Of course, the Jackies were full of naval slang, and sometimes their talk was utterly unintelligible to the landsmen. At the end of the third inning the Giants had three runs to their credit, while the boys from the navy had nothing.
"Say there, Longneck, we've got to get some runs," howled one Jackie to his mate. "Give 'em a shot from a twelve-inch gun!"
"Aye! aye! Give it 'em."
In the next inning the Jackies took a brace, and, as a consequence, got two runs. Immediately they and their friends began to cheer wildly.
"Down with the pirates!"
"Let's feed 'em to the sharks!"
"A double portion of plum duff for every man on our side who makes a run!" cried one enthusiastic sailor boy.
Several of the Jackies were quite good when it came to batting the ball, but hardly any of them could do any efficient running, for the reason that they got but scant practice while on shipboard. The way that some of them wabbled around the bases was truly amusing, and set the crowd to laughing loudly.
"Our men don't like this running," declared one sailor, who sat watching the contest. "If, instead of running around those bases, you fellows had to climb a mast, you'd see who would come out ahead."
The Jackies managed to get two more runs, due almost entirely to the lax playing of the Giants. This, however, was as far as they were able to go, and, when the game came to an end, the score stood 12 to 5 in favor of the Giants.
A visit to Shanghai followed, where only one game was played, and this by a rally in the last inning went to the All-Americans, thus keeping the total score of won and lost even between the rival teams.
They spent a few more days in sightseeing, and then set sail for the Philippines, glad at the prospect of soon being once more under the flag of their own country.
"Look at those queer little boats!" exclaimed Mabel, as they stood at the rail while the ship was weighing anchor and looked at the native sampans with their bright colors and lateen sails as they darted to and fro like so many gaudy butterflies.
"What are those things they have on each side of the bow?" asked Clara. "They look like eyes."
"That's what they are," replied Jim, seriously.
Clara looked at him to see if he were joking.
"Honest to goodness, cross my heart, hope to die," returned Jim.
"But why do they put eyes there?" asked Clara, mystified.
"So that the boat can see where it's going," replied Jim.
"Well," said Mabel, with a gasp, "whatever else I take away from this country, I'll have a choice collection of nightmares."
The steamer made splendid weather of the trip to the Philippines, and in a few days they were steaming into Manila bay. Their hearts swelled with pride as they recalled the splendid achievement of Admiral Dewey, when, with his battle fleet, scorning mines and torpedoes, like Farragut at Mobile, he had signaled for "full speed ahead."
"That fellow was the real stuff," remarked Jim.
"As good as they make them," agreed Joe. "And foxy, too. Remember how he kept that cable cut because he didn't want the folks at Washington to queer his game. He had his work cut out and he wasn't going to be interfered with."
"Something like Nelson, when his chief ran up the signal to withdraw," suggested Denton. "He looked at it with that blind eye of his and said he couldn't see it."
"Dewey was a good deal like Nelson," said Joe. "Do you remember how he trod on the corns of that German admiral who tried to butt in?"
"Do I?" said Jim. "You bet I do."
The party met with a warm welcome when they went ashore at Manila. American officers and men from the garrison thronged the dock to meet the veterans of the diamond, whose coming had been widely heralded.
Many of them knew the players personally and all knew them by reputation.
The baseball teams went to their hotel and after they were comfortably settled in their new quarters, the two chums accompanied by the girls went out for a stroll. But they had not gone far before they were startled by excited shouts a little way ahead of them and saw groups of people scattering right and left in wild panic and confusion.
Down the street came a savage figure, running with the speed of a hare, and holding in either hand a knife with which he slashed savagely right and left at all that stood in his way.
His eyes were flaming with demoniacal fury, foam stood out upon his lips, and from those lips issued a wailing cry that ended in a shriek:
TAKING A CHANCE
There was a scream from the frightened girls and a gasp from the young men as they saw this messenger of death bearing down upon them.
They knew at a glance what had happened. A Malay, yielding to the insidious mental malady that seems peculiar to his race, had suddenly gone mad and started out to kill. That he himself would inevitably be killed did not deter him for a moment. He wanted to die, but he wanted at the same time to take as many with him as possible.
He had made his offering to the infernal gods, had blackened his teeth and anointed his head with cocoa oil, and had started out to slay.
With his eyes blazing, his head rolling from side to side like a mad dog, and with that blood-chilling cry coming from his foam-flecked lips, he was like a figure from a nightmare.
For a moment the Americans stood rooted to the spot. That instant past, Baseball Joe, as usual, took the lead.
"Look after the girls, Jim!" he cried, and started full tilt toward the awful figure that came plunging down the street.
Mabel and Clara screamed to him to stop, but he only quickened his pace, running like a deer, as though bent on suicide. The Malay saw him coming, and for a second hesitated. He had seen everyone else scurry from him in fear. What did this man mean by coming to meet him?
It was just this instant of indecision upon which Joe had counted, and like a flash he seized it.
When within twenty feet of the Malay, Joe launched himself into the air, and came down flat on the hard dirt road, as he had done many a time before when sliding to base.
The Malay, confused by the unlooked-for action, slashed down at him. Had Joe gone straight toward him, the knife would have been buried in him. But here again his quickness and the tactics of the ballfield came into play.
Instead of going straight toward his antagonist, his slide had been a "fall away."
Many a time when sliding to second he had thrown himself this way out of the reach of the ball, while his extended hand just clutched the bag.
So now, his sinewy arm caught the Malay by the leg, while his body swung round to the right. Down went the Malay with a crash, his blood-stained knives clattering on the ground and the next instant Joe was on his back.
His hands closed upon the man's throat with an iron grip.
But there was no more fight left in the would-be murderer. The fall had jarred and partially stunned him. In an instant Jim had joined Joe, other men came rushing up; and the danger was over.
The crazed man was secured with ropes and carried away, while Joe, perspiring, panting and covered with dust, received the enthusiastic congratulations of the rapidly gathering crowd.
"Pluckiest thing I ever saw in my life!" exclaimed the colonel of the army command, who had witnessed the exploit.
"That fall-away slide of yours was great, Joe!" cried Larry Barrett, who had come up. "I never saw a niftier one on the ballfield."
"You made the bag all right!" grinned Denton.
"He never touched you!" chuckled Burkett.
"If he had it would have been some touch," declared McRae, as he picked up one murderous-looking knife and passed it round for inspection.
It was a wicked weapon, nearly a foot in length, with a handle so contrived as to get all the weight behind the stroke and a wavy blade capable of inflicting a fearful wound.
"Has a bowie knife skinned a mile!" ejaculated Curry, expressing the general sentiment.
Joe hated to pose as a hero but it was some time before the crowd would let him get away and rejoin the girls who were waiting for him.
All the plaudits of the throng were tame compared with what he read in the eyes of Mabel and his sister.
The baseball teams stayed nearly a week in Manila, making short excursions in the suburbs as far as it could be done with safety. Two games were played, one between the Giants and All-Americans, which resulted in favor of the latter, and another between the Giants and a picked nine from the army post.
Many of Uncle Sam's army boys had been fine amateur players and a few had come from professional teams, so that they were able to put up a gallant fight, although they were, of course, no match for the champions of the world.
"But they certainly put up a fine game," was Joe's comment. "They had two pitchers who had some good stuff in 'em."
"That's just what I was thinking," returned Jim.
"One of those pitchers used to play ball on a professional team from Los Angeles," said McRae, who was standing near. "I understand he had quite a record."
"I wonder what made him give up pitching and join the army," remarked Jim curiously.
"Oh, I suppose it was the love of adventure," answered the manager.
"That might be it," said Joe. "Some fellows get tired of doing the same thing, and when they have a chance to leave home and see strange places, they grab it."
While warming up prior to this last game, Joe's attention was attracted by a muscular Chinaman, who was standing in the crowd that fringed the diamond, interestedly watching the players at practice. He recognized him as a famous wrestler who had taken part in a bout at a performance the night before and who had thrown his opponents with ease.
"Some muscles on that fellow," Joe remarked to Jim.
"Biggest Chink I ever saw," replied Jim, "and not a bit of it is fat either. He'd make a dandy highbinder. You saw what he did to the Terrible Turk in that match last night. He just played with him. And the Turk was no slouch either."
"Look at those arms," joined in Larry, gazing with admiration at the swelling biceps of the wrestler. "What a slugger he'd make if he knew how to play ball. He'd break all the fences in the league."
