Billy Mayes' Great Discovery
BILLY MAYES' GREAT DISCOVERY
BY RALPH HENRY BARBOUR
Captain Ezra Blake, seated on the edge of the deck-house of the little schooner Molly and Kate, was trying to do two things at once. He was superintending the unloading of ballast by a crew of four men and a boy, and he was answering the questions of Billy Mayes, who sat beside him. Billy was twelve and Captain Ezra was almost five times twelve, but they were great cronies. The Molly and Kate had tied up to Forster's Wharf only last evening, and already this Saturday morning Billy was on hand to hear what wonderful adventures had befallen his friend on the latest voyage. The Molly and Kate carried lumber to fascinating southern ports like Charleston and Savannah and Jacksonville and even, less frequently, Havana, and never a voyage but what Captain Ezra returned with a new budget of marvelous tales for Billy's delight. Some day Billy was going to sail with the captain and see the astounding places and things with his own two very blue eyes—see Charleston and Cape Hatteras and the Sea Islands and Florida. But more especially he would visit Pirate Key, for it was on Pirate Key that the captain met with his very startlingest adventures. Billy had never been able to find Pirate Key on any map, but as the captain explained, it wasn't very big and few mariners even knew of its existence. Somewhere between the Marquesas and the Dry Tortugas it lay, and beyond that the captain declined to commit himself; which, under the circumstances, Billy considered quite proper, since it seemed that the natives of Pirate Key were a peculiarly sensitive people and much averse to publicity. Even the captain, with his winning personality, had had much difficulty in making friends with the inhabitants. The first time he had tried to land, many years ago, he and his crew had been fired on with poisoned arrows. Captain Ezra could still point out the scars on the old blue dory astern there.
The captain, with one mild grey eye on the crew, had just finished a soul-stirring account of the hurricane that had met them off the South Carolina coast on their northward trip, and Billy was still glowing with pride at the thought of knowing so intimately a person of such nautical skill and personal bravery,—for, although the captain hadn't said so in so many words, it was very plain that only heroism and remarkable seamanship had brought the Molly and Kate safely through great peril,—when "Long Joe" Bowen, shoveling ballast sand near by, was conquered by a perfectly terrible spasm of coughing. Captain Ezra viewed him silently for a moment and then inquired mildly:
"Been an' swallered some o' that sand, Joe?"
"Long Joe" nodded and said, "Yes, sir," in a very husky voice.
"M—m—; well, you want to be more careful," advised the captain, most sympathetically; "’cause if you ain't, I'm likely to have to swab out your throat for you, an' that's a remarkably painful operation. Joe."
There was no response to this, but Billy could see "Long Joe's" shoulders heaving and knew that he must already be in much pain. Billy, like his friend the captain, had a very sympathetic nature. When the sufferer appeared to be easier Billy looked up again at the captain's seamed and ruddy countenance and asked:
"Did you get to Pirate Key this time, sir?"
"Pirate Key?" responded the captain. "Oh, yes, we was there a couple o' days. Not on business; but, you see, I'd promised the king I'd drop in on him the next time I was down around there. Seein' as he leads a kind o' lonely life, an' him an' me bein' particular friends, as you might say, I didn't have the heart to say no to him."
"Was he quite well?" asked Billy, politely.
"Pretty smart for an old feller. You see, Billy, he's—let me see—why, he must be well over a hundred now."
"A hundred!" gasped the boy.
The captain nodded gravely. "Them Pirate Key folks lives a long time. They don't go to school until they're twenty. If they did, you see, they'd forget all they'd learned afore they was what you might call middle-aged."
Billy pondered that. Not going to school until one was twenty had much to be said in its favor. Still, it was revolutionary, and he decided to put it aside for further consideration.
"And how was the queen and the prince?" he asked interestedly.
"Well, the queen was fine; but the prince had been an' ate something as didn't agree with him. The royal physician was real worried when I got there; but I give him a couple o' doses of kerosene oil an' it did him a power o' good."
"The—the physician?" asked Billy, doubtfully.
"No, the prince, o' course. There wasn't nothing the matter with the physician." The captain sounded slightly vexed. "He'd been an' ate some—some—what's this now?—some hoki-moki fruit." He viewed Billy sternly. "The prince had."
