"Just a bit of luck," growled Brennan. "A few inches more and Curry would have got his hooks on the ball. Beside, the game's young yet. We've got the class and that's bound to tell."
Hamilton, whose blood was up, put on more steam, and the third player went out on an infield fly. But the damage had been done, and those three runs at the very start loomed up as a serious handicap.
"Three big juicy ones," mourned McRae.
"And all of them on passes," groaned Robbie. "Too bad we didn't put Hamilton in right at the start."
Neither team scored in the second inning, and the third also passed without result.
Hamilton was mowing down the opposing batters with ease and grace. But the swarthy flinger for the local club was not a bit behind him. The heavy sluggers of the visiting teams seemed as helpless before him as so many school-boys.
"That fellow won't be in the minors long," commented Brennan. "I wonder some of my scouts haven't gone after him before this. Who is he, anyway?"
"I'll tell you who he is," broke in Robbie, suddenly. "I knew I'd seen him before somewhere, and I've been puzzling all this time to place him. Now I've tumbled. It's Alvarez, the crack pitcher of Cuba."
"Do you mean the fellow that stood the Athletics on their heads when they made that winter trip to Cuba a couple of years ago?" asked McRae.
"The same one," affirmed Robbie. "I happened to be there at one of the games, and he showed them up—hundred thousand dollar infield and all. Connie was fairly dancing as he saw his pets slaughtered. I tell you, that fellow's a wonder—he'd have been in a major league long ago if it hadn't been for his color. He may be only a Cuban, and he says he is, but he's so dark-skinned that there'd be some prejudice against him and that's barred him out."
"That's what made Thorpe so confident," growled Brennan. "He's worked in a 'ringer' on us. We ought to make a kick."
"That would put us in a nice light, wouldn't it?" replied McRae, stormily. "We'd like to see it in the papers, that the major leagues played the baby act because they couldn't bat a bush pitcher. Not on your life! Thorpe would be tickled to death to have us make a squeal. We'll simply have to lick him."
But if the promised licking was yet to come, it was not in evidence in the next two innings. Alvarez seemed as fresh as at the beginning, and his arm worked with the force and precision of a piston rod.
"What's the matter with you fellows, anyway?" raged McRae, when the end of the fifth inning saw the score remain unchanged. "You ought to be in the old ladies' home. It's a joke to call you ball players."
"It must be this Denver air," ventured Willis. "It's so high up here that a fellow finds it hard to breathe. These Denver boobs are used to it and we're not."
"Air! air!" snapped McRae. "I notice you've got plenty of hot air. Go in and play the game, you bunch of false alarms."
Whether it was owing to his rasping tongue or their own growing resentment at the impudence of the minor leaguers, the All-Americans broke the ice in the sixth.
Burkett lined out a beauty between left and center that was good for two bases. Willis followed with a towering sky scraper to right, which, although it was caught after a long run, enabled Burkett to get to third before the ball was returned. Then Becker who had perished twice before on feeble taps to the infield, whaled out a home run to the intense jubilation of his mates.
"We've got his number!" yelled Larry, doing a jig on the coaching lines.
"He's going up," sang out "Red" Curry.
"I knew he couldn't last," taunted Iredell, as he threw his cap in the air.
But Alvarez was not through, by any means. Undaunted by that tremendous home run which might have taken the heart out of any pitcher, he braced himself, and the next two men went out on fouls.
"I thought we had them on the run that time," observed McRae, "but he's got the old comeback right with him."
"Never mind," exulted Robbie. "We're beginning to find him now, and we've cut down that big lead of theirs to one run. The boys will get after him the next inning."
But even the lucky seventh passed without bringing any luck to the visitors, and although the major leaguers got two men on bases in the eighth, the inning ended with the score still three to two in favor of the local club.
"Looks as though we were up against it," said Jim, anxiously, as the Giants went to bat for the last time.
"It sure does," responded Joe. "I'll hate to look at the papers to-morrow morning. The whole country will have the laugh on us."
"The boys will want to keep away from McRae if they lose," said Jim. "He'll be as peeved as a bear with a sore head for the next three days or so."
"Now, Larry, show them where you live," sang out Curry, as the head of the Giant batting order strode to the plate.
"Kill it," entreated Willis. "Hit it on the seam."
"Send it a mile," exhorted Becker.
It was not a mile that Larry sent it, but it looked so to the left and center fielders who chased it as it went on a line between the two. A cleaner home run had probably never been knocked out on the Denver grounds.
Larry came galloping in to be mauled and pounded by his exulting mates, while McRae brought down his hand on Robbie's knee with a force that made that worthy wince.
"That ties it up," he cried. "Now, boys, for a whirlwind finish!"
A CLOSE CALL
The crowds in the stand, which had been uproarious a few moments before, were quiet now. The lead which the local club had held throughout the game had vanished; the visitors had played an uphill game worthy of their reputation, and now they had at least an even chance.
Denton came to the bat, eager to emulate Larry's feat, but Alvarez was unsteady now—that last home run had taken something out of him. He found it hard to locate the plate, and Denton trotted down to first on balls.
As no man was out and only one run was needed to gain the lead, a sacrifice was the proper play, and Burkett laid down a neat bunt in front of the plate that carried Denton to second, although the batter died at first.
Alvarez purposely passed Willis on the chance of the next batter hitting into a double play, which would have retired the side. Becker made a mighty effort to bring his comrades in, but hit under the ball, and it went high in the air and was caught by Alvarez as it came down, without the pitcher moving from his tracks.
With two out, there was no need of a double play and the infielders, who had been playing close in, resumed their usual positions. Iredell, the next man up caught the ball square on the end of his bat and sent it whistling between center and third. The shortstop leaped up and knocked the ball down, but it was going too fast for him to hold.
Denton had left second at the crack of the bat, and by the time the infielder regained the ball had rounded third and was tearing like a racehorse toward the plate. There was little time to get set and the hurried throw home went over the catcher's head. Denton slid feet first over the plate, scoring the run that put his team in the lead.
Willis tried to make it good measure by coming close behind him, but by this time the catcher had recovered the ball and shot it back to Alvarez who was guarding the plate. He nipped Willis by three feet and the side was out.
But that one run in the lead looked as big as a house at that stage in the game.
"All you've got to do now, Hamilton, old man, is to hold them down in their half," said Brennan.
"Cinch," grinned Hamilton. "I'll have them eating out of my hand."
But the uncertainty that makes the national game the most fascinating one in the world was demonstrated when the Denver team came in to do-or-die in their half of the ninth.
Hamilton fed the first batter a snaky curve, which he lashed at savagely but vainly. The next was a slow one and resulted in a chop to the infield which Larry would have ordinarily gobbled up without trouble. But the ball took an ugly bound just as he was all set for it and went over his head toward right. Before Curry could get the ball the batter had reached second and the stands were once more in an uproar.
The uproar increased when Hamilton, somewhat shaken by the incident, gave the next batter a base on balls, and the broad smiles which had suffused the faces of Robbie and McRae began to fade.
"Is Hamilton going up, do you think?" asked the Giant manager, anxiously.
"Looks something like it," replied Robbie, "but he'll probably brace. You see Denton's talking to him now, to give him a chance to rest up a little."
The third baseman had strolled over to Hamilton on pretense of discussing some point of play, but the crowd saw through the subterfuge, and shouts of protest went up:
"Hire a hall!"
"Write him a letter!"
Not a bit flustered by the shouts, Denton took his time, and after encouraging his team mate sauntered slowly back to his position.
But Hamilton's good right arm had lost its cunning. His first ball was wild, and the batter, seeing this, waited him out and was given a pass. His comrades moved up and the bags were full, with none out and the heaviest sluggers of the team coming to the bat.
McRae and Brennan had been holding an earnest conference, and now on a signal from them Hamilton came in from the box.
"It's no use," said McRae to Brennan, while the crowd howled in derision. "We'll have to play our trump and put Matson in to hold them down."
"But he hasn't warmed up," said Brennan dubiously.
"That makes no difference," replied McRae. "I'd rather put him in cold than anyone else warm."
"All right; do as you please," responded the other manager.
McRae called over to where Joe was sitting. The crack pitcher had been watching the progress of the game with keen interest, although making comparatively few comments. As McRae approached Joe, the crowd howled louder than ever at Hamilton.
"Why don't you learn how to pitch?"
"Say, let us send one of the high-school boys into the box for you!"
"Too bad, old man, but I guess we've got your goat all right!"
"I guess you know what I want, Joe," cried McRae. "I want you to get in the box for us."
"All right, Mac," was the young pitcher's answer.
"And, Joe," went on the other earnestly, "try to think for the next five minutes that you're pitching for the pennant."
"I'll do anything you say," was Joe's reply; and then he drew on his glove and walked out upon the ball field.
"Hello! what do you know about that?"
"Matson is going to pitch for them!"
"I guess they've enough of that other dub!"
"Oh, Hamilton isn't a dub, by any means," replied one of the spectators sharply. "He's a good player, but a pitcher can't always be at his best."
"But just you wait and see how we do up Matson!" cried a local sympathizer.
At a signal the next man to bat stepped away from the plate, and Joe had the privilege of warming up by sending three hot ones to the catcher.
"He'll put 'em over all right enough!" cried one of his friends.
"That's what he will!" returned another.
"Not much! He'll be snowed under!"
"This is our winning day!"
So the cries continued until the umpire held up his hand for silence.
"He's going to make an announcement!" cried a number of the spectators.
"Ladies and gentlemen," roared the umpire, removing his cap, "Matson now pitching for the All-Americans."
A howl went up from the stands, made up in about equal parts of derision and applause. Derision because the All-American team must, they figured, be scared to death when they had to send their greatest player into the game. Whether they won or lost it was a great compliment to the Denver team. The applause came from the genuine sportsmen who knew the famous pitcher by reputation and welcomed the chance to see him in action.
The three men on the bases were dancing about like dervishes in the hope of rattling the newcomer. They did not know Joe.
Never cooler than when the strain was greatest and the need most urgent, Joe bent down to pick up the ball. As he did so, he touched it, apparently accidentally, against his right heel.
It was a signal meant for Denton, the third baseman, who was watching him like a hawk.
