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The Father of a Hero by Ralph Henry Barbour

 

The Hero sat in the window-seat, and nursed his knee and frowned. He was rather young to be a hero, he lacked a month of being twenty; he looked eighteen. He had a round face, with a smooth, clear skin, over which spring suns had spread an even coat of tan that was wonderfully becoming. His eyes were blue, and his hair was as near yellow as hair ever is. For the rest, he was of medium height, slim, and well-built. His name was James Gill Robinson, Jr. Throughout college he was known as “Rob”; on the baseball diamond, the players, according him the respect due a superior, called him “Cap.” His father, with the privilege of an extended acquaintance, called him “Jimmie.”

The father leaned back in a dark-green Morris chair, one gray-gaitered foot swinging and his right thumb reposing between the second and third buttons of his white vest. This was a habit with the thumb, and meant that Mr. James Gill Robinson, Sr., was speaking of weighty matters, and with authority. The father was well this side of fifty and, like his son, looked younger than he was, for which an admirable complexion was to be thanked. He wore side-whiskers, and the brows above the sharp blue eyes were heavy and lent emphasis to the aggressive character of the lower part of his face. But if he was aggressive he was also fair-minded, and if he was obstinate he was kind-hearted as well; and none of these are bad qualities in a lawyer. And of course he was smart, too; as the father of James Gill Robinson, Jr., he couldn’t have been anything else.

Through the open window the length of the Yard was visible, intensely green and attractively cool. Fellows with straw hats adorned with fresh new bands of all colors and combinations of colors, fellows flannel-trousered and vestless, lounged on the grass or intersected the verdant, tree-shaded oblong, bearing tennis racquets or baseball bats. It was mid-June, warm, clear, and an ideal Saturday.

The Hero turned from a brief survey of the outside world and faced his father again, listening respectfully to the latter’s remarks, but quite evidently taking exception to the gist of them. At length he was moved to defense.

“But look here, dad, seems to me the showing I made last year proves that I haven’t neglected study.”

“That’s not the point, sir. I’ll acknowledge that you—ah—did uncommonly well last year. I was proud of you. We all were. And I take it for granted that you will do equally well, if not better, this year. I expect it. I won’t have anything else, sir! But you don’t gather my meaning. This is an old subject of controversy between us, Jimmie, and it does seem to me that by this time you should have come to an understanding of the position I take. But you haven’t; that’s clear, sir, and so I’ll state it once more.”

He paused, and glanced at a massive gold watch.

“It is twelve minutes after two; I’m not detaining you?” he asked, with a broad suggestion of sarcasm.

“No, sir, I have ten minutes yet,” answered the Hero.

“Ah, thank you. Well, now—” Mr. Robinson drew his eyebrows together while he silently marshaled his arguments. Then—“I have never,” he said, “opposed athletic sports in moderation. On the contrary, I think them—ah—beneficial. Mind you, though, I say in moderation, distinctly ‘in moderation!’ In fact, in my own college days I gained some reputation as an athlete myself.”

The Hero suppressed a smile. His father’s reputation had been gained as short-stop on a senior class nine that, with the aid of pistols, old muskets, and brass bands, had defeated, by a score of 27 to 16, a sophomore team, his father having made three home runs by knocking the ball into a neighboring back yard. The Hero had heard the history of that game many times.

“But you, sir,” continued Mr. Robinson, severely, “you, sir, are overdoing it. You are allowing athletics to occupy too much of your time and thought. I take to-day to be an average one?”

“Hardly, sir,” answered the Hero. “Saturday is always busier than week-days, and to-day we have one of our big games.”

“I am glad to hear it, very glad. I reached here at eleven o’clock, and you dragged me out to the field while you practised batting. At twelve you had a recitation. At one you took me to the training table, where I sat among a large number of very—ah—frivolous young men who constantly talked of things I do not, and do not care to understand. You have now kindly allowed me a half-hour of your society. In a minute or two you will tear off to the field again, to be there, so you tell me, until half past five. Now, sir, I ask you, is what I have described an equable adjustment of study and athletics, sir?”

“I’m very sorry, dad,” replied the Hero, earnestly. “If I’d known you were coming to-day I could have fixed things a little differently. But as it was, I couldn’t very well give you much time. I wish you’d come out to the game, sir. It’s going to be a thundering good one, I think. Princeton is after our scalps.”

