile, digesting the
information that had been given him. McRae had not told him which plan
he himself favored, so that the veteran baseball man could make his own
decision.

“I think that if we can keep this matter to ourselves, it will be a
better thing for the game,” he said, at length. “If it gets out that
McCarney and Hupft have been in league with the gamblers and have been
trying to throw games, the fans will suspect every one of you, and if
you should lose the pennant, you’d never make them believe in a hundred
years that you hadn’t done it purposely. It seems to me, though, that
it will be a difficult thing for us to get into Davendorp’s without
being recognized and arousing suspicion.”

“We’ll have to chance that,” said McRae. “If some of us are recognized,
the gang will just think that we’re crooks too, and in the plot. But
Robson thinks that we should have more men than the team can furnish,
and we are up against it to know who to get.”

“That shouldn’t be so hard,” said Hughson. “There are plenty of fans
who think as highly of the game as we do, and want its good name
preserved. There ought to be plenty of volunteers for a job like this.
I have one or two friends who would go into it at the drop of a hat, if
I asked them to.”

“I could muster a few myself,” said McRae. “Probably the rest of us
could too, for that matter.”

“There are five of us here,” said Hughson. “Suppose each of us gets
hold of two men that he knows can be relied upon, and explains the
situation to them. If we can each get two, that will make ten extra
men, and with all the fellows on the team, it will be enough, I should
say. I don’t think any of them will try to back out.”

“That plan sounds all right to me,” said McRae, and looked questioningly
at the others.

As it appealed to them in the same way, there was no further argument
on that score, and after a little more discussion they had planned out
the matter in every detail. Each of them was to get two volunteers, and
bring them to McRae’s rooms as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the manager
was to get hold of the players by telephone or messenger, arranging for
them to meet him at a designated spot.

They had to act quickly, for already the late summer dusk was closing
in, and there was much to do in a short time. Of course, there was a
chance that the rascals, frightened off by the escape of Jim and Joe,
would not meet at all, but this was not very likely. They would have
no reason to suspect that their trysting place was known, and in view
of the mishaps of the day, might be even more desirous than before of
getting together and concocting schemes for the future. Anyway, this
was a chance that the Giants had to take, and even if the conspirators
did not meet, the ball players would be out nothing but their time and
trouble.

Joe and Jim, of course, had hosts of friends and admirers, but they
considered some time before picking out those that they intended to
enlist in the cause of clean baseball. Finally they made their choice,
and were fortunate in getting the consent of all of them without
hesitation. They were young fellows, enthusiastic followers of the
game, and hailed the chance of aiding it and at the same time entering
into what promised to be an exciting adventure.

Joe and Jim hired a taxicab, and in company with their friends rushed
back to McRae’s hotel. They had not taken long, but Hughson was there
before them, with two stalwart citizens who looked as though they could
give a good account of themselves in a scrimmage. Robson and McRae had
experienced no difficulty in getting their recruits, and the latter
had also found time to get in touch with most of his players on the
telephone.

Such a summons naturally came as a big surprise to all of them, but
they obeyed the call without hesitation and were all gathered at a
northern entrance to Central Park when the manager arrived with Joe,
Jim, Robson, Hughson, and their ten volunteers. Fortunately, they had
all evaded reporters so far, and to the best of their knowledge no hint
of their enterprise had leaked out.

“Shure, an’ phwat’s the big idea, boss?” inquired Larry. “Is ut a ball
game by moonlight you’re plannin’?”

“No, nothing like that,” said McRae. “This is more serious,” and he was
starting to explain the situation when the team caught sight of Jim.
Every man tried to shake hands with him and question him at once, and
it was a wonder that some policeman was not attracted by the noise.

“I’ll tell you all about it, boys, some time when we’re not so rushed,”
laughed Jim. “I’m here, and ready for anything, even if my hands are
a little sore. But never mind me now, just listen to what the boss is
trying to tell us.”

They quieted down at this, and McRae told them briefly how matters
stood and what he wanted them to do.

“But there’s nothing compulsory about this, you know,” he finished.
“Any man that doesn’t feel like going is at liberty to say so, and it
won’t make any difference with me.”

He looked inquiringly at the team, but there was not one who did not
seem eager to undertake the adventure. McRae then proceeded to outline
their plan of campaign.

“We’ll drift into Davendorp’s place in twos and threes,” he said.
“After we get there we’ll have to make our plans as we go along. But
everybody keep his eyes and ears open, and I’ll pass the word around
when it comes time for action. If any of you are recognized, as you’re
practically certain to be, just say you dropped in to shoot a little
pool, or some excuse that will sound plausible.

