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Title: Bert Wilson's Twin Cylinder Racer
Author: Duffield, J. W.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Bert Wilson's Twin Cylinder Racer" ***

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RACER***


BERT WILSON'S TWIN CYLINDER RACER

by

J. W. DUFFIELD

Author of "Bert Wilson at the Wheel,"
"Wireless Operator," "Fadeaway Ball,"
"Marathon Winner," "At Panama."



Copyright, 1914, By
Sully And Kleinteich

All rights reserved.

Published and Printed, 1924, by
Western Printing & Lithographing Company
Racine, Wisconsin
Printed in U. S. A.



CONTENTS


 CHAPTER                            PAGE
      I. THE RUNAWAY LOCOMOTIVE        1
     II. THE "BLUE STREAK"            13
    III. FROM COAST TO COAST          28
     IV. A FLYING START               41
      V. THE DESERTED HUT             53
     VI. THE BROKEN DAM               65
    VII. A KENTUCKY FEUD              82
   VIII. THE FORGED TELEGRAM          97
     IX. IN DEADLY PERIL             104
      X. A DAY OF DISASTER           118
     XI. THE FLAMING FOREST          129
    XII. RACING AN AIRSHIP           137
   XIII. AN UNSEEN LISTENER          145
    XIV. THE OUTLAW PLOT             154
     XV. A MURDEROUS GRIP            163
    XVI. DESPERATE CHANCES           175
   XVII. THE WONDERFUL CITY          188
  XVIII. A WINNING FIGHT             199



BERT WILSON'S TWIN CYLINDER RACER



CHAPTER I

THE RUNAWAY LOCOMOTIVE


"Stop her. Stop her. She's running wild!"

The cry ended almost in a shriek that rang high above the murmur of
voices at the railroad station.

It was a bright sunny morning early in June. The usual crowd of rustics
had gathered at the depot to see the train come in and depart. A few
commercial travelers were consulting time tables and attending to the
disposition of their baggage. Gay laughter and hasty farewells arose
from a bevy of girls and the young men who had assembled to see them
off. The conductor, watch in hand, stood ready to give the signal,
and the black porters were already gathering up the folding steps
preparatory to boarding the train. The bells were ringing and the
whistle had given its preliminary toot, when all were startled at the
sight of the station agent, who issued wild-eyed from his office and ran
on the track, frantically waving his hands and shouting at the top of
his voice.

As the startled passengers and trainmen followed the direction of his
look, they saw what had occasioned the wild commotion, and, for a
moment, their hearts stood still.

A big Mogul engine that had been shunted to a side track was moving down
the line, slowly at first but gathering speed with every passing second.
Neither engineer nor fireman could be seen in the cab. It was evident
that they had left before the power was completely shut off, or that
some sudden jar had started the mechanism. Even while the frightened
spectators watched as though under a spell, the pace grew swifter. Some
of the men lounging about the roundhouse made a hurried rush for it,
with a faint hope of getting aboard and shutting off steam. One of these
made a desperate grab at the rear end of the tender, but was flung in a
ditch alongside the track, where he rolled over and over. It was too
late to stop her. Amid a tempest of yells and a tumult of excitement she
gathered way and sped down the line.

The station master wrung his hands and tore his hair in desperation. For
the moment he was crazed with fright.

A clear eyed young fellow, tall, stalwart, muscular, had been chatting
with a party of friends on the road beside the platform. While he
talked, his hand rested on the handle-bars of a motorcycle at which he
glanced at intervals with a look of pride that was almost affection. It
was a superb machine, evidently of the latest type, and in its graceful
lines suggested in some vague way a resemblance to its owner. Both
looked like thoroughbreds.

At the Babel of cries that rent the air the young motorcyclist looked up
and his nostrils dilated with sudden purpose. At a glance he took in the
situation--the running men, the panic cries, the runaway engine. Then he
came plunging through the crowd and grasped the dazed agent by the
shoulder.

"Come, wake up," he cried. "Do something. Telegraph to the next
station."

The man looked up dully. Terror had benumbed his faculties. He was
clearly not the man for a sudden emergency.

"No use," he moaned. "The next station is thirteen miles away. And it's
a single track," he wailed, "and No. 56 is due in twenty minutes. If
she's on time she's already left there. They'll meet head-on--O God!"

"Quick," the newcomer commanded, as he fairly dragged him into the
office. "There's the key. Get busy. Call up the next station and see if
you can stop 56."

But as he saw the aimless, paralyzed way in which the agent fumbled at
the key, he thrust him aside and took his place. He was an expert
telegrapher, and his fingers fairly flew as he called up the operator
at Corridon.

"Engine running wild," he called. "Stop 56 and sidetrack the runaway."

A moment of breathless suspense and the answer came in sharp, staccato
clicks that betrayed the agitation of the man at the other end.

"56 just left. Rounding the curve half a mile away. Making up time, too.
For heaven's sake, do something."

"Do something." What bitter irony! What could be done? Death was at the
throttle of that mad runaway rushing down the line.

But the young fellow was of the never say die kind, and always at his
best when danger threatened. He thought with the rapidity of lightning.
Then he clutched the station agent, who sat with his head bowed on his
hands, a picture of abject misery.

"Is there a switch between here and Corridon?" he demanded fiercely.

"N-no," muttered the stupefied man. "That is, there is one at the old
stone quarry, but----"

The remainder of the sentence fell on empty air. Like a flash, the youth
who had so cavalierly taken matters in his own hands was out of the
room. He ploughed through the huddled group of passengers and trainmen,
and flung himself into the saddle of the waiting motorcycle. A roar as
he threw in the clutch, a quick scattering of those in front, and the
machine, like a living thing, darted down the road that lay beside the
track.

The wind sang in his ears and the path fell away behind him as he
crouched low over the fork so that his body might offer as little
resistance as possible. And, as he rushed along, his active mind was
thinking--thinking--

He knew the surrounding country like an open book. There was scarcely a
lane that he had not threaded, and as for the highways, he had gone over
them again and again. Now, as in a panorama, he saw every turn and bend,
every height and hollow of the road that lay before him. In sheer
delight of living he had ridden it before; now he must do it to keep
others from dying.

The old stone quarry was a familiar landmark. More than once, he and
other fellows from the College interested in geology had come over there
to hunt fossils. At an earlier date, it had been a buzzing hive of
activity, and a side track had been laid by the railroad company
in order to load the stone more easily. But of late it had proved
unprofitable to work the quarry, and nothing now remained but the
abandoned shacks of the workmen and some broken tools and machinery,
rusting in the grass that had grown up around them. He remembered that
the siding ran for about twenty rods and ended at bumpers set within a
few feet of the wall of rock.

For two or three miles, the road he was traveling ran almost parallel to
the railroad. At times, a shoulder of the path hid the rails from sight,
and at one place he had to make quite a wide detour before he again came
close to the right of way. The switch at the quarry was seven miles from
the town, and, though he hoped to make it in less than that many
minutes, it seemed as though he would never reach it. To his agonized
mind he appeared to be merely crawling. In reality he was flying.

For he was riding now as he had never ridden before. Human life was at
stake--perhaps hundreds of lives. He pictured the long line of cars full
of passengers--for 56 was the road's finest train, and almost always
filled to capacity--coming toward him without a thought of danger.
Some would be reading, others gazing out of the windows, still others
laughing and talking. But everywhere would be confidence, ease of
mind, an eager looking for the journey's end without the slightest
apprehension. And all this time, death was grimly bearing down upon them
in one of his most fearful forms.

He shuddered as in his mind's eye he saw the two monster locomotives
leaping at each other like enraged giants. He had seen a wreck once and
had fervently prayed that he might never see another. And as that scene
now came before him, he bent lower over the bars and let out every ounce
of speed that the machine possessed.

