THE CHUMS OF SCRANTON HIGH OUT FOR THE PENNANT or In the Three Town League
by Donald Ferguson
CHAPTERS I. Some of the Scranton Boys II. The Man with the Cough III. Hugh has Suspicions IV. The Barnacle that Came to Stay V. Scranton Tackles Bellevue High VI. A Hot Finish VII. What Thad Saw VIII. A Bad Outlook for Brother Lu IX. Setting the Man Trap X. How Jim Pettigrew Fixed It XI. Something Goes Wrong XII. Scranton Fans Have a Painful Shock XIII. Hugh Tries His "Fade-Away" Ball XIV. Farmer Bernard Collects His Bill XV. The Puzzle is Far from Being Solved XVI. An Adventure on the Road XVII. The Wonderful News XVIII. When the Wizard Waves His Wand XIX. Scranton High Evens Matters Up XX. A Glorious Finish—-Conclusion
SOME OF THE SCRANTON BOYS
"Too bad that rain had to come, and spoil our practice for today, boys!"
"Yes, and there's only one more chance for a work-out between now and the game with Belleville on Saturday afternoon, worse luck, because here it's Thursday."
"We need all the practice we can get, because if that O.K. fellow, who dropped in to see us from Belleville, tells the truth, both his club and Allandale are stronger than last year. Besides, I hear they have each set their hearts on winning the championship of the Three Town High School League this season."
"For one, I know I need more work at the bat. I've improved some, but I'm not satisfied with myself yet."
"You've improved a whole lot, Owen!"
"That's right, 'Just' Smith, he's made such progress in bunting, and picking out drops and curves and fast ones, under the watchful eye of our field captain, Hugh Morgan here, that several other fellows on the nine are below him in batting average right now, and I regret to say I'm one of the lot."
The boy who answered to the name of Owen turned red at hearing this honest praise on the part of his fellow students of Scranton High; but his eyes sparkled with genuine pleasure at the same time.
A bunch of well-grown and athletic-looking high-school boys had left the green campus, with its historical fence, behind them, and were on their way home. It was in the neighborhood of two o'clock, with school over for the day.
Just as one of them had said, a drizzly rain in the morning had spoiled all chance for that day of doing any practice in the way of playing ball. Mr. Leonard, second principal of the Scranton schools under Dr. Carmack (who was also county supervisor, with dominion over the Allandale and Belleville schools), had consented to act as coach to the baseball team this season. He was a Princeton grad. and had gained quite some little fame as a member of the Tiger nine that swept Yale off its feet one great year.
Besides Owen Dugdale, there were "Just" Smith, Thad Stevens, Hugh Morgan, Kenneth Kinkaid and Horatio Juggins in the bunch that started off from the school grounds in company, though they would presently break away as they neared their several homes.
"Just" Smith had another name, for he had been christened Justin; but he himself, in answering to the calls for Smith, would always call out "Just Smith, that's all," and in the course of time it clung to him like a leech.
Kenneth Kinkaid, too, was known far and wide as "K.K.," which of course was only an abbreviation of his name. Some said he was a great admirer of Lord Kitchener, who had recently lost his life on the sea when the vessel on which he had started for Russia was sunk by a German mine or submarine; and that Kenneth eagerly took advantage of his initials, being similar to those of Kitchener of Khartoum fame.
Horatio Juggins was an elongated chap whose specialty, besides capturing balloon fliers out in right field with wonderful celerity, consisted in great throwing to the home plate, and also some slugging when at bat.
Thad Stevens was the catcher, and a good one at that, everybody seemed to believe. He, too, could take his part in a "swat-fest" when a rally was needed to pull the Scranton boys out of a bad hole. Thad had always been a close chum of the captain of the team, Hugh Morgan. Together they had passed through quite a number of camp outings, and were said to be like twins, so far as never quarreling went.
This same Hugh was really a clever fellow, well liked by most of the Scranton folks, who admired his high sense of honor. He was averse to fighting, and had really never been known to indulge in such things, owing to a promise made to his mother, the nature of which the new reader can learn if he wishes, by securing the first volume of this Series. In so doing he will also learn how on one momentous occasion the peace-loving Hugh was brought face to face with a dilemma as to whether he should hold his hand, and allow a weaker friend to be brutally mauled by the detestable town bully, Nick Lang, or stand up in his defense; also just how he acquitted himself in such an emergency.
First "K.K." dropped away from the group as he came to the corner that was nearest his home. Boy-like, he sang out to the rest as he swung aside:
"I'm as hungry as a bear, fellows, and I happen to know our hired girl's going to have corned beef and cabbage for noon today. That's said to be a plebeian dish, but it always appeals to me more than anything else."
"Huh! you needn't boast, K.K.," said the Juggins boy, "over at our house Thursday is religiously given over to vegetable soup, and I'm good for at least three bowls of it every time. Then it's also a baking day, so there'll be fresh bread rolls, as brown on the outside as nuts in November. Whew! I just can't hold back any longer," and with that Horatio started on a dog-trot through a short cut-off that would take him to a gate in the back fence of his home grounds.
So presently when Owen and "Just" Smith had also separated themselves from the balance there were only Thad and Hugh remaining; nor did they waste any time in talking, for a high-school boy is generally ferociously hungry by the time two in the afternoon comes around; although at intermission, around eleven in the morning, in Scranton High they were given an opportunity to buy a lunch from the counter where a few substantial things, as well as fresh milk and chocolate, were dispensed by a woman who was under the supervision of the school directors.
"Since our baseball practice is off for today, Thad," remarked Hugh, as they were about to separate, "suppose you drop over and join me. I've got an errand out a short distance in the country, and we can walk it, as the roads are too muddy and slippery for our wheels."
"Yes, I have hated riding on slippery roads ever since I had that nasty spill, and hurt my elbow last winter," replied the other, rubbing his left arm tenderly at the same time, as though even the recollection after months had passed caused him to have tender memories of the pain he had endured. "Lucky it wasn't my right wing that got the crack, Hugh, because it sometimes feels sore even now, and I'm sure it would interfere with my throwing down to second. But of course I'll join you. I've nothing else that I want to this afternoon."
"Mother asked me if I'd go out to the Sadler Farm for her the first chance I got, and already it's been put off too long, owing to our keeping continually at practice every afternoon this week. She gets her fresh sweet butter from Mrs. Sadler, and their horse is sick, so they don't deliver it nowadays. Look for you inside of half an hour, Thad."
"I'll be along, never fear," sang out his chum, as he hurried off, doubtless smelling in imagination the fine warm lunch his devoted mother always kept for him on the back of the stove.
Thad was at the back door of the Morgan house inside of the stipulated time, and being perfectly at home there he never bothered knocking, but stalked right in, to find Hugh doing something in his own room. Like most high-school boys' "dens," this apartment was a regular curiosity shop, for the walls were fairly covered with college pennants, and all manner of things connected with athletic sports, as well as pictures that indicated a love for fishing and gunning on the part of the young occupant; but every illustration was well chosen, and free from the slightest taint of anything bordering on the vulgar or the sensational. There was not a single picture of a notorious or famous boxer; or any theatrical beauties, to be seen. Evidently Hugh's fancy ran along the lines of clean sport, and healthy outdoor exercise.
So the two chums started off for a walk, their pace a brisk one, because the air after that recent spell of rain was quite cool and invigorating, Indeed, once Thad even deplored the fact that Mr. Leonard had thought it best to call off practice for that afternoon.
"Well," remarked Hugh on hearing him say that, "Mr. Leonard was of the opinion we were rather overdoing the matter, and might go stale. He told me so, and said that in his experience he had known more than a few teams to overdo things, and lose their best gait in too much work. He says one more test ought to put the proper fighting spirit in us, and that he feels confident we'll be keyed up to top-notch speed by tomorrow night. I think our pitcher, Alan Tyree, is doing better than ever before in his life; and those Belleville sluggers are going to run up against a surprise if they expect him to be an easy mark."
In due time they reached the farm, and securing several pounds of freshly-made butter that had not even been salted, and was called "sweet butter," they started back. Thad proposed that they take a roundabout route home, just for a change; and this small thing was fated to bring them into contact with a trifling adventure that would cause them both considerable bewilderment, and be a cause for conjecture for days and weeks to come.
"I smell wood smoke," remarked Thad, after they had gone about a third of the distance; "and as the wind is almost dead ahead the fire must be in that direction. There's no house in that quarter that I remember, Hugh. There, now can see smoke coming out of that thin patch of woods yonder. I wonder if they're meaning to cut those trees down and clear more land?"
"No, you're away off there, Thad," remarked Hugh, just then. "I can glimpse the fire now, and there's just one chap hanging over it. Don't you see he's a Weary Willie of a hobo, who's getting his dinner ready with wet wood. Here's a chance for us to see just how the thing is done, so let's make him a friendly call!"
THE MAN WITH THE COUGH
Thad seemed quite agreeable.
"Do you know I've never come in close contact with any tramp," he went on to remark, as they turned their faces toward the patch of trees where the smoke arose, "and I've always wanted to watch just how they managed. I note that this fellow has a couple of old tomato cans he's picked up on some dump, and they're set over the fire to warm up some coffee, or something he's evidently gotten at a back door. Perhaps he'll be sociable, and invite us to join him in his afternoon meal. I guess they eat at any old time, just as the notion seizes them, eh, Hugh?"
