J. Duffield.

Bert Wilson's Twin Cylinder Racer





Up hill and down he flew, around curves, over bridges that shook and rattled at the impact of racing man and machine. Steadily the mileage indicator slipped around, as league after league rolled backward, and Bert exulted as he watched it. Well make it ahead of everybody else or die in the attempt, wont we, old fellow? he said, apostrophizing the Blue Streak. Nobodys going to play a trick like that on us and get away with it, are they?

Only once on the return trip did he stop, and then only long enough to snatch a little food. Then he was off again like the wind, and as dusk began to fall rode into Louisville. As he entered the hotel, after leaving his machine in a garage, Dick and Tom swooped down upon him. Whats up? they demanded, both in the same breath, who sent that telegram, do you know?

I think I know, replied Bert. I havent a doubt in the world that it was sent by Hayward. You remember that we heard he was more or less crooked, and now we know it.

I wish I could lay my hands on him, exclaimed Dick, with flashing eyes. Id make him regret the day he was born. Just you wait till the next time I come across him, thats all.

If I see him first there wont be anything left for you, said Tom. Of all the dirty, underhanded tricks I ever heard of, that is the limit.

Well, I wont contradict you, said Bert, grimly, but all hell ever gain out of it will be a sound thrashing. Dont you believe for a minute that its going to help him win this race. Ill ride day and night until Ive made up for this lost time.

And ride he did, crowding three days mileage into two, until at last he felt that he had recovered the time lost in answering the call of the forged telegram.

CHAPTER IX
In Deadly Peril

It was after he reached the Western deserts that Bert experienced the hardest going. The roads, if mere trails could be dignified by that name, were unspeakably bad, and time and again he was forced to ride on the railroad embankment, between the tracks. Of course, progress in this manner was necessarily slow, and again and again Bert had occasion to feel grateful for the wonderful springing system of his mount. Without some such aid, he felt his task would be well nigh hopeless.

As it was, he had to let a little air out of the tires, to reduce the shocks caused by contact with the rough ballast and uneven ties. In some places, where the roadbed was exceptionally well ballasted he was able to open up a little, but such stretches were few and far between. In places he was forced to dismount because of drainage culverts running under the tracks. When this happened he would lift the Blue Streak up on a rail and trundle it over. It was back-breaking work, and tested even his courage and endurance to the utmost.

His oil and gasoline supply ran low, but by great good fortune he was able to secure almost a gallon of gasoline from an agent at a lonely little station, and about a quart of very inferior lubricating oil.

But he comforted himself with the thought that half a loaf is better than none and went on. After a while he noticed that a passable looking road skirted the railroad to the left, and he resolved to try it.

Accordingly, he scrambled down the steep embankment, the Blue Streak half rolling and half sliding down with him. He arrived safely at the bottom, and a minute later was on the road. It proved to be fairly good at first, but became more and more sandy, and at last Bert was brought to a standstill.

I guess Im through for to-day, he reflected, and gazed anxiously in every direction for any sign of human habitation. His searching gaze met nothing but empty sky and empty desert, however, and he drew a sigh of resignation. I guess theres nothing for it but to camp out here and make the best of things, he thought, and set about unstrapping his impedimenta from the luggage carrier.

His preparations for the night were soon made. He smoothed out a patch of sand and spread his thick army blanket over it. Now that thats done, he thought, Ill just have a bite to eat, and turn in. This isnt half bad, after all. Its a lot better than some of the hotels Ive put up at on this trip, and the ventilation is perfect.

He always carried a substantial lunch with him, to guard against emergencies, and of this he now partook heartily. When he had finished, he busied himself in cleaning and thoroughly inspecting his faithful mount, and found it in fine condition, even after such a strenuous day. No need to worry about your not delivering the goods, is there, old boy? he said, affectionately. As long as you stick to the job, well pull through all right.

By the time he had completed his inspection and made some adjustments it was almost dark, and Bert rolled himself in his blanket and was soon sleeping soundly.

Meantime Tom and Dick were awaiting him at Boyd, a small town in Northern Texas. When he failed to arrive, they decided that some unforeseen event had delayed him, and were not much worried. Nevertheless, they were not quite easy about him, and Tom made a proposition that met with instant approbation from Dick.

Why wouldnt it be a good idea, Tom proposed, to hire an automobile early to-morrow morning and meet him outside the town on his way in? It will break up the trip a little for him, and then, in case hes had a breakdown we can help him out.

