THE PERFECT AVERAGE
C. W. STEPHENS
Author of “Man and Wife,” “Ebb and Flow,” etc.
ONE of the first calls Dan MacCarty made on his return with his squad from spring training was on Sadie Macdonald. No, it was not the kind of call you might, right away, think it was. Dan was a grizzled, mahoganyfaced grandfather, though you’d hardly have suspected it from his looks and activity. More than twenty years had passed since he abandoned his rôle as one of the most brilliant shortstops the game'had ever known, and, while he had years of good ball in him yet, accepted the graver and more dignified position of manager.
And he had been a success all the way through. He knew the game, inside and out, was a keen judge of men, and understood everything about players.
Sadie was a young lady in her twentythird year, and she presided over the news stand in the lobby of the Imperial Hotel in ^Chester, the town over whose ball team Dan was lord and ruler. Dan used to say that Sadie had more sense than nine-tenths of the men you met, and knew more about baseball than most of the players. The latter, he always added, might not seem to be high praise. Naturally you would wish to know what she was like. She was a small girl as to size, alert, trim and capable. Of course she was attractive or this story would never have come to be written ; but if. you desired corroborative evidence all you had to do was to watch the boys flock about her counter. She sold papers and magazines and books. You could buy candy or theatre tickets from her, and she did quite a live trade in the knick-knacks that lure the quarters and halves and dollars from the pockets of the travelling public. Therein her attractiveness counted largely. She was a business woman, and while she would not be discourteous to unprofitable idlers who wanted to while away a quarter of an hour in pleasant chat, she made it plain that she was back of the counter to dispose of her stock and not to merely amuse the public.
And with all her attractiveness no girl in Chester trusted less to adventitious arts. She generally wore some kind of dark dress, very simple, extremely neat, conspicuously inconspicuous but amazingly effective, what? Powder? Hardly a suspicion of it. Rouge? Not the faintest suggestion. Beneficent nature had attended to Sadie’s color scheme and made a very neat bit of work of it. Her brown hair was neither bobbed nor banged nor marcelled. She never resembled, in the slightest degree, a savage warrior with his headcovering all frizzed out for militant purposes. There was a parting evenly down the middle of her head, and on each side the hair was swept back smoothly over the temples and above the shell.pink ears, and gathered into a neatly braided bun at the back. Envious girls said she was rather ridiculously oldfashioned, but the male section of the population did not agree with them. Sadie, as she was, was just about all right. But don’t run away with any false impressions. She was quite sophisticated, had a ready tongue, a quick and often pungent wit, and knew the ropes as well as the next. She could be sweet as honey or acidly sharp as vinegar; it all depended on the person and occasion. So much for Sadie.
^TOT many men received the welcoming smile that was v lavished on Dan MacCarty as he strode sturdily into the lobby. He gave a wave of the hand and a loud greeting to the clerks at the desk and made his way to Sadie’s stand.
They shook hands over the tops of the books and plunged into an interchange of news.
“And I’m mighty glad to get home again,” said Dan. “A one-horse kind of dump that training place down South. When it didn’t rain cats and dogs it was like a Turkish bath, but we got the boys boiled out fairly well, and on the way back they showed form in the road games. With a bit of luck we’ll come somewhere within sight of the pennant this year.”
“Any promising new stuff?” asked Sadie.
“The usual raft,” replied Dan. “Guess the scouts have to do something to earn their salary, but most of them must have had blinkers on when they picked what they sent me. Wonders from the woods and sand lots with averages ranging up to the four figures almost. I’ve brought a few back with me, letting the others loose on the road, but the busher game’s a tough one. I’ve paid big money for what seemed like real stuff and they’ve fallen apart before the season’s been weeks old, and then I’ve let go more than one or two and they’ve turned out first magnitude stars. But that’s all in the gamble, so no use crying over it.”
“But when there’s picking to be done you aren’t the worst picker in the world, Dan,” said Sadie comfortingly. “If you’ve passed up one or two good things that didn’t look like it at the time, you’ve uncovered a bunch of real ones, and put them where they’d never have reached but for you. By the way there’s a young fellow staying here in the hotel who’s been asking every day when you’d be likely to be back.”
“I didn’t think I owed a dollar in the world,” Dan replied.
“He’s been here two weeks, doing nothing but wander round and ask about you,” she continued. “He doesn’t look like a busher for he isn’t green enough, and he hasn’t talk enough to be an insurance agent, and he isn’t fresh enough to be selling bonds or rubber stock. He pays his bills, dresses well, doesn’t seem to have any business, but just wants to interview Dan MacCarty. He’s got me guessing, and he’s answering no roundabout questions, though of course I wasn’t right down inquisitive.”
“Newspaper chap maybe?” suggested Dan.
“Not flip enough,” Sadie dismissed the hazard. "Haven’t seen him round since breakfast, but you’ll run up against
him all right. His name’s Langden—Joe Langden. Well, glad to see you back again, Dan. You’d find the madame and the folks all right. I’ve run in and out of your house a good bit. You open up home practice this afternoon, I hear? I’d like to run up and look over what you’ve got but can’t to-day. So long, Dan , and good
TAAN didn’twaste much time round the hotel, but stopped for a few words with the clerks and then took his departure. He had not been gone half an hour when the door opened to admit a young man for whose coming Sadiehadbeengoodnaturedly watchful. He seemed to read a summons in her eyes and came over to the news stand.
