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CHAPTER X

THE PINCH HITTER

EDWARD ran with Payne to the players’ bench. Keating was picking out his bat from the row on the ground; Edward put his arm over his shoulder and said to him,—

“Keat, Jim wants me to bat for you.”

Keating looked up, startled; for just that instant he could not keep the disappointment from showing in his eyes. Then his face lighted, and he grasped Edward’s hand.

“A home run, Ned,” he said. “You’re the fellow for it.”

Edward turned to Rigby, who was substitute catcher for Payne.

“What size shoes do you wear, Rigby?” he asked.

“Eight and a half. Why?”

“Let me have ’em, quick.”

That was the first intimation the nine had that Edward was going into the game. They gathered closer and talked to him eagerly, telling him about Jackson’s sharp inshoot; meanwhile, Edward knelt putting on Rigby’s shoes.

“Ball two!”

“Oh, if Slade can only get his base on balls!” breathed Blanchard.

“Strike two!”

Then, as Jackson swung his arm, Warren, who had been dancing excitedly back and forth at first base, took a desperate chance; he dashed for second. The ball flew in across the plate; “Striker out!” shouted the umpire, and in the same moment the St. John’s catcher threw the ball to head Warren off. The throw was just a little wide of the base; and St. Timothy’s, breathless during Warren’s head-foremost slide, yelled joyfully when the umpire held his hand down signifying that the runner was safe.

But the yell was as short as it was sharp; Slade had struck out and was walking dejectedly away from the plate. There were two out, and Warren on second base seemed a long, long way from home.

Jackson received the ball, twisted it in his hands, and then stood with his hands on his hips waiting for the next batter to advance. He looked at Keating, but Keating sat cross-legged on the ground.

Edward finished tying his shoe, threw off his white flannel coat, and picked out Payne’s bat—the bat which he had used when he had coached Keating. Then in his blue shirt and his spotless white trousers, with the red sash dangling at his waist, he walked to the plate.

For one moment there was on both sides an amazed silence. Then St. Timothy’s began to clap, and from clapping they turned to cheering, with Durant leading them,—nine rahs and then, "Crashaw!” at the end.

From St. John’s there came not a sound—not a jeer. The moment was too critical; and however inappropriate and absurd Edward’s costume appeared, there was something in his bearing as he stepped into the batter’s place that awakened their apprehension.

Jackson twisted the ball in his hands and studied this unexpected apparition who stood there so firmly, so confidently. He gave Edward a smile and a nod, which Edward returned; then instantly the faces of the two became serious, intent, watchful. The pitcher deliberated; somehow he felt that he was facing a dangerous man.

He sent one of his sharp inshoots against which Edward had been warned. It came at Edward shoulder high; Edward leaned backward, without stepping away from it, and let it pass: “Ball one!” called the umpire.

He might have allowed it to hit him; but he had thought quickly when he dodged; his business was to drive in a run that would tie the score.

He stepped forward at the second ball and hit hard; it curved out over third base beyond the foul line, a long but unlucky hit, for being a foul it counted as a strike. Still, it gave Edward confidence to have met the ball so squarely and to have driven it on such a long low line.

“Guess my eye is all right,” he muttered to himself.

He stepped out of the batter’s box and waited for the throw in; and then for the first time he glanced over at the St. John’s crowd.

He saw his brother standing a step in advance of the others, his hands thrust into his coat-pockets, his eyes fixed on him with an expression of intent anxiety; and suddenly a thought flashed into Edward’s mind: “He’d be just as glad to see me hit the ball as I was to see him shoot that goal!”

Waiting for the ball to be returned, he felt excitement tightening his muscles, so he lowered his bat and swung his arms freely, limbering them up. Then it was time for him to step up to the plate again.

The next ball was too high; he let it pass. Then came one that promised to be good, and Edward swung at it, but it curved out so far that he reached it only with the tip of his bat, and it fizzled off along the ground,—another foul.

“Strike two!” called the umpire. And St. John’s shouted then as if the game were won.

Edward’s heart was thumping; oh, if he should strike out! Was he going to be a quitter again! He clenched his teeth, he swallowed hard, he watched Jackson with sharpened and unwinking eyes.

The ball came low; he stepped forward, and then let it pass without swinging his bat.

“Ball three!” cried the umpire, and St. Timothy’s shouted.

“Good waiting, Edward!” called Payne from the first-base coaching line, where he was shifting from one foot to the other in excitement.

