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CHAPTER X.
WON IN THE NINTH.

His conceit was immense, and it was paraded in his actions no less than in his talk.

Barzy Blunt, confident that the result of that game would show him to be a better man than Merriwell, was chaffing with his admirers both on and off the diamond. His conceit was immense, and it was paraded in his actions no less than in his talk.

“Hold ‘em fer the first half, Barzy,” called an enthusiastic Bar Z puncher, “an’ then snow ‘em under fer a few more while ye’re cuttin’ the thing off.”

“Anything to oblige, old pard,” answered Blunt amiably.

“Shtop mit der gassing,” ordered Dutch Fritz, “und pegin vork wit der pall. Vat you t’ink? Dis iss nod a gabble party. Now, vonce!”

Blunt tossed the ball, and Spuds merely glanced at it and grinned. “Ball vone !” clamored Dutch Fritz.

“Good eye, Spuds,” said Merriwell. “Make him put ‘em over.”

“I’m little Willie Git-there, durin’ this shake-up,” returned Spuds confidently. “I galloped all around oncet, an’ I’m about due fer another tour.”

But Spuds’ tour was toward the benches. He missed the ball once, fouled once, then lifted a fly into the hands of Ed Sparks, out in the middle distance. Barzy Blunt ripped out a cheer. His confidence was growing, and he was now absolutely positive that the Rustlers had made a score that could not be tied. All Blunt wanted was another whack at Merriwell. He’d fan the Eastern kid, that’s what he would do. Bet your life. Watch and see how easily it could be done!

McTurk looked like an easy one to put down. The way Mac had camped on third base, in a previous inning, was remembered by the spectators.

“Give him his blankets, somebody,” shouted a voice in the crowd. “If He gits away he’ll want ter snooze on one o’ them bags, an’ it ain’t right not ter make him comfortable.”

“Shdrike!” bawled Dutch Fritz.

McTurk gave a jump of surprise and looked wild. “Thunder!” he exclaimed, “I didn’t see nothin’ of no ball.”

Blunt had stolen a march on McTurk. The latter was at the plate and in position, and it was perfectly legitimate to catch him napping, if possible.

“Wake up, Mac,” shouted Bixler angrily, “or I’ll come over there an’ be right harsh with ye, an—”

“Shdrike doo!” broke in Dutch Fritz.

“Darn!” yelled McTurk. “Be squar’, Blunt, an’ stop sneakin’ ‘em through. Ye act as though ye was afearrd I’d hit one.”

“You can’t hit anything, Mac,” answered Blunt. “You’re in a trance.”

The Wonder was so sure McTurk was in a trance that he tried to catch him off guard with a third good one. Then Mac woke up and showed all kinds of ginger. The wood thumped the leather, and away went the ball for a safe single.

“Now, Merriwell, you know what we’re expecting,” called Bixler, going down the line to give McTurk his cues.

“Merriwell, line it out!” begged the Tin Cuppers. “Show the bunch how it’s done! If you fall down, we’re plum dished. Bring McTurk home!”

Blunt sent in the ball. It spanked into Lloyd’s mitt wide and high, and Merry refused to waste any energy on it.

Then Dutch Fritz did something which he had done once before, by some sort of weird vagary he called a strike. Frank stared at the umpire, and those of the spectators who were placed so they could get a line on the ball with reference to the plate, were fighting mad over the injustice.

“Some time I’m shore a-goin’ to come comp’ny front with ye, wearin’ a ‘six’ of my own,” roared a Tin Cup man.

“Let’s not wait,” suggested another exasperated cowman, “let’s lynch ‘im now. His eyesight’s played out, an’ he’s no good any more.”

'Shdrike doo !' bawled Dutch Fritz, impervious to any shaft however barbed.

“Shdrike doo !” bawled Dutch Fritz, impervious to any shaft however barbed.

This announcement was all right, for Merry had struck at the ball and had failed to connect. Blunt had a wiggle ball of his own–one that came straight at the plate, wiggled around the bat, and then went straight on into the catcher’s mitt.

It was a unique toss, and one which was brand new to Merriwell. It was an invention of Blunt’s, undoubtedly. If so, it was an invention that deserved promotion for the good of the national game.

It wouldn’t do for Frank to let Blunt strike him out at that stage of the game. For one thing, it would leave too good a taste in the Wonder’s mouth, for fanning Merriwell at that time was equivalent to winning the game–very probably. For another thing, it struck Merry that Blunt needed a defeat of some sort, just then, as part of a course of training.

Frank made a hurried study of the wiggle ball. When it came along again, he did some wiggling with the stick, and the spell was broken-broken with a crash that brought the Mavericks’ rooters to their feet in a cheering mass of riotous humanity, and made many of the Mavericks’ players mount their bench and cheer.

For Merriwell, resenting Blunt’s effort to fan him, had tore off a strike that was the hit of the afternoon. The ball went so far into right field that the Rustlers in that part of the country were still looking for it as McTurk came languidly home with Merriwell tight at his heels.

McTurk’s run had tied the score, and Merriwell’s had put the Mavericks in the lead. Several cowboys ran out and caught Merry as he came in. He was embraced and almost wept over, and while he was trying to escape, Blunt struck Bixler out, as usual, and then beat Hackney to first with the ball on a feeble grounder.

The Mavericks were now done. They had had their last chance and had improved it. If Merry could hold them in the last half of the ninth, the Tin Cup contingent would shake hands with everybody and go home in glory.

