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He felt the doctor's
hands winding bandages about his head, and he felt a crawling stream of
blood behind his ear, getting as cold as ice as it sank under his
collar.

They raised him a little more, and he opened his eyes on the circle of
hushed and excited men thronging about him. He saw Brann, with wild,
scared face, standing in his cutter and peering over the heads of the
crowd.

"How do you feel now?" asked the doctor.

"Can you hear us? Albert, do you know me?" called the girl.

His lips moved stiffly, but he smiled a little, and at length whispered
slowly, "Yes; I guess--I'm all--right."

"Put him into my cutter; Maud, get in here, too," the doctor commanded,
with all the authority of a physician in a small village. The crowd
opened, and silenced its muttered comments as the doctor and Troutt
helped the wounded man into the sleigh. The pain in his head grew worse,
but Albert's perception of things grew in proportion; he closed his eyes
to the sun, but in the shadow of Maud's breast opened them again and
looked up at her. He felt a vague, childlike pleasure in knowing she was
holding him in her arms; he felt the sleigh moving; he thought of his
mother, and how it would frighten her if she knew.

The doctor was driving the horse and walking beside the sleigh, and the
people were accosting him. Albert could catch their words now and then,
and the reply:

"No; he isn't killed, nor anything near it; he's stunned, that's all; he
isn't bleeding now. No; he'll be all right in a day or two."

"Hello!" said a breathless, hearty voice, "what the deuce y' been doing
with my pardner? Bert, old fellow, are you there?" Hartley asked,
clinging to the edge of the moving cutter, and peering into his friend's
face. Albert smiled.

"I'm here--what there is left of me," he replied faintly.

"Glory! how'd it happen?" he asked of the girl.

"I don't know--I couldn't see--we ran into a culvert," replied Maud.

"Weren't you hurt?"

"Not a bit. I stayed in the cutter."

Albert felt a steady return of waves of pain, but did not know that they
were waves of returning life. He groaned, and tried to rise. The girl
gently but firmly restrained him. Hartley was walking beside the doctor,
talking loudly. "It was a devilish thing to do; the scoundrel ought 'o
be jugged!"

Albert groaned, and tried to rise again. "I'm bleeding yet; I'm soaking
you!"

The girl shuddered, but remained firm.

"No; we're 'most home."

She felt no shame, but a certain exaltation, as she looked into the
curious faces she saw in groups on the sidewalk. The boys who ran
alongside wore in their faces a look of awe, for they imagined
themselves in the presence of death.

Maud gazed unrecognizingly upon her nearest girl friends. They seemed
something alien in that moment; and they, gazing upon her white face and
unrecognizing eyes, spoke in awed whispers.

At the gate the crowd gathered and waited with deepest interest, with a
sort of shuddering pleasure. It was all a strange, unusual, inthralling
romance to them. The dazzling sunshine added to the wonder of it all.

"Ed Brann done it."

"How?" asked several.

"With the butt end of his whip."

"That's a lie! His team ran into Lohr's rig."

"Not much; Ed crowded him into the ditch."

"What fer?"

"'Cause Bert cut him out with Maud."

"Come, get out of the way! Don't stand there gabbing," yelled Hartley,
as he took Albert in his arms and, together with the doctor, lifted him
out of the sleigh.

"Goodness sakes alive! Ain't it terrible! How is he?" asked an old
lady, peering at him as he passed.

On the porch stood Mrs. Welsh, supported by Ed Brann.

"She's all right, I tell you. He ain't hurt much, either; just stunned a
little, that's all."

"Maud! child!" cried the mother, as Maud appeared out of the crowd,
followed by a bevy of girls.

"Mother, _I'm_ all right!" she said as gayly as she could, running into
the trembling arms outstretched toward her; "but, oh, poor Albert!"

After they disappeared into the house the crowd dispersed. Brann went
off by way of the alley; he was not prepared to meet their questions;
but he met his brother and several others in his store.

"Now, what in ---- you been up to?" was the fraternal greeting.

"Nothing."

"Welting a man on the head with a whip-stock ain't anything, hey?"

"I didn't touch him. We was racing, and he run into the culvert."

"Hank says he saw you strike----"

"He lies! I was strikin' the horse to make him break."

"Oh, yeh was!" sneered the older man. "Well, I hope you understand that
this'll ruin us in this town. If you didn't strike him, they'll say you
run him into the culvert, 'n' every man, woman, 'n' child'll be down on
you, and _me_ f'r bein' related to you. They all know how you feel
towards him for cuttin' you out with Maud Welsh."

"Oh, don't bear down on him too hard, Joe. He didn't mean t' do any
harm," said Troutt, who had followed Ed down to the store. "I guess the
young feller'll come out all right. Just go kind o' easy till we see how
he comes out. If he dies, why, it'll haf t' be looked into."

