Bert Wilson's Twin Cylinder Racer
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УGo it, old man!Ф shouted Dick and Tom, each giving him a resounding buffet on the shoulder, Уshow Тem what youТre made of.Ф
УLeave it to me,Ф yelled Bert, for already the towing motorcycle was towing him and the УBlue StreakФ out onto the track. They went at a snailТs pace at first, but quickly gathered momentum.
As he came into view of the gathered multitude, a shout went up that made the concrete structure tremble. This was repeated twice and then the spectators settled back, waiting for the start.
When he felt he was going fast enough, Bert, by a twist of the right grip, lowered the exhaust valves, and the next second he felt the old УBlue StreakФ surge forward as though discharged from a cannon. It required a speed of fifty miles an hour even to mount the embankment, but before he had gone two hundred yards he had attained it. He turned the front wheel to the slope, and his machine mounted it like a bird.
Never had he sensed such gigantic power under him, and he felt exalted to the skies. He forgot everything in the mad delirium of speed; tremendous, maddening speed. Every time he opened the throttle a trifle more he could feel it increase. Eagerly, resistlessly, his mount tore and raged forward, whistling through the air with the speed of an arrow. In a few seconds he was abreast of the riders who had started first, and who were jockeying for a good position. There was little time for manoeuvring, however, for now the riders were fairly well bunched, and the starterТs pistol cracked. The race had started!
And now Bert found himself competing with the crack racers of the world. Each was mounted on the best machine the genius of his countrymen could produce, and each was grimly resolved to win. The УBlue StreakФ and its rider were indeed in fast company, and were destined to be put to a test such as seldom occurs in even such strenuous racing as this.
Bert was riding high on the track at the start, and he resolved to make use of this position to gain the lead. He opened the throttle wide, and the УBlue StreakФ responded nobly. So great was the force of the forward spurt that his hands were almost wrenched from the handlebars. He held on, however, and at the end of the second lap was even with the leader, a Frenchman.
Bert turned his front wheel down the slope, and swooped toward the bottom of the track with a sickening lurch. A vast sigh of horror went up from the closely packed stands. But at the last second, when within a foot of the bottom of the incline, Bert started up again, and with a speed increased by the downward rush shot up to the white band.
He hugged this closely, and reeled off mile after mile at a speed of close to a hundred miles an hour. Leaning down until his body touched the top frame bar, he coaxed ever a little more speed from the fire-spitting mechanism beneath him.
But the Frenchman hung on doggedly, not ten feet behind, and a few feet further back the English entrant tore along.In this order they passed the fifty-mile mark, and the spectators were standing now, yelling and shouting. The rest of the field had been unable to hold the terrific pace, and had dropped behind. The Belgian entrant had been forced to drop out altogether, on account of engine trouble.
The leaders swept on and gradually drew up on the three lagging riders. A quarter of a lap Ц half a lap Ц three-quarters of a lap Ц and amid a deafening roar of shouting from the spectators Bert swept past them. He had gained a lap on them!
The English and French entries were still close up, however, both hanging on within three yards of BertТs rear wheel. They reeled off mile after mile, hardly changing their positions by a foot. Suddenly there was a loud report that sounded even above the roar of the exhausts, and a second later Bert fell to the rear. His front tire had punctured, and it was only by the exercise of all his skill and strength that he had averted a horrible accident.
УItТs all over. ItТs all over,Ф groaned Tom. УHeТs out of the race now. He hasnТt got a chance.Ф
Dick said nothing, but his face was the color of chalk. He dashed for the supply tent, and emerged carrying a front wheel with an inflated tire already on it, just as Bert pulled up in front of them and leaped from his mount. His eyes were sunken, with dark rings under them, but his mouth was set and stern as death.
УOn with it, Dick, on with it,Ф he said, in a low, suppressed voice. УLetТs have that wrench, Tom. Hold up the front fork, will you?Ф
He worked frantically, and in less than forty seconds had substituted the new wheel carrying the inflated tire in place of the old.
Flinging down the wrench, he sprang into the saddle, and with willing strength Dick and Tom rushed him and his machine out onto the track, pushing with all the might of their sinewy young bodies. At the first possible moment Bert shot on the power, and the engine, still hot, started instantly. In a second he was off in wild pursuit of the flying leaders.
As he mounted the track, he was seen to lean down and fumble with the air shutter on the carburetor. Apparently this had little effect, but to Bert it made all the difference in the world. The motor had had tremendous strength before, but now it seemed almost doubled. The whole machine quivered and shook under the mighty impact of the pistons, and the hum of the flywheels rose to a high whine. Violet flames shot from the exhaust in an endless stream.
The track streamed back from the whirling wheels like a rushing river. It seemed to be leaping eagerly to meet him. The lights and shadows flickered away from him, and the grotesque shadow cast by his machine weaved rapidly back and forth as he passed under the sizzling arc lights.