"He sure would kill the ball if he ever caught it on the end of his bat," declared Red Curry.
"I've half a mind to give him a chance," laughed Joe.
"Go ahead," grinned Larry. "I'd like to see him break his back reaching for one of your curves."
"He might land on it at that," replied Joe. "A wrestler has to have an eye like a hawk."
He beckoned to the wrestler, who came toward him at once with a smile on his keen but good-natured face.
"Want to hit the ball?" asked Joe, piecing out his question by going through the motions of swinging a bat that he picked up.
The wrestler "caught on" at once, and the smile on his face broadened into a grin as he nodded his head understandingly.
"Me tly," he said in the "pidgin English" he had picked up in his travels, and reached out his hand for the bat.
"Have a heart, Joe," laughed Larry. "Don't show the poor gink up before the crowd. At any rate let me show him how it's done."
"All right," responded Joe. "You lead off and he can follow."
Larry took up his position at the plate and motioned to the wrestler to watch him. The latter nodded and followed every motion.
Joe put over a swift high one that Larry swung at and missed. He "bit" again at an outcurve with no better result.
"Look out, Larry," chaffed Jim, "or it's you that will be shown up instead of the Chink."
A little nettled, Larry caught the next one full and square and it sailed far out into right field.
"There," he said complacently, as he handed the bat to the wrestler, "that's the way it's done."
The latter went awkwardly to the plate and a laugh ran through the crowd at the unusual sight.
Joe lobbed one over and the Chinaman swung listlessly a foot below the ball.
"Easy money," laughed Denton.
"Where's that good eye you said this fellow had?" sang out Willis.
The second ball floated up to the plate as big as a balloon, and again the wrestler whiffed, coming nowhere near the sphere.
But as Joe wound up for the third ball, the listlessness vanished from the Chinaman. A glint came into his eyes and every muscle was tense.
The ball sped toward the plate. The wrestler caught it fair "on the seam" with all his powerful body behind the blow.
The ball soared high and far over center field, looking as though it were never going to stop. In a regular game it would have been the easiest of home runs.
The wrestler sauntered away from the plate with the same bland smile on his yellow face while the crowd cheered him. He had turned the tables, and the laugh was on Joe and his fellow players.
"But why," asked Jim, after the game had resulted in a victory for the visitors by a one-sided score, and he was walking back with Joe to the hotel, "did he make such a miserable flunk at the first two balls? Was he kidding us?"
"Not at all," grinned Joe. "It's because the Chinamen are the greatest imitators on earth. He saw that Larry missed the first two and so he did the same. He thought it was part of the game!"
AN EMBARRASSED RESCUER
On the long trip to Australia the tourists encountered the most severe storm of the journey. In fact, it was almost equal to the dreaded typhoon, and there were times when, despite the staunchness of the vessel, the faces of the captain and the officers were lined with anxiety.
After two days and nights, however, of peril, the storm blew itself out and the rest of the journey was made over serene seas and under cloudless skies.
One night after the girls had retired, Joe and Jim, together with McRae and Braxton, were sitting in the smoking room. The conversation had been of the kind that always prevails when baseball "fans" get together.
After a while Jim accompanied McRae to the latter's cabin to discuss some details of Jim's contract for the coming season, leaving Joe and Braxton as the sole occupants of the room.
Joe had never been able to overcome the instinctive antipathy that he had felt toward Braxton from the first, but he had kept this under restraint, and Braxton himself, though he might have suspected this feeling, was always suave and urbane.
There was no denying that he was good company and always interesting. In an apparently accidental way, Braxton, who had been scribbling aimlessly upon some pieces of paper that lay on the table, led the talk toward the subject of handwriting.
"It's a gift to write a good hand," he remarked. "It's got to be born in you. Some men can do it naturally, others can't. I'm one of the fellows that can't. I'll bet Horace Greeley himself never wrote a worse hand than I do."
"I've heard that he was a weird writer," smiled Joe.
"The worst ever," rejoined Braxton. "I've heard that he wrote to his foreman once, ordering him to discharge a printer who had set up a bad copy. The printer hated to lose his job and an idea struck him. He got hold of the letter discharging him and took it to Greeley, who didn't know him by sight, and told him it was a letter of recommendation from his last employer. Greeley tried to read it, but couldn't, so he said he guessed it was all right and told him he was engaged."
Joe laughed, and Braxton tossed over to him a sheet of paper on which he had written his name.
"Greeley has nothing on me," he said. "If you didn't know my name was Braxton, I'll bet you wouldn't recognize these hen tracks."
"You're right," said Joe. "I'm no dabster myself at writing and I can sympathize with you."
"It couldn't be as bad as this," challenged Braxton, slipping a pen over to Joe, together with a fresh piece of paper.
"No," said Joe, as he took up the pen, "I guess at least you could make mine out."
He scribbled his name and Braxton picked up the paper with a laugh.
"I win," he said. "You're bad, but I'm worse. You see I am proud even of my defects."
He dropped the subject then and talked of other things until Joe, stifling a yawn, excused himself and went to his cabin.
The reception of the party in Australia went far beyond their expectations. That remote continent has always been noted for its sporting spirit and although of course the English blood made cricket their favorite game, the crowds were quick to detect and appreciate the merits of the great American pastime.
As a rule they would not concede that the batting was any better than that shown by their own cricketers, but there was no question as to the superiority of the fielding.
The lightning throws, the double plays, the marvelous catches in the outfield and the speed shown on the bases were freely admitted to be far and away beyond that shown by their elevens. And the crowds grew larger and larger as the visiting teams made their triumphal progress through the great cities of Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.
Inspired by their reception and put upon their mettle by the great outpouring of spectators, the teams themselves played like demons. One might almost have thought that they were fighting for the pennant.
They were so evenly matched that first one and then the other was on top, and by the time they reached Melbourne the Giants were only one game in the lead of the total that had been played since the trip began.
Melbourne itself with its romantic history and magic growth proved very attractive. But Joe was destined to remember it for very different reasons.
While walking with Jim one day outside the town near the Yarra Yarra river, they were startled by hearing a cry for help, and racing toward the sound they saw a young girl struggling in the water.
Trained by their vocation to act quickly, they threw off their coats, plunging into the water almost at the same instant. They swam fiercely, lashed on by that frantic wail, sounding fainter each time it was repeated.
The race for a life was almost neck and neck until Joe, showing his tremendous reserve strength, shot ahead at the very end, grasping the struggling figure as it was sinking for the last time.
Jim helped, and together they brought the rescued girl—the long dank black hair testified to her sex—back to shore, where a group of the native blacks, attracted by the cries, had gathered to welcome them.
Dripping and exhausted, the two heroes of the occasion staggered up the bank while willing hands relieved them of their burden.
"Let's beat it," whispered Jim, as the crowd of natives closed around the unconscious object of their heroism, "while the going's good. If that girl ever finds out that you rescued her she'll want to attach herself to you for life. That seems to be the fool custom of these parts."
"She'd find it pretty hard work," said Joe, with a wry smile. "Besides, we don't even know that the girl's alive. It would be pretty heartless to clear out without learning."
"Oh, all right," said Jim, uneasily. "But remember, if there are any consequences you've got to take 'em."
At that moment the crowd opened and the boys saw a remarkably good-looking black girl standing dizzily and supported by another native who might have been her father.
She looked dazedly from one to the other of the young men and Jim promptly "stepped out from under."
"It's him," said Jim, neglecting grammar in his eagerness to shift the burden of credit to Joe's broad shoulders. "He did it all."
The girl walked unsteadily up to Joe and said, submissively: "My life is yours! Me your slave!"
Joe started, stared, and gulped, then turned to Jim to make sure he was awake, and not a victim of some bad dream. But Jim had suddenly acquired a peculiar form of hysteria, and with a choking sound turned his back upon his friend.
"N-no," stuttered Joe, gently pushing the girl away, "no want."
Another explosion from Jim did not serve to improve Joe's state of mind. His face was fiery red, and his voice husky.
"Me slave!" persisted the girl stubbornly.
Then Joe turned and fled, manfully fighting a desire to shout with laughter one moment, and groan with dismay the next.
Two very much subdued baseball players crept in at the side door of the hotel, and scurried along the corridor toward their rooms, hoping ardently to meet no one on the way. It was with a sigh of relief that they slipped inside, locked the door, and repaired the ravages that the waters of the Yarra Yarra had made upon their clothing.
