Marty Brown - Mascot
Ralph Henry Barbour
MARTIN—more familiarly "Marty"—Brown's connection with the Summerville Baseball Club had begun the previous spring, when, during a hotly contested game with the High School nine, Bob Ayer, Summerville's captain, watching his men go down like ninepins before the puzzling curves of the rival pitcher, found himself ad- dressed by a small snub-nosed, freckle-faced youth with very bright blue eyes and very dusty bare feet:
"Want me ter look after yer bats?"
"All right," was the cheerful response.
The umpire called two strikes on the batsman, and Bob muttered his anger.
"I don't want nothin' fer it," announced the boy beside him, insinuatingly, digging a hole in the turf with one bare toe.
Bob turned, glad of something to vent his wrath upon. "No! Get out of here!" he snarled.
"All right," was the imperturbable answer.
Then the side was out, and Bob trotted to first base. That half inning, the last of the seventh, was a tragedy for the town nine, for the High School piled three runs more on their already respectable lead, and when Bob came in he had well-defined visions of defeat. It was his turn at the bat. When he went to select his stick he was surprised to find the barefooted, freckle-faced youth in calm possession.
"What—?" he began angrily.
Marty leaped up and held out a bat. Bob took it, astonished to find that it was his own pet "wagon- tongue," and strode off to the plate, too surprised for words. Two minutes later, he was streaking toward first base on a safe hit to center field. An error gave him second, and the dwindling hopes of Summerville began to rise again. The fellows found the High School pitcher and fairly batted him off his feet, and when the side went out it had added six runs to its tally, and lacked but one of being even with its opponent. Meanwhile Marty rescued the bats thrown aside, and arranged them neatly, presiding over them gravely, and showing a marvelous knowledge of each batsman's wants.
Summerville won that game by two runs, and Bob Ayer was the first to declare, with conviction, that it was "all owing to Marty. The luck had changed," he said, "as soon as the snub-nosed boy had taken charge of the club's property."
Every one saw the reasonableness of the claim, and Marty was thereupon adopted as the official mascot and general factotum of the Summerville Baseball Club. Since then none had disputed Marty's right to that position, and he had served tirelessly, proudly, mourning the defeats and glorying in the victories as sincerely as Bob Ayer himself.
Marty went to the grammar-school "when it kept," and in the summer became a wage-earner to the best of his ability, holding insecure positions with several grocery and butcher stores as messenger and "special delivery." But always on Saturday afternoons he was to be found squatting over the bats at the ball-ground; he never allowed the desire for money to interfere with his sacred duty as mascot and custodian of club property. Every one liked Marty, and he was as much a part of the Summerville Baseball Club as if one of the nine. His rewards consisted chiefly of discarded bats and balls; but he was well satisfied: it was a labor of love with him, and it is quite probable that, had he been offered a salary in payment of the services he rendered, he would have indignantly refused it. For the rest, he was fifteen years old, was not particularly large for his age, still retained the big brown freckles and the snub nose, had lively and honest blue eyes, and, despite the fact that his mother eked out a scanty living by washing clothes for the well-to-do of the town, had a fair idea of his own importance, without, however, risking his popularity by becoming too familiar. The bare feet were covered now by a pair of run-down and very dusty shoes, and his blue calico shirt and well-patched trousers were always clean and neat. On his brown hair rested, far back, a blue-and-white baseball cap adorned with a big S, the gift of Bob Ayer, and Marty's only badge of office.
To-day Marty had a grievance. He sat on a big packing-box in front of Castor's Cash Grocery and kicked his heels softly against its side. Around him the air was heavy with the odor of burning paper and punk, and every instant the sharp sputter of fire-crackers broke upon his reverie. It was the Fourth of July and almost noon. It was very hot, too. But it was not that which was troubling Marty. His grief sprung from the fact that, in just twenty minutes by the town-hall clock up there, the Summerville Baseball Club, supported by a large part of the town's younger population, would take the noon train for Vulcan to play its annual game with the nine of that city; and it would go, Marty bitterly reflected, without its mascot.
