J. Duffield.

Bert Wilson at the Wheel





As soon as they were safely ensconced, Bert blew his horn, swung the car around, and then made off for the camp. Oh, the delight of that swift trip on that glorious morning. Oh, the chatter that rose from those eager lips. Oh, the joy that bubbled in those little, motherless hearts. It wasnt earth it was heaven. On sped the machine, noiselessly, softly, swiftly as a bird. If it had not been for the other groups who were eagerly waiting their turn Bert would surely have turned off into a side road and given the kids a good many extra miles; but the others had to be considered, too, and time was passing, so into the camp they glided, all alive with eagerness, delight and anticipation. The ready hands of the other boys lifted the little ones from the machine, which instantly turned about for its second trip. Again and again this was repeated, until the last little group on the lawn of the asylum had melted away, and the woods resounded with their childish prattle.

The boys had surely spread themselves to give the kids a day that theyd never forget. Frank took some of the larger boys to the little glade where the archery practice was on, put the bows and arrows into their hands that had been prepared and showed them how to shoot. The girls were taken to a swing that the boys had rigged up and swung to and fro to their hearts content. Tom showed them how to make jack-o-lanterns and told them about the time when Bert had put one up in a great cave and frightened him so badly when he caught a first glimpse of it. A little group under the guidance of Dick went down to the brook and watched the sunfish dart to and fro under the gleaming surface and the great perch and catfish lying lazily under the reeds that fringed the bank. Shorty, who was an expert fisherman, threw his line while the boys looked on with bated breath, and in a few minutes pulled up a plump catfish.

Why do they call them that? said little Tony Darimo.

Well, said Shorty, maybe its because of the whiskers they have; perhaps because the face looks something like a cat, or else because of the noise they make when you take them off the hook.

Little Billy Jackson seemed unconvinced.

It doesnt seem to me like a cat, he said.

Just then Shorty, who had turned his head to put the fish in the basket, uttered a loud meow. Billy jumped.

I guess you are right after all, he said. It surely does sound like a pussy cat.

In the shallow part of the brook some of the little ones under the guidance of the matron were permitted to take off their shoes and stockings and paddle about. The water was less than a foot deep. One of the children slipped and fell. In a moment Don, who had been racing along the bank, jumped in and grabbed him by the collar of his blouse. The child was on his feet in a minute and had never been in the slightest danger at all, but Don felt just as proud of his exploit as though he had saved him from a raging torrent.

The boys laughed and called him a fake hero, and yet every one of them knew in his heart that, however great might have been the danger, Don would have jumped just the same. Don outdid himself that day. He made the children scream with delight. Under the guidance of Bert he played soldier, shouldered the stick and marched, rolled over and played dead, and did it all with such a keen sense of enjoyment in his tricks that the children stood about and watched him, with endless wonder and delight.

But the one whom the children remembered above all the others was Bert. He was everywhere. He told them stories. He carried them on his shoulders. He imitated the calls of the different birds. He summoned the squirrels and the timid little creatures, who long since had lost all fear of him, came readily forward, ate out of his hand and perched upon his finger tips. The children looked on with wide-eyed amazement, delight and admiration.

Then came dinner, and such a dinner! The kids had never seen anything like it before. Fish caught fresh from the brook, the golden corn bread made by the boys themselves, the maple syrup, the cakes, the pies, the countless goodies that melted away before those famished youngsters would have filled a dyspeptics heart with envy.

But all things come to an end, and in the late afternoon, amid the shouted good-byes and waving of hands from all the boys in the camp, the Red Scout took up its burden and it had never borne a happier one and carried the kids away, their little hearts full of unspeakable content, at the end of the best days outing they had ever known.

The boys were tired that night. Even Tom, who prided himself on never owning up to weariness, admitted fairly and squarely that he was clean tuckered out. But it was a delightful weariness. They had forgotten themselves. They had worked and planned for others. They had not looked for their own happiness, and just because they had not, they found it. They had learned the one supreme lesson of life, that to give is better than to receive, that he who seeks pleasure as an end in itself never finds it, and that he who bestows happiness upon another has his own heart flooded with peace.

