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THE SLEIGHING PARTY
"What did you say to those horrid young men?" asked May, after Jack and Spouter had returned to the box-sled and the driver had picked up the reins and started through the main street of Haven Point.
"Oh, we told them to mind their own business after this," answered Jack.
"And if they don't, you let me know, and we'll attend to them," said Spouter to his cousin.
"It's too bad, Jack, they came back to Colby Hall," remarked Ruth.
"Right you are! But Colonel Colby wanted to give them another chance. He asked us about it, and we didn't want to stand in the way of Slugger and Nappy turning over a new leaf."
"Hi there--somebody start a song!" cried Andy, who caught a few words of what was said, and thought the occasion was getting too serious.
"That's the talk!" exclaimed Alice Strobell.
"What shall we sing?" questioned Annie Larkins.
"Oh, sing something that we all know," came from Jennie Mason. She, too, had seen Slugger and Nappy, but had refused to recognize them, remembering well the trouble she and Ida Brierley had had with the pair when all had gone out on the lake in a motor-boat, the particulars of which were given in the volume preceding this.
Soon the happy young folks were singing one familiar song after another and shouting and tooting the tin horns in great glee. In the meanwhile the turnout had left the vicinity of Haven Point, and was moving swiftly along in the direction of one of the neighboring towns.
"Oh, isn't this too lovely for anything!" exclaimed May, as one of the songs came to an end. "I never felt better in my life."
"If I felt any better, I'd have to call in the doctor," announced Andy with a sudden sober look on his face, and at this little sally all the girls giggled.
They were soon passing close to a stone wall, and from this some of the boys scooped handfuls of snow with which they began to pelt each other. Then they attempted to wash the faces of some of the girls, and a great commotion ensued.
"Hi you! be careful back there!" cautioned the driver. "First thing you know, somebody will get pushed out."
"Oh, that will never happen!" cried Gif; but he had scarcely spoken when there came a wild yell from two of the cadets in the back of the box-sled, and the next moment Randy was seen to turn over and pitch out into the snow.
"Stop the sleigh! Stop the sleigh!" yelled Andy. "One man overboard, and no life-line handy!"
"Oh, dear! do you think he is hurt?" questioned May anxiously.
"He looks it!" answered her cousin. "Look out, or you'll get hit;" for scarcely had Randy landed in the snow than he picked himself up and began to make snowballs, which he sent after the sled in rapid succession. In the meantime, the driver had brought the turnout to a halt.
"Stop that, Randy," warned Jack. "You might hit some of the girls."
"No more such horseplay," announced Gif. "It's too dangerous, and, besides that, some of the girls might get hurt. You fellows have got to act like gentlemen. Ahem!" and Gif straightened himself up in imitation of Asa Lemm.
"Please, teacher, can't we act like ladies?" piped out Andy in a thin, effeminate voice.
"You'll remain after school for that, Rover, and recite one hundred lines of Cæsar backward," commanded Gif.
"You bet your pink necktie, I'll be backward about reciting the hundred lines!" murmured the fun-loving boy.
The cadets had already arranged it between themselves to stop at a town about twelve miles away. There all hands trooped into a candy store to regale themselves with dainty sandwiches and hot chocolate. Some of the boys also obtained boxes of candy, and also some popcorn and peanuts, as well as apples, and these were passed around.
So far, Jack had had no opportunity to speak to Ruth in private, but while the others were still at the little tables in the rear of the candy shop, he motioned to her, and the pair walked toward the front.
"I want to ask you about the man we rescued in the woods, Ruth," he said. "Probably you know him. His name is Stevenson, although he said he was usually called Uncle Barney by all who knew him."
"Why, can that be possible!" exclaimed the girl in astonishment. "Uncle Barney Stevenson! Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"I'll tell you why," he answered. "I was afraid that possibly it might create some sort of scene. By the way this Barney Stevenson acted, I knew there was something wrong between him and your folks. When I mentioned your father's name, he said he didn't want to hear anything about him--not a word!"
"Poor old man! I am so sorry for him;" and Ruth's manner showed that she spoke the truth.
"Why doesn't he want to hear from your father? But, excuse me, Ruth--maybe that is a private matter."
"I don't know that it is so very private, Jack. And, anyway, I'd like you to know the truth,--otherwise you might get a wrong impression--if you heard the story from outsiders. In a nutshell, the matter is this: Some years ago my father and his Uncle Barney were connected with a certain manufacturing company in which both held a considerable interest. The company went to pieces, and my father and Uncle Barney both lost their money. But my father had other interests which were distantly connected with this company, and in some manner poor old Uncle Barney, who was not much of a business man even though he was a lumberman, got it into his head that my father had, in some manner, gotten the best of him, because my father had money and he had not. Then, in the midst of this trouble, Uncle Barney's wife died. My father was away in the West at the time with my mother, and could not get back in time for the funeral. This made Uncle Barney more bitter than ever, and he refused to listen to any explanations my folks might make. He had made some sort of deal to get possession of Snowshoe Island in Lake Monona, and he retired to the island and became almost a hermit."
