Baseball Joe in the Big League OR A Young Pitcher's Hardest Struggles
By LESTER CHADWICK
AUTHOR OF "BASEBALL JOE OF THE SILVER STARS," "BASEBALL JOE AT YALE," "BASEBALL JOE IN THE CENTRAL LEAGUE," "THE RIVAL PITCHERS," "THE EIGHT-OARED VICTORS," ETC.
NEW YORK CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
Copyright, 1915, by CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
Baseball Joe in the Big League Printed in U. S. A.
I TWO LETTERS 1
II TO THE RESCUE 11
III AN UPSET 19
IV AN APPEAL 30
V THE THREAT 38
VI A WARNING 46
VII BASEBALL TALK 54
VIII THE QUARREL 61
IX JOE IS DRAFTED 70
X OFF TO ST. LOUIS 77
XI GOING DOWN SOUTH 87
XII THE QUARRELING MAN 97
XIII UNDER SUNNY SKIES 103
XIV HARD WORK 112
XV ANOTHER THREAT 122
XVI JOE'S TRIUMPH 129
XVII "PLAY BALL!" 140
XVIII HOT WORDS 148
XIX JOE GOES IN 153
XX STAGE FRIGHT 162
XXI A QUEER MESSAGE 175
XXII IN DANGER 182
XXIII A LAME ARM 191
XXIV A TIGHT GAME 201
XXV IN NEW YORK 208
XXVI ADRIFT 217
XXVII THE RESCUE 223
XXVIII MOVING PICTURES 229
XXIX SHALLEG'S DOWNFALL 234
XXX THE HARDEST BATTLE 240
BASEBALL JOE IN THE BIG LEAGUE
"Whew!" whistled Joe Matson, the astonishment on his bronzed face being indicated by his surprised exclamation of:
"Well, what do you know about that, Sis?"
"What is it, Joe?" asked his sister Clara, as she looked up from a letter she was reading to see her brother staring at a sheet of paper he had just withdrawn from an envelope, for the morning mail had been delivered a few minutes before. "What is it?" the girl went on, laying aside her own correspondence. "Is it anything serious—anything about father's business? Don't tell me there is more trouble, Joe!"
"I'm not going to, Clara. It isn't trouble, but, if what he says is true, it's going to make a big difference to me," and Joe looked out of the window, across a snowy expanse of yard, and gazed at, without consciously seeing, a myriad of white flakes swirling down through the wintry air.
"No, it isn't exactly trouble," went on Joe, "and I suppose I ought to be corkingly glad of it; but I hadn't counted on leaving the Central Baseball League quite so soon."
"Oh, Joe! Have you lost your place?" exclaimed Clara. "And just after you have done so well, too; and helped them win the pennant! I call that a shame! I thought baseball men were better 'sports' than that."
"Listen to her—my little sister using slang!" laughed Joe.
"'Sports' isn't slang," defended Clara. "I've heard lots of girls use it. I mean it in the right sense. But have you really lost your place on the team, Joe?"
"Well, not exactly, Sis, but I'm about to, I'm afraid. However, I guess I may as well make the best of it, and be glad. I sure can use the extra money!"
"I certainly don't know what you're talking about," went on Clara, with a helpless look at her big, handsome brother, "and I suppose you'll take your own time in telling me. But I would like to know what it all means, Joe. And about extra money. Who's going to give it to you?"
"Nobody. I'll have to earn it with this pitching arm of mine," and the young baseball player swung it around, as though "winding-up" for a swift delivery.
"Look out, Joe!" cried Clara, but she gave the warning too late.
At that moment Mrs. Matson entered the room with a jug of water, which she intended pouring on a window-box of flowers. Joe's arm struck the jug a glancing blow, and sent it flying, the water spraying over the floor, and the jug itself falling, and cracking into many pieces.
For a moment there was a momentous silence, after two startled screams—one each from Mrs. Matson and Clara. Then Joe cried gaily:
"Out at first! Say, Momsey, I hope I didn't hit you!"
"No, you didn't," and she laughed now. "But what does it all mean? Are you practicing so early in the season? Oh, my carpet! It will be ruined!" she went on, as she saw the water. "But I'm glad I didn't bring in a good jug. Did you hurt your hand?"
"Nary a hurt," said Joe, with a smile. "Ha! I'll save you from a wetting!" he exclaimed, as he stooped quickly and picked up an unopened letter, the address of which was in a girlish hand.
"Get the mop, while you're at it," advised Clara. A little later Joe had sopped up the water, and quiet was restored.
"And now suppose you tell us all about it," suggested Mrs. Mason. "Why were you practicing gymnastics, Joe?" and she smiled at her athletic son.
"I was just telling Clara that my pitching arm was likely to bring me in more money this year, Momsey, and I was giving it a twirl, when you happened to get in my way. Now I'll tell you all about it. It's this letter," and Joe held out the one he had been reading.
"Are you sure it isn't the other?" asked Clara, with a sly look at her brother, for she had glanced at the writing on the unopened envelope Joe had picked up from the floor. "Let me read that other letter, Joe," she teased.
"A little later—maybe!" he parried. "But this one," and he fluttered the open sheet in his hand, "this one is from Mr. Gregory, manager of the Pittston team, with whom I have the honor to be associated," and Joe bowed low to his mother and sister. "Mr. Gregory gives me a bit of news. It is nothing less than that the manager of the St. Louis Nationals is negotiating for the services of yours truly—your humble servant, Joseph Matson," and again the young ball player bowed, and laughed.
"Joe, you don't mean it!" cried his sister. "You're going to belong to a major league team!" for Clara was almost as ardent a baseball "fan" as was her brother.
"Well, it looks like it, Sis," replied Joe, slowly, as he glanced at the letter again. "Of course it isn't settled, but Mr. Gregory says I'm pretty sure to be drafted to St. Louis."
"Drafted!" exclaimed his mother. "That sounds like war times, when they used to draft men to go to the front. Do you mean you haven't any choice in the matter, Joe?"
"Well, that's about it, Momsey," the young man explained. "You see, baseball is pretty well organized. It has to be, to make it the success it is," he added frankly, "though lots of people are opposed to the system. But I haven't been in it long enough to find fault, even if I wanted to—which I don't."
"But it seems queer that you can't stay with the Pittston team if you want to," said Mrs. Matson.
"I don't know as I want to," spoke Joe, slowly, "especially when I'll surely get more money with St. Louis, besides having the honor of pitching for a major league team, even if it isn't one of the top-notchers, and a pennant winner. So if they want to draft me, let them do their worst!" and he laughed, showing his even, white teeth.
"You see," he resumed, "when I signed a contract with the Pittstons, of the Central League, I gave them the right to control my services as long as I played baseball. I had to agree not to go to any other team without permission, and, in fact, no other organized team would take me unless the Pittston management released me. I went into it with my eyes open.
"And, you see, the Pittston team, being one of the small ones, has to give way to a major league team. That is, any major league team, like the St. Louis Nationals, can call for, or draft, any player in a smaller team. So if they call me I'll have to go. And I'll be glad to. I'll get more money and fame.
"That is, I hope I will," and Joe spoke more soberly. "I know I'm not going to have any snap of it. It's going to be hard work from the word go, for there will be other pitchers on the St. Louis team, and I'll have to do my best to make a showing against them.
"And I will, too!" cried Joe, resolutely. "I'll make good, Momsey!"
"I hope so, my son," she responded, quietly. "You know I was not much in favor of your taking up baseball for a living, but I must say you have done well at it, and after all, if one does one's best at anything, that is what counts. So I hope you make good with the St. Louis team—I suppose 'make good' is the proper expression," she added, with a smile.
"It'll do first-rate, Momsey," laughed Joe. "Now let's see what else Gregory says."
He glanced over the letter again, and remarked:
"Well, there's nothing definite. The managers are laying their plans for the Spring work, and he says I'm being considered. He adds he will be sorry to lose me."
"I should think he would be!" exclaimed Clara, a flush coming into her cheeks. "You were the best pitcher on his team!"
"Oh, I wouldn't go as far as to say that!" cried Joe, "though I appreciate your feeling, Sis. I had a good bit of luck, winning some of the games the way I did. Well, I guess I'll go look up some St. Louis records, and see what I'm expected to do in the batting average line compared with them," the player went on. "The St. Louis team isn't a wonder, but it's done pretty fair at times, I believe, and it's a step up for me. I'll be more in line for a place on the New York Giants, or the Philadelphia Athletics if I make a good showing in Missouri," finished Joe.
He started from the room, carrying the two letters, one of which he had not yet opened.
"Who's it from?" asked Clara, with a smile, as she pointed to the heavy, square envelope in his hand.
"Oh, one of my many admirers," teased Joe. "I can't tell just which one until I open it. And, just to satisfy your curiosity, I'll do so now," and he proceeded to slit the envelope with his pocket-knife.
"Oh, it's from Mabel Varley!" he exclaimed.
"Just as if you didn't know all the while!" scoffed Clara. "You wouldn't forget her handwriting so soon, Joe Matson."
"Um!" he murmured, non-committally. "Why, this is news!" he cried, suddenly. "Mabel and her brother Reggie are coming here!"
"Here!" exclaimed Clara. "To visit us?"
"Oh, no, not that exactly," Joe went on. "They're on a trip, it seems, and they're going to stop off here for a day or so. Mabel says they'll try to see us. I hope they will."
"I've never met them," observed Clara.
"No," spoke Joe, musingly. "Well, you may soon. Why!" he went on, "they're coming to-day—on the afternoon express. I must go down to the station to meet them, though the train is likely to be late, if this snow keeps up. Whew! see it come down!" and he went over to the window and looked out.
"It's like a small blizzard," remarked Clara, "and it seems to be growing worse. Doesn't look much like baseball; does it, Joe?"
"I should say not! Say, I believe I'll go down to the station, anyhow, and see what the prospects are. Want to come, Sis?"
"No, thank you. Not in this storm. Where are the Varleys going to stop?"
"At the hotel. Reggie has some business in town, Mabel writes. Well, I sure will be glad to see him again!"
"Him? Her, you mean!" laughed Clara. "Oh, Joe, you are so simple!"
"Humph!" he exclaimed, as he put the two letters into his pocket—both of great importance to him. "Well, I'll go down to the station."
Joe was soon trudging through the storm on the way to the depot.