Fine! agreed Dick, enthusiastically, lets go out right now and make arrangements with the garage keeper so well be sure to get the machine in the morning. We might as well be on the safe side.

They immediately sallied out to put this plan in execution. They experienced no difficulty in making the necessary arrangements. They paid the proprietor of the garage a deposit, and so secured the use of a fast, two-seated runabout for the following morning.

Before they left Dick asked the proprietor at what time the place was open. Oh, its always open, he replied, come and get the car any time you want it. Its all the same to me, so long as its paid for.

All right, well take you at your word, they promised, and returned to the hotel.

Well get a good early start, planned Tom, we ought to leave the garage before six oclock if we expect to meet Bert in time.

Well do just that, agreed Dick, and maybe I wont be glad to set eyes on the old reprobate again.

I, too, said Tom, hell be a sight for sore eyes.

Thats what, agreed Dick, but if were going to get started at that unearthly hour, wed better turn in early to-night.

This proposition being self-evident, it met with no opposition, and shortly afterward they retired, leaving an early call at the office.

They were awakened punctually the next morning, and tumbled hastily into their clothes. They did not even stop for breakfast, arguing that there would be plenty of time for that later on. In a very short time they presented themselves at the garage, and the party in charge, following instructions left with him by the owner of the place, turned the automobile over to them.

Dick took the wheel, and they were soon spinning rapidly through the quiet streets of the town. Once outside the limits, Dick cracked on speed, and they went along at a fast clip. They passed right by the place where Bert had encamped at a distance of several miles, and before long came to a village, where they inquired if Bert had been through. No, the villagers said, he had not been through there, but they had heard that a motorcyclist had been seen riding on the railroad embankment, and there could be little doubt that the rider was Bert.

You must have passed him somewhere, concluded one of their informants, an old native whose tanned and weather-beaten face was seamed by a thousand wrinkles. Praps he stuck to the railroad tracks clean through, an is in Boyd by this time.

But Dick shook his head. If hed followed the tracks right along hed probably have reached town last night, he said, with an anxious look in his eyes. Im afraid hes left the track for one reason or another, and lost his way.

Is there any road near the track that he might have used? queried Tom.

No, there aint, replied the veteran, leastways, nothin except the old Holloway trail, and you cant rightly call that a road. Its most wiped out now, an jest leads plumb to nowhere.

Just the same, exclaimed Dick, excitedly, thats just what has happened. He explained hurriedly the race and its object, and ended by entreating the old plainsman to guide them to the road he had spoken of.

Waal, all right, exclaimed the old man, after a moment of hesitation, Ill go ye. But whareabouts in that gasoline buggy o yourn am I goin to sit? Thar dont seem to be much room to spare.

You sit here, exclaimed Tom, jumping out. Ill sit on the floor and hold on somehow. Let her go, Dick.

Before the plainsman had fairly settled himself in the seat Dick had let in the clutch, and the car started away with a jerk, Dick steering according to directions given him by the old man as they went along. They plowed through the sand at a breakneck pace, Tom hanging on for dear life. Soon they came in sight of the railroad embankment, and Dick slowed down slightly. Their guide waved his arm to the right, and Dick wrenched the wheel around, causing the machine to skid wildly in the yielding sand. Their guide hung on desperately, but was heard to mutter something about stickin to hosses after this. Soon they reached the road that Bert had traversed the night before, and there, sure enough, were the marks of motorcycle tires. Their guide gave a whoop. Were close on his trail now, he yelled, give this tarnation machine a touch o the spurs, young feller.

Dick followed out the spirit of this admonition, at any rate, and after ten minutes of furious driving they caught sight of the Blue Streak. A little further, and they could make out Berts recumbent form, apparently asleep.

Well, exclaimed Tom, heaving a sigh of relief as Dick reduced speed, weve had all our worry for nothing, I guess.

But the old plainsman was peering out from under his horny palm. Its almighty queer, he muttered under his breath. That young chap must be an all-fired heavy sleeper to sleep in broad daylight like that. Lets get out an walk the rest o the way, he continued, aloud.

Dick looked at him curiously, but did as he proposed, and brought the car to a standstill. They all got out, and Tom and Dick were going to make a dash for the sleeper, but their guide held them back. Easy boys, easy, he cautioned. Theres somethin wrong here, an Ive an idee I know what it is, too.