"Really?" asked Hilly. "What is hoki-moki fruit?"
"Well," replied the narrator, knocking the ashes from his pipe and thoughtfully scraping the bowl with his knife, "it's sort o' like a orange an sort o' like a apple."
"An' it's pizen if you eat it afore it's ripe. Don't never touch a hoki-moki fruit till it's purple, Billy."
Billy promised instantly. "Only," he added, "I might not know it, Captain Ezra, if I was to go to Pirate Key. Is it round? Does it grow on trees?"
"More square than round, you might say. It grows in clusters as big as that water-cask there. Hundreds of 'em together. An' they grow high, because, if they didn't, the wild horses would eat 'em when they was green an' die. That's one o' the wonders o' nature, Billy."
"Yes, sir. But I didn't know horses ate fruit."
"Ain't you ever see a horse eat a apple? Why, they're plumb fond o' apples. Bananas, too—an' watermelons. Guess the only kind o' fruit a horse won't eat is cocoanuts." The captain filled his pipe leisurely and in silence. Then: "Another peculiar thing, Billy, is what you might call the—the affinity o' the hoki-moki tree an' them wild horses. They can't keep away from 'em, the horses can't. There's something about the—the tree itself that draws the horses; something in the wood, they say. You don't never find any bark on a hoki-moki tree low down, because the wild horses keeps rubbin' themselves against it. Seems like they just can't resist the—the sub-tile influence. It's extraordinary."
Billy agreed emphatically that it was. "Are there many wild horses on the key?" he inquired after a moment.
"Thousands. The natives catch 'em an' train 'em. The king has more'n three hundred horses in his private stable, an' the queen, she has about a hundred, an' the prince, he's got maybe thirty or forty." The captain applied a lighted match to his pipe and puffed blue smoke clouds into the spring sunlight. "They kill 'em for their hides, too," he went on. "They make fine leather."
"I shouldn't think they'd need leather," said Billy, "being just savages."
"Savages!" The captain viewed him reprovingly. "Don't you ever let 'em hear you say that, son! Benighted, in a manner o' speakin', they may be, but they ain't savages. As for leather, why, they make saddles an' harnesses an' travelin'-bags—"
"—An' trunks." The captain paid no heed to the interruption. "An' here's another peculiar thing. You may he able to explain it, but I can't, an' I never heard any one who could. Them hoki-moki trees has just as much affinity for a horse-hide as they has for the horse himself. Lay a horse-hide saddle twenty feet away from a hoki-moki tree, an' just as soon as you lets go of it it'll begin to move right over to the tree and try to rub itself against it. Now you explain that!"
"But I can't," said Billy, wide-eyed. "It—it's most—most extro'n'ry!"
"It surely is!" declared the captain. "What you might call one o' the marvels o' science. I ain't never— That the lot, Joe? Well, I guess it's most dinner time, ain't it? Talkin' always gives me a powerful appetite. Sing out to Steve to start that galley fire an' get a hustle on him!"
Billy's thoughts dwelt a good deal for the rest of that day on Captain Ezra's interesting discourse, and when he went to sleep, it was to dream terribly complicated things about wild horses and hoki-moki trees and the fascinating inhabitants of Pirate Key, who wore the scantiest attires, but indulged themselves in traveling-bags! Sunday was always a hard day to live through, for after church and Sunday-school were over many empty hours stretched ahead. This Sunday, however, was not so bad, for Mr. Humbleton came to call in the afternoon and brought Arthur with him. Arthur was fourteen and a youth of affairs and position in the community, as became the son of a bank treasurer. For one thing, Arthur was captain of the Broadport Junior Baseball Team. Billy and Arthur were graciously allowed to retire from the society of their elders to the sanctuary of the little side porch, where the chill of an easterly April breeze failed to penetrate. Billy was glad of the opportunity to talk to Arthur, for he had a request to make, and after several false starts he managed to make it.
"I wish," he said, after swallowing hard a couple of times, "I wish you'd let me play on the nine this year, Arthur."