"The St. Louis 'Cardinals'!" he mused, as he bent his head to the blast, thinking of the letters in his pocket. "I didn't think I'd be in line for a major league team so soon. I wonder if I can make good?"
Thinking alternately of the pleasure he would have in seeing Miss Mabel Varley, a girl in whom he was more than ordinarily interested, and of the new chance that had come to him, Joe soon reached the depot. His inquiries about the trains were not, however, very satisfactorily answered.
"We can't tell much about them in this storm," the station master said. "All our trains are more or less late. Stop in this afternoon, and I may have some definite information for you."
And later that day, when it was nearly arrival time for the train on which Mabel and Reggie were to come, Joe received some news that startled him.
"There's no use in your waiting, Joe," said the station master, as the young ball player approached him again. "Your train won't be in to-day, and maybe not for several days."
"Why? What's the matter—a wreck?" cried Joe, a vision of injured friends looming before him.
"Not exactly a wreck, but almost as bad," went on the official. "The train is stalled—snowed in at Deep Rock Cut, five miles above here, and there's no chance of getting her out."
"Great Scott!" cried Joe. "The express snowed in! Why, I've got friends on that train! I wonder what I can do to help them?"
TO THE RESCUE
Joe Matson looked so worried at the information imparted by the station master that the latter asked him:
"Any particular friends of yours on that train?"
"Very particular," declared the young ball player. "And I hope no harm comes to them."
"Well, I don't know as any great harm will come," went on the station master. "The train's snowed in, and will have to stay there until we can get together a gang of men and shovel her out. It won't be easy, for it's snowing harder every minute, and Deep Rock Cut is one of the worst places on the line for drifts. But no other train can run into the stalled one, that's sure. The only thing is the steam may get low, and the passengers will be cold, and hungry."
"Isn't there any way to prevent that?" asked Joe, anxiously.
"I s'pose the passengers could get out and try to reach some house or hotel," resumed the railroad man, "but Deep Rock Cut is a pretty lonely place, and there aren't many houses near it. The only thing I see to do would be for someone to go there with a horse and sled, and rescue the passengers, and that would be some job, as there's quite a trainload of them."
"Well, I'm going to try and get my friends that way, anyhow!" cried Joe. "I'll go to the rescue," and he set off for home through the storm again, intending to hire a rig at a livery stable, and do what he could to take Mabel and her brother from the train.
And, while Joe is thus making his preparations, I will tell my new readers something about the previous books of this series, in which Joe Matson, or "Baseball Joe," as he is called, has a prominent part.
The initial volume was called "Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars; Or, The Rivals of Riverside," and began with my hero's career in the town of Riverside. Joe joined the ball team there, and, after some hard work, became one of the best amateur pitchers in that section of the country. He did not have it all easy, though, and the fight was an uphill one. But Joe made good, and his team came out ahead.
"Baseball Joe on the School Nine; Or, Pitching for the Blue Banner," the second book in the series, saw our hero as the pitcher on a better organized team than were the Silver Stars. Joe had taken a step forward. He did not make the school nine without a struggle, for he had rivals, and a strong effort was made to keep him out of the game.
But Joe proved his worth, and when a critical time came he pitched to victory, thus defeating the plans of his enemies.
It was quite a step forward for Joe to go to Yale from Excelsior Hall, where he had gotten his early education.
Naturally Joe wanted to play on the Yale team, but he had to wait some time before his ambition was gratified. In "Baseball Joe at Yale; Or, Pitching for the College Championship," I related how, after playing during his freshman year on the class team, Joe was picked as one of the pitchers for the varsity.
Then, indeed, he was proud and happy, but he knew it would not be as easy as it had been at Excelsior Hall. Every step upward meant harder work, but Joe welcomed the chance.
And when finally the deciding game came—the one with Princeton at the Polo Grounds, New York—Joe had the proud distinction of pitching for Yale—and he pitched to victory.
Joe's ambition, ever since he had taken an interest in baseball, had been to become a professional player. His mother had hoped that he would become a minister, or enter one of the more learned professions, but, though Joe disappointed her hopes, there was some compensation.
"Better let the boy have his own way," Mr. Matson had said. "I would rather see him a good ball player than a half-rate lawyer, or doctor; and, after all, there is good money to be made on the diamond."
So, when Joe received an offer from the manager of one of the minor league professional teams, he took it. In "Baseball Joe in the Central League; Or, Making Good as a Professional Pitcher," the fourth volume of the series, I related Joe's experiences when he got his start in organized baseball. How he was instrumental in bringing back on the right path a player who had gone wrong, and how he fought to the last, until his team won the pennant—all that you will find set down in the book.
I might add that Joe lived with his father, mother, and sister in the town of Riverside, where Mr. Matson was employed in the Royal Harvester Works, being an able inventor.
Joe had many friends in town, one in particular being Tom Davis, who had gone to Excelsior Hall with him. Of late, however, Joe had not seen so much of Tom, their occupations pursuing divergent paths.
It was while Joe was on his way to join the Pittston team, of the Central League, that he made the acquaintance of Reggie Varley, a rich, and somewhat dudish, young man; and the acquaintance was made in an odd manner. For Reggie practically accused Joe of knowing something of some jewelry that was missing from a valise.
Of course Joe did not take it, but for some time the theft remained quite a mystery, until Joe solved the secret. From then on he and Reggie were good friends, and Reggie's sister Mabel and Joe were——
Oh, well, what's the use of telling on a fellow? You wouldn't like it yourself; would you?
The baseball season came to an end, and the Pittston team covered itself with glory, partly due to Joe's good pitching. Cold weather set in, and the players took themselves to their various Winter occupations, or pleasures. Joe went home, to wait until the training season should open, in preparation for league games on the velvety, green diamonds.
Several weeks of inaction had passed, the holidays were over, Winter had set in with all earnestness, and now we find Joe hurrying along, intent on the rescue of Reggie and his sister from the snow-stalled train.
"I hope they will not freeze before I get to them," thought Joe, as he staggered through the blinding snow. "They can't, though, for there'll be sure to be steam for some hours yet. I guess I'll stop home, and get something to eat for them, and a bottle of coffee. I'll put it in one of those vacuum flasks, and it will keep hot."
So intent was Joe on his rescue that, for the time, he gave no more thought to the matter of joining the St. Louis nine, important as that matter was to him.
"I'd better get a team of horses, and a light sled," he mused, as he turned in the direction of the livery stable. "There will be some heavy going between here and Deep Rock Cut, and I'll need a good team to pull through."
A little later he was leaving his order with the proprietor.
"I'll fix you up, Joe," said the stable boss, who was a baseball "fan," and a great admirer of our hero. "I'll give you the best team in the place, and they'll get you through, if any horses can. I expect I'll have other calls, if, as you say, the train is stalled, for there'll likely be other folks in town who have friends aboard her. But you've got the first call, and I'm glad of it."
"I'll be back in a little while," called Joe, as he hurried off. "I'm going around to my house to put up some lunch and coffee."
"Good idea! I'll have everything ready for you when you come back."
On Joe hurried once more, through the swirl of white flakes that cut into his face, blown on the wings of a bitter wind. He bent his head to the blast, and buttoned his overcoat more closely about him, as he fought his way through the drifts.
It had been snowing since early morning, and there were no signs to indicate that the storm was going to stop. It was growing colder, too, and the wind seemed to increase in violence each hour. Though it was only a little after one o'clock in the afternoon, it was unusually dark, and Joe realized that night would soon be at hand, hastened by the clouds overhead.
"But the snow will make it light enough to see, I guess," reasoned Joe. "I hope I can keep to the road. It wouldn't be much of a joke to get Reggie and Mabel out of the train, into the comfortable sled, and then lose them on the way home."
Quickly explaining to his mother and sister his plan of going for the two friends in the stalled train, Joe hastily put up some sandwiches, while Clara made coffee and poured it into the vacuum bottle.
"Perhaps you'd better bring them here, Joe, instead of taking them to the hotel," suggested his mother. "Mabel will be wet and cold, perhaps, and I could make her more comfortable here than she would be at the hotel. We have room enough."
"She can share my room," proposed Clara.
"That's good of you," and Joe flashed a grateful look at his sister. "I hope you will like Mabel," he added, softly.
"I guess I will; if you do," laughed Clara.
"Well, I sure do," and Joe smiled.
Then, with a big scarf to wrap about his neck, and carrying the basket of food and coffee, Joe set out for the livery stable, to start to the rescue.
"Here you are, Joe. Best team in the stable. I could have hired 'em out twice over since you went; but I wouldn't do it. Other folks have got the scare, too, about friends on the stalled train," and the livery boss handed Joe the reins of a pair of prancing horses, hitched to a light, but strong cutter.
"Thanks, Mr. Blasser," said Joe. "I'll take good care of 'em."
"And hold 'em in a bit at the start," advised the man. "They haven't been out for a couple of days, and they're a bit frisky. But they'll calm down after a while."
With a jingle of bells, and a scattering of the snow from their hoofs, the horses leaped forward when Joe gave them their heads, and down the whitened street they trotted, on the way to Deep Rock Cut.
This was a place where the railroad went through a rocky defile, about a mile long. It had been the scene of more than one wreck, for there was a dangerous curve in it, and in the Winter it was a source of worry to the railroad men, for the snow piled high in it when there was a storm of more than usual severity. In the Summer a nearby river sometimes rose above its banks, and filled the cut with water, washing out the track.
Altogether Deep Rock Cut was a cause of much anxiety to the railroad management, but it was not practical to run the line on either side of it, so its use had been continued.
"And very likely it's living up to its reputation right now," mused Joe, as he drove down the main street, and then turned to another that would take him out of the town, and to a highway that led near Deep Rock Cut. "It sure must be living up to its reputation right now, though, of course, the storm is to blame.
"Whew! It certainly does blow!" he commented, as he held the reins in one hand, and drew more closely about his throat the muffler he had brought with him. "Stand to it, ponies!" Joe called to the sturdy steeds. They had started off at a lively pace, but the snow soon slowed them down. They started up again, however, at the sound of Joe's voice, and settled down into a steady pull that took them over the ground at a good pace.
Now that he was actually on the way to the rescue Joe allowed his thoughts to go back to the baseball letter that was in his pocket, next to the one from Mabel.
"I wonder how they came to pick me out?" he mused, as he recalled the possibility that he would go to St. Louis. "They must have had a scout at some of the Central League games, though generally the news of that is tipped off beforehand.
