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   Chapter 9 GRAND COASTING.

Winter Fun By William Osborn Stoddard Characters: 13027

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Vosh Stebbins got home from school very early Friday afternoon, and his chores were attended to in a great hurry.

After that, his mother's mind was stirred to the curiosity point by an unusual amount of hammering out in the barn. He was a good deal of a mechanical genius, or, as she expressed it, "he had a nateral turn for tools;" and he had more than once astonished her by the results of his hammering. When, however, she asked him what he was up to, all she could get from him was,-

"I tell you what, mother, I'm going to show 'em a new wrinkle. Wait till morning. 'Tisn't quite ready yet."

"You'd ort to tell me, Vosh. Mebbe I could give you some idees."

He was very close-mouthed for once, however, and it may be he had some doubts about his own "idees."

The Benton boys and girls had not learned to say "coasting:" they all called it "sliding down hill." But the country they lived in had been planned expressly for it. The hills around the valley were steeper in some places than in others, but the roads generally had to wind more or less in climbing them. There was not enough of travelling on any of them to interfere seriously with the free use of sleds, and you could almost always see whether or not the track was clear. Just now, however, the very depth of the snow was in the way, for the heavy sleighs had cut down into it so as to leave great ridges in the middle. That was enough to spoil the running of any thing narrow. The great storm, therefore, would have been a bad thing in that connection, but for the thaw and freeze, and the splendid, thick, icy crust.

Not more than a mile east of Deacon Farnham's, the land sloped down almost gently for more than a mile, to the very edge of the village; and there were roads from that on, to the borders of the little river and the mill-pond. Of course all that slope was not in one field; but all the low and broken fences were now snowed under, and it was easy to take the top rails from the two or three high ones, so as to leave wide gaps. With very little trouble, therefore, the boys prepared for their fun a clear, slippery descent, almost level in some places, that would have been hard to beat anywhere. The hollows were all drifted full, and there was a good road on one side to go up hill by. All that had been duly explained to Susie and Port by Corry, and their great affliction seemed to be that they only had one sled among them.

"It'll hold you and me, Port, if we stick on hard; besides, we can take turns."

"And I'll slide Susie," said Pen.

Susie had very little to say about it during the evening; but the idea grew upon her all the time, and she went out to look at Corry's sled in the morning, after breakfast. Aunt Judith stood in the doorway, and heard her say,-

"Yes, it must be splendid!"

"Why, Susie Hudson! That sort of rompin', tom-boy business ain't for grown-up young ladies."

"I'm not grown-up, aunt Judith: I'm only sixteen."

"Goin' on seventeen, and you're from the city too; and that there mite of a sled-well, it's good enough for boys."

Just then Corry sang out,-

"Halloo, Vosh! Going to slide down hill in a cutter?"

There he was at the gate, sorrel colt, red blanket, bells, and all.

"Cutter! No; but you wouldn't have the girls walk up hill after every slide, would you?"

"The girls!" exclaimed aunt Judith. "They ain't a-goin'. I won't hear to any sech thing."

"Now, Miss Farnham, you come out here and look at my sled. They've got one like it over in Cobbleville, only mine's bigger. If you'll come along with us"-

"Me come! Sakes alive! But what have you been a-doin'?"

"Why, Vosh," said Corry, "it's your little old pair of bobs, and you've rigged a box on the hind one. What's that in front?"

"That's my rudder."

"Rudder! You can't steer with it: a rudder ought to be behind."

"Ought it, now? Don't you see? The front bob turns on a pin in the middle, that comes up through the centre plank. I've greased it, so it turns easy. See how I've rigged that yoke to the front bob? See the two arms a-standing up? You pull on one of those arms, and you pull around the head of the bob. That steers 'em. The hind bob follows the front one: can't help it, if it tries."

Aunt Judith walked all around it: she even gave one arm of that yoke a hard push to see if it would really turn the "bob" sled it was geared to.

"Sakes alive! It'll do it!"

Susie had hardly waited to say good-morning to Vosh; and there she was now, with her hood on, exclaiming,-

"Pen, Pen! why don't you go and get your things on? We mustn't keep Vosh waiting."

Pen was off like a flash, and Corry remarked to Vosh,-

"That'll be just great, if it'll work."

"Work! It's sure to work. It's as good as the Cobbleville 'ripper.' That's what they call it. All it wants is somebody strong in the arms to steer."

"I'd never trust myself," said aunt Judith with a deep sigh of anxiety.

"Tell you what, Corry," said Port, "we'll make Vosh haul us up hill. Won't have to walk."

"That's the checker. First time I ever had a horse and a man to help me slide down hill."

They discovered afterwards how important a part of the sport that was; but just then they all had to join in begging permission for Susie and Pen to go. Even Mrs. Farnham had her objections, and the deacon himself was studying the matter; when down the road came Mrs. Stebbins, and the case was won for the young people.

"Judith," she asked, "wasn't you and Sarah ever no younger'n you be now? It does seem to me as if some folks forgot they was ever gals and boys, and slid down hill, and had a good time, and wasn't a mite the worse for it. Vosh, he's been a-hammerin' away at that thing till he jest knows it'll work, and so do I.-Susie, you and Pen git right into the cutter, and I'll explain how them bobs'll steer. You see"-

"Get in, Pen," said the deacon. "Get in, Susie.-Don't you try too heavy a load, Vosh."

"Joshaway, they'll break all their precious necks."

"No, they won't. I'll risk it."

"Judith," went on Mrs. Stebbins, "I'll tell ye all about it;" and that was what she was yet doing, after the cutter turned the corner of the road below the house, with the ripper behind it, and Port and Corry on their sled, dragging joyously astern of the new invention.