CHAPTER XIII
Daves Tiger Story

The next night, while Dave, who had promised to tell them a tiger yarn, was pulling his thinking cap on tight, and trying to select his most fetching story, the boys gathered closer about him, and with hearts beating a little faster at the very mention of the word tiger, prepared to listen.

At last Dave looked up, and in order to make his story a trifle more thrilling, gave a little talk on the bloodthirstiness of his majesty, the tiger. When he concluded by the tense look on his hearers faces that the right moment had arrived, he plunged into

The Story of the Tiger

One calm evening in the summertime, somewhat later than usual, a gentleman stepped from the train at a railroad station in a suburban town and walked up the street toward his home. Deep in thoughts of business, he did not notice at first that a most unusual silence pervaded the town. In a short time the deadly stillness roused him, and he noticed, wonderingly, that he was the only person to be seen on the streets. Not a man, woman, or child could he see, a most unusual thing, as at that time, in the early evening, the town was always a very lively place indeed. He noticed, too, with amazement, that the doors and windows of the houses were all closed. Not a face appeared at any of them. All the windows that had blinds or shutters attached had them drawn tightly, and fastened securely. Not a sign of life anywhere. What had happened? Had everybody gone crazy?

Amazed and frightened, he hurried on, up one street and down another, until his own house came into view. That, too, was closed and shuttered. The welcoming face that had never failed to greet him was not at door or window. Now, thoroughly alarmed, he ran up the steps of the porch and wildly rang the bell. The door was opened cautiously, just a little crack, and to his great relief the face of his wife appeared at the tiny opening.

At the sight of him the door opened wider. He was clutched by the sleeve and hurried into the house with scant ceremony. Before he could get his breath after this amazing treatment the door was closed and locked and double-locked on the instant, and the white face of his wife confronted the dazed man.

His dinner was ready, but without waiting for him to be seated at the table his wife commenced to tell him the cause of the unusual state of affairs. Did he remember that the wild animal show was to have arrived in the town that day? No, he had not remembered, but go on.

Well, it did come, and while the show was in progress one of the animals, a tiger, had escaped from the tent and raced up Main Street, while everyone on the street hurried to the nearest refuge. At the end of Main Street he dashed into the woods, and though the crowd of pursuing men and boys did their best to recapture him, he was still at large. The manager of the show told the people, while they ran madly in pursuit, that the tiger was a new one, scarcely at all trained, and by far the fiercest and most savage of all the animals in the show. He warned everyone to stay closely within doors that night, and assured them that as soon as daylight appeared every possible effort would be made to capture and cage him. That is why everybody is barricaded within doors.

Of course, being a man, he laughed at his wifes fears, said there was no danger, and that it was extremely foolish for everyone to be so scared, and that, as for him, he would not lose a wink of sleep worrying about it. His wife noticed, however, that although he talked so bravely, he kept closely within doors all the evening, and that when they were ready to go upstairs for the night he looked with unusual care at the fastenings of all the doors and windows, both upstairs and down. Once, as he fastened the bolt of a window, he had stopped and grown a little white at a slight scratching noise just outside the window.

Here a decided shiver ran around the camp, furtive looks were cast over hiked shoulders, and Sam, who for some minutes had been watching a moving shadow just outside the line of camp firelight, decided that the shadow was decidedly tigerlike, and wanted to know if they did not think the fire needed some more logs. All right, old man, said Bob, and the logs went on. They blazed up brightly, and gave every man Jack, even the bravest of them, a more comfortable feeling of security, and Dave went on with the story:

In the middle of that night the man found himself suddenly awake, with an intense feeling that someone or something was in the room. Raising himself upon one elbow, he gazed searchingly about the dim room, and was just about to give himself a lecture for imagining things, when, in the farthest and darkest corner, he saw what appeared to be two great balls of green fire glaring straight at him. At once the thought of the escaped tiger leaped into his mind, and he knew that the fierce and savage beast was within his room. For a moment his heart fairly stopped beating, but, gaining control of himself with an effort, he tried to think what he should do. He reached over and laid his hand softly over his wifes lips and whispered in her ear. Then together they watched the two glowing points of fire, wondering with sick hearts how soon the tiger would be upon them.

