J. Duffield.

Bert Wilson at the Wheel





The chief held up his hand. Wait, he said, while I talk to my people. Perhaps they have found something. I will see.

A whispered conversation followed and then he came forward sheepishly, holding out the watch and pin. They found them on the grounds. I did not know, he mumbled.

Mr. Hollis took them without a word and motioned Bert to get the auto ready. He had gained his point and did not care to press his advantage further. After all, they were almost like irresponsible children, and, despite his resentment, he felt a deep pity for these half-wild sons of poverty and misfortune. Their code was not his code, nor their laws his laws. They were the under dogs in the fight of life. Let them go.

The motor began to hum. The party piled in, with Don between them, barking joyfully, and they swept down the shabby line of carts with not a glance behind them. They waved gaily to the old black mammy, who beamed upon them as they went by. A thought struck Bert, and turning to Tom, he shouted:

The dark lady, Tom. The dark lady that the gipsy prophesied would bring you luck.

Sure thing, grinned Tom. It certainly is luck enough to get old Don back, to say nothing of the watch and pin. Isnt it, old fellow? and he patted the dogs head lovingly.

So thought the rest of the boys, also, when the Red Scout reached camp. Don was overwhelmed with caresses and strutted about as though he had done it all. As Jim put it: Napoleon on his return from Elba had nothing on Don. It was late when the excitement subsided and the campers went weary but happy to bed.

Mr. Hollis, Bert and Dick lingered about the fire. Only these older ones had realized how ticklish a situation they had faced that day. They didnt like to think what might have happened if it had come to an open fight.

The way you faced that crowd was the pluckiest thing I ever saw, Mr. Hollis, said Bert; but suppose it had come to a showdown?

Well, laughed Mr. Hollis, it was a case of touch and go for a minute. But I counted on the fact that we were right and they were wrong. Conscience makes cowards of us all. Behind us were law and order and civilization. Behind them crowded nameless shapes of fear and dread that robbed their arms of strength and turned their hearts to water. It was simply a confirmation, he concluded, as he rose to say good night, of the eternal truth:

Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just.

CHAPTER IX
How the Red Scout Climbed Dobbs Hill

The morning of the long anticipated day in the Red Scout dawned bright and clear, and the campers who were to go were astir soon after dawn. Most of them would willingly have dispensed with breakfast, but Mr. Hollis insisted that they take their time and eat a hearty meal. However, everything comes to him who waits, and at last they were ready to start. It had been arranged that on their trip they were to stop in town, and get supplies and some camp appliances that Mr.

Hollis required. Otherwise they were to do as they pleased, subject only to Berts authority.

The car was ready to start, and Bert had received Mr. Hollis last instructions.

Well, fellows, said Bert, pile in, and well start for town right away. It rather looks now as though we might have a little rain before the day is over. I dont like the looks of the sky over there any too much, but weve got to have grub anyway, even if we have to go after it in boats.

Yes, or we might swim, I suppose, suggested Shorty, sarcastically.

In that case, wed let you try it, as its only a matter of twenty miles or so each way, and see if you are as strong as your name, retorted Bert, and Shorty subsided.

Meanwhile the others had taken their appointed places in the auto, and, after adjusting spark and throttle levers, Bert walked to the front of the machine and cranked the motor.

On the first turn, such was the beautiful condition in which he kept the car, the engine started with a roar, and he quickly climbed into the drivers seat and threw in the clutch. Without a tremor the big car glided away as if moving on air, which indeed it was, in a way, if the air in the tires could be counted.

With the ease of a driver who thoroughly understands his car, Bert steered the machine around and between the bumps in the road, and even one who had never ridden in an automobile before would have appreciated his masterly handling of this machine.

Suddenly Tom, who, as usual, was riding in the seat beside Bert, leaned over and said, Say, Bert, do you suppose she would take Dobbs hill?

Now, the hill to which Tom referred was one notorious in the neighborhood. More than one gray-haired farmer had shaken his head dubiously while inspecting the Red Scout, and said, Yes, that there contraption may be all right on the level, and theres no getting over the fact that it can run circles around a streak of greased lightning, but Ill bet a dollar to a doughnut that it could never get up Dobbs hill.

