Stories Worth Rereading: The Sleigh-Ride

In one of the larger cities of New England, fifty years ago, a party of lads, all members of the same school, got up a grand sleigh-ride. There were about twenty-five or thirty boys engaged in the frolic. The sleigh was a large and splendid conveyance drawn by six gray horses. The afternoon was as beautiful as anybody could desire, and the merry group enjoyed themselves in the highest degree. It was a common custom of the school to which they belonged, and on previous occasions their teacher had accompanied them. Some engagement upon important business, however, occupying him, he was not at this time with them. It is quite likely, had it been otherwise, that the restraining influence of his presence would have prevented the scene which occurred.

On the day following the ride, as he entered the schoolroom, he found his pupils grouped about the stove, in high merriment, as they chatted about the fun and frolic of their excursion. He stopped awhile and listened; and, in answer to some inquiries which he made about the matter, one of the lads, a fine, frank, manly boy, whose heart was in the right place, though his love of sport sometimes led him astray, volunteered to give a narrative of their trip and its various incidents. As he drew near the end of his story, he exclaimed:—

“O, sir, there was one little circumstance which I almost forgot to tell you! Toward the latter part of the afternoon, as we were coming home, we saw, at some distance ahead of us, a queer-looking affair in the road. We could not exactly make out what it was. It seemed to be a sort of half-and-half monstrosity. As we approached it, it proved to be a rusty old sleigh fastened behind a covered wagon, proceeding at a very slow rate, and taking up the whole road. Finding that the owner was disposed not to turn out, we determined upon a volley of snowballs and a good hurrah. These we gave with a relish, and they produced the right effect, and a little more; for the crazy machine turned out into the deep snow by the side of the road, and the skinny old pony started on a full trot. As we passed, some one who had the whip gave the jilt of a horse a good crack, which made him run faster than he ever did before, I’ll warrant. And so, with another volley of snowballs pitched into the front of the wagon, and three times three cheers, we rushed by. With that, an old fellow in the wagon, who was buried up under an old hat and beneath a rusty cloak, and who had dropped the reins, bawled out, ‘Why do you frighten my horse?’

“‘Why don’t you turn out, then?’ said the driver.

“So we gave him three rousing cheers more. His horse was frightened again, and ran up against a loaded team, and, I believe, almost capsized the old man; and so we left him.”

“Well, boys,” replied the instructor, “that is quite an incident. But take your seats; and after our morning service is ended, I will take my turn and tell you a story, and all about a sleigh-ride, too.”

Having finished the reading of a chapter in the Bible, and all having joined in the Lord’s Prayer, he began as follows:—

“Yesterday afternoon a very venerable and respectable old man, a clergyman by profession, was on his way from Boston to Salem to pass the residue of the winter at the house of his son. That he might be prepared for journeying, as he proposed to do in the spring, he took with him his light wagon, and for the winter his sleigh, which he fastened behind the wagon. He was, as I have just told you, very old and infirm. His temples were covered with thinned locks which the frosts of eighty years had whitened. His sight, and hearing, too, were somewhat blunted by age, as yours will be should you live to be as old.

“He was proceeding very slowly and quietly, for his horse was old and feeble, like his owner. His thoughts reverted to the scenes of his youth, when he had periled his life in fighting for the liberties of his country; to the scenes of his manhood, when he had preached the gospel of his divine Master to the heathen of the remote wilderness; and to the scenes of riper years, when the hard hand of penury had lain heavily upon him. While thus occupied, almost forgetting himself in the multitude of his thoughts, he was suddenly disturbed, and even terrified, by loud hurrahs from behind, and by a furious pelting and clattering of balls of snow and ice upon the top of his wagon. In his trepidation he dropped his reins; and as his aged and feeble hands were quite benumbed with cold, he found it impossible to gather them up, and his horse began to run away.

“In the midst of the old man’s troubles, there rushed by him, with loud shouts, a large party of boys in a sleigh drawn by six horses.

“‘Turn out, turn out, old fellow!’ ‘Give us the road, old boy!’ ‘What’ll you take for your pony, old daddy?’ ‘Go it, frozen nose!’ ‘What’s the price of oats?’ were the various cries that met his ear.

“‘Pray, do not frighten my horse,’ exclaimed the infirm driver.

“‘Turn out, then! Turn out!’ was the answer, which was followed by repeated cracks and blows from the long whip of the grand sleigh, with showers of snowballs, and tremendous hurrahs from the boys.

“The terror of the old man and his horse was increased; and the latter ran away, to the imminent danger of the man’s life. He contrived, however, after some exertion, to secure the reins, which had been out of his hands during the whole of the affray, and to stop his horse just in season to prevent his being dashed against a loaded team.

“As he approached Salem, he overtook a young man who was walking toward the same place, whom he invited to ride. The young man alluded to the grand sleigh which had just passed, which induced the old gentleman to inquire if he knew who the boys were. He replied that he did; that they all belonged to one school, and were a set of wild fellows.

“‘Aha!’ exclaimed the former, with a hearty laugh, for his constant good nature had not been disturbed, ‘do they, indeed? Why, their master is very well known to me. I am now going to his house, and I think I shall give him the benefit of the affair.’

“A short distance brought him to his journey’s end, the home of his son. His old horse was comfortably housed and fed, and he himself provided for.

“That son, boys, is your instructor; and that aged and infirm old man, that ‘old fellow,’ that ‘old boy,’ who did not turn out for you, but who would gladly have given you the whole road had he heard your approach, that ‘old boy,’ that ‘old daddy,’ and ‘frozen nose,’ is Rev. Daniel Oliver, your master’s father, now at my home, where he and I will gladly welcome any and all of you.”

As the master, with an undisturbed and serene countenance, gave this version of the ride, it was very manifest from the expression of the boys’ faces, and the glances they exchanged, that they recognized the history of their doings of the previous day; and it is not easy to describe nor to imagine the effect produced by this new translation of their own narrative. Some buried their heads behind their desks; some cried; some looked askance at one another; and many hastened down to the desk of the teacher, with apologies, regrets, and acknowledgments without end.

“We did not know it was your father,” they said.

“Ah, my lads,” replied the teacher, “what odds does it make whose father it was? It was probably somebody’s father,—an inoffensive traveler, an aged and venerable man, entitled to kind treatment from you and everybody else. But never mind; he forgives it all, and so do I.”

Freely pardoned, they were cautioned that they should be more civil for the future to inoffensive travelers, and more respectful to the aged and infirm.

Years have passed by. The lads are men, though some have found an early grave. The boy who related the incident to his master is “in the deep bosom of the ocean buried.” They who survive, should this story meet their eye, will easily recall its scenes and throw their memories back to the schoolhouse in Federal Street, Salem, and to their friend and teacher.

Henry K. Oliver.

* * * * *

The Tongue Can No Man Tame

Lord, tame my tongue, and make it pure,
And teach it only to repeat
Thy promises, all safe, all sure;
To tell thy love, so strong and sweet.

Lord, tame my tongue, and make it kind
The faults of others to conceal
And all their virtues call to mind;
Teach it to soothe, to bless, to heal.