Thats whatever! he exclaimed, when they had advanced cautiously a few steps further. Theys a bunch o scorpions has crawled up on him durin the night to keep warm, an if he moves an eyelash theyll sting him, sure. An ef they do he stopped significantly, and the two friends of the threatened man paled as they realized the full horror of the situation.

Here was their friend menaced by a hideous death, and they found themselves powerless to help him. They were within a hundred feet of him, but to all intents and purposes they might as well have been a hundred miles distant. The first attempt on their part to help him would only precipitate the very tragedy that they sought to avoid.

Bert lay in the shadow cast by the Blue Streak, over which he had thrown a blanket to protect it from wind-blown sand. The hideous creatures would not leave him until the sun drove them into hiding, and Bert might wake at any moment. What to do they knew not. They racked their brains desperately for some plan of action, but could think of none.

It was the old frontiersman who came to their rescue. Ef I only had a bit o lookin glass, he muttered, looking aimlessly about him, I might do somethin. But they probably aint no sech thing nearer than ten miles.

If that would do any good I can get you one, exclaimed Tom, seized with an inspiration. He raced back to the auto, and, seizing a wrench, attacked the mirror attached to the dash for the purpose of reflecting objects coming in back of the car. He had it off in less time than it takes to tell, and ran back, waving it over his head. Here you are! he exclaimed, thrusting it into the hands of the guide. But I dont see what good that will do.

Never you mind, son, said the old man, snatching the mirror from him. Jest you watch my smoke.

He took up a position on the other side of Bert, and manipulated the mirror so that a bright beam of sunlight fell on the recumbent form. Its effect was soon apparent. The poisonous insects stirred uneasily, trying to avoid the glare that they hated. Finding that there was no escaping it, they at last commenced to crawl down in search of a more shady resting place.

One by one they made off, the flashing ray of light hastening the departure of the laggards. Watching breathlessly, Dick and Tom waited for the last noxious insect to crawl sluggishly down onto the blanket and then off into the sand. Even after the last one had been dislodged, the prairieman played the reflected sunlight over Bert until there was no longer cause for apprehension.

All right, young fellers, he said at last. I callate you can wake your friend up now without takin any long chances.

Dick and Tom were about to avail themselves of this permission, but found that there was no need. As they started forward the sleeper sat up, and then scrambled to his feet.

His comrades uttered a simultaneous expression of surprise, and Dick exclaimed, Of all the lucky old reprobates that ever lived, Bert, youre certainly the luckiest, without exception. If you had waked up ten minutes sooner, you would

Waked up your grandmother, interrupted Bert. Why, Ive been awake over an hour. I was awake when you got here, but I was afraid to move for fear of having one of those things bite me ugh! and a great shudder of disgust passed over him, that was a waking nightmare in earnest. I feel as weak as a rag. Look at that! and he held out his hand. It was trembling like a leaf.

Waal, Ill be jiggered, exclaimed the Westerner, in an admiring voice, youve sure got nerve, young feller, and no mistake. It aint everybody as could hold hisself the way you did with them blamed critters crawlin all over him. It took nerve, it shore did.

Probably youd have done the same thing if youd been in my place, observed Bert, with a friendly smile.

Waal, mebbe I would an mebbe I wouldnt, replied the old man, evidently much gratified by this little compliment, although I dont say as how I havent had one or two close shaves in my time, mind ye.

Well, at any rate, I guess I owe my life to you, and, of course, to my pals here, said Bert, and all I can say is, that Im more than grateful.

Thats all right, young feller, replied the plainsman, with a deprecatory wave of his hand, you can thank me best by not sayin a word about it. Youd have done the same fer me ef youd had the chance.

Bert said no more, but shook hands all around, and then prepared to start on. You fellows lead the way, he said, and Ill follow. My appetite is beginning to come back with a rush.

Yed better follow the road we come by back a piece, advised their guide, yell soon come to the main road leadin into Boyd, and you oughtnt to have any further trouble.

That listens all right, observed Bert, and Dick and Tom were of the same mind. Accordingly, they lost no time in packing up Berts luggage, and soon had it stored neatly on the carrier. Then Dick pointed the nose of the automobile in the direction their guide had advised, Bert following at a little distance to give the dust raised by the passage of the automobile time to settle. In a short time they reached the road of which the guide had spoken, and they spun along merrily.