So Bert thought a moment before answering Toms question, and then said, Well, thats an awfully steep hill, but the old Scout has never balked at anything yet, and I have a sneaking feeling that it wouldnt even stop at Dobbs hill. However, there is only one way of finding out about it, and that is to try it. What do you say, fellows, shall we try it and show these people around here just what our machine can do?

There was a unanimous chorus of assent from the other occupants of the car, so at the next crossing Bert turned off the main road in the direction of the famous Dobbs hill. Soon the hill itself loomed up in front of them, and Bert opened the throttle a trifle. The machine immediately picked up speed, but to the occupants of the machine it seemed almost impossible that anything but an elevator could get up that hill. It looked to them almost like a high wall. Bert, however, was thinking more of the machine than of the hill. He had been gradually giving the engine more gas, and now, when they were almost at the foot of the hill, he realized that the moment had come to call forth the supreme effort of the motor. He opened the muffler so as to get rid of all back pressure, and opened the throttle to its widest extent. With a bound and a roar the powerful machine took the hill, and to the boys in the car it seemed as though they had some powerful, willing animal working for them. Up the great machine climbed, with scarcely diminished speed, the engine emitting unbroken and exhilarating music, or at least that is what it sounded like to the tense boys in the auto. At last with a final roar of the motor, and rumble of the straining gears, the machine topped the hill and started on its long downward coast. Bert threw out the clutch, and giving the engine a well-earned rest after its strenuous work, allowed the Red Scout to glide rapidly and smoothly down the hill.

Every boy in the car seemed half-crazy with delight over the performance of their mechanical pet. Some even went so far as to pat the sides of the car, and Bob expressed the general feeling when he said, Well, Id rather be a camper and be able to say I held part ownership in a car like this, than to be King of England.

The boys also realized that a lot of credit was due Bert for the success of their climb, as even such a car as the Red Scout could never have gotten up that hill without expert handling.

Down the long hill glided the Red Scout with constantly increasing momentum, and long before they reached the bottom Bert had to apply the powerful brakes with which the machine was equipped, and check its speed.

Gradually he slowed it down to a safer, but less exciting speed, and at the bottom eased in the clutch and the willing motor took up the load.

In the meantime the sky had taken on a more threatening appearance, and while the happy-go-lucky boys in the tonneau gave it little thought, Bert, to whom the care of the car and its occupants were intrusted, cast more than one dubious and anxious glance in the direction in which the storm might be expected to break. He hoped that they might at least make the necessary trip to town and back before the rain could catch them, however, and so held a steady pace, and they were soon rolling down the main street.

Bert got out his list of the things they would need, and detailed the boys to different stores so that they could get started again as soon as possible.

Berts last remark to them was, Now, fellows, step just as lively as you know how, and whatever else you do, dont come back drunk. This raised a general laugh, as, it is needless to say, the boys had had no such intentions.

Bert and Tom remained with the car, and while Bert said less than the other boys about his love for the machine, it was easy to see that he had a real affection for it, and took pleasure in cleaning and adjusting it.

Say, Tom, he called after a few minutes, bring me grandfather, will you? Now, grandfather was not what that word usually means, but an immense monkey-wrench, with jaws on it like a vise. It was called grandfather for no particular reason that anybody knew of, but someone had called it that once, and the name had stuck. The boys sometimes used it to exercise and perform feats of strength with, so heavy was it. So now, when Tom got it out of the tool box on the running board and handled it with loving care, Bert took it from him, and for several minutes was busy adjusting and tightening bolts and nuts around the motor and transmission case. Finally he handed the wrench back to Tom with a sigh of relief.

Well! he exclaimed. Theres a good job well done. Ill bet we could take that hill now even a little better than we did, if thats possible.

I dont know about that, replied Tom, this old Scout went up that hill better than I thought it could, and I guess you ought to have as much credit as the machine. After this I will back you and the Red Scout against all comers.

From this it may be seen that there was more than a little hero worship mingled with Toms love for Bert, and no wonder. Bert was the sort of fellow that everyone had to admire and like.

By this time the boys had begun to return with their bundles and boxes, and soon everything was safely stored in the tonneau, and the boys had time to wonder how they were going to get themselves in too, as the supplies seemed to take up about all the room.

Finally it was arranged that Jim and Dave should stay in the tonneau to see that nothing was shaken overboard, while Bob and Frank ranged themselves on the running board.

