Chapter III. A Collision
 

It was a week later when an incident befell Herbert which is worthy of mention, since it brought him into collision with a man who was destined to have some influence over his future life.

A neighboring farmer, for whom, during his mother's life, he had occasionally gone on errands, drove up in front of the doctor's house, and asked Herbert if he could take his horse and wagon and drive over to the mill village to get some corn ground. Herbert was rather glad to accept this proposal, not only because he was to receive twenty-five cents for so doing, but also because he was fond of driving a horse.

He was only about a mile from the mill village, when he saw approaching him a man in a light open buggy. Herbert knew every horse in Waverley, and every man, woman, and child, for that matter, and he perceived at once that the driver was a stranger. To tell the truth, he was not very favorably impressed by his appearance. The man was very dark, with black hair and an unshaven beard of three days' growth, which did not set off his irregular and repulsive features. His mouth, partly open, revealed several yellow tusks, stained with tobacco juice. On his head he wore a broad-brimmed straw hat, rather the worse for wear.

It so happened that just at this point the middle of the road was much better than the sides, which sloped considerably, terminating in gullies which were partly full from the recent rains. The road was narrow, being wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other, if each veered to the side, but not otherwise.

Herbert observed that the buggy, which was now rapidly approaching, was kept in the center of the road, and that the driver appeared to have no intention of turning out.

"What does he mean?" thought our hero. "He cannot expect me to do the whole of the turning out. I will turn out my half, and if he wants to get by, he must do the same."

Accordingly, he turned partially to one side, as much as could be reasonably expected, and quietly awaited the approach of the man in the buggy. The latter still kept the center of the road, and did not turn out his carriage at all. As soon as it was close at hand, the driver leaned forward and exclaimed angrily:

"Turn out, boy!"

If he expected that Herbert would be intimidated by his tone he was much mistaken. Our hero was bold, and not easily frightened. He looked quietly in the man's face, and said composedly, "I have turned out."

"Then turn out more, you young vagabond! Do you hear me?"

"Yes, sir, I hear you, and should if you didn't speak half so loud."

"Curse your impudence! I tell you, turn out more!" exclaimed the stranger, becoming more and more angry. He had expected to get his own way without trouble. If Herbert had been a man, he would not have been so unreasonable; but he supposed he could browbeat a boy into doing whatever he chose to dictate. But he had met his match, as it turned out.

"I have already given you half the road," said Herbert, firmly, "and I don't intend to give you any more."

"You don't, eh? Young man, how old are you?"

"I am fourteen."

"I should think you were forty by the airs you put on."

"Is it putting on airs to insist on my rights?" asked our hero.

"Your rights!" retorted the other, laughing contemptuously.

"Yes, my rights," returned Herbert, quietly. "I have a right to half of the road, and I have taken it. If I turn out any more, I shall go into the gully."

"That makes no difference. A wetting won't do you any harm. Your impudence needs cooling."

"That may be," said Herbert, who did not choose to get angry, but was resolved to maintain his rights; "but I object to the wetting, for all that, and as this wagon is not mine, I do not choose to upset it."

"You are the most insolent young scamp I ever came across!" exclaimed the other, furiously. "I've a good mind to give you something much worse than a wetting."

"Such as what?" asked our hero, coolly. In reply the man flourished his whip significantly. "Do you see that?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Oh, very well," said the other, ironically; "I'm glad you do. Perhaps you wouldn't like to feel it?"

"No, I don't think I should," said Herbert, not exhibiting the least apprehension.

The stranger handled his whip, eyeing our hero viciously at the same time, as if it would have afforded him uncommon pleasure to lay it over his back. But there was something in the look of our hero which unconsciously cowed him, and, much as he wished to strike him, he held back.

"Well, you're a cool hand," he said, after a moment's hesitation.

To this our hero did not see fit to make any reply. But he grasped his own whip a little tighter. So brutal had been the tone assumed by the stranger, that he was not sure but he might proceed to carry out his threat, and lay the whip over his back. He determined, in that case, to give him as good as he sent. I will not express any opinion as to the propriety of this determination, but I am certain, from what I know of our hero's fearless spirit, that he would not have hesitated to do it, be the consequences what they might. But he did not have the opportunity.

"Once more," demanded the stranger, furiously; "are you going to turn out?"

