Willie Howarth loved baseball. He loved it all the more because he was a cripple. The game was more beautiful and wonderful to him because he would never be able to play it. For Willie had been born with one leg shorter than the other; he could not run and at 11 years of age it was all he could do to walk with a crutch.
Nevertheless Willie knew more about baseball than any other boy on Madden's Hill. An uncle of his had once been a ballplayer and he had taught Willie the fine points of the game. And this uncle's ballplayer friends, who occasionally visited him, had imparted to Willie the vernacular of the game. So that Willie's knowledge of players and play, and particularly of the strange talk, the wild and whirling words on the lips of the real baseball men, made him the envy of every boy on Madden's Hill, and a mine of information. Willie never missed attending the games played on the lots, and he could tell why they were won or lost.
Willie suffered considerable pain, mostly at night, and this had given him a habit of lying awake in the dark hours, grieving over that crooked leg that forever shut him out of the heritage of youth. He had kept his secret well; he was accounted shy because he was quiet and had never been able to mingle with the boys in their activity. No one except his mother dreamed of the fire and hunger and pain within his breast. His school- mates called him ``Daddy.'' It was a name given for his bent shoulders, his labored gait and his thoughtful face, too old for his years. And no one, not even his mother, guessed how that name hurt Willie.
It was a source of growing unhappiness with Willie that the Madden's Hill boys were always beaten by the other teams of the town. He really came to lose his sadness over his own misfortune in pondering on the wretched play of the Madden's Hill baseball club. He had all a boy's pride in the locality where he lived. And when the Bogg's Farm team administered a crushing defeat to Madden's Hill, Willie grew desperate.
Monday he met Lane Griffith, the captain of the Madden's Hill nine.
``Hello, Daddy,'' said Lane. He was a big, aggressive boy, and in a way had a fondness for Willie.
``Lane, you got an orful trimmin' up on the Boggs. What 'd you wanter let them country jakes beat you for?''
``Aw, Daddy, they was lucky. Umpire had hay- seed in his eyes! Robbed us! He couldn't see straight. We'll trim them down here Saturday.''
``No, you won't--not without team work. Lane, you've got to have a manager.''
``Durn it! Where 're we goin' to get one?'' Lane blurted out.
``You can sign me. I can't play, but I know the game. Let me coach the boys.''
The idea seemed to strike Capt. Griffith favorably. He prevailed upon all the boys living on Madden's Hill to come out for practice after school. Then he presented them to the managing coach. The boys were inclined to poke fun at Daddy Howarth and ridicule him; but the idea was a novel one and they were in such a state of subjection from many beatings that they welcomed any change. Willie sat on a bench improvised from a soap box and put them through a drill of batting and fielding. The next day in his coaching he included bunting and sliding. He played his men in different positions and for three more days he drove them unmercifully.
When Saturday came, the day for the game with Bogg's Farm, a wild protest went up from the boys. Willie experienced his first bitterness as a manager. Out of forty aspirants for the Madden's Hill team he could choose but nine to play the game. And as a conscientious manager he could use no favorites. Willie picked the best players and assigned them to positions that, in his judgment, were the best suited to them. Bob Irvine wanted to play first base and he was down for right field. Sam Wickhart thought he was the fastest fielder, and Willie had him slated to catch. Tom Lindsay's feelings were hurt because he was not to play in the infield. Eddie Curtis suffered a fall in pride when he discovered he was not down to play second base. Jake Thomas, Tay-Tay Mohler and Brick Grace all wanted to pitch. The manager had chosen Frank Price for that important position, and Frank's one ambition was to be a shortstop.
So there was a deadlock. For a while there seemed no possibility of a game. Willie sat on the bench, the center of a crowd of discontented, quarreling boys. Some were jealous, some were outraged, some tried to pacify and persuade the others. All were noisy. Lane Griffith stood by his manager and stoutly declared the players should play the positions to which they had been assigned or not at all. And he was entering into a hot argument with Tom Lindsay when the Bogg's Farm team arrogantly put in an appearance.