"They're a good deal like savages in that respect, I understand," the other told him. "You know Indians often go a whole day without breaking their fast; but when they do eat they stuff themselves until they nearly burst. There, he has seen us coming in, for he's shading his eyes with his hand, and taking a good look."
"I hope we haven't given him a scare," chuckled Thad, "under the impression that one of us may be the sheriff, or some indignant farmer who's lost some of his chickens lately, and traced them feathers to this camping spot."
The hobo, however, did not attempt to run. He watched their approach with interest, and even waved a friendly hand toward the two lads.
"Why, evidently he's something of a jolly dog," remarked the surprised Thad, "and there are no chicken feathers around that I can notice. Hello, bo', getting your five o'clock tea ready, I see."
At these last words, called out louder than ordinary, the man in the ragged and well-worn garments grinned amiably.
"Well, now, young feller," he went on to say in a voice that somehow was not unpleasant to Hugh's ear, "that's about the size of it. I haven't had a bite since sun-up this morning, and I'm near caving in. Out for a walk, are you, lads?"
"Oh! we live in Scranton," Hugh explained, "and I had an errand up beyond. We went by another road, and came back this way, which is why we sighted your smoke. Fact is, Thad, my chum here, has never seen a knight of the railroad ties cooking his grub, and he said he'd like to drop in and learn just how you managed, because he's read so much about how splendidly tramps get on."
"That's all right, young feller," said the other, cheerily. "Find seats on that log yonder. I ain't got much in my larder today, but what there is will fill a mighty big vacuum in my interior, let me tell you. This here is coffee in the first can—-mebbe not just what you boys is accustomed to at your breakfast tables, but good enough for me when it's piping hot. I don't take any frills with wine either, in the way of cream and sugar, leaving all that for those that sit at white tablecloths and have silver as well as china dishes. In this other can I've got some soup. Never mind where I got it; some ladies, bless their hearts, are pretty kind; and I always make it a point to carry several empty tomater cans with me wherever I go. Besides that, in this newspaper here I've got some bread, and two fine pieces of bologna sausage that I bought in a village I came through. So altogether I'm expecting to have a right swell feast pretty soon."
Thad looked interested in these things. He even peeped into the two cans, and decided that wherever the tramp got that coffee it certainly could be no "slops," for it had the real odor. The warmed-over soup, too, smelled very appetizing, Thad admitted. On the whole, he concluded that tramps were able to make out very well, when they knew the ropes of the game, and how to beg at back doors.
Hugh, on the other hand, was more interested in the man himself than in his limited possessions. He saw that the other was past middle age, for his face was covered with a bristly beard of a week's growth, verging on gray. His cheeks were well filled out, and his blue eyes had what Hugh determined was a humorous gleam about them, as though the man might be rather fond of a joke.
He was the picture of what a regular tramp should be, there could be no getting around that, Hugh determined. He rather believed that, like most of his kind, this fellow also had a history back of him, which would perhaps hardly bear exploiting. Doubtless there were pages turned down in his career, things that he himself seldom liked to remember, giving himself up to a life of freedom from care, and content to take things each day as they came along, under the belief that there were always sympathetic women folks to be found who would not refuse a poor wanderer a meal, or a nickel to help him along his way.
Apparently he had been just about ready to sit down and make way with his meal at the time the boys arrived on the scene; for he now took both tin carts from their resting places over the red embers of his fire, and opening the package produced the bread and the bologna. This latter looked big enough to serve a whole family of six; but then a tramp's appetite is patterned very much on the order of a growing boy's, and knows no limit.
Having spread his intended food around him as he squatted there, the hobo gave the boys a queer look.
"You'll excuse me if I don't ask you to join me, youngsters," he went on to say. "I'd do the same in a jiffy if the supply wasn't limited; besides, I don't know just what sort of a reception I'm going to meet with in your town."
"Oh! no apologies needed, old chap," said Thad, quickly. "We had our lunch only an hour or so ago and couldn't take a bite to save us now. But say everything seems mighty good, if the smell counts for much. So pitch right in and fill up. We'll continue to sit here and chat with you, if you don't mind, Bill."
"That's all right, governor, only my name don't happen to be Bill, even if I belong to the tribe of Weary Willies. I'm known far and wide as Wandering Lu; because, you see, I've traveled all over the whole known world, and been in every country the sun shines on. Just come from the oil regions down in Texas, because, well, my health is failing me, and I'm afraid I'm going into a decline."
At that he started to coughing at a most tremendous rate. Thad looked sympathetic.
"You certainly do seem to have a terribly bad cold, Lu," he told the tramp, as the other drew out a suspicious looking red handkerchief that had seen better days, to wipe the tears from his eyes, after he had succeeded in regaining his breath, following the coughing spell.
The man put a dirty hand in the region of his heart and winced.
"Hurts most around my lungs," he said, "and mebbe I've got the con. I spent some time in a camp where fifty poor folks was sleeping under canvas down in Arizona, and I'm a whole lot afraid I may have caught the disease there. So, being afraid my time would soon come I just made up my mind to look up a sister of mine that I ain't heard a word from for twenty years or more, and see if she was in a position to support me the short time I'd have to live."
Thad heard this with evident interest. At the same time it occurred to him the stalwart tramp was hardly a fit subject for a speedy death; indeed, he looked as though he might hold out for a good many years still, except when he fell into one of those coughing spells, and seemed to be racked from head to foot with the exertion.
Hugh saw that the fellow had an engaging manner, and a smooth tongue. He was trying to make out just what sort of a man this same Lu might be, if one could read him aright. Was he crooked, and inclined to evil ways; or, on the other hand, could he be taken at face value and set down as a pretty square sort of a fellow?
"Listen, young fellers," remarked the still eating hobo, later on, "didn't you tell me you lived in the place called Scranton, when you're to home?"
"Yes, that's so," Thad assured him. "Know anybody there, Lu, and do you want us to take him your best compliments?"
The tramp grinned amiably.
"I reckon you're something of a joker, younker," he went on to say. "Now, about the folks in Scranton, I suppose you boys know about everybody in town?"
"Well, hardly that," Hugh told him, "since Scranton is a place of some seven or eight thousand inhabitants, and new people are constantly coming in."
"All the same," added Thad, "we do know a good many, and it's just as likely we might be acquainted with your friend. What's his name, Wandering Lu?"
"First place, it ain't a he at all, but a lady," the other explained, looking a little serious for once.
"Oh! excuse the mistake, will you?" chuckled Thad, highly amused at the airs the disreputable looking grizzled old chap put on when he made this statement. "Well, we have some acquaintance among the ladies of the town also. They're nearly all deeply interested just now in helping Madame Pangborn do Red Cross work for her beloved poilus over in brave France. I suppose now you've traveled through that country in your time, Lu?"
"Up and down and across it for hundreds of miles, afoot, and in trains," quickly replied the old fellow, "and say, there ain't any country under the sun that appeals more to me than France did. If I was twenty years younger, hang me if I wouldn't find a way to cross over there now, and take my place in the trenches along with them bully fighters, the French frog-eaters. But I'm too old; and besides, this awful cough grips me every once in so often."
Even the mention of it set him going again, although this time the spasm was of shorter duration, Hugh noticed; just as though he had shown them what he could do along such lines, and did not want to exhaust himself further.
"But about this lady friend of yours, Lu, would you mind mentioning her name, and then we could tell you if we happen to know any such person in Scranton?" and Thad gave the other a confiding nod as if to invite further confidence.
"Let's see, it was so long back I almost forget that her name was changed after she got hitched to a man. Do you happen to know a chap who goes by the name of Andrew Hosmer?"
The boys exchanged looks.
"That must be the sick husband of Mrs. Hosmer, who sews for my mother," remarked Thad, presently. "Yes, I remember now that his first name is Andrew."
"Tell me," the tramp went on, now eagerly, "is his wife living, do you mean, younker, this Mrs. Hosmer, and is her name Matilda?"
"Just what it happens to be," Thad admitted. "So she is the lady you want to see, is she, Lu? What can poor old Mrs. Hosmer, who has seen so much trouble of late years, be to you, I'd like to know?"
The man allowed a droll look to come across his sun-burned face with its stubbly growth of gray beard. There was also a twinkle in his blue eyes as he replied to this query on the part of Thad Stevens.
"What relation, you ought to say, younker, because Matilda, she's my long-lost sister, and the one I'm a-hopin' will nurse me from now on till my time comes to shuffle off this planet and go hence!"
The two boys heard this stunning announcement with mingled feelings. Thad looked indignant while Hugh on his part tried to read between the lines, and understand whether there could be any meaning to the tramp's declaration than what appeared on the face of it.
HUGH HAS SUSPICIONS
"Well, old man," remarked Thad, "I'm afraid you're in for a disappointment about as soon as you strike Scranton; because if Mrs. Hosmer is your long-lost sister, she isn't in any position to help you pass the time away till you kick the bucket. Why, even as it is, she has a hard time getting along, and my mother as well as some of the other ladies give her sewing to do to help tide over. She can hardly make enough to keep herself and her husband going."