"No," said the boy, decidedly.

"Then--I'll run you down."

So saying, he brought the whip violently on the horse's back. The latter gave a convulsive spring forward. But his driver had not taken into consideration that the farm-wagon was the stronger of the two vehicles, and that in any collision the buggy must come off second best. So it happened that a wheel of the buggy was broken, and the driver, in the shock, thrown sprawling into a puddle on the other side of the road. The wagon suffered no damage, but the old horse, terrified, set off at a rapid pace. Herbert looked back to see if the stranger was injured, but seeing that he had already picked himself up unwounded, but decidedly dirty, he concluded to keep on his way to the mill.

The driver of the overturned vehicle was considerably more angry than hurt at this catastrophe.

It chafed his pride not a little to think that, after all his vaunts, the boy had maintained his ground, and got the better of him. For a man of forty-five to be worsted by a boy of fourteen was, it must be confessed, a little mortifying. It was something like a great ship of the line being compelled to surrender to a little monitor.

No one feels particularly dignified or good-natured when he is picking himself out of a mud puddle. Our black-haired acquaintance proved no exception to this remark. He shook his fist at the receding wagon and its occupant--a demonstration of defiance which our hero did not witness, his back being now turned to his late opponent.

Mr. Abner Holden--for this was the stranger's name--next turned his attention to the buggy, which had been damaged to some extent, and so was likely to involve him in expense. This was another uncomfortable reflection. Meanwhile, as it was no longer in a fit state for travel, he must contrive some way to have it carried back to the stable, and, unless he could procure another vehicle, perform the rest of the journey on foot.

Luckily, some men in a neighboring field had witnessed the collision, and, supposing their services might be required, were now present to lend their aid.

"Pretty bad accident," remarked one of them. "That 'ere wheel'll need considerable tinkering afore it's fit for use. How came you to get it broke so, squire?"

"A little rascal had the impudence to dispute the road with me, and would not turn out at my bidding," said Mr. Holden, in a tone of exasperation, which showed that his temper had been considerably soured by the accident.

"Wouldn't turn out? Seems to me from the marks of the wheels, you must have been drivin' along in the middle of the road. I guess you didn't take the trouble to turn out, yourself."

"Well, there was room enough for the boy to turn out one side," said Holden, doggedly.

"You are slightly mistaken, stranger," said the other, who was disgusted at the traveler's unreasonableness. "There wasn't room; as anyone can see that's got eyes in his head. Didn't the youngster turn out at all?"

"Yes," snapped Holden, not relishing the other's free speech.

"Then it seems you were the one that would not turn out. If you had been a leetle more accommodating, this accident couldn't have happened. Fair play's my motto. If a feller meets you halfway, it's all you have a right to expect. I reckon it'll cost you a matter of ten dollars to get that 'ere buggy fixed."

Holden looked savagely at the broken wheel, but that didn't mend matters. He would have answered the countryman angrily, but, as he stood in need of assistance, this was not good policy.

"What would you advise me to do about it?" he inquired.

"You will have to leave the buggy where it is just now. Where did you get it?"

"Over at the mill village."

"Well, you'd better lead the horse back--'tain't more'n a mile or so-- get another wagon, and tell 'em to send for this."

"Well, perhaps that is the best way."

"Where was you goin'?"

"Over to Waverley."

"That's where the boy came from."

"What boy?"

"The boy that upset you."

"What is his name?" asked Abner Holden, scowling.

"His name is Herbert Mason, son of the Widder Mason that died two or three weeks since. Poor boy, he's left alone in the world."

"Where's he stopping?" asked Holden, hardly knowing why he asked the question.

"Dr. Kent took him in after the funeral, so I heard; but the selectmen of Waverley are trying to find him a place somewheres, where he can earn his own livin'. He's a smart, capable boy, and I guess he can do 'most a man's work."

Abner Holden looked thoughtful. Some plan had suggested itself to him which appeared to yield him satisfaction, for he began to look decidedly more comfortable, and he muttered to himself: "I'll be even with him YET. See if I don't."

"How far am I from Waverley?" he asked, after a slight pause.

"Well, risin' three miles," drawled the other.

"If I could get somebody to go back with this horse, I don't know but what I'd walk to Waverley. Are you very busy?"