"Yes, he told us he lived on the island, and he invited us to come over there, and he would show us some good hunting. I suppose it must be quite a place."
"My father has tried several times to patch up matters with old Uncle Barney, but he will not listen to any explanations. He is rather queer at times, and I suppose he has it strongly fixed in his mind that my father is in some manner responsible for his poverty, and that we think ourselves too high-toned to have anything to do with him, when, as a matter of fact, my folks would be very much pleased to have the old man become friends and live with them."
"Why doesn't your father send him a letter if he won't listen to his talk?"
"He has tried that. And mother has written old Uncle Barney some letters, too, during the last six or eight years. But he is very peculiar, and the letters come back unopened."
"And you really feel that you would like to be on good terms with him?"
"Yes, Jack. My folks would give a good deal to smooth the whole matter over. But, instead of becoming reconciled to the situation, old Uncle Barney apparently is becoming more bitter as time goes by."
"If you and your folks feel that way about it, I'd like very much to meet the old man again and have a talk with him. Of course, he told me that he never wanted to hear your father's name mentioned; but if I got a good chance I might be able to get him to open up and tell me his side of the story. And after he had done that, he might be more willing to listen to what I had to say."
"Oh, Jack! if you ever do get the chance, try to talk to him, by all means, and do what you can to impress it on his mind that my father had nothing to do with the loss of his money, and that my folks would have gone to Mrs. Stevenson's funeral had they been able to do so. And tell him, too, that my father and my mother, and also myself, would be very glad to become friends once more, and that our house will be open to him at any time."
The others of the sleighing party were now coming up, so there was no chance of saying anything further regarding the strange affair.
"Let's return to Haven Point by some other route," suggested Spouter.
"We'll have to ask the driver about the roads first," said Gif.
The driver had gone out to look after his horses. When questioned, he stated that they might return by a roundabout way through the village of Neckbury, but that it might take half an hour or so longer.
"Oh, I guess we've got time enough," said Fred, consulting his watch. "The girls haven't got to get back to Clearwater Hall until supper time, and we can get from one school to the other in a jiffy in the sleigh."
The liveryman was anxious to please the boys and girls, being desirous of getting more business from them in the future, and he readily agreed to take them home by the way of Neckbury, and he also agreed to get them back by the required time.
Once more all bundled into the turnout, and then, with a crack of the whip and a loud tooting of the horns, they started on the return.
"Another song now!" cried Andy, and commenced one of the ditties which at that time was popular at Colby Hall. In this the girls joined, most of them having heard it; and thus the crowd continued to enjoy themselves.
So far, they had met but few turnouts on the road, but now they found that the other route toward Haven Point was more popular, and they passed several farm sleds, and also a number of cutters, and even two automobiles, the latter ploughing along through the snow, using their heavy chains for that purpose.
They were soon mounting a small hill, and the driver allowed the horses to drop to a walk. From the top of the hill they could see for many miles around, with farms dotting one side of the roadway and the other sloping down gradually toward the distant lake.
"I'm afraid we're going to be a little late, after all," announced Gif, as he looked at his timepiece. "You'll have to shake it up a bit, old man," he added to the driver.
"Oh, I'll get you there in time--don't worry," was the ready reply, and then the driver cracked his whip and sent his horses down the other side of the hill at a good rate of speed.
About half way down the long hill there was a turn to the right. Here, on the outer edge of the road, was a gully which the wind of the day previous had partly filled with snow. Just before this bend was gained, those in the box-sled heard the toot of an automobile horn.
"Somebody coming up the hill," said Fatty Hendry, who had resumed his seat beside the driver.
"Confound 'em! and I've got to take the outside of the turn," muttered the liveryman.
"Better be careful--it's none too wide along here," cautioned the fat youth.
The driver was already reining in his steeds, but the slope was considerable, and it was hard to hold them back. The box-sled struck the rear horses in the flanks, and away they went as fast as ever, crowding the horses in front and urging them onward also. Then the on-coming automobile hove in sight, and passed so closely that the driver of the box-sled had to pull still further over to the edge of the highway.
"Look out where you're going!" yelled Jack.
"I told you to be careful----" commenced Fatty, and then clutched at the high seat of the box-sled.
There was a wild scream of alarm and a general confusion among all the young people as the back end of the box-sled slewed around. One corner went down into the gully, and an instant later the box-sled stood up on its side, and girls and cadets went floundering forth into the snow.
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