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CHAPTER VI


WHAT A BIG SNOWBALL DID


As the ice-boat came closer the boys on the hill saw that it contained four persons, two cadets and two young ladies. The latter were evidently guests, for they sat in the stern and took no part in handling the craft.

Dave set up a loud cry of warning and his chums joined in. But if those on the ice-boat heard, they paid no heed. On and on they came, heading for the very spot for which the great snowball, now all of six feet in diameter, was shooting.

"The ice is full of holes, maybe the snowball will drop into one of them," said Phil. But this was not to be. The snowball kept straight on, until it and the ice-boat were less than a hundred feet apart.

It was then that one of the cadets on the craft saw the peril and uttered a cry of alarm. He tried to bring the ice-boat around, and his fellow-student aided him. But it was too late, and in a few seconds more the big snowball hit the craft, bowled it over, and sent it spinning along the ice toward some of the largest of the air-holes.

"They are going into the water!" gasped Roger.

"Come on—let us see if we can help them!" returned Dave, and plunged down the hill. He took the course the big snowball had taken, and his chums came after him. More than once they fell, but picked themselves up quickly and kept on until the ice was gained. At the edge they came to a halt, for the air-holes told them plainly of the danger ahead.

"There they go—into the water!" cried Dave, and waiting no longer, he ran out on the ice, picking his way between the air-holes as best he could. Several times the ice cracked beneath his weight, but he did not turn back. He felt that the occupants of the ice-boat were in peril of their lives and that in a measure he was responsible for this crisis.

The river at this point was all of a hundred yards wide and the accident had occurred close to the farther side. The ice-boat had been sent to where two air-holes were close together, and the weight of the craft and its occupants had caused it to crack the ice, and it now rested half in and half out of the water. One of the cadets and one of the young ladies had been flung off to a safe place, but the other pair were clinging desperately to the framework.

"Oh, we shall be drowned! We shall be drowned!" cried the maiden in distress.

"Can't you jump off?" asked the cadet who was safe on the ice.

"I—I am afraid!" wailed the girl. "Oh, the ice is sinking!" she added, as an ominous sound reached her ears.

To the credit of the cadet on the ice-boat, he remained the cooler of the two, and he called to his fellow-student to run for a fence-rail which might be used to rescue the girl and himself. But the nearest fence was a long way off, and time, just then, was precious.

"Cut a couple of ropes!" sang out Dave, as he dashed up. "Cut one and throw it over here!"

The cadet left on the overturned craft understood the suggestion, and taking out his pocketknife, he cut two of the ropes. He tied one fast to the other and sent an end spinning out toward Dave and the cadet on the ice. The other end of the united ropes remained fast to the ice-boat.

By this time Phil and Roger had come up, and all the lads on the firm ice took hold of the rope and pulled with all their might. Dave directed the operation, and slowly the ice-boat came up from the hole into which it had partly sunk and slid over toward the shore.

"Hurrah! we've got her!" cried Phil.

"Vera, are you hurt?" asked the girl on the ice, anxiously.

"Not at all, Mary; only one foot is wet," answered the girl who had been rescued.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" And then the two girls embraced in the joy of their escape.

"I'd like to know where that big snowball came from," growled the cadet who had been flung off the ice-boat when the shock came. He looked at Dave and his companions. "Did you start that thing?"

"We did," answered Dave, "but we didn't know you were coming."

"It was a mighty careless thing to do," put in the cadet who had been rescued. "We might have been drowned!"

"I believe they did it on purpose," said the other cadet. He looked at the letters on a sweater Roger wore. "You're from Oak Hall, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"Thought you'd have some sport, eh?" This was said with a sneer. "Say, Cabot, we ought to give 'em something for this," he added, turning to his fellow-cadet.

"So we should," growled Cabot, who chanced to be the owner of the craft that had been damaged. "They have got to pay for breaking the ice-boat, anyway."

"Oh, Mr. Anderson, please don't get into a quarrel!" pleaded one of the girls.

"Well, those rowdies deserve a thrashing," answered Anderson. He was a big fellow, with rather a hard look on his face.

"Thank you, but we are not rowdies," retorted Roger. "We were having a little fun and did not dream of striking you with the snowball."

"If you know anything about the river, you know ice-boats and skaters rarely if ever come this way," added Phil. "The ice around here is always full of air-holes and consequently dangerous."

"Oh, you haven't got to teach me where to go," growled Anderson.

"I'm only stating a fact."

"The ice is certainly not very nice around here," said one of the girls. "Perhaps we might have gotten into a hole even if the big snowball hadn't struck us."

At this remark Dave and his chums gave the girl a grateful look. The cadets were annoyed, and one whispered something to the other.

"You fellows get to work and fix the ice-boat," said Cabot.

"And do it quick, too," added Anderson.

"I—I think I'll walk the rest of the way home," said one of the girls. "Will you come along, Vera?"

