J. Duffield.

Bert Wilson at the Wheel





CHAPTER I
The Red Scout

What dandy luck.

Its too good to be true.

Whod ever thought wed have the luck to get it?

It cant be true. I shant believe it till it gets here.

Anyway, it is true, and wont we have the niftiest time ever?

Well, you might as well sit down, Bob. Running around like a hen with her head cut off wont make it come any sooner.

Aw, hows a fellow to sit still when a thing like thats on the way? I wonder how long well have to wait. What can be keeping him?

A score of voices, talking singly, two together, all together, woke the woodland echoes, silent through the long winter and tardy spring, gone at last. Summer had come and with it the annual encampment of a score or more of manly, healthy youngsters, overflowing with animal spirits and vitality. For several years past, substantially the same group under the supervision of a Mr. Hollis, a gentleman of sterling character and considerable means, had gone into camp together for two or three weeks of the heated season. Brimming over with life, the boys always made the camp a lively place; but this summer a new and enveloping excitement seemed to have taken possession of everyone, and now all were plunged into a discussion of the cause of the hullabaloo, the voices rising higher and higher as each one sought to make himself heard above the rest.

Turning a bend in the road that brought the camp into view, Mr. Hollis, as he witnessed the excited gestures of the boys, and heard the volume of sound caused by every enthusiast trying to talk at once, instinctively quickened his pace, for it almost seemed as though a serious altercation were in progress; but as he came near enough to distinguish words and heard Six cylinders, Forty-eight horsepower, Chrome nickel steel, Wheel base one hundred and twelve inches, Diamond tires, Autometer, Safety treads, Grip treads he realized that nothing more serious was going on than a discussion of the relative merits of automobiles and their fittings. No wonder there was gesturing and loud talking. What boy would not rise to the topmost heights of enthusiasm at the thought of an automobile in which he was to have a personal interest? Such a delight had come to the camp, and since the announcement in the morning that on account of the long trips that the summers plans would make necessary, the boys would be allowed an automobile for their own exclusive use, nothing else had been thought or talked about; and each eager boy was impatiently awaiting the return of Mr. Hollis to learn the make and all other details of that most wonderful car.

Now, as he came into camp, the boys crowded around him and the wood rang with cheers as he told them that the car would arrive the following morning. A volley of questions overwhelmed him: How large is it? What speed? What color is it? How many of us can ride in it at a time? Question followed question in quick succession, until Mr.

Hollis put his hands over his ears, and, refusing to answer any more, proposed dinner as a means of quelling the noise.

The boys could scarcely have told of what their dinner consisted that night, so great was their excitement. All were glad to turn in early as the surest way to bring the morning and the longed-for car. A full hour earlier than usual the lights were out and silence settled over the camp, broken only by natures mysterious night sounds. A belated rabbit homeward bound, keeping ceaseless vigil with round bright eyes, encouraged by the unusual quiet, crept close to the door of the mess tent, and snatching a stray cracker from the grass, scurried joyfully away. At the distant menacing Tu-whit, tu-whoo of the night owl, the birds stirred uneasily and nestled closer under cover of the sheltering leaves. The quiet hours crept on till at last morning dawned and gave promise of a glorious day.

Frank Edgewood was the first to open sleepy eyes, and seeing a few clouds not yet dissipated by the early sun, woke the camp with the dismal wail: Fellows, its going to rain.

Put him out, Smother him, Duck him in the brook, came in a chorus; and Frank, taking to his heels, dropped the flap of his tent, with not a moment to spare.

Run early and avoid the rush, sang out Tom Henderson.


To pass he had such scanty room,
The descending grazed his plume,

chanted Dick Trent.

Lets forgive and forget, said Ben Cooper.

Be glad we let you live, Frank, Bob Ward chimed in; and so the culprit, reassured, ventured out to breakfast.

Again the all-absorbing topic was renewed, two vital questions claiming them. What should they name their auto? Who would be able to run it? The first was easy enough, for almost from the first they had decided, the color permitting, to call it the Red Scout. The second was not so easy, for Mr. Hollis must be assured, for the sake of the general safety, that the driver should be fully capable. If only Bert Wilson were there, the question would be answered, for capable Bert in New York had studied the mechanism of automobiles and grown very proficient in handling them; but they were not sure that he would be able to be in camp with them this year. Expressions of regret were heard on all sides, for Bert had a very warm place in their hearts. His splendid qualities had easily made him their natural leader and his absence was far more keenly felt than that of any other fellow in the camp would have been.

