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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 7. Hat-Ball And Bull-Pen
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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 7. Hat-Ball And Bull-Pen Post by :kdwashere Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :1952

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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 7. Hat-Ball And Bull-Pen


Pewee did not renew the quarrel with Jack--perhaps from fear of the rawhide that hung in the blacksmith's shop, or of the master's ox-goad, or of Bob Holliday's fists, or perhaps from a hope of conciliating Jack and getting occasional help in his lessons. Jack was still excluded from the favorite game of "bull-pen." I am not sure that he would have been rejected had he asked for admission, but he did not want to risk another refusal. He planned a less direct way of getting into the game. Asking his mother for a worn-out stocking, and procuring an old boot-top, he ravelled the stocking, winding the yarn into a ball of medium hardness. Then he cut from the boot-top a square of leather large enough for his purpose. This he laid on the kitchen-table, and proceeded to mark off and cut it into the shape of an orange-peel that has been quartered off the orange, leaving the four quarters joined together at the middle. This leather he put to soak over night. The next morning, bright and early, with a big needle and some strong thread he sewed it around his yarn-ball, stretching the wet leather to its utmost, so that when it should contract the ball should be firm and hard, and the leather well moulded to it. Such a ball is far better for all play in which the player is to be hit than those sold in the stores nowadays. I have described the manufacture of the old-fashioned home-made ball, because there are some boys, especially in the towns, who have lost the art of making yarn balls.

When Jack had finished his ball, he let it dry, while he ate his breakfast and did his chores. Then he sallied out and found Bob Holliday, and showed him the result of his work. Bob squeezed it, felt its weight, bounced it against a wall, tossed it high in the air, caught it, and then bounced it on the ground. Having thus "put it through its paces," he pronounced it an excellent ball,--"a good deal better than Ben Berry's ball. But what are you going to do with it?" he asked. "Play Anthony-over? The little boys can play that."

I suppose there are boys in these days who do not know what "Anthony-over" is. How, indeed, can anybody play Anthony-over in a crowded city?

The old one-story village school-houses stood generally in an open green. The boys divided into two parties, the one going on one side, and the other on the opposite side of the school-house. The party that had the ball would shout "Anthony!" The others responded, "Over!" To this, answer was made from the first party, "Over she comes!" and the ball was immediately thrown over the school-house. If any of the second party caught it, they rushed, pell-mell, around both ends of the school-house to the other side, and that one of them who held the ball essayed to hit some one of the opposite party before they could exchange sides. If a boy was hit by the ball thus thrown he was counted as captured to the opposite party, and he gave all his efforts to beat his old allies. So the game went on, until all the players of one side were captured by the others. I don't know what Anthony means in this game, but no doubt the game is hundreds of years old, and was played in English villages before the first colony came to Jamestown.

"I'm not going to play Anthony-over," said Jack. "I'm going to show King Pewee a new trick."

"You can't get up a game of bull-pen on your own hook, and play the four corners and the ring all by yourself."

"No, I don't mean that. I'm going to show the boys how to play hat-ball--a game they used to play on the Wildcat."

"I see your point. You are going to make Pewee ask you to let him in," said Bob, and the two boys set out for school together, Jack explaining the game to Bob. They found one or two boys already there, and when Jack showed his new ball and proposed a new game, they fell in with it.

The boys stood their hats in a row on the grass. The one with the ball stood over the row of hats, and swung his hand to and fro above them, while the boys stood by him, prepared to run as soon as the ball should drop into a hat. The boy who held the ball, after one or two false motions,--now toward this hat, and now toward that one,--would drop the ball into Somebody's hat. Somebody would rush to his hat, seize the ball, and throw it at one of the other boys, who were fleeing in all directions. If he hit Somebody-Else, Somebody-Else might throw from where the ball lay, or from the hats, at the rest, and so on, until some one missed. The one who missed took up his hat and left the play, and the boy who picked up the ball proceeded to drop it into a hat, and the game went on until all but one were put out.