"That must have been the way of it, though," he went on, still communing with himself. "I don't know that I played so extra well, except maybe at the last, and then—then I just had to—to make good. Well, I'm glad they picked me out. Wonder if any other members of the Pittston team are slated to go? Can't be, though, or Gregory would have told me of it.
"And I wonder how much more salary I'll get? Of course I oughtn't to think too much about money, for, after all, it's the game I like. But, then, I have to live, and, since I'm in organized baseball, I want to be at the top of the heap, the same as I would if I were a lawyer, or a doctor. That's it—the top of the heap—the New York Giants for mine—if I can reach 'em," and he smiled quizzically.
"Yes, I guess lots of the fellows would give their eye teeth to have my chance. Of course, it isn't settled yet," Joe told himself, "but there must have been a good foundation for it, or Gregory wouldn't have taken the trouble to write to me about it."
Joe found the road to Deep Rock Cut fully as bad, in the matter of snowdrifts, as he had expected. It was rather slow going when he got to the open country, where the wind had full sweep, and progress, even on the part of the willing horses, was slower.
Joe picked out the best, and easiest, route possible, but that was not saying much, and it was not until nearly three o'clock, and growing quite dark, that he came within sight of the cut. Then the storm was so thick that he could not see the stalled train.
"I'll have to leave the team as near to it as I can get, and walk in to tell Reggie and Mabel that I've come for them," Joe decided.
The highway crossed the railroad track a short distance from the end of the cut nearest Riverside, and Joe, halting a moment to listen, and to make sure no trains were approaching, drove over the rails.
"Though there isn't much danger, now, of a train getting through that," he said to himself, as he saw the big drift of snow that blocked the cut. Behind that drift was the stalled train, he reflected, and then, as he looked at the white mound, he realized that he had made a mistake.
"I can never get through that drift myself," he said. "I'll have to drive up to the other end of the cut, by which the engine and cars entered. Stupid of me not to have thought of that at first."
He turned his horses, and again sought the highway that led along the cut, parallel to it, and about a quarter of a mile distant. Joe listened, again hoping he could hear the whistle of the approaching rescue-train, for at the station he had been told one was being fitted out, and would carry a gang of snow shovelers. But the howl of the wind was all that came to his ears.
"This means another mile of travel," Joe thought, as he urged on the horses. "It will be pitch dark by the time I get back to town with them. I hope Mabel doesn't take cold. It sure is bitter."
Joe found the going even harder as he kept on, but he would not give up now.
"There's one consolation," he reasoned, "the wind will be at our backs going home. That will make it easier."
The road that crossed the track at the other end of Deep Rock Cut was farther from the beginning of the defile, and Joe, leaving the horses in a sheltering clump of trees, struggled down the track, the rails of which were out of sight under the snow.
"I wonder if Mabel can walk back?" he said aloud. "If not I guess Reggie and I can carry her. It's pretty deep. I didn't get here any too soon."
Something dark loomed up before him, amid the wall of white, swirling flakes.
"There's the train!" exclaimed Joe, in relief.
It was indeed the rear coach of the stalled passenger train, and, a moment later, Joe was climbing the snow-encumbered steps. It proved to be the baggage car, and, as Joe entered, he surprised a number of men who were smoking, and playing cards on an upturned trunk.
"Hello!" exclaimed one of them, in surprise at the sight of the ball player. "Where'd you come from? Is the rescue-train here?"
"Not yet," Joe answered. "I came to take a couple of friends into town."
"Say, I wish I had a friend like you!" cried the man, with a laugh. "I sure would like to get into town; but I don't dare start out and tramp it—not with my rheumatism. How much room have you got in your airship?"
"I came in a cutter," responded Joe, with a smile.
"Say, you got some grit!" declared the man. "I like your nerve!"
"Oh, Joe's got plenty of nerve—of the right sort!" called a brakeman, and Joe, nodding at him, recognized a railroad acquaintance who had been present at some of the town ball games.
"A couple of my friends are in one of the coaches, Mr. Wheatson," explained Joe. "I'm going to drive back with them."
"Go ahead and look for 'em," invited the brakeman. "The train is yours, as far as I'm concerned. I guess we're tied up here all night."
"They're going to start out a rescue-train," Joe informed the men in the baggage car, for the telegraph wires had gone down after the first message, telling of the stalled train, had been sent.
"That's good news," replied one of the men. "Well, all we can do is to stay here, and play cards. It's nice and warm in here, anyhow."
"Yes, it will be until the coal for the engine gives out," spoke a player, who seemed to take a rather gloomy view of matters. "And what are we going to do about supper? I'd like to know that!"
Joe wished he could have brought along enough food for all the stranded passengers, but this was impossible. He went on through the train, and presently came to where Mabel and her brother were seated in the parlor car, looking gloomily out at the storm.
"Well!" exclaimed Joe, with a smile, as he stood just back of them. They both turned with a flash, and a look of pleased surprise came over the faces of Reggie and his sister as they saw him.
"Joe Matson!" cried Reggie, jumping up, and holding out his hand. "Where in the world did you come from? I didn't know you were on this train."
"I wasn't," laughed Joe. "I just boarded it, and I've come for you," he added, as he gave Mabel his hand.
"Oh, but I'm glad to see you!" she exclaimed. "Isn't this just perfectly awful, to be snowed in like this! And they tell us there's no chance of getting out to-night."
"There is for you," remarked Joe, quietly.
"How?" asked Reggie, quickly. "Did they push the relief-train through?"
"I'm all the relief-train there is," announced Joe, and he told about having the cutter in readiness.
"Say, that's fine of you!" cried Reggie. "Shall we go with him, Mabel?"
"Well, I rather guess so," she answered. "I couldn't stay here another hour."
"It won't be much fun traveling through the storm," Joe warned his friends. At this Reggie looked a bit doubtful, but his sister exclaimed:
"I don't mind it! I love a storm, anyhow, and I just can't bear sitting still, and doing nothing. Besides, there isn't a thing to eat aboard this train, for they took off the dining car right after lunch."
"I brought along a little something. It's in the cutter," Joe said. "I didn't bring it in here for fear the famished passengers would mob me for it," he added, with a smile. "Well, if you're willing to trust yourself with me, perhaps we'd better start," he went on. "It is getting darker all the while, and the snow is still falling."
"I'll be ready at once!" cried Mabel. "Reggie, get down the valises; will you, please? Can you take them?" she asked of Joe.
"Oh, yes—room for them in the cutter," he assured her.
The other passengers looked on curiously, and enviously, when they heard where Reggie and his sister were going. But, much as Joe would have liked to take them all to a place of comfort, he could not. The three went back to the baggage car, and, saying good-bye to the card-players, stepped out into the storm.
"I guess your brother and I had better carry you, Mabel," suggested Joe, as he saw the deep snow that led along the track to where he had left the cutter.
"Indeed you'll not—thank you!" she flashed back at him. "I have on stout shoes, and I don't mind the drifts." She proved it by striding sturdily through them, and soon the three were at the cutter, the horses whinnying impatiently to be gone.
"Have some hot coffee and a sandwich," invited Joe, as he got out the basket, and served his guests.
"Say, you're all right!" cried Reggie. Mabel said nothing, but the look she gave Joe was reward enough.
The coffee in the vacuum bottle was warm and cheering, and soon, much refreshed from the little lunch, and bundled up well in the robes Joe had brought, Reggie and his sister were ready for the trip to town.
"Step along!" cried the young baseball player to the horses, and glad enough they were to do so. Out to the highway they went, and it was not until they were some distance away from the cut that Joe noticed how much worse the going was. The snow was considerably deeper, and had drifted high in many more places.
"Think you can make it?" asked Reggie, anxiously.
"Well, I'm going to make a big try!" responded Joe. "I've got a good team here."
Half an hour later it was quite dark, but the white covering on the ground showed where the road was faintly outlined. Joe let the horses have their heads, and they seemed to know they were going toward their stable, for they went along at a good pace.
"There's a bad drift!" exclaimed Joe as, ahead of him, he saw a big mound of snow. He tried to guide the horses to one side, and must have given a stronger pull on the reins than he realized. For the steeds turned sharply, and, the next moment, the cutter suddenly turned over on its side, spilling into the snow the three occupants.
"Look out there!"
"See if you can grab the horses, Reggie!"
"Mabel, are you hurt?"
Fast and excitedly came the exclamations, as Joe managed to free himself from the entanglement of robes and lines. Then he stood up, and, giving a hasty glance to see that Mabel and her brother were extricating themselves (apparently little if any hurt), the young pitcher sprang for the heads of the horses, fearing they might bolt.
But, as if the steeds had done mischief enough; or, possibly because they were well trained, and had lost most of their skittishness in the cold, they stood still.
"For which I'm mighty glad!" quoth Joe, as he looked to see that no part of the harness was broken, a fact of which he could not be quite sure in the darkness.
"Are you all right, Mabel?" called Joe, as he stood at the heads of the animals.
"All right, Joe, yes, thank you. How about yourself?"
"Oh, I haven't a scratch. The snow is soft. How about you, Reggie?"
"Nothing worse than about a peck of snow down my neck. What happened, anyhow?"
"Hit a drift and turned too suddenly. I guess you'll wish I had left you in the train; won't you?"
"No, indeed!" laughed Mabel. "This isn't anything, nor the first upset I've been in—Reggie tipped us over once."
"Oh, that was when I was first learning how to drive," put in the other youth, quickly. "But can we go on, Joe?"
"I think so. Nothing seems to be broken. We'll have to right the sled, though. I wonder if the horses will stand while we do it? I wouldn't like them to start up, but——"
"Let me hold them!" begged Mabel. "I'm not afraid, and with me at their heads you boys can turn the sled right side up. It isn't tipped all the way over, anyhow."
She shook the snow from her garments, and made her way to where Joe stood, holding the reins close to the heads of the horses. It was still snowing hard, and with the cold wind driving the flakes into swirls and drifts, it was anything but pleasant. Had they been left behind by the horses running away, their plight would have been dangerous enough.
"Perhaps I can help you," suddenly called a voice out of the storm, and Joe and the others turned quickly, to see whence it had come.
The snow-encrusted figure of a man made its way over the piles of snow, and stood beside Joe.
"I'll hold the horses for you," the stranger went on. "You seem to have had an accident. I know something about horses. I'll hold them while you right the sled."
