Bert Wilson's Twin Cylinder Racerñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Heaven forbid,” ejaculated Dick, piously, “but I guess we’d better change the subject. It isn’t a very cheerful one at best.”
“You’re right, it isn’t,” agreed Bert, “but those club fellows gave me some good tips regarding the track. They seem to know what they’re talking about.”
“They’re a great crowd,” said Tom, enthusiastically, “and they know how to do things up right, too. They certainly gave us a fine dinner.”
“No doubt about it,” concurred Bert, “but it’s made me feel mighty sleepy. I haven’t slept in so long that I’m afraid I’ve forgotten how.”
“Well, here we are at the hotel, anyway,” laughed Dick, “so you’ll soon have the chance to find out.”
After a little more conversation they parted and went to their rooms.
The last thing Bert heard as he dropped off to sleep was the strident cry of a newsboy. “Wuxtra! Wuxtra! All about Wilson winning the transcontinental race. Wuxtra! Wuxtra!”
The Wonderful City
“And now for the Exposition,” cried Bert, as after a solid sleep and an equally solid breakfast they reached their rooms and looked out over the city glittering in the morning sun.
“For your Exposition,” corrected Tom. “Yes,” he went on, as he noted Bert’s look of surprise, “that’s exactly what I mean. For if it hadn’t been for you, when you discovered the plot to blow up the Panama Canal, there would have been no Exposition at all, or, at any rate, a very different one from this. The bands would have been playing the ‘Dead March in Saul,’ instead of ‘Hail Columbia’ and the ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’”
Nor was Tom far from the truth. Before the minds of the boys came up that night in Panama, when Bert, crouching low beneath the window of the Japanese conspirators, had overheard the plot to destroy the great Canal. They saw again the struggle in the library; the fight for life in the sinking boat in the Caribbean Sea; the rescue by the submarine and the cutting of the wires that led to the mined gate of the Gatun Locks. Had it not been for Bert’s quick wit and audacity, the carefully-planned plot of the Japanese Government to keep the larger part of the American fleet on the Atlantic side, while they themselves made a dash for the Pacific slope, might easily have succeeded, and, at the very moment the boys were speaking, the whole country west of the Rocky Mountains might have been fast in the grip of the Japanese armies. But the discovery of the plot had been its undoing. The matter had been hushed up for official reasons, and only a very few knew how nearly the two nations had been locked in a life and death struggle for the control of the Western ocean.
And now the peril was over. Never again would the United States be caught napping. War indeed might come – it probably would, some time – but America’s control of the coast was assured. At Colon on the Atlantic side and Panama at the Pacific end, impregnable forts and artillery bade defiance to all the fleets of East or West.
Great navies on either side would be kept in easy reach in case of attack, and the combined land and sea forces would be invincible against any combination likely to be brought against them.
And it was this great achievement of American enterprise – the opening of the Canal – that the Exposition, now in full swing, was intended to celebrate. Its official designation was the “Panama-Pacific International Exposition.” And it was fitting that it should be held at San Francisco, the Queen City of the West, because it was of pre?minent importance to the Pacific slope.
For this silver strip of water, fifty miles long, that stretched between the Atlantic and Pacific, brought the West nine thousand miles nearer to Europe by water than it had been before. The long journey round the Horn, fraught with danger and taking months of time, would henceforth be unnecessary. It gave an all-water route that saved enormously in freights, and enabled shipments to be made without breaking bulk. It diverted a vast amount of traffic that had hitherto gone through the Suez Canal. It gave a tremendous impetus to the American merchant marine and challenged the right of Great Britain longer to “rule the waves.” And, by enabling the entire naval strength of the country to be assembled quickly in case of need, it assured the West against the “yellow peril” that loomed up on the other side of the sea.
But, above and apart from the local interests involved, was the patriotic rejoicing in which all the nation shared. The American Eagle felt that it had a right to scream over the great achievement. For great it certainly was – one of the most marvelous in the history of the world. The dream of four hundred years had become a realized fact. Others had tried and failed. France with her scientific genius and unlimited resources had thrown up her hands in despair. Then America had taken it up and carried it through to a glorious conclusion. Four hundred millions of dollars had been expended on the colossal work. But this was not the most important item. What the country was proud of was the pluck, the ingenuity, the determination, that in the face of all kinds of dangers – dangers of flood, of pestilence, of earthquakes, of avalanche – had met them all in a way to win the plaudits of mankind.
