Albert, instead of answering, jumped up and danced a jig on the floor, upsetting two chairs and breaking the wash-pitcher.
"Hurrah!" he cried, "I'm your man. Shake hands on it, Ralph! You have saved me from two weeks of cats and yarn and moping! Give us your paw! I never was so glad to see anybody in all my life."
And to prove it, he seized Ralph by the shoulders, gave him a vigorous whirl and forced him to join in the dance.
"Now, stop your nonsense," Ralph protested, laughing; "if you have so much strength to waste, wait till we are at home in Solheim, and you'll have a chance to use it profitably."
Albert flung himself down on his old rep-covered sofa. It seemed to have some internal disorder, for its springs rattled and a vague musical twang indicated that something or other had snapped. It had seen much maltreatment, that poor old piece of furniture, and bore visible marks of it. When, after various exhibitions of joy, their boisterous delight had quieted down, both boys began to discuss their plans for the vacation.
"But I fear my groom may freeze, down there in the street," Ralph ejaculated, cutting short the discussion; "it is bitter cold, and he can't leave the horses. Hurry up, now, old man, and I'll help you pack."
It did not take them long to complete the packing. Albert sent a telegram to his father, asking permission to accept Ralph's invitation; but, knowing well that the reply would be favorable, did not think it necessary to wait for it. With the assistance of his friend he now wrapped himself in two overcoats, pulled a pair of thick woollen stockings over the outside of his boots and a pair of fur-lined top-boots outside of these, girded himself with three long scarfs, and pulled his brown otter-skin cap down over his ears. He was nearly as broad as he was long, when he had completed these operations, and descended into the street where the big double-sleigh (made in the shape of a huge white swan) was awaiting them. They now called at Ralph's lodgings, whence he presently emerged in a similar Esquimau costume, wearing a wolf-skin coat which left nothing visible except the tip of his nose and the steam of his breath. Then they started off merrily with jingling bells, and waved a farewell toward many a window, wherein were friends and acquaintances. They felt in so jolly a mood, that they could not help shouting their joy in the face of all the world, and crowing over all poor wretches who were left to spend the holidays in the city.
Solheim was about twenty miles from the city, and it was nine o'clock in the evening when the boys arrived there. The moon was shining brightly, and the Milky Way, with its myriad stars, looked like a luminous mist across the vault of the sky. The aurora borealis swept down from the north with white and pink radiations which flushed the dark blue sky for an instant, and vanished. The earth was white, as far as the eye could reach --splendidly, dazzlingly white. And out of the white radiance rose the great dark pile of masonry called Solheim, with its tall chimneys and dormer-windows and old-fashioned gables. Round about stood the tall leafless maples and chestnut-trees, sparkling with frost and stretching their gaunt arms against the heavens. The two horses, when they swung up before the great front-door, were so white with hoar-frost that they looked shaggy like goats, and no one could tell what was their original color. Their breath was blown in two vapory columns from their nostrils and drifted about their heads like steam about a locomotive.