Joe took up his position in the box, took a grip on the ball, but instead of delivering it to the batter turned suddenly on his left heel, as though to snap it down to first. The Denver player at that bag, who had taken a lead of several feet, made a frantic slide back to safety.
But the ball never got to first, for Joe had swung himself all the way round and shot the ball like a bullet to Denton at third. The local player at third had been watching eagerly the outcome of the supposed throw to first and was caught completely unawares.
Down came Denton's hand, clapping the ball on his back, while the victim stood dazed as though in a trance.
It was the prettiest kind of "inside work," and even the home crowd went into convulsions of laughter as the trapped player came sheepishly in from third to the bench.
McRae was beaming, and Robbie's rubicund face became several degrees redder under the strain of his emotion.
"Say, is that boy class, John?" Robbie gurgled, as soon as he could speak.
"Never saw a niftier thing on the ball field," responded McRae warmly. "When that boy thinks, he runs rings around lightning."
"And he's thinking all the time," chimed in Jim.
But the peril was not yet over. The man at the most dangerous corner had been disposed of, yet there was still a man on first and another on second. A safe hit would tie the game at least, and possibly win it.
Joe wound up deliberately and shot a high fast one over the plate. It came so swiftly that the batter did not offer at it, and looked aggrieved when the umpire called it a strike.
The next was a crafty outcurve which went as a ball. The batsman fouled off the next.
With two strikes on and only one ball called, Joe was on "easy street" and could afford to "waste a few." Twice in succession he tempted the batsman with balls that were wide of the plate, but the batter was wary and refused them.
Now the count was "two and three," and the crowd broke into a roar.
"Good eye, old man!" they shouted to the batter.
"You've got him in a hole!"
"It only takes one to do it!"
"He's got to put it over!"
With all the force of his sinewy arm, Joe "put it over."
The batsman made a wicked drive at it and sent it hurtling to the box about two feet over Joe's head.
Joe saw it coming, leaped into the air and speared it with his gloved hand. The men on bases had started to run, thinking it a sure hit. Joe wheeled and sent the ball down to Burkett at first.
"Look at that!"
"Some speed, eh?"
"I should say so."
"Matson has got them going!"
The man who had left the bag strove desperately to get back, but he was too late. That rattling double play had ended the game with the All-American team a victor by a score of four to three.
Joe's fingers tingled as he pulled off the glove, for that terrific drive had stung. The crowd had been stunned for a moment by the suddenness with which the game and their hopes of victory had gone glimmering. But it had been a remarkable play and the first silence was followed by a round of sportsmanlike applause—though of course it was nothing to what would have greeted the victory of the home team.
"Fine work, Matson!"
"Best I ever saw!"
"You're the boy to do it."
"Best pitcher in the world!"
Joe found himself the center of a joyous crowd when he reached his own bench. All were jubilant that they had escaped the humiliation of being whipped by a minor league team.
"You've brought home the bacon, Joe!" chortled McRae.
"We all did," replied Joe. "But we almost dropped it on the way!" he added, with a grin.
A DASTARDLY ATTACK
The tourists' train was scheduled to leave Denver at eleven-thirty that night, so that there was ample time after the game for a leisurely meal and a few hours for recreation for any of the party that felt so inclined.
Some went to the theater, others played cards, while others sat about the lobby of the leading hotel and discussed the exciting events of the afternoon's game.
As for Joe and Jim, their recreation took the form of long letters to two charming young ladies whose address, by coincidence, happened to be Riverside. Both seemed to have much to write about, for it was nearly ten o'clock before the bulky letters were ready for mailing.
"Give them to me and I'll take them down to the hotel lobby and mail them," said Jim, as they rose from the writing table.
"I don't know," replied Joe, as he looked at his watch. "Perhaps the last collection for the outgoing eastbound mail has already been made. What do you say to going down to the post-office itself and dropping them in there? Then they'll be sure to go."
"All right," Jim acquiesced. "It's a dandy night anyway for a walk and I'd like to stretch my legs a little. Come along."
They went out into the brilliantly lighted streets, which at that hour were still full of people, and turned toward the post-office which was about half a mile distant.
As they were passing a corner, Jim suddenly clutched Joe's arm.
"Did you see that fellow who went into that saloon just now?" he asked, indicating a rather pretentious cafe.
"No," said Joe, dryly. "But it isn't such an unusual thing that I'd pay a nickel to see it."
"Quit your fooling," said Jim. "If that fellow wasn't Bugs Hartley, then my eyes are going back on me."
"You're dreaming," Joe retorted. "What in the world would Bugs be doing in Denver?"
"Panhandling, maybe," returned Jim. "Drinking, certainly. But it isn't what he's doing that interests me. It's the fact that he's here."
"Let's take a look," suggested Joe, impressed by his friend's earnestness.
They went up to the swinging door, pushed it open and looked in. There were perhaps a dozen men in the place, but Hartley was not among them.
"Barking up the wrong tree, Jim," chaffed Joe.
"Maybe," agreed Jim a little perplexed, "but if it wasn't Bugs it was his double."
They reached the post-office and after mailing their letters turned back towards the hotel.
"It's taken us a little longer than I thought," remarked Jim, looking at his watch. "We won't have any more than time to get our traps together and get down to the train."
"This looks like a short cut," said Joe, indicating a side street which though rather dark and deserted cut into the main thoroughfare, as they could see by the bright lights at the further end. "We'll save something by going this way."
They had gone perhaps a couple of blocks when they reached a part of the street which had no dwelling houses on it. On one side was a factory, dark and forbidding, and on the side where the young men were walking was a high board fence enclosing a coal yard.
"Wait a minute, Jim," said Joe. "It feels as though my shoe lace had come untied."
He stooped down to fasten the lace, and just as he did so, a jagged piece of rock came whizzing past where his head had been a second before and crashed against the fence.
Joe straightened up with a jerk.
"Who threw that?" he exclaimed.
Jim's face was white at the peril his friend had so narrowly escaped.
"Somebody who knew how to throw," he cried, "and I can make a guess at who it was. There he is now!" he shouted, as he caught sight of a dim figure slinking away in the darkness on the further side of the factory.
They darted across the street in pursuit, but when they turned the corner there was no one to be seen. Several alleys branched off from the street, up any one of which the fugitive might have made his escape. Although they tried them one after the other they could find no trace of the rascal.
Baffled and chagrined, they made their way back to the scene of the attack. Joe picked up the piece of rock and weighed it in his hand.
"About half a pound," he judged. "And look at those rough edges! It would have been all up with me, if it had landed."
"Do you notice that that's about the weight of a baseball?" asked Jim significantly. "And it went for your head as straight as a bullet. It would have caught you square if you hadn't stooped just as you did. You can thank your lucky stars that your shoelace came untied. That fellow knew just how to throw, as I said before."
"You don't mean," replied Joe, "that Bugs——"
"Just that," affirmed Jim grimly. "Now maybe you'll believe me when I say that I saw him to-night. That skunk thought that I had seen him, and slipped into the saloon to get out of sight. Probably he went out through a rear door and has been following us ever since."
"But why——" began Joe.
"Why?" repeated Jim. "Why does a crazy man do crazy things? Just because he is crazy. He doesn't have to have a reason. If he thinks you've injured him he's just as bitter as though you really had. Hughson's tip was a good one, Joe. The fellow's deadly dangerous. It's only luck that he isn't a murderer this minute."
"It's good for him I didn't lay my hands on him," replied Joe. "I wouldn't have hit him, because I don't think he's responsible for what he does. But I'd have had him put where he couldn't do any more mischief for a while."
"It gives me the creeps to think of what a close call that was," said Jim, as they walked along.
"Don't say anything about it to the boys," cautioned Joe. "The thing would get out, and before we knew it the folks at home would have heard of it. And they wouldn't have an easy minute for all the rest of the trip."
They made quick time to the hotel, and as most of their luggage had remained on the train, they had only to gather a few things together in a small hand bag and start out for the station.
Their special train had been standing on a side track a few hundred yards east of the main platform. They were picking their way toward it across a network of tracks, when, just as they rounded the corner of a freight car, they came face to face with Hartley.
They almost dropped their handbags at the unexpectedness of the meeting. But if they were startled, Bugs was frightened and turned on his heel to run. In an instant Joe had him by the collar in a grip of iron, while Jim stood on the alert to stop him should he break away.
"Let me go!" cried Hartley in stifled tones, for Joe's grip was almost choking him.
"Not until you tell me why you tried to murder me to-night," said Joe, grimly.
"I don't know what you're talking about," snarled Bugs, trying to wrench himself loose from Joe's hold on his collar.
"You know well enough," replied his captor. "Own up."
"You might as well, Bugs," put in Jim. "We've got the goods on you."
"You fellows are crazy," replied Bugs. "I've never laid eyes on you since I saw you in Chicago. And you can't prove that I did either."
"You're the only enemy I have in the world," declared Joe. "And the man who threw that rock at me to-night was a practiced thrower. Besides, you're all in a sweat—that's from running away when we chased you."
"Swell proof that is," sneered Hartley. "Tell that to a judge and see what good it will do you."
The point was well taken, and Joe and Jim knew in their hearts that they had no legal proof, although they were morally certain Bugs was guilty. Besides, they had no time to have him arrested, for their train was scheduled to start in ten minutes.
"Now listen, Bugs," said Joe, at the same time shaking him so that his teeth rattled. "I know perfectly well that you're lying, and I'm giving you warning for the last time. You've had it in for me from the time you doped my coffee and nearly put me out of the game altogether. Ever since that you've bothered me, and to-night you've tried to kill me. I tell you straight, I've had enough of it. If I didn't think that your brain was twisted, I'd thrash you now within an inch of your life. But I'm telling you now, and you let it sink in, that the next time you try to do me, I'm going to put you where the dogs won't bite you."
He dug his knuckles into Bugs' neck and gave him a fling that sent him several yards away. The fellow kept his feet with an effort, and then with a muttered threat slunk away into the darkness.
They watched him for a minute, and then picked up their handbags and started toward the train.
"Hope that's the last we see of him," remarked Joe.
"So do I," Jim replied. "But we felt that way before and he's turned up just the same. I won't feel easy till I know that he's behind the bars."