Arthur Humbleton observed him frowningly. Then he shook his head. "I don't see how I could, Billy," he answered. "The team's all made up, in the first place, and then you aren't much of a player. Maybe next year—"
"I can play in the out-field all right," defended Billy, eagerly.
"Oh, most any fellow can catch a fly," replied the other carelessly. "There's more to baseball than just that, Billy. You've got to know how to run the bases, and bat, and lots of things."
"I can run bases just as fast as—" Billy paused. He had been going to say, "as you can": but diplomacy came to his aid. "As fast as Tom Wallace can," he substituted.
"Maybe, but you can't bat a little bit," responded Arthur, triumphantly. "You know you can't."
"If I had more practise—"
"No, sir; you couldn't ever be a real, corking batter." Arthur was kindly but firm. "A fellow has to have the batting eye. Of course, I don't say that maybe, if you worked awfully hard this year and practised every day, you mightn't be a lot better; but I don't believe you'll ever be a real star, Billy."
The subject, engrossing to both boys, continued for some time, and in the end it was agreed that Billy should become a sort of unofficial out-field substitute, with the privilege of practising with the nine sometimes and making himself useful chasing the long flies that infrequently went over Mr. Bannerman's garden fence. As Mr. Bannerman was aged and crabbed and disliked having small boys wallow across his asparagus-bed in search of baseballs, the position assigned to Billy promised as much danger as honor. But he knew himself to be fast on his feet and knew Mr. Bannerman to be slow, and he accepted gratefully. Soon after that, Arthur was summoned hurriedly by his father, so hurriedly that he left behind him an enticing blue paper-bound pamphlet entitled, "How to Play Baseball," which Billy happened on just before supper and which he surreptitiously studied later behind the shielding pages of "Travels in the Holy Land."
But he found it difficult to understand, until he happened on a dozen pages at the end of the booklet devoted to advertisements. There were soul-stirring pictures and descriptions of mitts and gloves, bats and masks and balls. He admired and coveted, and mentally compared the prices set down against the articles with the contents of the little box in his top bureau-drawer that was his bank. The comparison wasn't encouraging. Billy sighed. And just then his eyes fell on a word that challenged attention. "Westcott's Junior League Ball," he read. "Regulation size and weight, rubber center, all-wool yarn, double cover of best quality selected horse-hide. Warranted to last a full game without losing elasticity or shape."
Billy read it twice. Then he became thoughtful. After that he read the description again, and his eyes became big and round. Later, in bed, with the light from the electric lamp at the corner illumining the ceiling, he lay sleepless for a long hour, experiencing the triumph that thrills all great discoverers and inventors.
The next morning he surprised every member of the household by being downstairs in advance of breakfast and with his shoes tied! His mother viewed him anxiously and felt his face, but was unable to detect anything abnormal save, perhaps, a certain intensity of gaze and impatience of delay. There was a full hail-hour between breakfast and school, and Billy made the most of it. Captain Ezra was smoking his pipe on the wharf when Billy arrived, breathless, on the scene.
"Well, well!" exclaimed the captain. "Ain't you round kind o' early?"
Hut there was scant time for amenities, and Billy plunged directly into business. "Are you going down South again, pretty soon, sir?" he inquired anxiously. The captain allowed that he was; as soon, in fact, as the new cargo was aboard, which, if he wasn't saddled with the laziest crew on record, ought to be in about four days. "And are you going to Pirate Key?" Billy continued. The captain blinked.
"Well, I might," he replied, after slight hesitation. "Why?"
"Because I want you to bring me a piece of that hoki-moki wood, sir, a piece big enough to make a bat. You see—"
"A bat? What sort of a bat?"
"Why, a baseball bat. Could you, do you think? It would have to be that long—" Billy stretched his arms—"and that big around,—" Billy formed a circle with his small fingers,—"and it oughtn't to have any knots in it. Is hoki-moki very knotty, Captain Ezra?"
"Knotty? N-no, I wouldn't call it that. I—" He coughed and cast a troubled gaze toward the lighthouse point. "What was it you wanted it for, now?"
"A baseball bat," answered Billy, almost impatiently. "I thought if you could get me a piece big enough, I could get Jerry Williams, over at Morris's carpenter shop, to make it for me. Could you? Would it would it be much trouble to you, sir?"