A few moments later, with self respect considerably improved, they sauntered down to the writing room, where they found the two girls looking more distractingly pretty than ever, engaged in folding the last of their letters.
"Oh, back so soon?" queried Mabel, looking up.
"Goodness, how the time has flown," said Clara. "It seems as though you had just gone. Have you another stamp, Mabel dear? I have used mine all up."
"Say, you're complimentary," remarked Jim, dryly. "It's great to be missed like that."
"Well, we'll miss something more if we don't get a move on," said Joe, practically. "How about some lunch, girls?"
After luncheon the quartette sauntered out for a walk up Elizabeth street to the post-office. The boys were just congratulating themselves that their uncomfortable, though piquant, experience of the morning was a thing definitely of the past, when it happened!
Joe felt a touch on his arm, and, looking down, saw, to his horror, the black girl.
"Me yours!" she cried, eagerly.
Joe muttered savagely beneath his breath, and held the girl off at arm's length, his misery increasing as, with a quick side glance, he saw the growing indignation in Mabel's eyes.
"Me yours!" repeated the girl, with the maddening monotony of a phonograph.
But just then, when Joe was at his wit's end, help came from an unexpected quarter. A big black man, glowering threateningly, elbowed his way through the curious group that had gathered about them, grasped the girl by the arm, and dragged her away. There was no mistaking the jealousy that prompted the action. Joe drew a deep sigh of deliverance, while Jim was crimson with suppressed laughter.
Mabel was the only one, except Joe himself, who could not see the joke. There were two pink spots in her cheeks, her eyes were very bright, her head was held high, and poor Joe had some explaining to do before the party left Australia, which they did soon after, and started on their journey to Ceylon.
They reached Colombo in Ceylon, the island of spices, the richest gem in the Indian ocean, and disembarked late one afternoon. At the hotel in the English quarter, while the women of the party went to their rooms to refresh themselves and dress for dinner, the men, after a hasty toilet, went into the lobby of the hotel where, as always, their first thought was to get hold of the papers from home.
Joe's eyes fell on a New York paper and he snatched it up eagerly and turned to the sporting page for the latest news of the diamond. He gave a startled exclamation as he saw the bold headline that stretched across the top of the page:
"Joe Matson, the Pitching King, Signs with the All-Star League!"
THE BLOW FALLS
Baseball Joe's first sensation was one of unutterable surprise, followed a moment later by fierce indignation.
"What's the matter, Joe?" asked Jim, coming up behind him.
"Matter enough!" growled Joe, thrusting the offending paper under his comrade's nose. "Look at this!"
Jim looked and gave a long whistle of surprise.
"What does it mean?" he ejaculated, as his eyes went from the headlines to the story, which covered the greater part of the page.
"Mean?" snorted Joe. "It means a stab in the back. It means that those skunks are trying to do by lying what they couldn't do by bribery. It means that while we're thousands of miles away they are trying to gull the public and get other ball players to jump their contracts by a barefaced lie like this. I wish I had hold of the fellow who's doing this—I'd make him sweat for it!"
"Of course it's a lie," assented Jim, "and a lie out of whole cloth. But what beats me is why they should do it? It's bound to be a boomerang."
They sat down side by side and read the paper together, and the more they read the more bewildered they became.
For the story was circumstantial. It went into minute details. It embraced interviews with the backers of the new league, who confirmed it without hesitation. One of the paragraphs read as follows:
"Nothing in years has created such a sensation in the world of sport as the news just made public that Matson, the star pitcher of the Giants, had jumped the fold and landed in the All-Star League. It was known that overtures were made to this great pitcher at the end of his last season, when his magnificent work created a record in the National League that will probably never be surpassed. It was understood, however, that these offers, though coupled with a tremendous bonus and salary, had been definitely rejected. For that reason the news that he has reconsidered and jumped to the All-Stars comes like a thunderbolt from a clear sky. The major leaguers are in consternation, while the new league naturally is jubilant at this acquisition to their ranks. Matson is a popular idol among his fellow players and it is believed that many stars who have been wavering in their allegiance to the old leagues will follow his example."
The rest of the page was devoted to a recital of Joe's achievements in pitching the Giants to the Championship of the National League and, later, to the Championship of the World.
The two friends stared at each other in amazement and rage, and just then McRae and Robbie, together with a group of other players, came hurrying up, holding other papers which, though in different words, told substantially the same story.
There was a babel of excited questions and exclamations, and Joe felt a sharp pang go through him, as for the first time in his experience with the manager of the Giants, he saw in McRae's eyes a shadow of distrust.
"Isn't this the limit?" asked McRae, as he crushed the paper in his hand, threw it to the floor and trampled on it in disgust and anger.
"It sure is," replied Joe. "I've had lies told about me before but never one that touched me on the raw like this."
"It's a burning outrage," cried Denton indignantly.
"What they expect to make out of it is beyond me," declared Robbie. "They ought to know that they can't get away with it."
"But in the meantime it will have done its work," Willis pointed out. "What if it is contradicted later on? By that time they'll have a dozen stars signed and they should worry. As long as it's believed that Joe has jumped, it's just as good for them as though he had."
"That's the worst of it," agreed Joe bitterly. "Of course I'll send a cable contradicting it, but the lie has got a head start and a lot of damage has been done. What do you suppose my friends in America are thinking about me just now?"
"Don't worry about that, Joe," comforted Jim. "Your real friends won't believe it, and for the rest it doesn't matter. Nobody that really knows you believes you would jump your contract."
"Whoever got that story up was foxy, though," commented Mylert, the burly catcher of the Giants. "There are no 'ifs or ands' about it like most phony stories where the fellow's trying to hedge in case someone comes back at him. It sounds like straight goods. It's the most truthful looking lie I ever saw."
"But it's a lie just the same!" cried Joe desperately. "All you fellows know I wouldn't throw the Giants down, don't you?" he asked, as his eyes swept the circle of fellow players who were gathered around him.
There was a murmur of assent, but it was not as hearty as Joe could have wished. If there was not distrust, there was at least bewilderment, for the story bore all the earmarks of truth.
"You know it, don't you, Mac?" repeated Joe, this time addressing directly the Giant leader.
For a fraction of a second McRae hesitated. Then he threw doubt to the winds and gripped Joe's hand with a heartiness that warmed the latter's heart.
"Of course, I know it, Joe!" he exclaimed emphatically. "I don't deny that for a moment the paper had me going. But in my heart I know it's a lie. So just send your cable and then let's forget it. Those fellows are just making a rope to hang themselves with. We'll make it warm for them when we get back to the States."
"You ought to sue the papers for libel," growled Robbie.
"There won't be any suing," said Joe heatedly. "Just let me have five minutes alone with the fellow that started this and that's all I'll ask."
He hurried down with Jim to the cable office and a few minutes later this message buzzed its way across the seas:
"Report that I have signed with the All-Star League absolutely false. Will give a thousand dollars to charity if anyone can produce contract.
"That ought to hold them for a while," commented Jim.
"It ought," said Joe gloomily. "But you know the old saying that 'a lie will go round the world while truth is getting its boots on.'"
Still he felt better, and by the time he got back to the hotel and met the girls, he had so far regained his usual poise that he could tell them all about it with some measure of self-control.
"Why, Joe! how could they dare do such a thing as that?" exclaimed Mabel, her eyes flashing fire.
"It's about the meanest thing I ever heard of!" cried his sister.
"They ought to be sued for libel, don't you know," broke in Reggie. "If you sued them, Joe, you might get quite heavy damages."
"It's a pity you can't put somebody in jail for it," was Mabel's further comment.
"Yes, that's what ought to happen!" cried Clara.
Both of the girls were wild with indignation. Although Mabel at one time, influenced by the arguments of Braxton that Joe was not really bound by a one-sided contract, had spoken to him about it in a guarded way, Joe had shown her so clearly his moral obligation that he had convinced her absolutely. And now she was angry clear through at the blow in the dark that had been launched against him.
"Who could have done such a contemptible thing?" she cried.
"It must have been that horrid Westland!" exclaimed Clara.
"Maybe," agreed her brother. "I rather hope it was."
"Why?" asked Jim curiously.
"Because," gritted Joe through his teeth, "he's a big fellow and I won't be ashamed to hit him."
