Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 20
Joe hesitated a moment. Everything would depend on his one throw, because there was no chance to get another ball of cord, and if this one went wide it would fall into the fire and be rendered useless.
The fire was increasing, for all the chemicals in the tank on the wagon had been used, and no fresh supply was available. Below the tower on which the man stood, the flames raged and crackled. Even the tower itself was ablaze a little and at times the smoke hid the man from view momentarily.
"I'll have to wait until it clears," murmured the young pitcher, when, just as he got ready to throw, a swirl of vapor arose.
"You can't wait much longer," said Tom, in an ominously quiet voice.
"I know it," agreed Joe desperately, and it was but too evident. The tower itself, weakened by the fire, would soon collapse, and would carry
the man down with it into the seething fire below.
"Throw! Throw!" urged several in the throng.
Joe handed the loose end of the cord to Tom. He wanted to give all his attention to throwing the ball. He poised himself as if he was in the pitching box. It was like a situation in a game when his side needed to retire the other in order to win, as when two men were out, three on bases and the man at bat had two strikes and three balls. All depended on one throw.
With a quick motion Joe drew back his arm. There was an intaking of breath on the part of the crowd that could be heard even above the crackling of the flames. All eyes were centered on the young pitcher.
"He'll never do it," murmured Hiram Shell.
"If he does he's a better pitcher than I'll ever be," admitted Frank Brown.
Suddenly Joe threw. The white ball was plainly visible as it sailed through the air, unwinding as it mounted upward. On and on it went, Joe, no less than every one in the crowd, watching it with eager eyes. And as for the man on the tower he eagerly stretched out his hands to catch the ball of cord, on which his life now depended.
Straight and true it went, as swift and as direct a ball as Baseball Joe had ever delivered. Straight and true—on and on and then—
Into the hands of the anxiously waiting man went the ball of cord. Eagerly he clutched it, while the crowd set up a great cheer.
"That's the stuff!" yelled a man in Joe's ear. "You sure are one good pitcher, my boy!"
"Never mind about that now," said the practical Joe. "Fasten on the rope. Quick!"
Willing hands did this, and Joe looked to see if the knot would not slip. He seemed to have assumed charge of the rescue operations.
"Haul up!" he yelled to the man through the newspaper megaphone. "Haul up the rope and make it fast. Then, when I give the signal, slide down."
The man waved his hands to show that he understood, and the nexthe began pulling on the cord. The rope followed. Quickly it uncoiled from where the strands had been piled in readiness for just this. Up and up the man on the tower pulled it until he held the end of the heavy rope in his hands.
There now extended from the tower to the ground a slanting pathway of rope, such as is sometimes seen leading down into a stone quarry. It was high enough above the flames to enable a man to swing himself along above them, though doubtless he would have to pass over a zone of fierce heat.
"All ready! Come on down!" yelled Joe, and the man on the tower lost no time in obeying.
He let go the rope as his feet touched the earth and then with a groan he collapsed. The crowd closed in around him, and two minutes later the tower, with a crash, toppled into the midst of the seething furnace of fire. The rescue had been made none too soon.
"Don't crowd around him so!" shouted Joe, hurrying over to where the man lay.
He pushed his way into the throng, followed by Tom, and the two lads actually forced the men and boys away from the man, who had evidently fainted. Joe whipped off his coat and made a pillow for the sufferer's head.
As he bent over him, the man's face was illuminated by the glare from the burning factory, and our hero started back in astonishment.
"Isaac Benjamin!" he exclaimed, as he recognized the former manager of the Royal Harvester works where Mr. Matson had been employed. Isaac Benjamin, the man who, with Mr. Rufus Holdney, had conspired to ruin Joe's father by getting his patents away from him.
"Isaac Benjamin!" said Joe again.
Mr. Benjamin opened his eyes. Into them came the light of recognition as he gazed into Joe's face. He struggled to a sitting position.
"Joe—Joe Matson!" he murmured. "I—I hope your father will forgive me. I—I—"
"There, don't think of that now," said Joe gently. "Are you hurt?"
"No—nothing of any consequence. I'm not even burned, thanks to you. I climbed up into the tower when I found the place on fire. I—I—Joe, can you ever forgive me for trying to ruin your father?"
"Yes, of course. But don't talk of that now," Joe said, while the crowd looked on and wondered at the man and boy knowing each other—wondered at their strange talk.
"I—I must talk of that now—more—more danger threatens your father, Joe."
Joe thought perhaps the man might be in a delirium of fright, and he decided it would be best to humor him.
"That's all right," he said soothingly. "You'll be taken care of. We've sent for a doctor. How did you come to be in the old factory?"
"I—I was sleeping there, Joe." Mr. Benjamin's tones did not Indicate a raving mind.
"Sleeping there?" There was surprise in the boy's voice.
"Yes, Joe, I'm down and out. I've lost all my money, my friends have gone back on me—though it's my own fault—I have lost my home—my position—everything. I'm an outcast—a tramp—that's why I was sleeping there. There were some other tramps. They were smoking—I guess that's how the fire started. They got away but I couldn't."
The man's voice was excited now, and Joe tried to calm him. But Mr. Benjamin continued.
"Wait, Joe, I have something to tell you—something important—a warning to give you. If we—can we talk in private?"
"Yes, later, when you are stronger," answered the lad soothingly.
"Then it may be too late," went on Mr. Benjamin. "I am strong enough now. It was just a passing faintness. I—I am weak—haven't had much to eat—I'm hungry. But no matter. Here, come over here, I'll tell you."
He struggled to his feet with Joe's aid and led the lad aside from the crowd, which parted to make way for them.
"I'm down and out, Joe. Money and friends all gone."
"What about Mr. Holdney?"
"He too, has deserted me—turned against me, though I helped him in many schemes. I'm nothing but a tramp now, Joe."
The young pitcher looked at the wreck of the man before him. Truly he was "down and out." His once fine and well-dressed appearance had given place to a slouchy attire.
"But I must tell you, Joe. Your father's patent rights are again in danger. Rufus Holdney is going to try to get some valuable papers and models away from him. That's what he and I quarreled over. I'd do anything to spoil his plans, after he has thrown me off as he has. I left him, and since then I have had only bad luck. I don't know how I came to come here. I didn't know you were here. But warn your father, Joe, to look well after his new patents. Warn him before it is too late."
"I will," promised Joe, "I will. Thank you for telling me. Now we must look after you."
And indeed it was high time, for, as the young pitcher spoke Mr. Benjamin tottered and would have fallen had not our hero caught him.
"Quick, get a doctor!" cried Joe, as the crowd surged up again around the unfortunate man, who had fainted.