Vulcan was a good way off,—as Marty viewed distance,—and the fare for the round trip was $1.40, just $1.28 more than Marty possessed. He had hinted to Bob Ayer and to "Herb" Webster, the club's manager, the real need of taking him along—had even been gloomy and foretold a harrowing defeat for their nine in the event of his absence from the scene. But Summerville's finances were at low ebb, and, owing to the sickness of one good player and the absence of another, her hopes of capturing the one-hundred-dollar purse which was yearly put up by the citizens of the rival towns were but slight. So Marty was to be left behind. And that was why Marty sat on the packing-case and grieved, refusing to join in the lively sport of his friends who, farther up the street, were firing off a small brass cannon in front of Hurlbert's hardware-store.
Already, by ones and twos, the Vulcan bound citizens were toiling through the hot sun toward the station. Marty watched them, and scowled darkly. For the time he was a radical socialist, and railed silently at the unjust manner in which riches are distributed. Presently a group of five fellows, whose ages varied from seventeen to twenty-one, came into sight upon the main street. They wore gray uniforms, with blue-and-white stockings and caps of the same hues, and on their breasts were big blue S's. Two of them carried, swung between them, a long leather bag containing Marty's charge, the club's bats. The players spied the boy on the box, and hailed him from across the street. Marty's reply was low-toned and despondent. But after they had turned the corner toward the station, he settled his cap firmly on his head and, sliding off the box, hurried after them.
The station platform was well filled when he gained it. Bob Ayer was talking excitedly to Joe Sleeper, and Marty, listening from a distance, gathered that Magee, the Summerville center-fielder, had not put in his appearance.
"If he fails us," Bob was saying anxiously, "it's all up before we start. We 're crippled already. Has any one seen him?"
None had, and Bob, looking more worried than before, strode off through the crowd to seek for news. Of course, Marty told himself, he did n't want Summerville to lose, but, just the same, if they did, it would serve them right for not taking him along. A long whistle in the distance sounded, and Bob came back, shaking his head in despair.
"Not here," he said.
A murmur of dismay went up from the group, and Marty slid off the baggage-truck and approached the captain.
"Say, let me go along, won't yer, Bob?"
Bob turned, and, seeing Marty's eager face, forgot his worry for the moment, and asked kindly: "Can you buy your ticket?
"No." Marty clenched his hands and looked desperately from one to another of the group. The train was thundering down the track beside the platform. "But you fellows might buy me one. And I'd pay yer back, honest!"
"Say, Bob, let's take him," said Hamilton. "Goodness knows, if we ever needed a mascot, we need one to-day! Here, I 'll chip in a quarter."
"So 'll I," said Sleeper. "Marty ought to go along; that's a fact."
"Here's another." "You pay for me, Dick, and I 'll settle with you when we get back."
"I 'll give a quarter, too."
"All aboard!" shouted the conductor.
"All right, Marty; jump on," cried Bob. "We 'll find the money—though I don't know where your dinner's coming from!"
Marty was up the car-steps before Bob had finished speaking, and was hauling the long bag from Wolcott with eager hands. Then they trooped into the smoking-car, since the day-coaches were already full, and Marty sat down on the stiff leather seat and stood the bag beside him. The train pulled out of the little station, and Marty's gloom gave place to radiant joy.
The journey to Vulcan occupied three quarters of an hour, during which time Bob and the other eight groaned over the absence of Magee and Curtis and Goodman, predicted defeat in one breath and hoped for victory in the next, and rearranged the batting-list in eleven different ways before they were at last satisfied. Marty meanwhile, with his scuffed shoes resting on the opposite seat, one brown hand laid importantly upon the leather bag and his face wreathed in smiles, kept his blue eyes fixedly upon the summer landscape that slid by the open window. It was his first railway trip of any length, and it was very wonderful and exciting. Even the knowledge that defeat was the probable fate ahead of the expedition failed to more than tinge his pleasure with regret.
At Vulcan the train ran under a long iron-roofed structure, noisy with the puffing of engines, the voices of the many that thronged the platforms, and the clanging of a brazen gong announcing dinner in the station restaurant. Marty was awed but delighted. He carried one end of the big bag across the street to the hotel, his eager eyes staring hither and thither in wide amaze. Vulcan boasted of a big bridge-works and steel-mills, and put on many of the airs of a larger city. Bob told Marty that they had arranged for his dinner in the hotel dining-room, but the latter demurred on the score of expense.