It was leaping now, only touching the high places. Had he been a less
skilful rider he would have been hurled from the saddle. Discretion was
thrown to the winds. It was no time to measure possibilities or look out
for his personal safety. He had to take chances. His siren warned all
comers to give him the road. A team was hauled up on its haunches by the
frightened driver; an automobile drew so hastily to one side that two
wheels went into the ditch. He caught a glimpse of startled faces at
doors and windows as he passed. Like a meteor he flashed by, all his
heart and soul wrapped up in the thought of rescue.

Now he had overtaken the locomotive and was running parallel to it. The
Mogul swayed and lurched as it tore along with all steam up on its
mission of destruction. Steadily the rider drew up on even terms, with
less than twenty feet separating the tracks from the high road. Then the
motorcycle swept into the lead and increased it with every bound.

Only two miles more to the quarry! His heart exulted as he realized that
he would get there first. But the margin would be fearfully close. The
switch might prove rusty and refuse to work. Some part of it might be
out of gear. For years it had been utterly abandoned. What a bitter
jest of fate if, after reaching it ahead of the locomotive, he should
have to stand helplessly by and see it dash past on its errand of
slaughter.

Then, too, a third factor entered into the problem. There was No. 56.
She was a limited express and famous for her speed. The operator at
Corridon had said that on this stretch of road, supposed to be clear,
she would make up time. If she reached and passed the switch before the
runaway, no power on earth could prevent a frightful disaster. And just
then, while this fear was tugging at his heart, a faint whistle in the
distance drove all the color from his face. 56 was coming!

He dared not take his eyes from the road in front, but he knew from the
lessened noise behind him that he was increasing his lead. And then as
he swept around a slight curve in the road, the abandoned quarry came
into view. There were the empty shacks, the deserted platform and, a few
rods further on, the switch.

He raced to the tracks and threw himself from the machine, almost
falling headlong from the momentum, although he had turned off the
power. Then he grasped the lever and tried to throw the switch.

It groaned and creaked, but, although it protested, it yielded to the
powerful young muscles that would not be denied. But, when it had moved
two-thirds of the way it balked, and, despite his frenzied attempts,
refused to budge another inch. And now the runaway engine was coming
close, rumbling and roaring hideously, while round the curve, a scant
quarter of a mile away, appeared the smokestack of No. 56.

Looking wildly about for the obstacle, he saw that a stone had been
wedged into the frog. He tried to remove it, but the turning of the
switch had jammed it against the rail. Straightening up, he swung
the lever far enough back to release the stone. He worked as if in
a nightmare. Fifty feet away, the Mogul was bearing down like a
fire-breathing demon. With one swift movement he threw the stone aside;
with the next he bowed his back over the lever until it felt as though
it would break. Then the rusted rails groaned into place; with an
infernal din and uproar the runaway took the switch. Scarcely had it
cleared the track when 56 thundered past, its wheels sending out streams
of sparks as the brakes ground against them.

The Mogul struck the bumpers with terrific force, tore them away and
leaped headlong against the wall of the quarry. There was a crash that
could be heard for miles, and the wrecked locomotive reared into the air
and then rolled over on its side, enveloped in smoke and hissing steam.

As soon as the long train of 56 could be stopped, the throttle was
reversed and it came gliding back to the switch. The engineer and
fireman sprang from their cab, conductor and trainmen came running up,
and the passengers swarmed from the cars.

There was a tumult of excited questionings, as they gathered round the
young fellow who stood there, panting with the strain of his tremendous
efforts. Now that he had succeeded in the forlorn hope that he had
undertaken, he was beginning to feel the reaction. He responded briefly
and modestly to the questions that were showered upon him, and, as
the full meaning of their narrow escape from death burst upon them,
passengers and trainmen alike were loud in their praise of his presence
of mind and thanks for their deliverance. They were for making him a
hero, but he shrank from this and would have none of it.

"Don't thank me," he laughed. "It was this that made it possible;" and
he patted the handlebars of the motorcycle. "She certainly did herself
proud this day."

"She surely is a dandy," smiled the conductor, "but you must admit that
you had a _little_ to do with it. We'll never forget what you have done
for us to-day. But now we must be starting. We'll put the machine in the
baggage car, and you come in here with me."

A blast of the whistle and No. 56 had resumed its interrupted journey.

A ringing cheer burst from the anxious crowds that surged about the
platform as the great train, puffing and snorting, came into the
station. The agent, white as a ghost, could not believe his eyes.

"Thank God," he cried. "I thought it was all over. I've telegraphed for
the wrecking crew, and all the doctors in town have been called to go
along. How on earth did you escape? Where is the Mogul?"

"You'll find that down in the quarry smashed to bits," answered the
conductor. "You'll need the wrecking train for that, all right, but you
can call off the doctors. We would have needed plenty of them--and
undertakers too--if it hadn't been for this young man. He threw the
switch without a second to spare."

The station agent grasped the rider's hand and stammered and stuttered,
as he tried to pour out his thanks. But just then a flying wedge of
college boys came through the crowd and, grabbing the reluctant hero,
hoisted him to their shoulders.

"Wilson." "Bert Wilson." "O, you Bert." "O, you speed boy," they yelled.
The enthusiastic lookers on took up the shout and it was a long time
before Bert, blushing and embarrassed, could free himself from his
boisterous admirers.

"O, cut it out, fellows," he protested. "It was all in the day's work."

"Sure," assented Tom Henderson, "but _such_ a day's work."

"And such a worker," added Dick Trent.

"Three times three and a tiger for Bert Wilson," roared a stentorian
voice. The answer came in a tempest of cheers, and, as the train pulled
out, the last sound that came to the waving passengers was the lusty
chorus:

    "For he's a jolly good fellow,
    Which nobody can deny."



CHAPTER II

THE "BLUE STREAK"


"Isn't it a beauty?" exclaimed Bert, as, a few days later, he swept up
to a waiting group of friends and leaped from the saddle.

There was a unanimous assent as the boys crowded around the motorcycle,
looking at it almost with the rapt intentness of worshippers at a
shrine.

"It's a dandy, all right," declared Dick, with an enthusiasm equal to
Bert's own. "You skimmed along that last stretch of road like a bird."

"It's about the speediest and niftiest thing on the planet," chimed in
Tom. "You'd give an airship all it wanted to do to keep up with you."

"Easy, easy there," laughed Bert. "I wouldn't go as far as that. But on
'terra cotta,' as Mrs. Partington calls it, there are mighty few things
that will make me take their dust." And he patted the machine with as
much affection as if it could feel and respond to the touch.

"About how fast can that streak of greased lightning travel, any way?"
asked Drake. "What's the record for a motorcycle?"

"The best so far is a mile in thirty-six and four-fifths seconds," was
the answer. "That's at the rate of ninety-eight miles an hour."

"Some traveling," murmured Dick.

"Of course," went on Bert, "that was for a sprint. But even over long
distances some great records have been hung up. In England last year a
motorcycle made 300 miles in 280 minutes. I don't think the fastest
express train in the world has ever beaten that."

"Gee," said Tom, "I'd hate to be in the path of a cannon ball like that.
It would be the 'sweet by and by' for yours truly."

"It might possibly muss you up some," grinned Bert. "It's a case of 'the
quick or the dead' when you amble across the path of a twin-cylinder."

"I should think," remarked Drake, "that it would shake the daylights out
of you to travel at the speed you were going just now along that last
bit of road."

"A few years ago it would have," admitted Bert. "The way they bumped
along was a sure cure for dyspepsia. But with this saddle I could ride
all day and scarcely feel a jar. Why, look at this cradle spring frame,"
he went on enthusiastically; "it has the same flat leaf springs that
they use in the finest kind of automobiles. You wouldn't believe that
there are over 250 inches of supple, highly tempered springs between the
saddle and the road. It's as elastic and flexible as a bamboo cane.
Each spring has double scrolls that come into action one after another
whenever you have a jolt. Then, too, there are rubber bumpers to take
the recoil. Why, it's like a parlor car on a limited express. No fellow
sitting back in a Pullman has anything on me."

"You're a pampered son of luxury, all right," mocked Tom. "We children
of toil take off our hats to you."