The spectators were a yelling mob of temporary maniacs by this time. The Frenchman and Englishman had passed the eighty-mile mark, and Bert was still a lap and a half behind. He was riding like a fiend, coaxing, nursing his machine, manipulating the controls so as to wring the last ounce of energy from the tortured mass of metal he bestrode.
Slowly, but with deadly persistence, he closed the gap between him and the leaders. Amidst a veritable pandemonium from the crazed spectators he passed them, but still had one lap to make up in fifteen miles. Shortly after passing them, he was close on the three remaining competitors, who were hanging on in the desperate hope of winning should some accident befall the leaders.
Suddenly, without any warning, something Ц nobody ever learned what Ц went wrong. They became a confused, tangled mass of blazing machine and crumpled humanity. Bert was not twenty feet behind them, and men turned white and sick and women fainted. It seemed inevitable that he would plow into them traveling at that terrific pace, and add one more life to the toll of the disaster.
BertТs mind acted like a flash. He was far down on the track, and could not possibly gain a position above the wreckage, and so skirt it in that way. Nor did he have time to pass beneath it, for men and machines were sliding diagonally down the steep embankment.
With a muttered prayer, he accepted the last chance fate had seen fit to leave him. He shot off the track completely, and whirled his machine onto the turf skirting it.
The grass was smooth, but, at BertТs tremendous speed, small obstacles seemed like mountains. The УBlue StreakФ quivered and bounded, at times leaping clear off the ground, as it struck some uneven place. For what seemed an age, but was in reality only a few seconds, Bert kept on this, and then steered for the track again. If his machine mounted the little ridge formed by the beginning of the track proper, all might yet be well, if not Ц well, he refused to even think of that.
The front wheel hit the obstruction, and, a fraction of a second later, the rear wheel struck. The machine leaped clear into the air, sideways. Bert stiffened the muscles of his wrists until they were as hard as steel, to withstand the shock of landing. The handlebars were almost wrenched from his control, but not quite, and once more he was tearing around with scarcely diminished speed.
By great good fortune, the riders involved in the accident had not been hurt seriously, although their machines were total wrecks, and they hobbled painfully toward the hospital tent, assisted by spectators who had rushed to their aid.
Bert was now less than half a lap behind the flying leaders, but he had only four miles in which to make it up. At intervals now he leaned down and pumped extra oil into the engine. This added a trifle of extra power, and as he rushed madly along the УBlue StreakФ lived up to its name nobly. At the beginning of the last mile he was only about three lengths behind. The vast crowd was on its feet now, shouting, yelling, tossing hats, gesticulating. They were worked up to a pitch of frenzy absolutely indescribable.
As Bert crept grimly up, nearer and nearer, the place became a veritable Bedlam. Now the racers had entered the last lap; only a third of a mile to go, and Bert was still a length behind. The exhaust of the racing motorcycles united in one hoarse, bellowing roar, that seemed to shake the very earth.
Then Ц Bert reached down, and with the finish line but a short hundred yards ahead, opened wide the air shutter on the carburetor. His machine seemed to almost leave the track, and then, tearing forward, passed the Frenchman, who was leading. As he crossed the finish line, Bert was ahead by the length of a wheel!
The uproar that burst forth then defied all description. As Bert, after making a circuit of the track, finally brought the УBlue StreakФ to a standstill, a seething mob rushed toward him, waving hats and flags, and shouting frantically and joyfully.
Bert had no mind to get in their well-meaning clutches, however, so he and his two friends made a rush for his dressing room, and reached it safely. The crowd, being unable to locate its hero, and too excited to make a methodical search for him, worked off its exuberance by much shouting and shaking of hands between perfect strangers, and gradually dispersed.
Meanwhile Tom and Dick, with strong emotion that they made no effort to conceal, wrung his hand again and again.
УYou rode the greatest motorcycle race this old world ever saw, old friend,Ф said Dick at last, Уbut Tom and I are never going to let you go in another. The world would be too empty for us without you.Ф
In the sheaf of telegrams of congratulations handed to Bert next morning was one from Reddy. It was characteristic:
УShamrock. Glory be. I knew youТd put it over. Keep in good shape for football.Ф
УHe talks as if I were already on the team,Ф commented Bert; УI may not make it, after all.Ф
УSwell chance of your missing it,Ф scoffed Tom.
УEverybody knows youТre slated for full-back.Ф
To another message, DrakeТs name was signed:
УHurrah for the blue. Be back for football in the Fall.Ф
УA decided football flavor in your telegrams to-day,Ф grinned Dick.
УWell,Ф said Bert, Уwin or lose, IТll be there with both feet.Ф
УYouТd better have both of them with you, for a fact,Ф drawled Tom. УYou couldnТt do much without them.Ф
And when a few months later, the football season opened, BertТs promise was fulfilled. How swift those feet of his proved to be in getting down the field, how mighty in kicking a goal, how powerful in every stirring feature of the glorious game, will be told in
УBERT WILSON ON THE GRIDIRON.Ф
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