Hat-ball is so simple that any number can play at it, and Jack's friends found it so full of boisterous fun, that every new-comer wished to set down his hat. And thus, by the time Pewee and Riley arrived, half the larger boys in the school were in the game, and there were not enough left to make a good game of bull-pen.

At noon, the new game drew the attention of the boys again, and Riley and Pewee tried in vain to coax them away.

"Oh, I say, come on, fellows!" Riley would say. "Come--let's play something worth playing."

But the boys stayed by the new game and the new ball. Neither Riley, nor Pewee, nor Ben Berry liked to ask to be let into the game, after what had passed. Not one of them had spoken to Jack since the battle between him and Pewee, and they didn't care to play with Jack's ball in a game of his starting.

Once the other boys had broken away from Pewee's domination, they were pleased to feel themselves free. As for Pewee and his friends, they climbed up on a fence, and sat like three crows, watching the play of the others. After a while they got down in disgust, and went off, not knowing just what to do. When once they were out of sight, Jack winked at Bob, who said:

"I say, boys, we can play hat-ball at recess when there isn't time for bull-pen. Let's have a game of bull-pen now, before school takes up."

It was done in a minute. Bob Holliday and Tom Taylor "chose up sides," the bases were all ready, and by the time Pewee and his aides-de-camp had walked disconsolately to the pond and back, the boys were engaged in a good game of bull-pen.

Perhaps I ought to say something about the principles of a game so little known over the country at large. I have never seen it played anywhere but in a narrow bit of country on the Ohio River, and yet there is no merrier game played with a ball.

The ball must not be too hard. There should be four or more corners. The space inside is called the pen, and the party winning the last game always has the corners. The ball is tossed from one corner to another, and when it has gone around once, any boy on a corner may, immediately after catching the ball thrown to him from any of the four corners, throw it at any one in the pen. He must throw while "the ball is hot,"--that is, instantly on catching it. If he fails to hit anybody on the other side, he goes out. If he hits, his side leave the corners and run as they please, for the boy who has been hit may throw from where the ball fell, or from any corner, at any one of the side holding the corners. If one of them is hit, he has the same privilege; but now the men in the pen are allowed to scatter, also. Whoever misses is "out," and the play is resumed from the corners until all of one side is out. When but two are left on the corners the ball is smuggled,--that is, one hides the ball in his bosom, and the other pretends that he has it also. The boys in the ring do not know which has it, and the two "run the corners," throwing from any corner. If but one is left on the corners, he is allowed, also, to run from corner to corner.

It happened that Jack's side lost on the toss-up for corners, and he got into the ring, where his play showed better than it would have done on the corners. As Jack was the greenhorn and the last chosen on his side, the players on the corners expected to make light work of him; but he was an adroit dodger, and he put out three of the boys on the corners by his unexpected way of evading a ball. Everybody who has ever played this fine old game knows that expertness in dodging is worth quite as much as skill in throwing. Pewee was a famous hand with a ball, Riley could dodge well, Ben Berry had a happy knack of dropping flat upon the ground and letting a ball pass over him, Bob Holliday could run well in a counter charge; but nothing could be more effective than Jack Dudley's quiet way of stepping forward or backward, bending his lithe body or spreading his legs to let the ball pass, according to the course which it took from the player's hand.

King Pewee and company came back in time to see Jack dodge three balls thrown point-blank at him from a distance of fifteen feet. It was like witchcraft--he seemed to be charmed. Every dodge was greeted with a shout, and when once he luckily caught the ball thrown at him, and thus put out the thrower, there was no end of admiration of his playing. It was now evident to all that Jack could no longer be excluded from the game, and that, next to Pewee himself, he was already the best player on the ground.

At recess that afternoon Pewee set his hat down in the hat-ball row, and as Jack did not object, Riley and Ben Berry did the same. The next day Pewee chose Jack first in bull-pen, and the game was well played.

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