They had not long to wait, for now the tiger began crawling toward them, inch by inch, inch by inch

At this point in the story the boys, utterly forgetful of the world and everything in it, had crowded close about the story teller, and with flesh creeping and hair rising on their heads were listening, open-mouthed, to the story. Dave had paused to take breath, when every heart stood still as a fierce scratching on the bark of a nearby tree and a deep, savage growling were heard.

All sprang to their feet. Dick Trent was the only one who remained cool. Having seen Bert Wilson (who never lost an opportunity for a little fun and mischief) steal quietly away under cover of the darkness, he more than suspected that something was going to happen, and so was prepared.

Suddenly a burst of ringing laughter made itself heard, and there on the grass lay Bert, rolling over and over, holding his sides and saying between gasps, Oh, my! Oh, my! you did look so funny! Hold me, somebody, or I will go to pieces. Oh, my! Oh, my!

At first the boys were inclined to be angry, but they were good fellows and always ready to laugh at a joke, even when it was on themselves, and so with many a laughing threat to get even with Bert, and that mighty soon, they came, a little sheepishly, back to the fire and with one accord begged Dave to go on with the story.

Well, resumed Dave, we left the tiger creeping inch by inch, inch by inch, toward his two victims, and feeling very sure of his capture; but the man was not the one to give up his life or that of his wife without a brave effort to save them. He whispered hastily to his wife, Be prepared here a voice interrupted to exclaim, They ought to have been campers to jump out and roll way back under the bed the instant I say Now!

By this time the tiger had come to within a few feet of them, and they could see him in the dim light, every muscle quivering, crouched for a spring. The man had slipped his feet over the side of the bed to the floor, and his hands clutched the bedclothes from underneath.

As the beast sprang the man shouted, Now! and at the same time flung the bedclothes over the head and body of the tiger. The two terrified people used the few minutes the angry, snarling beast took to get out from the tangle of bedclothes to roll as far under the bed as they could. The bed was a very low one, and the man knew that the tiger, who was very large, could not creep under without raising the bed with his shoulders. So the two resolved that when he tried to get under, as they knew he would, they would grip the steel springs above them and hold on like grim death, and try to hold the bed down.

All too soon they found themselves holding on to those springs with all the combined strength of their muscles. The tiger tried again and again to lift the bed, but could not get enough of his shoulders under to get a purchase, and finding himself baffled, crept away to his far corner to consider what to do.

The man knew that they could not keep the tiger at bay in this way very long, for their strength was nearly gone. Groping about desperately, his hand touched his sons tool box, pushed carelessly under the bed. How thankful he was that their boy was visiting relatives at a distance. He, at least, was safe. He grasped the box as a drowning man grasps a straw, and lifting a lid searched for and found a screw driver, and, oh, joy! a few large screws.

Working desperately, and more rapidly than ever in his life before, he drove a couple of the screws through the two top legs of the bed, securing them to the floor. Another two minutes and he had one of the bottom legs in the same condition. Before he could touch the fourth leg the tiger, angered by the noise of the screw driving, bounded forward and again tried to lift the bed. Finding he could not get at them, the tiger suddenly sprang upon the bed and began tearing at the mattress. Very soon there was nothing between him and the now almost despairing couple but the woven wire springs. These springs were of extra strong, fine quality, but even these could not hold out long against the onslaught of those terrible, powerful claws.

Almost mechanically the man again thrust his hand into the box, and drew out a small saw. The idea came to him to cut a hole through the floor into the ceiling of the room below, slip through, and rush for help. He spoke to his wife, and found she had fainted. He worked desperately, faster and faster, while all the time the tiger tore more and more fiercely at the tough springs. His hot, terrible breath swept across their faces, so close to that snarling one above them, while the saliva dropped from his savage jaws.

Almost fainting with disgust and terror, the man worked on still more desperately, for dear life now. At last one side was finished, then another, now the third, and a little hope came back to the mans heart. If he could only finish that other side he would have at least a slight chance of escape. But now the tough woven wire links began to give way under the tearing of the tigers savage claws. In one place a small hole is broken in the wire. In mad haste the man tears the saw through the wood. It seems as if it would never give way. Once the saw slips and bends. What if it should break! One more desperate, despairing effort. Only two more inches now, only one, only a half inch. At last it is over, and the saw drops from his nerveless hand. He makes a last effort to arouse his wife, but without avail. He cannot bear to leave her, for he fears that before he can get help and return the tiger will be upon her. What can he do? It is his only chance to save her. He must take it.

