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Albert, being no more of a self-analyst than Maud,
simply said, "Served him right," and dwelt no more upon it for the time.

At supper, however, he was extravagantly gay, and to himself
unaccountably so. He joked Troutt till Maud begged him to stop, and
after the rest had gone he remained seated at the table, enjoying the
indignant color in her face and the flash of her infrequent smile, which
it was such a pleasure to provoke. He volunteered to help wash the
dishes.

"Thank you, but I'm afraid you'd be more bother than help," she replied.

"Thank _you_, but you don't know me. I ain't so green as I look, by no
manner o' means. I've been doing my own housekeeping for four terms."

"I know all about that," laughed the girl. "You young men rooming do
precious little cooking and no dish-washing at all."

"That's a base calumny! I made it a point to wash every dish in the
house, except the spider, once a week; had a regular cleaning-up day."

"And about the spider?"

"I wiped that out nicely with a newspaper every time I wanted to use
it."

"Oh, horrors!--Mother, listen to that!"

"Why, what more could you ask? You wouldn't have me wipe it _six_ times
a day, would you?"

"I wonder it didn't poison you," commented Mrs. Welsh.

"Takes more'n that to poison a student," laughed Albert, as he went out.

The next afternoon he came bursting into the kitchen, where Maud stood
with her sleeves rolled up, deep in the dish pan, while Stella stood
wiping the dishes handed to her.

"Don't you want a sleigh ride?" he asked, boyishly eager.

She looked up with shining eyes.

"Oh, wouldn't I!--Can you get along, mother?"

"Certainly, child; the air'll do you good."

"W'y, Maud!" said the little girl, "you said you didn't want to when
Ed----"

Mrs. Welsh silenced her, and said:

"Run right along, dear; it's just the nicest time o' day. Are there many
teams out?"

"They're just beginning t' come out," said Albert. "I'll have a cutter
around here in about two jiffies; be on hand, sure."

Troutt was standing in the sunny doorway of his stable when the young
fellow dashed up to him.

"Hullo, Uncle Troutt! Harness the fastest nag into your swellest outfit
instanter."

"Aha! Goin' t' take y'r girl out, hey?"

"Yes; and I want 'o do it in style."

"I guess ol' Dan's the idee, if you can drive him; he's a ring-tailed
snorter."

"Fast?"

"Nope; but safe. Gentle as a kitten and as knowin' as a fox. Drive him
with one hand--left hand," the old man chuckled.

"Troutt, you're an insinuating old insinuator, and I'll----"

Troutt laughed till his long faded beard flapped up and down and
quivered with the stress of his enjoyment of his joke. He ended by
hitching a vicious-looking sorrel to a gay, duck-bellied cutter, saying
as he gave up the reins:

"Now, be keerful; Dan's foxy; he's all right when he sees you've got the
reins, but don't drop 'em."

"Don't you worry about me; I grew up with horses," said the
over-confident youth, leaping into the sleigh and gathering up the
lines. "Stand aside, my lord, and let the cortège pass. Hoop-la!"

The brute gave a tearing lunge, and was out of the doorway like a shot
before the old man could utter a word. Albert thrilled with pleasure as
he felt the reins stiffen in his hands, while the traces swung slack
beside the thills.

"If he keeps this up he'll do," he thought.

As he turned up at the gate Maud came gayly down the path, muffled to
the eyes.

"Oh, what a nice cutter! But the horse--is he gentle?" she asked, as she
climbed in.

"As a cow," Albert replied.--"Git out o' this, Bones!"

The main street was already full of teams, wood sleighs, bob-sleighs
filled with children, and here and there a man in a light cutter alone,
out for a race. Laughter was on the air, and the jingle-jangle of bells.
The sun was dazzling in its brightness, and the gay wraps and scarfs
lighted up the street with flecks of color. Loafers on the sidewalks
fired a fusillade of words at the teams as they passed:

"Go it, Bones!"

"'Let 'er _go_, Gallagher!'"

"Ain't she a daisy!"

But what cared the drivers? If the shouts were insolent they laid them
to envy, and if they were pleasant they smiled in reply.

Albert and Maud had made two easy turns up and down the street, when a
man driving a span of large black-hawk horses dashed up a side street
and whirled in just before them. The man was a superb driver, and sat
with the reins held carelessly but securely in his left hand, guiding
the team more by his voice than by the bit. He sat leaning forward with
his head held down in a peculiar and sinister fashion.

"_Hel_-lo!" cried Bert; "that looks like Brann."

"It is," said Maud.

"Cracky! that's a fine team--Black Hawks, both of them. I wonder if ol'
sorrel can pass 'em?"

"Oh, please don't try," pleaded the girl.

"Why not?"

"Because--because I'm afraid."

"Afraid of what?"

"Afraid something'll happen."