Bert made a playful pass at him and went on:

"As to power, it would take the strength of seven horses to match it.
The engine has a piston displacement of 61 inches. And yet you can
control that tremendous power so far as to slow down to three miles an
hour. Not that I often get down to that, though. Fifty or sixty suit me
better."

"You ought to name it 'Pegasus,' after the flying horse," suggested
Hinsdale.

"Old Pegasus would have his work cut out for him if he tried to show me
the way," smiled Bert. "Still I don't claim to beat anything that goes
through the air. But when you get down to solid earth, I'd back this
daisy of mine to hold its own."

"The old Red Scout might make you hustle some," suggested Tom.

"Yes," admitted Bert, "she certainly was a hummer. Do you remember the
time she ran away from the Gray Ghost? Speed was her middle name that
day."

"It was, for fair," agreed Dick, "but perhaps she went still faster when
we scudded up the track that day, with the express thundering behind."

"Our hearts went faster, anyway," declared Tom. "Gee, but that was a
narrow squeak. It makes me shiver now when I think of it."

"Same here," echoed Bert, little dreaming that before long, on the
splendid machine whose handlebars he held, he would graze the very
garments of death.

Happily, however, the future was hidden, and for the moment the little
group were absorbed in the mechanical wonders of the motorcycle that
loomed large in the road before them. It stood for the last word in
up-to-date construction. The inventive genius of the twentieth century
had spent itself on every contrivance that would add to its speed,
strength and beauty. It was a poem in bronze and steel and rubber. From
the extremity of the handlebars in front to the rim of its rear wheel,
not the tiniest thing had been overlooked or left undone that could
add to its perfection. Fork and cams and springs and valves and
carburetor--all were of the finest material and the most careful
workmanship.

"It seemed an awful lot to pay, when I heard that it cost you over three
hundred bucks," said Tom, "but after looking it over, I guess you got
your money's worth."

"The value's there, all right," asserted Bert confidently. "I wouldn't
take that amount of money for the fun I've had already. And what I'm
going to have"--he made a comprehensive wave of the hand--"it simply
can't be reckoned in cold coin."

"It's getting to be a mighty popular way of traveling," said Dick. "I
saw it stated somewhere that a quarter of a million are in use and that
the output is increasing all the time."

"Yes," added Drake, "they certainly cover a wide field. Ministers,
doctors, rural mail carriers, gas, electric and telephone companies are
using them more and more. In the great pastures of the West, the herders
use them in making their rounds and looking after the sheep. All the
police departments in the big cities employ a lot of them, and in about
every foreign army there is a motorcycle corps. You've surely got lots
of company, old man."

"Yes, and we're only the vanguard. The time is coming when they'll be
used as widely as the bicycle in its palmiest days."

"A bicycle wouldn't have done you much good the other day, in that wild
ride down to the switch," grinned Drake. "By the way, Bert, the press
associations got hold of that, and now the whole country's humming with
it."

"Well," said Bert, anxious to change the subject, "if she'll only do as
well in the race from coast to coast, I won't have any kick coming."

"How about that contest anyway?" queried Hinsdale. "Have you really
decided to go into it?"

"Sure thing," answered Bert. "I don't see why I shouldn't. Commencement
will be over by the eighth, and the race doesn't start until the tenth.
That will give me plenty of time to get into shape. As a matter of
fact, I'm almost fit now, and Reddy is training me for two hours every
afternoon. I've almost got down to my best weight already, and I'm going
to take the rest off so slowly that I'll be in the pink of condition
when the race begins. Reddy knows me like a book and he says he never
saw me in better form."

"Of course," he went on thoughtfully, "the game is new to me and I'm not
at all sure of winning. But I think I have a chance. I'd like to win for
the honor of it and because I hate to lose. And then, too, that purse of
ten thousand dollars looks awfully good to me."

The race to which the boys referred had been for some time past a
subject of eager interest, and had provoked much discussion in sporting
and college circles. The idea had been developing since the preceding
winter from a chance remark as to the time it would take a motorcycle to
go from the Atlantic to the Pacific. A guess had been hazarded that it
could be done in twenty days. This had been disputed, and, as an outcome
of the discussion, a general race had been projected to settle the
question. The Good Roads Association of America, in conjunction with a
number of motorcycle manufacturers, had offered a purse of five thousand
dollars for the competitor who made the journey in the shortest time. If
that time came within twenty days, an additional two thousand dollars
was to be given to the winner.

One other element entered into the problem. The San Francisco Exposition,
designed to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, would be in full
swing at the time the survivors of the race reached the coast. One of the
great features of the Fair was to be an international carnival of sports.
There were to be contests in cavalry riding, in fencing, in auto racing,
and the pick of the world were expected to compete. But of special
interest to Bert was the international motorcycle race, which for the
first time was to be held in America. Two years before, it had taken
place in Paris and, a year later, in London. But this year it was
America's turn, and because of the immense crowds expected at the
Exposition, San Francisco had been chosen as the city to stage the event.
There was to be a first prize of three thousand dollars and lesser purses
for those that came in second and third. If, by any chance, the winner
of the long distance race should break the twenty day limit and also win
the final race at the Fair, his total reward would amount to ten thousand
dollars.

With such a possibility in prospect, it was not surprising that Bert
should be strongly tempted to enter the race. He was a natural athlete,
and in his college course so far had stood head and shoulders above his
competitors. As pitcher on the 'Varsity team, he had cinched the pennant
by his superb twirling in a most exciting series of diamond battles. He
had been chosen as a contender on the American Olympic team, and had
carried off the Marathon after a heart-breaking race, in which every
ounce of speed and stamina had been tried to the utmost. In an auto race
between rival campers, his hand at the wheel had guided the Red Scout
to victory over the Gray Ghost, its redoubtable antagonist. He was a
splendid physical machine of brawn and sinew and nerve and muscle.
Outdoor life, vigorous exercise and clean living, combined with his
natural gifts, made him a competitor to be feared and respected in any
contest that he chose to enter.

But his lithe, supple body was not his only, or indeed, his chief asset.
What made him preëminent was his quick mind and indomitable will, of
which his body was only the servant. His courage and audacity were
superb. Again and again he had been confronted with accidents and
discouragements that would have caused a weaker fellow to quit and blame
the result on fate. He had won the deciding game in the baseball race,
after his comrades had virtually thrown it away. In the Marathon, it was
with bruised and bleeding feet that he overtook his antagonist at the
very tape. The harder bad luck tried to down him, the more fiercely he
rose in rebellion. And it was this bulldog grip, this unshaken tenacity,
this "never know when you are beaten" spirit that put him in a class by
himself and made him the idol of his comrades. They had seen him so
often snatch victory from the very jaws of defeat, that they were
prepared to back him to the limit. Win or lose, they knew that he would
do his best, and, if defeated, go down fighting.

With such a character and record back of him, his enthusiastic friends
were inclined to think that it was "all over but the shouting." Bert,
however, had no such delusion. If it had been simply a matter of muscle
or swiftness or courage, he would have felt more confident of the
outcome. But here the "human equation" was not the only thing involved.
The quality and strength of the machine he rode would be a very
prominent and perhaps a deciding factor. He felt sure that he was in
such prime physical condition that he could endure the gruelling grind.
But would his machine be equal to the task? The most dashing horseman
would have to halt, if his steed foundered beneath him. The most daring
aviator would have to descend to earth, if his motor stopped. So Bert,
no matter how strong and plucky, must fail, if his machine should go
back on him.

For there could be no substitute. This was one of the conditions of the
race. He must finish, if at all, on the same machine with which he
started. The contestants were permitted to make repairs to any extent.
Tires, forks, springs and any other parts could be replaced, and, at
intervals along the route, supplies could be held in readiness, in
addition to those that the rider carried. But essentially the identical
machine must be used throughout the race. In the event of a hopeless
smashup, the luckless rider was, of course, out for good. The racer and
the machine were thus indispensable to each other. Neither could win if
the other balked. They were like the two blades of a shears--strong when
together but useless when separated.