"Thanks," said Joe, and, as he spoke, he wondered where he had heard that voice before. He knew he had heard it, for there was a familiar ring to it. But it was not light enough to make out the features of the man. Besides, he was so wrapped up, with a slouch hat drawn low over his face, and a scarf pulled up well around his neck, that, even in daylight, his features would have been effectually concealed.
"I guess they won't need much holding," Joe went on, all the while racking his brain to recall the voice. He wanted to have the man speak again, that he might listen once more.
And the unknown, who had appeared so suddenly out of the storm, did not seem to have anything to conceal. He spoke freely.
"Don't worry about the horses," he remarked. "I can manage them."
"They won't need a lot of managing," responded Joe. "I guess they've had pretty nearly all the tucker taken out of them in the storm. It was pretty hard coming from Riverside."
"Are you from there?" the man asked rather quickly.
"Yes," answered Joe, "and we're going back."
"Then I'm glad I met you!" the man exclaimed, and Joe, who had half formed an opinion as to his identity, changed his mind, for the voice sounded different now. "Yes, I'm glad I met you," the stranger went on. "I was looking for someone to ask the road to Riverside, and you can tell me. I guess I lost my way in the storm. I heard your sleigh-bells, and I was heading for them when I heard you upset. You can show me the shortest road to Riverside; can't you?"
"We can do better than that," spoke Joe, trying, but still unsuccessfully, to get a look at the man's face. "We've got plenty of room in the sled, and you can ride back with us, once we get it on the runners again. Come on, Reggie, give me a hand, if you will, and we'll get this cutter right side up with care."
"If it needs three of you, I can take my place at the horses," suggested Mabel, who was standing beside Joe, idly looking through the fast-gathering darkness at the stranger.
"Oh, the two of us can easily do it," said the young ball player. "It isn't heavy. Come on, Reggie. Better stand a bit back, Mabel. It might slip," he advised.
Joe and his friend easily righted the sleigh, while the stranger stood at the heads of the horses, who were now quiet enough. Then, the scattered robes having been collected, and the baggage picked up, all was in readiness for a new start.
Joe tucked the warm blanket well around Mabel, and then called to the stranger:
"Get up on the front seat, and I'll soon have you in Riverside. It isn't very far now."
"Thanks," said the man, briefly. "This is better luck than I've had in some time."
For a while, after the mishap, none of the occupants of the cutter spoke, as the willing horses pulled it through the big drifts of snow. Joe drove more carefully, taking care not to turn too suddenly, and he avoided, as well as he could, the huge heaps of white crystals that, every moment, were piling higher.
Reggie was snuggling down in the robes, and Mabel, too, rather worn out by the events of the day, and the worry of being snowed in, maintained silence.
As for Joe, he had all he could do to manage the horses in the storm, though the beasts did not seem inclined to make any more trouble. The man on the seat beside him appeared wrapped, not only in his heavy garments, but in a sort of gloomy silence, as well. He did not speak again, and Joe was still puzzling over his identity.
"For I'm sure I've met him before, and more than once," reasoned Joe. "But then I've met so many fellows, playing ball all around the country, that it's no wonder I can't recall a certain voice. Maybe I'll get a chance to have a good look at him later."
"You'll come right to our house," said Joe, turning to speak to Mabel and Reggie. "Mother said so."
"Oh, but we have our rooms engaged at the hotel," objected the other youth.
"That doesn't matter. You can go there later, if you like. But mother insisted that I bring you home," Joe went on. "You can be more comfortable there—at least, until you get over this cold trip."
"It's perfectly lovely of your mother," declared Mabel. "But I don't want to put her to so much inconvenience."
"It isn't any inconvenience at all," laughed Joe. "She wants to meet you, and so does my sister Clara."
"And I want to meet them," responded Mabel, with a blush that was unseen in the darkness.
"Well, have it your own way," said Reggie, who was, perhaps, rather too much inclined to give in easily. Life came very easy to him, anyhow. "It's very nice of you to put us up, Joe. By the way, how is your father since the operation?"
"Oh, he has almost entirely recovered. His eyesight is better than ever, he says."
"How lovely!" cried Mabel. "And how lucky it was, Joe, that your share of the money your team got for winning the pennant helped to make the operation possible."
"Yes, I sure do owe a debt of gratitude to baseball," admitted the young pitcher.
"Do you play ball?" suddenly asked the man on the seat beside Joe.
"Yes, I play at it," was the modest answer.
"Amateur or professional?"
"Professional. I am with the Central League."
Was it fancy, or did the man give a sudden start, that might indicate surprise? Joe could not be sure.
"I suppose you'll be at it again this year, Joe," put in Reggie.
"Oh, yes. But I may change my club. I'll tell you about it later. We'll soon be at the house. Is there any special place I can take you to, in Riverside?" asked Joe of the stranger.
"Well, I'm looking for a young fellow named Matson," was the unexpected answer.
"Matson?" cried Joe. "Why, that's my name!"
"Joe Matson?" the man exclaimed, drawing slightly away in order, possibly, to get a better look at the young player.
"I'm Joe Matson—yes. Are you looking for me?"
"I was, and I'm glad I found you!" the man exclaimed. "I've got a very special request to make of you. Is there some hotel, or boarding house, where I could put up, and where I could see you—later?" he asked, eagerly.
"Why, yes, there are several such places in town," said Joe, slowly, trying, harder than ever, to place the man who had so unexpectedly appeared.
"Take me to a quiet one—not too high-priced," requested the man in a low voice. "I want to see you on a very particular matter—that is, it's particular to me," he added, significantly. "Will you come and see me—after you take care of your friends?"
"Why, yes, I guess so—perhaps to-morrow," replied Joe, for he did not fancy going out in the storm again that night. "But why can't you stop off at my house now?" he asked.
"No, I don't want to do that," the man objected. "I'd rather you would come to see me," and there was a note of appeal in his voice.
"Very well, I'll see you to-morrow," Joe promised, wondering if this man's seeking of him had any connection with his possible draft to the St. Louis Cardinals.
"Here's a boarding house that will suit you, I think," announced Joe, a little later, as he stopped the horses in front of a sort of hostelry of good reputation. It was not as large nor as stylish as some of the other places in Riverside, but Joe bore in mind the man's request to be taken to a moderate-priced establishment.
"Thanks," said the stranger. "Then you'll come here to see me to-morrow? I'll be in all day."
"I'll call in the afternoon, Mr.—er——" and Joe hesitated. "I don't believe I caught your name," he said, significantly.
"No, I didn't mention it, but it's Shalleg," was the answer.
"Oh, of the Clevefield team!" exclaimed the young player, knowing now where he had heard the voice before.
"Yes, of the Clevefield team," admitted Mr. Shalleg, repeating the name of one of the nines forming the Central League, and which team Joe's club had met several times on the diamond.
"I was trying, ever since you spoke, to recall where I'd met you before," went on Joe, "but you had me guessing. I'm glad to meet you again. I suppose you're going to stay with the League this coming season?"
"I—er—I haven't quite made my plans," was the somewhat hesitating answer. "I've been looking about. I was over in Rocky Ford this morning, seeing a friend, and I happened to recall that you lived in Riverside, so I came on, but lost my way in the storm. I didn't recognize you back there, where you had the upset."
"The lack of recognition was mutual," laughed Joe, puzzling over what Shalleg's object could be in seeking him. "Well, I must get these folks in out of the storm," Joe went on. "I'll see you to-morrow, Mr. Shalleg."
The latter alighted from the cutter, and entered the boarding house, while Joe turned the heads of the horses toward his own home.
"I guess you'll be glad to get indoors," he said to Reggie and Mabel.
"Well, it's pretty cold," Reggie admitted, "though I suppose my sister will say she likes it."
"I do!" declared Mabel. "But it isn't so nice when it's dark," she confessed.
They were now on the principal street of Riverside, and the lamps from the shop windows gleamed dimly on the swirling flakes, and drifts of snow.
A little later Joe pulled up in front of his own house, and escorted the visitors into the cheery living room.
"Here they are, Mother—Clara!" he called, as Mrs. Matson and her daughter came out to welcome their guests.
"I am glad to see you," said Clara, simply, as she kissed Mabel——and one look from the sister's eyes told Joe that Clara approved of his friends.
"Where's father?" asked Joe.
"Bathing his eyes," replied his mother. "He'll be here presently," for Mr. Matson had recently undergone an operation on his eyes, after an accident, and they still needed care.
Soon a merry party was gathered about the supper table, where the events of the day were told, from the receipt by Joe of the two letters, to the rescue from the stalled train, and the accident in the snow.
"But I sure would like to know what it is Shalleg wants," mused Joe, who had come back from leaving the horses at the livery stable. "I sure would."
"Didn't he give you any hint?" asked Clara.
"No. But perhaps he wants some advice about baseball matters. I'm getting to be some pumpkins, you know, since St. Louis is after me!" cried Joe, with simulated pride.
"Oh, do tell us about it!" cried Mabel, and Joe related the news of the draft that would probably take him to the big league.
Reggie and Mabel spent the night at Joe's house. The storm kept up through the hours of darkness, and part of the next day, when it stopped, and the sun came out. Old Sol shone on a scene of whiteness, where big drifts of snow were piled here and there.
"I wonder how the stalled train is faring?" remarked Mabel, after breakfast. "We'll have to get our trunks away from it, somehow, Reggie."
"Yes, I suppose so," he said. "And I've got to look after those business matters. I think we had better go to the hotel," he added.
"Very well," assented Joe. "I'll go down to the station with you, and we'll see about your baggage."
"I'll stay here until you boys come back," decided Mabel, who had taken as great a liking to Clara, as the latter had to her.
Joe and Reggie found that the train was still stalled in the snow drift, but a large force of shovelers was at work, and the prospect was that the line would be opened that afternoon. Thereupon Reggie went to the hotel to arrange about his own room, and one for his sister.
"And I'll go see Shalleg," decided Joe. "Might as well get it over with, though I did tell him I wouldn't come until afternoon. I'm anxious to know what it's all about."
"He's making a sort of mystery of it," observed Reggie.
"Somewhat," admitted Joe, with a smile.
Greatly to his relief (for Joe was anxious to get the matter over with) he found Shalleg at the boarding house when he called.
"Come up to my room," invited the baseball player. "It's warmer than down in the parlor."
In his room he motioned Joe to a chair, and then, looking intently at the young pitcher, said:
"Matson, do you know what it is to be down and out?"
"Down and out? What do you mean?"
"I mean to have few friends, and less money. Do you know what that means?"
