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CHAPTER XXIV


THE BURGOMASTER OF MASOLGA


Granbury Lapham had had practically no experience with horses and in the present trying emergency he was as helpless as an infant. He sawed this way and that on the reins, and yelled at the top of his lungs. This merely served to frighten the steeds still more, and away they sprang at a greater speed than ever.

"We'll be killed!" gasped Roger. He stood up, pale with fright.

"Don't jump out!" cried Dave. "Maybe I can stop them."

As quickly as he could, he gained the front seat of the turnout and took the reins from the Englishman's hands. He saw at once that the horses had the bits in their teeth and that pulling on the lines would do little if any good.

By this time they had gained a level stretch of road, but ahead was a decline greater than that just passed. If they reached that spot an accident would be inevitable.

On one side of the road was the upward slope of the hill, on the other the treacherous downward slope that had already caused them so much trouble. Dave hesitated for a moment, then pulled on one side of the reins with might and main, allowing the other side to drop entirely.

At first the horses did not heed, but presently one began to lose temper and courage and turned in toward the upward slope. Then the other had to come around, and in a twinkling the tearh was literally climbing the mountain side, dragging sleigh and occupants behind them!

"Look out! We'll all go over!" cried the senator's son.

"Hold tight; they're bound to stop soon, they can't keep this up!" yelled back Dave, and even as he spoke the horses, blowing heavily, slackened up, came to a walk, and then stopped short.

"Really, don't you know——" began Granbury Lapham, and knew not what to say.

"Now you can get out, if you wish," said Dave, and gathered up both reins once more. "I guess they have had their fill of running away."

"You turned them up the hill nicely."

"It was a hard pull," said Roger. "Dave, are you going to get out?" he added, as he hopped to the ground.

"No, I am going to turn them around and drive them down to the road."

"They'll run away with you!" ejaculated the Englishman, in alarm.

"I won't give them a chance," was the quiet but firm reply.

"If you are going to ride, I'll do the same," said Roger, and clambered back to his seat again. Granbury Lapham said he would walk for a while.

"I want to see how they act," he remarked, frankly. "I am not going to risk my neck again until I know what I am doing."

With a firm hand Dave started the horses and turned them partly around. They were inclined to be fretful, but he gave them no chance to gain the mastery. He spoke to them in a voice they could not help but notice, and was ready to turn them up the mountain side again at the first indication of another "break."

"Dave, you certainly know how to manage horses," spoke up Roger, when the road was reached. "It must be born in you."

"I suppose it is, Roger. My Uncle Dunston tells me that my father is a very good horseman and that he and my mother used often to go out horseback riding together."

Seeing how well Dave managed, Granbury Lapham entered the sleigh once more, and away they went along the road and down the decline previously mentioned. To retard the movement of the turnout and thus ease the team, Dave kept partly in the deep snow, and consequently there was no excuse for the horses running away.

Nearly a mile was covered when they saw Hendrik returning with the other team. The Norwegian sleigh driver hailed their approach with joy, which was considerably increased when he learned that the sleigh and the other horses had suffered no damage and that the greater part of the outfit had been saved.

"I was afraid somebody had fallen down the mountain side and been killed," said he to Granbury Lapham. "It is a most dangerous portion of this road. Last winter two men and a woman lost their lives close to this very spot."

"We had all the trouble we wanted," said Dave, when the driver's remarks had been translated by the Englishman.

Hendrik looked over the sleigh and the harness with care, and quarter of an hour later they were moving toward Bojowak as rapidly as the state of the road permitted. They had to pass through two hollows, and here the men and boys walked, for it was all the double team could do to get through.

"I see smoke!" cried Dave, presently. "It seems to come from a chimney."

"Bojowak," said the sleigh driver, nodding his head.

"Hurrah! We'll soon be there!" cried Roger. He looked at his chum. "You won't be sorry, Dave?"

"No, indeed," was the ready answer.

They had to pass around a spur of the mountain, which took another half-hour, and then came in full view of Bojowak, a village, the houses, or rather cabins, of which seemed to fairly cling to the side of the mountain. There was but one street, and most of the residences were located on the upper side of this, with barns and sheds below or attached to the dwellings.

Their arrival was noted with considerable curiosity, and the sleigh driver was plied with innumerable questions as to what had brought him thus far in such weather. He quickly explained, and then asked concerning the exploring expedition, and Granbury Lapham asked a number of similar questions.