The tramp shook his head sadly.
"Say, I'm right grieved to hear that, son," he went on to observe, seriously. "Course it's goin' to be a hard blow to poor old Lu, after working his way up here all these months, and nearly coughing his head off at times, to find out that his only relation in the wide world ain't well off in this world's goods. But then Matilda she always was soft-hearted, and mebbe now she might find a hole in her humble home where her poor old brother could stay the short time he's got in this world of trouble and sorrow. I could do with less to eat if I had to, gents; and blood was always thicker'n water with Matilda."
Thad felt indignant. The idea of this sleek-looking old rascal settling down on his poor sister, and making her support him, was too much for his temper.
"Well, I'd be ashamed if I were you, Wandering Lu, to even think of letting any woman earn my living for me, no matter if she did happen to be a sister. As it is, she's hard pushed at times to get enough food together for herself and her husband."
"Why, what's the matter with Andrew; why can't he do his share?" demanded the other, boldly, and Thad thought he looked disgusted at the poor prospect before him.
"Mr. Hosmer is really sick," explained the boy; "and there's no humbug about his ailment, either. I heard the doctor tell my mother that it was partly due to a lack of substantial food for years. You see, the woman herself was ill for a long time, and her husband worked himself to skin and bone trying to provide for her. Then she got over her trouble, and now it's his turn to go under. He has tried to work a number of times, but fainted at his bench in the shop from sheer weakness."
"Gee! I'm sorry to hear that," muttered the other, shrugging his broad shoulders as he spoke, and shaking his head from side to side, as though he feared some hope he had been cherishing was on the point of vanishing. "But then mebbe Andrew he may get better again, and be able to work at his trade, because if I really got consumption there ain't any chance for me to be doin' in this world."
Thad showed signs of growing angry, but pinched his arm, and muttered in his ear:
"Just hold your horses, Thad. We can't stop him, if he's set on seeing his sister, you know. And besides, perhaps they'll turn him away from the door. He's a queer sort of a chap, and I just can't quite make out whether he's a scamp or a big joke. Let's keep quiet, and see which way the cat jumps."
Thad heaved a sigh, but did not say anything to the tramp that he may have had in his mind, and which possibly Wandering Lu might have resented. The man had continued his meal and was in something of a reflective frame of mind apparently. Hugh supposed he was wondering what he was going to do after coming so far in hopes of finding a snug nest for the remainder of his idle days, and meeting with a possible disappointment.
"Say, young fellers, I'm going to ask a favor of you," he suddenly remarked, as he brushed the back of his hand across his mouth, signifying that he had finished his meal, and did this in lieu of using a napkin.
"What is it you want?" asked Thad, a bit ungraciously, it must be confessed.
"Of course, you know just where Matilda lives in Scranton," observed the man, insidiously; "and mebbe now you wouldn't mind if I walked along with so you point out her home to me when we get near it?"
"Ought we do it, Hugh?" flashed Thad, turning toward his chum.
"What's the harm?" asked the other, instantly. "He can soon find it by asking at some house, whether we help him or not. Why, yes, we'll accommodate you, Lu; but I wouldn't be too hopeful if I were you, about their asking you to stay over, because the times are out of joint nowadays, food getting higher every day, and money hard to pick up, since Uncle Sam's just jumped into the big war game."
"But my sister Matilda she always did have a tender heart, and wouldn't see a poor stray cat go hungry if so be she had a bite of food," the tramp went on to say in the most unblushing way possible. "Unless she's changed a heap she'll let me stay a while with her anyhow. Mebbe I'll pick up some if I get good care, and can go on the road again if the worst comes. But I'm much obliged to you for saying as how you'd show me her humble home. It'll be mighty fine for a poor old rolling stone like me to get under the roof of a blood relative, which ain't been my luck for over twenty years."
He hastened to gather his scanty belongings together. When the pack was complete be slung it across his back, and gave Hugh a nod. Somehow even this tramp seemed to understand that Hugh Morgan was the leader among his mates; perhaps it was his expression of firmness that told the story, for there was certainly nothing of the "boss" air about the boy to indicate as much.
"I'm all ready, if you are, younkers," the tramp said.
"Then we'll be off," remarked Hugh, Putting his words into action.
Thad began to wonder what any of their acquaintances would say should they happen to see them in company with Wandering Lu. The tramp looked so utterly disreputable that Thad disliked being discovered with him; and yet Hugh, who looked deeper than his companion, was surprised to notice that this dirt had the appearance of being rather new and fresh. The fact caused him to take further notice of the man, about whom he felt there rested quite a little air of mystery.
As they walked along the road headed for town, Thad's curiosity got the better of his dislike and suspicion.
"In all this twenty years of knocking about, ail over the world, as you claim, I suppose now there have been times when you've struck pay dirt—what I mean is that I sort of think you haven't always been what you are now, just a tramp? How about that, Wandering Lu?"
"What, me?" chuckled the other. "Say, I've dug gold in Alaska, hunted pearls down near Ceylon, been at work in the diamond fields out in South Africa, and in lots of other places in the world took my turn at playing for high stakes with old Dame Fortune. Why, younkers, I've had fortunes several times, and let the same slip out of my hands. Some time, mebbe, if so be, I conclude to stay around this section of country, which pleases me a heap as far as I've seen the same, why I'd like to spin you a yarn or two that'd make your eyes look as big as them there individual butter plates they use in restaurants. I've run up against heaps and heaps of queer adventures. In fact, it's a wonder I didn't die long ago with my boots on. That's what peeves me, to think a feller who's been so close to death by violence so many times should after all be snuffed out with the pesky con."
Then he had another spell of violent coughing that quite aroused the sympathy of Thad afresh, while Hugh observed and took note. According to his mind, these fits of near strangulation were almost too methodical to be genuine; still, he did not wish to condemn any one without positive proof, though laboring under the impression that the said Lu could not be as far gone as he tried to make them believe.
Presently they arrived in the environs of Scranton. The boys went out of their way to accommodate their disreputable looking companion, for they would have struck across by another street if going home direct.
"Mrs. Hosmer lives in that small cottage ahead of us," Hugh was saying, pointing as he spoke.
The tramp stared, and nodded his head.
"Looks right neat, accordin' to my notion," he said. "Matilda was always a great hand for keeping things clean. Now, I rather reckon I'll like this place a heap."
Thad burned with fresh indignation to hear him so coolly signify his intention of burdening the already hard pressed sister with his keep.
"Oh! is that so?" he snorted, "then I kind of think you'll have to get a move on you, Wandering Lu, and remove a few pounds of superfluous earth from your face and hands."
The man did not show any sign of being offended at this attack; simply looked at his hands, and grinned as he remarked:
"Reckon that I will, younker; but then soap is cheap, and I wouldn't want to soil Matilda's clean sheets and towels. Yes, if I'm going to become domesticated and give up all this roving business I suppose I'll just have to clean up a bit. Wonder now if Andrew he would have an extra suit of clothes he could turn over to me. I'd sure hate to make my poor sister blush to introduce her brother looking as tough as I do just now."
"There's Mrs. Hosmer coming along the street," said Hugh at that juncture. "She's got a bundle with her, so I expect she's been getting more sewing to do from your mother or mine, Thad. And that's Mr. Hosmer just opened the door to let her in. He's been watching for her, no doubt, because they say he's always been a mighty good husband, and it nearly kills him to see her working so hard while he keeps on being too weak to be at his trade. We'll meet her at the door."
They walked along, and stopped just as the good woman came up. Mrs. Hosmer had snow-white hair, and a most amiable countenance. Every one who knew her understood that the poor woman possessed a big heart, and would share her last crust with a hungry man or child. Thad, gritting his teeth at what he anticipated he would see, watched the meeting. Hugh answered her pleasant greeting by saying:
"We chanced to come across a man who was inquiring for you, Mrs. Hosmer, and as he asked us to show him where you lived we have fetched him along. He can speak for himself now."
The woman turned to look at the tramp. Up to then she had hardly noticed him, but now something seemed to stir within her bosom. They saw her start, and bending, look more closely, at the same time turning paler than usual.
"Oh! who can it be?" she said, weakly. "I seem to see something familiar about the figure, and the face, but it's impossible, for my brother Lu has long been dead."
"That's where you're mistaken, Matilda, because I'm that same Luther Corbley, and still alive and in the flesh, though pretty far gone, I'm afraid," and he acted as if about to start into one of his hysterical coughing spells, then thought better of it, because Matilda was rushing toward him, dropping her bundle as she came.
Paying no attention to his soiled and ragged clothes, the good woman threw her arms about the neck of her long-lost brother, and actually kissed him again and again on his rough cheek. Hugh, watching closely, could see the man assume a pleased look, and once he thought he caught Wandering Lu actually winking his left eye in his direction, as though to say: "You see, she never will let me die on the road!"
THE BARNACLE THAT CAME TO STAY
The man in the doorway, Andrew Hosmer, had watched this remarkable scene with a variety of emotions. He realized that something in the nature of a calamity had come upon them, for if his poor, hard-working wife had found it difficult, even with the generous help of good friends in Scranton, to provide food for the two of them, however could she manage to add still another to the household, and feed a third mouth?