"Well, not personally," said Joe, "though I can't boast of a superfluity of money myself."
"You've got more than I have!" snapped Shalleg.
"I don't know about that," said Joe, slowly, wondering whither the conversation was leading.
"Your team won the pennant!" cried the man, and Joe, as he caught the odor of his breath, realized what made Shalleg's manner so excited. The man was partially intoxicated. Joe wished he had not come. "Your team won the pennant," Shalleg went on, "and that meant quite a little money for every player. You must have gotten your share, and I'd like to borrow some of you, Matson. I'm down and out, I tell you, and I need money bad—until I can get on my feet again."
Joe did not answer for a moment, but mentally he found a reason for Shalleg's being "off his feet" at present. Bad habits, very likely.
"Can you let me have some money—until Spring opens?" proceeded Shalleg. "You'll be earning more then, whether I am or not, for I don't know that I'm going back with Clevefield. I suppose you'll play with the Pittston team?"
"I don't know," answered Joe, preferring to reply to that question first. He wanted time to think about the other.
"You don't know!" Shalleg exclaimed, in surprise.
"No. I hear I am to be drafted to the St. Louis Nationals."
"The St. Louis Nationals!" cried Shalleg. "That team! Why, that team is the one I——"
He came to a sudden halt.
"What is it?" asked Joe, wonderingly.
"I—er—I—er—well, never mind, now. Can you let me have—say, two hundred dollars?"
"Two hundred dollars!" cried Joe. "I haven't that much money to spare. And, if I had, I don't know that I would be doing my duty to my father and mother to lend it."
"But I need it!" cried Shalleg. "Did you ever know what it was to be down and out?"
"Well, I've seen such sad cases, and I'm sorry for you," spoke Joe, softly. He thought of John Dutton, the broken-down pitcher whose rescue, from a life of ruin, had been due largely to our hero's efforts, as told in the volume immediately preceding this.
"Being sorry isn't going to help," sneered Shalleg, and there was an ugly note in his voice. "I need money! You must have some left from your pennant winnings."
"I had to spend a large sum for my father's operation," said Joe. "He has had bad luck, too. I really have no money to spare."
"That's not so—I don't believe you!" snapped Shalleg. "You must have money, and I've got to get some. I've been begging from a lot of fellows who played ball with me, but they all turned me down. Now you're doing the same thing. You'd better be careful. I'm a desperate man!"
"What do you mean?" asked Joe, in some alarm, for he thought the fellow meditated an attack. Joe looked to see with what he could defend himself, and he noted, though with no cowardly satisfaction, that the door to the hall was close at hand.
"I mean just what I say. I'm desperately in need of money."
"Well, I'm very sorry, but I'm not in a position to be able to help you," said Joe, firmly. "Why don't you go to the manager of your team, and get him to give you an advance on your salary? That is often done. I'm sure if you told him your need he'd do it."
"No, he wouldn't!" growled Shalleg. "I've got to borrow it somewhere else. Then you won't let me have it?" and he glowered at Joe.
"I can't, even if I would."
"I don't believe it!" snarled the other. "And now I tell you one thing. I'm a bad man to be bad friends with. If you don't let me have this money it will be the worse for you."
"I guess you are forgetting yourself," returned Joe, quietly. "I did not come here to be threatened, or insulted. I guess you are not yourself, Mr. Shalleg. I am sorry, and I'll bid you good day."
With that Joe walked out, but not before the infuriated man called after him:
"And so you're going to St. Louis; are you? Well, look out for me, that's all I've got to say! Look out for Bill Shalleg!" and he slammed the door after Joe.
Joe Matson's brain was in a whirl as he left the boarding house where Shalleg had made his strange threat. The young pitcher had never before gone through such an experience, and it had rather unnerved him.
"I wonder what I'd better do?" he mused, as he walked along the street, where many men were busy clearing away the snow. "I don't like to report what he said to me to any of the baseball authorities, for it would look as though I was afraid of him. And I'm not!" declared Joe, sturdily. "Shalleg wasn't himself, or he wouldn't have said such things. He didn't know quite what he was doing, I guess."
But, the more Joe thought of it, as he trudged along, the more worried he became.
"He has a very bad temper, and he might do me some injury," mused Joe. "But, after all, what can he do? If he stays on the Clevefield team, and I go to St. Louis, we'll be far enough apart. I guess I won't do anything about it now."
But the youth could not altogether conceal the emotions that had swayed him during the strange interview. When, a little later, he called at the hotel to see if Reggie and his sister had comfortable rooms, his face must have showed something unusual, for Mabel asked:
"Why, Joe, what is the matter?"
"Matter? Nothing," he replied, with a laugh, but it was rather forced.
"You look as though—something had happened," the girl went on. "Perhaps you haven't recovered from your efforts to rescue us from the stalled train last night."
"Oh, yes, I'm all over that," declared Joe, more at his ease now.
"It was awfully good of you," proceeded Mabel. "Just think; suppose we had had to stay in that train until now?"
"Oh, they've been relieved by this time," spoke Joe.
"Yes, but they had to stay there all night. I can't thank you enough for coming after us. Are you sure there is nothing the matter?" she insisted. "You haven't had bad news, about not making the St. Louis team; have you?"
"No, indeed. I haven't had any news at all since that one letter from Mr. Gregory. And no news is good news, they say."
"Not always," and she smiled.
"Are you comfortable here?" asked Joe, as he sat in the parlor between the bedrooms of brother and sister.
"Oh, yes. And Reggie likes it very much. He has a lot of business to attend to. Father is putting more and more on his shoulders each year. He wants him finally to take it up altogether. Reggie doesn't care so much for it, but it's good for him," and she smiled frankly at Joe.
"Yes, work is good," he admitted, "even if it is only playing baseball."
"And that sometimes seems to me like hard work," responded Mabel.
"It is," Joe admitted. "How long do you stay in Riverside?"
"Three or four days yet. Why?"
"Because there'll be good sleighing, and I thought perhaps you'd like to go out for a ride."
"I shall be delighted!"
"Then I'll arrange for it. Won't you come over to the house this evening?"
"I have an engagement," she laughed.
Joe looked disappointed. Mabel smiled.
"It's with your sister," she said. "I promised to come over and learn a new lace pattern."
"I'm just crazy about fancy work myself!" and Joe laughed in turn. "It's as bad as the new dances. I guess I'll stay home, too."
"Do," Mabel invited. And when Joe took his leave some of the worry caused by Shalleg's threat had passed away.
"I guess I'll say nothing about it," mused our hero. "It would do no good, and if father and mother heard about it they might worry. I'll just fight it out all alone. I guess Shalleg was only a 'bluff,' anyhow. He may be in desperate straits, but he had no right to make threats like that."
Riverside was storm-bound for several days, and when she was finally dug out, and conditions were normal, there was still plenty of snow left for sleighing. Joe planned to take Mabel for a ride, and Reggie, hearing of it, asked Clara to be his guest.
Two or three days passed, and Joe neither saw nor heard any more of Shalleg, except to learn, by judicious inquiry, that the surly and threatening fellow had left the boarding house to which Joe had taken him.
"I guess he's gone off to try his game on some other players in the League," thought the young pitcher. "I hope he doesn't succeed, though. If he got money I'm afraid he'd make a bad use of it."
There came another letter from Mr. Gregory, in which he told Joe that, while the matter was still far from being settled, the chances were that the young pitcher would be drafted to St. Louis.
"I will let you know, in plenty of time, whether you are to train with us, or with the big league," the manager of the Pittston team wrote. "So you will have to hold yourself in readiness to do one or the other."
"They don't give you much choice; do they?" spoke Reggie, when Joe told him this news. "You've got to do just as they tell you; haven't you?"
"In a measure, yes," assented Joe. "Baseball is big business. Why, I read an article the other day that stated how over fifty million persons pay fifteen million dollars every year just to see the games, and the value of the different clubs, grounds and so on mounts up to many millions more."
"It sure is big business," agreed Reggie. "I might go into it myself."
"Well, more than one fortune has been made at it," observed Joe.
"But I don't like the idea of the club owners and managers doing as they please with the players. It seems to take away your freedom," argued the other lad.
"Well, in a sense I suppose it does," admitted Joe. "And yet the interests of the players are always being looked after. We don't have to be baseball players unless we want to; but, once we sign a contract, we have to abide by it.
"Then, too, the present organization has brought to the players bigger salaries than they ever got before. Of course we chaps in the minor leagues aren't bid for, as are those in the big leagues. But we always hope to be."
"It seems funny, for one manager to buy a player from another manager," went on Reggie.
"I suppose so, but I've grown sort of used to it," Joe replied. "Of course the players themselves don't benefit by the big sum one manager may give another for the services of a star fielder or pitcher, but it all helps our reputations."
"Is the St. Louis team considered pretty good?" Reggie wanted to know.
"Well, it could be better," confessed Joe, slowly. "They reached one place from the top of the second division last season, but if I play with them I'll try to pull them to the top of the second half, anyhow," he added, with a laugh. "The Cardinals never have been considered so very good, but the club is a money-maker, and we can't all be pennant winners," he admitted, frankly.
"No, I suppose not," agreed Reggie. "Well, I wish you luck, whatever you do this Summer. If I ever get out to St. Louis I'll stop off and see you play."
"Do," urged Joe. He hoped Mabel would come also.
When Joe reached home that afternoon his mother met him in the living room, and said quickly:
"Someone is waiting for you in the parlor, Joe."
"Gracious! I hope it isn't Shalleg!" thought the young pitcher. "If he has come here to make trouble——" And his heart sank.
But as he entered the room a glad smile came over his face.
"Hello, Charlie Hall!" he cried, at the sight of the shortstop of the Pittston team, with whom Joe had been quite chummy during the league season. "What good wind blows you here?"
"Oh, you know I'm a traveling salesman during the Winter, and I happened to make this town to-day. Just thought I'd step up and see how you were."
"Glad you did! It's a real pleasure to see you. Going back at the game in the Spring, I expect; aren't you?"
"Sure. I wouldn't miss it for anything. But what's this I hear about you?"
"I don't know. Nothing to my discredit, I hope," and Joe smiled.
"Far from it, old man. But there's a rumor among some of the old boys that you're to be drafted to the Cardinals. How about it?"
"Well, Gregory told me as much, but it isn't all settled yet. Say, Charlie, now you're here, I want to ask you something."
"Do you know a fellow named Shalleg?"
