Bert Wilson at the Wheelñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
With amazement that the judge should know of the runaway, plainly written on their faces, the boys acknowledged that they had stopped the horses, but added that it was their auto that had frightened the animals, and so it had plainly been up to them to help.
The magistrate smiled more broadly at this, but repeated that they were brave boys, and that he was glad to meet them.
Looking quizzically at them, he said: “I have a special interest in those two ladies. One of them is my wife, and the other my daughter, and I can never repay you for what you have done for me. You have made me your debtor for life. If I can ever do anything for you, be sure and let me know.”
Another handshake all around, and the boys found themselves free once more. Were they happy? – well, you should have seen them as they climbed into the car and headed toward camp.
Events had so crowded upon each other that for the first mile or so the three speeders sat silently reviewing the occurrences of this most amazing day. And Tom, recalling their court room experience, broke out with:
“Gee whiz, I’m glad I’m free
No prison cell for me.”
This provoked a laugh and broke the tension, and a moment afterward a scouting party from the camp hailed them boisterously: “Where are those fish?” “How long do you think we can live without eating?” “Stand and deliver or take the consequences” – and as the auto came to a standstill, the basket was snatched and hurried off to the mess tent. Soon a delicious odor made every hungry boy’s mouth water, and when at last they gathered around the table it was with wolfish appetites that they paid their respects to that belated fish dinner.
Biddy Harrigan Remembers
“Cast thy bread – cast thy bread upon the waters,
“And it shall return – it shall return unto thee after many days,” chanted a clear, high voice, truly a wonderful voice, which Bert claimed as his own discovery.
It was almost bed-time in the camp. The day had been a most fatiguing one, and all had returned so weary that no one cared for the usual lively evening entertainment. Even Mr. Hollis had said that he was “dog-tired,” and he felt with the boys that the very finest thing in the world was just stretching out on the grass, resting weary feet, and saying to one’s self: “Nothing to do till tomorrow.”
It was a perfect evening, cool and quiet. There was no moon, but the stars twinkled brightly, and the boys had been looking up at them and trying to make out some of the six constellations that everyone should be familiar with. But even that, in their present state of laziness, was too much like work, and now they lay doing and almost thinking nothing.
Even Don, the big collie, that the tramps had deserted, was not inclined to romp with the boys as usual, but lay quietly with his great head resting upon his paws. He had become the pet and plaything of the whole camp and treated them all impartially except Bert whom he had chosen as his one particular master.
He wanted no other heaven than this – to lie, as now, close to Bert, whose hand caressed his head while he said now and again: “Good dog”; “Good old fellow!” Don, like the boys, was at peace with all the world.
Suddenly, someone started a popular air in which all joined. This put them in a musical humor, and song followed song, changing after a while from popular music and rollicking college songs to those of a more sentimental nature. Most of the boys had good voices. With the soprano of some, the tenors of the older fellows and Mr. Hollis’ fine bass, the camp singing would have delighted any lover of music.
Whenever the boys had sung together, they had noticed that Phil’s voice had never joined in with the others. They had guyed him about it but as he would never answer them, they had come to the conclusion that he could not sing and was sensitive about it, so they had stopped teasing him.
To-night, as the notes of “The Soldier’s Farewell” floated over the camp, Bert noticed that Shorty was singing for the first time, and though his voice was low as though he were purposely holding it back, for fear the attention of the boys might be drawn to it, the notes were remarkably clear and pure.
When the song ended, Bert turned to Phil and asked him if he liked music. Phil answered that he loved it and added more as if he were thinking aloud than talking, that it was “the finest thing on earth.”
The boys sat up and stared. There was a moment of surprised silence and then a chorus of voices:
“Then you can sing?”
“We never dreamed you could.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
“Why wouldn’t you sing for us?”
“Because,” said Phil, who had decided to tell them the real reason at last, “because all you big fellows thought that just because I was small, I couldn’t do anything worth while, and I was sore.”
The fellows expressed their regret and then in responses to a few kindly questions put by Mr. Hollis, they learned that Shorty’s ambition was to obtain a thorough musical education. They learned too that for two years past he had been the soloist in the boy choir of one of the prominent churches in New York. He had joined the boy choir because there he could gain, without cost, a knowledge of sight reading and voice control.