The way that team from the country walked out upon the field made a great difference. The spirit of Madden's Hill roused to battle. The game began swiftly and went on wildly. It ended almost before the Hill boys realized it had commenced. They did not know how they had won but they gave Daddy Howarth credit for it. They had a bonfire that night to celebrate the victory and they talked baseball until their parents became alarmed and hunted them up.
Madden's Hill practiced all that next week and on Saturday beat the Seventh Ward team. In four more weeks they had added half a dozen more victories to their record. Their reputation went abroad. They got uniforms, and baseball shoes with spikes, and bats and balls and gloves. They got a mask, but Sam Wickhart refused to catch with it.
``Sam, one of these days you'll be stoppin' a high inshoot with your eye,'' sagely remarked Daddy Howarth. ``An' then where'll I get a catcher for the Natchez game?''
Natchez was the one name on the lips of every Madden's Hill boy. For Natchez had the great team of the town and, roused by the growing repute of the Hill club, had condescended to arrange a game. When that game was scheduled for July Fourth Daddy Howarth set to driving his men. Early and late he had them out. This manager, in keeping with all other famous managers, believed that batting was the thing which won games. He developed a hard-hitting team. He kept everlastingly at them to hit and run, hit and run.
On the Saturday before the Fourth, Madden's Hill had a game to play that did not worry Daddy and he left his team in charge of the captain.
``Fellers, I'm goin' down to the Round House to see Natchez play. I'll size up their game,'' said Daddy.
When he returned he was glad to find that his team had won its ninth straight victory, but he was not communicative in regard to the playing of the Natchez club. He appeared more than usually thoughtful.
The Fourth fell on Tuesday. Daddy had the boys out Monday and he let them take only a short, sharp practice. Then he sent them home. In his own mind, Daddy did not have much hope of beating Natchez. He had been greatly impressed by their playing, and one inning toward the close of the Round House game they had astonished him with the way they suddenly seemed to break loose and deluge their opponents in a flood of hits and runs. He could not understand this streak of theirs--for they did the same thing every time they played--and he was too good a baseball student to call it luck.
He had never wanted anything in his life, not even to have two good legs, as much as he wanted to beat Natchez. For the Madden's Hill boys had come to believe him infallible. He was their idol. They imagined they had only to hit and run, to fight and never give up, and Daddy would make them win. There was not a boy on the team who believed that Natchez had a chance. They had grown proud and tenacious of their dearly won reputation. First of all, Daddy thought of his team and their loyalty to him; then he thought of the glory lately come to Madden's Hill, and lastly of what it meant to him to have risen from a lonely watcher of the game--a cripple who could not even carry a bat--to manager of the famous Hill team. It might go hard with the boys to lose this game, but it would break his heart.
From time out of mind there had always been rivalry between Madden's Hill and Natchez. And there is no rivalry so bitter as that between boys. So Daddy, as he lay awake at night planning the system of play he wanted to use, left out of all account any possibility of a peaceful game. It was comforting to think that if it came to a fight Sam and Lane could hold their own with Bo Stranathan and Slugger Blandy.
In the managing of his players Daddy observed strict discipline. It was no unusual thing for him to fine them. On practice days and off the field they implicitly obeyed him. During actual play, however, they had evinced a tendency to jump over the traces. It had been his order for them not to report at the field Tuesday until 2 o'clock. He found it extremely difficult to curb his own inclination to start before the set time. And only the stern duty of a man to be an example to his players kept Daddy at home.
He lived near the ball grounds, yet on this day, as he hobbled along on his crutch, he thought the distance interminably long, and for the first time in weeks the old sickening resentment at his useless leg knocked at his heart. Manfully Daddy refused admittance to that old gloomy visitor. He found comfort and forgetfulness in the thought that no strong and swift-legged boy of his acquaintance could do what he could do.
Upon arriving at the field Daddy was amazed to see such a large crowd. It appeared that all the boys and girls in the whole town were in attendance, and, besides, there was a sprinkling of grown-up people interspersed here and there around the diamond. Applause greeted Daddy's appearance and members of his team escorted him to the soap-box bench.
Daddy cast a sharp eye over the Natchez players practicing on the field. Bo Stranathan had out his strongest team. They were not a prepossessing nine. They wore soiled uniforms that did not match in cut or color. But they pranced and swaggered and strutted! They were boastful and boisterous. It was a trial for any Madden's Hill boy just to watch them.