Charlie Hall started.
"It's queer you should ask me that," he responded, slowly.
"Why?" Joe wanted to know.
"Because that's one of the reasons I stopped up to talk to you. I want to warn you against Shalleg."
"Warn me! What do you mean?" and Joe thought of the threats the man had made.
"Why, you know he's out of the Clevefield team; don't you?"
"No, I didn't know it," replied Joe. "But go on. I'll tell you something pretty soon."
"Yes, he's been given his unconditional release," went on Charlie. "He got to gambling, and doing other things no good ball player can expect to do, and keep in the game, and he was let go. And I heard something that made me come here to warn you, Joe. There may be nothing in it, but Shalleg——"
There came a knock at the door of the parlor, and Joe held up a warning hand.
"Wait a minute," he whispered.
There was silence for a moment, following Joe's warning, and then the voice of his mother was heard:
"Joe, you're wanted on the telephone."
"Oh, all right," he answered in a relieved tone. "I didn't want her to hear about Shalleg," he added in a whisper to Charlie. "She and father would worry, and, with his recent sickness, that wouldn't be a good thing for him."
"I should say not," agreed the other ball player.
"I'll be right there, Mother," went on Joe, in louder tones and then he went to the hall, where the telephone stood. It was only a message from a local sporting goods dealer, saying that he had secured for Joe a certain glove he had had made to order.
Joe went back to his chum, and the baseball talk was renewed.
"What were you going to say that Shalleg was up to?" asked Joe.
"As I was saying," resumed Charlie, "there may be nothing in the rumor, but it's the talk, in baseball circles, that Shalleg has been trying his best, since being released, to get a place with the Cardinals."
"You don't mean it!" cried Joe. "That accounts for his surprise, and perhaps for his bitter feeling against me when I told him there was a chance that I would go to St. Louis."
"Probably," agreed Charlie. "So, having heard this, and knowing that Shalleg is a hard character, I thought I'd warn you."
"I'm glad you did," returned Joe warmly. "It was very good of you to go to that trouble. And, after the experience I had with Shalleg, I shouldn't wonder but what there was something in it. Though why he should be vindictive toward me is more than I can fathom. I certainly never did anything to him, except to refuse to lend him money, and I actually had to do that."
"Of course," agreed Charlie. "But I guess, from his bad habits, his mind is warped. He is abnormal, and your refusal, coupled with the fact that you are probably going to a team that he has tried his best to make, and can't, simply made him wild. So, if I were you, I should be on the lookout, Joe."
"I certainly will. It's queer that I met Shalleg the way I did—in the storm. It was quite an unusual coincidence. It seems he had been to Rocky Ford, a town near here, to see if he could borrow money from somebody there—at least so he said. Then he heard I lived here, and he started for Riverside, and got lost on the way, in the storm. Altogether it was rather queer. I never was so surprised in my life as when, after riding with me for some time, the man said he was looking for me."
"It was queer," agreed Charlie. "Well, the only thing to do, after this, is to steer clear of him. And, after all, it may only be talk."
"Yes," assented Joe, "and now let's talk about something pleasant. How are you, anyhow? What are your plans for the coming season? And how are all the boys since we played the last pennant game?"
"Gracious!" exclaimed Charlie with a laugh. "You fire almost as many questions at a fellow as a lawyer would."
Then the two plunged into baseball talk, which, as it has no special interest for my readers, I shall omit.
"Have you anything special to do?" asked Joe, as Charlie and he came to a pause in recalling scenes and incidents, many of which you will find set down in the previous book of this series.
"No. After I clean up all the orders I can here I will have a few days' vacation," replied Hall.
"Good!" cried Joe. "Then spend them with me. Reggie Varley and his sister are here for a while—you remember Reggie; don't you, Charlie?"
"As well as you remember his sister, I reckon," was the laughing rejoinder.
"Never mind that. Then I'll count on you. I'll introduce you to a nice girl, and we'll get up a little sleigh-riding party. There'll be a fine moon in a couple of nights."
"Go as far as you like with me," invited Charlie. "I'm not in training yet, and I guess a late oyster supper, after a long ride, won't do me any particular harm."
Charlie departed for the hotel, to get his baggage, for he was going to finish out the rest of his stay in Riverside as Joe's guest, and the young pitcher went to get the new glove, about which he had received the telephone message.
It was a little later that day that, as Clara was passing her brother's room, she heard a curious, thumping noise.
"I wonder what that is?" she murmured. "Sounds as though Joe were working at a punching bag. Joe, what in the world are you doing?" she asked, pausing outside his door.
"Making a pocket in my new glove," he answered. "Come on in, Sis. I'm all covered with olive oil, or I'd open the door for you."
"Olive oil! The idea! Are you making a salad, as well?" she asked laughingly, as she pushed open the portal.
She saw her brother, attired in old clothes, alternately pouring a few drops of olive oil on his new pitcher's glove, and then, with an old baseball pounding a hollow place in the palm.
"What does it mean?" asked Clara.
"Oh, I'm just limbering up my new glove," answered Joe. "If I'm to play with a big team, like the St. Louis Cardinals, I want to have the best sort of an outfit. You know a ball will often slip out of a new glove, so I'm making a sort of 'pocket' in this one, only not as deep as in a catcher's mitt, so it will hold the ball better."
"But why the olive oil?"
"Oh, well, of course any good oil would do, but this was the handiest. The oil softens the leather, and makes it pliable. And say, if you haven't anything else to do, there's an old glove, that's pretty badly ripped; you might sew it up. It will do to practice with."
"I'll sew it to-morrow, Joe. I've got to make a new collar now. Mabel and I are going to the matinee, and I want to look my best."
"Oh, all right," agreed Joe easily. "There's no special hurry," and he went on thumping the baseball into the hollow of the new glove.
"Well, Joe, is there anything new in the baseball situation?" asked Mr. Matson of his son a little later. The inventor, whose eyesight had been saved by the operation (to pay for which most of Joe's pennant money went) was able to give part of his time to his business now.
"No, there's not much new, Dad," replied the young player. "I am still waiting to hear definitely about St. Louis. I do hope I am drafted there."
"It means quite an advance for you; doesn't it, Joe?"
"Indeed it does, Dad. There aren't many players who are taken out of a small league, to a major one, at the close of their first season. I suppose I ought to be proud."
"Well, I hope you are, Joe, in a proper way," said Mr. Matson. "Pride, of the right sort, is very good. And I'm glad of your prospective advance. I am sure it was brought about by hard work, and, after all, that is the only thing that counts. And you did work hard, Joe."
"Yes, I suppose I did," admitted the young pitcher modestly, as he thought of the times he pitched when his arm ached, and when his nerves were all unstrung on account of the receipt of bad news. "But other fellows worked hard, too," he went on. "You've got to work hard in baseball."
"Will it be any easier on the St. Louis team?" his father wanted to know.
"No, it will be harder," replied Joe. "I might as well face that at once."
And it was well that Joe had thus prepared himself in advance, for before him, though he did not actually know it, were the hardest struggles to which a young pitcher could be subjected.
"Yes, there'll be hard work," Joe went on, "but I don't mind. I like it. And I'm not so foolish as to think that I'm going to go in, right off the reel, and become the star pitcher of the team. I guess I'll have to sit back, and warm the bench for quite a considerable time before I'm called on to pull the game out of the fire."
"Well, that's all right, as long as you're there when the time comes," said his father. "Stick to it, Joe, now that you are in it. Your mother didn't take much to baseball at first, but, the more I see of it, and read of it, the more I realize that it's a great business, and a clean sport. I'm glad you're in it, Joe."
"And I am too, Dad."
"Are we all here?"
"Oh, what a glorious night!"
"Did you ever see such a moon!"
"Looks about as big as a baseball does when you're far from first and the pitcher is heaving it over, to tag you out!"
This last observation from Joe Matson.
"Oh, what an unpoetical remark to make!"
That from Mabel Varley.
There came a chorus of laughter, shouts, good-natured jibes, little shrieks and giggles from the girls, and chuckles from the young men.
"Well, let's get started," proposed Joe.
It was the occasion of the sleigh ride that Joe had gotten up, ostensibly for the enjoyment of a number of his young friends, but, in reality for Mabel, who, with her brother, was still staying on in Riverside, for the Varley business was not yet finished.
It was a glorious, wintry night, and in the sky hung the silvery moon, lighting up a few fleecy clouds with glinting beams, and bringing into greater brightness the sparkling snow that encrusted the earth.
"Count noses," suggested Charlie Hill, who, with a young lady to whom Joe had introduced him a day or so before, was in the sleighing party.
"I'll help," volunteered Mabel, who, of course, was being escorted by Joe, while Reggie had Clara under his care. Mabel and Joe made sure that all of their party were present. They were gathered in the office of the livery stable, whence they were to start, to go to a hotel about twelve miles distant—a hotel famous for its oyster suppers, as many a sleighing party, of which Joe had been a member, could testify. Following the supper there was to be a little dance, and the party, properly chaperoned, expected to return some time before morning.
"Yes, I guess we're all here," Joe announced, as he looked among the young people. And it was no easy task to make sure, for they were constantly shifting about, going here and there, friends greeting friends.
Four sturdy horses were attached to a big barge, in the bottom of which had been spread clean straw, for it was quite frosty, and, in spite of heavy wraps and blankets, feet would get cold. But the straw served, in a measure, to keep them warm.
"All aboard!" cried Charlie Hill, who had made himself a general favorite with all of Joe's friends. "All aboard!"
"Why don't you say 'play ball'?" asked Mabel, with a laugh. "It seems to me, with a National Leaguer with us, the least we could do would be to make that our rallying cry!" Mabel was a real "sport."
"I'm not a big leaguer yet," protested Joe. "Don't go too strong on that. I may be turned back into the bushes."
"Not much danger," commented Charlie, as he thought of the fine work Joe had done in times past. Joe was a natural born pitcher, but he had developed his talents by hard work, as my readers know.
Into the sled piled the laughing, happy young folks, and then, snugly tucked in, the word was given, and, with a merry jingle of bells, away they went over the white snow.
There were the old-time songs sung, after the party had reached the open country, and had taken the edge off their exuberance by tooting tin horns. "Aunt Dinah's Quilting Party," "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," "Old Black Joe"—all these, and some other, more modern, songs were sung, more or less effectively. But, after all, it was the spirit and not the melody that counted.