Bert’s “Won’t you sing something for us, Phil?” was not to be resisted and after a moment’s thought his clear notes rose in a burst of melody:
“Cast thy bread upon the waters” —
The boys fairly held their breath as the flutelike notes of one of the finest voices they had ever heard, floated off into the woodland spaces.
When he had finished, every one sat spellbound, paying the highest tribute of a moment of perfect silence. Even when the silence was broken by hearty hand clapping, the spell of the music still brooded over them. It had been too fine for noisy applause.
The boys’ appreciation of his singing was very grateful to Phil, and not the least tribute was Tom’s: “Gee, Phil, I hope the birds didn’t wake up to hear that. They would have been green with envy.”
The tension was broken by Sam’s asking: “What does that mean, ‘Cast thy bread upon the waters’ – and how can it return?” Mr. Hollis was glad to explain that no kind deed or word is ever wasted, but is sure to return blessings on the one who gave it, if only in the glow that a kind action always brings.
But, uplifted as the boys had been, it is not in boy nature to stay long upon the heights and they soon came down to earth again.
Jim showed how fully he had come back to earth by remarking as he suddenly remembered that owing to a miscalculation as to the elastic nature of a boy’s capacity, both flour and corn meal had given out, and that in consequence, nothing in the shape of bread had come their way that night: “I wish some real bread were coming tomorrow. I am not particular about its coming by water. It can get here any old way, as long as it comes.”
The sound of someone approaching the camp aroused them. Irish Kitty appeared, with a big basket on one arm and a great bunch of red roses in her apron.
As soon as the boys saw the flowers, a shout went up: “Roses! roses! What beauties!” and on Kitty saying that she had counted them and there was one for each, they were seized upon and distributed in a twinkling.
Now, Kitty stated that she had a “prisint for the young gintlemin” from her mother, Mrs. Harrigan, “to thank thim for the foine illigant ride in the artymobile.”
The big basket was uncovered and there lay revealed to the eyes of the delighted boys a number of large loaves of delicious homemade bread. One did not need to taste that bread to know its value. The firm white loaves spoke for themselves. Corn bread they had in plenty every day, but white wheat flour bread was not included in their regular camp rations, so that this was indeed a treat. They were all devouring it already in imagination, and each wished it were morning so that they might begin in reality.
Kitty departed amid “Good nights” and hearty thanks to her mother, and, camp bed time having arrived, all drifted toward their tents, Tom gaily singing:
“‘Tis a name
That no shame
Has iver been connected with
Harrigan! That’s me.”
All at once some one shouted: “Look at Ben Cooper.” They turned to see Ben standing like a statue, eyes fixed on nothing, staring straight ahead of him.
“Say, fellows,” said he, “that bread that we cast on the waters on our way home from the doctor’s the other day sure did come back, didn’t it?”
“It certainly did and it didn’t take ‘many days’ either to get here,” said Tom.
“And,” chimed in Shorty, “a big bunch of red roses thrown in, too.”
“Yes, Caruso,” added Bert, throwing his arm affectionately over Phil’s shoulder, “you must be a prophet as well as a singer.”
Very soon the tired boys were off to dreamland, where visions of loaves of fluffy white bread, each loaf with a red rose growing out of it, floated about, and imaginative Dave dreamed that old Biddy made a “prisint” of a loaf to each one, singing in a high cracked voice as she handed them around: “Harrigan! That’s me!”
“Well,” exclaimed Bert, drawing a long breath as he rose from his cramped position beside the “Red Scout,” “this machine is in as good condition as I know how to put it, and if nothing happens I guess we can show you fellows some speed this afternoon.”
It was the morning of the long wished-for race and Bert was addressing an excited group of boys, who were holding wrenches, oil cans, and such other appliances as he might need in putting the finishing touches on the pampered machine. The whole camp was in a ferment of excitement and expectancy, and many were the heartfelt wishes for Bert’s success.
To these boys it seemed the most important thing on earth that their machine should win, and it is safe to say that if Bert had wanted to remove a piece of black grease from the car and had not a cloth handy, any one of them would have sacrificed his best handkerchief without a moment’s hesitation, and been glad to do it.
Fortunately, such a contingency did not arise, however, and finally the last nut had been tightened and the last fine adjustment made, and everything was ready for the start.
The race was scheduled to start at two o’clock, but as the boys had to walk to the track, and this necessitated a long detour around the lake, they started almost immediately after breakfast, so as to get there in plenty of time.