``Wot a swelled bunch!'' exclaimed Tom Lindsay.
``Fellers, if Slugger Blandy tries to pull any stunt on me today he'll get a swelleder nut,'' growled Lane Griffith.
``T-t-t-t-t-te-te-tell him t-t-t-to keep out of m-m-m-my way an' not b-b-b-b-bl-block me,'' stuttered Tay-Tay Mohler.
``We're a-goin' to skin 'em,'' said Eddie Curtis.
``Cheese it, you kids, till we git in the game,'' ordered Daddy. ``Now, Madden's Hill, hang round an' listen. I had to sign articles with Natchez--had to let them have their umpire. So we're up against it. But we'll hit this pitcher Muckle Harris. He ain't got any steam. An' he ain't got much nerve. Now every feller who goes up to bat wants to talk to Muck. Call him a big swelled stiff. Tell him he can't break a pane of glass--tell him he can't put one over the pan-- tell him it he does you'll slam it down in the sand bank. Bluff the whole team. Keep scrappy all the time. See! That's my game today. This Natchez bunch needs to be gone after. Holler at the umpire. Act like you want to fight.''
Then Daddy sent his men out for practice.
``Boss, enny ground rules?'' inquired Bo Stranathan. He was a big, bushy-haired boy with a grin and protruding teeth. ``How many bases on wild throws over first base an' hits over the sand bank?''
``All you can get,'' replied Daddy, with a magnanimous wave of hand.
``Huh! Lemmee see your ball?''
Daddy produced the ball that he had Lane had made for the game.
``Huh! Watcher think? We ain 't goin' to play with no mush ball like thet,'' protested Bo. ``We play with a hard ball. Looka here! We'll trow up the ball.''
Daddy remembered what he had heard about the singular generosity of the Natchez team to supply the balls for the games they played.
``We don't hev to pay nothin' fer them balls. A man down at the Round House makes them for us. They ain't no balls as good,'' explained Bo, with pride.
However, as Bo did not appear eager to pass over the balls for examination Daddy simply reached out and took them. They were small, perfectly round and as hard as bullets. They had no covers. The yarn had been closely and tightly wrapped and then stitched over with fine bees- waxed thread. Daddy fancied he detected a difference in the weight of the ball, but Bo took them back before Daddy could be sure of that point.
``You don't have to fan about it. I know a ball when I see one,'' observed Daddy. ``But we're on our own grounds an' we'll use our own ball. Thanks all the same to you, Stranathan.''
``Huh! All I gotta say is we'll play with my ball er there won't be no game,'' said Bo suddenly.
Daddy shrewdly eyed the Natchez captain. Bo did not look like a fellow wearing himself thin from generosity. It struck Daddy that Bo's habit of supplying the ball for the game might have some relation to the fact that he always carried along his own umpire. There was a strange feature about this umpire business and it was that Bo's man had earned a reputation for being particularly fair. No boy ever had any real reason to object to Umpire Gale's decisions. When Gale umpired away from the Natchez grounds his close decisions always favored the other team, rather than his own. It all made Daddy keen and thoughtful.
``Stranathan, up here on Madden's Hill we know how to treat visitors. We'll play with your ball. . . . Now keep your gang of rooters from crowdin' on the diamond.''
``Boss, it's your grounds. Fire 'em off if they don't suit you. . . . Come on, let's git in the game. Watcher want--field er bat?''
``Field,'' replied Daddy briefly.
Billy Gale called ``Play,'' and the game began with Slugger Blandy at bat. The formidable way in which he swung his club did not appear to have any effect on Frank Price or the player back of him. Frank's most successful pitch was a slow, tantalizing curve, and he used it. Blandy lunged at the ball, missed it and grunted.
``Frank, you got his alley,'' called Lane.
Slugger fouled the next one high in the air back of the plate. Sam Wickhart, the stocky bowlegged catcher, was a fiend for running after foul flies, and now he plunged into the crowd of boys, knocking them right and left, and he caught the ball. Whisner came up and hit safely over Griffith, whereupon the Natchez supporters began to howl. Kelly sent a grounder to Grace at short stop. Daddy's weak player made a poor throw to first base, so the runner was safe. Then Bo Stranathan batted a stinging ball through the infield, scoring Whisner.