To guard as much as possible against defects, Bert had been especially
careful in selecting his motorcycle. He had the eye for a machine that a
gipsy has for a horse. Among a host of others, he had chosen one that
appealed to him as the acme of what a motorcycle should be. It was
a seven horse power, twin cylinder racer, with every appliance and
improvement known at the time it left the factory.

The brakes, for instance, were more powerful than those fitted to any
previous type. It could be operated by a foot lever on the right side of
the machine and also by a grip lever in the left handlebar. The double
action was caused by the expansion and contraction of two bands inside
and outside a brake drum.

Then, too, there was a foot-starting device that was a marvel of
simplicity. A single downward pressure of the foot, and the racer
started off at once.

An improved rear hub also aroused Bert's enthusiasm, because of its
extra large size and the fact that it ran on ball bearings that were
absolutely frictionless. In both the front and rear hubs there was a
knock-out axle, so that the wheels could be removed without interfering
with the adjustment of the bearings.

In fact, the more Bert studied what had become his most precious
possession the more convinced he grew that he had secured a "gem of the
first water." And now that the first stiffness had worn off, the machine
was "running like a watch."

The ignition was perfect, the transmission left nothing to be desired,
and the most critical inspection could find no fault with any detail of
the steel charger that was to carry him and his fortunes to victory or
defeat.

"What are you going to christen it, Bert?" asked Tom. "Cut out the
Pegasus stuff and tell it to us straight."

"On the level, I think I'll call it the 'Blue Streak,'" answered Bert.
"That's the way it covers the ground, as a rule, and I hope it will be
prophetic. Besides, blue is our college color and it ought to bring me
luck. That's the color I wore when we took the Grays and Maroons into
camp, and I had it at my belt when I collared Dorner in the Stadium.
Everything goes in threes, you know, and this will be the third time I'm
out to win since I was a Freshie."

"Bully for you, old top," exclaimed Drake, with a rousing thump on the
shoulder. "The fellows will be tickled to death to know that the good
old blue is showing the way across country. And when we hear that you've
come in first, there'll be a yell that you'll hear way off in Frisco."

"Don't count your chickens too soon, my boy," cautioned Bert; but his
heart was warmed and elated by the confidence his comrades had in him,
and he vowed to himself that he would justify it, if it were humanly
possible.

"To judge from the names already entered, it's going to be a weird color
scheme," laughed Dick. "There's the Yellow Dragon and the Red Devil and
the Brown Antelope and the White Cloud and the Black Knight; and
there'll probably be others before the list is full."

"Gee," chortled Tom, "if a hobo should see them coming all at once, he'd
think that he had them again, sure."

"Yes," agreed Bert, "it would certainly be a crazy quilt effect, if they
should all come along together. But there are so many different routes
that, ten to one, we won't catch sight of each other after the bunch
scatters at the start."

"How about the route?" asked Martin. "I should think that would be one
of the most important things to take into account."

"So it would, if it were left to me. But it isn't. You see, one of the
great objects of the Good Roads Association is to plan a great national
highway from coast to coast. They want to get all the facts about every
possible route, so that they'll have something to go on, when they put
it up to the different States to get legislation on their pet hobby.
This race they think will be of great importance for this purpose,
because it won't be based on theory but on actual experience.
So they have mapped out a large number of possible lines to be
followed--northern, central and southern,--and when they've got them all
marked out, lots will be drawn and the fellows will have to follow the
route that chance gives them. Of course, they can't be exactly alike in
the matter of distance. But it will be as fair for one as the other,
and, all things considered, they'll average up about alike. I expect to
get a letter any day now, giving the special trip that luck has picked
out for me.

"Of course," he went on, "it isn't all absolutely cut and dried. They
don't mark out every highway and byway that you must travel, on pain of
being disqualified. But you're given a chain of important towns and
great centers that you must hit one after the other on your trip across
the continent. As long as you do that, you are left to your own judgment
as to the best and quickest way of getting there."

"How about any crooked work?" put in Axtell. "Is there any chance of
that?"

"I'm not worrying much about that," answered Bert. "To be sure, where so
much is at stake, there's always a chance of some one trying to turn
a trick. But I don't see where they could 'put it over.' At every
important place there'll be timers and checkers to keep tally on the
riders. The machines are all registered and numbered and so carefully
described that, in case of a smashup, a fellow couldn't slip in another
one without being found out at the next stopping place. Then, too, if
they tried to get a lift on a train, there would have to be too many in
the secret. Besides, in all the names I've seen so far of the racers,
there's only one that might possibly stoop to anything of that kind.
His name is Hayward, and from what I've heard he's been mixed up with
one or two shady deals. There have only been whispers and suspicions,
however, and they've never been able actually to prove anything against
him. So he is still nominally in good standing and eligible to ride. It
may be all conjecture anyway. He probably wouldn't cheat if he could,
and couldn't if he would."

"No," said Dick, "it certainly seems as though the best man and the best
machine ought to win."

"I understand that the race is to start from New York," remarked Drake.

"Yes," answered Bert, preparing to mount the machine, "from one of the
beaches near the city. It's to be actually from ocean to ocean. The rear
wheel is to be wet in the Atlantic. Then the fight is on in earnest and
only ends when the front wheel is dipped in the Pacific."

"'Twill be some race," remarked Martin.

"You'll have to travel like the wind," warned Hinsdale.

"Yes," laughed Bert, as he threw in the clutch, "to make it in twenty
days, I'll have to go like a blue streak."



CHAPTER III

FROM COAST TO COAST


The next few days flew by with magical swiftness. There were a thousand
things to be done, and Bert found himself wishing that each day had a
hundred hours instead of twenty-four. The term examinations were on, and
he buckled down to them manfully. He had never neglected his class work
in favor of athletic sports and his standing had always been high. He
worked as hard as he played, and in both study and games was up in the
front rank.

But when these ordeals were over and he had passed triumphantly, every
spare moment was devoted to the coming race. He put into his preparation
all his heart and soul. And in this, he was ably aided and abetted by
Reddy, the college trainer.

"Reddy," as he was called from the flaming mop of hair that adorned his
far from classic brow, was a character. For many years he had been in
complete control of the football, baseball and general track teams of
the college. He had formerly been a crack second baseman in a major
league, but an injured ankle had forced his withdrawal from the active
playing ranks. He had a shrewd, though uneducated, mind, and his
knowledge of sports and ability as a trainer had made him famous in the
athletic world. His dry wit and genial disposition made him a great
favorite with the boys, though he ruled with an iron hand when
discipline was needed.

He was especially proud and fond of Bert for two reasons. In the first
place, his trainers' soul rejoiced in having such a superb physical
specimen to develop into a winner. He had so often been called upon to
"make bricks without straw," that he exulted in this splendid material
ready to his hand. And when his faith had been justified by the great
victories that Bert had won, Reddy felt that it was, in part, his own
personal triumph.

Then, too, Bert had never shirked or broken training. His sense of honor
was high and fine, and he kept as rigidly to his work in the trainer's
absence as in his presence. Reddy had never had to put detectives on his
track or search him out in the poolrooms and saloons of the town. He was
true to himself, true to his team, true to his college, and could always
be counted on to be in first-class condition.

So that, although this was not a college event, Reddy took a keen
personal interest in the coming contest. Every afternoon, he held the
watch while Bert circled the track, and he personally superintended the
bath and rubdown, after the test was over. He knew the exact weight at
which his charge was most effective, and he took off the superfluous
flesh just fast enough not to weaken him. And his Irish blue eyes
twinkled with satisfaction, as he noted that just now he had never seen
him in better shape for the task that lay before him.

"Ye'll do," he said, with an air of finality, two days before the race,
as he snapped his split-second chronometer, after a whirlwind sprint.
"I'll not tell ye jist the time ye made for that last five miles, as I
don't want ye to get the swelled head. But, my word for it, ye're on
edge, and I don't want ye to touch that machine again until ye face the
starter. Ye're down fine enough and I don't want ye to go stale before
the race begins. I've left jist enough beef on ye to give ye a wee bit
of a margin to work off. The rest is solid bone and muscle, and, if the
machine is as good as yerself, ye'll get to the coast first with
something to spare."