“Dan MacCarty was in here just now,” she said. “He’s been gone half an hour. I took the liberty of telling him there was a gentleman here of the name of Langden who’d been asking for him. I hope it wasn’t too great a liberty.”
“Not a bit,” he replied. “My name wouldn’t mean anything to him.”
He was a lad about Sadie’s age, tall and athletically built. He knew how to wear good clothes. His clean-shaven, well-featured face had an open-air tan upon it, and there was a pleasant gravity in its good-humored expression. Rather a decent sort of lad all round.
“No, he said he didn’t know you,” smiled Sadie. “And I couldn’t enlighten him about you, though I said I didn’t think you were in the insurance or stock or bond selling business, and Dan was pretty sure he didn’t owe any money that would keep collectors buzzing about him. There— you might think I was real inquisitive.”
“It’s the last thing I’d imagine of you,” replied the baffling young man with a smile.
“Then you haven't the quick imagination I’d have supposed,” she answered audaciously, but fruitlessly.
“Where can I find him?” he asked, pleasantly ignoring her bid for information.
“He’ll be buzzing all round town this morning, I guess,” she replied. “But if you’d go up to the Ball Grounds this afternoon you’ll be sure to find him. It’s the first home practice to-day.”
“That’s where I’ll go,” he said.
“He’ll be busy, trying out the bushers,” she added, “^laybe—maybe, you're in that line?” And she smiled again very demurely.
“Maybe,” he laughed.
“Close as a clam,” she thought as she turned to attend to an impatient literature buyer. When she had satisfied the wants of her customer she saw Langden walking away.
“The long-legged clam!” she exclaimed, half audibly, heedless of her anatomological knowledge of the clam. Then she dismissed Mr. Langden and his uncommunicative ways from her mind and settled down to business affairs.
THE Baseball Grounds were a hive of busiest industry.
The day was warm, a brilliant sun shining out of a cloudless sky. Near the stands a dozen pitchers were exercising, the thud of the ball in the catcher's mitt sounding pleasantly in the ears of the enthusiasts who sat on stands and bleachers watching the practice. On the diamond a batter was hitting balls to the infield to be fielded swiftly and whizzed across from bag to bag in the usual bewildering criss-cross. Another lusty smiter waa
smashing out long drives to the outfield, to he caught and catapulted back with long easy throws.
Dan MacCarty, lord of the domain, stood near the dugout, resting after an hour’s hard work, and giving an eye to the work that was going on. He did not notice the approach of Langden until the latter was quite near to him, then he turned and saw the stranger. Instinctively he realized that this must be the man Sadie had spoken of. His quick eye ran over the newcomer appraisingly and not disapprovingly. He might be newspaper, or he might be stocks and bonds. No, he couldn’t be stocks and bonds and certainly not insurance; no man in either line of industry would tackle a baseball manager on the field on the first day of practice at home. Some reporter wanting a story, and yet Dan could discern no bulging pocket giving away the trade of the notebook owner.
“Mr. MacCarty?” hazarded the young man.
“Guilty!” replied Dan. “And what next?”
He noticed now for the first time a suitcase on the ground back of the visitor that certainly had not been there two minutes before.
“My name’s Langden—Joe Langden, and I’m from Forest Glade,” said the arrival.
“Glad to know you, Mr. Langden of Forest Glade,” •responded Dan. “I’m afraid, though, that my geography’s not what it ought to be, and I guess Forest Glade wasn’t in the atlas I used as a-kid. I go down one place. What is it, a mine prospect, timber limit, or townsite that’s going .to be the Chicago of Canada when the sixteen projected •railroads run into it?”
“It’s a town all right,” spoke up Langden, naming a •rather wild and wooly northern section of a middle west Province. “And it’s a comer too.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” interrupted Dan. “But I’ve got all the oil and silver and timber and land scrip I «ver aim to buy right in the desk drawer at home now. I’m older than I used to be, and I guess stingier. Time was when I smelt millions not over-far off, but now I’m satisfied with my little pay check and a roof and three fairly square meals a day. You can’t do much witt^the boys out ¿here either. It isn’t they wouldn’t buy if they could, they’d fall for ’most anything, as you’d be able to figure if you see the brains they put into their ball playing, but' they’re all stony broke and there’s nothing doing with the .club treasurer till they've pretty well cleared up what they owe him on advances now. Nothing doing, Mr. Langden -—nothing stirring at all.”
“I didn’t say anything about stock or bonds or selling .anything. I’m not after money,” protested the visitor.
“Shake hands,” grinned Dan. “You must be a lone ‘bird in this kind of a world. Now I feel I can take my hands out of my pockets and talk. I got into a habit .quite a while back of putting them there when I come -across strangers who pine for my acquaintance.”
“I came to land a job on your ball team,” said Langden.
You don t say,” responded MacCarty somewhat •staggered. “It’s the first time I ever knew Sadie to be clean wrong in her guess. Among the things she was sure -you weren’t, one was a busher. That’s one time I have something on her. And what kind of a job do you want?” “I’ve pitched
«quite a bit,” said Langden. “Eleven wins and three ¡losses in my last .season with Forest Glade. We won the pennant in the Indian County League. But centre field is my right .place, and that’s what I want to land. I batted three sixtyfour in the League,
“You don’t say!” •exclaimed MacCarty. “We could do with a pitcher who’d repeat that kind of •performance with us, and the teamisn’t so choked up with three sixty-four hitters that we couldn’t find room for just one more. As for centre field the only flaw on an arrangement of that kind is ■that we have just now a centre fielder who’s reckoned the best in that position of any man in the world bar, perhaps, Tris Speaker. He’s still .a good insuranoe jrisk and in the pink
of rude health. Moreover he’s got a nice little wife and three helpless kids who look to his ¡.ay envelope for support. You can guess therefore that, being a soft-hearted kind of man at times, I hate to turn him adrift, especially as the last three seasons he has topped the three hundred mark in the batting averages, which for this League of ours is pretty nifty hitting.”