“Good boy, Edward!” called Bell from the third-base coaching line, where he was pacing back and forth in agitation.

Two strikes and three balls: it was a trying moment for every one. Jackson deliberated, shook his head at some signal from his catcher, settled himself twice into position.

Edward was thinking quickly, trying to imagine what was passing through Jackson’s mind. With two strikes called on him. Jackson would not intentionally give him his base on balls—especially as Blanchard, a strong batter, would follow him. Rather than take a chance of giving him his base, would n’t Jackson send him a straight ball—placing it as surely as possible right over the plate, trusting to the fielders if the batter hit it and to the umpire if the batter let it go?

“A straight ball,” Edward decided. “That’s what nine men out of ten would send.”

The ball came, straight for the plate, waist high. Edward stepped forward to it and swung with arms and shoulders and body; there was a crack that thrilled him; he had a glimpse of the ball sailing on a long low flight between right and centre field; he put down his head and ran.

The St. Timothy’s roar swelled and grew; Edward had a blurred vision of them all dancing and waving flags, a glance at Payne on the coaching line yelling and waving him to go on; then with his head down again he rounded first base and made for second, and still the St. Timothy’s shout continued undiminished.

“Warren must be home by now; score’s tied,” he thought exultantly.

He glanced across the diamond at Bell on the third-base coaching line; Bell was leaping, shouting, beckoning him with both arms to keep on, and all the background of the St. John’s crowd was still.

So Edward touched second base and came in a wide arc down to third; he looked at Bell again expecting to see him motioning, “Enough! Hold the base!”

But instead—could it be?—had he really done the supreme thing? For Bell was still beckoning frantically, yelling frantically, and behind him there was still that solemn silence of St. John’s.

He could hear what Bell was yelling: “Home run! Home run! Home run!” And more and more tremendous grew the St. Timothy’s shout.

So, panting, Edward touched third base and swept into the stretch for home. Bell racing by his side, yelling as he ran, “Slide! Slide! You’ve got to slide!”

Edward glanced towards right field and at the same instant the St. John’s shout of hope broke out behind him. For therein short right field their second baseman had just received the ball and had turned for the throw to the plate: Edward saw the ball leave his hand; then he flung himself head-foremost, on his chest, with arms outstretched; he felt his hands on the rubber plate, he felt the impact of the ball against his shoulder, and he heard the umpire shout,—

“Safe!”

Before he could rise to his feet he was enveloped in a yelling swarm of St. Timothy’s boys, who pulled and hauled and hoisted him to their shoulders—a bewildered exhibit in soiled and dusty flannels and with a dirty face.

Suddenly into the mob burst Durant, fighting his way.

“Put him down!” commanded Durant, sternly, at the top of his voice. “Put him down!”

His manner was so menacing that he was obeyed, and for a moment there was quiet. Durant grasped Edward by the arm. “Look here,” he said, “did you hurt yourself?”

“Not so that I notice it,” answered Edward.

“That’s lucky. While you’re on my crew don’t you ever do anything like that again.”

Edward grinned and said nothing, and then Durant stooped and caught him by the leg.

“Put him up, fellows!” he cried. “Give a lift.”

So, before Edward knew what was happening, he was again up and riding on the shoulders of his friends, with flags and hats tossing about him and the band parading just ahead, blaring out a march, and the rest of St. Timothy’s School falling into column behind. So they swung about the field, zigzagging, “serpentining,” while the St. John’s boys looked on gloomily.

At last Edward begged to be put down. He stood for a few moments confused by the rush of boys round him who wanted to tell him how wonderful he was; then he saw Charles waiting near by. So he broke away from his admirers and went to his brother; and then the boys, understanding, did not follow, but went on shouting, serpentining, towards St. John’s School.

“Well!” said Charles. His eyes were twinkling. “You’ve spoiled your pretty white trousers!”

“I know it,” said Edward. “But that’s not the only thing I spoiled.”

Charles threw up one arm and ducked behind it in exaggerated self-defence.

“You got back at old Jackson to-day, did n’t you?” he said with a grin.

“Yes, and if next week in the race I can get back at you, I’ll feel that I’ve squared myself for that football game,” Edward replied.