"Why, n-no, only—hm—you see I ain't plumb sure of gettin' to Pirate Key this trip, Billy." Billy's face fell, and Captain Ezra went on quickly. "But I ain't sayin' I won't, you know. Fact is, it's more'n likely I will. An' if I do—"
"Oh, will you, please?" cried Billy, beaming. "How much would it cost, sir? I've only got twenty-two cents, but if you'd take that, I'd pay you the rest when you came back." He dug into a pocket, but the Captain waved the suggestion aside.
"Shucks!" he said; "a little piece o' wood ain't goin' to cost nothin'. Why, I guess I could bring off a whole tree, if I wanted it. I guess there ain't anything on that there island I couldn't have for the askin', Billy, the king an' me bein' so friendly. Tell you what I'll do, now. I'll get 'em to cut a piece o' that wood an' make the bat for you right there. How'll that be?"
Billy looked dubious. "Why, that's awfully kind, sir, but—but do you think they'd know how to make a baseball bat? Bats have to be made awf'ly particular. Captain Ezra, or else they aren't much good."
"Don't you worry about that, son. They have been makin' their own bats on Pirate Key for years, an' I guess there ain't no better ones to be had."
"Why, do they play baseball there?" gasped the boy.
"’Course they do! Leastways, they play what's pretty near like it. The—the general idea's similar. They're plumb crazy about it, too. They got a eight-club league down there—"
But at that moment the bell in the town-hall clanged its first stroke, and Billy fled.
During the four days that the Molly and Kate remained at Forster's Wharf Billy and the captain met twice; and when the schooner finally sailed, the captain had full, detailed, and most explicit instructions regarding that length of straight, well-seasoned hoki-moki wood that was to be brought back either in the rough or shaped into the Pirate Key idea of a baseball bat. After that there was nothing for Billy to do save await the return of the schooner.
April gave place to May, and the Broadport Juniors began to play Saturday afternoon games on the back common and to practise diligently on other days after school was over. Billy served a rigorous apprenticeship in the out-field, chasing flies that went over the heads of the regular players and several times scrambling over Mr. Bannerman's fence and recovering the ball from under the rhubarb or from between the rows of early peas. So far, fortune had attended him and he had escaped with his life. Now and then he was allowed to take his turn with the batters and stand up at the plate while Waldo Hutchins hitched his famous "slow ones." Practise is supposed to make perfect, but Billy was still a long way from perfection as a batsman. Nor could either he or Arthur Humbleton observe any great amount of improvement. But Billy persisted, consoling himself with rosy dreams of the future. Almost any day. now, the Molly and Kate might return, bearing Billy's Great Discovery.
Meanwhile, the Juniors won from Scalfield Grammar School, were defeated by the West Side Reds, and were annihilated by the Downerport Eagles. And then, as it seemed to Billy, just in the nick of time to prevent a similar fate at the hands of that especial rival, the Broadport White Sox, the Molly and Kate tied up again at Forster's Wharf!
That was an eventful day in Billy's life—eventful from the moment he heard the glad news to the moment that he was back at the house with the precious hoki-moki bat in his possession. He had scarcely heard Captain Ezra's detailed and interesting account of the securing of the article. For once, anxious to put the bat to the test, Billy thought the captain just the least bit long-winded! But he banished the thought almost instantly, blushing for its ungraciousness, and quite overwhelmed his benefactor with thanks ere he hurried away with the bat tightly clutched and one jacket-pocket bulging with a perfectly good "genuine horse-hide" ball that had seen only two weeks' service in practise and had been acquired from Captain Humbleton for fifteen cents.
Subsiding, much out of breath, on the edge of the side porch, Billy once more examined his prize with eager eyes. As to shape it looked as fine as the best "wagon tongue" ever made. There was no doubt about it, those Pirate Key natives knew how to make a baseball bat! Billy was just a trifle disappointed about one thing, however, and that was its lack of novelty. To all appearance the bat was quite like any other bat, except that the inscription "Genoine Hoki-Moki Wood" appeared half-way along its smooth length. The words were printed in uneven characters, and evidently with pen and ink, and the ink had run with the grain of the wood. The varnish was still new and just a bit sticky; but that was to be expected, since varnish always dried slowly near salt water. Hoki-moki wood was, contrary to Billy's preconceived idea, light instead of dark, closely resembling ash. A surprising feature was the twine-wound handle. It seemed strange that the natives of Pirate Key should know of that refinement. His respect for them grew tremendously then and there!
