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    Chapter 15

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    Chapter 16
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    THE SNOWBALL BATTLE

    "Now then, fellows, for the greatest snowball battle of the age!"

    "Here is where Company A smothers Company B!"

    "Rats! You mean that Company B will bury Company A out of sight!"

    "Hi, Major Ruddy! What side are you going on?" queried Bart Conners, who still commanded Company B.

    "He is coming on our side!" answered Henry Lee, the captain of the other company.

    "Well, I can't fight on both sides," answered the young major with a laugh.

    "Go with the company that wins!" suggested Pepper, with a grin.

    "Toss up a cent for it," suggested Andy.

    "All right, I'll toss up," answered Jack, and did so, and it was decided that he should fight with Company B.

    "Good enough!" cried Pepper, who was in that command. "Now Company A is licked, sure!"

    "Not much!" was the answer from Stuffer Singleton. "We'll win, sure!"

    "We will, unless you stop to eat a doughnut!" put in Joe Nelson, and at this remark a general laugh went up, for Stuffer had once lost a long-distance running race because he stopped on the way to devour some cookies he had in his pocket.

    It was after school hours, and the cadets had gathered on the field where, during the summer, corn had been raised. It was to be a battle between the two companies of the school battalion, with the company captain as leader on each side.

    The preliminary rules were speedily arranged. Lines were drawn at either end of the field, about five hundred feet apart. In the center, about a hundred feet apart, two other lines were drawn. Along the latter lines the cadets arranged themselves.

    "Now then, fighting will begin when the school-bell rings out four!" cried the cadet who had been made referee. "The company that chases the other company over its back line wins the contest. No fighting with anything but snow allowed. Anybody using his fists, or a stone, or a lump of ice, will be ruled out of the contest."

    With all possible speed the young soldiers started to supply themselves with snowballs, and soon each had ten to twenty in his hands and pockets and under his arms or at his feet.

    "Get ready!" shouted Bart, as he glanced hastily at his watch.

    "Give it to 'em hot when the bell rings!" came from Henry Lee.

    Half a minute more and the Hall bell commenced to toll out the hour. The bell had not yet ceased to ring when there came a grand shower of snowballs from each company. The shower was so thick that a few of the snowballs hit each other.

    "Forward!" shouted Captain Bart.

    "Forward!" echoed Captain Henry.

    And then the two long lines of cadets rushed forward over the snow-covered field until they were within thirty or forty feet of each other. Then came another shower of snowballs.

    "Wow!" yelled one cadet. "Oh, my nose!"

    "Cæsar's helmet! That hit me in the eye!" came from another.

    "Say, don't try to knock out all my teeth!" added a third.

    "Charge!" yelled the captain of Company A. "Charge! Get 'em on the run right now!"

    "Stand firm!" came from the commander of Company B. "Now then, fire!"

    The rush of Company A was met with an extra heavy volley of snowballs. The cadets staggered under the onslaught and then came to a halt.

    "Now then, up and at 'em!" yelled Captain Bart. And yelling like wild Indians, his command charged on Company A. The snowballs flew thick and fast, and slowly but surely Company A was forced to give ground until it stood on the line from which it had started. But by that time Company B was out of ammunition and had to pause to manufacture more snowballs.

    In the ranks of Company A were Ritter, Coulter and Paxton. Paxton had of late somewhat dropped the others, but Reff and Gus were as thick as ever. They were now standing side by side.

    "Say, I'd like to give it to Ruddy and those others," muttered Coulter.

    "So would I," whispered Ritter in return. "Confound 'em, I'd like to know if they really know the truth about the bicycles."

    "I don't see how they found out; nobody was around when you fixed 'em up."

    "Maybe somebody was spying; that sneak of a Mumps, for instance."

    "If he was, and told on us, I'll fix him for it."

    Both cadets were making snowballs near a hollow. As Ritter scraped the snow up he uncovered several jagged stones.

    "Say, look here!" he whispered, and pointed at the stones. "Let's fix up some special snowballs for Ruddy & Company!" he added with a knowing look at his crony.

    "All right; but be careful you are not caught," answered Gus Coulter.

    Both cadets got down close to the jagged stones and adroitly slipped several of them into the snowballs they were making.

    "Wait till we are pretty close," directed Ritter. "Then let drive for all you are worth."

    "Who will you aim at?"

    "Ruddy and Ditmore."

    "All right, I'll aim at Snow; and I'll let Ruddy have one, too."

    Again came a ringing war-cry, and in a moment more the battle was continued. Back and forth swayed the lines of cadets, first towards one end of the field and then towards the other. It was plainly to be seen that the commands were about evenly matched.

