Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 1

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"Look out now, fellows; here goes for a high one!"

"Aw come off; you can't throw high without dislocating your arm, Peaches. Don't try it."

"You get off the earth; I can so, Teeter. Watch me."

"Let Joe Matson have a try. He can throw higher than you can, Peaches," and the lad who had last spoken grasped the arm of a tall boy, with a very fair complexion which had gained him the nickname of "Peaches and Cream," though it was usually shortened to "Peaches." There was a crowd of lads on the school grounds, throwing snowballs, when the offer of "Peaches" or Dick Lantfeld was made.

"Don't let him throw, Teeter," begged George Bland, jokingly.

"I'll not," retorted "Teeter" Nelson, whose first name was Harry, but who had gained his appellation because of a habit he had of "teetering" on his tiptoes when reciting in class. "I've got Peaches all right," and there was a struggle between the two lads, one trying to throw a snowball, and the other trying to prevent him.

"Come on, Joe," called Teeter, to a tall, good-looking, and rather quiet youth who stood beside a companion. "Let's see you throw. You're always good at it, and I'll keep Peaches out of the way."

"Shall we try, Tom?" asked Joe Matson of his chum.

"Might as well. Come on!"

"Yes, let 'Sister' Davis have a whack at it too," urged George Bland. Tom Davis, who was Joe Matson's particular chum, was designated "Sister" because, in an incautious moment, when first coming to Excelsior Hall, he had shown a picture of his very pretty sister, Mabel.

Tom and Joe, who had come upon the group of other pupils after the impromptu snowball throwing contest had started, advanced further toward their school companions. Peaches and Teeter were still engaged in their friendly struggle, until Peaches tripped over a stone, concealed under a blanket of snow, and both went down in a struggling heap.

"Make it a touchdown!" yelled George Bland.

"Yes, shove him over the line, Peaches!" cried Tom.

"Hold him! Hold him!" implored Joe, and the little group of lads, which was increased by the addition of several other pupils, circled about the struggling ones, laughing at their plight.

"D-d-down!" finally panted Peaches, when Teeter held his face in the soft snow. "Let me up, will you?"

"Promise not to try to throw a high one?" asked Teeter, still maintaining his position astride of Peaches.

"Yes—I—I guess so."

"That doesn't go with me; you've got to be sure."

"All right, let a fellow up, will you? There's a lot of snow down my neck."

"That's what happened to me the last time you fired a high snowball. Peaches. That's why I didn't want you to try another while I'm around. You wait until I'm off the campus if you've got to indulge in high jinks. Come on now, fellows, since Peaches has promised to behave himself, let the merry dance go on. Have you tried a shot, Joe? Or you, Sister," and Teeter looked at the newcomers.

"Not yet," answered Joe Matson with a smile. "Haven't had a chance."

"That's right," put in Tom Davis. "You started a rough-house with Peaches as soon as we got here. What's on, anyhow?"

"Oh, we're just seeing how straight we can aim with snowballs," explained Teeter. "See if you can hit that barrel head down there," and he pointed to the object in question, about forty yards away on the school campus.

"See if you can hit the barrel, Joe," urged George Bland. "A lot of us have missed it, including Peaches, who seems to think his particular stunt is high throwing."

"And so it is!" interrupted the lad with the clear complexion. "I can beat any one here at——"

"Save that talk until the baseball season opens!" retorted Teeter. "Go ahead, Joe and Tom. And you other fellows can try if you like," he added, for several more pupils had joined the group.

It might seem easy to hit the head of a barrel at that distance, but either the lads were not expert enough or else the snowballs, being of irregular shapes and rather light, did not carry well. Whatever the cause, the fact remained that the barrel received only a few scattering shots and these on the outer edges of the head.

"Now we'll see what Sister Davis can do!" exclaimed Nat Plerson, as Joe's chum stepped up to the firing line.

"Oh, I'm not so much," answered Tom with a half smile. "Joe will beat me all to pieces."

"Joe Matson sure can throw," commented Teeter, in a low voice to George Bland. "I remember what straight aim he had the last time we built a fort, and had a snow fight."

"I should say yes," agreed George. "And talk about speed!" he added. "Wow! One ball he threw soaked me in the ear. I can feel it yet!" and he rubbed the side of his head reflectively.

The first ball that Tom threw just clipped the upper rim of the barrel head, and there were some exclamations of admiration. The second one was a clean miss, but not by a large margin. The third missile split into fragments on the rim of the head.

"Good!" cried Peaches. "That's the way to do it!"

"Wait until you see Joe plug it," retorted Tom with a smile.

"Oh, I'm not such a wonder," remarked our hero modestly, as he advanced to the line. In his hand he held three very hard and smooth snowballs, which he spent some time in making in anticipation of his turn to throw. "I haven't had much practice lately," he went on, "though I used to throw pretty straight when the baseball season was on."

Joe carefully measured with his eye the distance to the barrel. Then he swung his arm around a few times to "limber up."

"That fellow used to pitch on some nine, I'll wager," said Teeter in a whisper to Peaches.

"Yes, I heard something about him being a star on some small country team," was the retort. "But let's watch him."