The boys in the two rival camps were not the only persons interested in the race by any means. News of it had leaked out over the surrounding countryside during the week between the completion of arrangements and the actual race, and now there promised to be a goodly attendance of farmers and their families.
Considerable interest was taken in the camp by the kindly country folk, and now the boys were surprised at the number of carriages and farm wagons, full of jolly youngsters, that they met on their march.
Every one they met shouted cheery greetings to them, which they returned with interest. It made them very happy to see the interest taken in them by the farmers, and the very evident good will expressed by them. They didn’t take the trouble to figure out the reason for this, but it was not very hard to find. The fact is, the boys were so manly and well-behaved that they won their way into all hearts.
Many a time they had seen the boys stop their machine rather than frighten a skittish horse, and more than one weary farmer had been given a lift on his way home from some distant field.
So, as has been said, the boys were greeted with expressions of good will on every side as they marched along, and it made them realize, perhaps more than anything else could, that it paid to live a manly, upright life.
Meanwhile, back in camp Mr. Hollis, Bert, and Dick, were having a final discussion before leaving for the rival camp in the “Red Scout.” It had been decided that Dick was to ride with Bert in the race, and give him any help that he might need.
The other boys had been bitterly disappointed, especially Tom, who had counted right along on going.
“It only seems fair that I should go,” he had contended. “Bert and I have always been special pals, and I wanted to share any risk he is going to take.”
But Mr. Hollis was firm as a rock, as he well knew how to be when he thought circumstances required it of him.
“I’m a little bit uneasy about the race, anyway,” he explained, “and as long as somebody has to take chances I want it to be some boy who is old enough to be responsible for his own actions. I know nobody could fill the place better than you, my boy, but I am sure that when you think over what I have said you will agree with me in my decision,” and Tom had to admit to himself that, as usual, Mr. Hollis was right.
But now the time had come to leave for the rival camp, and Mr. Hollis and Tom climbed into the tonneau, while Bert and Dick occupied the two front seats.
Soon they had started, and as they went along Bert gave Dick his last instruction. “Remember,” said he, “that when we take the turns you must lean as far toward the inside of the track as you can. This may not seem to help much in keeping those inside wheels on the ground, but every little thing like that does help, and I think that we will have to do everything we know how to beat that ‘Gray Ghost’ of theirs. That car is no slouch, as the saying goes, and Ralph Quinby knows his business.”
“All right, Bert,” replied Dick, “I’ll try to remember all the things you have told me. I really believe,” he continued, laughing, “that I have forgotten more about automobiles in the last week than I ever knew before. I never had any idea that there was so much to know about a car, and you certainly have got it down to perfection.”
Bert was pleased at this evidently sincere tribute from Dick, and could not prevent a slight flush of pleasure from mounting to his face.
“Well, Dick,” he remarked after a moment, “all I’ve got to say is that if such a trio as you and I and the old ‘Red Scout’ can’t win that race, there must be something the matter with the universe, that’s all.”
The rival camp all felt as confident as did Mr. Hollis’ troop, however, and to the impartial observer it would certainly have seemed as though there was little to choose between the autos and their crews.
By this time they had come in sight of the old race track, and were astonished, and, it must be confessed, somewhat confused at the sight that met their eyes. There was an old rickety grand stand along one side of the course, and this was literally packed with a bright-colored mass of humanity. Even scattered around the infield there were quite a few farm wagons, with their complement of folks out for a holiday.
“Say,” said Dick to Bert in a low tone, “I didn’t count on having an audience like this. They’ll guy the life out of us if we lose.”
“Well,” said Bert, who by this time had recovered from his first astonishment, “that’s all the more reason why we should win. We simply can’t let ourselves be beaten now, that’s all there is about it.”
But there was no time for further speculation, as Mr. Hollis was seen approaching them, and it was evident the race must soon begin.
Bert ran the “Red Scout” around to a small shed in back of the grandstand, and he and Dick made their final preparations. These consisted in taking off the hood, or bonnet, altogether, and removing the exhaust pipes from the motor. As Bert had already explained to Dick, this was done to eliminate any back pressure from the exhaust gases. Under ordinary conditions, this makes such a small difference in the power of a car that it can hardly be said to count, but in a race every ounce of power is required. This is done on every racing car, and that is why the explosions make such loud, sharp reports when the car is in action.
