J. Duffield.

Bert Wilson at the Wheel





Many were the answers to this, but at each one Shorty shook his head. Finally he said, Well, do you give it up?

I guess well have to, fellows, grinned Bert. Go on and tell us, Shorty; why is it that an automobile smokes?

Because it cant chew, crowed Shorty triumphantly, and dodged just in time to avoid a piece of greasy waste that Bert threw with unerring aim at his head. Amid cries of Lynch him! and This way out! and Dont let him escape alive, fellows, Shorty took nimbly to his heels and skipped behind a tree. After the excitement had subsided Bert returned to his grooming of the Red Scout, and soon had matters fixed to his entire satisfaction.

It was a hot, sticky afternoon, and the boys had nothing particular to do outside of the routine duties of the camp. They had been lying around on the grass, lazily talking and listening to the drowsy hum of an occasional locust, when one had said:

Gee, I wish to goodness there was a little wind stirring. I feel as though in about five minutes I would become a mere grease spot on the landscape.

Well, Bert had replied, if you feel that way about it, why not manufacture a little wind of our own?

Manufacture it, had come a chorus of surprised protest, how in time can you manufacture wind?

Oh, its very simple when you know how, Bert replied, in an offhand manner. Whats to prevent us from piling into the auto and taking a spin? When we get out on the road I think I can promise you all the breeze you want. What do you say, fellows? Want to try it?

The answer was an uproarious shout of approval, and accordingly Bert had been getting the machine in shape.

In a short time they were ready to start, and as they were getting in they discerned Shortys stocky form emerging from the trees. He signaled frantically for them to wait, and soon came up panting.

Say, you werent going without me, were you? he asked reproachfully.

Well, laughed Bert, you deserve almost anything after springing a thing like that on us, but I guess we can forgive you, if we try real hard. Shall we take him along, fellows?

I dont see what Shorty needs to come for, anyway, said Ben, slyly. It seems to me that a fellow that can run as fast as Shorty did a little while ago can make all the wind he needs himself. He doesnt have to get in an automobile to get swift motion.

Thats so, agreed Bert, with a serious face, still, probably Philip has other views, and so we might as well give him the benefit of the doubt. Jump in, old scout.

This was easier said than done, however, as the big red auto was already literally overflowing with perspiring boys, but they managed to squeeze in, and started off, singing three or four different songs all at the same time, and each one in a different key.

Nobody seemed to be bothered much by this, however, and they soon reached the hard, level, macadam high road.

Bert opened her up a few notches, as he expressed it, and they were soon bowling along at an exhilarating pace. The breeze that Bert had promised them soon made itself felt, and you may be sure it felt very grateful to the overheated boys.

This beats lying around on the grass and whistling for a wind, doesnt it? asked Frank, and, needless to say, all the rest of the boys were emphatically of his opinion.

They had been going along at a brisk pace for several miles when they heard the purr of another motor car in back of them, and glancing back saw a handsome-looking blue auto creeping up to them. A flashily dressed young man, smoking a cigarette, was driving it, and three girls were sitting in the tonneau. The blue machine overtook them steadily, and soon was abreast of them.

Gee, Bert, exclaimed Frank, excitedly, but in a low voice, youre not going to let them pass us, are you?

Oh, let them, if they want to, replied Bert; we didnt come out for a race, and I feel just like loafing along and taking things easy. Whats the use of getting excited about things on a hot day like this? Besides, I dont think those people are looking for trouble, anyway.

At this point the blue car passed them, however, and as it did so one of the girls in the tonneau looked back and called, How does the dust taste, boys? Like it? The fellow driving it laughed at this sally, and shouted, Hey, youse, why dont you get a horse?

All the boys looked at Bert to see how he would take this. He said never a word, but his grip tightened on the steering wheel, and the Red Scout gave a lunge forward that almost jerked some of the boys out of their seats. Faster and faster the powerful car flew, and it was evident that they would soon overtake the blue car. The latter was also a first rate machine, however, and the boys could see one of the girls in the tonneau lean over and speak to the driver. The blue car started to draw slowly away, and Bert opened the throttle a few more notches. The motor took on a deep, vibrating note, and the hum of the gears rose to a higher pitch. Soon they began to overtake the car in front, and now it became evident that the latter was doing its best. The Red Scout fairly ate up the intervening space, and in a few moments had come up to within a few yards of the laboring blue car. The driver looked back, and seeing that the big red car in back of him would surely pass him in another few seconds, swerved his own car over so that it was squarely in the middle of the narrow country road. There was a shallow ditch on each side of the road, and the only way Bert could pass him was to take a chance of overturning and run two wheels in this ditch. Usually he would not have thought of exposing the boys to such a risk, but now he threw caution to the winds. Amid hoarse and excited cries from the boys he gave her the limit, to use his own expression, and the Red Scout seemed fairly to leap ahead.