"Yer see, I want ter pay yer back, Bob, and so I guess I don't want ter go seventy-five cents fer dinner. Why, that's more 'n what three dinners costs us at home. I 'll just go out and get a bit of lunch, I guess. Would yer lend me ten cents?"
Marty enjoyed himself thoroughly during the succeeding half-hour. He bought a five-cent bag of peanuts and three bananas, and aided digestion by strolling about the streets while he consumed them, at last finding his way to the first of the wonderful steel-mills and wandering about freely among the bewildering cranes, rollers, and other ponderous machines. He wished it was not the Fourth of July; he would like to have seen things at work. Finally, red-faced and perspiring, he hurried back to the hotel and entered a coach with the others, and was driven through the city to the ball-ground. This had a high board fence about it, and long tiers of seats half encircling the field. There were lots of persons there, and others were arriving every minute. Marty followed the nine into a little dressing-room built under the grand stand, and presently followed them out again to a bench in the shade just to the left of the home plate. Here he unstrapped his bag and arranged the bats on the ground, examining them carefully, greatly impressed with his own importance.
The Vulcans, who had been practising on the diamond, trotted in, and Bob and the others took their places. The home team wore gray costumes with maroon stockings and caps, and the big V that adorned the shirts was also maroon. Many of them were workers in the steel-mills, and to Marty they seemed rather older than the Summervilles. Then the umpire, a very small man in a snuff-colored alpaca coat and cap, made his appearance, and the men at practice came in. The umpire tossed a coin between Bob and the Vulcans' captain, and Bob won with "heads!" and led his players into the field. A lot of men just back of Marty began to cheer for the home team as Vulcan's first man went to bat.
It were sorry work to write in detail of the disastrous first seven innings of that game. Summerville's hope of taking the one-hundred- dollar purse home with them languished and dwindled, and finally faded quite away when, in the first half of the seventh inning, Vulcan found Warner's delivery and batted the ball into every quarter of the field, and ran their score up to twelve. Summerville went to bat in the last half plainly discouraged. Oliver struck out. Hamilton hit to second base and was thrown out. Pickering got first on balls, but "died" there on a well-fielded fly of Warner's.
Vulcan's citizens yelled delightedly from grand stand and bleachers. Summerville had given a stinging defeat to their nine the year before at the rival town, and this revenge was glorious. They shouted gibes that made Marty's cheeks flush and caused him to double his fists wrathfully and wish that he were big enough to "lick somebody"; and they groaned dismally as one after another of the blue-and-white players went down before Baker's superb pitching. Summerville's little band of supporters worked valiantly against overwhelming odds to make their voices heard, but their applause was but a drop in that sea of noise.
The eighth inning began with the score 12 to 5, and Stevens, captain and third baseman of the Vulcans, went to bat with a smile of easy confidence upon his face. He led off with a neat base-hit past short-stop. The next man, Storrs, their clever catcher, found Warner's first ball, and sent it twirling skyward in the direction of left field. Webster was under it but threw it in badly, and Stevens got to third. The next batsman waited coolly and took his base on balls. Warner was badly rattled, and had there been any one to put in his place he would have been taken out. But Curtis, the substitute pitcher, was ill in bed at Summerville, and helpless Bob Ayer ground his teeth and watched defeat overwhelm him. With a man on third, another on first, and but one out, things again looked desperate.
Warner, pale of face, wrapped his long fingers about the ball and faced the next batsman. The coaches kept up a volley of disconcerting advice to the runners, most of it intended for the pitcher's ear, however. On Warner's first delivery the man on first went leisurely to second, well aware that the Summerville catcher would not dare to throw lest the runner on third should score. With one strike against him and three balls, the man at bat struck at a rather deceptive drop and started for first. The ball shot straight at Warner, hot off the bat. The pitcher found it, but fumbled. Regaining it quickly, he threw to the home plate, and the Vulcan captain speedily retraced his steps to third. But the batsman was safe at first, and so the three bases were full.
