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   Chapter 15 THE HERO OF THE HOUR

The Early Bird: A Business Man's Love Story By George Randolph Chester Characters: 10780

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


On that very same afternoon, the youth and beauty, also the age and wisdom, of both Hollis Creek and Meadow Brook, gathered around the ball field of the former resort, to watch the Titanic struggle for victory between the two picked nines. As Sam took his place behind the bat for the first man up, who was Hollis, he felt his first touch of self-confidence anent the strictly amusement features of summer resorting. In all the other athletic pursuits he had been backward, but here, as he smacked his fist in his glove, he felt at home.

The only thing he did not like about it, as Princeman wound himself up to deliver the first ball, was that Princeman had the position of glory. On that gentleman the spotlight burned brightly all the time, and if they won, he would be the hero of the hour; the modest, reliable catcher would scarcely be thought of except by the men who knew the finer points of the game, and it was not the men whom he had in mind. Honestly and sincerely, he desired to shine before Miss Josephine Stevens. She was over there at the edge of the field under an oak tree.

Before her, cavorting for her amusement, were not only Princeman and himself, but Billy Westlake and Hollis, each of them alert for action at this moment; for now Princeman, with a mighty twirl upon his great toe, released the ball. It never reached Sam Turner's hands; instead it bounced off the bat with a "crack!" and sailed right down through Billy Westlake, who, at second, made a frantic grab for it, and then it spun out between center and right field, losing itself in the bushes, while Hollis, amid the frantic cheers of the audience, which consisted of Miss Josephine Stevens and several unconsidered other spectators, tore around the circuit. His colleagues strove wildly to hold Hollis at third, for the ball was found and was sailing over to that base. It arrived there just as he did, but far over the head of the third baseman, and fat, curly-haired Hollis, who looked like an ice wagon but ran like a motorcycle, secured the first run for Hollis Creek.

The next batter was up. Princeman, his confidence loftily unshaken, gave a correct imitation of a pretzel and delivered the ball. The batsman swung viciously at it.

Spat! It landed in Sam's glove.

"Strike one!" called the strident voice of Blackrock, who, jerking himself back several years into youth again, was umpiring the game with great joy. Nonchalantly Sam snapped the ball back over-hand. Princeman smiled with calm superiority. He wound himself up.

Spat! The ball had cut the plate and was in Sam's hands, while the batsman stood looking earnestly at the path over which it had come.

"Strike two!" called Blackstone.

Sam jerked the ball back with an underwrist toss of great perfection. Princeman drew himself up with smiling ease and posed a moment for the edification of the on-lookers. Sam Turner was the very first to detect the unbearable arrogance of that pose. Princeman eyed the batsman critically, mercilessly even, and delivered the third fatal plate-splitter.

Z-z-z-ing! The sphere slammed right out through Billy Westlake, who made a frantic grab for it. It bounded down between center and right field, and the players bumped shoulders in trying to stop it. It nestled among the bushes. The batsman tore around the bases. His colleagues tried to hold him at third, for the ball was streaking in that direction, but the batsman pawed straight on. The ball crossed the base before he did, but it bounded between the third sacker's feet, and score two was marked up for Hollis Creek, with nobody out!

With undiminished confidence, though somewhat annoyed, Princeman made a cute little knot of himself for the next batsman.

Spat! The ball landed in Sam's glove, two feet wide of the plate.

"Ball one!" called Blackstone.

Spat! In Sam's glove again, with the batsman jumping back to save his ribs.

"Ball two!" cried Blackstone.

Spat!

"Ball three."

"Put 'em over, Princeman!" yelled Billy Westlake from second.

"Don't be afraid of him! He couldn't hit it with a pillow!" jeered the third baseman.

In a calm, superior sort of way, Mr. Princeman smiled and shot over the ball.

"Four balls. Take your base!" said Mr. Blackstone, quite gently.

Reassuringly Mr. Princeman smiled upon his supporters, consisting of Miss Josephine Stevens and some other summer resorters, and proceeded to take out his revenge upon the next batter. The first two lofts were declared to be balls, and then Sam, catching his man playing too far off, snapped the pill down to the nearest suburb and nailed the first out. Encouraged by this, Princeman put over three successive strikes, and there were two gone. The next batter up, however, laced out, for two easy way-points, the first ball presented him. The next athlete brought him in with a single, and the next one put down a three-bagger which bored straight through Princeman and short stop and center field. That inglorious inning ended with a brilliant throw of Sam's to Billy Westlake at second, nipping a would-be thief who had hoped to purloin the seventh tally for Hollis Creek.

