J. Duffield.

Bert Wilson at the Wheel





Now, not waiting for the call for volunteers, he ran to Bert and begging him to hurry and help him, began fastening the ropes about himself. In a twinkling, the rope was adjusted, the knots securely tied, and the rope firmly held by four boys, Bob was lowered slowly and carefully over the side of the cliff.

Down, down he went till, just as the boys began to fear that the rope would not be long enough, it lay slack in their hands, and they knew that Fred was found. Presently came the signal, three distinct pulls on the rope, and soon poor Fred was lifted tenderly over the edge and laid gently down. A few minutes more and good old Bob was back with them.

Now, all attention was turned to Fred. After a careful examination from head to toe, Bert relieved the anxious fears of his comrades by the announcement that he was sure that Freds life was not in danger. A faint cheer went up, which faded when Bert said Freds leg was broken.

Consternation filled their hearts, for the nearest doctor was miles away, and though Bert felt sure there was no more serious injury than the broken limb, it was hard to tell what internal injury might have been sustained, and a long ride in the motor with the leg in the present condition might prove a serious matter. There was no doubt about it, the leg must be set at once.

Not one of the boys had anything but the simplest knowledge of first-aid-to-the-injured, but, though at first hearts feared and hands trembled, they conquered fear and each boy went steadily to work to do his part. Whether it was to hand the cotton batting or to pull with full strength upon the poor broken limb, or hold the splints while Bert wound yards of bandage around them, not a boy flinched, and at last the work was done, and well done.

Then with faces scarcely less white than Freds own, they turned to the task of making a litter on which to carry him down to the motor.

After a long search, for the hill was almost barren of trees, being covered mostly with scrubby bushes, two short and two long saplings were found and, laying two of the boys jackets on the ground and running each of the long poles through the sleeves of a jacket, the two jackets were buttoned together with buttons down. Then the short poles were lashed on and a comfortable stretcher was ready to their hand.

In the auto on smooth roads, carried tenderly by his fellows over the rougher places, they at last reached the office of the crusty old village doctor and laid Fred on the couch for the doctors examination. But though the doctor was crabbed, he was skilful, and in a very short time the temporary splints were replaced by permanent ones and the party turned toward camp.

Homeward-bound in the auto at last, the boys drew a great sigh of relief and weariness. What an eventful day it had been! Begun so brightly, it had nearly ended in a tragedy, and at the thought their hearts swelled with gratitude that they were taking dear old Fred home with them alive, and, if not well, at least only the worse for a broken leg and some severe bruises.

They could not be thankful enough.

Whos that going along the road ahead? asked one of the boys, and all saw, walking in the middle of the road and directly in the path of the motor, a little bent old womans figure, the most conspicuous article of whose dress was a bright red, very draggled looking feather which drooped from the brim of a very ancient hat.

Very tired and pathetic, the old figure looked to the boys as they brought the machine to a stop beside her, and the old wrinkled face, wet with tears that was turned to them when they spoke to her, made every warm boys heart ache with pity.

Why its Kitty Harrigans old mother, who has just come over from Ireland, said Dick, in a low voice. Dont you remember, fellows, how we laughed when Mr. Hollis told us about her the other night? He said, you know, that the poor old lady had been quite a village belle in her young days, and now, in her age, she imagines herself back in her girlhood. Look at her now.

Indeed, the old lady was a study, for no sooner did her old eyes fall on Berts handsome face as he spoke to her, than tears were brushed hastily aside, and with a coquettish glance from her brown eyes that, despite the years, were still bright, she made him so deep a curtsey that her long black coat swept the ground.

She had eluded all watchful eyes, and slipped off by herself for a walk, and when she wished to return, had taken the wrong direction, and was walking away from home instead of toward it. She had enjoyed herself immensely at first, making the most of her seldom-obtained freedom, but now her old feet were very tired and the old limbs that had carried her sturdily for nearly ninety years were growing weak at last, and, after such unusual exertion, were trembling beneath her.

