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A Surprise

The water was icy and deep, and at this point the current was swift.
The force with which the luckless occupants of the car had been
propelled sent them far beneath the surface and some distance out into
the stream.

A moment later their heads appeared above the water, and they struck
out for the shore. Both were strong swimmers, and in a few strokes they
reached the bank. Fortunately they had escaped striking any part of the
car in their wild hurtling through space, and apart from the chill and
wetting were unharmed.

From the mud at the river's edge, they dragged their dripping feet to
the solid ground of the road. Then they stood still and looked at each
other. The shock and suddenness of it all still affected them, but as
they continued to look at the comical figure that each presented, with
hair plastered over their faces and clothes clinging to their bodies,
their sense of the ludicrous got the better of them and they burst into

"Talk about scarecrows!" gurgled Jim, as he dragged a wet handkerchief
from his pocket and mopped his face in a vain attempt to dry it.

"None of them have anything on us," admitted Joe, as he threw off his
coat and wrung one dripping trousers leg after the other.

"If only the team could get a snapshot of us now, they'd kid us for the
rest of our natural lives," remarked Jim.

"You said it," agreed Joe. "But now," he added more soberly, "just
let's take a look at what it was that so nearly killed us or crippled
us for life."

They made their way to the mass of timber in the road. At first Jim
thought that it might have fallen off some wagon, unknown to the
driver. But a closer examination showed that this was an error. The
timbers were piled in a way that could have been done only by human
hands, and what made this certain was the fact that rocks had been
placed on either side to prevent the logs from slipping. It was a
formidable barrier, and if the car had dashed into it at the rate it
was going, the occupants would almost certainly have been killed.

"Whoever put those timbers there meant harm," said Joe solemnly, when
the examination had been completed.

"It looks that way," agreed Jim. "Whoever did it was a scoundrel who
ought to be in jail."

"It might have been the work of a crazy man," suggested Joe.

"As crazy as a fox," rejoined Jim, looking squarely into his chum's

"What do you mean?" asked Joe, in some perplexity.

"I mean," said Jim, carefully weighing every word, "that the man who
put that mass of timber there was just as sane as you or I. I mean
that he intended that some one should be seriously hurt. I'll go even
further. That man meant to injure Joe Matson, whom he hated with a
deadly hatred."

"You mean that Braxton did it?" cried Joe.

"I mean that Braxton did it," replied Jim quietly.

They stared at each other with strange emotions stirring in their
hearts. And while they stand there, as if turned to stone, it may be
well, for the benefit of those who have not read the earlier volumes of
this series, to trace the fortunes of Baseball Joe up to the time that
this story opens.

Joe Matson was born in a little inland village of the Middle West,
and grew up in a pleasant home amid wholesome surroundings. His first
experience in the great national game, where he was destined to become
famous as the greatest pitcher of his time, was gained on the simple
diamond of his home town, and his natural aptitude was such that
he soon became known as a rising player all over the county. What
obstacles he met and surmounted at that time are related in the first
volume of the series, entitled: "Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars."

Some time later, when playing on his school nine, he had considerable
trouble with a bully who tried to down him, but found out, as so many
trouble makers did later on in life, that Joe Matson was not easily
downed. He put into his playing all that experience, combined with his
native ability, could teach him, and he served an apprenticeship that
stood him in good stead when later he went to Yale. The trials and
triumphs of his school experience are told in the second volume of the
series, entitled: "Baseball Joe on the School Nine."

With the natural buoyancy of youth, Joe had hoped when he entered Yale
that he would have a chance to show his mettle in the box in some of
the great annual games that Yale played with Harvard and Princeton.
There were many rivals, however, for the honor, including those who had
already won their spurs in actual contests. But Joe's light was not
made to shine under a bushel, and one day when the cohorts of Princeton
came down in their orange and black prepared to "tie the can" to the
Bulldog's tail, Joe got his chance and sent a very bedraggled Tiger
back to his lair in Princeton. How Joe won gloriously is told in the
third volume of the series, entitled: "Baseball Joe at Yale."