Billy Westlake, then taking the bat, increased the Meadow Brook depression by slapping the soft summer air three vicious spanks and retiring to think it over, and young Tilloughby bounced a feeble little bunt square at the feet of Ho

llis and was tossed out at first by something like six furlongs. The third batsman popped up a slow, lazy foul which gave the catcher almost plenty of time to roll a cigarette before it came down, and the Meadow Brook side was ignominiously retired. Score, six to nothing at the end of the first.

Princeman hit the first man up in the next inning and sent him down to the initial bag, which was a flat stone, happily limping. He issued free transportation to the next man and let the cripple hobble on to second, chortling with glee. The third man went to the first station on a measly little bunt with which Sam and Princeman and third base did some neat and shifty foot work, and the next man up soaked out a Wright Brothers beauty among the trees over beyond left field, and cleared the bases amid the perfectly frantic rejoicing of the fickle Miss Josephine Stevens and all the negligible balance of Hollis Creek. Oh, it was disgraceful! Sam Turner ground his teeth in impotent rage. He walked up to Princeman.

"Say, old man," he pleaded. "We've just got to settle down! We must pull this game out of the fire! We can't let Hollis Creek walk away with it!"

Princeman was pale, but clutched at his fast-slipping-away nonchalance with the grip of desperation.

"We'll hold them," he declared, and with careful deliberation he put over a ball which the next batter sent sailing right down inside the right foul line, pulling the first baseman away back almost to right field. Princeman stood gaping at that bingle in paralyzed dismay; but the batsman, who was a slow runner and slow thinker, stood a fatal second to see whether the ball was fair or foul. Almost at the crack of the bat Sam Turner started, raced down to first, caught the right fielder's throw and stepped on the stone, one handsome stride ahead of the runner! Then, as Blackrock, speechless with admiration, waved the runner out, the first mighty howl went up from Meadow Brook, and one partisan of the Hollis Creek nine, turning her back for the moment squarely upon her own colors, led the cheering. Sam heard her voice. It was a solo, while all the rest of the cheering was a faint accompaniment, and with such elation as comes only to the heroes in victorious battle, he trotted back to his place and caught three balls and three strikes on the next batter. Also, the next one went out on a pop fly which Sam was able to catch.

In their half Princeman redeemed himself in part by a three bagger which brought in two scores, and the second inning ended at ten to three in favor of Hollis Creek.

Confident and smiling, reinforced by the memory of his three bagger, Princeman took the mount for the beginning of the third, and with his compliments he suavely and politely presented a base to the first man up. A groan arose from all Meadow Brook. The second batsman shot a stinger to Princeman, who dropped it, and that batsman immediately thereafter roosted on first, crowing triumphantly; but the hot liner allowed Princeman a graceful opportunity. He complained of a badly hurt finger on his pitching hand. He called time while he held that injured member, and expressed in violent gestures the intolerable agony of it. Bravely, however, he insisted upon "sticking it out," and passed two wild ones up to the next willow wielder; then, having proved his gameness, he nobly sacrificed himself for the good of Meadow Brook, called time and asked for a substitute pitcher. He would go anywhere. He would take the field or he would retire. What he wanted was Meadow Brook to win. This was precisely what Sam Turner also wanted, and he lost no time in calling, with ill-concealed satisfaction, upon his brother Jack. Then Jack Turner, nothing loath, deserted his comfortable seat by the side of Miss Josephine Stevens, and strode forth to the mound, leaving the unfortunate Princeman to take his place by the side of Miss Stevens and give her an opportunity to sympathize with his poor maimed pitching hand, which, after a perfunctory moment of interest, she was too busy to do; for Jack Turner and Sam Turner, smiling across at each other in mutual confidence and esteem, proceeded to strike out the next three batters in succession, leaving men cemented to first and second bases, where they had been wildly imploring for opportunities to tear themselves loose.

What need to tell of the balance of that game; of the calm, easy, one-two-three work of the invincible Turner battery; of the brilliant base throwing and fielding of Turner and Turner, and their mighty swats when they came to bat? You know how the game turned out. Anybody would know. It ended in a triumph for Meadow Brook at the end of the seventh inning, which is all any summer resort game ever goes, and two innings more than most, by a total and glorious score of twenty-one to seventeen. And who were the heroes of the hour, as smilingly but modestly they strode from the diamond? Who, indeed, but Jack Turner and Sam Turner; and by token of their victory, after receiving the frenzied plaudits of all Meadow Brook and the generous plaudits of all Hollis Creek, they marched in triumph from the field, one on either side of Miss Josephine Stevens! Where now were Hollis and Princeman and Billy Westlake? Nowhere! They were forgotten of men, ignored of women, and the laurels of sweet victory rested upon the brow of busy Sam Turner!

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