"Home run! Home run, O'Brien!" shrieked the throng as the next man, a red-haired little youth, gripped his stick firmly. O'Brien was quite evidently a favorite as well as a good player. Warner and Oliver, Summerville's catcher, met and held a whispered consultation to the accompaniment of loud ridicule from the audience. Then the battery took their places.
"Play for the man on third," cried Bob at first base.
Warner's first delivery was a wide throw that almost passed the catcher. "Ball!" droned the umpire. The men on bases were playing far off, and intense excitement reigned. On the next delivery Warner steadied himself and got a strike over the plate. A shout of applause from the plucky Summerville spectators shattered the silence. Another strike; again the applause. O'Brien gripped his bat anew and looked surprised and a little uneasy.
"He can't do it again, O'Brien!" shrieked an excited admirer in the grand stand.
But O'Brien did n't wait to see. He found the next delivery and sent it whizzing, a red-hot liner, toward second. Pandemonium broke loose. Sleeper, Summerville's second baseman, ran forward and got the ball head-high, glanced quickly aside, saw the runner from first speeding by, lunged forward, tagged him, and then threw fiercely, desperately home. The sphere shot like a cannon-ball into Oliver's outstretched hands, there was a cloud of yellow dust as Stevens slid for the home plate, and then the umpire's voice droned: "Out, here!"
Summerville, grinning to a man, trotted in, and the little handful of supporters yelled themselves hoarse and danced ecstatically about. Even the Vulcan enthusiasts must applaud the play, though a bit grudgingly. For the first time in many innings, Marty, squatting beside the bats, drew a big sprawling 0 in the tally which he was keeping on the ground, with the aid of a splinter.
It was the last of the eighth inning, and Bob Ayer's turn at the bat. Marty found his especial stick, and uttered an incantation beneath his breath as he held it out.
"We 're going to win, Bob," he whispered.
Bob took the bat, shaking his head.
"I'm afraid you don't work as a mascot to-day, Marty," he answered smilingly. But Marty noticed that there was a look of resolution in the captain's face as he walked toward the box, and took heart.
Summerville's admirers greeted Bob's appearance with a burst of applause, and Vulcan's captain motioned the field to play farther out. Vulcan's pitcher tossed his arms above his head, lifted his right foot into the air, and shot the ball forward. There was a sharp crack, and the sphere was sailing straight and low toward center field. Bob touched first and sped on to second. Center field and left field, each intent upon the ball, discovered each other's presence only when they were a scant four yards apart. Both paused—and the ball fell to earth! Bob, watching, flew toward third. It was a close shave, but he reached it ahead of the ball in a cloud of dust, and, rising, shook himself in the manner of a dog after a bath. Summerville's supporters were again on their feet, and their shouts were extraordinary in volume, considering their numbers. Vulcan's citizens, after a first burst of anger and dismay, had fallen into chilling silence. Marty hugged himself, and nervously picked out Howe's bat.
The latter, Summerville's short-stop and a mere boy of seventeen, was only an ordinary batsman, and Marty looked to see him strike out. But instead, after waiting with admirable nerve while ball after ball shot by him, he tossed aside his stick and trotted to first base on balls, amid the howls of the visitors. Summerville's first run for four innings was scored a moment later when Bob stole home on a passed ball.
Summerville's star seemed once more in the ascendant. Howe was now sitting contentedly on second base. "Herb" Webster gripped his bat firmly and faced the pitcher. The latter, for the first time during the game, was rattled. Bob, standing back of third, coached Howe with an incessant roar:
"On your toes! Get off! Get off! Come on, now! Come on! He won't throw! Come on, come on! That's right! That's the way! Now! Wh-o-o-a! Easy! Look out! Try it again, now!"
Baker received the ball back from second, and again faced the batsman. But he was worried, and proved it by his first delivery. The ball went far to the right of the catcher, and Howe reached third base without hurrying. When Baker again had the ball, he scowled angrily, made a feint of throwing to third, and, turning rapidly, pitched. The ball was a swift one and wild, and Webster drew back, then ducked. The next instant he was lying on the ground, and a cry of dismay arose. The sphere had hit him just under the ear. He lay there unconscious, his left hand still clutching his bat, his face white under its coat of tan. Willing hands quickly lifted him into the dressing-room, and a doctor hurried from the grand stand. Bob, who had helped carry him off the field, came out after a few minutes and went to the bench.