THE COBRA IN THE ROOM
Ceylon was a land of wonders to the tourists. Here they were in the very heart of the Orient. Rare flowers and strange plants grew in glorious profusion, the air was odorous with a thousand scents, and it was hard for them to realize that at that very moment America might be suffering from zero weather or swept by blizzards. Here life moved along serenely and dreamily, lulled by the sound of birds and drone of locusts, wrapped in the warm folds of eternal summer.
"It's an earthly Eden!" murmured Clara, as she and Jim walked along one of the main streets of Colombo, followed at a little distance by Joe and Mabel.
"Yes," replied Jim with a laugh, "and not even the snake is missing."
He pointed to a group of natives and Europeans on the other side of the street who were gathered about a snake charmer.
"Ugh, the horrid things!" exclaimed Clara with a shudder.
"Let's go over and take a look," suggested Jim.
Clara demurred at first and so did Mabel. They were used to seeing snakes behind a network of wire and glass, and they did not relish the idea of standing within a few feet of the crawling serpents in the open street. But curiosity, added to the urgings of the young men, finally conquered, and they joined the throng on the other side.
The performer, an old man with bronzed face, was squatting on his haunches playing a weird tune on a reedy instrument resembling a flute. Before him was upreared a monstrous specimen of the deadly cobra species, swaying gently to and fro and keeping time to the music. Its malignant eyes looking out from the broad head whose markings resembled a pair of spectacles had lost something of their fiery sparkle, and a slight haze spread over them, as though the creature were under a spell.
The music continued and two other snakes crawled out as if in response to a call and joined their companion in his swaying, rhythmic dance. Then the tune changed, the snakes uncoiled, and the performer took them up without the slightest fear and put them back in the basket.
"Suppose they should bite him!" exclaimed Mabel.
"He's had their fangs drawn already," returned Joe. "The old rascal's taking no chances."
"They say that a man lasts about half an hour after one of those fellows nips him," observed Jim. "Somebody was telling me that over twenty thousand natives are bitten by them every year."
A little further down the street, another fakir was giving an exhibition. He placed a small native boy in a basket that was a tight fit and put down the basket cover. Then after making mysterious signs and muttering invocations, the fakir drew a long sword and plunged it through the basket from end to end. A scream of pain came from within, and when the sword was withdrawn it was red. Again and again this was repeated until the screams died away. Then the fakir lifted up the cover and the boy sprang out safe and sound, and, showing his white teeth in a smile, went around collecting coins from the bystanders.
They wandered further among the bazaars, making purchases of curios as presents for the folks at home and adding to their personal stock of mementos. Jim secured among other things a cane made of a rare Indian wood, which while light was exceedingly strong and so pliable that it could be bent almost double like a Damascus blade.
But through all the chaff and fun of the day Joe was unhappy and restless. What he had read in the paper from home about himself poisoned everything for him.
He had always tried to be perfectly straight and honorable in all his business relations. His word had ever been as good as his bond. Now, at one stroke, he saw his reputation damaged perhaps beyond mending. All over the United States he had been pictured as a contract-breaker. He could see the incredulity of his friends turning gradually to contempt. He fancied he could hear them saying:
"So Joe has fallen for that game, has he? Well, they say that every man has his price. No doubt Joe's price was high, but they found out what it was and bought him."
Of course he had denied it, but he knew how people smiled when they read denials. And months must pass before he could get back to America and try to hunt out the author or authors of the story.
He tried to hide his mood under a cover of light talk and banter, but the others felt it and sympathized with him, though all refrained from mentioning what each of them was thinking.
All through the day his gloom persisted, and when night came and he had retired to the room that he and Jim occupied together he felt that it would be impossible for him to sleep.
"There's no use talking," said Jim with a yawn, as he set his cane so that it rested against the footboard and threw off his coat preparing to undress, "sight-seeing's the most tiring work there is. I feel more done up to-night than if I had been pitching in a hard game."
"I'm tired too," agreed Joe, "but I don't feel the least bit like sleep."
Jim was asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow. But Joe tossed about restlessly for what seemed to him to be hours. The night was very warm and all the windows were open to get what breath of air might be stirring.
A broad veranda ran all around the building, not more than two feet below the windows, and from the ground to the veranda rose a luxuriant tangle of vines and flowers.
The moon was at the full and its light flooded a part of the room, leaving the rest in deep shadow.
Joe at last dropped off into a doze from which he woke with a start.
He had heard nothing, but he had an uneasy consciousness that something was wrong.
He glanced over at Jim who was peacefully sleeping. Then he raised himself on his elbow and his glance swept the room.
Nothing seemed amiss in the lighted part, but in a darkened corner the shadow seemed to be heavier than usual. It was as though it were piled in a mass instead of being evenly distributed.
Then to Joe's consternation the shadow moved, reached the edge of moonlight, rose higher and higher with a sickening swaying motion. From a hideous head two sparks of fire glowed balefully and Joe knew that he was in the presence of a giant cobra!
IN THE SHADOW OF THE PYRAMIDS
Joe's blood chilled with horror and his heart seemed for a moment to stop beating.
He did not dare to move and scarcely to breathe. He might have been a statue, so rigid was his attitude. He knew that the least movement would provoke an attack on the part of the deadly reptile.
On the other hand, if he kept perfectly quiet, there was the chance of the snake gliding away through the window, which had evidently been its means of entering the room.
Whether the serpent saw him or not, Joe could not tell. The head swayed for a minute or two, while the glowing eyes seemed to take in every corner of the room. Then the coils unwound and with a slithering sound the snake began to crawl across the floor.
But instead of seeking the window it was gliding towards the bed!
If he had had a revolver Joe would have had a chance, for at such close range he could scarcely have missed. Even a knife to hurl, though only a forlorn hope, might have pinned the snake to the floor. But he was utterly without a weapon of any kind.
Suddenly he remembered the cane that his chum had leaned against the footboard a few hours earlier.
He reached down stealthily and his hand closed upon it.
He did not dare to wake Jim for fear that the latter might leap from the bed and perhaps land squarely on the gliding death that was somewhere in the room. He had lost sight of it, but he could still hear the dragging body and it seemed to be now under the bed. At any instant that awful head might rise on either side prepared to strike.
Gripping the cane until his fingers seemed to dig into it, Joe had a moment of awful suspense.
The gliding sound had ceased. Then from the side nearest Jim a hideous head uprose within a foot of the sleeping man's face.
Like a flash the tough cane hissed through the air with all Joe's muscle back of it. It caught the reptile full in the neck and sent it half way across the room where it lay writhing.
In an instant Joe had leaped to the floor, raining blows upon the head and floundering coils, until at last the reptile straightened out and lay still.
"What's the matter?" cried Jim, awakened by the tumult and jumping out of bed.
He turned pale as he saw the snake stretched out on the floor and Joe who, now that the awful strain was over, was leaning against the wall as limp as a rag.
Jim turned on the light and they viewed the monster, standing at a respectful distance from the head.
"He seems dead enough, but you can never be sure of a snake," said Joe, after in a few hurried words he had told of his experience. "Suppose, Jim, you get that Malay's knife out of my trunk and we'll make certain."
Jim brought the kriss, which Joe had kept as a memento of his struggle with the maniac, and with one stroke severed the cobra's head from his body.
"That knife never did a better bit of work," he commented as he washed it off. "Now let's get this thing out of the window and clear up the mess."
They got through the repugnant work as soon as possible and then made a careful search of the room.
"That fellow may have had a mate," remarked Joe, "and one experience of this kind is enough for a lifetime. I've always felt a little doubtful about those stories of people whose hair turned gray in a single night, but it's easy enough to believe it now."
"We'll close the window too," said Jim, suiting the action to the word and letting the upper sash down only for an inch or two. "That's the way that fellow must have crawled in. It's pretty hot in here but I'd rather die of heat than snake bites."
They went back to bed but not to sleep, for they were too thoroughly wrought up by their narrow escape.
"You must have hit that fellow an awful crack," said Jim. "You sure batted .300 in the Ceylon League."
"Broke his neck, I guess," responded Joe. "It's lucky it wasn't a missed strike for I wouldn't have had time for another one."
"Don't let's say anything to the girls about it," suggested Jim. "Not until we get away from India anyway. They'd be seeing snakes all the rest of the time we're here."
It was lucky that neither of them was slated to pitch the next day, for they would scarcely have been in condition after their night's experience. A game had been arranged between the visiting teams at a date three days later. By that time Joe was in his usual superb form and easily carried off the victory for his team. This put the Giants "on velvet," for they now had a clear lead of two over the All-Americans.