He swerved the big machine into the ditch, and the wheels bumped and pounded over the uneven surface. The big car fairly shot by the blue machine, however, and amid a triumphant shout from the frenzied boys regained the smooth road and hid the defeated challenger in a cloud of dust.

Then Bert slowed it down a little, but kept well in the lead. The blue machine had evidently given up in despair, however, and gradually dropped back until a turn in the road hid it from their view. The boys broke into an excited discussion of the recent brush, and all were enthusiastic in their praise of the staunch old Red Scout. They also had many flattering things to say in regard to Berts driving, until he was forced to protest that he would have to buy a hat about five sizes larger, as he could fairly feel his head swelling.

Finally the excitement subsided somewhat, and the boys had time to look around them and get their bearings. It did not take them long to find that they were in unfamiliar surroundings. They had gone at such a fast pace that they had covered more ground than they would have believed possible. Bert consulted the odometer, or distance recording instrument, and announced that they had covered almost thirty-five miles!

Say! he exclaimed, well have to do some tall hustling to get back to the camp in time for lunch. Well keep on a little way, until we get to a place where the road is wide enough to turn around in, and then well beat it back as fast as possible.

As he finished speaking, they rounded a sudden turn in the road and a gasp arose from every boy in the car. Not fifteen feet ahead of them was a railroad crossing, and giving a lightning-like glance up and down the track Bert saw that there was a train approaching from both directions. It was obvious that the automobile would not be able to get across in time, and at the brisk rate at which they were traveling, it was equally impossible to stop the machine. It seemed inevitable that the auto would be struck by one or both of the ponderous locomotives, and it and its occupants be crushed to atoms.

The boys turned sick with horror, and gripped the sides of the automobile without being able to say a word. Their eyes gazed without winking at the two rushing locomotives, and they were unable to move.

But Bert saw that they had one, and only one, bare chance of life. He did not try to apply the brakes, which would have been useless and fatal, but as the big auto reached the railroad tracks he wrenched the steering wheel around and headed it directly up the track in front of the northbound train. As he did this he opened the throttle, and bent over the wheel in a desperate and almost hopeless attempt to beat the flying locomotive until the engineer, who of course was using every means in his power to stop his train, could check its momentum and give them a chance to escape.

The Red Scout bumped and swayed wildly over the uneven ballasting and ties, and the boys breathed heartfelt prayers that nothing on the staunch car would break. In spite of all Bert could do, the fast express train gained on them, although sparks were streaming from the wheels where the brakes were clamped against them. The engineer had reversed the locomotive, and the great driving wheels were revolving backward.

The momentum of a fast and heavy express train is not a thing to be checked in a moment, however, and the boys in the rear of the automobile could feel the heat from the locomotive boiler.

But the powerful automobile had gotten into its stride by this time, and was fairly flying over the uneven roadbed, and to the boys it felt as though it were only hitting the high places, as Frank afterward expressed it. For a hundred or two hundred feet the train failed to gain an inch, and then the brakes began to tell and it gradually fell to the rear.

Shorty leaned over and thumped Bert on the back and yelled: Slow up, Bert, slow up! Were out of danger now, I guess.

Bert glanced back, and saw that Shorty was right. They were drawing rapidly away from the locomotive, so he reduced speed, and the automobile gradually attained a safer pace, and at the first opportunity Bert swung it up off the tracks and onto a country road. This done, he stopped the machine, and leaning on the steering wheel, buried his face in his hands. He said not a word, and the boys could see that he was trembling like a leaf. In a few moments he recovered himself, however, and the boys began to overwhelm him with questions:

How did you ever think of going up the track instead of trying to get across, Bert? inquired Frank. If you had tried to cross that would have been the last of us, because we could never have made it.

I did it because it was the only thing to be done, I guess, replied Bert, in a shaky voice. Im no end of a fool to go at that speed on a road that I dont know, anyway. I dont know what I could have been thinking of to take such chances. Mr. Hollis will never have any confidence in me again, I guess.

