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HOME > Classical Novels > Boys of the Central > CHAPTER XVI. A SNOWBALL FIGHT.
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 Just after New-Year came a very heavy snowstorm. It lasted two days, and when the boys went to school on the third morning, they had to wade through drifts in some places as high as their shoulders. Even on a level the snow was up to the knees of the smaller boys.  
It was a huge frolic to most of them, and the best part of it was when they found that, owing to some trouble with the furnace, there would be no school in the boys’ department that day.
“Hurrah for a holiday!” shouted half a dozen voices, as the boys tumbled pellmell down the stairs, not considering it necessary, under the circumstances, to keep in line as usual.
“Won’t the girls envy us, though,” chuckled Dixon, lifting his cap with great politeness as he saw two or three girls looking out of one of their windows. “I’ve half a mind to go and smash their furnace, so they can get out too.”
“I would,” said Hamlin, dryly. He had long since arrived at the conclusion that “Rosy” had “plenty[218] of good points,” but even yet Dixon’s frequent references to “the girls” were apt to vex him, and he had never been willing to introduce his red-haired schoolmate to his cousin Grace or any other of his girl friends.
“Say, fellows, why can’t we build a fort and have a snowball fight instead of going home,” cried Reed. “The snow’s in prime condition. Just see what balls it makes,” he added, catching up a handful of snow and hastily fashioning it into a ball which he flung at Hamlin, who dodged just in time to avoid it, and it landed full in Dixon’s mouth, as he opened it to speak. He spluttered and gasped for a moment, but as soon as he could get his breath, he dashed at Reed and rolled him in the snow, rubbing a handful of it into his mouth.
“Ouch! ouch!” yelled Reed; “help, help, boys!” whereupon two or three ran to his rescue, and the next moment, Dixon was treated to a dose of his own medicine. He took it very good-naturedly; he always did take everything good-naturedly. Even the boys that disliked him could not deny that.
“Say we do have a snowball fight. We may not have another chance this year,” said Sherman.
“Professor would order us off. The girls couldn’t recite if we were yelling outside here,” suggested Graham.
“That’s a fact! I forgot about the girls,” murmured Rosy, at which somebody remarked:—
“First time in your life you ever forgot ’em, ain’t it, Rosy?” and there was a general laugh at Dixon’s expense.
“Well, let’s go out on the vacant lots, then. No hospital or old ladies’ home around there, is there?” said Barber.
“Never heard of any. Come on, then,” cried Hamlin, leading the way. Presently he turned, and inquired:—
“What’ll we do for shovels and brooms? We can’t build a fort without ’em.”
“So we can’t,” said Reed, ruefully. “I forgot all about them.”
“Let’s borrow some,” suggested Graham.
“Where?” said Lee, with the touch of scorn in his voice that always irritated the boys.
“Right here on this block,” retorted Graham promptly.
“As if the people in these houses would lend us their snow shovels,” said Lee.
“If I get the shovels, will you agree to pay your share of the price?” asked Graham.
“Of course; don’t I always pay my share of anything that’s going,” said Lee, haughtily.
“All right,” said Graham as, with a grin at Hamlin, he ran up the steps of the nearest house and rang the bell.
“Want your walk cleared?” he inquired of the servant girl who opened the door.
“How much do you charge?” said the girl; “And where’s your shovel?”
“Where’s yours? Have you one?” replied Graham.
“Ye—yes,” said the girl, doubtfully.
“Well, tell your mistress that we’ll clear the steps and walk in fine style, if she’ll lend us her shovel for an hour afterward.”
“Get along with ye,” said the girl, “we’d never set eyes on the shovel again!”
At this, the crowd of boys on the sidewalk set up a shout of laughter, but Graham persisted:—
“Ask the lady to come to the door a minute, please do! We’ll clear the walk; honor bright, we will.”
As Graham spoke, the mistress appeared in the hall, and inquired of the girl what the boys wanted. Graham’s face lighted up as he caught sight of her, and he stepped forward, with his cap in his hand, saying:—
“I didn’t know that you lived here, Mrs. Hayes, but we boys want some shovels and brooms to make a snow fort on the vacant lots over yonder. We’ll clear off all the steps on this block, and the sidewalk too, if we can have the use of half a dozen shovels for an hour, to build our fort.”
“You can have ours, and welcome,” said Mrs. Hayes, “and I’ll give you a note to the other people[221] on the block. Of course you won’t forget to bring back the shovels,” she added smiling. “You see I have several brothers, and have known them to forget such things, now and then.”
“We’ll return them, sure, before we begin our snowball fight,” Graham answered; and soon, thanks to Mrs. Hayes’ note, half a dozen shovels had been handed out to the boys, who took turns at using them, and so quickly had the walks beautifully cleaned. Lee did his share under protest, but he did it, and some of the boys would have done twice as much themselves for the fun of seeing the Southern lad obliged to handle the shovel.