"Yes," answered the other. She stepped up to Dave's side. "Thank you for telling Mr. Cabot what to do, and for pulling us out of the hole," she went on, and gave the boys a warm smile.

"Going to leave us?" growled Anderson.

"Yes."

"That ain't fair. You promised——"

"To take a ride on the ice-boat," finished the girl named Vera. "We did it, and now I am going home."

"And so am I," added the other girl. "Good-by."

"But see here——" went on Anderson, and caught the girl named Vera by the arm.

"Please let go, Mr. Anderson."

"I want——"

"Let the young lady go if she wishes to," said Dave, stepping up.

"This isn't your affair," blustered Anderson.

"No gentleman would detain a lady against her will."

"Good-by," said the girl, and stepped back several paces when released by the cadet.

"All right, Vera Rockwell, I'll not take you out again," growled Anderson, seeing she was bound to go.

"You'll not have the chance, thank you!" flung back the girl, and then she joined her companion, and both hurried away from the shore and to a road running near by.

After the girls had gone there was an awkward silence. Both Cabot and Anderson felt sore to be treated in this fashion, and especially in the presence of those from Oak Hall, a rival institution to that where they belonged.

"Well, what are you going to do about the damage done?" grumbled Anderson.

"I don't think the ice-boat is damaged much," answered Dave. "Let us look her over and see.

"If she is, you'll pay the bill," came from Cabot.

"Well, we can do that easily enough," answered Roger lightly.

The craft was righted and inspected. The damage proved to be trifling and the ice-boat was speedily made fit for use.

"If I find she isn't all right, I'll make some of you foot the bill," said Cabot.

"I am willing to pay for all damage done," answered Dave. "My name is Dave Porter."

"Oh! I've heard of you," said Anderson. "You're on the Oak Hall football team."

"Yes, and I've had the pleasure of helping to beat Rockville," answered Dave, and could not help grinning.

"Humph! Wait till next season! We'll show you a thing or two," growled Anderson, and then he and Cabot boarded the ice-boat, trimmed the sail, and stood off down the river.

"Well, they are what I call a couple of pills," was Phil's comment. "I don't see how two nice girls could go out with them."

"They certainly were two nice girls," answered Roger. "That Vera Rockwell had beautiful eyes and hair. And did you see the smile she gave Dave! Dave, you're the lucky one!"

"That other girl is named Mary Feversham," answered Phil. "Her father is connected with the express company. I met her once, but she doesn't seem to remember me. I think she is better-looking than Miss Rockwell."

"Gracious, Phil must be smitten!" cried Dave.

"When is it to come off, Phil? " asked the senator's son. "We want time to buy presents, you know."

"Oh, you can poke fun if you want to," grumbled the shipowner's son. "She's a nice girl and I'd like to have the chance to meet her. Somebody said she was a good skater."

"Well, if you go skating with her, ask Miss Rockwell to come, too, and I'll be at the corner waiting for you," said the senator's son. "That is, if Dave don't try to cut me out."

"No danger—Jessie wouldn't allow it," replied Phil.

"You leave Jessie out of it," answered Dave, flushing a trifle. "Just the same, I agree with both of you, those girls looked to be very nice."

The three boys walked along the river bank for nearly half a mile before they came in sight of the Snowbird. Then Messmer and Henshaw wanted to know what had kept them so long.

"I'd not go in there with my boat," said Messmer, after he had heard their story. "Those airholes are too dangerous."

When the lads got back to Oak Hall they found a free-for-all snowball fight in progress. One crowd was on the campus and the other in the road beyond.

"This suits me!" cried Roger. "Come on, Dave," and he joined the force on the road. His chums did the same, and sent the snowballs flying at a brisk rate.

The fight was a furious one for over an hour. The force on the campus outnumbered those in the road and the latter were driven to where the highway made a turn and where there were several clumps of trees and bushes. Here, Dave called on those around him to make a stand, and the other crowd was halted in its onward rush.

"Here comes Horsehair in a cutter!" cried one of the students, presently. "Let us give him a salute."

"All right!" called back Dave. "Some snow will make him strong, and brush off some of the hair he carries around with him."

The boys made a number of snowballs and, led by Dave, waited for the appearance of the cutter. Soon it turned the bend, the horse on a trot and the sleighbells jingling merrily.

"Now then, all together!" shouted Dave, and prepared to hurl a snowball at the man who was driving.

"Hold on!" yelled Roger, suddenly.

But the warning cry came too late for Dave and Phil, who were in the lead. They let fly their snowballs, and the man in the cutter was struck in the chin and the ear. He fell backward, but speedily recovered and stopped his horse.

"You young rascals!" he spluttered hoarsely. "What do you mean by snowballing me in this fashion!"

"Job Haskers!" murmured Dave, in consternation.

"What a mistake!" groaned Phil. "We are in for it now!"