Still, this man was undoubtedly Luther Corbley, the brother of whom she had so often talked, and who was believed to be long since dead, because he led such an adventurous life. And surely they could not be so inhuman as to deny him at least temporary shelter, and a share of their slender meals.
So, greatly to the disgust of Thad in particular, Mr. Hosmer now came forward to offer his hand to the tramp, who took it eagerly. The look on Brother Lu's face impressed Hugh as one of strange import. He could not make it out at all, and even found himself vaguely wondering whether this man might not after all be some sort of artful impostor, who, having learned about the lost brother, chose to play the part simply to be well taken care of for a time.
But then surely Matilda would soon be able to tell, when she got to talking of their childhood days. A thousand things were apt to come up, and even a cunning schemer could not help betraying his vast ignorance along such lines.
About this time Brother Lu seemed to have one of his periodical outbursts of violent coughing. Indeed, he rather outdid himself on this occasion, as though determined to make a good showing before his newly-found relatives, and thus enlist their full-fledged sympathy in the start.
Matilda seemed fairly shocked as he strained, and writhed, and almost burst a blood vessel with his efforts. Thad stood and watched, his lip curling as though he could no longer be deceived. To him the whole thing was now very much in the nature of a fraud, a delusion, and a snare. He did not doubt the identity of Brother Lu, but as to the genuine nature of his malady, that was another question entirely, and Thad could not be impressed again. He fully believed the man was faking sickness just to gain the sympathy of these simple people, and work out the game he had in view, which Thad was convinced was to make a snug nest for himself during the rest of the summer, perhaps for all time.
"Let's be going along, Hugh," he said, as he wheeled on his chum, the light of honest indignation glowing in his eyes; "this thing is making me feel sick, and I can't stand much more of it!"
Hugh himself was agreeable. He intended, however, to see considerably more of Brother Lu in the immediate future, and expected to be able to gauge the fellow for what he really was. If he felt positive that there was a chance of his being an impostor, Hugh would consider it his duty to warn Mr. Hosmer, so that with the help of his wife they might catch the fellow in some sort of trap and expose him. Even though he did turn out to be the genuine article, Hugh felt that it would be a shame to have him hanging on the poor couple, and causing Matilda to work harder than ever to provide food, while possibly this able bodied tramp led a lazy sort of an existence.
Accordingly the two boys strolled on, not having far to go in order to reach Hugh's home, where he could deliver the "sweet butter" he had gone out to the farm after. Just as Hugh anticipated, Thad "boiled over" as soon as they were out of earshot of the Hosmer cottage. Turning to look back he had seen the wretched hobo being tenderly escorted into the little dwelling, hardly more than a dove-cote in point of size, Matilda on one side, and her husband on the other; and the sight caused Thad to grit his teeth savagely.
"I tell you it's a burning shame for that husky fraud to impose himself on that poor old couple the way he has done," grumbled Thad. "He's no more sick than I am. Didn't you see how he devoured all that food at a sitting? No man wasting away with consumption could stuff like that. And see how fat he is in the bargain; why, he'd make two of old Mr. Hosmer. Yet they are ready to take him in, feed him three meals a day, give him the best bed in the house, most likely, and for an indefinite time. Uh! thunder! it makes me furious just to think of it."
Hugh was amused at seeing Thad act in this way, because it was so unlike his usual cool demeanor. Undoubtedly he was, as he had said, indignant from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet.
"We'll both of us keep an eye on Brother Lu," remarked Hugh, "and try to learn his little game. You know he asked us to come over and see him, when he would keep his promise to tell us some thrilling yarns about his adventures in many lands."
"Oh! I've no doubt the fellow has a slick tongue in his mouth, and can spin stories that haven't a particle of foundation except in his brain. He's no ignoramus, that's sure, and if he hasn't traveled in all those countries he's read about the same, and can talk everlastingly about things he imagines he's seen."
"But all the while we'll be watching to trip him up, don't you see?" the other continued. "I'll set Matilda to fixing a trap or two that will settle the question about his being the man he says he is."
"Oh! I'm not thinking so much about that!" burst out Thad, "even if he is Luther Corbley, her own brother, that isn't the main trouble. It's about his fastening himself like a barnacle or a leech on them that I hate to consider. It makes me think of bow the Old Man of the Sea, after being helped by Sindbad the Sailor, refused to get off his benefactor's shoulders when asked. That's what this chap means to do, get so comfortably settled that nothing can dislodge him."
"We'll see about that," snapped Hugh, his eyes sparkling now. "Some of the good people of the town who are interested in the welfare of Mr. Hosmer and his wife will object, and so Brother Lu may have to trudge along again."
"I'm afraid you'll run up against a snag when you try that sort of thing, Hugh. That snag will be the affection of Matilda. She's awfully tender-hearted, you can see, and would rather go hungry herself than that any one related to her should suffer, even a little. Just think of that beast being installed in their home. Every time he thinks it necessary to stir up a little extra sympathy he'll start that old gag of coughing to work again. Oh! I feel as if I could willingly help duck him in Hobson's Mill-pond, or give him a ride out of town on a rail some fine night."
Hugh had to laugh at hearing this honest outburst.
"No use talking, you don't seem to have much feeling for the woes of a poor old homeless tramp, Thad," he told his chum.
"Well, I haven't, if you want me to give you the honest truth," said Thad, bluntly; "in my humble opinion any husky man who is willing to loaf around and let a delicate woman like Matilda Hosmer labor for his support doesn't deserve a grain of pity. Remember, Hugh, I'm not referring to her husband, who is a good fellow, and doing all he can to get his strength back again, so he can go to his trade, and allow her to take things easier. I'm going to tell my folks all about it. The women of this town ought to do something to influence Mrs. Hosmer, if she persists in letting that hulk of a lazybones stay with her, and be fed at her expense."
"That might be a bright idea, in good time," assented Hugh. "Surely our mothers would know how to manage, and could get Matilda to give the man his walking papers; though on second thought I really believe she would refuse, even if they declared they would have to decline to assist her further unless she chased Brother Lu away from her cottage home. He knows her character, too, because you remember how he told us Matilda always was a tender-hearted thing, and would not stand by and see a wretched dog suffer if she could prevent it by any personal sacrifice."
Thad did not reply immediately, but made a number of highly significant gestures, of a nature to cause Hugh to fancy the other were punching some fellow's head in a satisfactory fashion. And somehow actions spoke louder than words in that case.
"Don't let this queer business weigh too heavily on your mind, Thad," warned the other, as they prepared to separate. "We've got a game ahead of us, remember, and it's mighty important that the catcher behind the bat should keep his wits about him."
"I guess I know all that, Hugh," chuckled Thad. "Once I get to playing ball, and there's going to be nothing interfere with my work as a backstop. I'm feeling in tip-top condition right now, and everything working right expect to be a factor in bringing Belleville down into the dust day after tomorrow."
"Once we get that game pulled off," observed Hugh, "and we won't have another championship one for two weeks, because Allendale and Belleville meet the next Saturday, though we expect to play another team from Jenkintown, just to keep our hands in, you know. Our next job will be to hustle with that strong Allendale combination, that broke up everything last season, and went through with only one defeat."
"But next week, with nothing on our hands, Hugh, we can turn our attention to this miserable business again, can't we?"
"Why, I know of no reason to prevent it," observed the other. "Let's hope that by then Brother Lu will have decided town life is too dull for him, and be once more holding down the railroad ties in his journeying through the country. I've read that it's mighty hard for a genuine tramp to settle down to any civilized sort of existence. You see, they're of a sort of migrating gypsy breed, and get as uneasy as a fish out of water when stalled for any length of time."
"'Course that would settle it all beautifully," agreed Thad, with a relieved look on his honest face; "but according to my mind it would be too good to come true. That sly chap means to play the game to the limit. As long as he isn't half starved he'll hang on there, and work upon the sympathy of those poor people. The only sure way to get him dislodged would be to cut his rations short; though to do that you'd have to hurt Matilda and her sick husband. But give me a little time, and I'll fix him, that's right, I will!"
If Brother Lu could only have seen and heard all this he might have been made a bit uneasy, under the conviction that his soft berth in his sister's home was not going to prove such an easy snap as the conditions seemed to imply. Hugh found himself wondering just how the fellow would take it. Brother Lu was becoming something of a mystery to Hugh, and he was already making up his mind that it would afford him great pleasure to study the rogue still further, and see what that sly gleam or twinkle in his blue eyes really stood for.
"Come over tonight, Thad, and we'll talk matters over again—-baseball matters, I mean, of course," Hugh called out as his chum started away.
"Just as you say, Hugh, though I was expecting that you'd favor me with a call. There are a few little things that had ought to be straightened out before we hit that slugging nine over in Belleville. I hope Alan Tyree keeps up his good work in the box. Lately he's seemed to be doing finely, and Mr. Saunders declares he could mow down a lot of heavy hitters in the college league. Well, we'll know more about a heap of things when Saturday night comes around. See you later, then, Hugh!"
SCRANTON TACKLES BELLEVUE HIGH
There was quite a big crowd at Belleville when the time came for the game to start on Saturday afternoon. Scranton had sent a hustling delegation of many hundreds of enthusiastic people, most of whom were young folks, deeply interested in the fortunes of their school team, led by Hugh Morgan.