"Well," said Bert warmly, "it will be your victory as well as mine if I
do. You're my 'one best bet' when it comes to getting into form. I
wouldn't have had half a chance to pull off any of the stunts I have, if
it hadn't been for you."

But Reddy tossed this lightly aside.

"Not a bit of it," he protested, "'tis yersilf has done the work, and
yersilf should get the credit. And ye've done it too in the face of
accident and hard luck. This time I'm hoping that luck will be on yer
side. And to make sure," he grinned, "I'm going to give yer a sprig of
four-leaved shamrock that came to me from the folks at home, last
seventeenth of March. 'Twill not be hurting ye any to have it along with
yer."

"Sure thing," laughed Bert. "I'll slip it in the tool box and carry it
every foot of the way."

And as Reddy had groomed Bert, so Bert groomed his machine. Every nut
and bolt, valve and spring was gone over again and again, until even his
critical judgment was satisfied. It was to carry not only his fortune
but perhaps his life, and he did not rest until he was convinced that
nothing could add to its perfection. It had become almost a part of
himself, and it was with a feeling of reluctance that at last he had it
carefully crated and sent on to the starting point, to await his coming
forty-eight hours later.

That evening, as he returned from the post office, he met Tom and Dick
at the foot of the steps leading to their dormitory. He waved at them an
open letter that he had been reading.

"It's from the Committee," he explained. "It gives the route and final
instructions. Come up to the rooms and we'll go over it together."

A bond of friendship, far from common, united these three comrades--the
"Three Guardsmen," as they were jokingly called, because they were so
constantly together. They had first met at a summer camp, some years
before, and a strong similarity of character and tastes had drawn them
to each other at once. From that time on, it had been "one for three and
three for one."

Full to the brim as they were of high spirits and love of adventure,
they often got into scrapes from which it required all their nerve and
ingenuity to emerge with a whole skin. Their supreme confidence in
themselves often led them to take chances from which older and wiser
heads would have shrunk. And the various exploits in which they had
indulged had taught each how fully and absolutely he might rely on the
others. On more than one occasion, death itself had been among the
possibilities, but even that supreme test had been met without
flinching.

Only a few months before, when, on their journey through Mexico, Dick
had fallen into the hands of El Tigre, the dreaded leader of guerillas,
Bert and Tom had taken the trail at once, and after a most exciting
chase, had rescued him from the bandit's clutches. During a trip to the
Adirondacks, Tom had been bitten by a rattler and would have perished,
had it not been for Bert's quickness of mind and swiftness of foot. And
Bert himself never expected to come closer to death than that day on the
San Francisco wharf, when Dick had grasped the knife hand of the Malay
running amuck, just as it was upraised to strike.

Any man or any danger that threatened one would have to count on
tackling three. Each knew that in a pinch the others would stick at
nothing in the effort to back him up. And this conviction, growing
stronger with every new experience, had cemented their friendship beyond
all possibility of breaking.

Their early ties had ripened and broadened under the influence of their
college life. Dick had entered a year before the other two, and it was
this that had moved them to choose the same Alma Mater. Dick and Tom
were studying to be civil engineers, while Bert was more strongly drawn
toward the field of electricity and wireless telegraphy. Their keen
intelligence had won them high honors in scholarship, and their brawn
and muscle had achieved an enviable distinction in athletics. On the
pennant winning team of the year before, Bert's brilliant pitching had
been ably supported by the star work of Tom at third, while Dick, beside
being the champion slugger of the team, had held down first base like a
veteran. All were immensely popular with the student body in general,
not only for their prowess, but because of the qualities of mind and
heart that would have singled them out anywhere as splendid specimens of
young American manhood.

Bert and Dick roomed together, while Tom's quarters were on the floor
below. Now, as it was nearer, they all piled into Tom's sitting-room,
eager to discuss the contents of the official letter.

"Here it is," said Bert, as he tossed it over to the others. "You see, I
have the southern route."

"O, thunder," groaned Tom, "the toughest of the lot. You'll fairly melt
down there at this time of year."

"It _is_ rough," said Dick. "The roads there are something fierce. The
northern or central route would have been ten times better."

"Yes," agreed Bert, "it certainly is a handicap. If I'd been left to
choose, myself, I wouldn't have dreamed of going that way. Still, it's
all a matter of lot, and I've got no kick coming. Somebody would have
had to draw it, and I might as well be the victim as any one else."

"Spoken like a sport, all right," grumbled Tom. "But it makes me sore at
fate. You'll need something more than Reddy's shamrock to make up for
it."

"You might hunt me up the hind foot of a rabbit, shot by a cross-eyed
coon in a graveyard, in the 'dark of the moon,' if you want to make sure
of my winning," jested Bert. "But, seriously, fellows, I'm not going to
let that rattle me a little bit. It may be harder, but if I do come in
first, there'll be all the more credit in winning. As for the heat,
I'll make my own breeze as I go along, and I'll take my chances on the
roads."

"Well, I suppose there's no use growling," admitted Tom, grudgingly. "At
any rate, we'll see a section of the country we've never seen before."

"_We_," cried Bert. "What do you mean by that?"

"Just what I say," answered Tom, looking a little guiltily at Dick.

"What," yelled Bert, leaping to his feet. "Are you two rascals going
along?"

"Surest thing you know," said Dick, calmly. "Did you think for a minute
that Tom and I would miss the fun of seeing you scoot across the
continent and win that ten thousand dollars? Not on your life. We were
going to surprise you, but since this dub has let the cat out of the
bag, we might as well own up. There's nothing to do, now that we know
the route but to go out and get the tickets."

"Well, you're a pair of bricks," gasped Bert. "The finest pals a fellow
ever had. That's the best news I've had 'since Hector was a pup.' I
didn't know that I'd see a friend's face from the start to the finish.
Talk about shamrocks and rabbit's feet! This news has got them skinned
to death. It won't be any trick at all to toss off a few hundred miles,
if I can figure on seeing you fellows when I turn in for the night.
Say, fellows, I can't put it into words, but you know how I feel."

"Pure selfishness on our part," said Dick, airily, to mask his own deep
feeling. "We want to see the San Francisco Fair, and figured that we'd
never have a better chance."

"Yes," mocked Bert, delightedly, "I size up that selfishness all right.
But now let's study the route and figure out the schedule. Then you gay
deceivers can get through tickets with stopover privileges, and I'll
know just where to find you along the way."

"You see," explained Tom, "we figured that we could get into the big
towns ahead of you and act as a sort of base of supplies. You can keep
tab on the way the 'Blue Streak' is running, and if anything goes
wrong--if a tire bursts or a fork breaks or you have engine trouble--you
can wire ahead and we'll have everything ready for you to make a
lightning change the minute you heave in sight. Of course, you may have
to do some temporary patching and tinkering along the way, but in really
big things we may come in handy. But now let's cut out the hallelujahs
and get down to brass tacks."

Which they did to such good effect that before they turned in for the
night, they had outlined a plan that covered every probable contingency.
Of course there was no such precision possible as in the case of a
railroad schedule. A hundred things might happen to cause a change here,
a delay there, but, between certain elastic limits, the route and time
were carefully worked out. If they should have to revise it, as they
doubtless would, the telegraph and long distance telephone could be
depended on to help them out.

Starting from New York, Bert figured that the first leg of the journey
would take him as far as Philadelphia. This, of course, would not be
typical of the regular distance he would have to cover each day, in
order to beat the time record. But the race was not to start until noon,
so that a half day was all that would be left the riders. And that half
day would be slower than the average, because they would have to thread
the streets of the greater city with all its hindrances and speed
regulations, and would have bridges and ferries to cross before they
could fairly let themselves out. Of course this would not count for a
day in the timing, as they would be allowed a half day at the end of the
journey to make up for it. In other words, the day ran from noon to
noon, instead of from midnight to midnight.