They made a slight detour to set down the old frontiersman, who had rendered them such invaluable assistance. They parted from him with great regret and many expressions of gratitude. He stood in the sandy road waving his hat after them until his figure became indistinct in the distance.

There was a friend in need, if there ever was one, said Tom, and Dick was of the same opinion.

After awhile the road broadened out somewhat, and Bert ranged up alongside the automobile. He closed the muffler of his machine, and as it glided along with scarcely a sound he and his friends conversed without the slightest difficulty. In this way the distance seemed nothing at all, and in due time they drew into Boyd.

Bert left the Blue Streak at the garage, and went with Tom and Dick to their hotel. They were all ravenously hungry, and the ravages they caused among the eatables filled the waiters with astonishment. At last they had finished, and then proceeded to discuss their future movements.

Ive managed to keep pretty well to schedule so far, he told them, and some of the worst going is over. But, believe me, I wouldnt want to repeat some of the experiences Ive had. Take this morning, for instance.

No, I shouldnt think you would, said Dick. But tell us about a few. It wont do you any harm to rest up an hour or two now, and were crazy to hear some of your adventures. Reel off a few, like a good fellow.

Bert gave them a brief review of his recent movements, and they listened with the greatest interest. Some of the incidents were very amusing, but they elicited less laughter than they usually would, for the nerves of all three had not yet fully recovered from the shock they had received that morning.

Well, said Bert at last, rising, Im sorry, fellows, but Im afraid Ill have to be moving. Get hold of that auto again, why dont you, and go with me a little way. You can do that all right, cant you?

Sure, exclaimed Dick. Bet your sweet life we can, chimed in Tom, and so it was settled.

The three comrades proceeded directly to the garage, and had no difficulty in hiring the car that had already served them so well that morning. Bert ran the Blue Streak out onto the sunlit road, and, running beside it, shot on the spark. The motor started immediately, and he gave a flying leap into the saddle.

Dick and Tom were close behind, and tried to catch up with him. But Bert would not have it so. As soon as they began to get close he would shoot ahead, and although they had a speedy car, they realized that they stood no chance against such a motorcycle as the Blue Streak.

Laughingly they gave over the attempt, and Bert dropped back until they were abreast of him.

No chance, fellows, he called gaily. The old Blue Streak and I dont take the dust of any mere automobile.

They exchanged jokes and friendly insults until they had gone much further than they realized, and were forced to turn back.

They stopped before parting and shook hands.

So long, old fellow, said Dick. Well be waiting to meet you at Oklahoma.

Good-bye, said Bert, wringing their hands, see you later, and, leaping on the Blue Streak, was soon lost to sight in a cloud of dust.

CHAPTER X
A Day of Disaster

After he left his companions, Bert made good speed for a time, and hummed along smoothly. At first all went well, and Bert was congratulating himself on his good progress, when suddenly his engine commenced racing wildly. In an instant Bert had shut off power, and came to a stop as soon as possible. Then he dismounted, and commenced a hasty examination. The first thought that flashed across his mind was that the clutch had given way in some manner, thus allowing the motor to slip. The clutch proved to be in perfect condition, however, but a short further search revealed the cause of the trouble.

The nut that held the engine driving sprocket on the shaft had worked loose and dropped off. Of course, the key that prevented the sprocket from slipping on the shaft had dropped out soon afterward, thus allowing the shaft to revolve without transmitting the slightest power.

Well, thought Bert, Im in a pretty fix now, for fair. Here I am thirty miles from the nearest town and provided with a permanent free engine. It rather looks as though I were up against it for fair.

He made a careful search among his spare parts, but met with only partial success. He found a nut that fitted the shaft fairly well, but nothing he could substitute for the key.

Perhaps if I walk back a way Ill find it, he thought, and accordingly he walked slowly back the way he had come, carefully scanning every foot of the path. He realized that the likelihood of finding it was very slim, but there was always the chance, so he hunted carefully. His efforts met with no success, and at last he was forced to admit to himself the hopelessness of the search.

But Ive got to do something, he thought, since I havent got the part, Ill have to try and make one, thats all. He reflected a few moments, and then, seized with an idea, once more looked through the tool bag. He selected the smallest of his screwdrivers and a file, and began to file away at the screwdriver about half an inch from the end, intending to use it in place of the lost key. But the steel of which it was composed was very hard, and he found it a harder task than he had anticipated.





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