The scene was a pretty one, for, it being a warm day, the girls were out in force, dressed in all the colors of the rainbow, and waving their school pennants with a patriotic fervor that did them full credit.
Then there were the groups of students belonging to each of the rival high schools, with some fellow to lead them in cheering; they promised to make it a day long to be remembered with their collective noise and hearty concerted shouting.
Already the two teams were in evidence, Scranton being at practice, with the use of the field for fifteen minutes. Some were knocking out flies and fierce ground balls to the fielders; while the catcher varied the monotony of things by sending down speedy balls to second to catch an imaginary runner from first, after which Julius Hobson or Owen Dugdale would start the ball around the circuit like lightning before it reached the hand of the batter again.
All this preliminary work was being watched with more or less interest by the vast crowd of spectators. There were many who pretended to be able to gauge the capacity and fielding power of a club in this stage, but experienced onlookers knew the fallacy of such a premature decision. Often the very fellows who displayed carelessness in practice would stiffen up like magic when the game was actually started, and never make a sloppy play from that time on, their throwing being like clock-work and their stopping of hard hit bounders simply gilt-edged.
The umpire was on the ground, and would soon be donning his mask for work behind the bat. He was a former Yale graduate, and as he lived in Jenkintown, would not be inclined to favor any one of the three clubs representing the High School League. Besides, Mr. Hitchens was a man held high in esteem by everyone who knew him, and his decisions were not likely to be questioned, since everyone felt certain he would be strictly impartial, and say what he believed to be so.
When the time limit had expired the players came in, and the two field captains were seen in consultation, as though there might be something in the way of ground rules to be settled before play was called. The crowd was so large that in several places it had worked over into the field, and a rope had to be stretched to keep the spectators from bothering the players.
It was understood that a hit in a certain quarter amidst the spectators would be counted a two-bagger. To secure a home run on the Belleville grounds the batter must send his ball in a direct line for center, and far above the fielder's head. The ground has a slight slope there, and once a good start was made it was likely to elude the running fielder long enough to allow a fast sprinter to circle the bases.
Hugh had never played on the Belleville grounds before, but he always made it a practice to closely examine every field before starting a game, and discovering its weak spots. Now he realized that Belleville must be well aware of that small slope, and the possibilities it had for a home run. Doubtless the Belleville boys had all been trained to aim their guns in that direction, with the hope of accumulating a number of four-base hits during the progress of a game. The visitors, not being wise to the fact, would waste much of their surplus energy in sending out hits to the side of the field where, no matter how vigorous the wallops might be, still they would only count for two bases.
So Hugh gave each and every one of the boys the secret, and the "heavies" were implored to do their utmost to send their hits straight ahead, and high over the head of fielder Major, who did duty in the middle garden. They assured him they would not be found wanting when the time came, though, of course, much must depend on how they were able to gauge the slants and drops of the artful Kinsey, pitcher for Belleville.
When the two high-school nines took the field they were found to consist of the following players in their batting order: Scranton High Player Position ——————————————————— "Just" Smith Left Field Joe Danvers First Base Horatio Juggins Right Field Owen Dugdale Short Stop Hugh Morgan Third Base (Field capt.) "K.K." (Ken Kinkaid) Center Field Julius Hobson Second Base Alan Tyree Pitcher Thad Stevens Catcher
Belleville High Player Position ——————————————————— Conway Left Field Gould First Base Wright Right Field Waterman Shortstop "O.K." Kramer Third Base Major Center Field O'Malley Second Base Kinsey Pitcher Leonard Catcher
Of course the home team elected to go into the field in the opening inning. This brought "Just" Smith to the bat to start things moving. Well, he proved to be the "round peg in the round hole," for what did he do but tap the very first ball up for as pretty a single as any one would want to see. This was certainly a good beginning. Joe Danvers "whiffed out" after knocking several foul strikes. That was one down, but the eager Scranton fans were saying to each other:
"Notice that our fellows don't seem to have any trouble as yet in getting to Arthur Kinsey this fine afternoon! Oh! wait till they limber up, and you'll see them knock him out of the box."
"Yes, just wait," some of the local rooters would call out, "and see how he mows your fellows down in one, two, three style. Arthur always starts in easy and stiffens up as he goes along. He has pitched two games in an afternoon, and won both. They do say he was better at the end of the eighteen innings than when he started. Yes, please don't take snap judgment on our poor pitcher. There, did you see how Joe Danvers nearly broke his back trying to hit a ball that didn't come within a foot of the plate. He'll have them all guessing pretty soon and eating out of his hand. The game is long, my brother, don't settle it in the first inning."
Owen got in his little bunt, all right, and succeeded in advancing the runner to second, as well as saving his own bacon. So there were two on the bags, and as many down, when Hugh stepped up and took a chance at the offerings of the wily Kinsey.
Hugh managed to pick out a good one and sent it like a bullet straight at the shortstop, who knocked it down; and finding that he could not reach first in time, as Hugh was jumping along like the wind, sent it over to second, where he caught Owen just by a fraction of an inch, and Mr. Hitchens waved him off; so after all the brave start, no score resulted.
In their half of the first, Belleville did no better. In fact, they only got a man on first through an error on the part of Joe Danvers, who unfortunately slipped in reaching for the ball, and as his foot was not on the bag the umpire called the runner safe. But he died there, Alan Tyree cutting the next two men down as a mower in the field might the ripe grain with his scythe.
Again did Scranton make a bid for a run in the next deal, but once more slipped up when hope had begun to grip the hearts of many of the anxious home rooters. In this inning "K.K." struck out, Julius Hobson was sent to the bench on a foul that Wright out in the field managed to settle under after a lively run; Tyree got a Texas league hit that allowed him to plant himself on first, and Thad slipped one over into the bleachers in right that, according to the ground rules, allowed him to go to second.
With men on two bags up came "Just" Smith, who had done so bravely before; but alas! as that Belleville fan had truly said, the local pitcher had tightened up and was not such "easy pickings" now; so Smith only whiffed, and the side was out.
Belleville, much encouraged, started hitting in their half of this inning. Two good blows, added to a couple of errors, allowed them to send a brace of runners around the circuit. It began to look serious for Scranton, and Hugh bade his men brace up and do something worth while.
With Scranton at the bat Joe Danvers cracked out a clean single, after he had had seven fouls called on him. Juggins tried to do the same but failed to connect. Owen, after two strikes and three balls, again bunted. He succeeded in shoving Joe down to second, but it went as a sacrifice after all, because they got Owen before he could cross the initial sack.
Again history repeated itself, and it seemed up to Hugh to do something to save the inning from being a goose-egg again. He braced himself for an effort. Kinsey apparently considered Hugh dangerous, and was for passing him, in hopes of being better able to strike out the next man up, "K.K." But Hugh refused to be denied, and stepping out he smote one of those curves a blow that sent it spinning far out in left, allowing Joe to come in, and placing Hugh on second.
Things began to look a bit brighter now. Encouraged by the aspect, and possibly the cheers of the Scranton fans, "K.K." put one over second that allowed Hugh to reach third, no attempt being made to nip the batter at first.
Then up stepped Julius Hobson. As he was so fond of saying, it was "Hobson's choice" with him, because he could not bunt, but had to hit out. Well, he succeeded in doing a mighty thing, for the ball went whizzing far over Major's head out in center, and started rolling down the little incline. Hugh and "K.K." raced home amidst thunderous plaudits, and after them came Julius, plodding along "like an ice-wagon," some of the anxious ones declared, though after all he had abundance of time to make the complete rounds.
There were no more runs garnered that inning, but then Scranton was not greedy. Four against two looked mighty good to the visitors.
So the game went on. It became a regular see-saw sort of affair, first one side being ahead and then the other.
At the end of the seventh, after considerable excitement, the two rival nines found themselves just where they had started in the beginning of the game, for they were tied, eight to eight, and both fighting tooth and nail to keep the other from adding to the score, while also endeavoring to secure a few runs on their own account. Both pitchers had warmed to their work, however, and runs were likely to be a scarce article from that time on.
When Scranton was going into the field for the beginning of the eighth inning, the vast crowd settled down for an interesting close, because when two teams are as nearly matched as these seemed to be, it is a toss-up which will win the game.
A HOT FINISH
"It's anybody's game so far!" one of the Scranton boys was calling out.
"Well, I told you that Kinsey would grow better the longer he was in the box," laughed the local rooter, who had spoken before. "Why, he's just getting warmed up by now. Your fellows will be lucky to touch him again from now on. It's as good as sewed up already."
"Don't crow too soon," Scranton told him, unflinchingly, for boys are not to be so easily bluffed; and the Scranton fellows still had great confidence in their team, led by Hugh Morgan, as strong finishers.
It began to look very much like a pitchers' battle from that time on. Kinsey was fast becoming invulnerable, and batter after batter failed to connect with his wizard delivery. He would smile at them, and then proceed to give them something they were not expecting, so that the heaviest Scranton batters struck out.
On the other hand, Alan Tyree was doing almost as well, and if he fell a trifle short his teammates made up the difference, for they performed splendidly. Several hummers that apparently were ticketed for two-baggers, perhaps more, were hauled down by expert fingers before they could get out of the diamond, while the fielders caught several particularly vicious flies that would have counted heavily against Scranton were they allowed to fall safely.