"Well, I don't know but I could leave off for a short time," said the other, cautiously. "Work's pretty drivin', to be sure. What do you cal'late to pay?"

"How much would it be worth?"

"Well, there's the walk there and back, and then again there's the time."

"You can mount the horse going."

"I guess fifty cents'll about pay me."

Mr. Holden took out his pocketbook and paid the required sum.

"By the way," he said, as if incidentally, "who is the chairman of the selectmen in the village of Waverley?" "You ain't thinkin' of takin' that boy, be you?" said the other, curiously.

"I've had enough to do with him; I don't want ever to lay eyes on him again."

"Well, I dunno as I should, if I was you," said the countryman, rather slyly.

"You haven't answered my question yet," said Holden, impatiently.

"Oh, about the cheerman of the selectmen. It's Captain Joseph Ross."

"Where does he live?"

"A leetle this side of the village. You'll know the house, well enough. It's a large, square house painted white, with a well-sweep in front."

Without a word of thanks for the information, Abner Holden turned, and began to walk toward Waverley. Perhaps his object in making these inquiries has been guessed. It happened that he needed a boy, and, for more reasons than one, he thought he should like to have Herbert bound to him. Herbert, as he had noticed, was a stout boy, and he probably could get a good deal of work out of him. Then, again, it would be gratifying to him to have our hero in subjection to him. He could pay him off then, ten times over, for his insolence, as he chose to term it.

"I'll break his proud spirit," thought Abner Holden. "He'll find he's got a master, if I get hold of him. He don't know me yet, but he will some time."

Mr. Holden resolved to wait on Captain Ross at once, and conclude arrangements with him to take Herbert before our hero had returned from the mill village. He pictured, with a grim smile, Herbert's dismay when he learned who was to be his future master.

With the help of a handkerchief dipped into a crystal stream at the roadside, Abner Holden succeeded in effacing some of the muddy stains upon his coat and pantaloons, and at length got himself into presentable trim for calling upon a "selectman."

At length he came in sight of the house which had been described to him as that of Captain Ross. There was a woman at the well-sweep engaged in drawing water.

"Does Captain Ross live here?" he inquired.

"Yes, sir."

"Is he at home?"

"He's over in the three-acre lot. Was you wantin' to see him?"

"I should like to. Is the field far away?"

"No, it's just behind the house."

"Then I guess I'll go and find him. I want to see him on a little matter of business."

Mr. Holden crossed a mowing-field, and then, climbing over a stone wall, found himself at the edge of the three-acre lot. The captain was superintending one or two hired men, and, as he had his coat off, had probably been assisting them.

"Captain Ross?" said Abner Holden, interrogatively.

"That's my name."

"You are chairman of the selectmen, I believe?"

"Yes, sir."

"I understand that you have a boy that you want to bind out."

"I reckon you mean Herbert Mason."

"Yes, I believe that's the name I heard."

"Are you in want of a boy?"

"Yes, I am looking out for one."

"What is your business?"

"I keep a store, but I should want him to work on land part of the time."

"Do you live hereabouts?"

"Over at Cranston."

"If you'll come to the house, we'll talk the matter over. The boy's a good boy, and we want to get a good place for him. His mother was a widder, and he's her only son. He's a smart, capable lad, and good to work."

"I've no doubt he'll suit me. I'll take him on your recommendation."

"We should want him to go to school winters. He's a pretty good scholar already. His father was a larned man, and used to teach him before he died. If he had lived, I reckon Herbert would certainly have gone to college."

"I'll agree to send him to school in the winter for the next two years," said Holden, "and will give him board and clothes, and when he's twenty- one a freedom suit, and a hundred dollars. Will that do?"

"I don't know but that's reasonable," said Captain Ross, slowly. "The boy's a bit high-spirited, but if you manage him right, I guess you'll like him."

"I'll manage him!" thought Abner Holden. "Can I take him with me to- morrow?" he asked. "I don't come this way very often."

"Well, I guess that can be arranged. We'll go over to Dr. Kent's after dinner, and see if they can get him ready."

"In the meantime," said Holden, afraid that the prize might slip through his fingers, "suppose we make out the papers. I suppose you have full authority in the matter."

Captain Ross had no objection, and thus poor Herbert was unconsciously delivered over to the tender mercies of a man who had very little love for him.