In the case of the boys, this pride was, of course, intensified by the fact that they had visited the country and seen its wonders at first hand. From Colon to Panama, from the Gatun Dam to the Miraflores Locks, they had gone over every foot of ground and water. Its gates, its cuts, its spillways, its tractions – all of these had grown familiar by actual inspection. Add to this the exulting consciousness that they had been concerned in its salvation, when threatened by their country’s foes, and it can readily be imagined how eager they were to see all the wonders of the Exposition that was to celebrate its completion.
“It’s got to be a pretty big thing to satisfy my expectations,” said Dick, as they neared the grounds.
“Well,” remarked Bert, “I’ve never seen a world’s fair, but, from what I’ve heard, this goes ahead of all of them. Even the Chicago Fair, they say, can’t hold a candle to it. A fellow was telling me – ”
But just then, as they turned a curve, they came in full view of the grounds, and stopped short with a gasp of admiration.
It was a magnificent picture – a splendid gem, with the California land and sky as its setting.
A glorious city had sprung up as though by the waving of an enchanter’s wand. On every side rose towers, spires, minarets and golden domes. The prosaic, every-day world had vanished, and, in its place had come a dream city such as might have been inspired by the pages of the “Arabian Nights.” It almost seemed as though a caravan laden with silks and spices of the East might be expected at any moment to thread the courts and colonnades, or a regiment of Janissaries, with folded fez and waving scimitars, spur their horses along the road. The very names of the buildings were redolent of romance. There was the “Court of the Four Seasons,” the “Court of the Sun and Stars,” the “Tower of Jewels” and the “Hall of Abundance.” And the illusion was heightened by the glorious sunshine and balmy air that makes San Francisco the Paradise of the Western Continent.
The Exposition grounds, covering a vast extent of space, had been chosen with marvelous taste and judgment and a keen eye for the picturesque. The finest talent to be found anywhere had been expended on the location, the approaches and the grouping of the buildings, so as to form a harmonious combination of grace and fitness and beauty. It was a triumph of architecture and landscape gardening. Nature and art had been wedded and the result was bewildering and overpowering. It had never been approached by any Exposition in the world’s history.
The site was a level space surrounded on east, west and south by sloping hills. Standing on these heights, one looked down as upon a vast amphitheater. On the north it faced the waters of San Francisco Bay, the waves gleaming in the sun and the sea lions playing about the rocks of the Golden Gate. Across the Bay could be seen towering mountains, their summits alternately shrouded in a tenuous haze and glistening in golden glory.
On the harbor side was an esplanade, eighteen hundred feet long and three hundred feet wide, adorned with marble statues and gorgeous foliage and plashing fountains. Opening directly from this was the main group of palaces – fitly so called – devoted to the more important objects of the Fair. These were clustered about the great Court of the Sun and Stars. Around the Court stood over one hundred pillars, each surmounted by a colossal figure representing some particular star. Upon a huge column stood a globe, symbol of the Sun, and about the column itself was a spiral ascent, typifying the climbing hopes and aspirations of the human race. Nearby rose the splendid Tower of Jewels, four hundred and fifty feet in height, its blazing dome reflecting back the rays of the sun, while jewels set in the walls – agate, beryl, garnet and chrysolite – bathed the interior in luminous splendor.
The Court of the Four Seasons was designed to show the conquest of man over the forces of nature. The Hall of Abundance overflowed with the rich products brought from the four corners of the earth. The East and West were typified by two groups, one showing the customs of the Orient and the other exhibiting the progress made by Western civilization. Between them stood a prairie schooner, emblem of the resistless tide of immigration toward the setting sun.
“Westward the course of empire takes its way,
The first four acts already past;
A fifth shall close the drama and the day,
Time’s noblest offspring is its last,”
murmured Dick, yielding to his chronic habit of quotation.
Besides the central group of palaces devoted to machinery, invention, transportation and the fine arts, there were two other sections. One held the buildings of the various States and the official headquarters of foreign nations. The other was given over to the amusement concessions, consisting of hundreds of pavilions that catered to the pleasures of the visitors. Then, too, there was a great arena for open air sports and competitions. Scattered everywhere were sunken lakes and rippling cascades and verdant terraces, so arranged that at every turn the eye was charmed by some new delight.