"The expedition left Bojowak two days ago," said the Englishman, after he had learned the news. "It moved on to a sheep-station called Plivohav, six miles from here. From Plivohav the party was going to try to reach the top of the mountain called Thundercap."

"Is there any kind of a good road to Plivohav?" asked Dave, eagerly.

"No, it is a very poor road."

"Then we can't use the sleigh?"

"No, we'll have to go there either on foot or on horseback. The explorers used horses."

"Oh, let us go on horseback!" urged Roger. "I don't want to walk."

"I certainly prefer riding," added Dave.

"I'm not much in a saddle, but I fancy I can stand it," said Granbury Lapham. "We can take Hendrik with us, and as we have four steeds that will give each of us a mount."

Dave was desirous of going ahead at once, but it was too late, and the horses were so worn out, it was decided to remain at Bojowak over night. There was something of a road-house, used principally during the summer, and at this they asked for accommodations for the whole party and also for the horses.

"I think I can accommodate you," said the landlord, a burly and rather rough-looking Norwegian. "Wait till I call my wife and see what rooms are vacant. We have quite a number of guests. The burgomaster of Masolga is here with his brother and his wife. They, too, came in all this storm."

The landlord went out, leaving the two American boys and the Englishman in the public room of the road-house. Scarcely had he departed when a side door opened and a man came in, evidently not in the best of humor.

"You dog of a landlord!" he cried, in Norwegian. "Where are you? My room is as cold as a barn. I want some extra wood put on the fire at once. This is a scurvy way to treat the burgomaster of Masolga."

"Hello!" cried Dave, in a low voice, and plucked his chum by the sleeve. "Here is the brute of the railway coach."

"Sure enough," murmured the senator's son. "I never thought we'd meet him up here. Wonder if he'll say anything if he sees us?"

"Humph! so he's the burgomaster of Masolga, eh?" muttered Granbury Lapham. "I pity the townfolks under him."

"I say, do you hear, landlord?" stormed the burgomaster, striding around. "Are you deaf, that I must wear my lungs out calling you? If I had—— Ha!"

He stopped short, for his striding around had brought him face to face with our friends. He was astonished, then glared at the three as if they were deadly enemies.

"You!" he cried. "You! What brought you to this place? Are you following me?"

"We are not following you," answered the Englishman.

"I thought I was done with you! That I would never behold any of you again!" went on the burgomaster. "You are English cattle."

"And you are a Norwegian pig," answered Granbury Lapham. His English blood could not stand the insult.

"Ha! this to me? Me! the burgomaster of Masolga!" The speaker stamped violently on the floor with his heavy boot. "You shall pay for that insult! A pig! I will show you!"

"You started the quarrel, I did not," said the Englishman. He was a trifle alarmed over the turn affairs had taken.

"Are you stopping here?" demanded the burgomaster, after an ugly pause.

"We expect to stop here."

"It shall not be—I will not have you in the house with me! Such English cattle! Hi, you, Mina!"—this to a servant who had come in. "Call your master at once, I must see him."

The servant departed, her wooden shoes clattering loudly on the bare floor. The burgomaster of Masolga paced up and down, slapping his hands together.

"I will show you your place!" he muttered, with a malicious look on his face. "Wait! Yes, wait!"

In a moment more the landlord came in, almost out of breath.

"A thousand pardons!" he said, bowing low. "It was stupid of Jan to let the fire burn low. I have ordered more wood, and——"

"Let that pass, for the present," answered the burgomaster. "It is about these fellows I want to question you. Have they engaged rooms here?"

"They want rooms, sir, and we have two that——"

"You must not take them in!" roared the burgomaster of Masolga. "I forbid it."

"Forbid?" gasped the astonished landlord.

"Yes, forbid. They are nothing but English cattle. I met them on the train. They insulted me grossly. They must go elsewhere for accommodations."

"Have you two vacant rooms?" demanded Granbury Lapham, coming to the front.

"Yes, but—but——"

"We'll take them," answered the Englishman, quickly. He felt certain no other accommodations could be had in the village.

"Thank you, sir, but——"

"He cannot have the rooms—I will take them myself!" howled the burgomaster.

"I have already taken them," answered the Englishman, quietly. "I will pay in advance for them, if necessary," and he pulled out his purse.

"It shall not be!" stormed the burgomaster of Masolga. "I forbid it! I will pay for the rooms, if needs be. Those English cattle shall not sleep under the same roof with me and my family."