The ninth inning saw no change, for the tie was still unbroken. This sort of thing pleased the crowd immensely, as an extra inning game always means additional excitement, and added thrills for the money.
Even the tenth did not break the monotony, although at one time it looked as if Belleville might add a tally to their score, and possibly clinch matters. Leonard, their hard-hitting backstop, sent one out in short center, failing to give it enough force to take advantage of that incline back of "K.K." Then Conway, who had been hitting savagely latterly, tried to knock the cover off the ball, but only succeeded in popping up a high foul which Thad smothered in his big mitt after dancing around for several seconds, as though the twister were difficult to gauge correctly.
Gould bunted unexpectedly when the stage was set for a mighty blow, with the fielders playing away out. He advanced Leonard, although caught himself, thanks to the quick work of the pitcher, who closed in on the ball, and tossed it to first ahead of the sprinting Gould.
So Leonard was on second, with two out, and another slugger at the plate in the person of Wright, with Waterman to follow.
Some of the Belleville boys started cheering and they appeared to be almost certain that a run was as good as counted, but for once they made a mistake, because after Tyree had gotten himself into a bad hole, with three balls and one strike called, he forced the batter to foul, and then shut him out on a dizzy inshoot that he failed to connect with, being called out by the watchful umpire.
The eleventh inning saw no difference in the prevailing score, which after both clubs had had a turn at bat remained the same, eight to eight.
"Why, anything is possible with those two boys going as strong as they are right now," the Belleville rooter was saying. "That pitcher of yours, Scranton, is no slouch, believe me. He isn't hardly in the same class as Kinsey, but your fellows are supporting him in great shape, and saving many a run by fine field work. But of course we'll win in the end; we're bound to. One of our boys will put in the big wallop and circle the bases on a trot, and then it'll all be over but the shouting. It's no disgrace to be whipped by a Belleville team, Scranton."
"Spell able first!" taunted the visiting fan, still filled with implicit faith in his school representatives.
It was now the beginning of the twelfth. Hugh had again talked to his fellows, and once more implored them to get busy with their bats.
"Don't ever get the notion in your heads that you can't hit Kinsey's shoots and drops!" he told them, as Julius Hobson selected his bat, being the first man up. We've just got to work a man around the circuit this inning."
"If we don't we never will next time, because it's the unlucky thirteenth," remarked another, who, like many baseball players, seemed to have a touch of superstition in his make-up.
"The thirteenth is as good as any other," Hugh told him, reprovingly; "and if we reach it I hope you'll not lie down on that account. Julius, you're due for a wallop, remember."
"Sure thing, Hugh, watch my smoke!" chuckled the other, as he stepped blithely out and tapped his bat several times on the plate after a fashion he had, while Kinsey was eyeing him reflectively, as though trying to remember what the long and short suit of the Hobson boy was.
Then he sent in a screamer which Julius as promptly sent far out in the heavens, and started running like mad for first. They could see the long-legged Conway out in left field sprinting like a huge grasshopper in hopes of getting under the soaring ball in time to set himself for the catch. As if by a preconcerted signal everybody in the grandstand and the bleachers stood up, the better to see what happened, because it was a most critical point of the game.
Julius was half-way down to second and still going strong when Conway was seen to fairly leap up into the air, then take a headlong fall; after which he hastily scrambled to his feet, holding up his hand to signify that he had a ball, which he then threw in to the pitcher, amidst a roar of cheers. Even Scranton fans joined in the applause, being able to appreciate a fine bit of work, although it gave them the keenest sort of disappointment to realize that after all Julius had had all his run to second for nothing.
But at least his mighty blow would serve to encourage some of his team-mates, who latterly had not been doing much with Kinsey's weird offerings.
Of course, nothing was expected of the pitcher, for Tyree was a notoriously weak man at the bat. He tried the best he knew how to connect, but after three attempts had to go back to the bench. So two were down, and Thad Stevens at bat. Hugh said something to his chum as the latter stepped forward to the plate. Thad looked very grim as though he felt that the whole fate of the game rested on his young shoulders just then. He waited for his ball, had a strike called, and then connected. The sound of that blow would never be forgotten by those eager Scranton fans. It was as loud and clear as the stroke of a woodsman's ax on a hollow tree. And they saw the ball speeding away out dead ahead. Everybody started up again to watch its course, while shouts rent the air.
Major was making along like mad. No use, Major, because that ball is ticketed for a home run, and nothing on earth but a collapse of the part of the fellow spinning around the bases can prevent it. When the ball struck the ground Major was not within thirty feet of it. He did not even attempt to jump up and tag the fleeting sphere as it passed far above his bead, realizing the absurdity of such a proceeding. His business was simply to recover the ball, and get it in home as rapidly as he could.
But before this could be accomplished Thad Stevens was lying on the ground among his mates, panting for breath, but a pleased grin on his face, while some of the fellows were patting him happily on the back, and telling him that he had saved the day for good old Scranton High.
That ended the scoring for Scranton, although "Just" Smith did manage to get on first by means of a scratch hit. Joe Danvers tried to equal the performance of the backstop, but while he met the ball and sent it far afield, unluckily. It went too high, and this enabled Major to get beneath, with the result that the fly was caught, and the side went out.
The excitement started all over again when Belleville came to bat for their turn. It was plain to be seen that they had "blood in their eye," and meant to redouble their efforts to score.
An error, together with two fair hits, put a couple of the locals on the bases. Only one man was down in the bargain. Everybody looked anxious on both sides, for the game was likely to be ended, one way or the other, in that same twelfth inning.
A single would tie the score, a double give the game to Belleville.
Hugh signaled to his infield to play close. He wanted a double play so as to put an end to the intense strain, which was beginning to tell upon every player.
It was the great Conway at bat again. He looked particularly dangerous, for he had a way of standing there like a mighty warrior, flourishing his club, and watching the pitcher like a hawk. Conway had shown himself to be the most consistent hitter on the Belleville team when up against the deceptive shoots of Alan Tyree. Would he again succeed in connecting with the elusive ball, and sending one or both runners home?
Tyree appeared perfectly cool, but of course he was far from being so. He delivered his first offering, and the umpire called it a ball. A second followed likewise labeled. Some thought he feared Conway so much that he meant to pass him, to take chances with Gould, who had been less able to connect with the ball.
But with the third effort they heard again that suggestive "crack" as Conway struck, having finally received the ball he wanted. The crowd gave a convulsive gasp, but that was all; there was no time for anything more, so rapidly did events occur. Three runners were in motion, Conway heading down for first, Leonard making for second and O'Malley beating it along the line full-tilt toward third.
Owen Dugdale was seen to leap frantically up into the air, then almost fall over with the force of the ball which he held tightly in his right band. He did not make any attempt to cut the runner down at first, partly because Conway was already out through the catch, and then things were better fixed for him closer at hand. O'malley was coming down like a hurricane. He saw what had happened and tried to get back, but Julius was at the bag and ready to take the toss like lightning.
When the spectators saw him touch the bag, and that the umpire had made the motion to indicate that Leonard was easily out, a great shout arose; for the game was over.
After all the intense anxiety Scranton had won the first of the series of three games which she expected to play with Belleville, unless the other team failed to take the next one there would be no necessity for playing the "rubber."
So Scranton boys were able to wend their way homeward in the coming dusk, singing their school songs, and feeling all the airs of conquerors. A happy crowd it was, taken in all, and rosy visions of the future naturally filled the minds and hearts of those boys who had fought so valiantly that day to overcome the enemy.
They could even look forward confidently now to the next game, which would be with Allendale, two weeks off; and some there were who already saw in imagination the championship pennant of the Three Town High School League floating from the flag-pole on the dear old campus during the Fall session of school.
WHAT THAD SAW
Some days passed.
As there would be no championship game the coming Saturday for Scranton High the town settled back into its ordinary condition, so far as the young people went. There were afternoons for practice, of course, when the full team was expected to be on deck, and renew their acquaintance with the many intricacies of the game as taught by Coach Saunders.
Still every other day the boys were at liberty to go and come as they pleased. Some made it a religious duty, as well as pleasure, to show up regularly at the ball grounds, where there were always enough fellows handy to get up a scrub game, for baseball aspirants were as thick as blackberries in August around Scranton that season. A great revival of interest in outdoor sports had struck the town, and promised to stick far into the fall and winter.
On one of these off-days—-it was Friday, to be exact—-Thad showed up over at the home of his chum, evidently laboring under some unusual stress of excitement. Hugh had walked home with him from school, and being busy with certain things had stayed in his den for two hours or more. Then in burst Thad, his face red with suppressed news.
"What's happened now?" demanded Hugh, realizing instantly that the other was in a perfect "sweat" to communicate something he had learned. "Have the Germans landed on the coast, or is little old New York being bombarded from giant airplanes? There's something amiss, I can see from your way of bursting in on me."
"Oh! you know what I've been bothering my head over lately, Hugh," snapped the panting Thad. "Of course it's that hobo!"
"Meaning Matilda's now quiet and respected brother Lu, eh?" the other chuckled. "Well, what's he been doing now—-cut stick, and lit out, as we hoped would be the case, finding life in and around a sleepy town like Scranton too dull and commonplace to please the fastidious notions of such a wonderful world traveler?"