Though he enjoyed his college days at Yale, stood high in his studies,
and was popular with his mates, he felt that he was not cut out for one
of the learned professions. His mother had hoped that he would be a
clergyman and had been urgent in having him adopt that profession. But
Joe, though he respected the noble aims of that calling, was not drawn
to it. It was the open air life that he craved and for which he was
fitted, and the scholastic calm of a study had little attraction for
him. He felt that he had it in him to win supremacy in athletic fields.

His mother, of course, was greatly disappointed when she learned how
he felt, but she was too wise to insist on her plan when she realized
that it was contrary to his special gifts. She knew very little about
baseball, but she had the impression that it was no place for an
educated man. The fact, however, that so many college men were entering
the ranks of professional baseball was made the most of by Joe, and she
finally yielded to his wishes.

His chance was not long in coming, for he was soon picked up by one
of the scouts who are always looking for "diamonds in the rough," and
was offered a contract with the Pittston team of the Central League.
The League was a minor one, but Joe had already learned that a man
who proved that he had the makings of a star in him would soon have
an opportunity with one of the majors. How speedily his ability was
proved and recognized is narrated in the fourth volume of the series,
entitled: "Baseball Joe in the Central League."

From the bushes to the National League was a big jump, but Joe made
it when he was drafted into the ranks of the St. Louis Cardinals. The
team was in the second division when Joe came into action, and was
altogether out of the running for the championship. But Joe's twirling
was just what it needed to put new heart and life into it, and before
the season ended it had climbed into the first division and if the race
had been a little longer might have made a big stroke for the pennant.
The story of the team's climb, with all its exciting episodes, is told
in the fifth volume of the series, entitled: "Baseball Joe in the Big

McRae, the crafty and resourceful manager of the New York Giants, had
had his eye on Joe all the season, and when the race was ended he made
an offer for him that the St. Louis management could not refuse. Now,
indeed, Joe felt that the ambition of his life was in a fair way to
be realized. McRae had intended to bring him along slowly, so that he
could be thoroughly seasoned, but circumstances put on him the heft of
the pitching, and how fully he justified his manager's confidence is
narrated in the sixth volume of the series, entitled: "Baseball Joe on
the Giants."

After the winning of the National League Championship by the Giants,
came the World Series with the Boston Red Sox, who had won the title
that year in the American League. The Sox were a hard team to beat,
and the Giants had their work cut out for them. In addition to the
strain of the games in which he was slated to pitch, Joe had to contend
with the foul tactics of a gang of gamblers who had wagered heavily
on the Sox and did all they could to put Joe out of action. But his
indomitable will and quick wit triumphed over all obstacles, and his
magnificent pitching in the last game of the series won the World's
Championship for the Giants. The story of that stirring fight is told
in the seventh volume of the series, entitled: "Baseball Joe in the
World Series."

During these experiences, Joe had not escaped the toils of Cupid.
Mabel Varley, a charming young girl, had been rescued by Joe at the
moment that a runaway horse was about to carry her over a cliff. The
romantic acquaintanceship thus begun soon grew into a deep affection,
and Joe knew that Mabel held the happiness of his life in her hands.
Jim Barclay, also, a promising young Princeton man and second string
pitcher for the Giants, who was Joe's special chum, had grown very
fond of Clara, Joe's pretty sister, and hoped that some day she would
promise to be his wife.

The World Series had scarcely ended before Joe and Jim were invited by
McRae to make a trip around the world with the Giant and All-American
teams. They were eager for the chance, and their delight was increased
when it developed that there were to be a number of wives of the
players in the party so that Mabel and Clara could go along.

The teams played in Japan, in China, and in many of the cities of
Europe, and the experience would have been a thoroughly happy one
for Joe, had it not been for the machinations of men who were trying
to form a rival league and had by the meanest trickery secured Joe's
signature to what afterward turned out to be a contract. How Joe
finally unmasked the plotters and had the satisfaction of giving the
ringleader a tremendous thrashing is narrated in the preceding volume
of the series, entitled: "Baseball Joe Around the World."

And now to return to Joe and Jim, as they stood in their dripping
clothes on the country road in the growing light of the spring morning.

For some seconds after Jim's startling statement, Joe stood as though
rooted to the spot. Then he pulled himself together.