Brezee was the first man to bat in the last half of the ninth. He touched one out, just inside the foul line. If Overton hadn’t fumbled, the ball might have reached first ahead of Brezee—but, of course, right then Overton had to fall for an error.

Along came Lloyd, determined to do or die. Instead of sacrificing, as the Mavericks expected and for which they drew in all around the diamond, he rapped the horsehide for a safe single, going to first while Brezee got to second.

And then a mighty cheer went up as Barzy Blunt picked up his favorite stick, mumbled a charm over it, and stepped to the slab.

Perhaps Blunt was excited. A good deal depended on him, and he would have had some excuse for shaking nerves. Perhaps, on the other hand, Frank pitched immaculate ball. It really makes little difference what the cause of the disaster was, for the fact that the disaster really happened was sufficient. Barzy Blunt swung three times, without result, and he nearly broke his back in the hope of adding a home run to his batting average.

For a full minute Blunt stood and blinked. Then, incidentally, Merriwell tossed the ball to Overton, and Brezee was called out at a third on a close play.

Blunt dropped his bat and moved off slowly toward the bench. Frank felt sorry for the fellow. After all his boasting when he thought the game was “sewed up,” now to swallow a personal defeat was extremely bitter.

Ben Jordan, who was the last, faint, flickering hope of the Bar Z men, went down without ever touching the ball. The moment he was called out, bedlam broke loose among the Tin Cup men.

The Mavericks, realizing well who had saved the game for them, rushed as one man for Merriwell.

The Mavericks, realizing well who had saved the game for them, rushed as one man for Merriwell. Andy Able said something to a Mavericks’ rooter that didn’t set well, and the rooter put his arms around Andy and shook him. Then, as if to add fuel to the fire and mix the feelings of victors and vanquished, a wild figure pushed through the crowd and out into the diamond. The newcomer was a person of stocky build but of haggard aspect. He looked as though he had recently undergone a harrowing experience. It was several moments before the angry bellowings were heard and he himself was recognized.

“Jim Snow!” roared a husky voice. “Well, if it ain’t!”

“You’re too late, Snow, too everlastin’ly late! We done won the game with a substitute.”

“Why didn’t ye git here, eh? Not that you was needed at all, but it would ‘a’ looked a heap better.”

'Listen ter me!' howled Snow frantically. 'Hush fer a spell so’st I can talk, will ye? I been double crossed, by thunder! I’d ‘a’ got here if I’d been let. But I wasn’t; I was hindered, an’ had it played low down on me.'

“Listen ter me!” howled Snow frantically. “Hush fer a spell so’st I can talk, will ye? I been double crossed, by thunder! I’d ‘a’ got here if I’d been let. But I wasn’t; I was hindered, an’ had it played low down on me.”

A slow stillness crept over the field as Snow’s words made themselves clear. Bixler, his face grim, stepped forth to interrogate his regular pitcher.

“You say you was hindered, Jim?” he demanded.

“I sure was!” answered Snow, with vigor and venom.

“Who hindered ye?”

“Bar Z fellers. Blunt was one, an’ Andy Able was another, an’ Bandy Harrison an’ some more was along.”

“What was done to ye, Jim? Tell us the hull of it. I couldn’t think it possible you’d lay down on this game of your own accord.”

“I should say not!” fumed Jim Snow. “This is the how of it,” he went on. “Ye see, I pulled out from the ranch ahead o’ the rest o’ ye, calculatin’ to come around by Ophir. That’s what I done. Got out o’ Ophir before noon, in plenty o’ time to reach the Bar Z fer the game. But jest out o’ the gulch I met up with them junipers I was tellin’ ye of. An’ what d’you think they done?”

“Out with it, Jim,” urged Bixler. “Ye’re with friends, pard, an’ we’ll stand by ye.”

“Them onnery skunks grabbed me off o’ my bronk an’ tied me up, an’ dumped me among the rocks,” yelled Snow,” “that’s what they done. They did it ter keep me out o’ this game. I was a long while gittin’ loose, an’ when I was able I put fer here.”

The riot, at that moment, was very near. The Tin Cup men, resenting the treatment accorded their regular pitcher, were moving restlessly. Their faces were black and scowling. Those favoring the Mavericks began getting together on one side, while those loyal to the Bar Z crowd began clustering at a little distance.

It was well that the only man in all that gathering who had a revolver was the fat umpire. And already Dutch Fritz had collected his fee and was mounting his horse to avoid possible trouble.

“Why was it done, Jim?” demanded Bixler, proceeding with his questions.

“It was done so’st to cinch the game fer the Rustlers,” asserted Snow. Having no knowledge of the real reason, he jumped at that one as the most probably. “They was bankin’ on makin’ ye take a scrub pitcher, an’ this Merriwell chap was run in. I—”

A bellowing roar of rage went up from the visiting players and their allies, and Jim Snow’s voice was blotted out.

“Are we goin’ ter stand for any sich rhinecaboo?” came the fierce demand, high over the hubbub. “These coyotes have played it low down on us. What’s the answer?”

The answer was a concerted rush of the Tin Cup crowd on the Bar Z detachment. The two sides came together with a smashing impact, and the yells and whoops arose in a terrible din. Murgatroyd, who had earlier in the day deplored the very thing that was now coming to pass, was leading the Bar Z crowd.

All the nagging and give and take that had been indulged in during the game was now remembered with great bitterness. Every man had a score to settle with some other man, and went about it forthwith. The riot was on.

All the nagging and give and take that had been indulged in during the game was now remembered with great bitterness. Every man had a score to settle with some other man, and went about it forthwith. The riot was on.

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