But the satisfaction that this would have usually given Joe was lacking now. Victory had ceased to be sweet since the receipt of that newspaper from home.
Perhaps it was because of his sensitive condition that he thought he detected a subtle change in the conduct of his team mates towards him. While perfectly friendly in their relations with him, they did not "let themselves go" when in his presence, as formerly. There was no boisterous clapping on the back, no jolly sparring or wrestling. There seemed to be a little holding in, a feeling of reserve, a something in the back of their minds that they did not care for him to see.
This joyous freemasonry of sport had always been especially pleasant to Joe and for that reason he felt its absence the more keenly.
But what exasperated him most was that if the old standbys of the club were a trifle cool, Iredell, Curry and Burkett went to the other extreme and were more cordial than ever before. It was as though they were welcoming a newcomer to their ranks. They knew that they were under suspicion of planning to jump their contracts in the spring, and the apparent evidence that so renowned a player as Joe was planning to do the same thing made them hail him as a reinforcement.
Where formerly they had often ceased talking when he approached them and made him feel that he was an intruder, they now greeted him warmly, although they did not yet feel quite sure enough to broach the subject of their own accord.
"All little pals together," hummed Iredell significantly on one occasion with a sidelong glance at Joe.
"Just what do you mean by that?" asked Joe sharply.
"Just what I say," replied Iredell innocently. "What is there wrong about that? Aren't we Giants pals to each other?"
"Of course we are, as long as we stay Giants," replied Joe. "But that wasn't what you meant, Dell, and you know it."
"Now, don't get red-headed, Joe," put in Curry soothingly. "You must have got out of bed on the wrong side this morning. Dell didn't mean any harm."
"Tell me one thing," said Joe. "Do any of you fellows believe for one minute that story in the paper?"
He looked from one to the other, but none of them looked him straight in the eye.
"You know that I've denied it," went on Joe, as they kept silent, "and if after that you still believe the story it's the same as saying that I lie. And no one can call me a liar and get away with it."
He stalked away leaving them dumbfounded.
"Do you think he really has jumped his contract?" asked Burkett.
"I don't know," replied Iredell dubiously.
"He's got me guessing," muttered Curry.
And the trio were still guessing when several weeks later the party reached Egyptian soil, prepared to play the most modern of games before the most ancient of monuments—baseball in the very shadow of the Pyramids!
THE SIGNED CONTRACT
"If old Pharaoh could only see us now!" chortled Jim, as the teams lined up for their first game.
"He'd probably throw a fit," grinned Denton.
"Not a bit of it," said Joe. "He'd probably be up in the grandstand, eating peanuts and singing out once in a while to 'kill the umpire.'"
"And he'd do it too," laughed Jim. "I'll bet an umpire in those days would have had a hard job to get life insurance. It would have been good dope to get a tip before the game as to just what team Pharaoh wanted to win."
"I think you men are awfully irreverent," reproved Mabel, who, with Clara, was seated in the first row in the stand right behind the players' bench and had overheard the conversation.
"Not at all," laughed Jim. "It's a big compliment to Pharaoh to suggest that he would have been a baseball fan if he hadn't been born too soon. It puts him on a level with the President of the United States."
The teams were playing on the cricket field used by the English residents, and not far off the Pyramids reared their stately heads toward the sky. It was a strange conjunction of the past and the present, and all were more or less impressed by it.
"Well, I must confess that in my wildest dreams of seasons gone by, I never supposed that I would be pitching here in Egypt in the shadow of the pyramids," remarked Joe.
"It certainly takes a fellow back to ancient days," put in Jim. "Just imagine playing before a crowd of those old Egyptians!"
"Well, they had fun in their day just as well as we have," said McRae. "Just the same, they didn't know how good baseball is."
"They didn't even know anything about yelling to kill the umpire when a wrong decision was given," remarked Joe, with a grin, and at this there was a general laugh.
There was a big outpouring of Europeans and visiting Americans, and under the inspiration of their interest and applause both teams played brilliantly. It was a hammer-and-tongs contest from start to finish, and resulted in the first tie of the trip, neither team being able to score, although the game went to eleven innings.
"Still two ahead," McRae said to Brennan, as they left the grounds after the game.
"We're gunning for you," retorted Brennan good-naturedly, "and we'll get you yet. You've had all the breaks so far, but our turn has got to come."
"Tell that to the King of Denmark," laughed McRae. "We've got your number, old man."
The party "did" Egypt thoroughly, visiting Cairo, Thebes and Memphis, climbing the Pyramids, sailing on the Nile, viewing the temples of Karnak and Philae, the statue of Memnon, and countless other places of interest in this cradle of the world's civilization. And it was a tired but happy crowd that finally assembled at Alexandria to take ship for Naples, their first stopping place on the continent of Europe.
Braxton was no longer with the party, having left it at Ceylon, and others had dropped away here and there. But in the main the members were the same as at the beginning. Their health had been excellent, and only a few things had occurred to mar the pleasure of the trip.
The discomfort that Joe had felt had largely worn away with the passing of time. Every day was bringing him nearer the time when with the opening of the season he would actually appear on the diamond wearing a Giant uniform, and thus effectually dispose of the slander that had troubled him.
There had just been time enough to receive some of the earliest papers from America that had been published after the receipt of his denial. That denial had evidently produced a great effect, coupled as it was with the offer to give a thousand dollars to charity if the new league could produce any contract signed by him. "Money talks," and the paper intimated that the All-Star League had the next move and that it would be "in bad" with the public if it failed to make its statements good.
"They'll have a hot time doing it," grinned Joe.
"I'm wondering how they'll dodge it," remarked Jim.
"By getting out a new lie to bolster up the old one probably," conjectured Joe.
The latest papers from America had come on board just as the steamer left Alexandria, and in the hurry of getting aboard and settling down in their new quarters it was after supper that night before Joe hurried to the smoking room to have a look at them.
"Got a thousand dollars handy, Joe?" inquired Denton, as Joe came near him.
"Because, if you have, the All-Star League wants it," added Larry.
"What do you mean?" asked Joe, all the old discomfort and apprehension coming back to him.
"Read this," replied Larry, handing him a paper opened at the sporting page.
"All-Star League Calls Matson's Bluff. Produces Signed Contract. Facsimile of Contract Shown Below."
And staring right out at him was the photographic reproduction of a regulation baseball contract and at the bottom was written the name: "Joseph Matson."
Joe stared at it as though he were in a dream. Here was the old blow at his reputation, this time with redoubled force. Here was what claimed to be the actual contract. But it was not the body of the contract that held his attention. The thing that made him rage, that gave him a sense of furious helplessness, that put his brain in a whirl, was this:
He knew that that was his signature!
No matter how it came there, it was his. A man's name can seldom be so skilfully forged that it can deceive the man himself. It may get by the cashier of the bank, but when it is referred back to the man who is supposed to have written it, that man knows instinctively whether he ever wrote it. Perhaps he cannot tell why he knows it, but he knows it just the same.
So Joe knew that it was his signature that was photographed on that contract. But he also knew another thing just as certainly.
He had never signed that contract!
Both things contradictory. Yet both things true.
Larry and Denton were watching him closely. Joe looked up and met their eyes. They were two of his oldest and warmest friends on the Giant team and had always been ready to back him through thick and thin. Confidence still was in their gaze, but with it was mixed bewilderment almost equal to Joe's own.
Before anything further could be said, McRae and Robbie joined the group.
"Well, Joe, there's the contract," said McRae.
"It seems to be a contract all right," replied Joe. "I haven't had time to read what it says, but that doesn't matter anyway. The only important thing is that I never signed that contract."
"That seems to be a pretty good imitation of your signature at the bottom there," chimed in Robbie.
"It's even better than that," said Joe, taking the bull by the horns. "It isn't even an imitation. It's my own signature."
Both Robbie and McRae looked at him as if they thought he was crazy.
"I don't get you, Matson," said McRae, a little sternly. "And it seems to me it's hardly a time for joking. There's the contract. You say you didn't sign it, and yet you admit that the name at the bottom is your own signature. How do you explain it?"
"I don't pretend to explain it," replied Joe. "There's crooked work somewhere that I've got to ferret out. Somehow or other my name, written by me, has gotten on the bottom of that contract. But I never put it there. Some rascal has, and when I find him, as I will, may Heaven have mercy on him, for I won't!"
"A fellow who would do a thing like that is taking long chances," said McRae doubtfully.
