Bert Wilson's Twin Cylinder Racer
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Accordingly he started the motor and threw in the clutch on low speed. He made no attempt to mount, however, but contented himself with walking beside the machine, guiding it through the deep sand.
He had no need to announce his arrival. The unmuffled exhaust did that for him. As he approached the cabin from which the light emanated, he could see the whole family grouped on the doorstep, peering into the night, for by now it was quite dark.
The head of the house was a little in advance of the others, and as Bert and the “Blue Streak” approached the door he stepped forward.
“Wall, stranger, what kind of a contraption do you-all reckon to have thar?” he drawled, gazing curiously at the palpitating motorcycle.
Bert shut off the motor before he replied.
“Why,” he said, “that’s my motorcycle, and it’s one of the best friends I have. I took the wrong road a way back, I guess, and I was just going to camp out over night, when I saw the light from your window. If you can put me up for the night you’ll be doing me a big favor.”
“Not another word, son,” replied the big mountaineer, “come right in an’ set down. You look nigh dead beat.”
“I am about all in,” confessed Bert. “I’ll leave my machine right here, I guess.”
“Shore, shore,” said the big Kentuckian, “I reckin thar ain’t nobuddy within a hundred miles hereabouts that could make off with the blamed machine ef he had a mind to. Hosses is considerable more common in these parts. The pump’s around the side of the house ef you ’low to wash up,” he continued, as an afterthought.
“All right, thanks,” replied Bert, “I’ll be with you in no time.” He disappeared in the direction indicated, and soon returned, much refreshed by a thorough sousing under the pump.
As he entered the cabin, a tired-looking but motherly woman bustled forward. “Jest you set over there to the right of paw,” she said, indicating Bert’s place at the table, “an’ make yourself comfortable. We ain’t got much to offer you, but sech as it is, you’r welcome.”
There was not much variety to the viands, it must be confessed, but there was plenty of “corn pone” and bacon, and rich milk with which to wash it down. After his strenuous day in the open he ate ravenously. The mountaineer uttered hardly a word during the meal, and indeed none of the family seemed very talkative.
The children, of whom there were six, gazed round-eyed at the unexpected guest, and seemed, if one were to judge from their looks, to regard him as a being from another world.
After the meal was dispatched, the mountaineer produced a blackened old pipe, and, filling it from a shabby leather pouch, lit it. “Do you smoke, son?” he asked, holding the pouch out to Bert, “ef you do, help yourself.”
“No, thanks,” said Bert, declining the hospitable offer with a smile.
“Don’t smoke, eh?” commented the other. “Wall, ye’d ought to. There’s a heap of comfort in baccy, let me tell you.”
“I don’t doubt it,” replied Bert, “but I’ve been in training so long for one thing or another that I’ve never had a chance to form the habit.Everybody that smokes seems to get a lot of fun out of it though, so I suppose it must be a great pleasure.”
“It shore is,” affirmed the big Kentuckian. “But it’s hot in here. What do you say we light out and take a squint at that machine of yourn? I ain’t never got a good look at one close up. They’re ginerally travelin’ too fast to make out details,” with a grin.
“Well, they’re not the slowest things in the world, that’s certain,” laughed Bert, “but come ahead out and I’ll be glad to explain it to you.”
They went outside together, the Kentuckian carrying a lantern, and followed by the children, who gazed wide-eyed at the strange machine. Bert explained the simpler points of the mechanism to the mountaineer, who seemed much interested.
“I kin see it’s a mighty neat contraption,” he admitted, at length. “But I’d rether ride quietlike behind a good bit o’ hoss flesh. You can’t make me believe that thet machine has got the strength o’ seven hosses in it, nohow. It ain’t reasonable.”
Bert saw that he might argue for a week, and still fail to shake the obstinacy of his host, so he wisely forbore to make the attempt. Instead he guided the conversation around to the conditions and pursuits of the surrounding country, and here the Kentuckian was on firm ground. He discoursed on local politics with considerable shrewdness and good sense, and proved himself well up on such topics.
They talked on this subject quite a while, and then the conversation in some way shifted to the feuds a few years back that had aroused such widespread criticism. “Although I haven’t seen any sign of them since I’ve been in Kentucky,” confessed Bert, with a smile.