"He's all right now," he announced. "That is, he's not dangerously hurt, you know. But he won't be able to play again to-day. Doctor says he'd better go to the hotel, and we 've sent for a carriage. I wish to goodness I knew where to find a fellow to take his place! Think of our coming here without a blessed substitute to our name! I wish I had Magee for a minute; if I would n't show him a thing or two! Warner, you'd better take poor Webster's place as runner; I 'll tell the umpire."
In another moment the game had begun again, Warner having taken the place of the injured left-fielder at first base, and Sleeper having gone to bat. Vulcan's pitcher was pale and his hands shook as he once more began his work; the injury to Webster had totally unnerved him. The immediate result was that Sleeper knocked a two-bagger that brought Howe home, placed Warner on third and himself on second; and the ultimate result was that five minutes later, when Oliver fouled out to Vulcan's third-baseman, Sleeper and Wolcott had also scored, and the game stood 12 to 9.
Bob Ayer meanwhile had searched unsuccessfully for a player to take the injured Webster's place, and had just concluded to apply to Vulcan's captain for one of his substitutes, when he turned to find Marty at his side.
"Are yer lookin' fer a feller to play left field?"
"Yes," answered Bob, eagerly. "Do you know of any one?"
Bob stared in surprise, but Marty looked back without flinching. "I can play, Bob; not like you, of course, but pretty well. And, besides, there ain't no one else, is there? Give me a show, will yer?"
Bob's surprise had given place to deep thought. "Why not?" he asked himself. Of course Marty could play ball; what Summerville boy could n't, to some extent? And, besides, as Marty said, there was no one else. Bob had seen Marty play a little while the nine was practising, and, so far as he knew, Marty was a better player than any of the Summerville boys who had come with the nine and now sat on the grand stand. The other alternative did not appeal to him: his pride revolted at begging a player from the rival club. He turned and strode to the bench, and Marty eagerly watched him conferring with the others. In a moment he turned and nodded.
A ripple of laughter and ironic applause crept over the stands as Marty, attired in his blue shirt and unshapen trousers, trotted out to his position in left field. The boy heard it, but did n't care. His nerves were tingling with excitement. It was the proudest moment of his short life. He was playing with the Summerville Baseball Club! And deep down in his heart Marty Brown pledged his last breath to the struggle for victory.
Vulcan started in on their last inning with a determination to add more runs to their score. The first man at bat reached first base on a safe hit to mid field. The second, Vulcan's center-fielder and a poor batsman, struck out ingloriously. When the next man strode to the plate, Bob motioned the fielders to spread out. Marty had scarcely run back a half-dozen yards when the sharp sound of ball on bat broke upon the air, and high up against the blue sky soared the little globe, sailing toward left field. Marty's heart was in his mouth, and for the moment he wished himself back by the bench, with no greater duty than the care of the bats. It was one thing to play ball in a vacant lot with boys of his own age, and another to display his powers in a big game, with half a thousand excited persons watching him. At first base the runner was poised ready to leap away as soon as the ball fell into the fielder's hands—or to the ground! The latter possibility brought a haze before Marty's eyes, and for an instant he saw at least a dozen balls coming toward him; he wondered, in a chill of terror, which one was the real one! Then the mist faded, he stepped back and to the right three paces, telling himself doggedly that he had to catch it, put up his hands—
A shout of applause arose from the stands, and the ball was darting back over the field to second base. Marty, with a swelling heart, put his hands in his trousers pockets and whistled to prove his indifference to applause.
The batsman was out, but the first runner stood safely on third base. And then, with two men gone, Vulcan set bravely to work and filled the remaining bases. A safe hit meant two more runs added to Vulcan's score. The fielders, in obedience to Bob's command, crept in. The grand stand and the bleachers were noisy with the cheers of the spectators. Warner glanced around from base to base, slowly settled himself into position, and clutched the ball. The noise was deafening, but his nerves were again steady, and he only smiled carelessly at the efforts of the coaches to rattle him. His arms shot up, and a straight delivery sent the sphere waist-high over the plate.