“And one more thing. Before we start, I want every man here to pledge
absolute secrecy about this business. We’re doing this to avoid a
black mark against organized baseball, but if just one of us gets to
whispering about it, all our trouble will be wasted.”

All promised silence, and then they broke up into small groups and
headed for Davendorp’s Sporting Parlors.



CHAPTER XXX

SAVING THE LEAGUE


By twos and threes the party drifted toward Davendorp’s resort. It had
at various times been a dance hall, a hotel, a police headquarters, and
at all times a resort for crooked gamblers. It had an evil notoriety,
but though it had been frequently raided in the attempt to put it out
of business, it had always bobbed up again under a new proprietor but
with the same old shady clientele.

It was a rambling sort of structure, to which wings had been added
at various times. The main floor was devoted to pool and billiards,
and there were a large number of tables, for the place did a thriving
business. There were few of the underworld who did not at some time or
other frequent it.

The second floor was a shabby restaurant and saloon, with scores of
tables for drinkers and card-players. On the third floor was a dance
hall, and the fourth was reserved for the use of the proprietor and the
inner ring of the gambling clique where they could lay their plots in
comparative seclusion.

In the corner of this floor the largest room was located. There were
several other rooms strung out in shambling fashion and more or less
connected with each other, so as to afford facility for flight on the
occasion of a raid.

On the night in question the large room held an assortment of men of
hard faces that would have graced any Rogues’ Gallery. Many of them in
fact had already achieved that undesirable fame, and there were others
whose admission had only been deferred.

Joe and Jim were too well known to almost everybody in New York to
venture into the place in their ordinary clothing and with their faces
in full view. They would have been noticed at once, and their plans
would have failed right then and there. They had secured, therefore,
through one of the party who was an actor, some rough clothing and had
had their faces touched up by his hand, so that, as he proudly said
when he stood off and viewed his handiwork, their own mothers wouldn’t
know them.

The rest of the party were not so likely to attract attention among the
large crowd with which they mingled, most of the members of which were
so intent on their own amusements that they gave but fleeting attention
to anything or any one else.

For an hour or so the members of the volunteer posse mingled with
the company, taking at times a part in the various activities of the
resort, but always keeping within reach and sight of each other.
Gradually they moved to the second floor and then to the third. Joe
kept a sharp lookout to see if he could recognize any of the fellows
who had held him in captivity.

For some time his search was fruitless, but at last he caught a glimpse
of one of the rascals slipping up to the fourth floor. He watched his
opportunity, and as silently as a ghost made his way to the same floor.

A hum of voices, rising so high at times that it seemed as if an
altercation were going on, came from the corner room. On tiptoe Joe
moved to the room adjoining. There was no light or sound coming from
it, and after a moment Joe ventured to try the door. It opened, and,
slipping in, he found that it had another door communicating with that
in which the excited discussion was going on.

In a moment Joe slipped down the stairs again. Going from one to
the other of his party, he gave them the information he had gained
and arranged for them to follow him as soon as possible and without
attracting attention. Then he again moved up the stairs and took his
post in the adjoining room, where he was soon joined by the others.

Luck had favored them, for if there had been any lookout originally
posted by the baseball gamblers he had been drawn into the room again
to take part in the excited discussion.

Scarcely daring to draw their breaths, the invaders listened to the
debate.

“You spilled the beans when you let Matson get away from you,” an angry
voice was saying. “Why didn’t you make sure of him when you had him?”

“Aw, cut out the beefing,” growled a sulky voice that Joe recognized
as that of the fat leader of the gang. “I thought he might cave in and
sign that paper and save us all further trouble.”

“You thought!” sneered the other. “You might have known he wouldn’t.
Now the two hundred thousand our gang have bet against the Giants is
as good as lost. How about you other fellows?” he snarled. “You ought
to have had a raft of chances to put him out of the game. What do you
suppose we’re paying you for?”

“We’ve done the best we could,” came a sullen voice that caused McRae
and Robson to give a violent start, as they recognized it as belonging
to McCarney. “We got Lemblow to come on and help us. He was only too
glad to do it, for he thought it would give him a chance of breaking
into the big league. He nearly got Matson when he pushed that pile of
lumber over.”

“And I nearly got his number with a lump of iron on the last Western
trip,” came the voice of Reddy Hupft. “It came within an inch of
cracking his skull.”