"He's usually in front of the bars," joked Joe. "But I'm glad anyway that we had a chance to throw a scare into him. He knows now that we'll be on our guard and perhaps even he will have sense enough to let us alone."
Jim consulted his watch.
"Great Scott!" he ejaculated.
"What's the matter, Jim?"
"We haven't any time to spare if we want to catch that train."
"All right, let's run for it."
As best they could, they began sprinting in the direction of the railroad station, but their handbags were somewhat heavy, and this impeded their progress. Then, turning a corner, they suddenly found themselves confronted by a long sewer trench, lit up here and there by red lanterns.
"We've got to get over that trench somehow!" cried Joe.
"Can you jump it?" questioned Jim anxiously.
"I'm going to try," returned the crack pitcher.
He threw his handbag to the other side of the sewer trench, and then, backing up a few steps, ran forward and took the leap in good shape. His chum followed him, but Jim might have slipped back into the sewer trench had not Joe been watching, and grabbed him by one hand.
"Gosh, that was a close shave!" panted Jim, when he felt himself safe.
"Don't waste time thinking about it. We have still a couple of blocks to go," Joe returned, and set off once more on the run, with Jim at his heels.
Soon they rounded another corner, and came in sight of the railroad station. There stood their train, and the conductor was signaling to start.
"Wait! Wait!" yelled Joe. But in the general confusion around the railroad station nobody seemed to notice him.
"We've got to make that train—we've just got to!" cried Joe, and dashed forward faster than ever, with Jim beside him.
They scrambled up the steps just as a warning whistle sounded; and a few moments later the train drew out on its climb over the Rockies.
The travelers were now in the most picturesque part of their journey, and the magnificent views that spread before them as they topped the ridges of the continent and dropped down on the other side into the land of flowers and eternal summer were a source of unending interest and pleasure.
"I'll tell you what, Joe," remarked Jim: "I never had an idea that this section of our country was so truly grand."
"It certainly is magnificent scenery," was Joe's answer. "Just look at those mountain tops, will you? Some height there, believe me!"
"Yes. And just see the depth of some of those canyons, will you? Say! if a fellow ever fell over into one of those, he'd never know what happened to him."
"I've been watching this particular bit of scenery for some time," remarked Joe. "It somehow had a familiar look to it, and now I know why."
"And why is it, Joe?"
"I'll tell you. Some time ago I saw a moving picture with the scene laid in the Rocky Mountains, and, unless I'm greatly mistaken, some of the scenes were taken right in this locality."
"Was that a photo-play called 'The Girl From Mountain Pass?'" questioned another player who was present.
"Then you're right, Matson; because I was speaking about that film to the conductor of this train, and he said that some of the pictures were taken right around here. His train was used in one of the scenes."
This matter was talked over for several minutes, but then the conversation changed; and, presently, the chums went off to talk about other matters.
Joe and Jim were lounging in the rear of the observation car, talking over the stirring events of the night before, when McRae happened along and dropped into a seat beside them.
"Some game that was yesterday, boys," he remarked genially. "Those Denver fellows were curly bears, but we trimmed them just the same."
"Yes," grinned Jim. "But we weren't comfortable while we were doing it."
"They sure did worry us," acquiesced Joe. "They made us know at least that we'd been in a fight."
"It was that ninth-inning work of yours that pulled us through, Joe," declared McRae. "That stunt you pulled of whirling on your heel and shooting it over to third was a pretty bit of inside stuff. And there wasn't anything slow either about spearing that ball that Thompson hit."
"I'd have let the fielders take care of that," admitted Joe, "if there hadn't been so much at stake. My hand stung for an hour afterward. But I'd have hated to let those fellows crow over us."
"That fellow, Alvarez, that Thorpe rang in on us was a sure-enough pitcher," observed McRae. "I'd sign him up in a minute if it weren't for that dark skin of his. But it wouldn't work. We had a second baseman like that one time, and although he was a rattling good player it nearly broke up the team. It's too bad that color should stand in the way of a man's advancement, but it can't be helped.
"By the way," he continued, drawing a paper from his pocket, "here's something that may interest you. It's the official record of the National League of the pitching averages for this season. It made me feel good when I read it and you'll see the reason why."
He handed them the paper, which they opened eagerly to the sporting page.
Joe's heart felt a thrill of satisfaction as he saw that his name stood at the head of the list, and Jim, too, was elated, as he noted that although this was his first year in a major league his name was among the first fifteen—a rare distinction for a "rookie."
"Some class to the Giants, eh?" grinned McRae. "There's sixty names in that list and no single team has as many in the first twelve as we have. That average of yours, Joe, of 1.53 earned runs per game is a hummer. Hughson is close on your heels with 1.56. The Rube, you see, is eighth in the list with 1.95, and Jim's eleventh with 2.09. I tell you, boys, that's class, and to cap it all we won the pennant."
"Two pennants, you mean," corrected Jim with a smile.
"And neither one to be sneezed at," grinned Joe.
"We sure had a great season," observed McRae. "If we start next year with the same team we ought to go through the league like a prairie fire. I have every reason to think that Hughson will be in tip-top shape when the season opens, and if he is, there won't be any pitching staff that can hold a candle to ours. But——"
He paused uncertainly and looked at Joe as though he wanted to speak to him privately. Jim saw the look and took the hint.
"I guess I'll go into the smoker and see what the rest of the fellows are doing, if you'll excuse me," he said, rising and strolling back.
McRae greeted his departure with evident satisfaction.
"I'm glad to have a chance to talk to you alone, Joe," he said. "You're my right bower and I can talk to you more freely than to anyone else, except Hughson. I don't mind telling you that this new league is worrying me a lot."
"What is it?" asked Joe with quick interest. "Anything happened lately?"
"Plenty," replied McRae. "I've kidded myself with the idea that the thing was going to peter out of its own accord. Every few seasons something of the kind crops up, but it usually comes to nothing. Usually the men who put up the coin get scared when they see what a big proposition it is they've tackled and back out. Sometimes, too, they go about it in such a blundering way that it's bound to fail from the start.
"But this time it's different. They've got barrels of money behind them, and they're spending it like water. There's one of them named Fleming, whose father is a millionaire many times over, and he seems to have money to burn. They certainly are making big offers to star players all over the country. You saw the way they came at you, and they're doing the same in other places. There isn't a paper that I pick up that doesn't give the name of some big player that they're tampering with. The last one I saw was Altman of the Chicago White Sox. I guess though, that is a wrong steer, for Altman has come out flat for his old team and denies any intention of jumping his contract."
"Bully for Nick!" exclaimed Joe. "I guess I helped to queer that deal. I saw Westland talking to him, and he seemed to have him going, but I put a few things straight to Nick and he seems to have come to his senses before it's too late."
"There's Munsey of the Cincinnatis, he's left his reservation," continued McRae. "He's the crack shortstop of the country. They've got a line out, too, for Wilson of the Bostons, and you know they don't make any better outfielders than he is. In fact, they're biting into the teams everywhere, and none of them know where they're at. If I'd known they were going at it so seriously, and hadn't got so far in my preparations for this trip, I think I wouldn't have gone on this world's tour. It looks to me as though the major leagues would be backed up against the wall and fighting for their lives before this winter's over."
"It may not be as bad as you think," said Joe consolingly. "Even if they get a lot of the stars, there will be a great many left. And, besides, they may have trouble in finding suitable grounds to play on."
"But they will," declared McRae. "They've got the refusal of first-class locations in every big city of the major league. I tell you, there's brains behind this new league and that's what's worrying me. I don't know whether it's Fleming——"
"No," interrupted Joe, smiling contemptuously, as he thought of the dissipated young fellow whom he had thrashed so soundly. "It isn't Fleming. He's got money enough, but there's a vacuum where his brains ought to be."
"Then it's his partners," deduced McRae. "And their brains with his money make a strong combination."
"Well," comforted Joe, "there's one good thing about this trip, anyway. You've got the Giants out of reach of their schemes."
McRae looked around to see if anyone were within earshot, and then leaned over toward Joe.
"Don't fool yourself," he said earnestly. "I'm afraid right now there are traitors in the camp!"
A WEIRD GAME
Baseball Joe was startled and showed it plainly.
"What do you mean?" he asked, as his mind ran over the names of his team-mates.
"Just what I say," replied McRae. "I tell you, Joe, somebody's getting in his fine work with our boys and I know it."
"Where's your proof?" asked Joe. "I hate to think that any of our fellows would welch on their contracts."
"So do I," returned McRae. "We've been like one big family, and I've always tried to treat the boys right. I've got a rough tongue, as everybody knows, and in a hot game I've called them down many a time when they've made bonehead plays. But at the same time I've tried to be just, and I've never given any of them the worst end of the deal. They've been paid good money, and I've carried them along sometimes when other managers would have let them go."
"You've been white all right," assented Joe warmly. He recalled an occasion when a muff by a luckless center-fielder had lost a World Series and fifty thousand dollars for the team, and yet McRae had "stood the gaff" and never said a word, because he knew the man was trying to do his best.
"I'm telling this to you, Joe," went on McRae, "because I want you to help me out. You've proved yourself true blue when you were put to the test. I know you'll do all you can to hold the boys in the traces. They all like you and feel that they owe you a lot because it was your pitching that pulled us through the World's Series. Besides, they'll be more impressed by what you say than by the talk I'd give them. They figure that I'm the manager and am only looking after my own interests, and for that reason what I say has less effect."
"I'll stand by you, Mac," returned Joe, "and help you in any way I can. Who are the boys that you think are trying to break loose?"
"There are three of them," replied McRae. "Iredell, Curry and Burkett, and all three of them are stars, as you know as well as I do."
"They're cracks, every one of them," agreed Joe. "And they're among the last men that I'd suspect of doing anything of the kind. What makes you think they've been approached?"
"A lot of things," replied McRae. "In the first place, I have noticed that they are stiff and offish in their manner when I speak to them. Then, too, I've come across them several times lately with their heads together, and when they saw me coming they'd break apart and start talking of something else, as if I had interrupted them. Beside that, all three have struck me lately for a raise in salary next season."
"That's nothing new for ball players," said Joe, with a smile.