At the boys proposal to take her into the car and give her an automobile ride, the tired old face broke into a smile, and, as the boys settled her in the most comfortable seat in the tonneau, she leaned back luxuriously, and, clasping her old hands, said in ecstasy, Did annybody iver see the loike of Biddy Harrigan ridin in an artymobile, no less. She beamed upon the boys, she patted the hands and shoulders of all of them within her reach, and in her rich Irish brogue showered compliments upon them; for a very demonstrative creature was old Biddy Harrigan. She did not notice that mischievous Bert, whom she had called a rale foine gintleman, took advantage of her flow of talk to sing in a very low tone, H-a-double r-i-g-a-n spells Harrigan, but the boys found it very hard to keep their faces straight.

On Freds account, poor Fred, who had, perhaps, shown more courage than anyone else in that days ordeal, for not one word of complaint had he uttered through all his pain, the boys felt that they must go on to the camp where he could get the rest and attention he so sadly needed. They did not know that what was causing him keener anguish than the physical pain was the fear that he would be unable to be on hand on that day of days which he, like every other fellow in camp, had thought of every waking moment, dreamed of every night and looked forward to with daily-increasing impatience the day of the race between their adored Red Scout and the challenged Gray Ghost. To miss seeing the Red Scout come in gloriously victorious (not a single doubt of her victory entered any boys mind), what was the pain of a broken leg to the misery of that possibility! But they did know that he needed care, so they carried Biddy Harrigan with them. As supper was ready when they reached camp, they placed Biddy in the seat of honor and regaled her with the best of the camp fare.

Never had an old women enjoyed herself so much. She could not get over the fact that the delicious supper had been cooked by boys. If Oi hadnt of seen it and tashted it, Oi niver, niver would have belaved, she said over and over again.

After supper they hurried the old woman, gesturing and exclaiming at the delight of another artymobile ride, into the auto and soon had her home.

Irish Kitty, who washed for the camp, was overjoyed at her old mothers safe return and overwhelmed them with gratitude.

The boys last view of Biddy was a grateful, curtseying, waving, delighted old woman who repeated over and over again, Oll not forgit yez, Bys, Oll not forgit yez. Yezll hear from old Biddy agin, and they did.

CHAPTER XVI
By a Hairs-Breadth

Tap, tap, tap, tap tap, tap tap, tap, tap sounded in Bens ears before he was fully awake and conscious. He sat up in bed and listened, and asked himself what that sound was. Was it rain? At the thought his heart grew heavy with apprehension. Rain on this day, when he and Bert and Tom were going to auto ten miles over to the Red River for a day of trout fishing. The other fellows, who did not care so much for fishing, were going on a tramp with Mr. Hollis, and he and his chums were to have the auto all to themselves the whole day.

Slipping noiselessly from his cot, he lifted the tent flap and stepped outside. The first rays of morning sunshine beamed full in his face, and the insistent noise that had aroused him proved to be the tap-tapping of an energetic woodpecker out for the proverbial early worm.

Delighted at the prospect of such a glorious day, he rushed back into the tent with a hop, skip and a jump, at sight of which Don, always ready for a frolic, began frisking about and barking joyfully.

Of course, there was no sleep after that for the other fellows, and, bath and dressing and breakfast dispatched as soon as possible, the three boys, seated in their beloved auto, and bidding a noisy good by to the rest of the camp, sped away on their quest for trout enough for a rousing fish dinner that evening.

You would have had to go a long way to find a merrier or more care-free set of boys than our three adventurers. Used as they were, by this time, to the automobile, it never became an old story to them, and now, as the swift motion of the car sent the cool air rushing against their young faces, with the sunshine turning everything to gold, and with the prospect of a day of rare sport before them, they gave full vent to their overflowing spirits. They shouted and laughed, and chaffed each other until many a staid farmer or farm hand, starting early work in the fields, or doing chores about the barns, found themselves smiling in sympathy. They recalled the time when they were boys, and the whole world just a place to be happy and jolly in.

The boys had enjoyed the ride so much, that all three were almost sorry when Tom pointed out the gleam of water through the trees, and they knew that Red River was at hand; but in a moment nothing was thought of but the fun of getting ready for their days sport.

Tumbling out of the Red Scout, laden with fishing baskets and tackle and rods, they raced down to the river bank, selected each a shady, grassy, comfortable spot, and, line and reel and hook adjusted, were obliged at last to curb their wild spirits, still their noisy chatter, and settle down to fishermans quiet, although irrepressible Tom, unable to subside at once, sang softly:


Hush, hush, not a breath, not a breath,
Ive a nibble, still as death, still as death.