But the transcendent beauty of the Fair when viewed by day yielded the palm to the glory of the night. As the dusk fell, thousands upon thousands of lights, like so many twinkling jewels, sprang into being. The splendor flashed on tree and building, spire and minaret, arch and dome, until the whole vast Exposition became a crystal dream. Great searchlights from the bay played on jets of steam rising high in the sky, in a perfect riot of changing color. The lagoons and fountains and cascades sent back the shimmering reflections multiplied a thousand fold. And beneath the witchery of those changing lights, one might well imagine himself transported to some realm of mystery and romance a thousand leagues from the Western Hemisphere and the twentieth century.
But, although the boys felt and yielded to the potent spell that the Exposition cast on those that came within its gates, they none the less devoted themselves to the wonders shown in the great buildings set apart for machinery and inventions. All of them were planning their life work on scientific and engineering lines, and they were keen for the new discoveries and appliances that were seen on every hand in almost endless profusion. Wireless telegraphy, aeroplanes, submarine and motor engines – these were the magnets that drew them irresistibly. Although they had prided themselves on keeping pretty well up to date along these lines, they were astonished to see how many things came to them now with the force of a revelation.
Before the models of the submarines they stood for a long time, as they took in every detail of the plan and construction. And with Bert’s admiration was mingled a sense of gratitude. One of these it was that had picked him up when he was battling with the waves and hope had almost vanished. Even now, he could see the saucy little vessel as it poked its nose into the entrance of the Canal and darted here and there like a ferret, sniffing the danger that it came just in time to prevent. He remembered the fascination of that memorable trip, as he stood at the porthole and saw the wonders of the sea, illumined by its powerful searchlight. But that had simply whetted his appetite, and he was hungry for further experiences. Somewhere among his ancestors there must have been Viking blood, and the haunting mystery of the sea had always called to him.
“Some day, perhaps” – he thought to himself, and then as he saw the amused expression on his companions’ faces, he realized that he had spoken out loud.
“What’s the matter, Alexander?” chaffed Tom. “Weeping for more worlds to conquer?”
“He isn’t satisfied with the victories won on the earth,” mocked Dick. “He wants the sea, too. You’re a glutton for adventure, Bert.”
“Yes,” laughed Tom, “he won’t be happy till he gets it.”
“Oh, cut it out,” retorted Bert, a little sheepishly. “Since when did you fellows set up to be mind readers?”
But they were mind readers and prophets, too, though none of them knew it at the time.
“There’s still one other field to be explored,” went on Dick, teasingly, “and that’s the air.”
“Well,” remarked Tom, “if Bert’s going to try that, too, he’d better get busy pretty soon. They’re going ahead so fast there, that before long there won’t be anything new left to do. When fellows can turn somersaults in the air and fly along on their backs, like that Frenchman, Peguod, they’re certainly getting a strangle hold on old mother Nature. The way things are moving now, a man will soon be as safe in an airship as a baby in his cradle. Look at this Bleriot monoplane;” and they were soon plunged deep in the study of the various types of flying craft.
In another department, one thing gave Bert unlimited satisfaction. Among all the motorcycles, native and foreign, before which he lingered longer than anywhere else, he saw nothing that excelled his own. His heart swelled with pride and confidence, as he realized that none of his competitors in the coming struggle would have a better machine beneath him than the “Blue Streak.” He could drop any worry on that score. If he failed to come in first, he himself must shoulder the blame.
And when at last, tired but happy, they turned their backs on the dazzling scene and were on their way back to the hotel, their talk naturally fell on the topic that was uppermost in their minds.
“How are you feeling, Bert?” asked Tom. “Are you fit?”
“I feel like a two-year-old,” was the answer. “I’m hard as nails and right at the top of my form. I’ll have no excuses to offer.”
“You won’t need any,” said Dick confidently. “Leave those to the losers.”
“One never can tell,” mused Bert. “There are some crack riders in that bunch. But I’m going to do my level best, not only for my own sake, but so that the foreigners can’t crow over us. I’d hate to see America lose.”
“She can’t,” asserted Tom. “Not on the Fourth of July!”
A Winning Fight
The big motordome was gayly decorated with flags and bunting, in honor of the Fourth, and there was just enough breeze stirring to give them motion. A big military band played patriotic and popular airs, and, as the spectators filed into their seats in a never-ending procession, they felt already the first stirrings of an excitement that was to make of this a night to be remembered throughout a lifetime.