"No," admitted McRae, an answering smile relieving the gravity of his face for the moment. "And I stand ready of my own accord to give the boys a substantial increase on last year's pay because of their winning the pennant. But what these three asked for was beyond all reason, and made me think there was a nigger in the woodpile. They either had had a big offer from somebody else and were using that as a club to hold me up with, or else they were just trying to give themselves a better excuse for jumping."
"How long do their contracts have to run?" asked Joe.
"Iredell has one year more and Curry and Burkett are signed up for two years yet," replied the Giants' manager. "Of course I could try to hold them to their contracts, but you know as well as I do that baseball contracts are more a matter of honesty than of legal obligation. If a man is straight, he'll keep it, if he's crooked, he'll break it. And you know what a hole it would leave in the Giant team if those three men went over the fence. There isn't a heavier slugger in the team than Burkett, except Larry. His batting average this year was .332, and as a fielding first baseman he's the class of the league."
"You're right there," acquiesced Joe, as he recalled the ease and precision with which Burkett took them on either side and dug them out of the dirt. "He's saved a game for me many and many a time."
"As for Iredell," went on McRae, "he hasn't his equal in playing short and in covering second as the pivot for a double play. And nobody has played the infield as Curry does since I've been manager of the team."
"It would certainly break the Giants all up to lose the three of them," agreed Joe. "But we haven't lost them yet. Remember that the game isn't over till the last man is out in the ninth inning."
"I know that. You've helped me win two fights this year, Joe, one for the championship of the league and the other for the championship of the world. Now I'm counting on you to help me win a third, perhaps the hardest of them all."
"Put 'er there, Mac," said Joe, extending his hand. "Shake—I'm with you till the cows come home."
"Of course, they'll be willing to put up big money, Joe. You know that already."
"It doesn't make a particle of difference, Mac, how much money they put up," returned the crack pitcher warmly. "There isn't enough cash in the U. S. treasury to tempt me."
"I know that, Joe. And I only wish that I could be as certain of the rest of the players."
"Well, of course, I can't speak for the others. But you can be sure that I'll use my influence on the right side every time. Some of them may weaken and break away, but I doubt very much if they'll be any of your main-stays. If I were you, Mac, I wouldn't let this worry me too much."
"Yes, I know it's getting on my nerves, Joe, because, you see, it means so much to me. But having you on my side has braced me up a good deal," went on the manager.
They shook hands warmly, and McRae, evidently encouraged and braced by the talk with his star pitcher, made his way back to his own immediate party.
The teams were slated to play in Salt Lake City and in Ogden. In both places they "cleaned up" easily, and it was not until a few days later when they reached the slope that they encountered opposition that made them exert themselves to win.
At Bakersfield, with Jim in the box, the game went to eleven innings before it was finally placed to the credit of the Giants by a score of three to two. The 'Frisco team also put up a stiff fight for eight innings, but were overwhelmed by a storm of hits which rained from Giant bats in the ninth.
The game with Oakland was the last on the schedule before the teams left for the Orient, and an enormous crowd was in attendance.
Joe was in the box for the All-American team. He was in fine form, and held the home team down easily until the fifth inning, but the Oaklands also, undaunted by the reputation of their adversaries, and under the guidance of a manager who had formerly been a famous first baseman of the Chicago team, were also out to win if possible, and with first-class pitching and supported by errorless fielding, they held their redoubtable opponents on even terms.
At the end of the fifth, neither team had scored, although the Giants had threatened to do so on two separate occasions. A singular condition developed in the sixth. It was the Giants' turn at bat and Curry had reached first on a clean single to right. A neat sacrifice by Joe advanced him to second. A minute later he stole third, sliding feet first into the bag and narrowly escaping the ball in the third baseman's hand.
With only one out and Larry coming to the bat, the prospects for a run were bright.
Larry let the first go by, but swung at the second, which was coming straight to the plate. His savage lunge caught the ball on the underside, and it went soaring through the air to a tremendous height.
Both the second and third baseman started for the ball. It looked as though neither would be able to reach it, and Curry ran half-way down the line between third and home, awaiting the result. If the ball were caught he figured that he would easily have time to get back to third. If it were dropped, he could make home and score.
The third baseman got under the descending ball, but it was coming from such a height that it was difficult to judge. It slipped through his fingers, but instead of falling to the ground, went plump into the pocket of his baseball shirt.
He tugged desperately to get it out, at the same time running toward Curry, who danced about on the line between third and home in an agony of indecision. Was the ball caught or not? If it were, he would have to return to third. If it were not, he must make a break for home.
The teams were all shouting now, while the crowd went into convulsions. The third baseman reached Curry and grabbed him with one hand, while with the other he frantically tried to get the ball from his pocket and clap it on him. But the ball stuck, and in the mixup both players fell to the ground and rolled over and over.
Larry, in the meanwhile, was tearing round the bases, but he himself wasn't sure whether he was really out or whether he ought to strike for home. He reached third and pulled up there, still in the throes of doubt. He could have easily gone on past the struggling combatants, but in that case, if Curry were finally declared not out, Larry would also be out for having passed him and got home first.
On the other hand, if Curry should finally escape and get back to third, one of them would still be out because he was occupying the bag to which his comrade was entitled. He did not really know whether he was running for exercise or to score a run.
It was the funniest mixup that even the veteran players had ever seen on a ball field, and as for the crowd they were wild with joy.
The third baseman, finding that Curry was about to get away from him and unable to get the ball out of his pocket, finally threw his arms about him and hugged him close in the wild hope that some part of the protruding ball would touch his prisoner's person and thus put him out.
The sight of those burly gladiators, locked in a fond embrace, threatened the sanity of the onlookers, but the farce was ended when Curry finally wriggled out from the anaconda grasp of his opponent and took a chance for the plate.
Then there was a hot debate, as the umpire, himself laughing until the tears ran down his face, tried to solve the situation. Had Curry been touched by the ball, or had he not? Had the ball been caught or not?
Players on both sides tugged at him as they debated the matter pro and con.
"I don't know what that umpire's name is," grinned Jim to Joe, who was weak with laughter, "but I know what it ought to be."
"What?" asked Joe.
"Solomon," chuckled Jim.
THE BEWILDERED UMPIRE
But whatever the umpire's name might have been, he only resembled Solomon in one respect. He was inclined to compromise and cut the play in two, giving one part to the major leaguers and the other to the Oakland team.
He was not to blame for being bewildered, for the baseball magnates who had framed the rules had never contemplated the special case of a player catching the ball in his pocket.
Between the opposing claims he pulled out his book and scanned it carefully but with no result.
"It's easy enough," rasped McRae. "He tried to catch a ball and muffed it. It goes for a hit and Curry scores."
"Not on your life," barked Everett, the manager of the Oakland team. "He got the ball and it never touched the ground."
"Got it," sneered McRae. "This is baseball, not pool. He can't pocket the ball."
There was a laugh at this, and Mackay, the third baseman, looked a little sheepish. The baited umpire suggested that the whole play be called off and that Curry go back to third while Larry resumed his place at the bat.
Larry set up a howl at this, as he saw his perfectly good three-baser go glimmering.
"Oh, hire a hall," snapped Everett. "Even if the umpire decides against the catch it was only an error and you ought to have been out anyway."
"You can't crawl out of it that way," said McRae to the umpire. "A play is a play and you've got to settle it one way or the other, even if you settle it wrong."
The umpire hesitated, wiped his brow and finally decided that the ball was caught. That put Larry out, and he retreated, growling, to the bench, while Everett grinned his satisfaction.
"That's all right, Ump," said the latter. "But how about Curry? Mackay put the ball on him all right and that makes three out."
"Say, what do you want, the earth?" queried McRae. "He didn't put the ball on him. He didn't have the ball to put. It was in his pocket all the time."
"Of course I put the ball on him," declared Mackay. "I must have. When I fell on him I hit him everywhere at once."
The umpire finally decided that Mackay had not put the ball on Curry, and the red-headed right-fielder chuckled at the thought of the run he had scored.
"That makes it horse and horse," said the umpire. "Get back to your places."
If he thought he was at the end of his troubles he was mistaken, for Everett suddenly cried out:
"Look here. You said that Mackay caught that ball, didn't you?"
"That's what I said," snorted the umpire.
"Well, then," crowed Everett triumphantly, "why didn't Curry go back to third and touch the bag before he lit out for home? He has to do that on a caught fly ball, hasn't he?"
The umpire looked fairly stumped. Here was something on which the rules were explicit. It was certain that Curry should have returned to the base and it was equally certain that he hadn't. Mackay had caught him half-way between third and home.
But McRae was equal to the occasion.
"Suppose he did have to," he cried. "You said that Mackay hadn't touched him and he's free to go back yet."
"And I'm free to touch him with the ball," Mackay came back at him.
"But the ball isn't in play," put in Robbie, adding his mite to the general confusion. "You called time when you came in to settle this."
"Who wouldn't be an umpire?" laughed Jim to Joe, as he saw the look of despair on that worried individual's face.
"The most glorious mixup I ever saw on the ball field," answered Joe.
"'How happy he could be with either were 'tother dear charmer away,'" chuckled Jim, pointing to the two pugnacious disputants on either side of the umpire.
"Curry's out—Curry isn't out. Love me—love me not," responded Joe.
By this time the crowd had got over their laugh and impatiently demanded action. The umpire cut the Gordian knot by sending Curry back to third, where he and Mackay chaffed each other and the game went on.
It was not much of a game after that, however, as the laughable incident had put all the players in a more or less frivolous mood. It finally ended in a score of six to three in favor of the All-Americans, and the teams made a break for the showers.
"The last game we play on American soil for many moons," remarked Joe, as, having bathed and dressed, the two young athletes strolled toward their hotel.
"And every one of them a victory," observed Jim. "Not a single mark on the wrong side of the ledger!"
"That game at Denver was the closest call we had," said Joe. "The trip so far has been a big money-maker, too. McRae was telling me yesterday that we'd already topped ninety-five thousand, and there was ten thousand in that crowd to-day if there was a penny."
"I guess Mac won't have any trouble in buying steamship tickets," laughed Jim. "By the way, we haven't had a look at the old boat yet. Let's go down to-morrow and inspect her."