On over the snowy road went the big sled, pulled by the willing horses, who seemed all the more willing because of the joyous party they were dragging along.
"Look out for this grade-crossing," remarked Joe to the driver, for they were approaching the railroad.
"I will, Joe," the man replied. "I have good occasion to remember this place, too."
"So have I," spoke Mabel, in a low voice to her escort. "There is where we were snowed in; isn't it?" she asked, nodding in the direction of Deep Rock Cut.
"That's the place," replied Joe.
"Yes, sir, I have occasion to remember this place," went on the driver. "And I'm always careful when I cross here, ever since, two years ago, I was nearly run down by a train. I had just such a load of young folks as I've got now," he went on.
"How did it happen?" asked Reggie, as the runners scraped over the bare rails, a look up and down the moon-lit track showing no train in sight.
"Well, the party was making quite a racket, and I didn't hear the whistle of the train," resumed the driver. "It was an extra, and I didn't count on it. We were on our way home, and we had a pretty narrow escape. Just got over in time, I tell you. The young folks were pretty quiet after that, and I was glad it happened on the way home, instead of going, or it would have spoiled all their fun. And, ever since then, whether I know there's a train due or not, I'm always careful of this crossing."
"It makes one feel ever so much safer to have a driver like him," spoke Mabel to Clara.
"Oh, we can always trust Frank," replied Joe's sister.
Laughing, shouting, singing and blowing the horns, the party went on its merry way, until the hotel was reached.
Everything was in readiness for the young people, for the arrangements had been made in advance, and soon after the girls had "dolled-up," as Joe put it, by which he meant arranged their hair, that had become blown about under the scarfs they wore, they all sat down to a bountifully-spread table.
"Reminds me of the dinner we had, after we won the pennant," said Charlie Hall.
"Only it's so different," added Joe. "That was a hot night."
Talk and merry laughter, mingled with baseball conversation went around the table. Joe did not care to "talk shop," but somehow or other, he could not keep away from the subject that was nearest his heart. Nor could Charlie, and the two shot diamond discussion back and forth, the others joining in occasionally.
The meal was drawing to an end. Reggie Varley, pouring out a glass of water, rose to his feet.
"Friends and fellow citizens," he began in a sort of "toastmaster voice."
"Hear! Hear!" echoed Charlie, entering into the spirit of the occasion.
"We have with us this evening," went on Reggie, in the approved manner of after-dinner introductions, "one whom you all well know, and whom it is scarcely necessary to name——"
"Hear! Hear!" interrupted Charlie, pounding on the table with his knife handle.
All eyes were turned toward Joe, who could not help blushing.
"I rise to propose the health of one whom we all know and love," went on Reggie, "and to assure him that we all wish him well in his new place."
"Better wait until I get it," murmured Joe, to whom this was a great surprise.
"To wish him all success," went on Reggie. "And I desire to add that, as a token of our esteem, and the love in which we hold him, we wish to present him this little token—and may it be a lucky omen for him when he is pitching away in the big league," and with this Reggie handed to Joe a stick-pin, in the shape of a baseball, the seams outlined in diamonds, and a little ruby where the trademark would have been.
Poor Joe was taken quite by surprise.
"Speech! Speech!" came the general cry.
Joe fumbled the pin in his fingers, and for a moment there was a mist before his eyes. This little surprise had been arranged by Reggie, and he had quietly worked up the idea among Joe's many young friends, all of whom had contributed to the cost of the token.
"Go on! Say something!" urged Mabel, at Joe's side.
"Well—er—well, I—er—I don't know what to say," he stammered, "except that this is a great surprise to me, and that I—er—I thank you!"
He sat down amid applause, and someone started up the song "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow!"
It was sung with a will. Altogether the affair was successfully carried out, and formed one of the most pleasant remembrances in the life of Baseball Joe.
After the presentation, others made impromptu speeches, even the girls being called on by Reggie, to whom the position of toastmaster particularly appealed.
The supper was over. The girls were in the dressing room, donning their wraps, and Joe and Reggie had gone to the office to pay the bill.
The proprietor of the hotel was in the men's room, and going there Joe was greeted by name, for the hotel man knew him well.
"Everything satisfactory, Mr. Matson?" the host asked, and at the mention of Joe's name, a rough-looking fellow, who was buying a cigar, looked up quickly.
"Yes, Mr. Todd, everything was fine," replied Joe, not noticing the man's glance. "Now we'll settle with you."
"No hurry," said the proprietor. "I hear you're going to leave us soon—going up to a higher class in baseball, Joe."
"Well, there's some talk of it," admitted our hero, and as he took out the money to make the payment, the rough-looking man passed behind him. Joe dropped a coin, and, in stooping to pick it up, he moved back a step. As he did so, he either collided with the man, who had observed him so narrowly, or else the fellow deliberately ran into Joe.
"Look out where you're walking! You stepped on my foot!" exclaimed the man in surly tones. "Can't you see what you're doing? you country gawk!"
"I beg your pardon," spoke Joe quietly, but a red flush came into his face, and his hands clenched involuntarily.
"Huh! Trying to put on high society airs; eh?" sneered the other. "I'll soon take that out of you. I say you stepped on me on purpose."
"You are mistaken," said Joe, still quietly.
"Huh! Do you mean to say I'm sayin' what ain't so?" demanded the other.
"If you like to put it that way; yes," declared Joe, determined to stand upon his rights, for he felt that it had not been his fault.
"Be careful," warned Reggie, in a low voice.
"Say, young feller, I don't allow nobody to say that to me!" blustered the fellow, advancing on Joe with an ugly look. "You'll either beg my pardon, or give me satisfaction! I'll——"
"Now here. None of that!" interposed the proprietor. "You aren't hurt, Wessel."
"How do you know? And didn't he accuse me of——"
"Oh, get out. You're always ready to pick a quarrel," went on the hotel man. "Move on!"
"Well, then let him beg my pardon," insisted the other. "If he don't, I'll take it out of him," and his clenched fist indicated his meaning only too plainly.
JOE IS DRAFTED
For a moment Joe stood facing the angry man—unnecessarily angry, it seemed—since, even if the young ball player had trod on his foot, the injury could not have amounted to much.
"I told you once that I was sorry for having collided with you, though I do not believe it was my fault," spoke Joe, holding himself in check with an effort. "That is all I intend to say, and you may make the most of it."
"I'll make the most of you, if you don't look out!" blustered the man. "If you'll just step outside we can settle this little argument to the queen's taste," and he seemed very eager to have Joe accept his challenge.
"Now see here! There'll be no fighting on these premises," declared the hotel proprietor, with conviction.
"No, we'll do it outside," growled the man.
"Not with me. I don't intend to fight you," said Joe as quietly as he could.
"Huh! Afraid; eh?"
"No, not afraid."
"Well, you're a coward and a——"
"That will do, Wessel. Get out!" and the proprietor's voice left no room for argument. The man slunk away, giving Joe a surly look, and then the supper bill was paid, and receipted.
"Who was he?" asked Joe, when the fellow was out of sight.
"Oh, I don't know any good of him," replied the hotel man. "He's been hanging around town ever since the ball season closed."
"Is he a player?" Joe inquired.
"No. I'm inclined to think he's a gambler. I know he was always wanting to make bets on the games around here, but no one paid much attention to him. You don't know him; do you?"
"Never saw him before, as far as I recollect," returned Joe slowly. "I wonder why he wanted to pick a quarrel with me? For that was certainly his object."
"It was," agreed Reggie, "and he didn't pay much attention to you until he heard your name."
"I wonder if he could be——?" began Joe, and then he hesitated in his half-formed question. Reggie looked at his friend inquiringly, but Joe did not proceed.
"Don't say anything about this to the girls," requested Joe, as they went upstairs.
"Oh, no, of course not," agreed Reggie. "He was only some loafer, I expect, who had a sore head. Best to keep it quiet."
Joe was more upset by the incident than he liked to admit. He could not understand the man's motive in trying so hard to force him into a fight.
"Not that I would be afraid," reasoned Joe, for he was in good condition, and in splendid fighting trim, due to his clean living and his outdoor playing. "I think I could have held my own with him," he thought, "only I don't believe in fighting, if it can be avoided.
"But there was certainly something more than a little quarrel back of it all. Wessel is his name; eh? I must remember that."
Joe made a mental note of it, but he little realized that he was to hear the name again under rather strange circumstances.
"What's the matter?" asked Mabel, on the way home in the sleigh, drawn by the prancing horses with their jingling bells.
"Why?" parried Joe.
"You are so quiet."
"Well—I didn't count on so much happening to-night."
"You mean about that little pin? I think it's awfully sweet."
"Did you help pick it out?" asked Joe, seeing a chance to turn the conversation.
"Yes. Reggie asked me what I thought would be nice, and I chose that."
"Couldn't have been better," declared Joe, with enthusiasm. "I shall always keep it!"
They rode on, but Joe could not shake off the mood that had seized him. He could not forget the look and words of the man who endeavored to force a quarrel with him—for what object Joe could only guess.
"I'm sure there's something the matter," insisted Mabel, when the song "Jingle Bells!" had died away. "Have I done anything to displease you?" she asked, for she had "split" one dance with Charlie Hall.
"No, indeed!" cried Joe, glad that he could put emphasis into his denial. "There's nothing really the matter."
"Unless you're sorry you're going away out to Missouri," persisted the girl.
"Well, I am sorry—that is, if I really have to go," spoke the young ball player sincerely. "Of course it isn't at all certain that I will go."
"Oh, I guess it's certain enough," she said. "And I really hope you do go."
"It's pretty far off," said Joe. "I'll have to make my headquarters in St. Louis."
"Reggie and I expect to be in the West a good part of the coming Summer," went on Mabel, in even tones. "It's barely possible that Reggie may make his business headquarters in St. Louis, for papa's trade is shifting out that way."
"You don't mean it!" cried Joe, and some of his companions in the sleigh wondered at the warmth of his tone.
"Oh, yes, I do," said Mabel. "So I shall see you play now and then; for I'm as ardent a 'fan' as I ever was."
"That's good," returned Joe. "I'm glad I'm going to a major league—that is, if they draft me," he added quickly. "I didn't know you might be out there."
From then on the thought of going to St. Louis was more pleasant to Joe.
The sleigh ride was a great success in every particular. The young people reached home rather late—or, rather early in the morning, happy and not too tired.
"It was fine; wasn't it?" whispered Clara, as she and her brother tip-toed their way into the house, so as not to awaken their parents.