The others could not resist joining in the chorus of the old song, and regardless of consequences sang lustily:


Oh, the joys of angling!
Oh, the joys of angling!
Oh, the joys, oh, the joys,
The joys, the joys of angling.

Then a Sabbath stillness descended on the party, until Ben shouted, first bite, and giving his line a sudden jerk and swing, landed a beautiful speckled trout upon the grass a few feet away.

For a few moments excitement reigned, and cries of Hurrah for Ben, good for us, isnt he a beauty? lets keep it up, were heard, until Berts We certainly wont keep it up unless we keep quiet, sent them back to their places and again quiet reigned.

Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes went by, and there were no more nibbles. The boys were beginning to get restless, when Bert landed the second fish, and, a couple of minutes after re-baiting his hook, added a third beauty to their collection.

Tom, seeing the success of his comrades, began to feel as though he were being left on the outside of things, but Bert encouraged him by reminding him, First the worst, second the same, last the best of all the game, and sure enough, after nearly half an hour of most trying waiting, he suddenly felt his line twitch, and had the joy of landing the largest and finest fish yet caught.

When the excitement had a little subsided, Ben said, I think we ought to celebrate that dandy catch, and the very finest way would be to have a feast.

As, what with the stirring ride and the excitement of the sport, each fellow felt, with Bert, that he was hungry enough to eat nails, the hamper was brought from the Red Scout and unpacked with scant ceremony.

Every boy who has spent a day in the open will know exactly how good those cold chicken and ham sandwiches tasted; and the way the doughnuts vanished was something to see. Washed down with a drink of cool water from a nearby spring, it was a luncheon to be remembered.

Again settling themselves in their chosen places, they continued to try the heedless finny tribe to catch; for four trout, even though they were fine, large ones, would, Tom said, regardless of the aptness of his simile, be no more than a drop in the bucket for all those hungry fellows; but their luck seemed to have changed.

For more than two hours not a nibble disturbed the quiet of those exasperating lines, and, as the ground, although covered with springy grass, is not the softest seat in the world, the boys patience was tested to the utmost. They lay outstretched, resting on both elbows, and Tom, tempted by the heat and the absolute quiet, was just falling into a doze, when he was aroused to immediate action by the violent twitching of his line. A moment more, and another speckled victim was added to their store.

For the next hour and a half the fish bit almost as fast as they could bait their hooks, and they were kept busy hauling in one after another, until, in the joy and excitement of the sport, they lost all count of time. Fortunately for the camp, Bert suddenly made the double discovery that they had more than enough fish, and that if there was to be a fish dinner at camp that night, they would have to stop at once.

Well have to make a quick sneak, said Ben, who, in moments of excitement, sometimes forgot his most polished English.

Hastily packing their catch in the fishing baskets they had brought, they tossed them and the tackle into the auto, scrambled in themselves, and were off and away.

The Red Scout goes fine, said Tom, as the great car gathered headway. From the beginning, the auto race, which even the wonderful days sport could not completely banish from their minds, had been the almost exclusive topic of conversation among the campers, and now that the day was rapidly drawing near, they could think of little else. Is she in first-class condition, Bert? asked Ben.

Yes, Bert replied, except that I noticed on the way out this morning that the brake did not work as well as usual. As soon as we reach home I will find and remedy the trouble, whatever it is. If worst comes to worst I can send to the factory for a new part, which would reach us inside of twenty-four hours.

By this time about half the ten mile stretch had been covered, and now they had begun to descend a very steep hill. Suddenly Berts face went white. Tom, chancing to look at him, exclaimed, Whats the matter, Bert? and Bert replied, The brake wont work, fellows. Somethings stuck. I cant control the car.

Then for a moment all yielded to a panic of fear. Oh, Bert, said Ben, you must stop her. There must be something you can do, begged Tom.

Looking into the frightened faces of his two companions, Bert recovered his self-control, and resolved to do his best to avert an accident. Dont be frightened, fellows, he said. The steering gear is all right. Just sit tight and keep a stiff upper lip, and well come through.

But, Bert, the bridge! gasped Tom, and at the same moment a vision of the narrow bridge, scarcely wide enough for two autos to pass, which crossed the river at the foot of the steep hill, and just where the stream was deepest, flashed before their eyes. All realized that should the automobile fail to pass over the center of the bridge, and should strike the frail railing on either side Well, they didnt dare to think of that.