“I didn’t expect to land Connor’s place,” replied the young man. “You carry utility men in case something goes wrong with your first string, and I guess all the big league stars weren’t born stars. They came out of the bushes and worked their way up. From what they say of you, Mr. MacCarty, you don't turn a man down till you know he can’t make good. That mistake has been made before to-day.”
“And none knows it better than I,” answered MacCarty. “It’s getting late this afternoon, but if you want to get into uniform and show what’s in you no harm will be done if you come up to-morrow and get into the field for a while. Still I tell you beforehand this ball game, as a money maker isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There are a few men who make big money, and when folks hear of the salaries paid to men like Cobb and Johnson and Ruth and Speaker and others of their grade, they naturally jump to the conclusion that the trade is a big paying one. There’s another side to it, and I’d advise a young man with prospects to think twice before he gets into it. Still, advice is the last thing a keen youngster wants, as a rule. Come up, if you want to, to-morrow, and you can have a try-out. Heaven knows you can’t be any worse than some of the bunch I’ve had recommended to me and have had to shoo off.”
IAN HIS way home Dan could not resist the temptation to drop in at the hotel and have a word with Sadie. “Your mystery man showed up this afternoon, Sadie,” he grinned. “Seen him since?”
“Not since morning,” she replied. “I tried to pump him, but he was dry as a-desert.”
“He isn’t a newspaper man, and isn’t peddling stock or bonds or anything like that. Girl, he's a busher, and for all his appearance and rig out and general style I guess he’s about the greenest that ever came out of them,” laughed Dan. “He comes from some place getting on toward the North Pole called Forest Glade, and he can pitch at a wineleven-out-of-fourteen clip, and can bat round three hundred and sixty-four, but he don’t care to pitch and thinks for real starry work he ought to be put in centre field. I didn t mention it to Sam Connor for fear Sam might lose sleep over it.”
“Centre field!” gasped Sadie, with him.”
^ou ve said it,” replied Dan. “Of course he was modest enough to say that he didn’t expect to see Sam fired right off, but back of his mind the notion’s there. I rode him a bit on the funny horse, but he took it all right. He asked me if all stars didn’t come out of the bushes, and of course that s where they do come from, one in a
coon’s age. The end of it was I told him to come up and show his paces to-morrow.”
“Well,” said Sadie, biting her lead pencil reflectively, “if he does make good, I’ll expect a little bit of scout
“You said he wasn’t a busher,” grinned Dan.
“Maybe he isn’t,” she replied. “A busher is the way a man acts, not where he comes from, and I’ve a hunch.”
“Come on, out with it,” said Dan, his smile stretching from ear to ear.
“I said he didn’t look like a busher, and I stick to it. He may be a ball player all the same. They’re born, not made. ! You can shape pretty fair imitations with teaching and training, but the real stars have it with them right from the start,” maintained Sadie.
“And that’s gospel,” agreed Dan. “Anyway, he’ll get a show, anybody’s entitled to that, but Sadie—!”
“Well, what?” she demanded with defiance in her tones brought there by something teasing in his manner.
“And he’s only been here two weeks—and a busher too. There must be something to him out of the common. When I run across Ira Tarte I’ll have to drop him a warning word,” Dan answered.
“Ah, tell it to Sweeney!” retorted Sadie. “I’ve a good deal more on my mind than to bother with baseball umpires and bushers.”
VyHEN Dan had left her she put aside what she had on V» her mind and gave more thought to this young Langden. There was nothing sentimental in the thought, but she was interested. She had seen bushers before, noisy, green, confident, assertive lads, who had been overpraised in small-time ball, and had come up for trial in the big league in the confident expectation that they had only to be seen at work. This young Langden was different from the rest, and might he not be the outstanding exception? It would be rather fine, if he became a star in the coming years, to be able to say and reflect that she had been some kind of a link connecting him with Dan Mac-' Carty and big league ball. In this same reflective state of mind she handed over her duties to the evening assistant, put on jacket and hat, and sallied forth in the direction of'
She had not gone very far before she discerned a young ¡ man waiting on the corner in a manner suggestive of am\ bush. Sadie did not like to be ambushed by anybody, | young men least of all, and she assumed her sternest and stillest manner as she approached the danger zone. He might be innocent, so, desirous of being strictly just, she relaxed her severity somewhat as she neared him. The street was a public place after all, and, although Joe Langden was a stranger to the town, that did not bar him from it. Probably he would lift his hat in his polite way and permit her to pass on. He did raise his hat, but raised his foot at the same time and took a couple of steps in her direction.
“Like most bushers—fresh,” she soliloquized, and became very stern again.
“Pardon me, Miss Macdonald,” he apologized very
humbly. “I wanted to tell you that I had seen Mr. MacCarty.”