It need hardly be said that every boy in Mr. Hollis’s troop, except poor Fred, was present, and many were the anxious looks cast at Bert and Dick to see, if possible, how they felt about the outcome of the race. Both had been trained to have control of their feelings, however, and so outwardly they appeared to be very calm.
This was far from being the real state of their feelings, and both felt as though their hearts had suddenly become too large and were trying to get out between their ribs. They realized that it was not only their own reputation that would suffer if they were defeated, but the whole camp was involved. What would Mr. Hollis think of them if the other boys were victorious? What would the boys who had such blind confidence in them and the “Red Scout” do or say if the “Gray Ghost” won?
Such thoughts were demoralizing, however, and neither Bert nor Dick entertained them any longer than they could help. Into both their faces came that stern, resolved look that all the boys had seen at times and come to love, and in the minds of Tom and the others all doubts as to the final result vanished.
Meanwhile, Mr. Thompson’s troop had been giving the “Gray Ghost” its final touches, and now, at the sound of a mellow whistle, both Bert and Ralph cranked their motors.
None of the boys had ever heard the unmuffled exhaust of a racing car before, and at the savage roar that now issued from both cars all the boys fell back several steps with scared faces. As soon as they realized that the gasoline tank had not exploded, nor any other equally awful thing occurred, they came forward and tried to ask questions, but in the confined shed they could hardly hear the sound of their own voices.
Slowly the fire-spitting monsters were backed out of the shed, and their respective drivers swung them around and on to the track. They were greeted by a wave of cheering both from the boys and from the assembled farmers, and more than one burly countryman who had come to the “kids’ racket” under protest was seen to sit up straight and open his eyes wide.
No doubt many of them had expected to see a rather tame affair, and in fact few of them had ever seen an automobile race, or knew the tremendous speed of which a good car was capable, or realized the cool head and steady nerves required to control the condensed power of forty horses traveling at a speed of close to a mile a minute.
However, they were soon to experience a few of the thrills attendant on such an occasion. The two leaders had been holding a consultation, and now they approached the vibrating, eager cars.
Mr. Hollis was forced to shout to make himself heard above the din of the exhausts. “It is understood,” he said, “that this race is to be run from a standing start, and is to be for a distance of ten miles, or ten laps around the track. The cars must line up on the tape that we have stretched in front of the grandstand, and at the report of my pistol they are to start, each driver getting away as best he can. We have drawn lots for the choice of position, and the ‘Gray Ghost’ won, and is to have the inside position. Mr. Thompson and I will act as judges. Is that perfectly clear?” to Bert and Ralph.
“Yes, sir,” they both responded, and proceeded to man?uvre their cars into the appointed positions.
Mr. Hollis and Mr. Thompson took their places in the grandstand, part of which the boys had been directed to reserve for them.
By this time the cars were in position, each one with its front wheels resting on the strip of white tape. The “Gray Ghost” had a decided advantage to start with, as it is evident that in any race the car that has the inside position, that is, the part of the track nearest to the center of the field, has a slightly lesser distance to travel than the car on the outside, and in a close race every few feet count.
But now there was a breathless hush over the grandstand, and all eyes were on Mr. Hollis’s hand, holding the pistol aloft. Bert and Ralph were bent over their levers, every muscle tense, and nerves stretched to the breaking point.
Crack! went the pistol. With a mighty roar, and the blue flames spitting from the exhaust ports, the two great machines bounded forward, and almost with one movement Bert changed the gears from first to second, from second to high. At every change the willing car leaped ahead with ever-increasing momentum, and Bert felt a wild thrill run through his body as he realized the vast force beneath him, subject only to his control.
The “Gray Ghost” had made almost as good a start, however, and now, although the “Red Scout” had a slight lead, the inside position began to tell, and the “Gray Ghost” gained a trifle.
Dick, who had been looking back over his shoulder, now turned to Bert and yelled excitedly in his ear, “Sock it to her, Bert! Give her the gas! They’re gaining on us!”
They had now covered the first lap, and the speedometer hand on the “Red Scout’s” dashboard registered a speed of fifty miles an hour. Bert knew he could do better than that, but remembered Mr. Hollis’s instructions not to take any unnecessary chances. The machine was working beautifully, and a wave of pride surged over him as he thought that this was largely due to the care and work he had bestowed upon it.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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