Nonsense! retorted Bob, indignantly. Why, if Mr. Hollis could have seen the presence of mind you showed, I think he would trust you all the more, if that is possible. Not one person in a hundred would have thought of doing what you did.

Yes, but thats not all of it, by any means, said Bert, in a mournful voice. Ill bet that weve broken something on the old car, as well as almost getting ourselves converted into sausage meat. Here goes to look things over, anyway.

A thorough inspection failed to reveal any break in the mechanism or frame, however, and even the tires were intact. Finally Bert straightened up with a relieved expression on his face, and said: Well, I cant seem to find anything at present, thats one comfort. However, I wouldnt have believed that any car could stand such punishment and hold together. We wont kick against fate, though, for not smashing our car for us, will we?

I guess not, agreed Shorty, heartily, I think we ought to thank our lucky stars that any of us are left to talk about it, even. Its more than we had a right to expect fifteen minutes ago.

I guess youre right, Shorty, at that, agreed Bert, but now, wed better make a quick sneak back to camp. Mr. Hollis will have given us up for lost.

Accordingly the boys all climbed into the car, and they were soon humming along on their homeward journey. You may be sure that Bert slowed down almost to a walking pace at every turn they came to, however, and once, just for fun, he said, Say, Shorty, I dont like the looks of that curve ahead of us. Perhaps you had better get out and go on ahead to make sure that the coast is clear. I intend to be on the safe side this time.

Shorty immediately entered into the spirit of the joke, and vaulted out over the side of the tonneau while the auto was yet in motion, and disappeared around the curve. As the auto crept around the bend its occupants could see Shorty waving his handkerchief and signaling for them to come on. Bert laughingly complied, and, as they passed Shorty, stopped a moment to give him a chance to climb aboard. Shorty was soon in his place, and Frank laughed.

Gee, Bert, thats being careful for fair. If Mr. Hollis could have seen that I think it would have made up for our going too fast and almost getting smashed up. What do you say, fellows?

There was a unanimous chorus of assent to this proposition, but Bert did not join in the laughter. He felt in his heart that he had been careless, and he knew that even his subsequent presence of mind in getting them out of a tight scrape did not wholly atone. His mind was filled with these thoughts, when Bob said, Say, fellows, I dont see why we have to say anything to Mr. Hollis about our near accident, at all. It will just make him angry at us, and maybe he will not want to let us use the car again. Besides, now that its all over, it wont do him any good to know what a narrow escape weve had.

No, no, Bob, that would never do in the wide world, replied Bert, quickly, and in a reproving voice. The last thing we ought to think of is to deceive Mr. Hollis, and you know it. Im surprised that you should even have mentioned such a thing.

Well, theres no harm done, is there? replied Bob, but in a rather shame-faced manner. We wont do it if you dont think we ought to, so theres no use getting mad about it. I just offered that as a suggestion, thats all.

Well, replied Bert, the chief blame for this thing lies on me, anyway, and as soon as we get back to camp I intend to make a clean breast of the whole matter to Mr. Hollis, and he can do as he thinks best.

Oh, all right, have it your own way, growled Bob, sullenly, and they relapsed into silence. By this time it was almost dark, and Bert was forced to drive very slowly, as he had never been over that particular road before. He had a well-developed sense of location, however, and was pretty sure that he was going in the right direction.

As it proved he was not deceived in this, and they shortly struck a road with which they were all familiar. Bert ventured to accelerate their pace somewhat, and it was not long before they came in sight of the cheery camp fire, around which Mr. Hollis and the boys who had not gone on the automobile trip were seated. As they heard the sound of the machine the group around the fire leaped to their feet, and Mr. Hollis walked slowly toward them. When the auto swung into the circle of fire light and came to an abrupt halt, he said:

What has been detaining you, boys? It seems to me that you are not treating me quite right by going off in this manner and returning at such an hour as this. Why, you should have been back two hours ago.

A chorus of excited exclamations rose from the boys, but Mr. Hollis raised his hand for silence. When this had been restored, he said, One at a time, boys, one at a time. Here, Bert, lets hear your explanation.

This Bert proceeded to give in a very straightforward manner, and did not attempt to gloss over any of the details of his recklessness, as he was pleased to call it.

Mr. Hollis listened with a serious face, and when Bert had finished, said, Well, Bert, you were certainly to blame for taking chances in the manner that you did, but, on the other hand, you deserve credit for the presence of mind and courage you showed in extricating your companions and yourself from what might very easily have been a fatal accident. Still, you were right to tell me all about it, and I think that to-days experiences may have the effect of making you more careful in the future.