Still, Bert not being there, they must choose someone else, so Mr. Hollis called for volunteers. Several answered, but their qualifications were rather doubtful, until Bob Ward said that he had had a lot of experience in driving his uncles machine, and felt very sure he could handle it. So it was decided that the next day Bob should take them on their first trip, which would be in search of a new camp site, the old one proving too small for this years requirements.

While the question as to who should be chosen to drive the automobile was being decided, Sam Fielding and Philip Strong, two of the younger boys, had placed a long plank over a big rock which rested under the shade of a low-branched tree, and thus improvised a capital see-saw. When the question was settled, there was a general movement among the boys, and one of them, thoughtless of consequences, jumped upon Sams end of the board. This added weight gave the other end a sudden jerk upward, and in a twinkling Philip was tossed into the boughs of the tree, where, his foot catching in a forked branch, he hung suspended, head downward, his jacket falling about and covering his head and face, while he yelled like a Comanche Indian.

In an instant the entire camp was aroused and Phil was quickly extricated from his uncomfortable position. At the sight of his astonished face, the whole camp went into paroxysms of mirth, while peal after peal of laughter made the woods echo again. Even Phil, now right side up with care, could not resist the contagion and joined in the merriment.

It was many minutes before a normal condition of things was re-established, but at last the boys fell to discussing the proposed change of camp.

Its a shame that we have to change, said Charlie Adams; I dont believe well have such bully times in the new camp as we have had here.

Oh, I dont know, said Tom cheerily; well have the dandiest fun, hunting new caves and things.

It will at least have the charm of novelty, joined in Dick Trent Dick was eighteen and sometimes used words and phrases so ponderous as to give him added dignity in the eyes of the other fellows. Things will be altogether different this summer, he went on; having the auto will make a great change.

Well, were going to have a great time to-day, anyway, said Bob Ward; Mr. Hollis says we are to make a flying trip in the new machine, and I will have a chance, while the man who brings it is here, to study handling the car.

As Bob finished speaking, a distant but distinct honk-honk sent each boy tearing down the road, where in due time a great, red, glistening car came up the turnpike like a gleaming streak of light, and, with a graceful curve to the side of the road, stopped. The car, their car, the Red Scout had come!

CHAPTER II
The Flying Auto

A group of the campers stood regarding the big red touring car rather dubiously.

The fact is, Bob Ward was saying, as he meditatively chewed a long piece of grass, you never can tell when the fool thing is going to go back on you. I used to drive my uncles car a good deal, but I never could go very far without some part of the machinery breaking down. Uncle Jack said I was a Jonah and I guess I was, because he could run the pesky thing all over the country if I wasnt with him, and it would go like a bird. One day I ran it into a fence and nearly got killed, so I took the hint and havent fooled with one since.

But we ought to make a try at locating a site for the new camp, Frank Edgewood objected. We volunteered, and well be the laughing stock of the whole camp if we dont succeed, besides breaking our word to Mr. Hollis.

Yes, I dont see why you said you could do it, if you are going to get cold feet at the last minute, said Jim.

I havent got cold feet, Bob defended hotly, then virtuously, it isnt because of my own danger that I hesitate, but I dont like to drag you fellows into it with me.

If you dont mind breaking your own neck, you neednt worry about ours, said Dave Ferris; well stay here while you take a little spin across country, grinning wickedly. Of course, if you should find a good camp location in the meantime, you could claim all the glory this last condescendingly.

Before Bob had time to retort, a cry of Bert, Bert Wilson! caught the boys attention, and they turned in time to see a young fellow take a flying leap over one of the fences and land in the midst of a group of excited, welcoming friends.

Make believe were not glad to see you, Bert. We thought you wouldnt be able to get off this year.

Tom Henderson spread that report. Where is he?

Wait till I get at him.

He ought to have a ducking, and other undeserved threats were hurled at poor Toms innocent head.