"Strike!" crooned the umpire. Applause from the Summerville deputation was drowned in renewed shouts and gibes from the rest of the audience. Warner received the ball, and again, very deliberately, settled his toe into the depression in the trampled earth. Up shot his arms again, again he lunged forward, and again the umpire called:
Oliver tossed the ball to Bob and donned his mask. The batter stooped and rubbed his hands in the dust, and then gripped the stick resolutely. The ball went back to Warner, and he stepped once more into the box. For a moment he studied the batsman deliberately, a proceeding which seemed to worry that youth, since he lifted first one foot and then the other off the ground and waved his bat impatiently.
"Play ball!" shrieked the grand stand.
Warner smiled, rubbed his right hand reflectively upon his thigh, glanced casually about the bases, lifted one spiked shoe from the ground, tossed his arms up, and shot the ball away swiftly. Straight for the batsman's head it went, then settled down, down, and to the left, as though attracted by Oliver's big gloves held a foot above the earth just back of the square of white marble. The man at bat, his eyes glued to the speeding sphere, put his stick far around, and then, with a sudden gasp, whirled it fiercely. There was a thud as the ball settled cozily into Oliver's leather gloves, a roar from the onlookers, and above it all the umpire's fatal:
Marty, watching breathless and wide-eyed from the field, threw a hand-spring and uttered a whoop of joy. The nines changed places,, and the last half of the last inning began with the score still 12 to 9 in favor of Vulcan.
"Play carefully, fellows," shouted Vulcan's captain as Hamilton went to bat. "We 've got to shut them out."
"If youse can," muttered Marty, seated on the bench between Bob and Wolcott.
It looked as though they could. Bob groaned as Hamilton popped a short fly into second-baseman's hands, and the rest of the fellows, echoed the mournful sound.
"Lift it, Will, lift it!" implored Bob as Pickering strode to the plate. And lift it he did. Unfortunately, however, when it descended it went plump into the hands of right field. In the stand half the throng was on its feet. Bob looked hopelessly at Warner as the pitcher selected a bat.
"Cheer up, Bob," said the latter, grinning. "I'm going to crack that ball or know the reason why!"
The Vulcan pitcher was slow and careful. They had taken the wearied Baker out and put in a new twirler. Warner let his first effort pass unnoticed, and looked surprised when the umpire called it a strike. But he received the next one with a hearty welcome, and sent it speeding away for a safe hit, taking first base amid the wild cheers of the little group of blue-and-white-decked watchers. Hamilton hurried across to coach the runner, and Bob stepped to the plate. His contribution was a swift liner that was too hot for the pitcher, one that placed Warner on second and himself on first. Then, with Hamilton and Sleeper both coaching at the top of their lungs, the Vulcan catcher fumbled a ball at which Howe had struck, and the two runners moved up. The restive audience had overflowed on to the field now, and excitement reigned supreme. Another strike was called on Howe, and for a moment Summerville's chances appeared to be hopeless. But a minute later the batter was limping to first, having been struck with the ball, and the pitcher was angrily grinding his heel into the ground.
"Webster at bat!" called the scorer.
"That's you, Marty," said Wolcott. "If you never do another thing, my boy, swat that ball!"
Marty picked out a bat and strode courageously to the plate. A roar of laughter greeted his appearance.
"Get on to Blue Jeans!" "Give us a home run, kid!" "Say, now, sonny, don't fall over your pants!"
It needed just that ridicule to dispel Marty's nervousness. He was angry. How could he help his "pants" being long? he asked himself, indignantly. He'd show those dudes that "pants" had n't anything to do with hitting a baseball! He shut his teeth hard, gripped the bat tightly, and faced the pitcher. The latter smiled at his adversary, but was not willing to take any chances, with the bases full. And so, heedless of the requests to "Toss him an easy one, Joe!" he delivered a swift, straight drop over the plate.
"Strike!" droned the little umpire, skipping aside.
Marty frowned, but gave no other sign of the chill of disappointment that traveled down his spine. On the bench Wolcott turned to his next neighbor and said, as he shook his head sorrowfully:
"Hard luck! If it had only been some one else's turn now, we might have scored. I guess little Marty's not up to curves."