"Come now, Jim, isn't that pretty far-fetched?" he said, with a forced
laugh, in which, however, there was little mirth. "You haven't a shred
of proof of anything of the kind."

"No," admitted Jim, "there isn't anything--yet--that would convince a
judge or a jury. I'll agree that it wouldn't go far in a court of law.
But just put two and two together. Yesterday afternoon we were talking
about this trip. You distinctly mentioned the hill near Hebron. It was
just after you spoke that I saw Braxton pass the door."

"Thought you saw," corrected Joe.

"All right, then," said Jim patiently, "let it go at that--thought
I saw Braxton passing the door. Now just suppose for a minute
that I was right and see what comes of it. The man who hates you
worse, probably, than any man on earth--the man to whom you gave a
terrible thrashing--knew that you would be driving a car just before
daylight--knew that you would have to climb a hill--knew that as you
got near it you'd probably put on speed to carry the car up--knew that
an obstacle put near the bottom of the hill would almost certainly
wreck the car and hurt the driver. Knowing all this, might not such a
man as we know Braxton to be see his chance and take it?"

There was silence for a moment. Then:

"It certainly sounds strong the way you put it," Joe said thoughtfully.
"But how on earth could Braxton get here in time to do all this? Think
of the distance."

"It isn't so great a distance," rejoined Jim. "That is, if a man came
straight across country in a speedy car for instance. It seemed long
to us because of the roundabout way we had to go by train. Then too
that was early in the afternoon, and Braxton could have had four hours'
start of us. He's a rich man and probably has a fast car. He could have
made it all right and got here hours ago."

"Yes, but even then," argued Joe, "he couldn't have done it all alone.
It's as much as you and I can do together to handle these timbers."

"That's true," conceded Jim. "But he may have had one or more
confederates with him. Money you know can do almost anything. I
shouldn't wonder if that fellow Fleming helped him. He owed you a debt
too, you remember, and the pair were as thick as thieves on the world

"Well, it may be just as you say," replied Joe. "But I hate to think
that any man hates me so badly as to try to injure me in such a
cowardly way as that. At any rate, it won't do any harm for us to keep
our eyes open in the future. But we've got plenty of time to think of
that. Now let's get busy and hustle these timbers over to the side of
the road so that nobody else can run into them. Then we'll take a look
at the car."

They set to work with a will, and in a few minutes had removed the
obstacles from the road.

"Now for the machine," said Joe, as he led the way to the river bank.
"I've got an idea that what we owe Hank will put a dent in our bank

To their delight they found, however, that, apart from superficial
injuries, the car seemed to be intact. The wind shield had been
shattered and the mud guards were badly bent. But the axles seemed
to be sound, the wheels were in place, and as far as they could
judge there had been no injury to the engine. To all appearances the
expenditure of a hundred dollars would put the car in good shape again.

But the wheels were so firmly imbedded in the mud of the shore that
despite all their efforts they could not budge the car. They strained
and pushed and lifted, but to no avail. Joe climbed into the driver's
seat and set the engine going, but the car was stubborn and refused to

"Swell chance of our getting home in time for breakfast," grumbled Joe,
as he stopped to rest for a moment.

"Lucky if we get there in time for supper," muttered Jim. "We'll have
to go somewhere and borrow a shovel so that we can dig the wheels out
of the mud."

But just at this moment they heard the rumbling of a cart, and running
to the road they saw it coming, drawn by two stout horses, while the
driver sat handling the reins in leisurely fashion.

They waved their hands and the cart came to a halt, the driver scanning
curiously the two young men who had appeared so unexpectedly from the
side of the road. He was a bluff, jovial person, and his eyes twinkled
with amusement as he noted the wet garments that were clinging to their

"Been taking a bath with all your clothes on?" he asked, as he got down
from his seat.

"Something like that," replied Joe, with a laugh, "but the bath came as
a sort of surprise party. The road was blocked, and it was either the
morgue or the river for us, so we chose the river."

"Road blocked?" repeated the newcomer, looking about with a puzzled
expression. "I don't get you. Looks clear enough to me."

"It wouldn't if you'd been here half an hour ago," replied Joe,
and then, as the man listened with interest that soon changed to
indignation, he recounted briefly the events of the morning.

