Chapter XVI. A Grand Sleigh Ride
 

FOR a long while all of the Bobbsey children had been begging their parents for a sleigh ride into the country.

"The winter will be gone soon, papa," said Nan. "Won't you take us before the snow is all gone?"

"You may as well take them, Richard," said Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Well, if I do, Mary, you must go along," answered Mr. Bobbsey, and so it was arranged that they should take the ride on the following Saturday, weather permitting.

You may well suppose that all of the twins were very anxious about the weather after that, for Mr. Bobbsey said he would not go if it rained or if it snowed very hard.

"What does it say in the newspapers?" asked Freddie. "They always know what the weather is going to be."

"Not so far ahead as that," answered his brother.

But Friday evening the paper said cold and clear, and sure enough, on Saturday morning it was as nice as one would wish. From behind masses of thin clouds the sun peeped shyly, lighting up the snow until it shone like huge beds of diamonds.

They were to drive to Dalton, twelve miles away. Mr. Bobbsey had learned that the road to Dalton was in good condition, and the family had friends there who would be pleased to see them and have them remain to dinner.

By half-past nine the big family sleigh was at the door, with Sam on the front seat, driving. Into the sleigh piled the four children, and Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey followed.

"Want to sit by Sam and help drive," said Freddie, and he was lifted over to the desired position. Then off they went, with a crack of the whip and jingling of sleigh-bells that could be heard a long distance.

"Oh, but isn't this just too splendid for anything!" exclaimed Nan, who sat at one side of the seat, with her mamma on the other and Flossie between them. "I do love sleigh riding so much!"

"See me drive!" cried Freddie, who held the very end of the reins, the part dangling from Sam's hands.

"Well, Freddie, don't let the team run away," said Mr. Bobbsey, with a laugh.

"I shan't," answered the little fellow soberly. "If they try to run away, I'll whip them good."

"You'll never stop them that way," said Bert. "You want to talk gently to them."

On and on they went, over the smooth snow. The horses were fresh and full of spirit, and mile after mile was passed with a speed that pleased all of the twins very much. They passed several other sleighing parties, and every time this was done the children set up a merry shout which was sure to call forth an equally merry answer.

A large part of the ride was through the country, and often the country folks would come to the doors to see them pass. Once they met a boy on the road and he asked for a ride to his home, half a mile away.

"Yes, jump in," said Mr. Bobbsey, and the boy got in and was taken to his house almost before he knew it.

"Much obliged," he said on leaving them. "You're fine people, you are," and he took off his hat at parting.

"It was nice to give him a ride," said Nan. "It didn't cost us anything and he liked it a great deal, I am sure."

"We must never forget to do a kindness when we can, Nan," said her mamma.

Before noon Dalton was reached and they drove up to the home of Mr. Ramdell, as their friend was named. Immediately Bob Ramdell, a youth of sixteen, rushed eagerly out to greet Bert.

"I'm glad you've come," he cried. "I've been watching for you for an hour."

"It isn't noon yet," answered Bert.

All were soon in the house and Sam drove the sleigh around to the barn. Bob Ramdell had a sister Susie, who was almost Nan's age, and a baby brother called Tootsie, although his real name was Alexander. Susie was glad to see Nan and Flossie, and all were soon playing with the baby, who was just old enough to be amusing.

"I've got a plan on hand," whispered Bob to Bert, just before dinner was served. "I've been wondering if your father will let us carry it out."

"What is it?" questioned Bert.

"You are not to drive home until late this afternoon. I wonder if your father won't let you go down to Long Lake with me after dinner, to see the hockey match."

"It is far from here?"

"About two miles. We can drive down in our cutter. Father will let me have the cutter and old Rusher, I'm sure."

"I'll see about it," said Bert. "I'd like to see the hockey match very much."

As soon as he got the chance Bert questioned his parent about going.

"I don't know about this," said Mr. Bobbsey slowly. "Do you think you two boys can be trusted alone with the horse?"

"Oh, yes, papa. Bob has driven old Rusher many times."

"You must remember, Rusher used to be a race horse. He may run away with Rob and you."

"Oh, but that was years ago, papa. He is too old to run away now. Please say yes."

Bert continued to plead, and in the end Mr. Bobbsey gave him permission to go to the hockey match.

"But you must be back before five o'clock," said he. "We are going to start for home at that time."

The dinner was a fine one and tasted especially good to the children after their long ride. But Bert and Bob were impatient to be off, and left the moment they had disposed of their pieces of pie.

Old Rusher was a black steed which, in years gone by, had won many a race on the track. He had belonged to a brother of Mr. Ramdell, who had died rather suddenly two years before. He was, as Bert had said, rather old, but there was still a good deal of fire left in him, as the boys were soon to discover to their cost.

The road to Long Lake was a winding one, up one hill and down another, and around a sharp turn where in years gone by there had been a sand pit.

In the best of spirits the two boys started off, Bob handling the reins like a veteran driver. Bob loved horses, and his one ambition in life was to handle a "spanking team," as he called it.

"Old Rusher can go yet," said Bert, who enjoyed the manner in which the black steed stepped out. "He must have been a famous race horse in his day."

"He was," answered Bob. "He won ever so many prizes."

The distance to Long Lake was covered almost before Bert knew it. As the hockey game was not yet begun they spent half an hour in driving over the road that led around the lake.

Quite a crowd had gathered, some in sleighs and some on foot, and the surface of the lake was covered with skaters. When the hockey game started the crowd watched every move with interest.

It was a "hot" game, according to Bert, and when a clever play was made he applauded as loudly as the rest. When the game was at an end he was sorry to discover that it was after four o'clock.

"We must get home," said he to Bob. "I promised to be back by five."

"Oh, we'll get back in no time," said Bob. "Remember, Rusher has had a good rest."

They were soon on the road again, Rusher kicking up his heels livelier than before, for the run down to the lake had merely enabled him to get the stiffness out of his limbs.

Sleighs were on all sides and, as the two boys drove along, two different sleighing parties passed them.

"Hullo, Ramdell!" shouted a young man in a cutter. "Got out old Rusher, I see. Want a race?"

"I think I can beat you!" shouted back Bob, and in a moment more the two cutters were side by side, and each horse and driver doing his best to win.

"Oh, Bob, can you hold him'" cried Bert.

"To be sure I can!" answered Bob. "Just you let me alone and see."

"Come on!" yelled the stranger. "Come on, or I'll leave you behind in no time!"

"You'll not leave me behind so quickly," answered Bob. "Go it, Rusher, go it!" he added to his horse, and the steed flew over the smooth road at a rate of speed that filled Bert with astonishment.