Chapter XVII. The Race and the Runaway
 

BERT loved to ride and drive, but it must be confessed that he did not enjoy racing.

The road was rather uneven, and he could not help but think what the consequences might be if the cutter should strike a deep hollow or a big stone.

"Don't let Rusher run away," he said to his friend. "Be careful."

Bob was by this time having has hands so full that he could not answer.

"Steady, Rusher, steady!" he called out to the steed. "Steady, old boy!"

But the old race horse was now warmed up to his work and paid no attention to what was said. On and on he sped, until the young man in the other cutter was gradually outdistanced.

"Told you I could beat you!" flung back Bob.

"The race is yours," answered the young man, in much disappointment, and then he dropped further back than ever.

"Better slacken up, Bob," said Bert. "There is no use in driving so hard now."

"I--I can't slacken up," answered Bob. "Steady, Rusher," he called out. "Whoa, old fellow, whoa!"

But the old race horse did not intend to whoa, and on he flew as fast as his legs would carry him, up the first hill and then onward toward the turn before mentioned.

"Be careful at the turn, Bob!" screamed Bert. "Be careful, or we'll go over!"

"Whoa, Rusher!" repeated Bob, and pulled in on the reins with all of his might.

The turn where the sand pit had been was now close at hand. Here the road was rather narrow, so they had to drive close to the opening, now more than half filled with drifted snow. Bert clung to the cutter while Bob continued to haul in on the reins. Then came a crash, as the cutter hit a hidden stone and drove straight for the sand pit.

"Hold on!" cried Bob, and the next instant Bert found himself flying out of the cutter and over the edge of the road. He tried to save himself by clutching at the ice and snow, but it was useless, and in a twinkling he disappeared into the sand pit! Bob followed, while Rusher went on more gayly than ever, hauling the overturned cutter after him.

Down and down went poor Bert into the deep snow, until he thought he was never going to stop. Bob was beside him, and both floundered around wildly until almost the bottom of the pit was reached.

"Oh, Bob!"

"Oh, Bert! Are you hurt?"

"Don't know as I am. But what a tumble!"

"Rusher has run away!"

"I was afraid he'd do that."

For a minute the two boys knew not what to do. The deep snow lay all around them and how to get out of the pit was a serious question.

"It's a wonder we weren't smothered," said Bob. "Are you quite sure no bones have been broken?"

"Bones broken? Why, Bob, it was like coming down on a big feather bed. I only hope Rusher doesn't do any damage."

"So do I."

When the boys finally floundered out of the hollow into which they had fallen, they found themselves in snow up to their waists. On all sides of them were the walls of the sand pit, ten to fifteen feet high.

"I don't see how we are going to get out of this," said Bert dolefully. "We can't climb out."

"We'll have to do it," answered Bob. "Come, follow me."

He led the way through the deep snow to where the walls did not seem to be so high. At one spot the rain had washed down part of the soil.

"Let us try to climb up that slope," said the larger boy and led the way, and Bert followed.

It was hard work and it made Bert pant for breath, for the snow was still up to his waist. But both kept on, and in the end they stood on the edge of the sand pit, opposite to the side which ran along the road.

"Now we have got to walk around," said Bob. "But that will be easy, if we keep to the places where the wind has swept the snow away."

At last they stood on the road, and this reached both struck out for Dalton, less than a mile away.

"I'm afraid I'll catch it, if Rusher has smashed up the cutter," said Bob as they hurried along.

"We did wrong to race," answered Bert.

"Humph! it's no use to cry over spilt milk, Bert."

"I know that, Bob. Was the cutter a new one?"

"No, but I know father won't want it smashed up."

Much downhearted the boys kept on walking. Bert had not wanted to race, yet he felt he was guilty for having taken part. Perhaps his father would have to pay for part of the damage done.

"Maybe old Rusher ran right into town and smashed things right and left," he said to his friend.

"It would be just like him," sighed Bob. "It will make an awful bill to pay, won't it?"

A little further on they came to where a barn and a wagon shed lined the road. Under the shed stood a horse and cutter.

"My gracious me!" burst out Bob.

"Why--why--is it Rusher?" gasped Bert.

"It is!" shouted his friend.

Both boys ran up, and as they did so a farmer came from the barn.

"Oh, Mr. Daly, did you catch our horse?"

"I did, Bob," said the farmer. "Had a runaway, eh?"

"Yes, sir. Rusher threw us both into the old sand pit. I'm ever so glad you caught him. Is the cutter broken?"

"Not that I noticed. I knew you must have had a spill-out. I saw you going to the lake right after dinner."

Both boys inspected the cutter and found it in good condition, outside of a few scratches that did not count. Old Rusher was also all right, for which they were thankful.

"It was nice of you to stop the horse," said Bert to Farmer Daly.

"Oh, I'd do as much for anybody," said the farmer. "That is, if it wasn't too dangerous. Rusher wasn't running very fast when I caught him."

"He was running fast enough when he threw us out," answered Bob.

It did not take the boys long to get into the cutter again.

"Don't let him get away on the road home," sang out Farmer Daly after them.

"No fear of that," answered Bob.

He was very careful how he let Rusher step out. It was growing late, but Bert did not urge him on, so it was half-past five before the Ramdell house was reached.

"You are late after all," said Mr. Bobbsey, rather displeased.

"Oh, we've had such an adventure," cried Bert.

"What happened to you?" questioned Mrs. Bobbsey quickly.

"Rusher threw us into a sand pit," answered Bert, and then told the whole story.

"You can be thankful that you were not hurt," said his mamma.

"I am thankful, mamma."

"Rusher is still full of go," said Mrs. Ramdell. "I have warned my husband not to let Bob drive him."

"Oh, it was the brush with the other cutter that did it," said Bob. "Rusher couldn't stand it to let another horse pass him on the road."

Shortly after this, good-bys were said, and Sam brought around the big family sleigh from the barn. Into this the whole Bobbsey family piled, and off they went, in the gathering gloom of the short winter day.

"I've had a lovely time!" called out Nan.

"So have I had a lovely time," added little Flossie.

"Splendid," came from Freddie. "The baby is awful nice to play with."

"I've had a good time, too," said Bert. "The hockey game was just the best ever, and so was the drive behind Rusher, even if we did get dumped out."

The drive back to Lakeport was enjoyed as much as the drive to Dalton in the morning. On the way the children began to sing, and the voices mingled sweetly with the sound of the sleigh bells.

"I shall not forget this outing in a hurry," said Nan, as she leaped to the step and ran into the house.

"I shan't forget it either," answered Bert. "But it turned out differently for me from what I thought it would."