Hold on, fellows, said Bert, laughing; Tom wasnt to blame. I didnt know myself that I could make the camp till yesterday.

At that moment the maligned Tom dashed up, nearly upsetting his friend in an ecstasy of delight.

Youre a brick with a capital B and the best kind of a sight for sore eyes, gasped Tom, getting his breath back by degrees. I never was so glad to see anyone in my life. And you came just in the nick of time, too, to help us out.

Then, dragging his friend away unceremoniously, Tom explained the situation in which he and the other volunteers found themselves.

You will help us out, wont you, Bert? he asked appealingly.

By this time the rest of the volunteers had come up and were eagerly awaiting the decision. When they heard Berts hearty Surest thing you know, they went wild, and after giving him three cheers and a tiger, marched him off to the mess tent, there to partake of corn bread and maple syrup. This last had such a good effect on Bert as to lead him to say that the fellow who had never known the gastronomic delight of corn bread spread thick with maple syrup didnt know what it was to live.

The dramatic arrival of Bert at the camp just when they most felt the need of him had been almost as unexpected to him as to the other campers.

Through the recommendation of Mr. Hollis, he had secured a position with a large manufacturing business in New York. There from the very start he had made good and his industry and ability were soon noted by his employer. It was not long before his salary was increased and larger opportunities afforded him, and he soon found himself treading the path that was bound to lead to success.

Of course, like every other healthy boy, he felt the need of friends and recreation. The first he found in Tom Henderson, with whom he struck up a great friendship. Another crony was Frank Edgewood, who worked on the same floor as himself. When the work of the day was done they were usually found together, either in each others rooms or at some of the places of wholesome recreation of which the city offers so great a variety.

If Bert had one trait that stood out more prominently than any of the others it was his love for mechanics. Anything in the way of a clever mechanical toy, a puzzle, or a machine attracted him immensely. He wanted to see the wheels go round. Especially was this true in the case of automobiles. The huge machine moving so swiftly, so noiselessly, with such a sense of freedom and the sensation of flying, drew him like a magnet. He scarcely dared to dream that one day he might be the actual owner of a motor car, but he did hope that some day or other his hand might be on the wheel, his foot upon the brake, while he steered the flying monster as it sped like a flash across the country.

His dream seemed perceptibly nearer being realized when Tom introduced him to the owner of a garage in the vicinity of his home. There he speedily became familiar with every joint and crank and lever of the great machines. He saw them taken apart and put together, he saw them brought in battered, broken, almost wrecked, and made as good as new. From theory to practice was not far. Little by little he was permitted to help in the minor repairs. After a while he was entrusted with short trips, at first in the company of an experienced chauffeur and at last on his own responsibility. It was not long before he felt capable to handle, steer, drive, and repair, and, if he had cared to do so, he would have had no difficulty in passing an examination and securing a license to drive a car.

His idea of recreation ran in the same direction. Whenever there was a motor meet anywhere within reach, especially on Saturday afternoon, which was a half holiday at the factory, Bert could be found, accompanied by either Tom or Frank, or both, watching with intense delight the exciting incidents of the race. The crowd the start the great machines flying by like streaks of lightning the roar of the partisans of each car as their favorite took the lead, and above all the frantic excitement and enthusiasm at the finish as the victor flew across the line all these things stirred his blood with inexpressible delight.

On another occasion he and his chums had visited the Greatest Show on Earth. He had laughed at the clowns and had been thrilled by the acrobats. Every pore of his body had drunk in with delight the tremendous feats of skill and daring that appeal so strongly to a boy. But the one supreme thrill, the one he never forgot, the one that repeated itself over and over again in his dreams, was when the automobile with its daring operator starting from the very top of the immense building, amid the deathlike hush of the crowd, flew like a flash down the steep incline, sprang into space, turned a complete somersault, and, lighting on the further side of the gap, rushed across the arena. This was the climax of everything. Little else appealed to Bert; he talked of nothing else on the way home. There was no use talking, the auto fever was in his blood.