Joe threw. The ball left his hand with tremendous speed and, an instant later, had struck the head of the barrel with a resounding "ping!"

"In the centre! In the centre!" yelled Peaches with enthusiasm as he capered about.

"A mighty good shot!" complimented Teeter, doing his particular toe stunt.

"Not exactly in the centre," admitted Joe. "Here goes for another."

Once more he threw, and again the snowball hit the barrel head, close to the first, but not quite so near the middle.

"You can do better than that, Joe," spoke Tom in a low voice.

"I'm going to try," was all the thrower said.

Again his arm was swung around with the peculiar motion used by many good baseball pitchers. Again the snowball shot forward, whizzing through the air. Again came that resounding thud on the hollow barrel, this time louder than before.

"Right on the nose!"

"A clean middle shot!"

"A good plunk!"

These cries greeted Joe's last effort, and, sure enough, when several lads ran to get a closer view of the barrel, they came back to report that the ball was exactly in the centre of the head.

"Say, you're a wonder!" exclaimed Peaches, admiringly.

"Who's a wonder?" inquired a new voice, and a tall heavily-built lad, with rather a coarse and brutal face, sauntered up to the group. "Who's been doing wonderful stunts, Peaches?"

"Joe Matson here. He hit the barrel head three times out of three, and the best any of us could do was once. Besides, Joe poked it in the exact centre once, and nearly twice."

"That's easy," spoke the newcomer, with a sneer in his voice.

"Let's see you do it. Shell," invited George Bland.

"Go on, Hiram, show 'em what you can do," urged Luke Fodick, who was a sort of toady to Hiram Shell, the school bully, if ever there was one.

"Just watch me," requested Hiram, and hastily taking some hard round snowballs away from a smaller lad who had made them for his own use, the bully threw.

I must do him the credit to say that he was a good shot, and all three of his missiles hit the barrel head. But two of them clipped the outer edge, and only one was completely on, and that nowhere near the centre.

"Joe Matson's got you beat a mile!" exclaimed Peaches.

"That's all right," answered Hiram with the easy superior air he generally assumed. "If I'd been practicing all day as you fellows have I could poke the centre every time, too."

As a matter of fact, those three balls were the first Joe had thrown that day, but he did not think it wise to say so, for Hiram had mean ways about him, and none of the pupils at Excelsior Hall cared to rouse his anger unnecessarily.

"Well, I guess we've all had our turns," spoke George Bland, after Hiram had thrown a few more balls so carelessly as to miss the barrel entirely.

"I haven't," piped up Tommy Burton, one of the youngest lads. "Hiram took my snowballs."

"Aw, what of it, kid?" sneered the bully. "There's lots more snow. Make yourself another set and see what you can do."

But Tommy was bashful, and the attention he had thus drawn upon himself made him blush. He was a timid lad and he shrank away now, evidently fearing Shell.

"Never mind," spoke Peaches kindly, "we'll have another contest soon and you can be in it."

"Let's see who can throw the farthest," suggested Hiram. His great strength gave him a decided advantage in this, as he very well knew.

The other boys also knew this, but did not like to refuse to enter the lists with him, so the long-distance throwing was started. Hiram did throw hard and far, but he met his match in Joe Matson, and the bully evidently did not like it. He sneered at Joe's style and did his best to beat him, but could not.

"I ate too much dinner to-day," said Hiram finally, as an excuse, "so I can't throw well," and though there were covert smiles at this palpable excuse, no one said anything. Then came other contests, throwing at trees and different objects. Finally Hiram and Luke took themselves off, and everyone else was glad of it.

"He's only a bluff, Shell is!" murmured Peaches.

"And mean," added George.

"Joe, I wonder if you can throw over those trees," spoke Tom, pointing to a fringe of big maples which bordered a walk that ran around the school campus. "That's something of a throw for height and distance. Want to try?"

"Sure," assented our hero, "though I don't know as I can do it."

"Wait, I'm with you," put in Peaches. "We'll throw together."

They quickly made a couple of hard, smooth balls, and at the word from Tom, Joe and Peaches let go together, for it was to be a sort of contest in swiftness.

The white missiles sailed through the air side by side, and not far apart. Higher and higher they went, until they both topped the trees, and began to go down on the other side. Joe's was far in advance of the snowball of Peaches, however, and went higher.

As the balls descended and went out of sight, there suddenly arose from the other side of the trees a series of expostulating yells.

"Stop it! Stop that, I say! How dare you throw snowballs at me? I shall report you at once! Who are you? Don't you dare to run!"

"We—we hit some one," faltered Peaches, his fair complexion blushing a bright red.

"I—I guess we did," admitted Joe.

There was no doubt of it a moment later, for through the trees came running a figure whose tall hat was battered over his head by the snowballs, some fragments of the missiles still clinging to the tile.

"You sure did," added Teeter, stiffling a laugh. "And of all persons in the school but Professor Rodd. Oh my! Oh wow! You're in for it now! He won't do a thing to you fellows! Look at his hat! Here he comes!"

Professor Elias Rodd, one of the strictest and certainly the "fussiest" instructor at Excelsior, was hurrying toward the group of boys.