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Play Ball!

Just then Mabel came in with her hands full of flowers that she meant
to arrange for the table. She stopped short in consternation as she saw
the thundercloud on Joe's brow. For a moment she thought that he and
Reggie had been quarreling.

"Oh, Joe, what is it?" she asked in alarm.

Joe looked at her lovingly and his brow cleared.

"Nothing, honey," he said, as he came up to her and slipped his arm
around her. "It's only that I've just found out from Reggie what it is
that's been worrying you."

Mabel shot a reproachful glance at Reggie, who looked a little

"Joe got it out of me, Sis," he explained. "Said he had a right to know
and all that sort of thing, don't y'know. And 'pon honor, Sis, I don't
know but what he's right about it."

"Of course I'm right about it," affirmed Joe. "There can't be anything
now that concerns Mabel that doesn't concern me. Don't you agree with
me, dearest?"

"I suppose so," returned Mabel, as Joe drew her closer. "But, oh, Joe,
I didn't want to distress you about it. I was afraid that it would
weigh on your mind and affect your work this season, and I knew how
your heart was set on making a record. It was just for your sake,
dearest, that I kept it to myself. Of course I would have told you
sooner or later."

"Well, now Mabel, listen to me," said Joe, as he placed a chair and sat
down beside her. "I don't know what fellow has done this. But whoever
he is, he is a coward as well as a rascal, and will never dare to carry
out his threats against me. And even if he should, you know that I am
perfectly able to take care of myself. You know that others have tried
to injure me, but I always came out on top. Fleming tried it; Braxton
tried it, and you know what happened to them. Now what I want you to
promise me is to banish this beastly thing entirely from your memory.
Treat it with the contempt it deserves. Will you promise me this?"

"I will promise, Joe," answered Mabel. "I'll try to forget that it ever

"That's the girl," commended Joe. "And to set your mind at rest I'll
promise on my part to take especially good care of myself. That's a

But while Joe had secured the promise of Mabel to forget the letter,
he had made no such promise himself, and he vowed that if he could
ever get any trace of the writer of that letter he would give him the
punishment he so richly deserved.

The train Baseball Joe and Jim Barclay would take was to leave late
that afternoon.

Somehow general knowledge of that fact had got abroad, and the
boys were dismayed, on reaching the station, to find that half the
population of the little town had gathered there to say good-by and
wish them luck. To many of the townspeople, Joe was a bigger man than
the President of the United States. He had put Riverside "on the map,"
and through the columns of the papers they followed his triumphs and
felt that in a sense they were their own.

Of course Joe appreciated this affectionate interest, but just at the
moment all he wanted was to be alone with Mabel. He had already bidden
his mother a loving farewell at the house, as she was not well enough
to go to the station. Jim also had eyes and thoughts only for Clara.

But there was no help for it, and they had to exchange greetings and
good wishes with the kindly friends who clustered around them. At the
last minute, however, the young folks had a chance to say a few words
to each other, and what they did not have time to say was eloquent in
their eyes.

The train moved off, and the boys leaned far out of the windows and
waved to the girls as long as they were in sight. Then they settled
back in their seats, and for a long time were engrossed in their
thoughts. Usually they were full of chaff and banter, but to-day it was
some time before they roused themselves from reverie and paid attention
to the realities around them.

It was after they had come back from the dining car after supper that
Joe told Jim about his interview with Reggie and the anonymous letter.
Jim's wrath was almost as great as that which had shaken Joe himself.

"And the worst of it is," said Joe, "that there doesn't seem the
slightest chance of getting hold of the cowardly fellow that did it.
You might as well look for a needle in a haystack."

"Yes," agreed Jim, "that's the exasperating feature of it. It may be
the work of gamblers who have bet against the Giants and want to worry
you so that you won't pitch your best ball. Some of those fellows will
do anything for money. Or it may have been done by some enemy who chose
that way of striking in the dark."

"If it's an enemy," mused Joe, "that narrows it down. There's old
Bugs Hartley, but I don't think he has intelligence enough to write a
letter. Then there's Fleming, with whom I'm just about as popular as
poison ivy. Add to that Braxton and a few old-time enemies, and you've
about completed the list."

"I wouldn't put it past Braxton," remarked Jim thoughtfully. "That
fellow's a rattlesnake. He wouldn't stop at anything to get even with

"I hate to think he'd stoop as low as to try to strike me through a
woman," replied Joe. "But, by Jove!" he went on, as a thought struck
him, "do you remember what Reggie said about meeting Braxton in
Chicago? You know while we were on the trip he mentioned Chicago as his
home town. And that letter had the Chicago postmark."

"Oh, well, you couldn't hang a yellow dog on that," Jim replied. "But
what struck me was what Reggie said about the speedy car that Braxton
had. It must have been a mighty speedy car that got the fellow who laid
that trap on the road from the training town to Hebron. Of course those
things are only straws, of no value separately, though straws show
which way the wind blows. One thing is certain. We've got to keep one
man in our mind and guard against him. And that man's name is Braxton."

They reached New York without incident the day before the opening game,
and found the city baseball mad. The front pages of the newspapers had
big headlines discussing the opening of the season. The sporting pages
overflowed with speculation and prophecy as to the way the different
teams would shape up for the pennant race. In the street cars, in the
subways, in the restaurants, in the lobbies of the theatres, wherever
men congregated, baseball was the subject of discussion. The long
winter had made the populace hungry for their favorite game.

On the following day, the migration toward the Polo Grounds began long
before noon. Every train was packed with eager, good-natured humanity
on its way to the game. By noon the bleachers were packed, and an hour
before the game was scheduled to begin, every inch of the grandstands
were packed to overflowing.

The Bostons were to be the Giants' opponents in the opening game. The
team had finished poorly the year before, but many winter trades had
strengthened the weak spots, and the spring training of the nine had
been full of promise. A close game was looked for, with the chances
favoring the Giants.

McRae was anxious to win the opening game, and had selected Joe to
"bring home the bacon." Hughson's arm was not yet in shape, and the
prospects were that Joe would have to bear the heft of the pitcher's
burden if the Giants were to carry off the flag.

Both teams were greeted with hearty cheers as they came out on the
field. The Bostons as the visiting team, had the first chance at
practice, and they uncovered a lot of speed in their preliminary work.
Then the Giants took their turn in shooting the ball across the diamond
and batting long flies to the outfielders.

The bell rang and the field was cleared, while a hush of expectation
fell on the crowds. The blue-uniformed umpire stepped to the plate.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he bawled, "the batteries for to-day's game are
Albaugh and Menken for Boston, and Matson and Mylert for New York. Play

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