"Why not make it the day after to-morrow?" suggested Joe. "The girls will be here by that time and we'll take them with us."
"That will suit me, Joe."
"I've been thinking of something, Jim," went on the crack pitcher, after a pause. "It won't be long now before we leave America. What do you say if we do a little shopping, and buy some things for ourselves and for the girls?"
"Say, that's queer! I was thinking the same thing." Jim paused for a moment. "Won't it be fine to have the others with us again?"
"Yes; I'll be very glad to see Mabel, and glad to see Clara, too. I suppose you've been getting letters pretty regularly, eh, Jim?"
"I don't believe I've been getting any more letters than you have, Joe," returned the other.
"Well, you're welcome to them, Jim. I wish you luck!" said Joe, and placed a hand on his chum's shoulder. For a moment they looked into each other's eyes, and each understood perfectly what was passing in the other's mind. But Jim just then did not feel he could say too much.
"I'll be glad to see Reggie again, too," remarked Joe, after a moment of silence. "He's something of a queer stick, but pretty good at that."
"Oh, he's all right, Joe," answered Jim. "As he grows older and sees more of the seamy side of life, he'll get some of that nonsense knocked out of him."
They ate their supper that night with a sense of relaxation to which they had long been strangers. For the first time since they had gone to the training camp at Texas in the spring, they were out of harness. There had been the fierce, tense race for the pennant that had strained them to the utmost.
Then, with only a few days intervening, had come the still more exciting battle for the championship of the world. They had won and won gloriously, but even then they had not felt wholly free, for the long trip across the continent which they had just finished was then before them, and although this struggle had been less close and important, it had still kept them on edge and in training.
But now their strenuous year had ended. Before them lay a glorious trip around the world, a voyage over summer seas, a pilgrimage through lands of mystery and romance, the fulfillment of cherished dreams, and with them were to go the two charming girls who represented to them all that was worth while in life and who even now were hurrying toward them as fast as steam could bring them.
"This is the end of a perfect day," hummed Jim, as he sat back and lighted a cigar.
"You're wrong there, Jim," replied Joe, with a smile. "The perfect day will be to-morrow."
"Right you are!"
Yet little did Baseball Joe and his chum dream of the many adventures and perils which lay ahead of them.
PUTTING THEM OVER
As the two baseball players sauntered down the corridor after supper they chanced upon Iredell. He was sitting at a reading table, intent upon a letter which had attached to it what looked like an official document of some kind.
It was a chance for which Joe had been looking, and he gave Jim a sign to go on while he himself dropped into a seat beside the famous shortstop.
"How are you, Dell, old boy?" he said, genially.
"Able to sit up and take nourishment," replied the other, at the same time thrusting the document into his pocket with what seemed like unnecessary haste.
"Most of the boys are that way," laughed Joe. "There are just two things that every ball player is ready to do, take nourishment and nag the umpire."
Iredell laughed as he bit off the end of a cigar.
"That poor umpire got his this afternoon," he said. "With McRae on one side and Everett on the other I thought he'd be pulled to pieces."
"He was sure up against a hard proposition," agreed Joe. "The next hardest was in a play that happened when I was on the Pittston team. A fellow poled out a hit that went down like a shot between left and center. A lot of carriages were parked at the end of the field and a big coach dog ran after the ball, got it in his mouth and skipped down among the carriages where the fielders couldn't get at him. It would have doubled you up to have seen them coaxing the brute to be a good dog and give the ball up. In the meantime, the batter was tearing around the bases and made home before the ball got back."
"And how did his Umps decide it?" asked Iredell, with interest.
"He was flabbergasted for a while," replied Joe, "but he finally called it a two-base hit and let it go at that."
"An umpire's life is not a happy one," laughed Iredell. "He earns every dollar that he gets. I suppose that's what some of us fellows will be doing, too, when we begin to go back."
"It will be a good while before you come to that, Dell," Joe replied. "You've played a rattling game at short this year, and you're a fixture with the Giants."
"I don't know about that," said the shortstop slowly. "Fixtures sometimes work loose, you know."
"It won't be so in this case," said Joe, purposely misunderstanding him. "McRae wouldn't let go of you."
"Not if he could help it," responded Iredell.
"Well, he doesn't have to worry about that just yet," said Joe. "How long does your contract have to run?"
"A year yet," replied Iredell. "But contracts, you know, are like pie crust, they're easily broken."
"What do you mean by that?" demanded Joe sharply.
"Oh, nothing, nothing at all," said Iredell, a little nervously, as though he had said more than he intended. "But to tell the truth, Joe, I'm sore on this whole question of contracts. It's like a yoke that galls me."
"Oh, I don't know," responded Joe. "A good many folks would like to be galled that way. A good big salary, traveling on Pullmans, stopping at the best hotels, posing for pictures, and having six months of the year to ourselves. If that's a yoke, it's lined with velvet."
"But it's a yoke, just the same," persisted Iredell stubbornly. "Most men in business are free to accept any offer that's made to them. We can't. We may be offered twice as much as we're getting, but we have to stay where we are just the same."
"Well, that's simply because it's baseball," argued Joe. "You know just as well as I do that that's the only way the game can be carried on. It wouldn't last a month if players started jumping from one team to another, or from one league to another. The public would lose all interest in it, and it's the public that pays our salaries."
"Pays our salaries!" snapped Iredell. "Puts money in the hands of the owners, you mean. They get the feast and we get the crumbs. What's our measly salary compared with what they get? I was just reading in the paper that the Giants cleaned up two hundred thousand dollars this year, net profit, and yet it's the players that bring this money in at the gate."
"Yes," Joe admitted. "But they are the men who put up the capital and take the chances. Suppose they had lost two hundred thousand dollars this year. We'd have had our salaries just the same."
Just then Burkett and Curry came along and dropped into seats beside the pair.
"Hello, Red," greeted Joe, at the same time nodding to Burkett. "How are your ribs feeling, after that bear hug you got this afternoon?"
"That's all right," he said. "But he never touched me with the ball. And that umpire was a boob not to give me the run."
"What were you fellows talking about so earnestly?" asked Burkett, with some curiosity.
"Oh, jug-handled things like baseball contracts," responded Iredell.
"They're the bunk all right," declared Burkett, emphatically.
"Bunk is right," said Curry.
"What's the use of quarreling with your bread and butter?" asked Joe good-naturedly.
"What's the use of bread and butter, if you can have cake and ought to have it?" Iredell came back at him.
"Cake is good," agreed Joe, "but the point is that if a man has agreed to take bread and butter, it's up to him to stand by his agreement. A man's word is the best thing he has, and if he is a man he'll hold to it."
"You seem to be taking a lot for granted, Joe," said Burkett, a little stiffly. "Who is talking of breaking his word? We've got a right to talk about our contracts, haven't we, when we think the owners are getting the best end of the deal?"
"Sure thing," said Joe genially. "It's every man's privilege to kick, but the time to kick is before one makes an agreement, not when kicking won't do any good."
"Maybe it can do some good," said Curry significantly.
"How so?" asked Joe innocently. "No other club in the American or National League would take us if we broke away from the Giants."
"There are other leagues," remarked Iredell.
"Surely. The minors," replied Joe, again purposely misunderstanding. "But who wants to be a busher?"
"There's the All-Star League that's just forming," suggested Burkett, with a swift look at his two companions.
"'All-Star,'" repeated Joe, a little contemptuously. "That sounds good, but where are they going to get the stars?"
"They're getting them all right," said Iredell. "The papers are full of the names of players who have jumped or are going to jump."
"You don't mean players," said Joe. "You mean traitors."
The others winced a little at this.
"'Traitors' is a pretty hard word," objected Curry.
"It's the only word," returned Joe stiffly.
"You can't call a man a traitor who simply tries to better himself," remarked Burkett defensively.
"Benedict Arnold tried to better himself," returned Joe. "But it didn't get him very far. The fellows that jumped, in the old Brotherhood days, thought they were going to better themselves, but they simply got in bad with the public and nearly ruined the game. This new league will promise all sorts of things, but how do you know it will keep them? What faith can you put in men who try to induce other men to be crooked?"
"Well, you know, with most men business is business, as they put it."
"I admit business is business. But so far as I am concerned, it is no business at all if it isn't on the level," answered Joe earnestly. "A great many men think they can do something that is shady and get away with it, and sometimes at first it looks as if they were right about it. But sooner or later they get tripped up and are exposed."
"Well, everybody has got a right to make a living," grumbled Curry.
"Sure he has—and I'm not denying it."
"And everybody has got a right to go into baseball if he feels like investing his money that way."
"Right again. But if he wants to make any headway in the great national game, he has got to play it on the level right from the start. If he doesn't do that, he may, for a certain length of time, hoodwink the public. But, as I said before, sooner or later he'll be exposed; and you know as well as I do that the public will not stand for any underhand work in any line of sports. I've talked, not alone to baseball men, but also to football men, runners, skaters, and even prize fighters, and they have all said exactly the same thing—that the great majority of men want their sports kept clean."
There was no reply to this and Joe rose to his feet.
"But what's the use of talking?" he added. "Let the new league do as it likes. There's one bully thing, anyway, that it won't touch—our Giants. Whatever it does to the other teams, we will all stick together. We'll stand by Robbie and McRae till the last gun's fired. So long, fellows, see you later."
He strode off down the corridor, leaving three silent men to stare after his retreating figure thoughtfully.
Baseball Joe found Jim waiting for him near the clerk's desk.
"Been having quite a confab," remarked the latter.
"Yes," replied Joe carelessly. "Burkett and Red came along and we had a fanfest."
The next day was the first of their real vacation, and they spent the morning strolling about the city and marveling at the quick recovery it had made from the earthquake. They had a sumptuous dinner on the veranda of the Cliff House, where they had a full view of the famous harbor and watched the seals sporting on the rocks.
The commerce of the port was in full swing, and out through the Golden Gate passed great fleets with their precious argosies bound for the Orient, for immobile China, for restless and awakened Japan, for the islands of the sea, for the lands of the lotus and the palm, of minaret and mosque and pagoda, for all the realms of mystery and romance that lie beneath the Southern Cross.