“Yes, he told me you had been up to the ball grounds,” she replied. Then, as he smiled very ingratiatingly she, thought it just as i well to rebuff him. “He called at thei hotel to make fun of me. I had said that! you didn’t look like • a busher, and he had found out that1 you were, and, consequently the laugh
was on me. I’ve' never taken muchj stock in bushers.” ¡ “I guess a man ' can’t very well help that,” he answered. I “The lower your start the finer the : achievement when * you land.”
“Not one in a million lands,” she answered heartlessly. “All through the first part of the season you hear nothing else but these big white hopes bumping the bumps.”
Cent, on page 57
Continued, from page 20
“But some land,” he replied.
“My, but if nerve counts, you ought to be at the top of the ladder,” she exclaimed. “Well, I’ve got to be on my way. My boarding mistress is stiff about punctuality, and I hate cold meals.”
“Perhaps I ought not to have stopped you on the street to speak to you,” he said, and he said it so nicely and humbly that her heart softened at once. “But it’s been a pretty lonely two weeks, and I felt a good bit cheered up by my interview with Mr. MacCarty.”
“Don’t you take much stock in the line of talk a baseball manager hands out,” Sadie hastened to warn .him. “They lie so much that it would take a thought reader to know when they’re telling the truth. He’ll keep his word so far that he’ll let you have a few minutes at the bat, and chase a dozen or two fungoes in the outfield, for Dan’s among the pick of them. There, I ought to be home for my dinner at six-thirty, and it’s—”
“A quarter to seven,” he grinned. “I wonder if you’d be awfully mad if I asked you to have dinner with me. Up in Forest Glade we are more sociable than folks are here. If you look at a girl here she seems ready to bite you. I’ve hardly talked with a soul, except you, since I’ve been here, and somehow I’ve got a sort of hunch that you’re bringing me good luck. You don’t look to me like the kind of a girl who’d put on a lot of fuss and fume about being asked to dinner, especially when she knows it’s all done in the nicest and most respectful way. You might give me a whole lot of pointers about Mr. MacCarty and to-morrow.”
“Well, let’s get somewhere off the street,” she said. “I’m pretty well known and folks’ll think I ought to hire a hall. I’ll say, though, that if you show the same grade of nerve with Dan and .the bunch that you’re exhibiting to me, I don’t know how Sam Conner will hold you off his job.”
IT WAS far from a disagreeable evening.
By the time they had finished dinner it was half past eight—a very ridiculous kind of hour as both agreed; if you went home it was too late to do anything of interest or moment. Sadie said that a rooming house could be fearfully dull, and Joe declared that if it could be duller than a hotel, it must be the extreme limit. He further suggested that the big picture at a nearby place of entertainment went on at nine. Of course when you have dined and conversed with a young man over the space of an hour and a half you don’t feel as formal as before. Moreover, this young man was a stranger to towq, and hospitality was a sacred duty. She had no one to consider but herself, despite the reference Dan had made to one Ira Tarte.
Well now as to Ira, he was a frank admirer—at least as frank as a baseball umpire might be expected to be—but he was nothing more than a candidate for her affections. So she decided that the big picture at the movie show was worth seeing.
YOU might have guessed, at first glance, that Ira Tarte was an umpire. He was a born umpire, if such is possible. The only happiness he appeared to know in life was to bawl, “Strike Three—You’re Out” or, when he detested the pitcher more than the batter, to yell, “Ball Four—Take your base!” Time was when he had suffered from the delusion that he was a star ball player. Foiled in that ambition, he had become an umpire. He revelled in it. To be an absolute monarch, to have irascible players surge round him with threats foaming on their lips, to hear the mob on stands and bleachers demand his blood and untimely death—all these, because of their impotence, came to his ears as the sound of sweetest music. Talk of “Splendid isolation,” Tarte had it in fullest measure. To travel apart from the herd of players, to stay in hotels un contaminated by their presence, to shun their society, was not regarded by Tarte as a token of his pariah estate, but as the indubitable mark of the superman.
Who would ever suspect the possibility of such a man falling in love? Nobody, unless one were expert in the kinks and curlycue8 of what is rather absurdly called “the divine passion.” However, love laughs at locksmiths, leers at languishers,
and even leads to lunacy. And as if it were not sufficiently funny that a man like Tarte should fall in love at all, it did seem the absurdest thing in the world that the object of his affections should be Sadie Macdonald.
Chester was a convenient centre from which most of the League clubs could be reached, so he resided there most of the summer, his room being at the hotel within whose walls Sadie coruscated. In the winter he was employed in a real estate and mortgage office. A chap like Tarte was invaluable when it came to foreclosing a mortgage on a widow with seven small children, or putting a blind cripple on the sidewalk. He revelled in it as he exulted in the wave of his hand that wafted the base-slider, who thought he had made it, to the bench. He was a mighty man for the rough side of the law’s tongue, “Fiat justitia, ruat coelum," and all that kind of thing.
Then, as out of a clear sky, had come the deadly lightning stroke. Sadie’s magnetism penetrated the rhinocerous hide of Tarte almost before he knew it. He was like a giddy chip that has come within the influence of some whirlpool. At first he went round and round the news stand in wide slew circles, drawing nearer with each revolution, until he got right into the vortex and was done for. Most men know what the sensation is. Speaking plainly he saw Sadie from afar and succumbed, then he sat on a bench in the lobby and admired her, later he drifted up and down, apparently aimlessly, in front of the stand, and at last, on one epochal day, he became bold enough to draw near and invest two cents in a paper. As he rarely wasted money on ephemeral literature the plunge was a bold one and signified the irresistible power of his passion.