"And how could he do it?" put in Robbie. "The name would have to be cut from one piece of paper and pasted on another, wouldn't it?"
"Even admitting that they might get your name from a check or letter, I don't see how a thing like that could stand inspection for a minute," chimed in Willis. "Even if it were so well done that an eye couldn't detect it, a microscope would give it away."
"And you can bet that the reporters who hunted up this thing haven't overlooked any bets," said Brennan. "They knew that the signature was the nub of the whole thing and if there was anything phony about the paper they'd have got next at once."
"It's a horrible mixup!" cried Joe, who felt that he was being enmeshed in a net of circumstantial evidence which he might find it impossible to break. "Let me read the story first from end to end. Then, perhaps, I'll find some clue that will solve the mystery."
He plunged at once into the reading, but the more he read the worse the matter looked.
He found that a nation-wide interest had been excited by his denial and his challenge. The officers of the All-Star League had been besieged by reporters, who had made it clear to them that they must prove their statement that Matson had signed with them or else stand convicted before the American public, on whose favor they depended for support in the coming season, of being slanderers and liars.
Mr. Beckworth Fleming, the president of the All-Star League, had shown a little hesitation in responding to these demands. This, perhaps, was natural enough, since no business organization cares to have the terms of its contracts blazoned forth to the world, perhaps to the benefit of its rivals. Still, under all the circumstances, Mr. Fleming had finally decided to permit a photographic copy to be made of the contract in order to establish the good faith of the new league. This had been done and facsimiles had been sent to all the leading newspapers of the United States.
There was no question that the contract was genuine. It had been submitted to bank cashiers who were familiar with Mr. Matson's writing, and they had pronounced it his signature beyond the shadow of a doubt. The paper had been examined under powerful glasses and found to be a single piece. Everything was in proper form, and it was clearly up to Mr. Matson to explain what seemed to be explainable only in one way, namely, that he had signed the contract.
There were many worthy charities that could find a good use for the thousand dollars that the great pitcher had so rashly offered.
This was the gist of the story in all the papers. There were various suggested explanations. One paper hinted that men had been known to sign papers when they had dined and wined too well.
Another thought that the denial was purely a "diplomatic" one. Others ventured the hypothesis that the whole thing was an advertising dodge, designed to set the country agog with excitement and stimulate big audiences for the coming season.
But underneath all the suppositions one thing seemed to be unquestioned by the papers, and that was that Joe had signed a contract to play with the All-Star League and had left the Giants in the lurch.
Joe felt as though the ground were slipping from beneath his feet. He was perfectly innocent, and yet he already stood convicted in the public mind of having done a thing that he loathed and abhorred. And the worst of it was that he had not the slightest clue to the scoundrel or scoundrels who had brought this thing about.
"It's beyond me, Mac," he said at last in despair, as he looked up and saw the Giants' manager's eyes fixed upon him as though they would read into his soul. "They seem to have a strangle hold on me. And yet as black as things look I tell you straight, Mac, that you know every bit as much about this as I do."
"That's all right, Joe," returned McRae. "I'll admit I'm flabbergasted. Who wouldn't be? There's a plot here somewhere, and the fox that planned it has been mighty cunning in covering up his tracks. But there never yet was a lie that didn't have a weak point somewhere, and soon or late we'll find it."
Mabel and Clara, as well as Jim, were beside themselves with anger at the dastardly trick. They racked their brains to find the explanation, but every time they came up against a blank wall.
"I certainly can't understand it, Joe," said Mabel, for at least the tenth time.
"Well, I can't understand it myself, Mabel," he replied.
"Are you sure you didn't sign that contract, thinking it was something else—an order for something, or something like that?" questioned Clara.
"I'm not in the habit of signing anything without knowing what it is," said the crack pitcher. "If any of those fellows had brought such a thing to me to sign, I would have handed it back and given the fellow a piece of my mind. No, there is something else in all this, though what it is I haven't the faintest idea."
"It's too bad we're so far away from those fellows just at present," put in Jim. "If we were close by we might interview them, and find out some of the details that are as yet missing. And then maybe somebody would get a broken head," he added vigorously.
"Oh, Jim! would you break anybody's head?" burst out Clara in horror.
"I sure would if he was trying to put Joe in such a hole as this!" returned the young man promptly. "Maybe you don't understand what a black eye this is calculated to give your brother."
"Oh, yes, I can understand that well enough," sighed Joe's sister.
"I think it's the meanest thing that ever could possibly happen!" burst out Mabel. "And I don't wonder that Jim is angry enough to break somebody's head for it," and she looked lovingly at Joe.
"Oh, I suppose it will come out all right in the end," answered Joe. But he said this merely to ease Mabel's mind. Secretly he was afraid that he was in for some real trouble.
It was early spring when they landed in Naples, but the winter had been prolonged more than usual and it was too cold to play. At Monte Carlo and Nice, however, they were able to get in two games, both of which were won by the All-Americans. This put the teams again on an equality as to games won and lost, and revived the hopes of the All-Americans that they might still come out ahead in the series.
They made but a short stay in Paris, and the weather was so inclement that games were out of the question. But it would have taken more than bad weather to prevent the shopping and sightseeing that all had been looking forward eagerly to in the great French capital, and they enjoyed their visit to the full.
In London they met with the greatest welcome of their trip. They played at Lord's Oval, the most famous grounds in the United Kingdom, and before an audience that included the most distinguished people in the realm, including the king himself.
The American colony, too, was there almost to a man, and the United States ambassador lent his presence to the occasion.
It was the most distinguished audience, probably, that had ever witnessed a baseball game.
And here it was that Joe did the most brilliant pitching of the trip. His tireless arm mowed down his opponents inning after inning. They came to the bat only to go back to the bench. His mastery of the ball seemed almost uncanny, and as inning after inning passed without a hit being made, it began to look as though he were in for that dream of all pitchers—a no-hit game.
Brennan, the Chicago manager, fidgeted restlessly on the bench and glowered as his pets were slaughtered. He tried all the tactics known to clever managers, but in vain. It was simply a day when Baseball Joe was not to be denied.
His comrades, too, gave him brilliant support and nothing got away from them, so that when finally the last man up in the ninth inning in the All-American team lifted a towering skyscraper that Joe caught without stirring from his tracks, a pandemonium of cheers forced him to remove his cap and bow to the applauding crowds again and again.
Not a man had scored, not a man had been passed, not a man had reached first, not a man had hit safe. Joe had won the most notable game in his whole career!
THE RUINED CASTLE
With London as their center the teams made flying trips to Edinburg, Glasgow and Dublin. In all three places they received a royal welcome, for the fame of that great game in London had spread throughout the nation and all were eager to see the hero of that occasion.
Under other circumstances Joe would have been jubilant, for he was at the very height of his reputation, the girl he loved was with him, as well as his only sister and his closest friend, but ever in his thoughts like the spectre at the feast was that matter of the signed contract—the abominable thing that smirched his reputation and branded him to the world as false to his word and bond.
Again and again he sought to find the key to the mystery. It seemed like some monstrous jugglery, something akin to the fakir's tricks that he had witnessed at Colombo where the impossible had seemed so clearly possible.
Try as he would he could find no explanation of the puzzle and his friends were equally powerless to suggest a solution.
The game at Dublin, which commenced auspiciously for the Giants, was turned into a rout by a rally of the All-Americans in the ninth. A rain of bingles came from their bats and they won easily with six runs to spare.
"Got it in the neck that time, old man," said Joe to Jim, after the game. "But we can't always win. What do you say to getting a buzz wagon and taking a little spin out into the country? The girls will be getting ready for that reception at the Viceroy's castle, and they'll be too busy dolling up to care what becomes of us."
"Good idea," said Jim, and the two friends made their way to a public garage, secured a good car together with a driver, and whirled away into the open country.
They had made perhaps twenty miles through the beautiful Irish scenery when Joe called Jim's attention to a cloud bank forming in the west.
"Better skip back, old man," he said. "We're due for a wetting if we don't."
"Plenty of time yet," objected Jim. "Those look to me just like wind clouds. Let's see a little bit more of Ireland."
They went on perhaps five miles further and then Jim found that his confidence was misplaced. The clouds grew blacker, an ominous muttering was heard in the sky and a jagged flash of lightning presaged the coming storm.
"You see I was right," said Joe. "In this open car we'll be drenched to the skin. Turn around, Mike," he said to the driver, "and let's see how fast this old boat of yours can travel in getting back to Dublin. Throw her into high and give her all you've got."
