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Ralph was much surprised to learn that Percy Paget had been in the carriage.
"Was he hurt when he sprang out?" he asked of Mrs. Carrington.
"I am sure I do not know," returned the lady.
"I don't think so," put in her daughter, a beautiful miss of sixteen. "He landed in the middle of a blackberry bush when he sprang from the front seat."
"Then he was driving?"
"Yes, and it was his fault that the team ran away," returned Mrs. Carrington. "I told him that they were very spirited, but in order to make them do their best, as he thought, he used the whip upon them."
"Such a team as that don't need the whip much," put in old Bob Sanderson, who had come up during the conversation, followed by Dan Pickley. "They're too high-minded."
"That is just it," said the lady.
"It was gritty of Ralph to shut the bridge and stop 'em for you," went on the old man.
"Indeed it was!" cried Julia Carrington. "I shall never forget your bravery," she went on to Ralph. "You have done what many a man would be afraid to undertake."
"So he has," put in her mother. "You are Ralph Nelson, the bridge tender, I believe."
"I used to know your father fairly well. You have taken his place since he died."
"Yes, ma'am--up to the end of this week. Then Mr. Pickley takes it," and Ralph pointed to the fellow he had mentioned.
"And what are you going to do?"
"I don't know yet. I am going to look for work somewhere."
"I trust you find something suitable."
"I'll take anything that pays fair wages."
"And how is it you are going to leave here?" went on the lady, curiously.
"I got into a row with Percy Paget, and his father is chairman of the village board, and he sided with his son."
"I see." Mrs. Carrington bit her lip. "Well, we must be going, Julia," she said to her daughter. "I shall not forget you for your bravery, Ralph Nelson."
"Thank you, ma'am; I only did what was my duty."
"It is more than that. I shall not forget you, remember."
The lady re-entered her carriage, and Ralph assisted the daughter to a seat beside her.
In a moment more they continued on their way, leaving Ralph, Sanderson and Pickley to gaze after them.
"My, but they're swell!" was Pickley's comment. "I wish I was in your shoes, Ralph."
"She won't forget you, that's certain," said Sanderson. "She'll reward you handsomelike, see if she don't, Ralph."
"They don't seem to care much about Percy Paget's condition," returned the boy, by way of changing the subject.
"Well, who would--under the circumstances!" exclaimed the old man, in deep disgust.
"Perhaps they don't give him the credit he deserves," said Pickley, thinking he must say something in favor of the squire's son.
Ralph and Sanderson had their own opinion of Percy, and they did not care to argue with Pickley on the subject. The young bridge tender went back to his work, and Sanderson shuffled off to go at an odd job of boat-mending. Pickley sat down to count the tolls as before.
Three minutes later Percy Paget came into sight. His hands and face were scratched and his clothing torn.
"See anything of a runaway?" he cried, as he came up to Pickley.
"Yes; the team was stopped right here," replied the man.
"Who stopped 'em?"
"You don't mean it?" gasped the young aristocrat.
"Yes, I do."
"Was he hurt?"
"Not a bit."
"I don't see how he could do it," grumbled Percy. "That team was going like mad."
"So it was. Ralph not only stopped the team, but before that he worked like lightning to close the draw so that they wouldn't go overboard."
"Humph!" mused Percy. "He must have done it in hopes of a reward. Most likely he knew who was in the carriage."
"What did Mrs. Carrington give him?"
"Nothing. But she said she would not forget him."
"She'll send him five dollars, or something like that, I guess. Did she--she say anything about me?" went on Percy, hesitatingly.
"She said you leaped from the carriage as soon as the team started."
"That isn't so," replied the aristocratic bully, glibly. "I didn't jump at all."
"No, I was pitched out. I stood up to get a better hold on the reins, and just then the carriage lurched, and out I went."
"Oh, well, then, that's different," replied Dan Pickley, who did not think it to his advantage to question the veracity of Percy's explanation. "Mrs. Carrington seemed to think you had jumped out because you were scared."
"And did her daughter seem to think so, too?" asked Percy, his anxiety increasing.
"I don't know but what she did. You had better hunt them up and explain matters."
"I will. I suppose the reason they didn't come back for me is because they were in a hurry to get to Eastport and see Mr. Carrington before he went off to Chambersburgh."
"They didn't say what they were in a hurry about," returned Dan Pickley.
Percy saw that Ralph was now approaching, and not wishing, for various reasons, to encounter the young bridge tender while in such a woe-begone condition, he turned on his heel and walked back toward Westville.
Ralph could not help but laugh at the discomfiture of the young bully. He had overheard a good part of the conversation, and he was satisfied that Percy was, for once at least, more than "taken down."
On the other hand, Percy was greatly chagrined to learn that Ralph had played the part of the hero. His face drew dark, and his eyes flashed their bitter hatred.
"It's too bad, that low upstart to stop the team!" he muttered to himself. "I wonder if Julia Carrington spoke to him? Most likely she did, and now he'll look at her as a special friend! It's a great shame! I'll have to teach him his place if he tries to get too intimate with her!"
All of which went to prove that Percy's hopes in the direction of Julia were more than of the ordinary kind.
Percy would have been more bitter than ever could he have witnessed the scene in the Nelson cottage that evening, shortly after eight o'clock.
Five minutes before that time Ralph was sitting in the kitchen, telling his mother of the stirring event of the day, to which the fond parent listened with keen interest.
The son had just finished when there came a timid knock at the front door.
"Somebody's knocking, Ralph," said Mrs. Nelson. "Go and light the sitting-room lamp and see who it is."
Ralph lit the lamp, and then opened the door. Before him stood Mrs. Carrington and her daughter.
"Good-evening, Ralph; you did not expect to see me quite so soon, I imagine," said Mrs. Carrington, with a smile, as she stepped in.
"Well, no," stammered the youth. "Won't you have a chair?" and he pushed a seat forward for the lady and another for her daughter.
"Thank you, yes," returned Mrs. Carrington. "Is this Mrs. Nelson?" she went on, as Ralph's mother appeared.
"Yes, madam," said the widow. "Pray, make yourself comfortable. Perhaps you would prefer a rocker?"
"No, we won't stay but a minute. Has Ralph told you of his bravery this noon?"
"He said he stopped your runaway team."
"He did nobly, and my daughter and I have come to offer him a slight reward for his gallant deed."
"I was not looking for a reward," put in Ralph.
"But you deserve one, Ralph, and I trust you will accept what we have brought. Julia!"
"Yes, mamma. Here it is," and from beneath her dress folds Julia Carrington produced a small morocco-covered box. "Allow me to present this, Ralph Nelson, with the compliments of my mother and myself," she said, turning to the young bridge tender.
She held out the box.
"Thank you, but I--I really didn't expect anything," stammered Ralph, as he took the offering.
"Open it, and let us see the kind gift Mrs. Carrington and her daughter have made," said his mother.
There was a catch on one side of the small box. Ralph pressed upon this, and up flew the lid, revealing to his astonished and pleased gaze a small but neatly engraved gold watch, with chain and charm attached.
"A gold watch!" cried Ralph.
"And chain and all!" added Mrs. Nelson.
"Really, I--I can't accept this!" and Ralph blushed furiously. "I--I----"
"Oh, yes, you can," laughed Julia Carrington. "It is not as much as we think you ought to have, but----"
"It is more, Miss Carrington."
"Do you like it, Ralph?" questioned the older lady.
"Very much indeed. I have always wanted a good watch. I have been using father's old one, but that is about worn out, and can't be made to run with much regularity."
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