“No, Jimmie, I refuse to lend countenance to the proceedings. You are overdoing it, sir, overdoing it vastly! Why, confound it, sir, who are you here at Harvard? What do I see in the morning paper? ‘Robinson is confident.’ ‘Plucky captain and first-baseman of the Harvard nine looks for a victory over the Tigers.’ That’s the sort of stuff I read, sir! A whole column of it! That’s who you are, sir; you’re just the baseball captain; you’re not James Robinson, Jr., not for a minute! And the papers are full of silly talk about you, and refer to you as ‘Rob.’ It’s disgraceful, if nothing else!”

“Well, dad, I don’t like that sort of notoriety any better than you do, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame me for it. When you win a big case at home it’s just the same, sir; the papers even print your picture sometimes, and that’s more than they do with mine, because they can’t get it.”

His father glared silently. It was too true to bear contradiction. But he wasn’t one to back down any further than was absolutely necessary.

“Maybe, sir, maybe. But let me inform you that winning an important case in the courts is decidedly different from winning a game of baseball before a lot of shouting, yelling idiots with tin horns and flags! Eh? What?”

“Well, I don’t altogether agree with you there, dad. In either case it’s a matter of using your brain and doing your level best and keeping your wits about you. The results may not be on a par as to importance, sir, although—” he smiled slightly—“maybe it depends some on the point of view. I tell you what, sir,” he went on, “you come out to the Princeton game this afternoon and if, when it’s over with, you say that trying to win a big game of college baseball isn’t worth doing, why, I’ll give up the captaincy and have nothing more to do with such things next year! What do you say, sir?”

“I refuse to enter into any such agreement, sir. Moreover, I have no intention of sitting on a plank in the hot sun and watching a lot of idiots run around the bases. No, sir, if you’ve got to take part in that game, as I suspect you have, you go ahead and I’ll look after myself. Only I must have at least one undisturbed hour with you before my train goes.”

“Certainly, dad; I’ll be with you all the evening. I hope you’ll be comfortable. You’ll find the library at the Union very pleasant if you want to read. I will be back here at about half after five. I do wish, though, you’d come out, sir.”

“You’ve heard me on that subject, Jimmie,” replied Mr. Robinson, severely. “Naturally, you—ah—have my wishes for success, but I must decline to make myself miserable all the afternoon.”

After the Hero had gone, Mr. Robinson, with much grumbling, strove to make himself comfortable with a book. But he had looked upon his journey to Cambridge as something in the way of a holiday, and sitting in a Morris chair didn’t conform to his idea of the correct way of spending it. The Yard looked inviting, and so he took the volume and went out under the trees. But he didn’t read. Instead he leaned the back of his immaculate gray coat against a tree-trunk and fell to thinking. From where he sat he could see, at a distance, the window of the room that he had occupied during his last two years in the Law School. That window suggested memories.

Presently he heard a voice near by. A fellow passing along in front of Matthews was hailing another.

“Aren’t you going over to the game?” he asked.

“Sure. What time is it?”

“Ten of three. Better come along now. I’ll wait for you.”

A moment later the other emerged from the doorway.

“How are you betting?” he asked.

“Even that we win.”

“Think so? Princeton’s got a wonderful young nine, they say.”

“So have we. ‘Rob’ says we’re going to win, and what he says goes, my boy.”

“Yes, he knows his business all right.”

“Well, I guess! He’s the best captain Harvard’s had for years and years, and he’s as level-headed as they make them. All ready?”

They went off in the direction of the Square. Mr. Robinson watched them and wondered what they would say if they knew “Rob’s” father had overheard them. He rather wished they could have known who he was. Then he frowned impatiently as he realized that in a moment of weakness he had coveted glory in the rôle of “Rob’s” father. But he was glad he had overheard that conversation. Even if Jimmie was paying altogether too much attention to baseball and too little to the graver features of college life, still he was glad that Jimmie was a good captain. He was—yes, he was proud of that.

It was very cool and restful there on the grass, with the whispering of the little breeze in the leaves above him, and he laid the book carefully aside, folded his hands, and closed his eyes. The Yard was deserted now save for the squirrels and the birds, and so for quite an hour none disturbed Mr. Robinson’s slumber. Once his hat fell off, and after a sleepy attempt to find it he let it go. His trousers gradually parted company with his gaiters, exposing a length of thin, black-clad ankle. Altogether he presented a most undignified spectacle, and a squirrel who ran down the tree-trunk and surveyed him from a position a foot or two above his head chattered his disapprobation. Perhaps it was this that woke Mr. Robinson up.