After that things were easier. He found that Sadie did not expect him to buy a best seller every time he raised his hat or remarked on the state of the weather. That made things easier still. The preenings and prancings of love were not unmarked by a critical and satirical gallery, and Sadie was chaffed after the elementary fashion one looks for from ballplayers, desk clerks, drummers, and such like orders of beings. She received the witticisms with her habitual untroubled calm. After all there had to be umpires in the world just as there have to be taxcollectors and mustard plasters, and why should a man who was one of the unfortunate creatures be treated any different than anyone else?
That Sadie could thus condescend was regarded as a supreme tribute to her sweet gentleness of heart. The thought that God had made umpires never seemed to have dawned on the popular imagination before. When it became known that Sadie had allowed Tarte to escort her home on several occasions, and that once he had taken her to a theatre, buying a couple of thirty-five cent seats—the top price of the house—it was thought that she was carrying things a bit too far. When Tarte blew in seventy cents in one fell deal, it was realized that business was his object. Then the popular voice began to chime its own well-matured popular songs. Sadie was a business woman, it sang, and was therefore not at all likely to let the silly impulses of her heart run away with her. The dressy young sprigs who loafed round the hotel lobby might be all right as temporary decoration, but she knew that when they had paid their board and tailors’ bills, and set a bit aside for the week’s cigarettes, the rest could be put in a wineglass and covered with a gooseberry leaf. No love in an earwiggy - creepered cottage for Sadie, with the bill collectors making a deep trail from garden gate to front door— not at all—not if she knew it. When she put on the white veil and orange blossoms and let them sing the “Voice that Breathed o’er Eden” dirge overher devoted head, she would have to be fairly well assured that there was going to be no xylophone solo on the three brass balls later
OF COURSE Sadie could not dine with Joe Langden, and alleviate his poignant sense of loneliness by accompanying him to the theatre, without the town knowing about it. That was one of the penalties of being a public character. Dan Mac-
Carty knew about it next morning, and had something jocular to say. Sadie didn’t mind it from Dan.
“All you have to do, Dan, to prevent yourself from getting in Dutch with me, isto give that boy a show. I’ll bet it takes you more to fence him off a job than you figure on.”
“Got pretty chummy, you and the busher,” he grinned.
“You’ve said it,” she laughed. “And I’ll take any rough handling, more than’s necessary, that you give him, as personal. So just you mind, Mr. Danny, what I’m telling you.”
"I’ll ship him before night,” growled Dan. “No petticoat influence in any ball team that I’ve got to do with.”
“You won’t either,” she retorted. “He’ll stick, I believe, till I bid him go, and when I’m set on a thing I’m a gripper. Anyway the kid’s going to have a chance.” “Hear that, Ira?” demanded Dan laughingly of Mr. Tarte, who had drifted up. "There’s a busher kid hit town, and he and this little dame are going sort of partners already. You’d better keep your eye on her.” And mischievous Dan’s eyes shone with merriment.
“What busher?” asked Ira loweringly, the jealous light in his eyes.
“Name of Langden,” replied Dan. “Comes from away up at the top of the map, and whether he’s ball-wise or not, I’ll say he don’t want more than one good look someways to make up his mind.” Then, having made all the mischief he could, Dan took himself off, leaving Ira gloomy and wrathful by the stand side.
“Who’s this gink?” he demanded dourly. “I thought you’d know better than to go to restaurants and theatres with bushers nobody has heard of before.”
“I told you—his name’s Langden, Joe Langden, and he lives at the hotel here, and I went with him to dinner and a show, and if he asks me again there are more unlikely things than that I’ll go with him a second time. Mr. Tarte, remember that nobody’s got any strings on me. Now you might go and roll your little hoop a while, for I’ve got business to attend to.” And Mr. Tarte realized that while an umpire might be a quite important personage on the diamond, he doesn’t cut much of a figure in an argument with a woman. He can’t bench her, or discipline her, and in a wordy scrap she has the final and decisive word. He obediently took himself off and contented himself with anathemas against aggressive bushers generally and one Joe Langden in particular.
“ IJ E’S no world beater, and there are *A worse players,” was the faint praise accorded young Langden by Dan MacCarty in his report to Sadie.
“That’s telling me nothing,” replied the girl. “Nobody expects a busher to be a world beater. You weren’t at the start, Dan, and to say there are worse means nothing. What’s there to him, and what’s lacking?”
“The chief thing to him, and I’m not denying its value, is nerve, which some people call gall. He can hit a ball fairly often and so can Sam Conner, and he can catch and throw in from centre field and Sam can do the same, but what makes the difference between the two I might be able to teach that kid, in theory, in something like two or three years,” said Dan.
“There are worse faults than nerve,” commented Sadie.
“It’s the busher’s long suit,” Dan replied. “It stands by them till they learn the difference between bush league and big league stuff, and then it falls off like a husk and there’s nothing left.
“Have you never met folk who were brave because they didn’t know enough to be afraid? A busher, first few times up, is likely to slam the best pitcher in the trade out of the lot. Later on he learns the game and he can’t hit within inches of the ball. I’ll give this lad his due on the day’s work. He hit like a fiend pretty much whatever was sent up, and did what he had to do in the outfield in good enough style, but there’s no mark on him to distinguish between him and fifty others I could land any time I liked. He might make a good second-rater in time with training and handling, but a secondrater’s. no good at this business. The lad had better hustle home and play holiday ball if he wants, but tie himself on to some good business.”