Calling up all their courage, the brave boys resolved to face, without flinching, whatever awaited them. Once past the bridge and onto the broad roadway beyond, they knew that they would be safe. On level ground, with the power shut off, they would come to a standstill.

But would they ever reach that level roadway? each boy asked himself, with sinking heart.

Bert renewed his efforts to use the worthless brake, but without avail. Down, down, they flew, gaining speed with every passing moment, and now the bridge was in sight. Another moment, and they would be upon it.

Courage, fellows, said Bert, in low, tense tones, and bracing himself, he concentrated all his mind and energy in guiding the car to the center of the bridge.

When a few hundred feet away the forward wheel struck a large stone, and the machine, which had been headed directly for the bridge, swerved to one side, and now sped onward toward the river.

With lightning-like rapidity Bert wrenched the steering wheel around, and once more, with only a few feet of space to spare, the Red Scout good old Red Scout, was headed almost for the middle of the bridge not quite the space had been too small. To the boys, looking ahead with straining, despairing eyes, it seemed that they must crash into the railing, and that nothing could save them.

Instinctively they closed their eyes, as the car dashed upon the bridge, expecting each minute to hear the crash of breaking timbers, and to feel themselves falling into the engulfing waters of the rushing river.

But the expected did not happen. Like a bird the Red Scout skimmed over the bridge, missing the railing by a hairs breadth, and was out upon the broad roadway. Almost before the boys could realize their escape from the awful danger that had threatened them, it was over, and the Red Scout gradually losing its speed, at last stood still.

Breathless, speechless, dazed, almost overcome, the boys sat looking at each other for a few moments, until, the full realization of their wonderful escape coming upon them, they grasped each others hands convulsively. Each knew that in the others heart, none the less earnest for being unexpressed, was a fervent prayer of thankfulness for their deliverance; but as speech returned to them, the first words uttered by Tom, were, What do you think of that for classy driving, fellows? at which they all laughed nervously.

Their laugh did not last long, however, for in the midst of it, out from among the trees and shrubbery that skirted the roadway emerged two rural constables. As if one overwhelming experience were not enough, the constables informed them that they were arrested for exceeding the speed limit.

Bert was the first to recover from the shock, and giving his companions a comical, but reassuring look, he stepped forward and said, We have been speeding some, officers, but we simply couldnt help it, and he proceeded to explain. But the boys faces expressed their consternation when they found that their explanation was not credited.

We only have your word for that, said one of the men, and you will have to convince the judge that you are telling the truth.

Why, you certainly wont arrest us for an accident to our brake, for which we are not at all to blame! cried Tom, indignantly.

Well, said one constable, giving his fellow a knowing wink, perhaps if you have a tenner that you have no use for, we might forget all about it.

Bert, flushed and indignant, refused, and without further protest, the three boys, followed by the two constables, took their places in the car. As they were only a short distance from town, they soon arrived at the court house, and were left in an ante room to await their turn for a hearing.

Once alone, the three comrades stood for the second time within an hour, looking into each others faces. As Tom afterwards said, too full for utterance.

Suddenly Ben began strutting around the room in a most pompous manner, remarking, I guess you dont know who we are. You know, said he, that one is not a howling swell until he has been pinched for speeding, so behold us three aristocrats! with another strut across the room.

The boys could not help laughing, but Bert said, Well, if this is being an aristocrat, Id rather be excused. It wont be quite such a laughing matter if we find ourselves fined fifty or a hundred dollars.

But, began Tom, and said no more, for at that moment they were called before the judge.

They were obliged to stand by and hear the constables charge against them, given in detail. Then the judge turned to them

What are your names? was the first question.

Bert replied for the three. Upon hearing the names the magistrate started, and looked keenly at them, but said nothing further than to ask what they had to say to the charge brought against them. Bert gave a clear and connected account of the accident to the auto brake, and its consequences, and ended by saying, that if any proof were needed, an examination of the brake would show the truth of their account.

The judge accepted the boys statement, dismissed the charge against them, and turned to them a face from which all sternness had vanished, and been replaced by such a genial, friendly smile, that the three comrades were filled with wonderment. This was not lessened when the magistrate asked them if they were the three brave fellows who had stopped the two runaways a few days before, and saved the lives of the ladies who were driving.





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