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Abe made room under the spout by driving ahead.
“Here, Charlie,” he said, for the boy had climbed to the ground. “I want you to take a load to town. Can you do it?”
“All right. There it is. Climb up.” And he helped him. “Had your dinner? To elevator one; the first from the crossing. Listen here. While you have the load, you walk the horses. When you drive up the incline, hold your lines tight. On the platform, let the man do the work. On the way home, you can trot half the way.”
The boy nodded and clicked his tongue.
Victor Lafontaine had been watching father and son. As Abe turned back to his load, the Frenchman caught his eye and smiled. “Nice kid,” he said.
Abe looked at his watch. “Fill Horanski’s tank. Then dinner.” And he, too, drove on, separated from Charlie only by a narrow strip; for half a mile the trails hardly diverged. Abe met the hayrack bringing the dinner for the crew. Mrs. Horanski stood, precariously balanced, among baskets of food and boilers of coffee. As she passed him, she nodded with a smile at Charlie who laughed proudly back at her.
Then, just as father and son reached the point where their trails divided sharply, the whistle of the engine blew, giving the signal to stop work. The shrill sound made Charlie jump; and smilingly he looked back at his father, waving his hand; then he disappeared from sight.
Two hours went by. Abe had had his lunch at home and was back in the field filling his tank.
Wheat, wheat, wheat ran from the spout.
Then, just as in the morning, Victor and his lads stared south.
Abe looked up at the old man’s face which he saw in three-quarter profile. He was conscious only of the sunlight playing in the snow-white bristles of the stubble of his beard. Incomprehensibly, a wave of fear invaded him, aroused by the puzzled expression on the man’s face. Again, as in the morning, Abe dropped to the ground and circled the engine.
On the trail from the yard a dust cloud was trailing along. It took Abe a second or so to make out, at the apex of the fan-shaped cloud, a man on horseback tearing along at a terrific speed. He was riding a draught-horse, which fact was betrayed by the lumbering though furious gallop. He had just crossed the pasture.
“He leapt the gate,” Victor said from behind Abe’s back.
Abe did not answer. Who could it be? Whence did he come? A dull and ever-increasing disquietude took hold of him.
Suddenly he recognized the rider. It was Bill Crane. He should have been back by this time. The horse he was riding was clearly doing its utmost; yet Bill was wildly lashing it with a long line.
Everybody in the whole field was aware of the rider’s approach; all work had slowed down.
Then, at a distance of a quarter of a mile, the horse stumbled in full career and fell, throwing the rider who rolled over two or three times, to leap up and to fall again, fighting for breath and reeling.
Abe veered on Lafontaine. “For God’s sake, shut that engine off!”
Victor jumped; the hum subsided into silence.
Bill had stopped, struggling for his voice. “Charlie!” he yelled. “Charlie’s got hurt.” Abe’s knees gave under him.
“Where? How?” he shouted.
“Hilmer’s bridge. Load went over him!” Bill was still staggering forward; apparently he had been hurt by his fall.
“Hurt?” Abe asked as if groping for a clue.
“Load went right over him.”
For a moment it looked as if Abe were going to ask more questions. Then he turned and ran for the lead team of his grain tank. Feverishly he unhooked one of the horses, a Percheron colt, and, gathering the long line into loops, vaulted on his back. Lashing the heavy horse into a gallop, he shot past the engine out on the trail.