Ed turned pale and swallowed hastily. "If he should die!" He would be a
murderer; he knew that hate was in his heart. He shivered again as he
remembered the man's white face with the bright red stream flowing down
behind his ear and over his cheek. It almost seemed to him that he _had_
struck him, so close had the accident followed upon the fall of his
whip.


III.

Albert sank into a feverish sleep that night, with a vague perception of
four figures in the room--Maud, her mother, Hartley, and the young
doctor. When he awoke fully in the morning his head felt prodigiously
hot and heavy.

It was early dawn, and the lamp was burning brightly. Outside, a man's
feet could be heard on the squealing snow--a sound which told how still
and cold it was. A team passed with a jingle of bells.

Albert raised his head and looked about. Hartley was lying on the sofa,
rolled up in his overcoat and some extra quilts. He had lain down at
last, worn with watching. Albert felt a little weak, and fell back on
his pillow, thinking about the strange night he had passed--a night more
filled with strange happenings than the afternoon.

His sleep had been broken by the most vivid and exciting dreams, and
through these visions had moved the figures of Hartley, the doctor, and
Maud and her mother. He had a confused idea of the night, but a very
clear idea of the afternoon. He could see the sidewalks lined with
faces, the sun shining on the snow, the old sorrel's side-flung head and
open mouth; the sleigh rose under him again, and he felt the reins burn
through his hands.

As the light grew in the room his mind cleared, and he began to feel
quite like himself again. He lifted his muscular arm and opened and shut
his hand, saying aloud in his old boyish manner:

"I guess I'm all here."

"What's that?" called Hartley, rolling out of bed. "Did you ask for
anything?"

"No--yes; gimme some water, Jim; my mouth is dry as a powder mill."

"How yeh feelin', anyway, pardner?" said Hartley, as he brought the
water.

"First rate, Jim; I guess I'll be all right."

"Well, I guess you'd better keep quiet."

Albert rose partly, assisted by his friend, and drank from the glass a
moment; then fell back on his pillow.

"I don't feel s' well when I sit up."

"Well, don't, then; stay right there where you are. Oh-um!" gaped
Hartley, stretching himself; "it's about time f'r breakfast, I guess.
Want y'r hands washed and y'r hair combed?"

"I guess I ain't reduced to _that_ yet."

"Well, I guess y' _be_, old man. Now keep _quiet_, or have I got t' make
yeh?" he asked in a threatening tone which made Albert smile. He
wondered if Hartley hadn't been sitting up most of the night; but if he
had, he showed little effect of it, for he began to sing a comic song as
he pulled on his boots.

He threw on his coat next, and went out into the kitchen, returning soon
with some hot water, with which he began to bathe the wounded boy's face
and hands as tenderly as a woman.

"There; now I guess you're in shape f'r grub--feel any like grub?--Come
in," he called in answer to a knock on the door.

Mrs. Welsh entered.

"How is he?" she whispered anxiously.

"Oh, I'm all right," cried Albert. "Bring me a plate of pancakes,
quick!"

Mrs. Welsh turned to Hartley with a startled expression, but Hartley's
grin assured her.

"I'm glad to find you so much better," she said, going to his bedside.
"I've hardly slep', I was so much worried about you."

It was very sweet to feel her fingers in his hair, as his mother would
have caressed him.

"I guess I hadn't better take off the bandages till the doctor comes, if
you're comfortable.--Your breakfast is ready, Mr. Hartley, and I'll
bring something for Albert."

Another knock a few minutes later, and Maud entered with a platter,
followed closely by her mother, who carried some tea and milk.

Maud came forward timidly, but when he turned his eyes on her and said
in a cheery voice, "Good morning, Miss Welsh!" she flamed out in rosy
color and recoiled. She had expected to see him pale, dull-eyed, and
with a weak voice, but there was little to indicate invalidism in his
firm greeting. She gave place to Mrs. Welsh, who prepared his breakfast.
She was smitten dumb by this turn of affairs; she hardly dared look at
him as he sat propped up in bed. The crimson trimming on his shirt-front
seemed like streams of blood; his head, swathed in bandages, made her
shudder. But aside from these few suggestions of wounding, there was
little of the horror of the previous day left. He did not look so pale
and worn as the girl herself.

However, though he was feeling absurdly well, there was a good deal of
bravado in his tone and manner, for he ate but little, and soon sank
back on the bed.

"I feel better when my head is low," he explained in a faint voice.

"Can't I do something?" asked the girl, her courage reviving as she saw
how ill and faint he really was. His eyes were closed and he looked the
invalid now.

"I guess you better write to his folks."

"No; don't do that," he said, opening his eyes; "it will only do them
harm an' me no good.



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