He yawned, arranged his trousers, recovered his hat, and looked at his watch. It was just four o’clock. He felt rather stiff, but the nap had rested him, and so he returned the book to the room with the idea of taking a walk. Swinging his gold-headed cane jauntily, he passed through the Square and made his way toward the river. The breezes would be refreshing, he told himself. But long before he reached the bridge disturbing sounds came to him, borne on the little west wind that blew in his face:

“Ha-a-ar-vard! Ha-a-ar-vard! Ha-a-ar-vard!”

He crossed the bridge, left the river behind and went on. Now from the right, around the corner of the Locker Building, came wild, confused cries:

“That’s pitching, old man; that’s pitching!” “Now, once more; make him hit it!” “Put it over; you can do it!” “Hai, hai, hai! Now you’re off! Down with his arm! On your toes, on your toes!” “Look out! Twenty minutes, Mr. Umpire!” “He’s out at first!

Then the cheering began again.

Mr. Robinson frowned, but kept on his way. He was back of the stands now. The scene was hidden from the street by a long strip of canvas. He looked about him; the road was deserted hereabouts. He stooped and strove to look under the canvas, but he saw only a pair of sturdy, red-stockinged legs. The cheering became wild and incoherent, and was punctuated with hand-clapping and the stamping of many feet on the boards. Mr. Robinson went on at a faster gait, something of excitement appearing in his face. At the gate a few loiterers stood about. Mr. Robinson approached one of them and asked with elaborate indifference:

“What—ah—what is the score?” “Seven to six in favor of Princeton. They’ve knocked Miller out of the box.”

“Indeed?” Mr. Robinson glanced at his watch. “I—ah—suppose the game is about over?”

“Last of the sixth. There, that’s three out. This is the seventh now.” From the left somewhere came cheers for Princeton.

“Thank you.” Mr. Robinson turned and went on, followed by long, inspiriting “Ha-a-ar-vards!” But the scenery was not attractive and the breeze was no longer cool. He stopped, frowned, and gazed absorbedly at the sidewalk, drawing figures with the end of his cane in the gravel.

“It must be very close,” he muttered. Then, after a moment, “Jimmie will be badly disappointed if they’re beaten.”

With sudden resolution he stuck his cane under his arm, pulled his waistcoat free of wrinkles, and walked quickly, determinedly, back to the entrance. At the ticket booth he drew a bill from his pocketbook and, in the act of purchasing, recalled his informant of a few minutes before. He was still there, craning his head and listening.

“Here, do you want to see the last of this?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” was the eager answer.

“Two tickets, please.”

Mr. Robinson strode through the gate followed by a freckle-faced, rather tattered youth of sixteen, and sought a seat.

“You come along with me,” he said to the boy. “I may want to know who some of these fellows are.”

Seats were hard to find, but in the end they obtained them on a stand back of third base. Mr. Robinson settled his stick between his knees and looked about him. The triangle of stands was crowded with excited men and women; men in straw hats and all sorts of vivid shirts, women in cool cotton dresses, with here and there a touch of crimson ribbon. The field stretched away green and level as a carpeted floor to the river and the boathouse. Princeton was at the bat. Mr. Robinson turned to his new acquaintance.

“Seven to six, you said?” The boy glanced at the little black score-board.

“Yes, sir, that’s right. See? Harvard made three in the first and two in the third and one in the fifth, and Princeton made three in the third and four in the fifth. That’s when they didn’t do a thing to Miller. Gee, I could hear ’em hittin’ him outside there! I’d like to been inside then, wouldn’t you?”

“Hm, yes,” replied Mr. Robinson.

“Say, what made you so late?” asked the other with a suspicion of a grievance in his voice. “Gee, if I’d been going to this game I bet you I’d been on time!”

“I—ah—I was detained,” replied Mr. Robinson. He realized that the boy held him in some contempt, and knew that it would never do to tell the whole truth about it; the other would simply look upon him as a lunatic. Clearly, too, he owed his acquaintance an apology. “I am sorry that I didn’t get here sooner,” he said, “so that you could have seen—ah—more of the contest.”

“So’m I,” was the frank response. Then, “Still, maybe if you’d come before you wouldn’t have taken me in with you?”

“That’s true; maybe I wouldn’t have—ah—noticed you. So perhaps it’s just as well, eh?”

“Yep. Hi-i-i!

Mr. Robinson gave attention to the game in time to see the second Princeton batter thrown out at first. The stands subsided again, and the ushers waved their hats and the cheering broke out afresh.