“Did you tell him that?” asked Sadie. "Pretty much what I’ve told you. I aim to be a square man, especially with
kid players. When you find out you’ve made a mistake, the quickest you can wheel round the better for you,” replied Dan.
“And how did he take it?” inquired Sadie.
“Quiet and haughty,” grinned Dan. “Much obliged for the trial as far ae it had gone, and grateful for the advice, which he was sure came up plumb from my heart, but he didn’t intend to follow the recommendation. Was there any harm in him sticking round the dressing rooms and dugout, he wanted know, and I told him no. I believe he’d have taken the job of bat boy if I’d offered it to him. You seem to have some influence with him, so advise him for his good. He seems too darn good a lad to be bumming round on the skirts of a ball club. Give him an earful for his good.”,
“Poor kid,” said Sadie sympathetically. “He was dead set on landing a job. The money end didn’t interest him at all.”
“He’ll get over that fame and glory notion after a time, but try to steer him right, Sadie. Tell him to get back to the bush, for that’s the life after all,” urged Dan. “Say, I guess I stirred Ira up this morning, though I wouldn’t interfere with love’s young dream for any money, and your’s especially, Sadie.”
“When you hurt me I’ll shout,” observed the young lady. “Ira’s like a bunch of you other men. He takes a whole lot for granted.”
TT WAS just before closing time when
Langden came into the hotel. Sadie had fully made up her mind, before hé arrived, that if he repeated his invitation of the previous evening, she would turn him down firmly but kindly. There is a limit on the obligations of hospitality. However, as luck had it, Tarte came into the lobby glowering glumly, and that made up her mind. He had stayed away since morning and now he stared across at her as if to bid her be careful of her conduct. The challenge she accepted promptly, and when Joe came toward her, smiling a greeting, he met with a heart-warming reception.
“I’ll be glad to go with you,” she responded to his eager invitation. “Can we go to the same place as last night? I don’t know when I enjoyed an evening out so much before.”
And Mr. Tarte, hearing it all, gnashed his teeth, wishing that all the world was a baseball diamond, and all the men and women players, and he the umpire who could discipline them rigorously.
“Well, and how did you make out?” she asked, when they had found their corner table in the restaurant, a table pleasantly screened by impossible rubber plants and utterly improbable palms.
“Not too bad,” he answered modestly. “Of course I didn’t expect to be grabbed right off. Sam Conner’s a hard man to shift.”
“You never expect to shift him?” she asked, aghast at his confident boldness.
“Not right away,” he replied. “But there’s a better man in the world, if you could only find him, than the best any job holds. Sam’s great stuff, but he was at the bottom of the ladder once.”
“But, with a man like that holding down the place, what chance is there for you? Is it worth while to waste your time?” she asked.
“I don’t know if it is wasting it,” he replied. ‘.‘You never know when a chance will crop up. I mean to stick on and give it a trial anyway. When I left Forest Glade I said I was going off to break into Dan MacCarty’s Chesters, and I don’t feel like quitting because right off I’m not put into the front line. The money end isn’t hurting, I had a fair bit laid by when I left home, and I came all geared up for a long race. Why Sam might get sunstroke, or break a leg sliding to base, or he might die—I’m not wishing him any bad luck for he’s a white kind of guy, but baseball players are liable to these things as much, if not more, than the rest of folks. Anyway, you wouldn’t discourage me, Miss Sadie?”
“Not unless I thought it was good for you,” she replied, reflecting.
“Dan,” she said a few days later to Manager MacCarty. “How’s he making out?”
“No worse,” grunted Dan. “He works like a horse, and if zeal and brass could land him anywhere, his future is the surest bet. He gallops round in a sky-blue shirt with ‘Forest Glade’ blazed on the front of It in crimson letters about a foot high. Some day the ‘Bull Durham’ sign will see
it, and then it’ll be all over with him.” “Would you do me a favor, Dan, if it cost you nothing to speak of?” she asked.
“It sounds a bit off the way you put it,” he commented. “But give it a name.” “Joe didn’t come down here so much in the hope of money, or making good right away,” she said. “He wanted to break into Dan MacCarty’s Chesters. You’re carrying fewer than your quota. Wouldn’t it be porsible to put Joe on the strength, without salary, or only a nominal one? If you wanted to ship him later on that could be done. It might be easier to get him back home again if he had broken in and could go back with the Chester badge on his playing shirt.”
“It could be done easy enough,” replied Dan. “And it might be a sound notion. I’ll think it over and have a talk with the kid.”
Evidently he did think it over, and the result was acquiescence in the desire of Sadie. Langden was the first to communicate the news to her.
"Dan signed me to-day,” he told her. “The salary doesn’t amount to anything, and there’s nothing to prevent him shipping me when he takes the notion to do so, but, anyway, I’ve got inside and can put on a real big league outfit. I’ll bet it wakes them up out at Forest Glade. My dad swore I’d as much chance of reaching the moon in a balloon as of making the Chester team. I guess he’ll be pop-eyed when he gets my wire. He’s always been in the woods or round about the far lands lumbering or prospecting, or something like that, and he kind o’ hated my coming down here. I’m the one kid he has, but I’d set my mind on it and so I came. When he finds out that I’ve made good he’ll be satisfied, and maybe I’ll be the same. You like to make good in what you set out after. I don’t wish Sam Conner any hard luck, but I surely would like to get into a real game. Still if I’ve to do a long spell of bench-warming I’ll be no worse off than the boys who’ve come before me.”
