Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 4

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Joe Matson had been in fights before. Some had been forced upon him, and he accepted the challenges for sufficient reasons, and had given a good account of himself in the battles. Other fistic encounters had been of his own seeking and for excellent reasons he had generally come out ahead.

The prospective fight with the bully was very sudden. Joe had seen what he considered a mean trick on Hiram's part and had thrown on the impulse of the moment. He rather regretted his hasty action, but it was too late for regrets now, and he was willing to accept the outcome.

"I'm going to make you wish you'd never come to Excelsior Hall!" cried Hiram, and with that he expected the blow which he had aimed at Joe to land on the countenance of our hero.

But, like the celebrated flea of history, who, as the Dutchman said, "ven you put your finger on him, dot flea he aind't dere!" so it was with Joe. He cleverly ducked, and then waited for what would happen next.

Something did happen with a vengeance. Hiram had rushed up the slippery, sloping, inner wall of the fort to get at Joe, and pummel him for sending the snowball smashing into his face, but when Joe turned aside, and Hiram's fist went through the air like a batter fanning over a swift ball, the bully was unable to recover himself.

He overbalanced, clawed vainly at the atmosphere, made a grab for Joe, who took good care to keep well out of reach, and then Hiram Shell went slipping and sliding down the outside wall of the snow fort, turning over several times ere he landed at the bottom, amid a pile of the white flakes.

In his descent he struck several lads who were swarming up to the attack, and these Hiram bowled over like tenpins, so that when he came to rest he was in the centre of a pile of heaving bodies, and of threshing and swaying arms and legs, like a football player downed after a long run.

"Get off me, you fellows!" yelled Hiram, when he could get his breath. "I'll punch some of you good and hard for this!"

"And you'll get punched yourself if you don't

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take your feet out of my face!" retorted Peaches, who was one of the few pupils not afraid of the bully.

"Where's that Joe Matson? I've got a score to settle with him/' went on Hiram, as he struggled to his feet, and disentangled himself from the mass of snow-warriors.

"You'll have one to settle with me if you knock me down again!" cried Teeter Nelson, as he tried to shake some snow out from inside his collar. It was melting and running down his back in little cold streams. "What do you mean by playing that way?" demanded Teeter, who had not seen the impending fight between Joe and Hiram. "Why don't you stay inside your own fort, and not make a human battering ram of yourself?"

"You mind your own business!" snapped Hiram with an ugly look. "I slipped and fell, or else Joe Matson pushed me. Wait until I get hold of him."

With a look of anger on his face, Hiram turned and went swarming up the outer wall of the fort. At the top stood Joe, waiting, and the lad's face showed no signs of fear, though he was a trifle pale. Though Hiram was larger, and evidently stronger than Joe, our hero was not afraid. He was debating in his mind whether it would not be better to rush to the ground below, where he would have a better chance if it came to an out-and-out-fight. Yet Joe had a certain advantage on top of the snow wall, for he could easily push Hiram down. Yet this was not his idea of a contest of that kind.

"I'll fix you, Matson!" muttered the bully. "I'll teach you to push me down! You might have broken my arm or leg," he added in an injured tone.

"I didn't push you!" retorted our hero. "You tried to hit me and missed. Then you fell."

"That's right!" chimed in Peaches, amid a silence, for the general snowball fight had ceased in anticipation of another kind of an encounter.

Hiram balanced himself half way up the white wall.

"What did you smash me in the face with a snowball for?" he demanded. "We made it up that no one was to aim at another fellow's face at close range, and you know it."

"Of course I know it," answered Joe. "But that rule applied to hard balls, and I didn't use one. I threw a soft ball at you, and you know why I did it, too. I'll let Luke Fodick have one, too, if he does it again."

"Does what again?" sneered the bully's crony.

"Use icy balls. I saw you and Hiram take some frozen ones from that box," and Joe pointed to the secret supply of ammunition. "Some of our fellows were hit and that's why I threw in your face, Hiram. Now, if you want to fight I'm ready for you," and Joe stood well balanced on top of the wall, awaiting the approach of his enemy.

Somehow the fighting spirit was oozing out of Hiram. He felt sure that he could whip Joe in a battle on level ground, but when his opponent stood above him, and when it was evident that Joe could deliver a blow before Hiram could, with the probability that it would send the attacker sliding down the wall again, the bully began to see that discretion was the better part of valor.