“Supposing you tell me who some of the men are,” suggested Mr. Robinson.

“Sure thing. That’s Hanlon pitching. He’s pretty good, but he ain’t as good as Miller, they say. I guess ‘Mill’ must have had an off day. And that’s Morton catching. Say, he’s a peach!”

“Indeed?”

“You bet; a regular top-of-the-basket peacherina! You just keep your eye on him.”

“Thank you, I will,” answered the listener. “And the small fellow at first base?”

The boy turned and stared at him, open-eyed and open-mouthed. Then he whistled softly but with emphasis.

“Say!” he exclaimed, finally, “where’ve you been?”

“Well, I—” Mr. Robinson faltered, and the other gave a grunt of disgust.

“Gee, I thought everybody knew ‘Rob’!”

“Knew——?”

“‘Rob.’ His name’s Robinson; they call him ‘Rob’ for short. He’s the captain, of course. Didn’t you know that?”

“Well, yes, I did, now that you mention it,” answered the man humbly. “Is—is he pretty good?”

“Pretty good! Why, he’s a star! He’s a wonder! He’s—” Words failed him. “Say, you must live in Chelsea!” he said at last.

“Chelsea?” repeated Mr. Robinson. “No, I don’t live there.”

“Anybody’d think you did,” muttered the boy.

The third man went out on a long fly to center field, and Harvard trotted in to bat.

“If Harvard loses this game,” said the boy, “it’ll break her record. She ain’t lost one this year. That’s Greene going to bat. He ain’t much good at hittin’; he generally strikes out.”

Greene sustained his reputation, and a tall youth, whom Mr. Robinson was informed was Billings, the left-fielder, made a hit to short-stop and reached first by a bad throw. Harvard filled the bases in that inning and the excitement became intense. A base-hit would bring in the desired two runs. But the Princeton pitcher wound himself into knots and untangled himself abruptly and threw wonderful balls, and the umpire, a short, round, little man with a deep voice, yelled “Strike!” “Strikes!” “Striker’s out!”

“Aw, thunder!” lamented Mr. Robinson’s companion. “That’s two gone. Ain’t that mean?”

Mr. Robinson, sitting on the edge of his seat, clutching his cane desperately with both hands, nodded. Over on the other stands, across the diamond, they were standing up and cheering grimly, imploringly. The Harvard short-stop took up his bat and faced the pitcher. Back of second and third bases the coaches were yelling loudly:

“On your toes, Charlie, on your toes! Go down with his arm! Now you’re off! Whoa-a-a! Look out for second-baseman! All right! He won’t throw it! Whoa-a-a!

“Strike!” called the umpire.

“Aw, gee!” muttered the boy.

“Now, lively. Watch his arm! Come on, come on! Hi, hi, hi! Look out for passed balls! Now you’re off!

“Strike two,” called the umpire.

Mr. Robinson thumped the boards with his cane.

Then there came a crack as the batsman found the ball, and the men on bases rushed home. But the arching sphere fell softly into the left-fielder’s hands, and the nines again changed places. Mr. Robinson and his acquaintance exchanged looks of disgust.

“Wasn’t that rotten?” asked the boy with the freckled face.

“Awful!” answered Mr. Robinson.

Nothing happened in either half of the eighth inning, but the suspense and excitement were intense, nevertheless. Princeton reached second once, but that was the end of her chances. Harvard got her first man to first, but the succeeding three struck out. The cheers were hoarse, incessant. The ushers waved hats and arms wildly. And Princeton went to bat for the first of the ninth.

“Now, then, fellows, get together!” Mr. Robinson recognized his son’s voice, cheerful, hopeful, inspiriting. The Hero was trotting to his place at first. “Ginger up, everybody, and shut them out!”

“All right, Cap!” “We’ve got them on the run, Cap!” “Lucky ninth, Rob!” The in-fielders were answering with the same cheerful assumption of confidence. To the right of Mr. Robinson a section of the stand was waving orange and black streamers and flags, and cheering joyously. The Princeton pitcher stepped to the plate.

But Hanlon, if he wasn’t the equal of the deposed Miller, was on his mettle. The batter had two strikes called on him, and then struck at a deceptive drop. The ball thumped into the hands of Morton, the “top-of-the-basket peacherina.”

“Striker’s out,” droned the little man in black.

Then came a long hit over short-stop’s head and the batsman reached first without hurrying. A moment later he had stolen second. The next man sent him to third, but was put out himself at first.