With this passionate delight in his favorite machine, Berts feeling can be understood when he learned that the chief feature of the boys encampment when the summer opened was to be an automobile hike, the car itself having been kindly loaned by Mr. Hollis. At first, owing to conditions at the factory, he had feared that he would not be able to go at the time set for the encampment, and his disappointment was crushing. A quiet little talk of Mr. Holliss with his employer, however, had adjusted things so that he learned at the last moment he would be able to go. We have already seen how uproariously he had been received by his old companions when he came so unexpectedly into the howling mob of enthusiasts at the summer camp.

In less time after his arrival than it takes to tell, Bert was clad in khaki and had obtained the ready permission of Mr. Hollis to take the boys on their desired expedition.

The fellows scrambled into their adored Red Scout with more haste than grace, while Bert was busy cranking it. Then with a cry of All right back there? and an answering shout of You bet your life, the great car started smoothly up the ascent.

As it quickened its speed and disappeared around a bend of the road, more than one of the boys at the camp wished he had been quicker to offer his services.

If Id only known that Bert would be here Id been one of the first to volunteer, but I must say I wasnt anxious to trust my neck to Bobs safe-keeping. He doesnt know any more about running an automobile than I do; and when Jim said that he was saying a great deal.

Meanwhile the Red Scouts passengers were having the time of their lives.

Gee, its like flying, said Frank joyfully.

Its a heap sight better, challenged Tom. Cant you make it go faster? he asked of Bert.

I guess yes, Bert shouted, as he put on more speed.

The automobile darted forward like a live thing and the boys were enraptured by the rapidity of its motion. It almost seemed to them as though the Red Scout were standing still and all the scenery were flying past. Hardly did the farmhouses come in sight than they were passed and lost in the distance.

Scores of timid little woodland creatures scurried away to the shelter of holes and empty logs, surprised and alarmed at the streak of red lightning that flashed by. Mother birds hovered protectingly over their fledglings, ready to defend them against the whole world if necessary, while excited squirrels scolded noisily from the treetops long after they had any excuse for it.

On, on they rushed along roads over which giant trees met, past meadow lands where cattle grazed lazily, over bridges, past sparkling brooks that formed miniature waterfalls as they rushed over the stones on, on!

As they slowed up to take a sharp bend in the road they came face to face with another automobile dashing along at a reckless speed.

Fortunately both Bert and the driver of the other machine kept their presence of mind. Before anyone had a chance to realize what was happening, Bert had swerved the Scout way over to the right side of the road. There happened to be a fairly deep depression on that side, so Bert had the choice of two evils. He had either to crash squarely into the other automobile or he had to run the risk of having his own machine turn turtle. He chose the lesser danger and ran into the ditch. However, it wasnt as bad as it easily might have been, for only the front and rear wheels of one side of the car were in the depression. Even at that they had come within a hairs-breadth of being upset.

As soon as the boys could pull themselves together, they tumbled out of the car. The occupants of the other car were four men, who sprang out at once to see if they could be of service in any way.

I think wed better improvise a lever, Bert suggested.

That may look all right in print, grumbled Bob, but how are you going to do it?

I know how we can work it all right, said one of the men. See those big stones over there? Well, the first thing to do is to bring them over here.

Oh, I see what you mean to do, Bert chimed in eagerly. There are lots of big tree branches lying around. Looks as if they had been blown down in some storm. We can use them for levers.

Guess youve got the right idea, son, said the man who had first spoken. Now lets get down to business.

It was a work of time to place the stones in the right position and to pick out branches that would stand the strain. It proved a tremendous task to lift the heavy car. At times they almost despaired of moving it. However, it was that very desperation that gave them strength at last. Inch by inch, slowly, carefully, they finally forced the great car upward, until with a sigh of relief they realized that the task was finished.

The boys dropped to the ground, exhausted by the unusual exertion. It doesnt take very long, though, for strong, healthy boys to recover from any strain, however great; so in a few minutes they were again in the car and ready to start for camp. It was too late to go further, and after thanking the men for their help they started back slowly this time.

It was after dark when they reached the camp, and Mr. Hollis, although confident of Berts resourcefulness, was beginning to be slightly worried when the wanderers appeared at last upon the scene.

In a very few moments the half-famished boys were seated at a most appetizing meal, to which they did full justice.

The rest of the fellows listened with the greatest interest, while Tom related the adventure. Bert and Mr. Hollis at a little distance discussed the events of the day and planned to renew the trip on the following morning.





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