"Do you want to fight?" demanded Hiram, in that tone which sometimes means that the questioner would be glad to get a negative answer.

"I'm not aching for it," replied Joe slowly. "But I'm not going to run away. If you like I'll come down, but you can come up if you want to," and he smiled at Hiram. "You only got what you deserved, you know."

"That's right," chimed in Teeter. "You hadn't any right to use frozen balls, Hiram."

"Sure not!" came in a menacing chorus from Joe's crowd of lads.

"Well, they weren't frozen very hard," mumbled Hiram. "I only threw a few, anyhow, and you've got more fellows than we have."

"Because we captured some of yours—yes," admitted Joe.

"Well, all right then," answered the bully with no good grace. "But if you throw at my face again, at such close range, Joe Matson, I'll give you the best licking you ever had."

"Two can play at that game," was Joe's retort. "I'm ready any time you are."

"Why don't you go at him now, and clean him up?" asked Luke Fodick, making his way to where Hiram stood. "If you don't he'll be saying he backed you to a standstill. Go at him, Hiram."

"I've a good notion to," muttered the bully. He measured with his eye the distance between himself and Joe, and wondered if he could cover it in a rush, carry his opponent off his feet, and batter and pummel him as they rolled down the fort wall together.

"Go on!" urged Luke.

"I—I guess I will!" spoke Hiram desperately.

Then from the outer fringe of the attacking crowd there arose a cautious warning.

"Cheese it! Here comes old Sixteen!"

Professor Rodd was approaching and the lads well knew that he was bitterly opposed to fights, and would at once report any who engaged in them.

"Come on! Let's finish the snow fight!" cried Teeter. "Get back in your fort, Hiram, and the rest of you, and we'll soon capture it."

"All right," said the bully in a low voice. Then looking at Joe he said: "This isn't the end of it; not by a long shot, Matson. I'll get square with you yet."

"Just as you choose," answered Joe, as he rallied his lads to the attack again.

Then the snow ball fight went on, with Professor Rodd an interested onlooker. Joe's boys finally won, capturing the fort; but the real zest had been taken out of the battle by the unpleasant incident, and the boys no longer fought with jolly good-will.

"Ah, that is what I like to see," remarked the Latin professor, as the lads, having finished the game, strolled away from the fort which had been sadly battered and disrupted by the attack on it. "Nothing like good, healthy out-door exercise to fit the mind for the classics. I'm sure you will all do better in Latin and Greek for this little diversion."

"He's got another think coming as far as I'm concerned," whispered Teeter to Joe. "I haven't got a line of my Cæsar."

"This is certainly what I like to see," went on the instructor. "No hard feelings, yet I venture to say you all fought well, and hard. It is most delightful."

"It wouldn't have been quite so delightful if you'd have come along a few minutes later and seen a real fight," murmured Peaches. "Would you have stood up to Hiram, Joe?"

"I sure would. I was ready for him, though I don't want to be unfriendly to any of the fellows here. But I couldn't stand for what he did. Oh, I'd have fought him all right, even at the risk of a whipping, or of beating him, and having him down on me all the while I'm here."

"I guess he's down on you all right as it is," ventured George Bland. "And it's too bad, too."

"Oh, I don't know as I care particularly," spoke Joe.

"I thought I heard you say you wanted to play ball when the Spring season opened," said George.

"So I do, but what has Hiram Shell got to do with it?"

"Lots, as you'll very soon learn," put in Teeter. "Hiram is the head of the ball club—the manager—I guess you forgot that, and he runs things. If he doesn't want a fellow to play—why, that fellow doesn't play—that's all. That's what George means."

"Yes," assented George. "And Hiram is sure down on you after what you did to him to-day, Joe."

The young pitcher stood still. Many thoughts came to him. He felt a strange sinking sensation, as if he had suddenly lost hope. He dwelt for a moment on his great ambition, to be the star pitcher on the school nine, as he had been on the nine at home.

"Well, I guess it's too late to worry about it now," remarked Joe after a bit. "I'm sorry—no; I'm not either!" he cried, with sudden energy. "I'd do the same thing over again if I had to, and if Hiram Shell wants to keep me off the nine he can do it!"

"That's the way to talk!" cried Teeter, clapping Joe on the back.