“Gee, a hit will bring him in, won’t it?” asked the boy. “But there’s two out. Maybe——”

The man at bat had found a high ball and had sent it whizzing down the base-line, eight feet or more in the air. The man on third was speeding home, the runner racing for first. The Hero threw his arms over his head and jumped lightly off his toes. The next instant he was rolling head over heels, but one hand was held triumphantly aloft and in it was the ball.

He’s out!” called the umpire.

The panting, weary crimson-legged players trotted in amid a salvo of applause. Mr. Robinson was beaming proudly, delightedly across at the Hero. The boy was shouting absurdly and beating the planks with his heels.

“Gee, if they can only make two runs they’ll have ’em beaten!” he cried, excitedly.

“Yes,” said Mr. Robinson; “do you think they can?”

“I dunno. Maybe they can. Say, didn’t I tell you that ‘Rob’ was a corker? Did you see that catch? That wasn’t anything for him; I’ve seen him do better stunts than that; that was just ordinary, that was!”

Now had come Harvard’s last chance. After the one round of cheering that greeted the first man at the plate, silence fell. The man was Morton, the catcher, and he struck out miserably, and turned away toward the bench with wobegone countenance. The Harvard second-baseman took his place. With two strikes and two balls called on him, he hit out a straight grounder between second-baseman and short-stop and reached first by a good margin. The next man struck at the first ball and it passed the catcher. The man on first took second. Then the Princeton pitcher steadied down.

“Strike two,” said the umpire.

Then the batter hit at a low ball and popped it high and straight over the base. The audience held their breath. Down—down it came plump into the catcher’s hands.

“Two gone,” groaned the boy with the freckled face. And then, “Hi! Here comes ‘Rob’!”

The Hero was picking out a bat, carefully, calmly, and the stands were shouting “Robinson! Robinson! Robinson!” hoarsely, entreatingly. The Hero settled his cap firmly, wiped his hands in the dust and gripped his bat. Then he stood, blue-eyed, yellow-haired, smiling, confronting the Princeton pitcher. The latter doubled and unbent.

“Ball,” droned the umpire. The Hero tapped the base and smiled pleasantly. The pitcher studied him thoughtfully, while the catcher knelt and beat his mitten in signal for a “drop.” Again the pitcher went through his evolutions, again the ball sped toward the plate. Then there was a loud, sharp crack!

High and far sailed the sphere. The Hero’s crimson stockings twinkled through the dust as he turned first and raced for second. The man who had been on second crossed the plate. The stands were sloping banks of swaying, shrieking humanity. Far out in the green field beyond the center’s position the ball fell, a good ten feet beyond the frantic pursuers. Then the center-fielder seized it and hurled it in to short-stop with a hard, swift throw that made the runner’s chances of reaching the plate look dim. But he was past third and still running like a twenty-yard sprinter, while along the line beside him ran and leaped and shouted two coaches:

Come on, Cap! Come on! You can do it, Cap! You can do it! Run hard! Hard!

Short-stop swung, and threw straight and sure toward where the catcher, with outstretched arms and eager white face, awaited it above the dust-hidden plate. Ball and runner sped goalward. The stands were bedlams of confused shouts and cries. Mr. Robinson was on his feet with the rest, his hat in one hand, his gold-mounted cane in the other. He had been shrieking with the rest, stamping with them, waving with them. His face was red and his eyes wide with excitement. And now he measured the distance from ball to plate, from plate to runner, with darting glances, and raised his voice in one final, triumphant effort:

Slide, Jimmie! Slide!

Above the riot of sound arose that despairing command. The ball thumped against the catcher’s mit and his arm swung swiftly outward and downward. But it didn’t hit the runner. He was sprawling face down above the plate in a cloud of brown dust. Jimmie had slid.

“Safe!” cried the umpire.


Two hours later the Hero and his father were at dinner in a Boston hotel. Mr. Robinson dropped a crumb into his empty soup-plate and smiled across the table in the manner of one well pleased with the world.

“I haven’t seen a game of baseball like that, Jimmie,” he said, “since we won the class championship back in ’73.” He looked reminiscent for a moment; then asked suddenly: “By the way, didn’t you say they’d make you captain again next year?”

“They will, if I’ll take it, sir.”

“If you’ll take it! What’s to prevent your taking it? Don’t be a fool, Jimmie!”

The Hero applied his napkin to his lips to hide a smile.

“Very well, sir,” he replied, gravely, “I won’t.”