"Something _is_ goin' t' happen; I'm goin' t' pass him if old Bones has
got any _git_ to him."

"It'll make him mad."

"Who mad? Brann?"

"Yes."

"Well, s'pose it does, who cares?"

The teams moved along at an easy pace. Some one called to Brann:

"They're on y'r trail, Ed."

There was something peculiar in the tone, and Brann looked behind for
the first time, and saw them. He swore through his teeth, and turned
about. He looked dogged and sullen, with his bent shoulders and his chin
thrust down.

There were a dozen similar rigs moving up or down the street, and
greetings passed from sleigh to sleigh. Everybody except Brann welcomed
Albert with sincere pleasure, and exchanged rustic jokes with him. As
they slowed up at the upper end of the street and began to turn, a man
on the sidewalk said confidentially:

"Say, cap', if you handle that old rack-o'-bones just right, he'll
distance anything on this road. When you want him to do his best let him
have the rein; don't pull a pound. I used to own 'im--I know 'im."

The old sorrel came round "gauming," his ugly head thrown up, his great
red mouth open, his ears back. Brann and the young doctor of the place
were turning together a little farther up the street. The blacks,
superbly obedient to their driver, came down with flying hoofs, their
great glossy breasts flecked with foam from their champing jaws.

"Come on, fellers!" yelled Brann, insultingly, as he came down past the
doctor, and seemed about to pass Albert and Maud. There was hate in the
glare of his eyes.

But he did not pass. The old sorrel seemed to lengthen; to the
spectators his nose appeared to be glued to the glossy side of Brann's
off black.

"See them blacks trot!" shouted Albert, in ungrammatical enthusiasm.

"See that old sorrel shake himself!" yelled the loafers.

The doctor came tearing down with a spirited bay, a magnificent stepper.
As he drew along so that Bert could catch a glimpse of the mare's neck,
he thrilled with delight. There was the thoroughbred's lacing of veins;
the proud fling of her knees and the swell of her neck showed that she
was far from doing her best. There was a wild light in her eyes.

These were the fast teams of the town. All interest was centered in
them.

"Clear the track!" yelled the loafers.

"The doc's good f'r 'em."

"If she don't break."

Albert was pulling at the sorrel heavily, absorbed in seeing, as well as
he could for the flung snowballs, the doctor's mare draw slowly, foot
by foot, past the blacks. Suddenly Brann gave a shrill yell and stood up
in his sleigh. The gallant little bay broke and fell behind; Brann gave
a loud laugh; the blacks trotted on, their splendid pace unchanged.

"Let the sorrel out!" yelled somebody.

"Let him loose!" yelled Troutt on the corner, quivering with excitement.
"Let him go!"

Albert remembered what the fellow had said; he let the reins loose. The
old sorrel's teeth came together with a snap; his head lowered and his
tail rose; he shot abreast of the blacks. Brann yelled:

"Sam--Saul, _git_!"

"See them trot!" shouted Bert, lost in admiration; but Maud, frightened
into silence, had covered her head with the robe to escape the blinding
cloud of flying snow. The sorrel drew steadily ahead; he was passing
when Brann turned.

"Durn y'r old horse!" he yelled through his shut teeth, and laid the
whip across the sorrel's hips. The blacks broke wildly, but, strange to
say, the old sorrel increased his speed. Again Brann struck at him, but
missed him, and the stroke fell on Bert's outstretched wrists. He turned
to see what Brann meant by it; he did not see that the blacks were
crowding him to the gutter; his hands felt numb.

"Look _out_, there!"

Before he could turn to look, the cutter seemed to be blown up by a
bomb, and he rose in the air like a vaulter; he saw the traces part, he
felt the reins slip through his hands, and that was all; he seemed to
fall an immeasurable depth into a black abyss.... The next that he knew
was a curious soft murmur of voices, out of which a sweet, agonized
girl-voice broke, familiar but unrecognized:

"Oh, where's the doctor! He's dead--oh, he's dead! _Can't_ you hurry?"

Next came a quick, authoritative voice, still far away, and a hush
followed it; then an imperative order:

"Stand out o' the way! What do you think you can do by crowding on top
of him?"

"Stand back! stand back!" other voices called.

Then he felt something cold on his head: they were taking his cap off
and putting snow on his head; then the doctor (he knew him now) said:

"Let me take him!"

"Oh, can't I do something?" said the sweet voice.

"No--nothing."

Then there came a strange fullness in his head. Shadows lighted by dull
red flashes passed before his eyes; he wondered, in a slow, dull way, if
he were dying. Then this changed: a dull, throbbing ache came into his
head, and as this grew the noise of voices grew more distinct and he
could hear sobbing. Then the dull, rhythmic red flashes passed slowly
away from his eyes, and he opened his lids, but the glare of the
sunlight struck them shut again; he saw only Maud's face, agonized,
white, and wet with tears, looking down into his.



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