In this fashion they started, but it soon became evident to everybody that they would never be able to get back to camp before the storm broke, even with the help of the Red Scout.

Thunder could be heard coming nearer and nearer, and soon they felt the first warm drops of rain. Bert wished then that they had a top to their car, but unfortunately the leather covering ordered by Mr. Hollis had not yet arrived at the camp.

What do you think wed better do, Bert; make a run for camp or hunt shelter around here? asked Tom.

Why, this road is pretty rough, and we cant make much speed, replied Bert. I guess wed better hunt cover right away, as a vivid streak of lightning split the sky, followed by a crash of thunder.

We noticed an old barn over toward the right when we were on a botany expedition the other day, said Frank, and I think that if you swing into that dirt road were coming to, it will lead us right to it.

Well, here goes, said Bert, and swung the Red Scout into the old road. Sure enough, before they had gone a quarter of a mile they sighted the old barn, and were soon snugly established in it. To be sure, the roof leaked in places, but it was fairly tight, and what did a bunch of hardy campers, in the pink of condition, care for a few drops of rain?

There was some hay left in the barn, and they lounged comfortably around on this, talking and listening to the rain, which by this time had increased to a downpour, and beat fiercely on the roof and sides of the old barn.

The boys started a discussion about the hill-climbing feat of the Red Scout, and while all agreed that it had been a splendid performance, Bob seemed to be inclined to sneer at Berts handling of the car. He firmly believed that he knew more about automobiles than Bert, and was sometimes a little jealous of the praise given him by the other boys.

Oh, I dont know, he finally remarked, when Tom remarked that some people seemed able to coax more out of a car than others, I dont see that that makes much difference. Ill bet that if I had been running the Red Scout this morning it would have gone up that hill just the same. Why, when I used to run my uncles car but here he was interrupted by cries of derision, and Tom remarked:

I suppose that if Bob had been running the Red Scout he would have run it up the hill backwards so that it would think it was going downhill, and so got to the top without any trouble.

This sally caused a general laugh at Bobs expense and he subsided, but was heard to mutter about getting the right mixture, and easing her down to second speed, which nobody but Bert understood, but which seemed to make him feel much better.

In justice to Bob, it must be said, however, that he did know quite a little about automobiles, but usually lacked nerve when it came to putting his knowledge into practice.

By this time the boys were all hungry, and as there seemed to be a small chance of the rain letting up for a while, Bert proposed that they have lunch. There was plenty of food in the automobile, and Bert started the boys to fishing out crackers and jam.

Suddenly a thought struck him. Say, fellows, he called, how about making some cornbread and having a real bang-up meal? Weve got bacon and all the fixings here, and we all know how to cook, thanks to our experience as campers. Ill make the corn bread, and Tom here will fry the bacon.

There was such a joyous and noisy consent to this plan that Bert could not help laughing. All right, he cried, some of you fellows dive into the car and bring out the new frying pan and the Dutch oven we bought to-day. Well build a fire on that slab of stone over there, and have something to eat in next to no time.

This was no sooner said than done, and as the odor of frying bacon and hot corn pone filled the old barn, the boys thanked their lucky stars for the thousandth time that they had come on this camping trip.

In a short time everything was ready, and they seated themselves near the fire. Tom dished out the sizzling bacon and steaming corn pone.

Under the cheering influence of this feast even Bob Ward forgot his grudge of the morning, and when he shouted, Whats the matter with Wilson? the resulting Hes all right! almost lifted the roof off the old barn.

Soon they had finished and cleared away the meal, and when they opened the barn door were surprised and delighted to find that the sun had struggled through the clouds and was now shining brightly. Quickly they packed the tonneau, and were soon ready to start.

All right, fellows, get to your places, sang out Bert, and soon they were chugging out of the old barn that had offered them such timely shelter.

Once outside and fairly on the disused road, however, it soon became apparent that only with great difficulty could they make any progress at all. The rain had converted the road into a quagmire, and although Bert brought the Red Scout from third speed to second, and finally to first, he saw that they must soon stop altogether, and indeed this soon proved to be the case.

The faithful motor apparently had plenty of power, but the car sank into the mud up to its axles, and the rear wheels simply turned around without propelling it. Bert finally threw out the clutch and the Red Scout stopped as though he had applied the brakes, so great was the opposition formed by the mud.