Having examined the bat to his heart's content, he stood up and swung it experimentally. It proved the least bit heavier than he could have wished, but that wasn't anything to trouble about. He had frequently heard Jack Cantrell express a preference for a heavy bat, and Jack was the hard hitter of the Broadport Juniors. Remained now the supreme test, and Billy approached it falteringly. Suppose it failed! Suppose Captain Ezra's tales of the peculiar properties of hoki-moki wood proved false! Billy feared that the disappointment would be more than he could bear! Nerving himself to the ordeal, he laid the bat at the edge of the porch, squeezed the horse-hide ball from his pocket, and deposited it with trembling fingers against the house. Seven feet separated ball and bat, and as he withdrew his fingers he gave a deep, anxious sigh. For an instant it seemed that the experiment was to fail, and Billy's heart sank sickeningly. But then, as he stepped back across the boards to the porch's edge, the miracle happened! Slowly, irresolutely, the ball moved, rolled a few inches, stopped, went on, gathered momentum, and traveled straight along a board until it bumped companionably against the hoki-moki bat!
Billy shrieked his triumph, and danced ecstatically on the mignonette bed. It was true! The Great Discovery was proved!
Again he tried the experiment, and again the ball yielded to the magic influence of the bat as the needle of a compass yields to the influence of the north pole. Thrice the experiment worked perfectly. A fourth time the ball, having been placed farther to the left, collided with the handle of the bat, jumped it, and rolled over the edge of the porch into the flower-bed. Billy waited for it to rise up and come back again, but that effort appeared beyond it. Considering that a distance of eighteen inches intervened between porch floor and flower-bed, Billy felt that it would be asking too much of the ball. Anyway, it atoned, a minute later, by rolling nicely from house wall to bat with what seemed greater alacrity. Billy was more than satisfied.
I feel that I ought to inform the reader of a fact that quite escaped Billy, which is that the outer edge of the side porch was fully an inch and a half lower than the inner, being so built that water would run off it. I doubt if Billy ever knew of this. Certainly, the slope was not perceptible to an unsuspicious vision. I make no claim that the slope had anything to do with the remarkable behavior of the ball. I am willing to believe that the ball would have rolled across to the bat had the floor been perfectly level. I only mention the fact in the interest of truth.
Later, Billy sought the back yard and tried throwing the ball in the air and hitting it with the bat. At first this experiment proved less successful than the other, but presently he found, to his great delight, that he could hit almost every time! To be sure, he didn't always hit just square, but he hit. That absorbing occupation came to an end when the ball went through a cellar window with a fine sound of breaking glass. Thereupon, Billy recovered the ball and went innocently in to supper.
That night, for fear of burglary, Billy slept with the hoki-moki bat under the covers beside him.
The next day was Saturday and the day of the White Sox game. Billy spent most of the morning knocking the ball against the backyard fence, and only desisted when Aunt Julia informed him from an upstairs window that she had a headache and would go crazy if he didn't stop making all that noise. Billy stopped and went and sat on the side porch, with his feet in the mignonette and the hoki-moki bat hugged to his triumphant breast, and dreamed dreams worthy of Cæsar or Napoleon.
The Broadport Juniors wanted to win to-day's game more than they wanted to win any other contest in a long and comprehensive schedule. The White Sox team was comprised of boys who lived on the Hill. The Hill was the town's patrician quarter. Just about every one who lived up there had an automobile and a chauffeur to drive it and wore his good clothes all the time. The juvenile residents of that favored locality were, in the estimate of the down-town boys, stuck-up and snobbish, and had a fine opinion of their baseball prowess. The worst of it was that their opinion was justified, for the White Sox—the down-towners jeeringly called them the Silk Sox—beat almost every team they went up against! Last year the Juniors had played two contests with them and had been beaten decisively each time. And so Captain Arthur Humbleton and all the other boys of the Juniors and all their adherents—including mothers and brothers and sisters and an occasional father—were especially keen on a victory. And when, in the first of the sixth inning, the White Sox finally solved Waldo's delivery and made three hits, and, aided by an in-field error, sent four runs over the plate, the Juniors' bright dream faded and despondency gloomed the countenance of Captain Humbleton. The White Sox had already held a one-run lead, the score at the start of the sixth having been 12 to 11, and now, with four more tallies added, they looked to have the contest safely on ice.