It would have been a wrench to tear themselves away had it been any other day than this, but to-day was the one to which they had looked eagerly forward through all the month of exhibition playing, since they had left the quiet home at Riverside, and they kept looking at their watches to see if it were not time to go to the train and meet the girls.
They were at the station long before the appointed time, and when at last the Overland Flyer drew in they scanned each Pullman anxiously to catch a sight of two charming faces.
They were not kept long in suspense, for down the steps of the second car tripped Clara and Mabel, looking more wonderfully alluring than ever, although a month before neither Jim nor Joe would have admitted that such a thing were possible.
Reggie, too, was there, dressed "to the limit" as usual, and with his supposed English accent twice as pronounced as ever.
But Reggie for the moment did not count, compared with the lovely charges whom he had brought across the continent. Of course, the boys felt grateful to him, but their eyes and their thoughts were fastened on his two charming companions.
"I'm awfully glad you've got here at last," cried Joe, as he rushed up to Mabel and caught her by both hands. He would have liked very much to have kissed her, but did not dare do it in such a public place.
"Oh, what a grand trip we've had!" declared Clara, as she shook hands first with Jim and then with her brother. "I never had any idea our country was so big and so magnificent."
"That's just what Joe and I were remarking on our trip across the Rockies," answered Jim. He could not take his eyes from the face of his chum's sister. Clara looked the picture of health, showing that the trip from her little home town had done her a world of good.
But if Clara looked good, Mabel looked even better—at least in the eyes of Joe. He could not keep his gaze from her face. And she was certainly just as glad to see him.
"Ye-es, it was quite a trip, don't you know," remarked Reggie. "I met several bally good chaps on the way, so the time passed quickly enough. But I'm glad to be here, and hope that before long we'll be on shipboard."
"Oh, I'm so excited to think that I'm going to take a real ocean trip!" burst out Clara. "Just to think of it—a girl like me going around the world! I never dreamed I'd get that far."
"And just think of the many queer sights we'll see!" broke in Mabel. "And the queer people we'll meet!"
The girls were all on the qui vive with excitement in their anticipation of the delightful trip that lay before them, and there were no pauses in their conversation on the way to the hotel.
Here they were introduced to the other members of the party, which by this time had increased to large proportions, for beside the ladies who had accompanied the players across the continent, many others had followed the same plan as Mabel and Clara and joined their friends in San Francisco. Altogether, there were more than a hundred of the tourists, of whom perhaps a third were women.
All were out for a good time, and the atmosphere of good will and jollity was infectious. There was an utter absence of snobbery and affectation, and the boys were delighted to see how quickly the girls fell into the spirit of the gathering and with their own fun and high spirits added more than their quota to the general hilarity.
That night there was a big banquet given to the tourists by the railroad officials who had had the party in charge from the beginning and by some of the leading citizens of San Francisco. It was a jolly occasion, where for once in affairs of the kind the "flowing bowl" was notable for its absence. The stalwart, clear-eyed athletes who, with their friends, were the guests of the occasion, had no use for the cup that both cheers and inebriates.
A striking feature of the table decorations was a cake weighing one hundred and twenty-five pounds, on whose summit was a bat and ball, and whose frosted slopes were accurate representations of the Polo Grounds and the baseball park at Chicago. It is needless to say how pronounced a hit this made with the "fans" of both sexes. It was a great send-off to the globe-encircling baseball teams.
The next day, Joe and Jim took the girls down to the pier to see the ship on which they were to sail. It was a splendid craft of twenty thousand tons and sumptuously fitted up. The girls exclaimed at the beauty of her lines and the superb decoration of the cabins and saloons.
"The Empress of Japan!" read Clara, as she scanned the name on the steamer's stern.
"Most fittingly named," said Jim gallantly, "since she carries two queens."
"What a pretty compliment," said Clara, as she flashed a radiant look at Jim.
"I'm afraid," said Mabel, "that Jim's been practising on some of the nice girls in the party."
"Have I, Joe?" appealed the accused one. "Haven't I been an anchorite, a senobite, an archimandrite——"
"Goodness, I thought you were bad," laughed Clara. "But now I know you're worse."
"Keep it up, old man, as long as the 'ites' hold out," said Joe. "I guess there are plenty more in the dictionary. But honest, girls, Jim hasn't looked twice at any girl since he came away from Riverside."
"I've looked more than twice at one girl since yesterday," Jim was beginning, but Clara, flushing rosily, thought it was high time to change the subject.
The next day, with all the party safely on board, the ship weighed anchor, threaded its way through the crowded commerce of the bay and then, dropping its tug, turned its prow definitely toward the east and breasted the billows of the Pacific.
"The last we'll see of Old Glory for many months," remarked Joe, as, standing at the rail, they watched the Stars and Stripes floating out from the flag-pole on the top of the government station.
"Not so long as that," corrected Jim. "We will still be on the soil of God's country when we reach Hawaii seven days from now."
The first two days of the voyage passed delightfully. The girls proved good sailors, and had the laugh on many of the so-called stronger sex, who were conspicuous by their absence from the table during that period.
On the afternoon of the third day out, Joe and Mabel were pacing the deck with Jim and Clara at a discreet distance behind them. It was astonishing how willing each pair was not to intrude upon the other.
Suddenly there was a tumult of excited exclamations near the stern of the vessel, and then above it rose a shout that is never heard at sea without a chill of terror.
ONE STRIKE AND OUT
The two young baseball players and the girls joined the throng that was racing toward the stern.
A number of people were pointing wildly over the port side at a small object some distance behind the ship.
They followed the pointing fingers and saw the head of a man who was swimming desperately toward the receding ship.
The steamer, which had been taking advantage of the favorable weather and had been ploughing ahead under full steam, found it hard to stop, although orders had been given at once to shut off steam.
It was maddening to the onlookers to see the distance increase between the giant ship and that bobbing, lonely speck far out in the waste of waters.
With all the celerity possible the great steamer swung round in a circle and bore down upon the struggling swimmer, while at the same time preparations were made to lower a boat as soon as they should be near enough.
"They're going to save him!" cried Mabel, half-sobbing in her excitement. "Oh, Joe, they're going to save him after all!"
It seemed as though there were no doubt of this now, for the man was evidently a strong swimmer and seemed to be maintaining himself without great effort, and it was certain that within the next few minutes the boat, already filled with oarsmen and swaying at the davits, ready to be lowered, would reach him.
Suddenly Clara, with a stifled scream, clutched at Jim's arm.
"Oh, Jim!" she cried, "what is that? Look, look——"
Jim looked and turned pale under his tan.
"Great heavens!" he cried. "It's a shark!"
The cry was taken up by scores.
"A shark! A shark!"
There, cleaving the water and coming toward the swimmer like an arrow at its mark, was a great black dorsal fin which bespoke the presence of the pirate of the seas.
The steamer had lessened speed in order to lower its boat, but the momentum under which it was carried it within twenty yards of the castaway.
Almost instantly the ship's boat struck the water, and the sinewy backs of the sailors bent almost double as they drove it toward the swimmer.
From the crowded deck they could see his face now, pale and dripping, but lighted with a gleam of hope as he saw the boat approaching. But the horrified onlookers saw something else, that ominous, awful fin, that came rushing on like a relentless fate toward its intended prey.
Some of the women were sobbing, others almost fainting, while the men, pale and with gritted teeth, groaned at their helplessness.
It was a question now of which would reach the luckless man first, the boat or the shark. The boat was nearer and the men were rowing like demons, but the shark was swifter, coming on like an express train.
There must have been something in those faces high above him that warned the man of some impending peril. He cast a swift look behind him, and then in frantic terror redoubled his efforts to reach the boat.
"Oh, Joe, they'll be too late! They'll never reach him in time!" sobbed Mabel. "Oh, can't we do anything to help him?"
Joe, as frantic as she, looked wildly about him. His eyes fell on a heavy piece of iron, left on the deck by some seaman who had been repairing the windlass. Like a flash he grabbed it.
It seemed as though the swimmer were doomed, and a gasp of horror went up from the spectators as they saw that the boat would be too late.
For now the fin had disappeared, and they saw a hideous shape take form as the monster came into plain sight, a foot beneath the surface, and turned over upon its back to seize its prey.
Then Joe took a chance—a long chance, a desperate chance, an almost hopeless chance—and yet, a chance.
With all the force of his powerful arm he sent the jagged piece of iron hurtling at the fiendish open jaws.
And the chance became a certainty.
The missile crashed into the monster's nose, its most sensitive point. The brute was so near the surface that the thin sheet of water was no protection.
The effect was startling. There was a tremendous plunging and leaping that lashed the waters into foam, and then the crippled monster sank slowly into the ocean depths.
The next instant the ship's boat had reached the castaway, and strong arms pulled him aboard, where he sank panting and exhausted across a thwart.
It had all happened with the speed of light. There was a moment of stunned surprise, a gasp from the crowd, and then a roar went up that swelled into a deafening thunder of applause.
Joe had reversed the baseball rule of "three strikes and out." This time it was just one strike—and the shark was out!
BRAXTON JOINS THE PARTY
The passengers crowded around Joe in wild delight and exhilaration, reaching for his hand, pounding him on the back, vociferous in their praise and congratulations, until he was almost ready to pray to be rescued from his friends.
Mabel, starry-eyed, slipped a hand within his arm and the pressure was eloquent. Jim almost wrenched his arm from the shoulder, and Clara hugged her brother openly.
Naturally, Joe's great feat appealed especially to the baseball players of the party. They felt that he had honored the craft to which they belonged. He had justified his reputation as the star pitcher of the country, and they felt that they shared in the reflected glory.
"Great Scott, Joe!" beamed Larry. "You put it all over his sharklet that time."
"Straight over the plate!" chuckled Burkett.
"Against the rules, though," grinned Denton. "You know that the 'bean ball' is barred."
The rescued man had now been brought on board. He had been too excited and confused to understand how he had been snatched from the jaws of death—and such a death!
He proved to be a member of the crew, a Lascar, whose knowledge of the English language was limited, and whose ignorance of the great national game was fathomless.
But when he had recovered and had learned the name of his rescuer, he sought Joe out and thanked him in accents that were none the less sincere because broken and imperfect, and from that time on throughout the trip he was almost doglike in his devotion.