WITH the opening of the season little was seen of Ira, who was away filling an umpiring assignment on a distant part of the circuit. A month had gone by before he showed up, and this time it was to undertake a spell of duty in Chester games. He was, if possible, less popular in the place in which he was known than in remoter parts. To his astonishment he found Sadie evidencing an inclination to let byegones be byegones. She was cordial in her welcome and he began right away to blame himself for his impulsive anger against the busher. Still he felt an accentuated grudge against Dan MacCarty, whose jocoseness had led to the mischief. Between Dan and Ira there was no cordiality whatever. ' He seldom officiated in the Chester games without having a furious run-in with the home team’s peppery manager, which often ended in the banishment of Dan from the grounds. If Tarte could give the Chester crowd a raw deal it seemed to satisfy him and the home lot got to’ know it and reciprocated the enmity.
The very first day on which he officiated, he and Dan came to hot words and Dan was promptly chased for an ebullition that another umpire] would have passed over. The Chester team lost as a result. The game on the following day began with a hold-over of feeling on the part of the players. Dan held himself in check fairly well, knowing what the result would be & he gave Tarte half a chance. This time the game was as strenuously fought as on the previous day. At the close of the seventh, the enemy were leading—three to two—but showing signs of faltering in the box, while the Chester pitcher, after starting poorly and letting in runs, had tightened up and was pitching unhittable ball. With two of the foe out in the eighth, the batter scratched a hit and made first. The next man bunted poorly in the direction of third base, the fielder fumbled an instant but whipped to first, beating the runner as it seemed by a full step. To the utter amazement of everybody on the field Tarte declared the man safe. There was a yell of indignant protest from the stands, and the wrathful players surged around him with yelps of fury. They were not allowed to go far. Picking out Conner and two others who formed the backbone of the home team’s batting, Tarte summarily put them out of the game. There was a louder roar of rage from the crowd, and a movement began that might
easily have ended in riot, but Dan MacCarty kept his head, and with voice and gesture kept the crowd back.
The game proceeded, the innings closing with the striking out of the next batter up, three emergency men having been hurried into the field to take the places of the dismissed men. The man who had been assigned to Conner’s place at bat and in center field was an old-timer, slow in the field and long past his best with the bat. Before sending his hatter up, the game was halted a moment or two to enable MacCarty to make more deliberate disposition of his batting reserves. He looked about him desperately. The soul had gone out of his batting order, and three runs were wanted to win. The first man up strange to relate singled and the man who followed him bunted safely amid the yells of the thoroughly excited mob. A short single advanced the runners filling the bases, the man on third being held there by a quick return to the plate. The player who had taken Conner’s place was moving up to the plate, swinging a couple of bats in his hand. He was nearly at the catcher’s elbow when Dan, acting on a sudden impulse, called him back. Then he gave a look at the busher, Langden, who was waiting in hungry silence for the word, but scarcely hoping to hear it.
“Langden bats for Davis,” he called to the umpire who bawled the announcement to the throng. “Go to it, kid.”
Dan had a way with him even in the moments of wrath and perturbation, and the behest and the slap on the back he gave young Joe did the latter almost as much good as the smiling nod he received from a small, pretty girl who was sitting a few rows above the home players’ dug-out.
“Right from the bushes, something the squirrels missed,” shouted a facetious coach from the enemy bench to the rattled pitcher.
Down whizzed the ball, breaking sharply in and splitting the plate.
“Strike one,” boomed the umpire, who had not forgotten Langden and his effrontery in the matter of Sadie.
Again streaked the white missile, this time high and a trifle outside.
The next ball was just as wide, passing clearly outside.
“Strike two,” came the decision, and_a babel of protest arose from the angry throng, conscious of getting the worst of anything approaching a close decision.
The next came down just wide of the groove, waist high, fast and straight. The bat swung with all the batter’s power back of it.
“Brack,” and the sound that tells of the cleanly struck ball was heard all over the field. Away in the direction of left field the speck of a ball could be seen, low flying but steadily rising.
The fielder backed against the wall, leaped, but far above the outstretched hands the ball crossed the fence and dropped into the road beyond. The foul line was plainly marked on the fence, and not a spectator in the field doubted that the ball had fallen fair. With the crack of the bat the runners had started, only to be waved back by the umpire.
“Foul ball,” he barked.
A yell of fury went up from the throng. Dan MacÇarty came rushing from the dug-out, grim murder in his eye, and a furious altercation ensued that resulted in the banishment of Dan for the second day in succession. Tarte stood as consciously proud of his work as Ajax defying the lightning, Athanasius against the world. The police and some of the cooler heads among the crowd stayed the rush of the mob, and nothing beyond the hurling of a few pop-bottles in the direction of the official took place.
Again Langden faced the pitcher, the latter plainly unnerved by the maltreatment of his last offering and perhaps disturbed by the frantic shouts of the hostile mob. Fast and straight down the groove came the ball. Again the bat swung with the lusty power of the young busher back of it. Again the crack of the cleanly hit ball, and a roar of exultation burst forth like a thundering salvo of artillery. Higher and higher the ball climbed, directly over the head of centre field, clearing the outer wall and disappearing from sight. Two home runs from two successive balls by the same player. Four runs chalked up and what looked like certain defeat turned into probable victory.