``Play the batter! Play the batter!'' sharply called Daddy from the bench.
Then Frank struck out Molloy and retired Dundon on an easy fly.
``Fellers, git in the game now,'' ordered Daddy, as his players eagerly trotted in. ``Say things to that Muckle Harris! We'll walk through this game like sand through a sieve.''
Bob Irvin ran to the plate waving his bat at Harris.
``Put one over, you freckleface! I 've been dyin' fer this chanst. You're on Madden's Hill now.''
Muckle evidently was not the kind of pitcher to stand coolly under such bantering. Obviously he was not used to it. His face grew red and his hair waved up. Swinging hard, he threw the ball straight at Bob's head. Quick as a cat, Bob dropped flat.
``Never touched me!'' he chirped, jumping up and pounding the plate with his bat. ``You couldn't hit a barn door. Come on. I'll paste one a mile!''
Bob did not get an opportunity to hit, for Harris could not locate the plate and passed him to first on four balls.
``Dump the first one,'' whispered Daddy in Grace's ear. Then he gave Bob a signal to run on the first pitch.
Grace tried to bunt the first ball, but he missed it. His attempt, however, was so violent that he fell over in front of the catcher, who could not recover in time to throw, and Bob got to second base. At this juncture, the Madden's Hill band of loyal supporters opened up with a mingling of shrill yells and whistles and jangling of tin cans filled with pebbles. Grace hit the next ball into second base and, while he was being thrown out, Bob raced to third. With Sam Wickhart up it looked good for a score, and the crowd yelled louder. Sam was awkward yet efficient, and he batted a long fly to right field. The fielder muffed the ball. Bob scored, Sam reached second base, and the crowd yelled still louder. Then Lane struck out and Mohler hit to shortstop, retiring the side.
Natchez scored a run on a hit, a base on balls, and another error by Grace. Every time a ball went toward Grace at short Daddy groaned. In their half of the inning Madden's Hill made two runs, increasing the score 3 to 2.
The Madden's Hill boys began to show the strain of such a close contest. If Daddy had voiced aloud his fear it would have been: ``They'll blow up in a minnit!'' Frank Price alone was slow and cool, and he pitched in masterly style. Natchez could not beat him. On the other hand, Madden's Hill hit Muck Harris hard, but superb fielding kept runners off the bases. As Daddy's team became more tense and excited Bo Stranathan's players grew steadier and more arrogantly confident. Daddy saw it with distress, and he could not realize just where Natchez had license for such confidence. Daddy watched the game with the eyes of a hawk.
As the Natchez players trooped in for their sixth inning at bat, Daddy observed a marked change in their demeanor. Suddenly they seemed to have been let loose; they were like a band of Indians. Daddy saw everything. He did not miss seeing Umpire Gale take a ball from his pocket and toss it to Frank, and Daddy wondered if that was the ball which had been in the play. Straightway, however, he forgot that in the interest of the game.
Bo Stranathan bawled: ``Wull, Injuns, hyar's were we do 'em. We've jest ben loafin' along. Git ready to tear the air, you rooters!''
Kelly hit a wonderfully swift ball through the infield. Bo batted out a single. Malloy got up in the way of one of Frank's pitches, and was passed to first base. Then, as the Natchez crowd opened up in shrill clamor, the impending disaster fell. Dundon hit a bounder down into the infield. The ball appeared to be endowed with life. It bounded low, then high and, cracking into Grace's hands, bounced out and rolled away. The runners raced around the bases.
Pickens sent up a tremendous fly, the highest ever batted on Madden's Hill. It went over Tom Lindsay in center field, and Tom ran and ran. The ball went so far up that Tom had time to cover the ground, but he could not judge it. He ran round in a little circle, with hands up in bewilderment. And when the ball dropped it hit him on the head and bounded away.
``Run, you Injun, run!'' bawled Bo. ``What'd I tell you? We ain't got 'em goin', oh, no! Hittin' 'em on the head!''