“Excuses! Excuses!” snapped the angry boss. “I didn’t give you fellers
ten thousand dollars apiece with a promise of more simply to listen to
excuses. You’re a couple of false alarms, and if you don’t get busy
it’ll be the worse for you. You can’t double cross me and get away with
it.”

“That’s enough,” whispered McRae to the group about him. “We’ve got the
goods on them at last. Half of you go to the outside door, and when you
hear us break through this door do the same to that.”

They did as directed.

There was a moment of tense expectation, and then with a rush McRae’s
party dashed through the inner door. At the same instant the other half
of the attacking party burst into the room from the hall.

There were eight men in the room and they leaped to their feet in wild
alarm at the sudden interruption. But before they could form any plan
for defense the husky young invaders were upon them slugging them
without mercy.

The rascals fought back as best they could, but from the first they
never had a chance. As Joe had surmised, most of them were the heads
of the baseball gambling ring, bloated, overfed, corpulent rascals
who could not stand for a moment before trained athletes. Had they
anticipated trouble and had their hirelings with them, there might have
been a semblance of a fight. But in their physical condition and with
the odds two to one against them, they were simply a joke.

Hupft and McCarney were the only ones capable of putting up a real
fight, and they did their best. But Joe had singled out McCarney and
Jim had tackled Hupft, and they joyously gave them the beating of their
lives.

It was a very battered group of rascals that in less than three minutes
were huddled into a corner, while their captors crowded so closely
about them that escape was impossible.

“Now,” said McRae, whose own knuckles had done valiant work in the
scrap, “we’ve got you fellows exactly where we want you. All of you
ought to be sent up the river and put behind bars where the dogs can’t
bite you. But I’m not going to turn you over to the police.”

There was a stir of relief among the prisoners at this.

“I’m going to stop your dirty schemes for once and for all where
baseball is concerned,” went on McRae, producing a paper. “I got this
ready this afternoon on the chance of copping you scoundrels to-night.
And every one of you is going to sign it, or I’ll have you beaten to a
frazzle on the spot.”

While the rascals glared at him sullenly he read the paper. It
acknowledged that the signers had kidnaped Joe and Jim; that they had
hired thugs to do them great harm; that they had paid ball players to
throw games; and that they had done these things to win large sums of
money that they had bet against the Giants.

The fat man who had been Joe’s captor started forward with a yell
to protest, but Larry smashed him straight between the eyes and he
staggered back, cowed and wilted.

The object lesson was effective, and all of the rascals signed, except
Hupft and McCarney, who were not required to affix their names.

“Now,” said McRae, as he folded the signed document and put it in his
pocket, “that puts a brand on the whole lot of you. The least move
on your part and I’ll make this public and you’ll be in jail within
twenty-four hours.

“As for you traitors,” he added, turning to Hupft and McCarney, a look
of utter contempt in his eyes, “there’s no need of telling you you’re
fired. Your names are a stench in the nostrils of decent ball players,
and I’ll see that you never play in the ranks of organized baseball
again. You’re on the blacklist forever. And I’ll see that Lemblow gets
the same medicine. Now go while the going’s good.”

They slunk out, and none of the Giants ever saw their faces again.

“Now we’ve done our work and we’re going,” concluded McRae, as he
turned to the crooked baseball gamblers. “Remember, one word from you,
one dirty trick, and it will be curtains for you.”

They left the debased and discomfited rascals and filed out into the
night.

“A good night’s work, boys,” were McRae’s last words, as he bade
good-night to the party. “We’ve saved the league!”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a jubilant, rejuvenated Joe that occupied the box the next day
and pitched the Giants to victory over the Brooklyns. Not only did he
shut out the boys from over the bridge, but clouted two of the longest
homers that had ever come from his bat. The rest of the Giant team,
with two rookies in place of Hupft and McCarney, played behind him
like the stars they were, and the newcomers more than held their own.
Altogether it was a great day for the Giants and started them anew on
the road to the championship which they were destined to win that year
as they had the year before.

But it was a still greater day for Joe, for in a box as witness of his
glorious victory was Mabel――Mabel who had come on with Reggie that
morning to surprise him. The applause of the crowds was dear to him;
the congratulations of his team mates were dearer still. But none of
these compared with the joy that thrilled him at the words that fell
from the lips of Mabel as he approached the box where she sat, flushed
and sweet as a rose, looking at him with all her soul in her eyes.

“I am _so_ proud of you, Joe,” she said. “So proud!”


THE END



 Transcriber’s Notes:

 ――Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_); text in
   bold by “equal” signs (=bold=).

 ――Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.

 ――Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

 ――Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.





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