Billy, his precious bat held firmly between his knees, occupied a seat on the substitute's bench, a yellow-grained settee borrowed from the High School across the common. He had twice offered his services to Arthur, and they had been twice refused, the second time with a scowl. Billy was absolutely certain that he could, if allowed to face the opposing pitcher, who hadn't much but a fast ball to boast of, anyway, deliver wallops that would radically alter the history of the game. But the hoki-moki bat was no better than any little old sixty-cent stick so long as he was not allowed to use it. To his credit is the fact that he had determined, in case the White Sox held the lead at the beginning of the ninth inning, to entrust the bat to others, should Arthur still refuse his services. That was real self-denial, real patriotism. As much as Billy wanted to wield the wonderful hoki-moki bat, victory for the team stood first.
The friends of the Juniors clapped and cheered as "Wink" Billings went to bat in the last of the sixth, and the one who cheered the loudest was Captain Ezra Blake. The captain had come at Billy's earnest and repeated behest, and had togged himself out wonderfully in honor of the occasion. The captain did not, Billy suspected now, know a great deal about baseball, for he cheered just as loudly when a villainous White Sox rapped out a two-bagger as he did when one of the Juniors stole home from third. But it was very evident that the captain's intentions were of the best.
The last of the sixth developed no runs for the Juniors, nor did the seventh add to the score of either side. In the eighth the White Sox captain got to third with two down and tried to tally on a bunt past the pitcher's box. But short-stop ran in, scooped up the ball, and nailed him a foot from the plate. The Juniors started their inning by a safe rap that placed Cantrell on first base. Myers sacrificed neatly, and then the next man connected for a screeching liner that was too hot for the Sox second baseman, and Cantrell scored the Juniors' twelfth tally. But the score was still four runs to the advantage of the White Sox when Stone hit into a double and ended the inning.
Captain Humbleton pretended a confidence he didn't feel, and assured the team that all they had to do now was hold the Sox and then bat out a victory. It sounded easy, but Billy felt defeat impending. He tried to get a word with Arthur before that youth hurried off to his in-field position, but failed. The White Sox started by putting a runner on first in consequence of Waldo Hutchins's inability to pitch strikes. Then a bunt was mishandled by the catcher, and there were runners on first and second, and things looked very bad. The next player was thrown out, but the others moved up. The in-field crept closer. The White Sox left-fielder tried hard to slug, missed two, and finally popped up a silly little foul that dropped comfortably in the catcher's mitt, and the Junior nine's adherents cheered loudly, Captain Ezra's voice dominating all like a fog siren. There was another period of doubt and anxiety when, after knocking the ball everywhere save between the foul-lines, the Sox first baseman finally whaled out a long, arching fly. The bases emptied and the runners scuttled home, but Leo Smith arose to the occasion like a veteran—which he was not—and pulled down the ball!
"Four to tie 'em and five to win!" shouted Arthur, as he trotted in to the bench. "Come on now, fellows! Let's get this! We can— What is it, Billy? Don't bother me now!"
"I've got to, Arthur," said Billy, firmly, a tight clutch on the captain's arm. "You've got to listen a minute. If you want to win this, you must let me bat, Arthur. I can't help hitting with this bat, honest, and—"
"You're up, Waldo! Work him for a base. Get it somehow!" Arthur tugged impatiently, but Billy held like glue.
"You see, it's a hoki-moki wood bat, Arthur, and hoki-moki wood has a—a infinity for horse-hide. All you've got to do is just swing the bat, and the ball comes right up and hits it. It's the greatest discovery of—"
"What are you talking about?" demanded the captain. "Let's see your old bat. 'Hoki-moki wood', eh?" he jeered. "Where'd you get this contraption?"