Marty watched the next delivery carefully—and let it pass.
"Ball!" called the umpire.
Again he held himself in, although it was all he could do to keep from swinging at the dirty-white globe as it sped by him.
"That's right, Marty; wait for a good one," called Wolcott, hoping against hope that Marty might get to first on balls. Marty made no answer, but stood there, pale of face but cool, while the ball sped around the bases and at last went back to the pitcher. Again the sphere sped forward. Now was his time! With all his strength he swung his bat—and twirled around on his heel! A roar of laughter swept across the diamond.
"Strike two!" cried the umpire.
But Marty, surprised at his failure, yet undaunted, heard nothing save the umpire's unmoved voice. Forward flew the ball again, this time unmistakably wide of the plate, and the little man in the snuff-colored alpaca coat motioned to the right.
Bob, restlessly lifting his feet to be off and away on his dash to third, waited with despairing heart. Victory or defeat depended upon the next pitch. A three-bagger would tie the score, a safe hit would bring Sleeper to the bat! But as he looked at the pale-faced, odd-looking figure beside the plate he realized how hopeless it all was. The pitcher, thinking much the same thoughts, prepared for his last effort. Plainly the queer little ragamuffin was no batsman, and a straight ball over the plate would bring the agony to an end. Up went his hand, and straight and sure sped the globe.
Now, there was one kind of ball that Marty knew all about, and that was a nice, clean, straight one, guiltless of curve or drop or rise, the kind that "Whitey" Peters pitched in the vacant lot back of Keller's Livery Stable. And Marty knew that kind when he saw it coming. Fair and square he caught it, just where he wanted it on the bat. All his strength, heart, and soul were behind that swing. There was a sharp crack, a sudden mighty roar from the watchers, and Marty was speeding toward first base.
High and far sped the ball. Center and left fielder turned as one man and raced up the field. Obeying instructions, they had been playing well in, and now they were to rue it. The roar of the crowd grew in volume. Warner, Bob, and Howe were already racing home, and Marty, running as hard as his legs would carry him, was touching second. Far up the field the ball was coming to earth slowly, gently, yet far too quickly for the fielders.
"A home run!" shrieked Wolcott. "Come on—oh, come on, Marty, my boy!"
Warner was home, now Bob, and then Howe was crossing the plate, and Marty was leaving second behind him. Would the fielder catch it? He dared look no longer, but sped onward. Then a new note crept into the shouts of the Vulcans, a note of disappointment, of despair. Up the field the center-fielder had tipped the ball with one outstretched hand, but had failed to catch it! At last, however, it was speeding home toward second base.
"Come on! Come on, Marty!" shrieked Bob.
The boy's twinkling feet spurned the third bag and he swung homeward. The ball was settling into the second-baseman's hands. The latter turned quickly and threw it straight, swift, unswerving toward the plate.
"Slide!" yelled Bob and Warner, in a breath.
Marty threw himself desperately forward; there was a cloud of brown dust at the plate, a thug as the ball met the catcher's gloves. The little man in the alpaca coat turned away with a grin, and picked up his mask again.
The score was 13 to 12 in Summerville's favor; Marty's home run had saved the day!
In another minute or two it was all over. Sleeper had popped a high fly into the hands of the discomfited center-fielder, and the crowds swarmed inward over the diamond.
It was a tired, hungry, but joyous little group that journeyed back to Summerville through the soft, mellow summer twilight. Marty and the leather bat-case occupied a whole seat to themselves. Marty's freckled face was beaming with happiness and pride, his heart sang a pæan of triumph in time to the clickety-click of the car-wheels, and in one hand, tightly clenched, nestled a ten-dollar gold piece.
It was his share of the hundred-dollar purse the nine had won, Bob had explained, and it had been voted to him unanimously. And next spring he was to join the team as substitute! And Marty, doubting the trustiness of his pockets, held the shining prize firmly in his fist and grinned happily over the praise and thanks of his companions.
"It was n't nothin', that home run; any feller could have done that!" And, besides, he explained, he had known all along that they were going to win. "Why,—don't you see?—the other fellers did n't have any mascot!"