"What! that leech clear out, and free his poor sister from the load he's gone and fastened on her? Well, it's just the contrary; he can't be shaken off, try as you will. Why, Hugh, even my respected Ma and two of her friends couldn't do the first thing toward getting Matilda to say she'd chase him off."
"Oh! that's the way the land lies, is it, Thad? Then some of the good ladies of Scranton have been over trying to convince Matilda that blood isn't thicker than water, and that she is under no sort of obligation to give her wanderer of a brother a shelter, either temporary or permanent, under her little roof."
"I hurried so after the show was over, Hugh, that I'm out of breath; but I'm getting the same back now, and can soon tell you all about it. In one way, it was as good as a circus, though it did make me grit my teeth to see how that miserable sinner acted. Oh! I just wished for a chance to give him a good kick or two. Why, honest, Hugh, I believe I could willingly assist in tarring and feathering a scamp like Brother Lu, who can settle down on his poor relative, and expect to be waited on and fed and treated like an invalid the rest of his life, while all the time he's as strong as anything, and as sleek as a well-fed rat!" Hugh laughed outright at the comparison.
"Go to it, then, Thad, and relieve my curiosity. You've got me so worked up by now that I'll surely burst if you don't spin the whole story in a hurry."
"Well, it's this way," began the other, as he fanned his heated face with a paper be picked up from Hugh's table. "I happened to know that Ma and a couple of the other ladies who have been so kind to Matilda during the last year had decided it was a duty they owed her to pay her a visit, take a look for themselves at this Brother Lu, to decide if he was really an object of pity, or a big fraud; and also advise Mrs. Hosmer that she ought to give him his walking papers right away.
"Hugh, I decided not to say anything to you about it, because I knew you had laid out something you wanted to do at home this afternoon; but I was resolved to be around the Hosmer shack when the ladies called about three today, and try to learn just how the friendly scheme came out.
"They showed up fine and dandy on time. I was hidden behind some bushes close by, and no sooner had they passed inside, Mr. Hosmer coming to the door to welcome them, than I found it convenient to creep up still closer. The window was open, and I could hear the chatter of women's tongues as they chatted away. Mr. Hosmer came out and went downtown on some errand; I suspect that, like the wise man he is, he smelled a rat and wanted to leave a clear field to Ma and Mrs. Lund and Miss Carpenter. Perhaps Mr. Hosmer isn't just as much in favor of entertaining Brother Lu the rest of his natural life as he may have been in the start, for he must know deep down in his man's soul that the fellow is only working his sister for his keep.
"Well, anyway, I could hear them talking for a little while, after which who should come out of the house but our former hobo, Brother Lu. Say, he's actually wearing Mr. Hosmer's best suit, would you believe it, and he seems to like to pose as a sort of retired gentleman; it must be nice after getting such a precarious living walking the railway ties, and begging or stealing as he went, to drop down here in a snug nest where he has the best bed, is sure of three meals a day, wears his brother-in-law's only Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, and I guess smokes Andrew's little stock of tobacco in the bargain."
Thad certainly did manage to put considerable emphasis and scorn into his vivid description of the contemptible actions of the reformed tramp. Hugh was laughing to himself over his chum's righteous indignation; nor did he have any doubt but that, given the opportunity, Thad would most heartily have assisted in a little operation calculated to furnish the said Brother Lu with a nice warm coat of down from a pillow, plastered on with a liberal coating of sticky black tar.
"Of course, after he came on the scene, I lost all interest in the folks inside the cottage, and kept watching his antics," continued Thad, after giving vent to his feelings as he did. "I couldn't make out anything that was said, anyway, but it was easy to tell from the way the voices dropped after he came out that the ladies were getting in their work, and trying to show Matilda she had no business to add to her burdens.
"Brother Lu, he acted like a sneak from the Start. I could see that he was taking it for a big joke, because he was grinning like everything. I guess he knew what a grip he'd managed to get on his sister, and felt sure not even a dozen ladies of Scranton could cause her to throw him out.
"What did he do but slide around the wall of the house, get down on his hands and knees, and creep right under that open window, where he could hear every word that was said. What do you think of that for meanness, the skunk; now, it never occurred to me to try that dodge, you know."
"I could see him as plain as anything, Hugh. He'd listen a bit, and then just as like as not hear something that tickled him a heap, for he'd double up and seem to just shake with silent laughter. Oh! I was just burning like fun, and boiling over, I was so mad to see how he carried on; because I just knew Matilda was holding the fort against all the batteries the three ladies could bring to bear, and telling them that it was her sacred duty to take care of her poor, poor brother in his last sickness, because the rough world had used him so harshly.
"Well, in the end he crawled away in a big hurry, so I knew the three ladies must be coming out. Sure enough they came in sight, and both Mrs. Lund and Miss Carpenter were looking as though they felt highly indignant because Matilda she chose to stick by her good-for-nothing brother, even when they told her they could hardly be expected to go to the trouble to furnish sewing just to help feed such a lazy-looking man, and keep him in smoking tobacco. Ma, she seemed dreadfully hurt, and I guess she hardly knew what to do, for she thinks a heap of Matilda and Mr. Hosmer.
"They went away, and Matilda, she stood there and looked after them sort of sad like. She knew she had offended three of her best friends, and it cut her to the quick. Still, I could see from her face that she didn't mean to turn on Brother Lu, and tell him he'd have to clear out; for she gave her head a stubborn little flirt as she turned and went indoors again.
"Hugh, this thing is really getting serious, seems to me. If those ladies think it their duty to quit giving Matilda work the poor things will starve, because all they've got to depend on now is what she earns by her needle. Something ought to be done to rid her of that wart that's fastened on her bounty; if she won't give him up of her own will, then some of us ought to see to it that he's chased out of the neighborhood."
"Hold on, Thad, go slow," warned the more cautious Hugh. "I feel pretty much the same as you do about it, but we mustn't think of trying any White Cap business around such a respectable town as Scranton. There's still lots of time to investigate; and if the worst comes we can appeal to the mayor to help. Perhaps the police could look up the man's record, and make him clear out on the plea that he's got a bad reputation. That would answer our purpose, and at the same time keep within the law."
Thad looked wonderfully pleased.
"I didn't tell you something more I saw, Hugh," he now went on to say. "When the three ladies came out, Brother Lu he managed to be there in plain sight. He tried to be polite like, and was of course seized with one of those fake fits of coughing right before them. Matilda ran to his side, and put her arm around him looking defiantly at Ma as if to say: 'There, don't you see how far gone he is, and how can you ask me to be so inhuman and unsisterly as to tell him he must go out again into the cold, cruel world that has treated him so badly?'
"The ladies looked after Brother Lu as he staggered away, as if they hardly knew what to think. But it happened, Hugh, that I could watch the man from where I was snuggled down, and would you believe me, he had no sooner got behind the little building they use for a woodshed than he started to dance a regular old hoe-down, snapping his fingers, and looking particularly merry. I tell you I could hardly hold in, I was so downright mad; I wanted to rush out and denounce him for an old fraud of the first water. But on considering how useless that would be, besides giving it away that I suspected. him, and was spying on his actions, I managed to get a grip on myself again.
"After things had sizzled out, Hugh, I came away, and ran nearly all the distance between the Hosmer cottage and your house, I was that eager to tell you how the land lay. And now, once for all, what can we do to bounce that fraud, and free poor Matilda from the three-big-meals-a-day brother who's fastened on her like a leech?"
Hugh nodded his head as though he had been thinking while his chum continued to tell of his experiences. From his manner Thad jumped to the conclusion that Hugh might have something interesting to say, and in this he proved to be right.
A BAD OUTLOOK FOR BROTHER LU
"Now that you've told me such an interesting thing about this queer tramp we ran across the other day, and who turns out to be Mrs. Hosmer's only brother," Hugh was saying, "I want to return the compliment, and explain that I've been doing a little missionary work or scouting on my own hook."
Thad showed signs of intense interest.
"I sort of thought you'd be wanting to cultivate his acquaintance so as to study the chap at closer range, Hugh," he hastened to say. "Well, did he entertain you with some accounts of his adventures in different parts of the world, as he promised he'd do if we'd drop around at his new home and see him?"
"He certainly can talk a blue streak, once he gets started," admitted Hugh, with a little whistle. "Why, that man would have made a splendid lawyer, if he'd ever had the ambition to try; and as a promoter for land schemes he'd take the cake. But he says he was born with the wanderlust in his veins that would not let him rest anywhere for a decent length of time. No sooner would he get settled nicely, and perhaps own some big piece of land, down in Brazil once, or it may have been out in our own West, than along would come that awful yearning to be on the move again; and so, unable to resist, he would sacrifice his property, and get on the jump again."
"If you could only rely on all he says, Hugh," admitted the deeply interested Thad, "he'd be a mighty interesting character; but for one, I firmly believe it's a great big lie; he's never been anywhere but around this country, and that traveling on freight-car beams, and walking the ties."