Then the boys trooped over to the vacant lots, and set to work to build their fort. The many hands made short work of it, even though the fort they fashioned was of goodly dimensions; and as soon as it was finished, Graham and another lad carried back the borrowed shovels. Then the two came racing back, to take part in the choice of leaders for the two parties.
A dozen names were proposed by different boys, but finally, Hamlin and Griffin were selected. They at once proceeded to choose their followers by first one, and then another, calling out a name.
In Hamlin’s party were Clark, Gordon, Freeman, Graham, Raleigh, Sherman and Reed, while Griffin’s included his own friends, with Lee, Dixon, and a few[222] others. In all, there were sixty boys. The leaders tossed up a penny for choice of position, and it fell to Griffin and his party to hold the fort.
Then he and his men were allowed ten minutes to make and carry into the fort as many snowballs as they could, for ammunition. Meantime, Hamlin’s party was similarly employed, while he was discussing with one or two of them the best plan of attack. It was decided to first make a rush all together, and try to scale the walls all along the line. This was done, but the attempt was a failure. The walls were too high to be readily scaled, and such a storm of snowballs was showered down upon the attacking party, that Hamlin was forced to call off his men, amid exultant shouts from those in the fort.
Then Hamlin divided his men into two parties, ordering one, under Clark’s leadership, to attack one end of the fort, while he himself led the other half against the other end, thus obliging Griffin to divide his force to repel the attack.
The two parties advanced all together against the fort until they were quite near, then suddenly dividing, half turned to the left and the other half to the right. Griffin hastily sent half of his men to repel Clark’s party, while he, with the rest, beat back Hamlin and his followers. Again and again the boys outside would succeed in climbing almost to the top of the wall of snow, only to be met by a[223] shower of balls that filled eyes, ears and mouths, while strong hands pushed and shoved them down the slippery walls, shouts and yells of derision following them as they descended.
At last, Hamlin again called off his men to rest and gather a new stock of ammunition.
“’Tisn’t much use, though, for us to snowball them,” grumbled Reed, trying to get some of the snow out of his neck. “They can throw right into our faces when we’re climbing their walls, but we can’t hang on to those slippery snow banks, and throw up into their faces. They can dodge and we can’t.”
“Dodge! I should say we couldn’t,” echoed Freeman. “Much as ever I could hang on at all while Lee was dashing snow into my face for all he was worth.”
“We’ll never take that fort by direct attack,” said Hamlin. “We’ve got to use stratagem.”
“Any sort of gem you say, so long as it’s a taking sort,” responded Reed.
“We might tunnel under, and so let them down unexpectedly,” suggested Clark.
“But they’d see us doing it,” objected Graham.
“Mustn’t let them,” answered Clark.
“What’s your idea, Clark? How would you do it?” asked Hamlin.
“I’d make another attack at two points, so as to[224] divide their force, and make such a desperate fight that Griffin would need every man he has, at those two points. Then, while the fight was going on, one fellow might drop down at the bottom of the fort, and keeping below those who were climbing the walls, so that those above in the fort couldn’t see him, he might dig under the bottom of the wall. It wouldn’t take many minutes for him to dig out a hole that he could crawl into. Then he could loosen the snow above him, so that a little extra stamping or pushing would break the wall through and let some of those fellows down where we could capture them. And then we could pile up through the opening, and so into the fort.”
“What do you say, Gordon? Think we could do it?” cried Hamlin eagerly.
“Looks as if we might, if we can find the right chap for that burrowing trick.”
“If we only had a big mole here, now,” remarked Reed.
“I’ll be the mole, if nobody else cares to try it,” said Clark.
“I don’t believe that plan will hold water,” remarked one boy, scornfully.
“It’s snow we want it to hold, not water,” was Reed’s quick response.
“We’ll give it a trial anyway,” said Hamlin. “Now then—are you all ready? Well then, we’ll go for those walls again. Forward, march!”
On went the attacking party at a full speed, while those in the fort braced themselves to repel the charge. Fast and furious flew the balls, and in the cloud of snow, and amid the shouting, squirming, struggling crowd trying to climb the walls, it was easy for Clark to drop unnoticed at the bottom, where he had taken care to kick out an opening as he approached the wall. Now, using his hands in decidedly mole-like fashion, he began to burrow under, throwing the snow out behind him as he dug.
Meantime, above and around him, the struggle went on, and so many hard knocks were given and received, that some of the boys began to get angry. The fun was changing to earnest.
Finally, Hamlin again called off his men, and as they gathered about him, out of earshot of those in the fort, he said to Clark:—
“Couldn’t carry out your plan—eh, Clark? I was afraid it wouldn’t work.”
“But it did work,” said Clark, quietly.
“Do you mean that you succeeded in undermining the wall?” cried Hamlin, eagerly.
“Yes,” said Clark, “and it would only take a little more digging to make it mighty unsafe for those fellows to dance any more jigs up there.”
“But I don’t see any opening,” said Hamlin.
“No—I kicked some snow into the opening............
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