A few days more and the ship reached Hawaii, that far-flung outpost of Uncle Sam's dominions, which breaks the long ocean journey between America and Japan.
The hearts of the tourists leaped as the ship drew near the harbor and they caught sight of the Stars and Stripes, floating proudly in the breeze.
"I never knew how I loved that flag before," cried Mabel enthusiastically.
"The most beautiful flag that floats," chimed in Clara.
"The flag that stands for liberty everywhere," remarked Jim.
"Yes," was Joe's tribute. "The flag that when it has gone up anywhere has never been pulled down."
As the ship drew near the shore the beauty of the island paradise brought exclamations of delight from the passengers who thronged the steamer's rails.
The harbor was a scene of busy life and animation. The instant the ship dropped anchor she was surrounded by native boats, paddled by Hawaiian youngsters, who indulged in exhibitions of diving and swimming that were a revelation of skill.
"They've got it all over the fishes when it comes to swimming," remarked Jim with a grin. "Cough up all your spare coin, Joe, and see these little beggars dive for it."
They tossed coin after coin into the transparent waters and swiftly as each piece sank, the young swimmer was swifter. Every one was caught before it reached bottom, and came up clutched in some dusky hand or shining between ivory teeth.
"I'll be bankrupt if this keeps up long," laughed Joe.
"Yes," said Jim. "You'll wish you'd joined the All-Star League and copped that twenty thousand."
"How do they ever do it?" marveled Clara.
"In the blood I suppose," replied Joe. "Their folks throw them into the water when they're babies, and like puppies, they have to swim or drown."
"They're more at home in the water than they are on land," remarked Jim. "Those fellows will swim out in the ocean and stay there all day long."
"I should think they'd be afraid of sharks," remarked Mabel, with a shudder, as she thought of the recent incident in which that hideous brute had figured.
"Sharks are easy meat for them," replied Jim. "You ought to pity the sharks instead of wasting it on these fellows. Give them a knife, and the shark hasn't a Chinaman's chance."
"Not even a knife," chimed in Joe. "A stick sharpened at both ends is enough."
"A stick?" exclaimed Mabel, wonderingly.
"Sure thing," replied Joe. "They simply wait until the shark turns over to grab them and then thrust it right into the open jaws. You've no idea how effective that can be."
"It's a case of misplaced confidence," laughed Jim. "The poor trustful shark lets his jaws come together with a snap, or rather he thinks he does, and instead of a nice juicy human, those guileless jaws of his close on the two ends of the pointed stick and stay there. He can't close his mouth and he drowns."
"Poor thing," murmured Clara involuntarily, while the boys put up a shout. "I don't care," she added, flushing. "I'm always sorry for the underdog——"
"That's why she's taken such a fancy to you, Jim, old man," laughed Joe.
"Well, as long as pity is akin to——" began Joe, when Mabel, tired with laughing, interrupted him:
"But suppose the stick should break," she said.
"Then there would be just one less native," answered Jim, solemnly. "By the way, Joe," he added, "speaking of sharks—what's the difference between a dog and a shark?"
"Give it up," replied Joe promptly.
"Because," chuckled Jim, "a dog's bark is worse than his bite, but a shark's bite is—is—worse than his—er——"
"Go ahead," said Joe bitterly, while the girls giggled. "Perpetrate it. What shark has a bark?"
"A dog-faced shark," crowed Jim triumphantly.
"Of all the idiots," lisped Reggie, joining them at the rail. "'Pon honor, you know, I never heard such bally nonsense."
The gibe that followed this remark was cut short by the approach of the lighter on which the passengers were to be carried to the shore.
They were to spend two days in Hawaii while the steamer discharged its cargo, but they would have gladly made it two weeks or two months.
Only one game was played, and that was between the Giant and the All-American teams. There was no native talent which was quite strong enough to stand a chance against the seasoned veterans, although Hawaii boasts of many ball teams.
There was a big crowd present, made up chiefly of government officials and representatives of foreign commercial houses from all over the world who had established branches on the island.
The contests between the two teams had been waxing hotter and hotter, despite the fact that there was nothing at stake except the pleasure of winning.
But this was enough for these high-strung athletes, to whom the cry "play ball" was like a bugle call. The fight was close from start to finish, and resulted in a victory for the All-Americans by a score of three to two.
"That makes it 'even Stephen,'" chortled Brennan to his friend and rival, McRae. "We've won just as many games as you have, now."
"It's hoss and hoss," admitted McRae. "But just wait; what we'll do to you fellows before we get to the end of the trip will be a crime."
The time that still remained before the steamer resumed its journey was one of unalloyed delight. The scenery was wonderful and the weather superb.
Jim and Joe hired a touring car and with Joe at the wheel—it is unnecessary to state who sat beside him—they visited all the most picturesque and romantic spots in that glorious bit of Nature's handiwork.
"Do you remember our last ride in an automobile, Mabel?" asked Joe with a smile, as she snuggled into the seat beside him.
"Indeed I do," replied Mabel. "It was the day that horrid Fleming carried me off and you chased us."
"I caught you all right, anyway," Joe replied.
"Yes," said Mabel saucily. "Only to spend all your spare moments afterward in regretting it."
Joe's reproachful denial both in words and looks was eloquent.
They visited the famous volcano with its crater Kilaeua, and watched in awe and wonder the great sea of flame that surged hideously and writhed like a chain of fiery serpents.
They saw the famous battlefield where Kamehameha, "the Napoleon of the Pacific," had won the great victory that made him undisputed ruler of the island. They saw the steep precipice where the three thousand Aohu, fighting to the last gasp, had made their final stand, and had at last been driven over the cliff to the death awaiting them below.
It was with a feeling of genuine regret that they finally bade farewell to the enchanting island and again took ship to pursue their journey.
A large number of new passengers had come on board at Honolulu, and among them was a man who soon attached himself to the baseball party. He was tall and distinguished in appearance, smooth and plausible in his conversation, and seemed to be thoroughly versed in the great national game.
His ingratiating manners soon made him a favorite with the women of the party also, and he spared no pains to deepen this impression.
Reggie liked him immensely, largely, no doubt, owing to the hints that Braxton, which was the stranger's name, had dropped of having aristocratic connections. He had traveled widely, and the names of distinguished personages fell from his lips with ease and familiarity.
"How do you like the new fan, Joe?" Jim asked, a day or two later.
"I can't say that I'm stuck on him much," responded Joe. "He seems to be pretty well up in baseball dope, and that in itself I suppose ought to be a recommendation, to a ball player especially, but somehow or other, he doesn't hit me very hard."
"I think he's very handsome," remarked Mabel, with a mischievous glance at Joe, and that young man's instinctive dislike of the newcomer became immediately more pronounced.
"He seems very friendly and pleasant," put in Clara. "Why don't you like him, Joe?"
"How can I tell?" replied her brother. "I simply know I don't."
IN MIKADO LAND
But if Braxton sensed the slight feeling of antipathy which Joe felt for him, he gave no sign of it, and Joe himself, who wanted to be strictly just, took pains to conceal it.
Braxton had a fund of anecdotes that made him good company, and the friendship that Reggie felt for him made him often a member of Joe's party.
"Fine fellow, that Mr. Matson of yours," he remarked one afternoon, when he and Reggie and Mabel were sitting together under an awning, which the growing heat of every day, as the vessel made its way deeper into the tropics, made very grateful for its shade and coolness.
"Indeed he is," remarked Mabel, warmly, to whom praise of Joe was always sweet.
"He's a ripper, don't you know," agreed Reggie.
"Not only as a man but as a player," continued Braxton. "Hughson used to be king pin once, but I think it can be fairly said that Matson has taken his place as the star pitcher of America. Hughson's arm will probably never be entirely well again."
"Joe thinks that Hughson is a prince," remarked Mabel. "He says he stands head and shoulders above everybody else."
"He used to," admitted Braxton. "For ten years there was nobody to be compared with him. But now it's Matson's turn to wear the crown."
"Have you ever seen Joe pitch?" asked Mabel.
"I should say I have," replied Braxton. "And it's always been a treat to see the way he did his work. I saw him at the Polo Grounds when in that last, heartbreaking game he won the championship for the Giants. And I saw him, too, in that last game of the World's Series, when it seemed as though only a miracle could save the day. That triple play was the most wonderful thing I ever beheld. The way he nailed that ball and shot it over to Denton was a thing the fans will talk over for many years to come."
"Wasn't it great?" cried Mabel, enthusiastically, at the same time privately resolving to tell all this to Joe and show him how unjust he was in feeling the way he did toward this generous admirer.
"The fact is," continued Braxton, "that Matson's in a class by himself. He's the big cog in the Giant machinery. It's a pity they don't appreciate him more."
"Why, they do appreciate him!" cried Mabel, her eyes opening wide with wonder. "Mr. McRae thinks nothing's too good for him."
"Nothing's too good except money," suggested Braxton.
"They give him plenty of that, too," put in Mabel, loyally.
"He gets a ripping salary, don't you know," put in Reggie. "And he almost doubled it in this last World's Series."
"A man's worth what he can get," returned Braxton. "Now, of course, I don't know and perhaps it might be an impertinence for me even to guess what his salary is, but I should say that it isn't a bit more than ten thousand a year."
"Oh, it isn't anything like that," said Reggie, a little chop fallen.
Braxton raised his eyebrows in apparent surprise.
"I didn't think the Giants were so niggardly," he remarked, with a touch of contempt. "It's simply robbery for them to hold his services at such a figure. Mr. Matson could demand vastly more than that."
"Where?" asked Reggie. "He's under contract with the Giants and they wouldn't let him go to any other club."
"Why doesn't he go without asking leave?" asked Braxton.
"But no other club in the big leagues would take him if he broke his contract with the Giants," said Mabel, a little bewildered.
"I've heard there was a new league forming," said Braxton, carelessly. "Let's see, what is it they call it? The All-Star League. There would be no trouble with Matson's getting an engagement with them. They'd welcome him with open arms."
"They've already tried to get him," cried Mabel, proudly.
"Is that so? I suppose they made him a pretty good offer. I've heard they're doing things on a big scale."
"It was a wonderful offer," said Mabel.
"It certainly was, 'pon honor," chimed in Reggie.