“No,” said his host, with a ruminative look in his eyes, “they’re dyin’ out, an’ a good thing it is fer the country, too. They never did do the least mite o’ good, an’ they often did a sight o’ harm.
“Why, it warn’t such a long time back that the Judsons an’ the Berkeleys were at it hammer an’ tongs, right in this country roundabout. One was layin’ fer ’tother all the time, an’ the folks thet wasn’t in the fracas was afraid to go huntin’ even, fer fear o’ bein’ picked off by mistake. They wasn’t none too particular about makin’ sure o’ their man, neither, before they pulled trigger. They’d shoot fust, an’ ef they found they’d bagged the wrong man they might be peeved, but thet’s all. More’n once I’ve had a close shave myself.”
“But what started the feud in the first place?” asked Bert. “It must have been a pretty big thing to have set people to shooting each other up like that, I should think.”
“Not so’s you could notice it,” was the answer. “Blamed ef I rightly remember just what it was. Seems to me, now I come to think of it, that ole Seth Judson an’ Adam Berkeley got mixed up in the fust place over cuttin’ down a tree thet was smack on the line ’atween their farms. Ole Seth he swore he’d cut thet tree down, an’ Adam he ’lowed as how it would be a mighty unhealthy thing fer any man as how even took a chip out of it.
“Wall, a couple o’ days later Adam went to town on one errand or another, and when he got back the cussed ole tree had been cut down an’ carted away. When Adam saw nothin’ but the stump left, he never said a word, good or bad, but turned around and went back to his house an’ got his gun. He tracks over to Seth Judson’s house an’ calls him by name. Seth, he walks out large as life, an’ Adam pumps a bullet clean through his heart. Them two men had been friends off an’ on fer over thirty year, an’ I allow thet ef Adam hed took time to think an’ cool off a little, he’d never a’ done what he did.
“Howsomever, there’s no bringin’ the dead back to life, an’ Adam tromps off home, leavin’ Seth lyin’ there on his front porch.
“’Twasn’t more’n a week later, I reckon, when we all heard thet Seth’s son, Jed, had up an’ killed Adam, shootin’ at him from behind a fence.
“Waal, thet’s the way it started, an’ it seemed as though it war never goin’ to end. Young Adam, he ’lowed as how no man could shoot his daddy an’ live, so he laid fer Jed as he was goin’ to the village, an’ shot him ’atween the eyes as neat as could be. Then the younger sons, thet were still not much more than boys, as you might say, they took to lyin’ in wait fer each other in the woods an’ behind fences. Pretty soon their relatives took to backin’ them up, and jined in on their own account. O’ course, most o’ the folks hereabouts is related to one another in some way.
“I wasn’t a native o’ these parts myself, an’ so managed to keep clear o’ the trouble. It was a hard thing for me to set by an’ see my neighbors killin’ each other off like a passel o’ mad dogs, though, an’ all the more because I knew there wasn’t any real call fer it in the first place.
“Howsumever, they’ve stopped fightin’ now, an’ it’s none too soon, nuther. Another year, an’ I reckon there wouldn’t a been a Berkeley or a Judson left alive in the hull State.”
The farmer stopped speaking, and gazed reflectively into the night.
“But what put an end to it finally,” inquired Bert, who had listened to this narrative with absorbed interest.
“Waal, there was considerable romance consarned in it, as you might say,” said his host. “Young Buck Judson, he met one o’ ole Berkeley’s daughters somewhere, an’ those two young fools hed to go an’ fall in love with each other. O’ course, their families were dead sot agin’ it, but nothin’ would do the critters short o’ gettin’ hitched up, an’ at last they talked their families into a peace meetin’, as you might say. All the neighbors was invited, an’ o’ course we-all went. An’, believe me, those people reminded me of a room full o’ tom cats, all wantin’ to start a shindy, but all hatin’ to be the fust to begin.
“But all we-’uns thet wanted to stop such goin’s on did our best to keep peace in the family. To make a long story short, everythin’ went off quiet an’ easy like, an’ Buck an’ his gal was hitched up all proper. The hard feelin’ gradually calmed down, an’ now the two families is tolerable good friends, considerin’ everything. But that cost a heap of more or less valable lives while it lasted, I can tell you.”