The cheering was still continuing when
the game ended without further addition
to the score.
npHE winning of the game saved Tarté A and he made his way back to the hotel unmolested. Sadie, having had the aftpr* noon off, was on evening duty. As soon as he entered the lobby he sought her, aa surest refuge from the angry men who were chatting over the events of the day. Sadie was busy with her evening papers and h‘ad neither word nor welcoming smile for him. Doubtless he read in her face the finality of her decision.
“It was duty,” he pleaded when he had drawn her attention.
“Our acquaintance is ended, Mr. Tarte,’* she replied.
He had scarcely left the lobby when in came Dan MacCarty with a tall elderly man whom Sadie did not know. There seemed to be something familiar about him, but just what it was she could not tell.
“This is Mr. Langden, Joe’s father. Miss Sadie Macdonald, Mr. Langden,” said Dan by way of introduction.
“Joe seems to have fallen into the best of hands," said Mr. Langden, shaking the offered hand. “I came down from the North, landing here this morning. Ever since Joe left I’ve been planning to drop in and see him, hoping that he'd have got over his fancy for ball playing and would be ready to come back and buckle down to work. Not that he ever was a slacker, nor because I’ve anything against baseball as a business, but you see Joe’s my only son, and I’m a busy man, with a whole lot of things on my hands, and I can use Joe better, I hope, than professional ball can. This business of mine will come to him one of these days, so you can figure up how I feel. I’d hoped that he would have fallen down on the'job, but it looks as if I hoodooed my own chances by comme ; A game like that would turn any
lad s head. There he is coining in at the door.”
Instinctively Joe’s gaze was turned to where he might possibly see Sadie. There was a welcoming cheer raised for him as he came into the lobby, but he passed on, with a smiling nod, toward the newsstand.
father!” he greeted Mr. Langden. When did you drop in?”
“In time to see that crazy ball game,” answered the father. “Got a fair conceit of yourself, I guess.”
“Always had, so you used to say,” Joe replied.
“I was praying you’d strike out, and miss every fly that came to you,” said the
1 ' ^edjaCe home for real syjnpathy,”
“Because then I thought you might quit trying to play and got back to work,” said the elder man. “I’m run off my feet with work and I’m not so young as I used to be. These three and twenty years I ve been planning how I could ease up and run in double instead of single harness before very long. It’s quite a bit of a disappointment, Miss Sadie and Mr. MacCarty.”
“I’m sure it must be,” said Sadie sympathetically.
“That’s right,” corroborated Dan. Astonished to find support in such unexpected quarters, Mr. Langden urged matters.
“What about it, Joe?” he inquired. “I can’t see how you can hesitate,”
intervened Sadie. “A game is but a game, and there are bigger things.”
“It’s a wise man who knows how to stop when things are at the top of the tide, Joe,” observed Dan. “Once at bat, One Run, One Hit, One Home Run. Two chances in the field, both taken, no error. One thousand per cent, both ways. Pity to spoil a record like that, The only perfect average on record. Talk about making good! That’s something on the books for ever.”
“It does look pretty good,” Joe agreed. “Then you’ll come along, Joe?” his father asked.
“What about it, Sadie?” Joe asked. ‘‘Why, of course you’ll go,” she replied. “I might,” mused Joe reflectively. “I’ve broken in, and I can’t beat the record as it stands. If you say you’ll come along, Sadie, 111 settle it here and now.”
'T'HE color deepened in Sadie’s face;
for once in her life she was a little at a‘ loss for words.
“If you, Dad, and you, Dan, will drift off a bit and let Sadie and me have a fe^
words things might be fixed. When 1 plan to quit Chester I’ve a fancy for a souvenir beside a club badge,” said JoS boldly. T
“Take your own time over a talk likÿ that, son,” said Mr. Langden. “Iç sounds to me like the brainiest thing I’vç heard from you this long while. Come orfe Dan, let’s go somewhere while the coa* ference takes place.” •
There was a deep silence after the twó had gone off, unbroken for several minutes. Sadie had lost her habitual ease of manner* and Joe seemed as if he found it hard work to make a start.
“Shut up the dam stand, Sadie,” he said at last. “Leave the papers and magazines for anybody who may want them. I’ll buy the lot. I’ll bet you haven’t had a bite of dinner, now have you?”
She shook her head with a strangely shy smile.
“I don’t know that I ought to. They might fire me. But—I’m real hungry, so I’ll take a chance,” she replied.
So they shut up shop at a scandalously early hour and went off to dinner. It was a long drawn-out meal, for there were lots of things to talk over, back of the rubber plants and palms. After it was finished they went out, but the latest fit of “The Miseries of Maud” had no drawing power over them this time. They went into the Park and had a one-reel performance all to themselves entitled “Sympathetic Sadie and the Jubilation of Joe.” By the time it was over the Chester Baseball Club had lost a phenomenal busher, Sadie and Joe had made a trade, and Mr. Langden, millionaire lumberman, had a son for a partner.
On the way back to the hotel to acquaint Dan and the waiting parent of the decision of the conference, they met Tarte. He gave them an umpirical scowl as they went by. Before the end of the season he was dropped from the roster of umpires, and devoted his energies henceforth to the foreclosing business, which was about the job to which he fairly belonged.