From Philadelphia the route would lead to Baltimore and Washington. Then
he proposed to strike down through West Virginia and into the famous
Blue Grass region of Kentucky and thence swing down toward Little Rock,
Arkansas, which would mark the extreme southern point of the journey.
After that, he would be going almost directly west, with a slight trend
to the north. He would cut through Oklahoma on a direct horizontal, and
then for a short time traverse the upper part of Texas. Leaving the Lone
Star State, he would strike in succession Santa Fé, New Mexico, and
Flagstaff, Arizona. Then, at last, he would be in California, getting a
glimpse of the sea at Santa Barbara, and then sweeping up the valley to
San Francisco.

The record he had to beat was twenty days. He planned to do it in
fifteen. That is, he was confident that as far as mere time were
concerned, he could reel off enough miles every day to take him over the
route within that limit. But that was assuming that everything went
smoothly, and, in a trip of this length, he knew that such an assumption
was absurd. He gave himself three days for accidents and delays. This,
added to the fifteen of actual running time, would still give him a
comfortable margin of forty-eight hours. But, on the average, despite
accident or breakdown, wind or rain, sickness or health, mistaken roads
or dangerous spills, flood or freshet or tempest, he must make from two
to three hundred miles every day. Not only he must be in shape to do it,
but the "Blue Streak" also. There were two machines that had to take
all the chances of wear and tear and mishap--the physical machine above
the saddle, and the steel and rubber machine below it.

He wanted to make the most of the good roads that he would have at the
very beginning of the trip. The first three days would be the best ones,
as far as this feature was concerned. The Eastern and Northern States
were far ahead of the rest of the country in this respect. Their wealth
and population, as well as the vastly greater number of motor vehicles
in use, had early turned their attention to the value and necessity of
the best kind of roads that money could buy and science invent. After he
left Louisville, the going would be harder. While, at places, there
would be magnificent turnpikes along the main arteries of travel, these
would be more than counterbalanced by roads where clay and sand
predominated. But, to make up for this, would be the fact that for long
distances the roads would be clearer and the speed regulations less
stringent. And, on these stretches, Bert promised himself to "hit it up"
hard enough to compensate for the inferior quality of the road. It was
"all in the game," and, in the long run, things would about even up.

"It's a good deal of a lottery, when all is said and done," was the way
he summed it up, as they rose from the maps and papers spread out before
them; "I may get knocked out on the first day, and then again I may
turn up smiling at the finish."

"Of course," assented Tom, "there's no telling what may happen before
the race is over. But I have a hunch that in this lottery you are going
to draw the capital prize."

"Well," laughed Bert, "if you're as good a prophet as you are a pal, I'd
be sure of it."



CHAPTER IV

A FLYING START


The day of the race dawned bright and clear. There was just enough
breeze to temper the heat of the sun, but not enough to interfere with
the riders. There had been no rain since three days before, and the
roads, while a little dusty, were firm and fast. Everything bespoke
ideal conditions for the event that, it was hoped, would hang up new
records in one of the most modern of sports.

The three friends had left college the day before, and had taken up
their quarters at one of the hotels near the beach. They were full of
health and hope and enthusiasm. The work of the college year was over,
and they felt like colts kicking up their heels in a pasture. Dick and
Tom were looking forward to the trip across the continent and the
wonders of the great Exposition. This of itself would have been enough
to account for their exuberance, but there was the added excitement of
watching the progress of the great race, and, in a sense, taking part in
it. And, with all the optimism of youth, they did not let themselves
feel the shadow of a doubt that their comrade would come in triumphant.

And Bert, although somewhat sobered by the weight of responsibility that
rested upon him, was almost as jubilant as they. He was a born fighter,
and his spirits always rose on the eve of a contest. He was "tuned to
the hour." The muscles of his arms and legs glided like snakes beneath
the white skin, his color was good, his eyes shone, and he had never in
all his many contests felt in better physical trim.

Early in the morning, he had hurried to the garage to which the "Blue
Streak" had been consigned, and was delighted to find that it had made
the journey without a scratch. No one but himself was permitted to give
it the final grooming. He personally filled the tank, looked to the oil,
and went over every nut and bolt and valve. Then he sprang into the
saddle and took a five-mile spin around the neighboring race track. And
even his exacting criticism could find no shadow of defect. The "Blue
Streak," like its master, was in perfect condition.

"Well, old boy," said Bert, as he patted the beautiful machine, after
the test, "we're going to be pretty close companions for the next few
weeks, and you've got a big job cut out for you. But I believe you're
game for it, and if your rider is as good as you are, I won't have
anything left to ask."

As the hour drew near, a great crowd assembled to see the start.
The contest had stirred up a vast amount of interest among motor
enthusiasts, and many of the motorcycle clubs were represented by big
delegations. One or two of the entries had dropped out at the last
moment, and there were ten contestants who faced the starter. Each had
his coterie of friends and well wishers who had gathered to give him a
rousing send off. But none were greeted so uproariously as Bert, who had
a reception that "warmed the cockles of his heart." Undergraduates of
the old college flocked around him, and these were reinforced by
hundreds of alumni, living in or near the city, who scented one more
victory for the blue colors that they loved so dearly. They swarmed
about him, grasped his hand and thumped him on the back, until if he had
been in poorer condition, he would have been black and blue. It was with
difficulty that he could tear himself away from the multitude whose
enthusiasm outran their discretion. But many a day thereafter, in
loneliness and peril and the shadow of death, the memory of that
boisterous farewell was an inspiration. The last hands he clasped were
those of Tom and Dick and Reddy, whose face was as red as his hair from
excitement.

"Good luck, me bye," he called. Then in a whisper, "Ye haven't forgot
the shamrock?"

"You bet I haven't," laughed Bert, and lifting the cover of his tool
box, he showed it lying on top. Whereat, Reddy heaved a sigh of relief,
and fell back satisfied.

And now everything was ready for the start. The wheels had been dipped
in the Atlantic, whose surf curled up to meet them, as though to whisper
a message to its sister ocean. Then all the riders, standing by their
machines, were drawn up in line on the boulevard that came down almost
to the beach. The conditions of the race were read aloud and all of the
racers with uplifted hand swore to observe them. A letter from the Mayor
of New York to the Mayor of San Francisco was delivered to each
contestant. Only the one who reached there first was to deliver his.
The others would be of value as souvenirs of perhaps a gallant but
unsuccessful struggle.

Then there was a moment's silence, while the excitement grew tense. The
starter lifted his pistol and glanced along the waiting line. There came
a flash, a sharp report, and before the echoes died away the riders were
in the saddle. A tremendous roar from the exhausts made the crowd shrink
back, and it scattered as the great machines leaped forward. It was like
the bursting of a rainbow. Blue and red and black and white darted
forward in flying streaks of color, spreading out like the sticks of a
gigantic fan. Before the startled spectators could catch their breath,
the racers were vanishing from sight up the boulevard. The dash from
coast to coast had begun.

For the five mile ride along the parkway there was no need of observing
the speed regulations. The road had been kept clear of all other
vehicles, and policemen placed along the route kept the crowds to the
paths on either side. The "motor cops," who were personally interested
in that race, that involved their own pet machine, waved greetings as
they passed.

In a few minutes they had left this atmosphere of friendliness and
enthusiasm, and were getting into the stream of the city's traffic. From
now on, there was need of constant vigilance. The riders began to
separate, each steering through the street that they figured would bring
them most quickly and easily to the bridges that spanned the river. By
the time Bert had crossed the old Brooklyn Bridge, he had lost sight of
all his competitors. By different roads, from now on, they would fly
toward the common goal, so many thousand miles distant. The spectacular
features were in the past. Now each one, alone and unaided, was to "work
out his own salvation."