"Whoever did that ought to be jailed," he burst out, when the boys had
concluded their story. "And he can't be very far away, either. This
road was clear when I passed over it last night. Jump in and I'll drive
you into town and we can send out an alarm."

"Not much use of that I'm afraid," replied Joe. "The man or men may be
fifty miles away by this time. But if you'll give us a hand to get this
auto out of the mud, you'll do us a big favor."

"Sure I'll help you," said the friend in need, whose name they learned
was Thompson. "I've got a spade right here in the cart. We'll dig
around the wheels a little. Then I'll hitch a trace chain to the
machine and my horses will yank it out in a jiffy."

A few minutes of work sufficed to clear the wheels. Then boards were
placed behind them, the chain was attached to the rear axle, and the
horses drew the car back into the road.

It presented rather a forlorn appearance, but the boys cared little for
that. What they were far more concerned about was their own bedraggled

"We match the car all right," remarked Jim disgustedly, as he looked at
his own clothes and those of his companion.

"It will never do to let Mabel and Clara see us like this," responded
Joe lugubriously.

"Don't let that worry you," laughed their new friend. "Just drive into
town and stop at Eph Allen's tailor shop. It's pretty early, but Eph
sleeps in the back of his shop and he'll let you in and fix you up in
no time."

This was evidently the best thing to be done, and the young men, after
repeated thanks to their newly made friend and with fullest directions
as to how to find the tailor shop in question, jumped into the auto and
started on the way back to Hebron.

"Old bus seems to work as well as ever," commented Joe, as the car
moved on without any visible evidence of injury.

"That's one bit of good luck," replied Jim. "And it's certainly coming
to us to make up in part for the bad."

They thanked their stars that it was too early yet for many people to
be stirring in the town, and were relieved when they found themselves
in front of Allen's shop. Eph must have been a pretty sound sleeper,
for it took a good deal of knocking to wake him up, and when at last he
thrust his tousled head through the door to ask what was wanted, he was
not in the best of temper. But as soon as he learned the circumstances
that had occasioned the early call, he became at once all interest and
attention, and hustled about to put their clothes in presentable shape.

It was a fairly good job that he at length turned out after he had
ironed and pressed their suits, though they had by no means the Beau
Brummel effect with which the boys had planned to impress the girls.

By this time the sun had fully risen and Joe looked at his watch.

"Perhaps we'll be in time to catch them at breakfast yet," he remarked.
"It's only about twenty miles from here to Riverside. Maybe they won't
be surprised when we break in on them. They don't think we're within
several hundred miles of them."

"Perhaps we ought to have telegraphed that we were coming," said Jim.

"It might have been just as well, I suppose," admitted Joe. "But that
would have taken away the fun of the surprise. I want to see the look
on their faces."

"Of course we won't say anything about what happened to us this
morning," suggested Jim, as the machine bowled along over a road that
with every minute that passed was growing more familiar.

"Not on your life," replied Joe earnestly. "None of them would ever
have another easy minute. They'd be seeing our mangled remains every
night in their dreams. All we'll tell them is that we had a little
spill and got wet. But not a word about the blocked road or what we
suspect regarding Braxton."

Before long they were passing the straggling houses that marked the
outskirts of Riverside. Joe pulled his cap down over his eyes so that
he would not be recognized and stopped by any of the people of the
town, where he was regarded as something of an idol. All he wanted to
do was to get to his family and Mabel, or, as perhaps he would have put
it, get to Mabel and his family.

His ruse was successful, for there was no sign of recognition from the
few he passed on the streets, and in a few minutes he brought the car
to a stop in front of the Matson home.

The young men jumped out, and with Joe leading the way ran lightly up
the steps. He tried the front door and found that it yielded to his
touch. With his finger on his lips as a warning to Jim, he tiptoed
softly through the hall to the door of the dining room.

The odor of coffee and bacon came to them and from the click of plates
and cups, as well as the murmur of several voices, they knew that the
family was still at the breakfast table.

Joe waited no longer but threw open the door.

"Hello, folks!" he cried.

Next: Reggie Turns Up

Previous: A Dangerous Plunge

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