Bill dropped a slow, teasing ball down the third- base line. Jake Thomas ran desperately for it, and the ball appeared to strike his hands and run up his arms and caress his nose and wrap itself round his neck and then roll gently away. All the while, the Natchez runners tore wildly about the bases and the Natchez supporters screamed and whistled. Muck Harris could not bat, yet he hit the first ball and it shot like a bullet over the infield. Then Slugger Blandy came to the plate.
he ball he sent out knocked Grace's leg from under him as if it were a ten-pin. Whisner popped a fly over Tay Tay Mohler's head. Now Tay Tay was fat and slow, but he was a sure catch. He got under the ball. It struck his hands and jumped back twenty feet up into the air. It was a strangely live ball. Kelly again hit to shortstop, and the ball appeared to start slow, to gather speed with every bound and at last to dart low and shoot between Grace's legs.
``Haw! Haw!'' roared Bo. ``They've got a hole at short. Hit fer the hole, fellers. Watch me! Jest watch me!''
And he swung hard on the first pitch. The ball glanced like a streak straight at Grace, took a vicious jump, and seemed to flirt with the infielder's hands, only to evade them.
Malloy fouled a pitch and the ball hit Sam Wickhart square over the eye. Sam's eye popped out and assumed the proportions and color of a huge plum.
``Hey!'' yelled Blandy, the rival catcher. ``Air you ketchin' with yer mug?''
Sam would not delay the game nor would he don the mask.
Daddy sat hunched on his soap-box, and, as in a hateful dream, he saw his famous team go to pieces. He put his hands over his ears to shut out some of the uproar. And he watched that little yarn ball fly and shoot and bound and roll to crush his fondest hopes. Not one of his players appeared able to hold it. And Grace had holes in his hands and legs and body. The ball went right through him. He might as well have been so much water. Instead of being a shortstop he was simply a hole. After every hit Daddy saw that ball more and more as something alive. It sported with his infielders. It bounded like a huge jack-rabbit, and went swifter and higher at every bound. It was here, there, everywhere.
And it became an infernal ball. It became endowed with a fiendish propensity to run up a player's leg and all about him, as if trying to hide in his pocket. Grace's efforts to find it were heartbreaking to watch. Every time it bounded out to center field, which was of frequent occurrence, Tom would fall on it and hug it as if he were trying to capture a fleeing squirrel. Tay Tay Mohler could stop the ball, but that was no great credit to him, for his hands took no part in the achievement. Tay Tay was fat and the ball seemed to like him. It boomed into his stomach and banged against his stout legs. When Tay saw it coming he dropped on his knees and valorously sacrificed his anatomy to the cause of the game.
Daddy tried not to notice the scoring of runs by his opponents. But he had to see them and he had to count. Ten runs were as ten blows! After that each run scored was like a stab in his heart. The play went on, a terrible fusilade of wicked ground balls that baffled any attempt to field them. Then, with nineteen runs scored, Natchez appeared to tire. Sam caught a foul fly, and Tay Tay, by obtruding his wide person to the path of infield hits, managed to stop them, and throw out the runners.
Score--Natchez, 21; Madden Hill, 3.
Daddy's boys slouched and limped wearily in.
``Wot kind of a ball's that?'' panted Tom, as he showed his head with a bruise as large as a goose-egg.
``T-t-t-t-ta-ta-tay-tay-tay-tay----'' began Mohler, in great excitement, but as he could not finish what he wanted to say no one caught his meaning.
Daddy's watchful eye had never left that wonderful, infernal little yarn ball. Daddy was crushed under defeat, but his baseball brains still continued to work. He saw Umpire Gale leisurely step into the pitcher's box, and leisurely pick up the ball and start to make a motion to put it in his pocket.
Suddenly fire flashed all over Daddy.
``Hyar! Don't hide that ball!'' he yelled, in his piercing tenor.
He jumped up quickly, forgetting his crutch, and fell headlong. Lane and Sam got him upright and handed the crutch to him. Daddy began to hobble out to the pitcher's box.
``Don't you hide that ball. See! I've got my eye on this game. That ball was in play, an' you can't use the other.''
Umpire Gale looked sheepish, and his eyes did not meet Daddy's. Then Bo came trotting up.