    "How long is this battle to last?" questioned Joe Nelson.

    "Half an hour," answered Fred Century, who was beside him.

    "Time is almost up, then," came from Bert Field, who had been fighting so hard he was almost out of breath.

    "Five minutes more!" came from the referee. "Now then, if either side is going to do something, pitch in!"

    "Forward!" came simultaneously from both captains, and forward plunged Company A and Company B, and the snowballs commenced to fly as thickly as before. Neither side would give ground, and at last the two lines were within fifteen to twenty feet of each other, right in the center of the field.

    The time was almost up, and each command was getting rid of the last of the snowballs, when Jack saw a snowball leave Coulter's hand and sail swiftly towards Pepper. The Imp did not see it until it was quite close to him and failed in his attempt to dodge. The snowball hit him full in the temple and over he went as if struck with a club.

    "Pepper!" cried the young major in horror, and started to rush to his chum's assistance, when another snowball came flying through the air. It struck Jack over the ear, and he, too, went down, all but knocked unconscious.

    A bugle blew, and the great snowballing contest came to an end.

    "A tie! A tie!" was the cry. "Neither side wins!"

    "Let the two captains shake hands and call it off!" said one cadet.

    "I'm willing!" cried Bart, readily.

    "So am I," added Henry, and then the pair shook hands, while a great cheer rolled up from both sides. But the cheer came to an abrupt end when Fred Century cried out:

    "Pepper Ditmore is hurt!"

    "And so is Major Ruddy!" came from Emerald Hogan.

    A crowd quickly gathered around each wounded cadet. Pepper had a nasty cut over the left eye and Jack had a lump behind his right ear.

    "They must have been hit with soakers," was Dale's comment, as he bent over Pepper.

    "Looks as if Pepper was hit with a stone," came from Andy.

    "A stone!" cried Bart Field.

    "Yes, a stone! That cut was never made by a snowball, or a piece of ice, either!"

    "Shall I get a doctor?" asked Stuffer, anxiously.

    "Oh, are they as bad as that?" asked Bob Grenwood.

    "I don't know," answered Bert, soberly. "Wait a minute and we'll see if they come around."

    "Oh, what a crack!" murmured Jack, and then he sat up and stared around him. Pepper was also stirring and he slowly put one hand to the cut on his temple.

    "Let us carry 'em to the Hall," suggested Bert. "It's getting too cold out here and besides, they are all in a sweat from the snowballing."

    When Pepper was picked up, Andy saw something lying beneath him in the snow. He picked it up.

    "Hello! look here!" he called out, and held the object up.

    "A stone!"

    "Where did it come from, Andy?"

    "It was under Pepper's body. I believe it was in the snowball that hit him!"

    "Who would be so mean?"

    "I rather guess I know," answered Pepper, and looked around for Ritter and Coulter, but the bully and his crony had disappeared.

    Pepper and Jack were carried tenderly into the Hall and placed in easy chairs in the reception room. Presently both had recovered consciousness fully, and each had his head bound up in bandages.

    "Phew, but that was a crack I got!" sighed The Imp. "I thought a rock had hit me!"

    "It was Coulter who threw that snowball," said the young major. "I saw him do it, and I was running to help you up when I got struck myself, and went down."

    "And I am pretty sure Ritter hit you, Jack," came from Andy. "Anyway, I saw him aiming for you just before you staggered and fell."

    "Andy, those fellows must have hit us with stones!" muttered The Imp.

    "I feel sure they did. Ritter struck me with a snowball, on the hand, and it left a deep scratch. Now, no ordinary snowball would do that. Besides that, I picked up a sharp stone from where Pepper was lying."

    "It was against the rules of the contest to use stones," put in Dale, who was near.

    "Sure it was!" cried Stuffer. "If those chaps really used stones they ought to be punished for it."

    The news quickly went the rounds, as was to be expected. When Henry Lee heard it he quickly sought out Captain Bart.

    "I hope you don't think I allowed any such underhand work," he said anxiously.

    "Not for a minute, Henry!" cried the captain of Company B. "If Ritter and Coulter did it, they did it on their own responsibility. I think them just mean enough, too, for they are down on Major Ruddy and Pepper Ditmore."

    "If they are guilty, I'd like to have them court-martialed!" muttered the commander of Company A. "Such underhand work is a disgrace to Putnam Hall!"

    "Wait and see if it can be proven," answered Bart Conners. "Then, if it is proven, we'll read Ritter and Coulter a lecture they won't forget in a hurry!" he added significantly.
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