The driver obeyed and the car fairly purred as it sped back toward the city. But fast as it was, the storm was faster. Great raindrops pattered down, and they looked anxiously about for shelter.
"What's that place up there, Mike?" asked Jim, pointing to a rambling stone structure on an elevation perhaps a hundred yards from the road.
"'Tis the castle o' the last o' the O'Brian's, hivin rist his sowl," replied Mike. "But they do be sayin' the place is hanted, an' 'tis a brave man that would be shteppin' inside the dhure."
"I'm a brave man, then," cried Jim. "For I'll face a dozen ghosts before I would this storm. Turn in, Mike, and we'll wait there till the rain is over."
With a muttered protest Mike did as directed, and a moment later the young men stepped jauntily through the ruined portal, while Mike, shocked at their temerity, crossed himself and, throwing an oilskin over his head, crouched low in his seat, preferring the discomfort of the open to the unknown terrors that might lurk beyond the doorway of the ruined castle.
The friends had scarcely stepped inside before the rain came down in torrents.
"Lucky we got here just as we did," remarked Joe, as they leaned up against the masonry of the ruined hall and looked out at the cloudburst.
"It surely was," agreed Jim. "I wish we had a little more light. It's as dark as Egypt in here."
"I've got my pocket flashlight with me," said Joe, reaching toward his hip pocket. "But listen, what's that?"
"I didn't hear anything," returned Jim, a little nervously, it must be admitted.
The two ball players kept perfectly still for a minute and heard what seemed to be the murmur of voices a room or two away.
"Can it be that the last of the O'Brians is rambling about the castle?" whispered Jim, with a feeble attempt at raillery.
"More likely some travelers stormbound like ourselves," returned Joe practically. "Let's take a squint at them."
They tiptoed their way through the hall to a room opening on the right. The door, half broken from its hinges, was standing open, and in the darkness they saw the tips of two lighted cigars.
As this was not at all ghostly and they did not care to intrude, they were about to retire as softly as they had come, when Joe was startled by hearing his own name. Jim's hand shot out and clenched his friend's arm, and they stood there like statues.
"That was a slick trick you put over on Matson," said a voice which Joe recognized instantly as belonging to Beckworth Fleming. He had heard that voice before when he had made its owner kneel in the dirt of the road and beg Mabel's pardon for his insolence.
"I think myself it was rather clever," drawled another familiar voice, that of Braxton. "He fell for it like a lamb."
"He's a pretty keen chap usually, too," remarked Fleming. "How is it you caught him napping?"
"I picked out just the right time," said Braxton complacently. "And I don't deny that luck helped me a little. If McRae and Barclay hadn't gone away just the time they did, it might not have worked. But I got him talking about handwriting, and the first thing you know he'd scribbled his name on the blank sheet. I took good care that only the bottom of the sheet was where he could reach it. Then I slipped the paper into my pocket, sent it to you to have the contract printed above the signature, and you know the rest."
"Easy meat," chuckled Fleming.
"Too easy," chortled Braxton. "It makes me laugh every time I think of it."
Joe stepped into the room, followed by Jim.
"I do a little laughing myself sometimes," Joe said coldly. "And this is one of the times!"
BROUGHT TO BOOK—CONCLUSION
There was a gasp of dismay and astonishment, as the conspirators jumped to their feet from the windowsill upon which they had been sitting.
At the same instant Joe drew the flashlight from his pocket and illumined their startled faces.
"Don't move!" he commanded. "Jim, you keep them covered."
Jim took up his station in the doorway, and in the insufficient light the rascals could not see whether he had a weapon or not.
"What do you mean by this?" blustered Fleming, in a voice that he tried to make brave, but that quavered despite himself.
"It means," said Joe grimly, "that one of you men is in for the licking of his life. Don't tremble so, Fleming," he added contemptuously. "I've already thrashed you once and I don't care to soil my hands with you again. But I've been aching for months to get my fingers on the man that made me out a liar and a contract-breaker. I have him now," he added, with a steely glance at Braxton.
"Here, Jim," he continued, stepping back, "take this flash. I've got some work to do."
With a quick wrench he tore off his coat.
"You'd better be careful," said Braxton—no longer the suave and polished trickster, but pale as chalk and trembling like a leaf. "This is assault and battery, and you'll answer to the law."
"Put up your hands," said Joe curtly. "You're as big a man as I am, but you've got to prove which is the better one. And you, Jim, keep your eye on Fleming and stand by to see fair play."
Even a rat will fight when cornered and Braxton, seeing no alternative, threw off his coat and made a desperate rush at Joe. Joe met him with a clip to the jaw that shook him from head to foot. Then he sailed in and gave the scoundrel what he had promised—the thrashing of his life.
Braxton tried foul tactics, butted and kicked and tried to gouge and bite, but Joe's powerful arms worked like windmills, his fists ripping savagely into Braxton's face and chest. All the pent-up indignation and humiliation of the last few weeks found vent in those mighty blows, and soon, too soon to suit Joe, the man lay on the floor, whining and half-sobbing with shame and pain.
"Get up, you cur!" said Joe, as he pulled on his coat. "I'm not through with you yet."
"You're not going to hit him again, are you?" asked Fleming, while Braxton staggered painfully to his feet.
"No," said Joe. "I guess he's had enough."
"You said it!" cried Jim admiringly. "If ever a man was trimmed to the queen's taste he's that man."
"But I'm going to nail, right now, the lies you fellows have been spreading," continued Joe, eyes alight with the thought of his coming vindication. "You've got to sign a written confession of the part you've played in this dirty business."
"We w-will, w-when we get back to town," stammered Fleming.
"No, you won't," cried Joe. "You'll do it right here and now."
"B-but we haven't any writing materials," suggested Braxton, through his swollen lips.
"I've got paper and a fountain pen!" exclaimed Jim eagerly. "This light is rather dim, but probably Mike has got the automobile lamps going by this time and that'll be light enough."
"Come along!" cried Joe sternly, and his crest-fallen opponents knew him too well by this time to resist.
They went out into the open and found that the rain had almost stopped. As Jim had prophesied, the automobile lamps were gleaming through the dusk. Like every Irishman, Mike dearly loved a scrap, and his eyes lighted with a mixture of eagerness and regret as he looked at Braxton and realized what he had been missing.
"Begorra!" he cried in his rich brogue, "'tis a lovely shindy ye've been after havin'."
With the paper resting on his knee and Jim's fountain pen in his hand, Joe wrote out the story of the trickery and fraud that had been practiced in getting his signature. When he had covered every important point, he held out the pen to Braxton.
The latter hesitated, and Joe's fist clenched till the knuckles were white. Braxton knew what that fist was capable of and hesitated no longer. He wrote his name under the confession and Fleming followed suit. Then Jim affixed his name as a witness, and Michael O'Halloran happily added his.
"Now," said Jim, as he folded the precious paper and stowed it safely in his pocket, "you fellows clear out. I suppose that's your car that we saw standing a little way down the road. I don't think either of you will care to mix in my affairs again."
They moved away with an assumption of bravado they were far from feeling and were lost in the darkness.
"And now, Mike," said Joe with a jubilant ring in his voice, as they leaped into the car, "let her go. Drive to Dublin as if the ghost of the last of the O'Brians were at your back!"
And Mike did.
The two baseball players found the girls impatiently awaiting them, and wondering rather petulantly what had become of them. Joe seized Mabel in his arms and whirled her about the room like a dancing dervish, paying no heed to her laughing protests.
Jim would have liked to do the same to Joe's sister, but did not quite dare to—yet.
"Are you boys crazy?" demanded Mabel, as soon as she could get her breath.
"Yes," said Joe promptly. "You'll be, too, when you see this."
He flourished the paper before their faces and in disjointed sentences, frequently broken by interruptions, told them of all that had happened since they had left them after the game.
No need of telling how they felt when the boys had finished. There was no happier party that night in all Ireland.
Then, leaving the delighted girls for a few minutes, the boys hunted up McRae. They found him glum and anxious, talking earnestly with Robbie in the lobby of the hotel. One glance at the young men's faces made the pair jump wonderingly to their feet.
"For the love of Pete, let's have it, Joe!" cried McRae. "What's happened?"
"Plenty!" exulted Joe. "We've put the All-Star League out of business!"