"Well," Hugh went on, "he certainly has a mighty intimate acquaintance with all sorts of countries, for he can describe things in the most minute way you ever heard. He kept me fairly chained while he was talking of Borneo, Sumatra, Hong Kong, China, Japan, the Philippines, and all those far-away countries in the South Seas. If he's only read about them, the man has the most astonishing memory I ever ran across."
"Oh! he's no doubt a character," admitted the skeptical Thad, as though he begrudged acknowledging even this much; "but I still believe him to be a fake. Keep right on telling me what you did, Hugh."
"For that matter, I didn't do much of anything except listen to his stories, for he kept up a steady stream of talk for a whole hour or more, and covered a wide territory in that time."
"I sort of think Brother Lu has conceived a liking for me which is hardly returned in the same ratio; though I confess there's something almost fascinating about the fellow."
Thad acted as though alarmed.
"Be careful, and keep on your guard, Hugh, or else he'll be hypnotizing you just like he seems to have done with poor Matilda and her husband. That slick tongue of his can do all sorts of stunts. Why if you don't look out we'll have you going around taking up a subscription to fit Brother Lu out with a brand new suit of togs; and perhaps buying the poor chap a bully meerschaum pipe; for it must be dreadful that he is now compelled to use one of Mr. Hosmer's old corncob affairs."
His sarcasm was lost upon his chum, for Hugh laughed merrily at the gruesome picture Thad drew of his complete subjugation to the wiles of the schemer.
"Of course," he continued, calmly, "I didn't forget what I was there for principally, and all the while he was talking so fluently and holding my interest, I kept watching him and trying to study his real character. Thad, I own up to failure. Once I thought I was a pretty clever hand at that sort of thing, but now I'm mixer-up, and have lost considerable confidence.
"I kept changing my mind again and again. When he'd tell some of the most astonishing stories of the strange lands he'd roved through, I'd begin to say to myself that he must surely be just lying. Then the fellow'd mention some little happening that he'd describe so vividly, would you believe it, I felt the tears in my eyes, for it would be sort of pathetic. So during that whole hour I sat there and changed my mind every ten minutes, now blowing hot, and again cold. I came away in as muddled a state as I went there. His actions seem to stamp him a rogue if ever there was one; and yet, Thad, I seemed to see something different in the depths of his twinkling blue eyes."
"Oh! thunder! however are we going to get rid of such a sticker?" groaned Thad, as though at a loss to know what next to do.
"Listen," resumed Hugh. "Among other things he mentioned was an account of his adventures down in Texas in the big oil field there, where he said men make fortunes one day and lose them the next in speculation. He went into some details to tell me of a strange thing he had witnessed there, and among other names mentioned, he chanced to speak of a Marshal Hastings, who, it seems, is much feared by the bad men of that community. Somehow, I thought I could detect a little quaver in Brother Lu's voice whenever he spoke of this party; and, Thad, do you know, the idea flashed through my brain that perhaps he'd had an unpleasant half hour with that same Marshal Hastings himself."
"I take it that you mean the officer may have warned Lu to shake the dust of that region off his brogans, and make himself scarce, if he didn't want to pull hemp; is that your idea, Hugh?"
"Something along that order," came the steady reply. "At least he could not think of Marshal Hastings without some memory that was unpleasant, making him shiver."
Thad's eagerness increased by jumps, and showed itself on his face, which was now lighted up with anticipation.
"I'm beginning to sense something coming, Hugh," he hastened to say. "What you saw gave you a sort of idea, didn't it? You reckon right now that there may be a way to frighten this lazy loafer, so that of his own free will he'll cut stick and clear out. Well, perhaps after all something like that would be the best way to get rid of him. I don't believe the people in this civilized section of country would stand for any night-riding business like they did in the Kentucky tobacco district; or such a thing as that tar and feather picnic. So go on and tell me your scheme."
"Well," Hugh continued, "you could hardly call it by such a name as yet, because the idea is hardly more than half hatched. But when he told me about the way the bad men used to shake at mention of that brave marshal's very name, and I saw him doing something along the same order, why, I began to figure out that if only Brother Lu could be made to believe Marshal Hastings was here from Texas, looking for somebody he meant to take back with him, why, he might get such a bad scare he'd skip by the light of the moon between days, and never, never come back again."
Thad gave his chum a vigorous pound on the back that made the other wince; but then he was accustomed to taking things of this nature from expressive Thad.
"Oh! that sounds good to me, Hugh!" he burst out with. "I honestly believe you are getting close to a bully scheme that may pan out firstclass. Argument and all kinds of pleading wouldn't influence that man a bit, because he's selfish, I know he must be, or else he wouldn't burden his poor sister, and see her working for his miserable comfort every day, and all day long. But, Hugh, he could be moved by fear. If so be he has ever done anything down there in Texas that he could be arrested for, why, just the mere knowledge that this marshal, who always gets those he goes after, has come north, and is looking for some one, ought to start Brother Lu on a gallop for another distant section of country."
"It might," said Hugh, reflectively, as though the exuberance of his comrade was having an effect on his mind.
"It surely would," repeated Thad, pounding a fist into his other palm to express his convictions. "And, believe me, he wouldn't dare show his smiling face in these parts in a hurry again, because he'd feel pretty sure the marshal would have arranged it with the local police to notify him in case Brother Lu ever turned up. Why, Hugh, we've got the scheme right now; and it ought to work to beat the band. I can see that hobo trailing along over the ties again at a hot pace; and while poor Matilda may grieve for her brother, she'll heave a sigh of relief to know it's all over, and the ladies are her friends again."
"Let's go a step further, then," insinuated Hugh, "and if we decide to try out this little plan, which you're good enough to call a scheme, how can we fix it so that the reformed hobo will take the alarm?"
"That's where the hitch may come in," agreed the other boy, as he allowed three separate lines of wrinkles to gather across his forehead, which was always reckoned a sure sign that Thad Stevens was concentrating his brain power upon the solution of a knotty problem. "One thing sure, we can't very well up and inform him of the fact ourselves, or he'd understand the motive right away."
"And even if a letter could be sent," continued Hugh, "how would we be able to get the right post-mark on the envelope, unless we asked the postmaster down in a town of Texas close to the oil fields to mail it for us?"
Suddenly Thad started to smile. The said smile rapidly broadened into a positive grin that spread all over his face, while his eyes fairly sparkled with delight.
"Hugh, I've just grabbed a bright idea!" he said, explosively.
"Let's hear about it before the same gets away from you, then," his chum advised.
"Listen. Perhaps you may know that I used to go some with little Jim Pettigrew more or less before you and I became such chums. Jim is considerably older than me, but his stature always made folks think he was a kid. Well, of course you also know Jim he's graduated into a regular cub reporter, as he's so fond of calling it, because that word cub is used so often in the movies, when they show up a big newspaper office in New York or Chicago, and the latest greenhorn on the staff is given an assignment that allows him to make the greatest news scoop ever heard of. Jim, to tell the truth, works on our local weekly here, the Scranton Courier. He rakes the entire country for news, writes things up that have never occurred, so as to fill space, and draw his weekly pay, attends weddings, funerals, and all sorts of events, not forgetting baseball games and such things.
"Well, Jim is still a good friend of mine, although he now feels himself so mighty important that even the mayor sends for him to communicate something he wants to appear in the next issue of the paper. The idea that flashed into my brain, you must know, Hugh, is to tell Jim of our great trouble with this pesky hobo, and enlist his aid in scaring Brother Lu off."
"Suppose now, in the issue of the Courier that is due tomorrow morning there appeared an interesting write-up about a certain Marshal Hastings who was visiting Scranton, having come all the way from Texas to find and take back a certain party who was badly wanted there for some serious offense; the story could give little hints that would point to Brother Lu as the man, without actually saying so. Hugh, tell me, what do you think of that for a scheme; and might it do the work, would you say?"
SETTING THE MAN TRAP
Hugh jumped up from his chair and clapped a cap on his head.
"It's now about four o'clock of a Friday afternoon," he remarked, "and if we could only run across Jim Pettigrew, and he got interested in our story, why it might not be too late to get the little write-up arranged before they went to press tonight."
Thad was all animation.
"Fine! Let's rush around to the Courier office and see Jim!" he hastened to say. "I've an idea he's a sort of Jack-of-all-trades there, writing up news, setting type in an emergency, and even helping turn off the limited edition of about five hundred copies of the paper that are run every week. So, as Friday night is the climax to their week's work, we're likely to find Jim there with his coat off, and on the job."
They soon arrived at the small building on a side street where the local paper had its offices, and, indeed, every other thing connected with it, for that matter.
"There's Jim sitting in the editor's chair," observed Thad, looking through a dusty window.
"Must be Mr. Adoiphus Hanks, who owns and edits the Courier, is out of town just at present. Say, that would just suit us to a fraction, wouldn't it, Hugh?"
"It might make things easier for us," admitted the other; and then they burst in on the important if diminutive Jim, who received them with all the airs of a metropolitan editor.
"Glad to see you, boys," he told them; "just take seats, will you, and excuse me for three minutes. I'm winding up the main editorial for this week's issue. Hanks is out of town, and has left me in full charge; but then that happens frequently nowadays; and, say, some foolish people have gone so far as to say they can tell when he's absent because, well, the paper shows it; but I tell them they are only saying that to flatter me. Three minutes, boys, and I'll be at your service."