An hour before the time scheduled for the race to begin every seat in grandstand and bleachers was taken, and people were fighting for a place in the grassy infield. Very soon, even that was packed with as many spectators as the managers felt could be disposed of with safety. They were kept within bounds by a stout rope fence stretched between posts. At last every available foot of space was occupied, and the gates were closed. Thousands were turned away even then, although there were over sixty thousand souls within the stadium.
The motordome had been constructed to hold an immense crowd, but its designers had never anticipated anything like this. So great was the interest in the event, that most of those who could not gain admittance camped down near the gates to get bulletins of the progress of the race, as soon as possible.
It was an ideal night for such an event. The air was soft and charged with a thousand balmy odors. The band crashed out its stirring music, and made the blood of the most sluggish leap and glow. Suddenly the arc lights suspended at short intervals over the track blazed out, making the whole place as light as day.
Then, as every detail of the track was plainly revealed, thousands drew a deep breath and shuddered. The track was banked at an angle of approximately thirty-eight degrees, with three laps to the mile. It seemed impossible to many that anything on wheels could cling to the precipitous slope, that appeared to offer insecure footing even for a fly.
Near the bottom, a white band was painted around the entire circumference, marking the actual one-third of a mile. At the bottom of the track there was a level stretch, perhaps four feet wide, and beyond that the smooth turf, bordered at a little distance by a dense mass of spectators confined within the rope fence. Above the track tier after tier of seats arose.
Opposite the finish line, the starter’s and judge’s pavilion was built. Here all the riders and machines that were to take part were assembled, and it presented a scene of the utmost bustle and activity. Tom and Dick were there, anxiously waiting for Bert to emerge from his dressing room, and meanwhile inspecting every nut and bolt on the “Blue Streak.” Despite the recent changes made in it, the faithful motorcycle was still the same staunch, dependable machine it had always been, but with even greater speed capabilities than it had possessed before.
Of course, there were many who claimed that Bert could never have a chance of winning without a specially built racer, and he had been urged a score of times to use such a mount. But he had refused without the slightest hesitation.
“Why,” he always said, “I know what the old ‘Blue Streak’ will do, just as well as I know what I am capable of. I know every whim and humor of it, and just how to get the last ounce of power out of it. I’ve tested it a thousand times. I know it will stand up to any work I put it to, and I’d no more think of changing machines now than I would of trying a new system of training two days before I was to enter a running race. No, thanks, I guess I’ll stick to the old ‘Blue Streak.’”
Dick and Tom were still busy with oil can and wrench when Bert emerged from his dressing-room. He was dressed in a blue jersey, with an American flag embroidered on breast and back. His head was encased in a thick leather helmet, and a pair of heavy-glassed goggles were pushed up on his forehead.
He strode quickly over to where his chums were working on his mount, and they shook hands heartily. “Well!” he exclaimed gaily, “how is the old ‘bus’ to-night? Everything O.K., I hope?”
“It sure is,” replied Dick. “Tom and I have gone over every inch of it, and it seems in apple-pie order. We filled your oil tank up with oil that we tested ourselves, and we know that it’s all right. We’re not taking any chances.”
“That’s fine,” exclaimed Bert, “there’s nothing more important than good oil. We don’t want any frozen bearings to-night, of all nights.”
“Not much!” agreed Tom, “but it must be pretty nearly time for the start. It’s after eight now.”
Even as he spoke, a gong tapped, and a deep silence descended on the stadium. Excitement, tense and breathless, gripped every heart.
A burly figure carrying a megaphone mounted a small platform erected in the center of the field, and in stentorian tones announced the conditions of the race.
Seven riders, representing America, France, England, Italy, and Belgium, were to compete for a distance of one hundred miles. The race was to begin from a flying start, which was to be announced by the report of a pistol. The time of each race was to be shown by an illuminated clock near the judge’s stand.
The man with the megaphone had hardly ceased speaking when the roar of several motorcycle exhausts broke forth from the starting platform and the band crashed into a stirring march.
Then a motorcycle appeared, towing a racer. Slowly it gathered headway, and at last the rider of the racing machine threw in the spark. The motor coughed once or twice, and then took hold. With a mighty roar his machine shot ahead, gathering speed with every revolution, and passing the towing motorcycle as though it were standing still.
In quick succession now, machine after machine appeared. It was Bert’s turn to start, and, pulling his goggles down over his eyes, he leaped astride the waiting “Blue Streak.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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