``What's wrong, boss?'' he asked.
``Aw, nuthin'. You're tryin' to switch balls on me. That's all. You can't pull off any stunts on Madden's Hill.''
``Why, boss, thet ball's all right. What you hollerin' about?''
``Sure that ball's all right,'' replied Daddy. ``It's a fine ball. An' we want a chanst to hit it! See?''
Bo flared up and tried to bluster, but Daddy cut him short.
``Give us our innin'--let us git a whack at that ball, or I'll run you off Madden's Hill.''
Bo suddenly looked a little pale and sick.
``Course youse can git a whack at it,'' he said, in a weak attempt to be natural and dignified.
Daddy tossed the ball to Harris, and as he hobbled off the field he heard Bo calling out low and cautiously to his players. Then Daddy was certain he had discovered a trick. He called his players around him.
``This game ain't over yet. It ain't any more'n begun. I'll tell you what. Last innin' Bo's umpire switched balls on us. That ball was lively. An' they tried to switch back on me. But nix! We're goin' to git a chanst to hit that lively ball, An' they're goin' to git a dose of their own medicine. Now, you dead ones--come back to life! Show me some hittin' an' runnin'.''
``Daddy, you mean they run in a trick on us?'' demanded Lane, with flashing eyes.
``Funny about Natchez's strong finishes!'' replied Daddy, coolly, as he eyed his angry players.
They let out a roar, and then ran for the bats.
The crowd, quick to sense what was in the air, thronged to the diamond and manifested alarming signs of outbreak.
Sam Wickhart leaped to the plate and bandished his club.
``Sam, let him pitch a couple,'' called Daddy from the bench. ``Mebbe we'll git wise then.''
Harris had pitched only twice when the fact became plain that he could not throw this ball with the same speed as the other. The ball was heavier; besides Harris was also growing tired. The next pitch Sam hit far out over the center fielder's head for a home run. It was a longer hit than any Madden's Hill boy had ever made. The crowd shrieked its delight. Sam crossed the plate and then fell on the bench beside Daddy.
``Say! that ball nearly knocked the bat out of my hands,'' panted Sam. ``It made the bat spring!''
``Fellers, don't wait,'' ordered Daddy. ``Don't give the umpire a chanst to roast us now. Slam the first ball!''
The aggressive captain lined the ball at Bo Stranathan. The Natchez shortstop had a fine opportunity to make the catch, but he made an inglorious muff. Tay Tay hurried to bat. Umpire Gale called the first pitch a strike. Tay slammed down his club. ``T-t-t-t-to-to-twasn't over,'' he cried. ``T-t-t-tay----''
``Shut up,'' yelled Daddy. ``We want to git this game over today.''
Tay Tay was fat and he was also strong, so that when beef and muscle both went hard against the ball it traveled. It looked as if it were going a mile straight up. All the infielders ran to get under it. They got into a tangle, into which the ball descended. No one caught it, and thereupon the Natchez players began to rail at one another. Bo stormed at them, and they talked back to him. Then when Tom Lindsay hit a little slow grounder into the infield it seemed that a just retribution had overtaken the great Natchez team.
Ordinarily this grounder of Tom's would have been easy for a novice to field. But this peculiar grounder, after it has hit the ground once, seemed to wake up and feel lively. It lost its leisurely action and began to have celerity. When it reached Dundon it had the strange, jerky speed so characteristic of the grounders that had confused the Madden's Hill team. Dundon got his hands on the ball and it would not stay in them. When finally he trapped it Tom had crossed first base and another runner had scored. Eddie Curtis cracked another at Bo. The Natchez captain dove for it, made a good stop, bounced after the rolling ball, and then threw to Kelly at first. The ball knocked Kelly's hands apart as if they had been paper. Jake Thomas batted left handed and he swung hard on a slow pitch and sent the ball far into right field. Runners scored. Jake's hit was a three-bagger. Then Frank Price hit up an infield fly. Bo yelled for Dundon to take it and Dundon yelled for Harris. They were all afraid to try for it. It dropped safely while Jake ran home.