The whole country was icy, and glittered beautifully white, in the clear, frosty sunshine. When they reached the coasting-ground, it looked absolutely perfect; and a score of sleds, with t

wice as many boys, were already at work upon it. The sliding-down that slope was something to wonder at; but the climbing back again was another thing altogether. It was easy enough for Vosh, however, to make a bargain with one of his boy-friends to do his extra driving for him, and have the cutter ready for use every time, with, of course, just a little waiting.

"How often they do slip down!" exclaimed Susie, after a long look at the climbers in the road.

"Some of 'em'll be good and lame to-morrow," said Corry. "I don't believe you girls'd ever get up the hill again, once you got down."

It had been thoughtful of Vosh to look out for that; but he had had some experience on that slope in other winters, and knew what he was about.

They were on the very upper level now. Vosh helped the girls out of the cutter, and at once started it off, telling the driver,-

"Go right on into Benton: that's where we're coming."

The "pair of bobs" had been the running-gear of a small wood-sleigh built for one horse to pull around among the woods. It was light but strong, and the box on the rear half of it was well supplied with blankets. When the girls were in it, and the gay red spread from the cutter was thrown in front of them, the ripper put on quite a holiday appearance.

"Susie," said Pen, "it's awful. We're going to go."

Susie made no reply; but she was conscious of a great flutter of excitement, as she nestled back upon her seat, and looked out upon the great glittering expanse of white that spread out below and beyond, until it seemed to break in pieces among the streets and houses of Benton.

There was one moment a little before starting when she almost felt like backing out.

"Port," she said, "hadn't you better come in here with us?"

"Yes, Port," said Vosh, "get in. There's plenty of room. We'll be all the better for more weight."

Port was glad enough to accept, and he knew every other boy in sight was envying him. There had been no end of comments on "Vosh Stebbins's ripper."

It was curious, but hardly any fellow who had a sled of his own had, at the same time, any faith that "them bobs'll steer."

Away went Corry the next instant, on his swift little hand-sled, darting down over the slippery crust like a sort of-well, like a flash of boy.

"Shall we go through the village?" asked Susie, with a half-shuddering idea that when they were once a-going they would never stop.

"See about it," said Vosh. "We'll make the longest trip ever was run down this hill."

"We're going, Susie!" exclaimed Pen. "Hold your breath. We're going."

They were starting, sure enough, and Susie felt that she was turning a little pale; but they moved slowly at first, for the slope was very gentle there.

"Vosh, does it steer?" said Pen.

That was the very thing he was experimenting on; and the other boys did not guess why the new contrivance made so many curves and turns as it did, until he was able to shout,-

"She works! See? I can twist her in any direction."

"I'm so glad!" exclaimed Susie.

"Now, girls!"

The ripper made a sudden dash forward, down a steeper incline, faster, faster. And there was no need to tell the young-lady passengers to hold their breaths: that seemed the most natural thing in all the world to do.

There never was a more slippery crust, and the ripper almost seemed to know it.

Faster, faster, shooting down the steep slopes, and spinning across the level reaches; and all the while there was Vosh Stebbins bracing himself firmly, as he clung to the long arms of his rudder.

It was well he could guide so perfectly, for the gaps in the fences were none too wide, after all; and if he and his cargo should happen to miss one of these, and be dashed against a fence-It was altogether too dreadful to think of, and there was no time to think of it.

The cargo had great confidence in their "engineer and pilot," as Port had called him before starting, and they had more after they shot through the first gap.

The wind whistled by their ears. The country on either side was but a streak of white. Nobody could guess how fast they were going now.

"There's the village!" gasped Port.

"The river!" whispered Pen.

"O Vosh!" began Susie, as they shot into what she saw was a road lined with streaks of houses and fences.

Before she could think of another word, they were out on the ice of the little stream, and a skilful twist of the rudder sent them down it instead of across. In a moment more they were slipping smoothly along over the wind-swept surface of the frozen mill-pond; and the ripper had lost so much of its impetus, that there was no difficulty in bringing it to a standstill.

"There!" said Vosh, as he held out his hand to help Susie alight, "that's the longest slide down hill anybody ever took in Benton Valley. Nobody'll beat that in a hurry."

"I don't think they will," she said; and Pen added inquiringly,-

"We ain't scared a bit, Vosh. We'd just as lief have another."

That was what the sorrel colt was coming down the road for; and they were speedily on their way up, more envied than ever.

"Don't I wish aunt Judith was here now!" exclaimed Pen.

"She'd never ride down hill in this thing," said Vosh. "I'm glad she didn't see us come."

There was a great deal of work before the sorrel colt that morning, and knot after knot of curious spectators came out of the village "to see how Vosh Stebbins had gone to work and beaten that there Cobbleville ripper."

"He's a cute one."

"Regular built genius."

"There ain't such another feller in Cobbleville. He beat 'em all at spellin', too."

Vosh had won fame as well as fun, and all Benton was proud of him. For all that, he was tired enough by dinner-time, and was glad to drive his passengers back to the farmhouse.

"Aunt Judith," said Susie, "it was splendid! You never saw any thing like it! Wonderful!"

There was a great deal more to be told, and it was all true; but it was not easy for aunt Judith and Mrs. Farnham to believe it.

"Do you mean to tell me that that thing didn't stop till you were out in the middle of the mill-pond?" asked aunt Judith; and four young people with one voice told her it was nearer the upper end than the middle.

"Well," said she, "I s'pose it must have been so, but there was never any such sliding down hill before up this way. I'd like to see it done just once; that is, if it didn't just happen, and can't be done again, nohow."

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