"Dandy!" he answered softly.
"Weren't you surprised about the pin?"
"Of course I was."
"But you don't seem exactly happy. Is something worrying you? I heard Mabel ask you the same thing."
"Did you?" inquired Joe, non-committally.
"Yes. Is anything the matter?"
"No, Sis. Get to bed. It's late."
Clara paused for a moment. She realized that Joe had not answered her question as she would have liked.
"But I guess he's thinking of the change he may have to make," the sister argued. "Joe is a fine fellow. He certainly has gone ahead in baseball faster than he would have done in some other line of endeavor. Well, it's good he likes it.
"And yet," she mused, as she went to her room, "I wonder what it is that is worrying him?"
If she could have seen Joe, at that same moment, sitting on the edge of a chair in his apartment, moodily staring at the wall, she would have wondered more.
"What was his game?" thought Joe, as he recalled the scene with the man at the hotel. "What was his object?"
But he could not answer his own question.
Joe's sleep was disturbed the remainder of that night—short as the remainder was.
At breakfast table, the next morning, the story of the jolly sleigh ride was told to Mr. and Mrs. Matson. Of course Joe said nothing of the dispute with the surly man.
"And here's the pin they gave me," finished the young player as he passed around the emblem that had been so unexpectedly presented to him.
His mother was looking at it when the doorbell rang, and the maid, who answered it, brought back a telegram.
"It's for Mr. Joseph," she announced.
Joe's face was a little pale as he tore open the yellow envelope, and then, as he glanced at the words written on the sheet of paper, he exclaimed:
"It's settled! I'm drafted to St. Louis!"
OFF TO ST. LOUIS
For a few seconds, after Joe's announcement, there was silence in the room. Then, as the realization of what it meant came to them, Clara was the first to speak.
"I'm so glad, Joe," she said, simply, but there was real meaning in her words.
"And I congratulate you, son," added Mr. Matson. "It's something to be proud of, even if St. Louis isn't in the first division."
"Oh, they'll get there, as soon as I begin pitching," declared Joe with a smile.
Mrs. Matson said nothing for a while. Her son, and the rest of the family, knew of her objection to baseball, and her disappointment that Joe had not entered the ministry, or some of the so-called learned professions.
But, as she looked at the smiling and proud face of her boy she could not help remarking:
"Joe, I, too, am very glad for your sake. I don't know much about sporting matters, but I suppose this is a promotion."
"Indeed it is, Mother!" Joe cried, getting up to go around the table and kiss her. "It's a fine promotion for a young player, and now it's up to me to make good. And I will, too!" he added earnestly.
"Is that all Mr. Gregory, your former manager, says in the telegram?" asked Mr. Matson.
"No, he says a letter of explanation will follow, and also a contract to sign."
"Will you get more money, Joe?" asked Clara.
"Sure, Sis. I know what you're thinking of," Joe added, with a smile at the girl, as he put his stick-pin in his scarf. "You're thinking of the ring I promised to buy you if I got this place. Well, I'll keep my word. You can go down and get measured for it to-day."
"Oh, Joe, what a good brother you are!" she cried.
"Then you really will get more money?" asked Mrs. Matson, and her voice was a bit eager. Indeed Joe's salary, and the cash he received as his share of the pennant games, had been a blessing to the family during Mr. Matson's illness, for the inventor had lost considerable funds.
"Yes, I'll get quite a bit more," said Joe. "I got fifteen hundred a year with the Pittstons, and Mr. Gregory said I ought to get at least double that if I go with St. Louis. It will put us on Easy Street; won't it, Momsey?"
"It will be very welcome," she replied, with a sigh, but it was rather a happy sigh at that. She had known the pinch of hard times in her day, had Mrs. Matson.
"I'd have to be at the game of lawyering or doctoring a long while, before I'd get an advance like this," went on Joe, as he read the telegram over a second time. And then he put it carefully in his pocket, to be filed away with other treasures, such as young men love to look at from time to time; a faded flower, worn by "Someone," a letter or two, a—but there, I promised not to tell secrets.
The first one who knew of his promotion, after the folks at home, was Mabel. Joe made some excuse to call at the hotel. Reggie was out on business, but Joe did not mind that.
"Oh, I'm so glad—for your sake, Joe!" exclaimed Mabel warmly. "I hope you make a great reputation!"
"It won't be from lack of trying," he said, with a smile. "And I do hope you can get out to St. Louis this Summer."
"We expect to," she answered. "I have been there with Reggie several times."
"What sort of a place is it?" asked Joe eagerly, "and where does my team play?" he inquired, with an accent on the "my."
"There are two major league teams in St. Louis," explained Mabel, who, as I have said, was an ardent "fan." She was almost as good as a boy in this respect. "The National League St. Louis team, or the 'Cardinals,' as I suppose you know they are nicknamed, plays on Robison Field, at Vandeventer and Natural Bridge road. I've often been out there to games with Reggie, but I'll look forward to seeing them now, with a lot more pleasure," she added, blushing slightly.
"Thanks," laughed Joe. "I guess I'll be able to find my way about the city. But, after all, I'll be likely to strike it with the team, for I'll probably have to go South training before I report in St. Louis."
"It isn't hard to find your way about St. Louis," went on Mabel. "Just take a Natural Bridge line car, and that'll bring you out to Robison Field. Or you can take a trunk line, and transfer to Vandeventer. But the best way is the Natural Bridge route. Is there anything else you'd like to know?" she asked, with a smile. "Information supplied at short notice. The Browns, or American League team, play at Grand and Dodier——"
"Oh, I'm not interested in them!" interrupted Joe. "I'm going to stick to my colors—cardinal."
"And I'll wear them, too," said Mabel in a low voice, and the blush in her cheeks deepened. Already she was wearing Joe's color.
"This is our last day here," the girl went on, after a pause.
"It is?" cried Joe in surprise. "Why, I thought——"
"I'm sorry, too," she broke in with. "You have given Reggie and me a lovely time. I've enjoyed myself very much."
"Not half as much as I have," murmured Joe.
Reggie came in a little later, and congratulated the young player, and then Charlie Hall added his good wishes. It was his last day in town also, and he and the Varleys left on the same train, Joe and his sister going to the station to see them off.
"If you get snowed in again, just let me know," called Joe, with a laugh, as the train pulled out. "I'll come for you in an airship."
"Thanks!" laughed Mabel, as she waved her hand in a final good-bye.
As Joe was leaving the station a train from Rocky Ford pulled in, and one of the passengers who alighted from it was the ill-favored man who had endeavored to pick a quarrel with Joe at the hotel the night before.
The fellow favored the young player with a surly glance, and seemed about to approach him. Then, catching sight of Clara at her brother's side, he evidently thought better of it, and veered off.
Joe's face must have showed his surprise at the sight of the man, for Clara asked:
"Who is that fellow, Joe? He looked at you in such a peculiar way. Do you know him?"
Joe was glad he could answer in the negative. He really did not know the man, and did not want to, though it certainly seemed strange that he should encounter him again.
"He seems to know you," persisted Clara, for the man had looked back at Joe twice.
"Maybe he thinks he does, or maybe he wants to," went on the pitcher, trying to speak indifferently. "Probably he's heard that I'm the coming twirling wonder of the Cardinals," and he pretended to swell up his chest, and look important.
"Nothing like having a good opinion of yourself," laughed Clara.
That afternoon's mail brought Joe a letter from Mr. Gregory, in which the news contained in the telegram was confirmed. It was also stated that Joe would receive formal notice of his draft from the St. Louis team, and his contract, which was to be signed in duplicate.
"I wish he'd said something about salary," mused our hero. "But probably the other letter, from the St. Louis manager, will have that in, and the contract will, that's certain."
The following day all the details were settled. Joe received formal notice of his draft from the Pittstons to the St. Louis Cardinals. He was to play for a salary of three thousand dollars a year.
In consideration of this he had to agree to certain conditions, among them being that he would not play with any other team without permission from the organized baseball authorities, and, as long as he was in the game, and accepted the salary, he would be subject to the call of any other team in the league, the owners of which might wish to "purchase" him; that is, if they paid the St. Louis team sufficient money.
"I wonder what they'll consider me worth, say at the end of the first season?" said Joe to Clara.
"What a way to talk!" she exclaimed. "As if you were a horse, or a slave."
"It does sound a bit that way," he admitted, "and some of the star players bring a lot more than valuable horses. Why, some of the players on the New York Giants cost the owners ten and fifteen thousand dollars, and the Pittsburgh Nationals paid $22,500 for one star fellow as a pitcher. I hope I get to be worth that to some club," laughed Joe, "but there isn't any danger—not right off the bat," he added with a smile.
"Well, that's a part of baseball I'm not interested in," said Clara. "I like to see the game, but I watch it for the fun in it, not for the money."
"And yet there has to be money to make it a success," declared Joe. "Grounds, grandstands and trips cost cash, and the owners realize on the abilities of the players. In return they pay them good salaries. Many a player couldn't make half as much in any other business. I'm glad I'm in it."
Joe signed and returned the contract, and from then on he was the "property" of the St. Louis team, and subject to the orders of the owners and manager.
A few days later Joe received his first instructions—to go to St. Louis, report to the manager, and then go South to the training camp, with the team. There his real baseball work, as a member of a big league, would start.
Joe packed his grip, stowing away his favorite bat and his new pitcher's glove, said good-bye to his family and friends in Riverside, and took a train that eventually would land him in St. Louis, at the Union Depot.
The journey was without incident of moment, and in due time Joe reached the hotel where he had been told the players were quartered.
"Is Mr. Watson here?" he asked the clerk, inquiring for the manager.
"I think you'll find him in the billiard room," replied the clerk, sizing up Joe with a critical glance. "Here, boy, show this gentleman to Mr. Watson," went on the man at the register.
"Do you know him by sight?" he asked.
"No," replied Joe, rather sorry he did not.
"I know him!" exclaimed the bellboy, coming forward, with a cheerful grin on his freckled face. "He sure has a good ball team. I hope they win the pennant this year. Are you one of the players?" he asked.
"One of the new ones," spoke Joe, modestly enough.
"Gee! Dat's great!" exclaimed the lad admiringly. "There's 'Muggins' Watson over there," and he pointed to a man in his shirt sleeves, playing billiards with a young fellow whom Joe recognized, from having seen his picture in the papers, as 'Slim' Cooney, one of the St. Louis pitchers.