Well, this is a pretty fix, to be sure, exclaimed Bert. Were going to have the time of our lives getting this machine out. What you need for this road is not so much an automobile as a boat. However, it wouldnt speak well for us if we couldnt get our car out of this scrape after all it has done for us, so lets get busy.

Thats all very well, said Jim, but the question is, how are you going to do it? This isnt exactly a flying machine, although it can go pretty fast, and it seems to me that we will need something like that to get us out of here.

Say, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, Jim Dawson, exclaimed Tom, indignantly, here you call yourself one of the crowd, and yet you are willing to give up before you have fairly begun to try. That isnt the right spirit.

Oh, its easy enough to talk, answered Jim, sulkily, but Id just like to know how you are going to do it, thats all.

Well, I cant say I have a plan right now, but Im sure that our old Red Scout isnt going to leave us in the lurch now after all it has done so far, and here he patted the vibrating car lovingly.

Meanwhile Bert had been thinking deeply, and had finally hit on a plan. Here, some of you fellows, run back and bring me all the hay you can carry from that barn, will you? We want to get out of here as soon as we can, because Mr. Hollis will be anxious about us. Livelys the word.

Tom, Bob, and Frank ran back to the barn and soon reappeared, carrying armfuls of hay. When they reached the car Bert took charge of it, and placed it carefully under the rear wheels, and made a path in front of each wheel for about six feet.

If we can only get over to the side of the road and up on that grass there, he explained, we will be on firmer ground and can get better traction. I only wish we had tire chains.

What are tire chains, Bert, and what are they for? inquired Frank.

Why, you see how it is, replied Bert, we have plenty of power, but the wheels cant get a grip on the ground, and just skid around. If we had a network of chains over the tires they would bite through the mud to solid ground and get the grip we need. Understand?

Sure thing, and much obliged for the explanation, said Frank, heartily.

By this time Bert had arranged things to his satisfaction, and now climbed into the drivers seat, while the boys looked on expectantly.

Bert threw out the clutch, advanced the spark slightly, and opened the throttle a few notches. Immediately the motor increased its revolutions, and when it had reached a good speed Bert gently eased in the clutch. There was a grinding sound of clutch and gears as the power was transmitted to the rear wheels, and the Red Scout lunged forward.

The front wheels were so firmly embedded by this time, however, that even the Red Scout was helpless. Again and again Bert raced his engine and let in the clutch, and each time the machine made a gallant attempt to free itself, but could never quite make it. Finally he reversed, but with no better result. At last he gave up the attempt, and leaving the motor turning over slowly, descended to hold a consultation with the other boys.

Have you any suggestions to make, fellows? he asked, I confess Im up a tree just at present. What do you say, Bob? Can you think of anything?

Why, I was thinking, answered Bob, flattered by this direct appeal to his vaunted experience, that if we could dig out a path in front of the machine up onto the grass we might get it out that way.

Say! youve hit the nail on the head this time! exclaimed Bert, enthusiastically. Thats just what well do. Get that spade out of the tonneau, will you Frank, and well get to work.

Frank immediately complied, and in an incredibly short space of time the boys had a path dug in front of the auto down to hard gravel, and were ready for another attempt to extricate their beloved car.

Bert climbed into his seat with a do-or-die expression on his handsome young face, and repeated his former tactics, but this time with greater success. The Red Scout surged forward with a roar, like some imprisoned wild creature suddenly given its liberty. Bert took no chances this time, but plugged steadily onward until he reached high, firm ground. Here he stopped the panting machine, and waited for the cheering boys to catch up.

They soon reached the faithful car, and quickly jumped into their places. Before starting again Bert turned around and said, Fellows, I think we owe Bob a vote of thanks. All who agree please say Aye.

There was a hearty chorus of Ayes, and Bob flushed with pleasure at this tribute from his comrades. He thought, and with reason, that he had demonstrated his knowledge of automobiles to good advantage, as well as his ability to meet emergencies.

By this time it was getting near dusk, and Bert knew that Mr. Hollis would be worried over their continued absence. Accordingly, when he got on to the main road, he threw the gears into high speed, and soon they were bowling along at a rapid, but safe, pace toward their camp.





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