"Would it be indiscreet to ask the amount?" said Braxton.
"I don't think there's any bally secret 'bout it," complied Reggie. "They offered him twenty thousand dollars to sign a contract and fifteen thousand dollars a year for a three years' term. Many a bank or railroad president doesn't get that much, don't you know."
"And Matson refused it?" asked Braxton, incredulously.
"How could he help it?" replied Mabel. "His contract with the Giants has two years yet to run."
"My dear young lady," said Braxton, "don't you know that a baseball contract isn't as binding as the ordinary kind? In the first place, it's one-sided, and that itself makes it worthless."
"In what way is it so one-sided?" asked Mabel.
"Well, just to take one instance," replied Braxton. "A baseball club may engage a man for a year and yet if it gets tired of its bargain, it can let him go on ten days' notice. That doesn't seem fair, does it?"
"No-o, it doesn't," admitted Mabel slowly.
"It would be all right," continued Braxton, "if the player also could leave his club by giving ten days' notice. But he can't. That's what makes it unfair. The club can do to the player what the player can't do to the club. So the supposed contract is only a bit of paper. It's no contract at all."
"Not in the legal sense, perhaps," said Reggie, dubiously.
"Well, if not in the legal sense, then in no sense at all," persisted Braxton. "The law is supposed to be based on justice, isn't it, and to do what is right?
"Of course," he went on, "it's none of my business; but if I were in Mr. Matson's place, I shouldn't hesitate a moment in going where my services were in the most demand."
Mabel felt there was sophistry somewhere in the argument, but could hardly point out where it was.
"I wouldn't like to be quoted in this matter, of course," said Braxton, suavely. "And it might be just as well not to mention to Mr. Matson that I have spoken about it. He might think I was trying to pry into his affairs."
As Joe and Jim came up just then from the engine-room of the ship which they had been inspecting, the subject, of course, was dropped, and after a while Braxton strode away with a self-satisfied smile on his lips.
The travelers were now in the heart of the typhoon region but luckily for them it was the winter season when such storms are least frequent and although they met a half gale that for two days kept them in their cabins, they were favored on the whole by fair weather and at the appointed time dropped anchor in the harbor of Yokohama.
Now they were on the very threshold of the Oriental world of whose wonders they had heard and dreamed, and all were on tiptoe with curiosity and interest.
The sights and scenes were as strange almost as though they were on another planet. Everything was new to their young blood and unjaded senses in this "Land of the Rising Sun."
The great city itself, teeming with commerce and busy life, had countless places of interest, but far more enchanting were the trips they took in the jinrikishas drawn by tireless coolies which carried them to the little dreaming, rustic towns with their tiny houses, their quaint pagodas, their charming gardens and their unhurried life, so different from the feverish, restless tumult of western lands.
"Really, this seems to be a different world from ours," was Clara's comment.
"It certainly is vastly different from anything we have in America," replied Mabel.
"It's interesting—I'll admit that," said Joe. "Just the same, I like things the way we have them much better."
"To me these people—or at least a large part of them—seem to lead a dreamlike existence," was Jim's comment. "They don't seem to belong to the hurry and bustle of life such as we know it."
"And yet there is noise enough, goodness knows!" answered Clara.
"I think I really prefer the good old U. S. A., don't you know," drawled Reggie. "There may be society here, but really it's so different from ours that I shouldn't like to take part in it."
"Yes, there is plenty of noise, but, at the same time, there is a good deal of calm and quiet," said Joe.
But the calm and quiet that seemed to be prevailing features of Japanese life were wholly absent from the ball games where the visiting teams met the nines of Keio and Waseda Universities.
The Giants were to play the first named team, while later on the All-Americans were slated to tackle the Waseda men.
In the first game the contrast was laughable between the sturdy Giant players and their diminutive opponents.
"What are we playing against?" laughed Larry to Denton. "A bunch of kids?"
"It would take two of them to make a mouthful," grinned Denton.
"I feel almost ashamed of myself," chimed in Burkett. "We ought to tackle fellows of our own size."
"You don't find many of that kind in Japan," said Joe. "But don't you hold these fellows too cheap. They may have a surprise in store for us."
The snap and vim that the Japs put into their practice before the game seemed to add point to his prophecy. They shot the ball around the bases with a speed and precision that would have done credit to seasoned veterans and made McRae, who watched them keenly, give his men a word of caution.
"Don't get too gay, boys," he warned.
The game that followed was "for blood." The universities had poured out their crowds to a man to cheer their players on to victory.
And for the first five innings the scales hung in the balance. The Keio pitcher had a world of speed and a tantalizing drop, and only two safe hits were made off him. Behind him his team mates fielded like demons. No ball seemed too hard for them to get, and even when a Giant got to first base he found it difficult to advance against the accurate throwing to second of the Jap catcher.
At the bat the home players were less fortunate. They hit the ball often enough but they couldn't "lean against it" with the power of their sturdier rivals.
They were skillful bunters, however, and had the Giant players "standing on their heads" in trying to field the balls that the clever Jap players laid deftly in front of the plate.
By these tactics they scored a run in the sixth inning, against which the Giants had only a string of goose eggs.
"It's like a bear against a wildcat," muttered Robbie to McRae, as the little Jap scurried over the plate.
"And it looks as if the wildcat might win," grunted the Giant manager, not at all pleased at the possibility.
"Not a bit of it," denied Robbie sturdily. "A good big man is better than a good little man any time."
And his faith was justified when, in the seventh inning, the Giants, stung by the taunts of their manager, really woke up and got into action. A perfect storm of hits broke from their bats and had the Japanese players running after the ball until their tongues hung out.
Five runs came in and it was "all over but the shouting." There was not much shouting, however, for the home crowd had seen its dream of victory shattered.
But though the Giants won handily in the end by a score of six to two, it had been a red-hot game, and had taken some of the conceit out of the major leaguers. It was a tip, too, to the All-Americans, who, when they played the Waseda team a little later, went in with determination to win the game from the start and trimmed their opponents handsomely.
"Those Japs are the goods all right," conceded McRae, when at last they were ready to embark for Hongkong.
"You're right they are," agreed Robbie.
"We call ourselves the world's champions," grinned Jim. "But, after all, we're only champions of the United States. The time may come when there will be a real World's Series and then the pennant will mean something more than it does now."
"It would be some big jump between the games," said Joe.
"Lots of queer things happen," said Larry sagely. "The time yet may come when the umpire will take off his hat, bow to the crowd and say—
"'Ladies and gentlemen: the batteries for to-day's game are Matsuda and Nagawiki for the All-Japans, Matson and Mylert for the All-Americans.'"
If Japan had been a revelation to the tourists, China was a still greater one. For Japan, however much she clung to the dreamy life of former times, had at last awakened and was fast adapting herself to modern, civilized conditions.
If Japan was still half dreaming, China was sound asleep. This, of course, was not true of the foreign quarter, where the great English government buildings and commercial houses might have been those of Paris or London.
But just behind this lay the real China, looking probably the same as three hundred thousand years ago. The little streets, so narrow in places that the houses almost touched and a carriage could not pass! That strange medley of sounds and smells and noises! Here a tinker mending his pans on the sidewalk! There a dentist, pulling a tooth in the open street, jugglers performing their tricks, snake charmers exhibiting their slimy pets.
There was a bewildering jumble of trades, occupations and amusements, so utterly different from what the tourists had ever before seen that it held their curiosity unabated and their interest stimulated to its highest pitch during the period of their stay.
"Everything is so topsy turvy!" exclaimed Mabel, as she threaded the noisome streets, clinging close to Joe's arm. "I feel like Alice in Wonderland."
"It's not surprising that things should be upside down when we're in the Antipodes," laughed Joe.
"If we saw men walking on their heads it would seem natural out here," said Jim. "All that a Chinaman wants to know is what other people do, then he does something different."
"Sure thing," said Joe. "See those fellows across the street. They're evidently old friends and each one is shaking hands with himself."
"You can't dope out anything here," said Jim. "When an American's puzzled he scratches his head—the Chinaman scratches his foot. We wear black for mourning, they wear white. We pay the doctor when we're sick——"
"If the doctor's lucky," interrupted Joe.
"They pay him only while they're well. They figure that it's to his interest then to keep them well. We think what few brains we have are in our head. The Chinaman thinks they're in the stomach. Whenever he gets off what he thinks is a good thing he pats his stomach in approval. We put a guest of honor on our right, the Chinaman puts him on his left."
"Anything else?" asked Clara laughingly.
"Lots of things," replied Joe. "And we'll probably find them out before we go away."
As they passed a corner they saw a man standing there, rigged out in a queer fashion. About him was what seemed to be a tree box, from which only his head protruded.
"Why is he going around that way?" asked Mabel, curiously.
"You wouldn't care to know that," said Joe, hurrying her along, but Mabel was not to be disposed of in so cavalier a fashion.
"But I do want to know," she persisted.
"Might as well tell her," said Jim, "and let her suffer."
"Well," said Joe, reluctantly, "that fellow's being executed."
"What do you mean?" exclaimed Mabel, in horror.
"Just that," replied Joe. "That thing that looked like a tree box is what they call a cangue. They put him in there so that he's standing on thin slabs of wood that just enable him to keep his head above that narrow opening around his neck. Every little while they take one of the slabs of wood from underneath him; then he has to stand on tiptoe. By and by his feet can't touch the slabs at all, and then he chokes to death."
The girls shuddered and Mabel regretted her ill-timed curiosity.
"What a hideous thing!" exclaimed Clara.
"And what cruel people!" added Mabel.
"One of the most cruel on God's earth," replied Jim. "You see in all this crowd there is nobody looking at that fellow with pity. They don't seem to have the slightest tincture of it."
"Let's go back to our hotel," pleaded Mabel. "I've seen all I want to for to-day."
The games at Hong Kong were interesting and largely attended. There was one rattling contest between the major leaguers that after an eleventh-inning fight was won by the Giants.
A few days later a second game was played in which a picked team from the visitors opposed a nine of husky "Jackies" selected from the United States battleships that lay in the harbor.
To make the game more even, the Giants loaned them a catcher and second baseman, and a contest ensued that was full of fun and excitement.