"What!" cried McRae, as he snatched the paper that Joe held out to him and devoured its contents, while Robbie peered eagerly over his shoulder.
Then, as they realized what it meant, they set up a wild whoop which made the other members of the team, scattered about the lobby, come running, followed a scene of mad hilarity, during which no one seemed to know what he said or did.
That night the cable carried the news to New York, and from there to every city in the United States. It sounded the death knell of the All-Star League, and it went to pieces like a house of cards. The American public will stand for much, but for nothing so gross and contemptible as that had been.
The trip wound up in a blaze of glory with the Giants just one game to the good in the hot series of games that had been played. They had a swift and joyous journey home, and when they separated on the dock in New York, McRae's hearty grip of Baseball Joe's hand fairly made the latter wince.
"Good-bye, old man," he said. "You've stood by me like a brick. You'll be on hand when the bell rings."
"Joe will hear other bells before that," grinned Jim, as he looked at Mabel, who flushed rosily.
"What's that?" asked McRae with a twinkle in his eye.
"Wedding bells," replied Jim.
THE BASEBALL JOE SERIES By LESTER CHADWICK
12mo. Illustrated. Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents additional.
1. BASEBALL JOE OF THE SILVER STARS or The Rivals of Riverside
2. BASEBALL JOE ON THE SCHOOL NINE or Pitching for the Blue Banner
3. BASEBALL JOE AT YALE or Pitching for the College Championship
4. BASEBALL JOE IN THE CENTRAL LEAGUE or Making Good as a Professional Pitcher
5. BASEBALL JOE IN THE BIG LEAGUE or A Young Pitcher's Hardest Struggles
6. BASEBALL JOE ON THE GIANTS or Making Good as a Twirler in the Metropolis
7. BASEBALL JOE IN THE WORLD SERIES or Pitching for the Championship
8. BASEBALL JOE AROUND THE WORLD or Pitching on a Grand Tour
9. BASEBALL JOE: HOME RUN KING or The Greatest Pitcher and Batter on Record
10. BASEBALL JOE SAVING THE LEAGUE or Breaking Up a Great Conspiracy
11. BASEBALL JOE CAPTAIN OF THE TEAM or Bitter Struggles on the Diamond
12. BASEBALL JOE CHAMPION OF THE LEAGUE or The Record that was Worth While
13. BASEBALL JOE CLUB OWNER or Putting the Home Town on the Map
14. BASEBALL JOE PITCHING WIZARD or Triumphs Off and On the Diamond
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CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers New York
THE BOY HUNTERS SERIES By CAPTAIN RALPH BONEHILL
12mo. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors. Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents additional.
Captain Ralph Bonehill is one of the best known and most popular writers for young people. In this series he shows, as no other writer can, the joy, glory and happiness of outdoor life.
FOUR BOY HUNTERS or The Outing of the Gun Club
A fine, breezy story of the woods and waters, of adventures in search of game, and of great times around the campfire, told in Captain Bonehill's best style. In the book are given full directions for camping out.
GUNS AND SNOWSHOES or The Winter Outing of the Young Hunters
In this volume the young hunters leave home for a winter outing on the shores of a small lake. They hunt and trap to their hearts' content and have adventures in plenty, all calculated to make boys "sit up and take notice." A good healthy book; one with the odor of the pine forests and the glare of the welcome campfire in every chapter.
YOUNG HUNTERS OF THE LAKE or Out with Rod and Gun
Another tale of woods and waters, with some strong hunting scenes and a good deal of mystery. The three volumes make a splendid outdoor series.
OUT WITH GUN AND CAMERA or The Boy Hunters in the Mountains
Takes up the new fad of photographing wild animals as well as shooting them. An escaped circus chimpanzee and an escaped lion add to the interest of the narrative.
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CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers New York
THE JEWEL SERIES By AMES THOMPSON
12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in colors. Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents additional.
A series of stories brimming with hardy adventure, vivid and accurate in detail, and with a good foundation of probability. They take the reader realistically to the scene of action. Besides being lively and full of real situations, they are written in a straight-forward way very attractive to boy readers.
1. THE ADVENTURE BOYS and the VALLEY OF DIAMONDS
In this book they form a party of five, and with the aid of a shrewd, level-headed sailor named Stanley Green, they find a valley of diamonds in the heart of Africa.
2. THE ADVENTURE BOYS and the RIVER OF EMERALDS
With a guide, they set out to find the River of Emeralds. But masked foes, emeralds, and falling mountains are all in the day's fun for these Adventure Boys.
3. THE ADVENTURE BOYS and the LAGOON OF PEARLS
This time the group starts out on a cruise simply for pleasure, but their adventuresome spirits lead them into the thick of things on a South Sea cannibal island.
4. THE ADVENTURE BOYS and the TEMPLE OF RUBIES
The Adventure Boys find plenty of thrills when they hit the ruby trail, and soon discover that they are marked by some sinister influence to keep them from reaching the Ruby.
5. THE ADVENTURE BOYS and the ISLAND OF SAPPHIRES
The paths of the young jewel hunters lead to a mysterious island where the treasures are concealed.
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CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers New York
THE BOMBA BOOKS By ROY ROCKWOOD
Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents additional.
Bomba lived far back in the jungles of the Amazon with a half-demented naturalist who told the lad nothing of his past. The jungle boy was a lover of birds, and hunted animals with a bow and arrow and his trusty machete. He had a primitive education in some things, and his daring adventures will be followed with breathless interest by thousands.
1. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY
2. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AT THE MOVING MOUNTAIN
3. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AT THE GIANT CATARACT
4. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY ON JAGUAR ISLAND
5. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY IN THE ABANDONED CITY
6. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY ON TERROR TRAIL
7. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY IN THE SWAMP OF DEATH
8. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AMONG THE SLAVES
9. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY ON THE UNDERGROUND RIVER
10. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AND THE LOST EXPLORERS
11. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY IN A STRANGE LAND
12. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AMONG THE PYGMIES
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CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers New York
THE WEBSTER SERIES By FRANK V. WEBSTER
Mr. WEBSTER'S style is very much like that of the boys' favorite author, the late lamented Horatio Alger, Jr., but his tales are thoroughly up-to-date.
Cloth. 12mo. Over 200 pages each. Illustrated. Stamped in various colors.
Price per volume, 50 cents. Postage 10 cents additional.
Only a Farm Boy or Dan Hardy's Rise in Life
The Boy from the Ranch or Roy Bradner's City Experiences
The Young Treasure Hunter or Fred Stanley's Trip to Alaska
The Boy Pilot of the Lakes or Nat Morton's Perils
Tom the Telephone Boy or The Mystery of a Message
Bob the Castaway or The Wreck of the Eagle
The Newsboy Partners or Who Was Dick Box?
Two Boy Gold Miners or Lost in the Mountains
The Young Firemen of Lakeville or Herbert Dare's Pluck
The Boys of Bellwood School or Frank Jordan's Triumph
Jack the Runaway or On the Road with a Circus
Bob Chester's Grit or From Ranch to Riches
Airship Andy or The Luck of a Brave Boy
High School Rivals or Fred Markham's Struggles
Darry the Life Saver or The Heroes of the Coast
Dick the Bank Boy or A Missing Fortune
Ben Hardy's Flying Machine or Making a Record for Himself
Harry Watson's High School Days or The Rivals of Rivertown
Comrades of the Saddle or The Young Rough Riders of the Plains
Tom Taylor at West Point or The Old Army Officer's Secret
The Boy Scouts of Lennox or Hiking Over Big Bear Mountain
The Boys of the Wireless or a Stirring Rescue from the Deep
Cowboy Dave or The Round-up at Rolling River
Jack of the Pony Express or The Young Rider of the Mountain Trail
The Boys of the Battleship or For the Honor of Uncle Sam
CUPPLES & LEON CO., Publishers NEW YORK
Everybody will love the story of
By HECTOR MALOT
The dearest character in all the literature of child life is little Remi in Hector Malot's famous masterpiece Sans Famille ("Nobody's Boy").
All love, pathos, loyalty, and noble boy character are exemplified in this homeless little lad, who has made the world better for his being in it. The boy or girl who knows Remi has an ideal never to be forgotten. But it is a story for grown-ups, too.
"Nobody's Boy" is one of the supreme heart-interest stories of all time, which will make you happier and better.
4 Colored Illustrations. $1.50 net. At All Booksellers
CUPPLES & LEON CO. Publishers New York