With the heavy batters up the excitement increased. A continuous scream and incessant rattle of tin cans made it impossible to hear what the umpire called out. But that was not important, for he seldom had a chance to call either ball or strike. Harris had lost his speed and nearly every ball he pitched was hit by the Madden's Hill boys. Irvine cracked one down between short and third. Bo and Pickens ran for it and collided while the ball jauntily skipped out to left field and, deftly evading Bell, went on and on. Bob reached third. Grace hit another at Dundon, who appeared actually to stop it four times before he could pick it up, and then he was too late. The doughty bow-legged Sam, with his huge black eye, hung over the plate and howled at Muckle. In the din no one heard what he said, but evidently Muck divined it. For he roused to the spirit of a pitcher who would die of shame if he could not fool a one-eyed batter. But Sam swooped down and upon the first ball and drove it back toward the pitcher. Muck could not get out of the way and the ball made his leg buckle under him. Then that hit glanced off to begin a marvelous exhibition of high and erratic bounding about the infield.
Daddy hunched over his soap-box bench and hugged himself. He was farsighted and he saw victory. Again he watched the queer antics of that little yarn ball, but now with different feelings. Every hit seemed to lift him to the skies. He kept silent, though every time the ball fooled a Natchez player Daddy wanted to yell. And when it started for Bo and, as if in revenge, bounded wickeder at every bounce to skip off the grass and make Bo look ridiculous, then Daddy experienced the happiest moments of his baseball career. Every time a tally crossed the plate he would chalk it down on his soap box.
But when Madden's Hill scored the nineteenth run without a player being put out, then Daddy lost count. He gave himself up to revel. He sat motionless and silent; nevertheless his whole internal being was in the state of wild tumult. It was as if he was being rewarded in joy for all the misery he had suffered because he was a cripple. He could never play baseball. but he had baseball brains. He had been too wise for the tricky Stranathan. He was the coach and manager and general of the great Madden's Hill nine. If ever he had to lie awake at night again he would not mourn over his lameness; he would have something to think about. To him would be given the glory of beating the invincible Natchez team. So Daddy felt the last bitterness leave him. And he watched that strange little yarn ball, with its wonderful skips and darts and curves. The longer the game progressed and the wearier Harris grew, the harder the Madden's Hill boys batted the ball and the crazier it bounced at Bo and his sick players. Finally, Tay Tay Mohler hit a teasing grounder down to Bo.
Then it was as if the ball, realizing a climax, made ready for a final spurt. When Bo reached for the ball it was somewhere else. Dundon could not locate it. And Kelly, rushing down to the chase, fell all over himself and his teammates trying to grasp the illusive ball, and all the time Tay Tay was running. He never stopped. But as he was heavy and fat he did not make fast time on the bases. Frantically the outfielders ran in to head off the bouncing ball, and when they had succeeded Tay Tay had performed the remarkable feat of making a home run on a ball batted into the infield.
That broke Natchez's spirit. They quit. They hurried for their bats. Only Bo remained behind a moment to try to get his yarn ball. But Sam had pounced upon it and given it safely to Daddy. Bo made one sullen demand for it.
``Funny about them fast finishes of yours!'' said Daddy scornfully. ``Say! the ball's our'n. The winnin' team gits the ball. Go home an' look up the rules of the game!''
Bo slouched off the field to a shrill hooting and tin canning.
``Fellers, what was the score?'' asked Daddy.
Nobody knew the exact number of runs made by Madden's Hill.
``Gimme a knife, somebody,'' said the manager.
When it had been produced Daddy laid down the yarn ball and cut into it. The blade entered readily for a inch and then stopped. Daddy cut all around the ball, and removed the cover of tightly wrapped yarn. Inside was a solid ball of India rubber.
``Say! it ain't so funny now--how that ball bounced,'' remarked Daddy.
``Wot you think of that!'' exclaimed Tom, feeling the lump on his head.
``T-t-t-t-t-t-t-ta-tr----'' began Tay Tay Mohler.
``Say it! Say it!'' interrupted Daddy.
``Ta-ta-ta-tr-trimmed them wa-wa-wa-wa-with their own b-b-b-b-b-ba-ba-ball,'' finished Tay.
Return to the Zane Grey library , or . . . Read the next short story; The Redheaded Outfield