And still holding him firmly, Billy told him, and in spite of his expression of incredulity, Arthur was secretly a little bit impressed. "Oh, shucks!" he said, "I don't believe it, Billy! It ain't possible! 'Course, you might have luck—" He paused and frowned intently, and then, with a short laugh, added: "Maybe I'll give you a chance, Billy. We'll see."
Billy had to be content with that. Meanwhile, Waldo Hutchins had waited and walked. An attempted sacrifice, however, failed to work, and Waldo was cut off at second. The runner was safe on first. With one gone, the audience began to disperse slowly. Then the Juniors' right-fielder landed squarely and rapped past third, and hope crept back into the breasts of his team-mates. the departing onlookers paused in their exodus. The Sox second baseman let the throw from the pitcher pass unchallenged over his head, and the runners advanced to second and third. The cheering grew frantic. The coachers shouted and danced. "Slim" Gaynor did his best, but only laid the ball down in front of the plate and was tagged out before he had taken two strides toward his base. Two on, now, and two gone.
Billy, his heart racing and jumping, watched Arthur anxiously. But Joe Ware was allowed to take his turn. Joe was an uncertain batter. The White Sox pitcher tempted him with a low one and with one on the outside, but Joe refused them. Then a fast one went as a strike, and another hit the dirt just behind the plate. The pitcher scowled and would have grooved the next offering had not the catcher signaled for a pass. So Joe walked, filling the sacks, and cheers rent the air. Arthur himself followed, and the bunt that he trickled toward first was a veritable masterpiece, for it sent a tally across the plate, moved runners from first and second, and placed him on his bag!
But three runs were still needed to tie, and four to win, and two were out. Billy arose from the bench, pale but determined. The moment of martyrdom had arrived. He would offer the hoki-moki bat to Steve Sawyer, already hurrying to the plate, and—
But as he moved toward that youth, Arthur, shaking the dust from his clothes, at first, caught sight of him and recalled his half-promise. And perhaps he had what he would have termed a "hunch." At all events, his voice sped up the base-line.
"All right, Billy Mayes!" he shouted. "Hit it out! Let Billy bat, Steve!"
And so Billy, with a choking feeling in his throat, went on to the plate and faced his fate. Mutters of surprise and disgust followed him from the bench. The White Sox pitcher observed his small form with a frown that held bewilderment and amusement. Then, noting that the rookey was evidently nervous, he laughed his derision.
"See who's here, Jim!" be called. "Home-run Baker, ain't it?"
"No, it's Tris Speaker," returned the catcher. "Be good to him, Tom!"
The pitcher grinned and wound up. Billy pushed his bat far back. The runners danced and shouted, coaches yelled, the in-field jabbered. But Billy didn't hear a sound of it all. The ball was on its way now. He tried to watch it and couldn't. But he swung the hoki-moki bat around just as hard as he knew how, putting every ounce of his strength into it—and something happened. There was a resounding blow, electric tingles shot up Billy's arms, he staggered, and then, still clutching the bat, he streaked for first!
Far into right-field sped the ball, just inside the base-line. In raced the runners. Billy raced, too. Pandemonium assailed his ears. As he reached the first bag he sent a final look after the ball, and his heart leaped with joy. Straight behind Mr. Bannerman's garden fence it fell, right among the early peas and bush Limas!
"Take your time, Billy!" shouted the coach at first. "It's a home run, kid!"
They never did find that ball, for Mr. Bannerman appeared on the scene most inopportunely; but it didn't matter, and no one cared. The Juniors had won, 17 to 16! The hoki-moki bat had proved itself! And Billy Mayes was a hero!
There were unbelievers who denied to Billy's famous bat any special virtue, but Billy knew what he knew and had seen what he had seen, and his faith was unshaken. But, and here is the sorry part of my tale, it was several years before Billy made another home run; for although he became a regular member of the team and, as time passed, a fairly dependable hitter, the hoki-moki bat had lost its cunning. It was not the bat's fault, however. It was due to the fact that, owing to the war, baseballs were no longer covered with horse-hide!