But there was no sinking of the heart, as Bert, after crossing the
bridge and winding through the packed streets of lower New York, stood
on the ferry boat and watched the irregular sky line of the great city.
What would happen to him before he saw it again, it was fortunate that
he could not guess. But just now, his heart beat high with the delight
of struggle and achievement. He had his chance. And he was determined to
make that chance a certainty.

He was the first one off the boat when it swung into its slip, and as
soon as he got beyond the business quarter of Jersey City, he began to
"eat up" the space across the meadows. He was flying when he reached
Newark, where he again had to let up in his pace for a few minutes. But
luck was with him and gave him an unexpected pace maker, just as he drew
into the open spaces beyond the city limits.

The broad road ran right alongside the railroad track, and just as
Bert let out a link and got into his stride, a limited express came
thundering along at a high rate of speed. The racing instinct woke in
Bert and he let his machine out until it was traveling like the wind.
For a mile or two they went along like a team, neither seeming able to
lose the other.

The passengers, gazing listlessly out of the windows, gradually woke up
to the fact that this tiny machine was actually racing with their train.
At first they were amused at the seeming impudence, but as mile after
mile passed, with the "Blue Streak" holding its own, they became
excited. The sportsman spirit that seems characteristic of America was
aroused, and all the windows on that side of the train were filled with
crowding faces. It was like a pygmy daring a giant, a tugboat
challenging the _Imperator_.

The engineer, at first looking languidly at the impertinent racer, made
no special effort to increase his speed. But when Bert hung to his flank
and refused to be shaken off, he turned and said something to his
fireman. The latter shoveled desperately, the engineer let out his
throttle, and the great train lunged forward.

But Bert, too, had something "up his sleeve." He had been keeping well
within his limit, and he knew the speed of which his gallant mount was
capable. A mile ahead he could see where the road crossed the track.
With a quick twist of the wrist, he threw in the highest speed and
had to grip his handlebars hard to keep his seat as his iron steed
responded. He flashed on ahead, fairly scorching up the road, and dashed
across the track fifty feet ahead of the onrushing locomotive. Then, as
the passengers rushed over to the other side of the cars, he waved his
cap to them, shook it defiantly at the discomfited engineer and fireman,
and disappeared around the bend of the road. Then he gradually slackened
his pace, though still maintaining a high rate of speed.

Bert was hilarious. It was his first race, so far, and he had come out
ahead. He took it as an omen.

"Some race, old scout," he confided joyously to his mount. "You
certainly lived up to your name that time." And he laughed aloud, as he
remembered the look on the faces in the cab.

The race had been a capital thing, not only for the many miles he had
covered, but because of the added confidence that had been infused into
his veins by the successful outcome. He had "ridden rings" around his
redoubtable opponent, and his heart was full of elation.

As he neared Trenton, he stopped at a garage to replenish his gasoline.
He had plenty left to finish out the stretch that he had mapped out for
that day's work, but he was taking no chances, and always felt better
when he knew that his tank was full.

A tall young fellow had preceded him on the same errand, and was just
about to mount his wheel when Bert entered. There was something familiar
about him and Bert cudgeled his brains to remember where he had met him.
The stranger seemed equally puzzled. Then a sudden gleam of memory
lighted up his face, and he came toward Bert with outstretched hand.

"Beg pardon," he said. "But isn't your name Wilson--Bert Wilson, the
college pitcher?"

"Yes," answered Bert, taking the hand held out to him, "and you--sure I
know," he exclaimed, as recognition flashed upon him--"you're Gunther of
the Maroons. I couldn't place you for a minute."

"You placed me all right in that last game, when you struck me out in
the ninth inning," grinned Gunther. "Do you remember?"

Did Bert remember? Could he ever forget? Again the scene came before
him as though it were yesterday. He saw the diamond gleaming in the
afternoon sun, the stands packed with twenty-five thousand howling
maniacs. It was the final game of the season, and the pennant hung upon
the outcome. Two men were out when Gunther came to the bat. He was the
heaviest slugger of the league, and the home crowd was begging him to
"kill the ball." Bert had outguessed him on the first strike, and
snapped one over by surprise on the second. Then, on the third, he had
cut loose that mighty "fadeaway" of his. For forty feet it had gone on a
line--hesitated--swerved sharply down and in, and, evading Gunther's
despairing swing, plumped into the catcher's mitt. And the howl that
went up--and the mighty swoop of the fellows on the field--and the wild
enthusiasm over Bert--and the bonfires--and the snake dances! Did he
remember?

"You certainly had me buffaloed that day, all right," went on Gunther.
"It isn't often that I hit a foot above a ball, but that fadeaway of
yours had me going. I simply couldn't gauge it. It's a teaser, for
fair. You were the whole team that day."

"We had the luck, that's all," protested Bert. "The breaks of the game
were with us."

"It wasn't luck," said Gunther, generously; "you simply outplayed us.
But we did make you work to win," he added, with a reminiscent smile.

By this time, the tank had been replenished, and he was recalled from
his "fanning bee" by the necessity of resuming his trip. Gunther had
heard of the contest and had seen Bert's name among the competitors, but
had not associated it with the Wilson of baseball fame.

"You can't get away from the game," he joked, referring to the ten
contestants. "I see that you are still playing against a 'nine.' If that
pun isn't bad enough, I'll go you one better--or worse--and bet that
you'll bowl them over like ninepins."

"Thanks, old man," responded Bert. "I hope I'll make a 'strike.' But now
I'll have to skip and cut out the merry jesting. Jump on your wheel and
set the pace for me for the next ten miles or so."

"Swell chance of my making pace for that crackerjack you have there,"
said Gunther, looking admiringly at the "Blue Streak," "but I'll try to
keep alongside, anyway."

He had a surprisingly good machine and doubled Bert's dare by riding
twenty miles or more, before he finally hauled up and, with a warm
handgrip, said goodby.

"Two pleasant things to-day," mused Bert, as he sped on, referring to
the popular theory that events, good or bad, come in threes. "I guess
the third will be in meeting good old Tom and Dick, when I swing into
the City of Brotherly Love."

And pleasant it certainly was, when, after reporting to the checkers and
timers at the club headquarters, and putting up his motorcycle, he
turned toward the hotel where his chums awaited him with a royal
welcome.

"You've surely got off to a flying start, old top," said Tom. "I hadn't
any idea that you'd hit this burg so soon. We've just fairly got in
ourselves. But before anything else, let's wrap ourselves about some
eats. Are you hungry?"

"Am I hungry?" echoed Bert. "Is a wolf hungry? Is a hawk hungry? Is a
cormorant--say, lead me to it."

And at the bountiful table to which they straightway adjourned, Bert
proved that none of the natural history specimens he had mentioned "had
anything on him." Nor did his friends lag far behind, and it is doubtful
if three happier and fuller young fellows could have been found in
Philadelphia, as, afterward, they discussed the events of the day. They
were especially interested in Bert's meeting with Gunther, as they
themselves had taken part in that famous game. Dick's mighty work with
the stick on that occasion and Tom's great steal home from third were
matters of baseball history.

Then Bert mentioned the railroad episode.

"You ought to have seen the way I beat a train, fellows," he gloated.
"My, but it took some tall speeding."

"Beat a train?" questioned Tom, incredulously.

"What was it--a freight?" bantered Dick.

"Freight nothing," retorted Bert, a little nettled. "A limited express,
if you ask me."

"Near Newark, did you say?" queried Tom.

"I didn't say," was Bert's rejoinder, "but as it happened, it was just
outside of Newark."

"Beat a limited express," murmured Dick, shaking his head. "Tom, I'm
afraid Bert's stringing us."

"Imposing on our innocence, it seems to me," assented Tom, gloomily.
"The next thing, he'll be telling us that he made a daredevil dash
across the track in front of the locomotive."

"And waved his cap at the passengers," mourned Dick.

"And shook it at the engineer," added Tom.

"Say," began Bert, "what----" But the sight of his bewildered face was
too much, and they burst into a roar.

"You poor boob," sputtered Tom, as soon as he could speak. "We were on
that train."