After a short pause, he continued, “But there was some turrible strong feelin’s on both sides while it lasted, son. Why, people was afraid to get ’atween a light an’ a winder, for fear of a bullet comin’ through and puttin’ a sudden an’ onpleasant end to them. Ole Sam Judson, as how always had a streak o’ yaller in him at the best o’ times, got so at last thet he wouldn’t stir out o’ the house without he toted his little gran’darter, Mary, along with him. O’ course, he figured thet with the baby in his arms nobuddy’d take a chanst on wingin’ him and mebbe killin’ the kid, an’ he was right. He never even got scratched the hull time. An’ I could tell you a hundred other things o’ the same kind, only you’d probably get tired listenin’ to them.”
“It certainly was a bad state of things,” said Bert at last, after a thoughtful silence, “but couldn’t the authorities do something to stop such wholesale killing?”
“Not much,” replied the mountaineer, “it would ’a taken every constable in Kentucky to cover this part o’ the country, an’ even then I reckon there wouldn’t ’a been anywhere near enough. They must ’a realized that,” he added drily, “’cause they didn’t try very hard, leastways, not as fur as I could see.”
“I’m glad it’s over now, at any rate,” commented Bert. “A needless waste of life like that is a terrible thing.”
“It shore is,” agreed his host, and puffed meditatively at his pipe. At last he knocked the ashes from it and rose to his feet.
“It’s gettin’ late, son,” he said, “an’ I reckon you-all must be might tuckered out after a day on that there fire spoutin’ motorbike o’ yourn. The ole lady’s got a bunk fixed up fer you, I reckon, an’ you can turn in any time you feel like it.”
“I am tired out, for a fact,” acknowledged Bert, “and I don’t care how soon I tumble in.”
“Come along, then,” said Anderson, as his host was named, “come on inside, an’ we’ll put you up.”
So saying, he entered the cabin, followed by Bert.
Mrs. Anderson had fixed a bed for him in a little loft over the main room, reached by a ladder. After bidding his host and hostess good night, Bert climbed the rungs and ten minutes later was sleeping soundly.
When he was awakened by a call from the farmer, he jumped up much refreshed, and, dressing quickly, descended the ladder to the living room, where the entire family was already assembled. After exchanging greetings, he took his place at the table and made a substantial meal from plain but hearty fare.
This over, he bade a cordial farewell to the kind farmer and his wife, who refused pointblank to accept the slightest payment for the hospitality they had extended him. Bert thanked them again and again, and then shook hands and left them, first being told of a short cut that would save him several miles and land him on a good road.
The good old “Blue Streak” was in fine shape, and after a few minor adjustments he started the motor. The whole family had followed him out, and were grouped in an interested semicircle about him. At last he was ready to start, and threw one leg over the saddle.
“Good-bye,” he called, waving his hand, “and thanks once more.”
“Good-bye, good luck,” they cried in chorus, and Bert moved off slowly, on low gear.
At first the going was atrocious, and he was forced to pick his way with great caution. The road steadily improved, however, and in a short time a sudden turn brought him out on an exceptionally good turnpike, the one of which his host of the night before had told him.
“All right,” he thought to himself, “here goes to make speed while the road lasts,” and he grinned at this paraphrase of a well-worn saying. He opened up more and more, and his motor took up its familiar deep-toned road song. Mile after mile raced back from the spinning wheels. The indicator on the speedometer reached the fifty mark, and stayed there hour after hour. At times the road ran more to sand, but then he simply opened the throttle a trifle wider, and kept to the same speed.
The air was like wine, and riding was a keen pleasure. The trees and bushes waving in the early morning breeze – the beautiful green country spread out on every side – the steady, exhilarating speed – all made life seem a very fine thing indeed, and Bert sang snatches of wild, meaningless songs as he flew along. For three hours he never slackened speed, and then only pulled up in a fair-sized town to replenish his oil and gasoline. Then he was off again. The road became worse after he had gone ten or fifteen miles, but still he contrived to make fair time, and about noon he rode into Louisville.
His arrival there was eagerly awaited, and he was warmly received at the local agency. While his machine was being cleaned and oiled, he took the opportunity of reporting to the proper authorities. Upon his return the “Blue Streak” was turned over to him, shining and polished, and he once more took the road. Several motorcyclists accompanied him to the outskirts of the city. He experienced varying road conditions, and was twice delayed by punctures. But the rattling work of the early morning made up for the afternoon’s delays, and dusk found him two hundred and eighty miles nearer the goal of his ambition.