The tiger, as if he knew a crisis had come, ceased his tearing and lay above them, watching with angry fire flashing from his eyes, and keeping up a low, savage snarling.

With a muttered prayer for protection for his poor wife and help for himself, the man lowered himself through the opening until he found himself suspended from the ceiling of the lower room. In desperate haste to go for help, he is about to drop to the floor, but pauses to hear if there is any sound or movement in the room above. Not a sound. There is comfort in that, for his poor wife must be safe as yet, but what is the tiger doing? Why is everything so deadly quiet? Incensed at the escape of one of his victims, one would suppose him to be all the more eager to secure the other; but there is no sound. What can he be doing?

At this moment an awful thought comes to him. What if the cunning tiger had crept silently down the stairs into the room below? He remembers that the door into that room was open when they passed it on their way upstairs. How safe they had felt then! How little had they dreamed that this awful thing would come upon them! Could it be only a few hours since they had gone upstairs, chatting cheerfully together? It seemed days and days ago. Perhaps the tiger was at that moment crouched below him there in the darkness, ready to spring upon him the moment, yes, even before, his feet touched the ground.

The awful thought made him pause, and he hung there with fiercely throbbing heart, undecided what to do. If he could hear one sound of the tiger moving in the room above him he could drop, quickly close the door, and rush away for help. Still no sound from his wifes room. What should he do? Perhaps it would be better to try to hold on until morning, when he could at least have the blessed light to aid him. It could not be long now before daybreak. Surely out of doors there must be daylight now. Soon it would come into the room and enable him to look about him. Yes, that would be the best and only thing to do.

But no; he cannot! His strength is failing. Already his numbed fingers are slipping slipping another moment and the tiger will be upon him and all will be over. He can hold on no longer. He is falling falling

John! Oh, John! comes a cheerful voice from below. Arent you coming down? It is almost train time, and breakfast is ready.

John sits up in bed, looking with dazed eyes all around the bright room, flooded with morning sunshine, and it is minutes before he realizes that it is all a dream!

If anyone could have taken a photograph of the boys faces just before the conclusion of the story and another just after it, the two pictures would have been a comic study; but they could not have given the transition from faces filled with rapt, motionless, breathless interest to the astonished, somewhat disgusted look as the totally unexpected ending of the story filtered in upon them.

Mr. Hollis, who had listened to the last part of the story with as much interest as the boys, thanked Dave for the pleasure he had given them, but could not keep back a smile as Shorty voiced the general sentiment, You ought to be ashamed, Dave Ferris, for handing us such a lemon.

CHAPTER XIV
With Death Behind

Pop! Pop! Bang! The Red Scouts motor gave a few preliminary explosions, and then started off with a sound like a whole battery of field guns going off at once. A cloud of black smoke issued from the exhaust, and in a few seconds had enveloped the car so that it could hardly be seen. Some of the boys came running up with consternation written in their faces, evidently thinking that the automobile was about to explode, or run away, or do some equally disastrous thing. They were reassured by Berts broad grin, however, and Bob Ward gave a relieved laugh.

Gee! he exclaimed, whats the matter with the old machine, anyway, Bert? You had us scared stiff there for a few minutes. I thought that after this when we wanted to get anywhere wed have to walk, sure. It looked as though the old Scout were on fire.

It sure did, confirmed Frank. What was the matter, Bert?

Oh, nothing to speak of, replied Bert airily. I had just washed the engine out with a little kerosene oil, and, when I started it, why, of course that burned, and gave out the smoke you saw. I dont wonder that you thought something was up, though, he continued, laughing. It certainly did look like the last days of Pompeii for a few seconds, didnt it?

Thats what it did, broke in Shorty, and seeing all that smoke reminded me of a riddle I heard a little while ago.

Go on, Shorty, tell us the riddle and get it out of your system, laughed Bert. If you dont it might grow inward and kill you. Some brands of humor are apt to work that way, you know.

Well, the riddle is this, said Shorty. Why is it that an automobile smokes?





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