You may be sure, sir, that I will never be so careless again, promised Bert, and by the tone of his voice, Mr. Hollis knew that he meant it.

It was a hungry lot that sat down to supper that evening, and little was spoken of except their thrilling experiences of the day. After supper, however, they began to feel the effects of the exciting day, and all expressed themselves tuckered out. As Frank said, He felt too tired to take the trouble of going to sleep.

They all managed to overcome this very important objection, however, and soon there was no sound to be heard in the camp except the rustling of the embers in the camp fire as they slowly burnt themselves out and settled into ashes.

CHAPTER XV
Mountain Scouting

Sunshine! glorious, golden sunshine! Was ever sunshine more bright? Was ever sky more blue? Was ever day more beautiful? So questioned our campers as, fresh and glowing from a cold plunge in the lake, a hearty breakfast despatched, bedding aired and cots freshly made up, camp cleared up and morning duties all attended to in tip-top fashion, they mustered about Mr. Hollis to receive the days commissions.

It mattered little what might be the commission allotted to each squad. Anything, everything that might come to them in the way of camp duty, could not but be a pleasure on such a glorious day as this. With young bodies aglow with health, young minds, awake and alert for all new impressions, young hearts filled with desire to live right, to do right, to be kind and helpful to all with whom they came in contact, how could they help being happy?

The camp was full of merriment, but perhaps the happiest squad of all was the auto squad. In fact this was always the case, but today the autoists had a special expedition. They were to play the mountain scouting game, and as the nearest mountains were at a distance from camp the squad had been detailed for the automobile.

Gaily the fellows piled in and away they flew. As the roads which they must travel today were rough, their progress was much less rapid than usual; but, despite this they reached their destination in about half an hour.

Hurrah for the Red Scout, cried Bob, as they tumbled out of the car. If she can travel like that over these roads, whatll she do on the race track? Oh, say, fellows, the Gray Ghost wont be in it. Shell fade away like a real ghost.

Dont I wish the day of the race was here, said Tom. Seems as if it would never come, doesnt it, fellows? and It sure does, they all chorused.

The mountains were really very high, rocky hills, but, as they were known to embrace many very steep and dangerous ravines, some of them nearly as perilous as mountain precipices, many and earnest had been the warnings given by Mr. Hollis as the boys had started on their expedition, and each boy carried in the pockets of his jacket some part of the equipment for first aid to the injured that was a part of the camp outfit. Thus safe-guarded, they felt no fear.

As soon as they had arrived the three hares, who had been coached in the game, went to hide themselves in the mountain, and, after sufficient time had been given them for this purpose, the hounds followed them; while Bert and Dave Ferris remained in the auto to watch for any signal that might be given them from the mountain.

The game of mountain-scouting consists in the hounds, who must stay within certain limits of ground, finding or spotting the hares within a given time. If they find or spot them even with field glasses, it counts, provided that the finder can tell who it is he has spotted. The hounds write down the names of any of the hares that they may see. If at the end of the allotted time no hare has been spotted, the hares win.

To-day two hours had been the given time and the boys in the mountains were to signal to Bert the news as each hare was found.

Time was nearly up. Three hares had been found. The chase had been a merry one and now hares and hounds together, no longer pursuers and pursued, but just happy-hearted campers were hiking down to the two in the automobile.

The return signal had been given, and Bert and Dave, relieved of the slight anxiety they had felt while the game was going on, expected each moment to see the boys come into view.

Suddenly Dave sprang to his feet. Look, Bert, said he, another signal.

Breathlessly the boys read the signal wig-wagged to them from a point high up on the side of the hill. Come quick! Fred hurt. Bring splints and kit and ropes.

It took only a very short time for the boys to reach the scene of the accident, and one glance took in the situation. Turning a corner the boys had come, all unknowing, upon a spot where the rocks shelved suddenly down into a deep ravine. The edge of the descent was hidden by a fringe of breast-high bushes, and Fred Morse, all unconscious of his danger, had stepped upon a piece of rock which gave under his foot, and, before the boys could even put out a hand to save him, had slipped through the bushes, and the horrified boys had heard their comrade go crashing through the bushes on the side of the ravine. His frightened cry, Help, fellows, Im falling! still echoed in their ears. While two of the boys were signalling, the others had called to Fred but no reply had come back to them. When Bert reached them, Bob was running along the edge of the cliff, in great danger of going over himself, in a vain effort to find a place to climb down.





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