“I’ve got nothing on you after to-day,” Charles admitted. Ned,” he said, breaking out suddenly into enthusiasm and slipping his hand inside his brother’s arm, “that was the best thing I ever saw. You don’t know how proud I was! When you hit that ball, I—it’s perfectly silly, but something came in my throat and I had tears in my eyes—just because I was so happy!”

“Did you feel that way, Charley?” Edward looked at him with shy and grateful eyes. “You know I caught a glimpse of you while I stood there at the bat, and I thought to myself that you’d like to see me hit it. I—I wanted you not to be ashamed of me—here on your own grounds!”

They both laughed a little; then they walked together silently, arm in arm.

The St. John’s spectators were strolling toward the School; they looked at Edward with respectful curiosity; some of them, friends of Charles, sauntered up and were introduced; they had a pleasant word of reproach for Edward.

“You see,” Charles said, when at a corner of the big dormitory he and his brother stood at last alone, “it’s you who are the great man now, and they all want to look at you, in spite of the way you treated us. I guess it’s a good thing I’m not to be at St. John’s much longer: I’d find I was known just as the brother of the Crashaw at St. Timothy’s.”

Edward punched him affectionately in the ribs. From the quadrangle beyond the corner of the dormitory came the shouts of St. Timothy’s and the music of the band, revelling joyously on St. John’s sacred ground.

“I suppose I ought n’t to keep you here with me,” said Charles reluctantly. “You’d like to be out there with your crowd, heading the procession.”

“I don’t care anything about that; I like to be with you.”

“They’re cheering you,” said Charles. “Listen.”

Yes, they were shouting, “Crashaw! Crashaw! Crashaw! We—want—Crashaw!”

“You’d better go to them,” said Charles.

Edward hung back. “Not yet.”

He looked down toward the athletic field, veiled now by the long shadows from the encircling trees. From the athletic house the barge decorated with red and white bunting was just starting out.

“Here come the nine,” said Edward. “There will be cheering enough without me. I wish,” he added, “some one would lead a cheer for Keating.”

“Which one was he—the fellow on first base?”

“Yes. He saved the game once for us, with that one-hand catch and double play. I’m afraid that just because I took his place at the bat and had the luck to win the game, every one will forget what Keat did.”

“You can’t help that,” said Charles. “You’re the hero of the occasion, and you can’t run away from it.”

“But I hope they’ll give Keat a cheer,” Edward repeated. “I know he was disappointed when they put me in to bat for him. And he might have done just as much as I did.”

“Yes, he might.” Charles smiled. “But I guess your captain showed good judgment, Ned. To think that you should ever have believed you were a quitter!”

To Edward that exclamation was the best tribute of all. He was silent a moment, and then he said,—

“It seems as if I could never feel quite so happy as I do now; it makes me almost sad. And is n’t it absurd to be so well pleased with things—just because I belted a ball good and hard!”

“Ah well, there’s more than that to it,” said Charles.

The barge came rattling up the avenue, and when the boys in it saw Edward standing with his brother behind the big elm, they raised a great shout.

The driver reined in his horses; Jim Payne from the driver’s seat cried, “You’ve got to ride with the nine now, Edward;” Keating and Warren jumped out and seized him.

“Just a moment,” Edward said. He grasped his brother’s hand. “I’ll see you next week, Charley.”

“I will meet you at Philippi,” Charles replied.

Edward was dragged into the barge, which swung then round the building and down toward the big quadrangle gate, where now the St. Timothy’s crowd was massed. There the barge had to halt; there was a tumultuous shouting, waving of hats, and blaring by the band. Durant scrambled up on one of the big gate-posts and led cheers for the captain and the nine, and last of all “the fellow that saved the day, the crew man, Crashaw!”

That brought out the most tremendous response; and Edward was inspired to rise to his feet in the barge and stand there, and when the crowd understood that he wanted to say something they became quiet.

“Fellows,” Edward said, “I’m much obliged, but you don’t want to forget who saved you from being licked in the ninth inning;” and suddenly he lifted Keating up by the collar of his coat, and held him on exhibition, while there was a great shout of approval from the crowd.

Then Jim Payne from the driver’s seat stood up and said, “I want you fellows, just before you go, to join in a cheer for St. John’s.” And on the whole that was the loudest, the longest, the most reverberating cheer of all.

Then the barge was allowed to pass through the gate, the band struck up the St. Timothy’s song, the seven crew men fell in behind the band; the procession started; and in a few minutes the precincts of St. John’s were abandoned to a becoming silence.