CHAPTER V

THE DESERTED HUT


Bert's first thought, when he opened his eyes the next morning, was of
the weather. This was destined to be the chief object of anxiety all
through the trip. As long as it kept reasonably dry and clear, one big
element of danger and delay could be left out of his calculations. The
lowering of the sky meant the lowering of his hopes.

As he rushed to the window and drew aside the curtain, he was relieved
to see that the sun was rising. To be sure, there was a slight haze
around it that might portend rain later on. But for the present, at
least, the roads were good. If rain were on the way, all the more reason
why he should do some tall "hustling" while the going was fair.

His sleep had been restful and refreshing, and he hummed gaily to
himself, as he rushed through his ablutions. He stowed away a hasty but
ample breakfast, and then after a hearty farewell to his chums, hurried
around to the garage where his machine was stored.

He was surprised to find a large gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts on
hand. The news had spread abroad that one of the contestants in the
great race had reached the city the night before, and delegations from
the many clubs had gathered to give him a send-off and accompany him for
a few miles out of town. Bert greeted them warmly, and, after assuring
himself that the "Blue Streak" was in first-class condition, leaped into
the saddle and started out at the head of the procession.

First one and then the other would make the pace, sprinting for a short
distance for all that he was worth, and then dropping back into the
ruck. But Bert "saw their bluff and went them one better," and no matter
how hard they "hit it up," he was always within striking distance of
their rear wheel. One by one they gave it up, and by the time that
thirty miles had been covered, Bert found himself riding on alone. He
had welcomed the visitors, because of the goodwill that they had shown
and the pace that they had made. Their company made the miles less long
and furnished him a mental tonic. Yet he was glad, when, with nothing to
distract him, he could bend all his energies to the task before him and
put the "Blue Streak" to the top of its speed.

For he wanted to make this day a record breaker in the matter of miles
covered. The roads were superb, and it behooved him to make the most of
them, with a view to having some surplus of time on hand, when he
struck the slower stretches further on.

There was plenty about him to enlist his thoughts, had he allowed them
to wander. He was on historic ground, and every foot was rich in
Revolutionary memories. Here had Washington with his ragged and
barefooted and hungry armies defied all the power of Great Britain.
Mifflin and Greene and Lafayette and "Light Horse Harry Lee" had here
done deeds of daring that electrified the world. And, before night, he
expected to be on the scene of that greater and sadder struggle, where
Grant and Lee had flung their giant armies at each other and drenched
the soil with fraternal blood. But, although Bert was an ardent patriot,
and, at any other time, nothing would have more strongly appealed to
him, now he was utterly engrossed in the colossal task set before him.
This, in fact, was the one great quality that had won him so many
victories in the athletic world--the ability of shutting out every
thing else for the time being, and concentrating all his strength and
attention on the task that lay at hand.

Now, he was fairly flying. Mile after mile swept away behind him, as he
gave the "Blue Streak" its head and let it show him what it could do.
The "speed lust" ran riot in his veins. As he neared the different
villages, on his route, he was forced to slacken speed to some extent.
It would never do to be arrested for breaking the speed limit. He
foresaw all the heart-breaking delay, the officious constable, the
dilatory country justice of the peace, the crowd of gaping rustics, the
possible jail detention. He was amply supplied with money to meet any
possible fine--but imprisonment was another matter, that might be
fraught with the direst consequences. So, although he inwardly raged at
the necessity, he curbed his natural impulse, and slowed up at crossings
and country towns. But when again he found himself out in the open, he
amply reimbursed himself for "crawling," as he called it, through the
towns. It is doubtful whether the startled townspeople would have called
it "crawling." But everything in this world is comparative, and where
they would have thought themselves flying at twenty miles an hour, Bert
felt that he was creeping at forty.

Few faster things had ever flashed like a streak of light along the
country roads. Horses, grazing in the adjoining pastures, after one wild
glance, tossed up their heels and fled madly across the fields. Even the
cows, placidly chewing their cud, were roused from their bovine calm and
struggled to their feet. Chickens, squawking wildly, ran across the
road, and although Bert tried his best to avoid them, more than one paid
the penalty for miscalculating his speed. Dogs started fiercely in
pursuit, and then disgustedly gave it up and crept away with their tail
between their legs. And all the time the speedometer kept creeping
rapidly up and up, until, within two hours after the start, he had wiped
a hundred miles off his schedule.

Just once he had stopped in his mad flight, to get a glass of milk at a
farmhouse. He was in the Pennsylvania Dutch district, the richest and
thriftiest farming country in the world. All about him were opulent
acres and waving fields of corn and big red barns crammed to bursting.
They were worthy, sober people, rather prone to regard every new
invention as a snare of the Devil, and the farmer's wife was inclined
to look askance at the panting machine that Bert bestrode. But his
friendly, genial face thawed her prejudice and reserve, and she
smilingly refused the money that he had offered for the rich creamy milk
she brought from one of the shining pans in her dairy.

By ten o'clock, he had passed through Baltimore, and, before noon, he
was riding over the splendid roads of the nation's capitol. Here,
despite the temptation to spend an hour or two, he only paused long
enough to take a hearty meal and check his time. He thrust aside the
well-meant invitations that were pressed upon him at the club, and by
two o'clock had left Washington behind him and was riding like a fiend
toward West Virginia. He wanted if possible to reach Charleston before
night closed in. If he could do this, he would be very well content to
dismount and call it a day's work.

But now old Nature took a hand. All through the morning, the haze had
been thickening, and now black clouds, big with threats of rain, were
climbing up the sky. The wind, too, was rising and came soughing along
in fitful gusts. Every moment now was precious, and Bert bent low, as he
coaxed his machine to do its utmost.

And it responded beautifully. Like Sheridan's horse on the road to
Winchester, it seemed to feel the mood of its rider. It was working like
a charm. Mile after mile sped away beneath the wheels that passed light
as a ghost over the broad path beneath. Even when it had to tackle
hills, it never hesitated or faltered, but went up one slope almost as
fast as it went down another.

And the hills were growing more frequent. Up to this time the roads had
been almost as level as a floor. But now, Bert was approaching the
foothills of the Blue Ridge, and not until he struck the lowlands of
Arkansas, would he be out of the shadow of the mountains, which, while
they added immensely to the sublimity of the scenery, were no friends to
any one trying to make a record for speed.

Still, this did not worry Bert. He expected to get the "lean" as well as
the "fat." The North American continent had not been framed to meet his
convenience, and he had to take it as it came. All that especially
bothered him was that threatening sky and those frowning clouds that
steadily grew blacker.

His eyes and thoughts had been so steadily fixed upon the heavens, that
he had scarcely realized the change in the surrounding country. But now
he woke up to the fact that his environment was entirely different from
that of the morning. Then he had been in a rich farming country, the
"garden of the Lord;" now he was in the barren coal regions of West
Virginia. Beautiful mansions had given place to tiny cabins; prosperous
towns to mountain hamlets. The farms were stony and poorly cultivated.
Great coal breakers stood out against the landscape like gaunt
skeletons. The automobiles that had crowded the eastern roads were here
conspicuous by their absence. The faces of those he passed on the road
were pinched and careworn. He was seeing life on one of its threadbare
levels.

But his musings on the inequalities of life were rudely interrupted by a
drop of rain that splashed on his face. It was coming, then. But perhaps
it would only prove a shower. That would not deter him. In fact he would
welcome it, as it would serve to lay the dust. But if it developed into
a steady downpour, he would have to seek shelter. It would only be
foolhardy to plough through the mud with his tires skidding and
threatening an ugly fall that might mean a broken leg or arm.

Faster and faster the drops came down, and faster and faster the "Blue
Streak" scorched along the road, as though to grasp every possible
advantage, before the elements had their way. Gradually the roads lost
their white, dusty appearance and grew yellow in the waning light. Bert
could feel a perceptible slowing up as the mud began to grip the wheel.
Still he kept on, holding like a miser to every precious mile that meant
so much to him.

Soon, however, he realized that "the game was up." The rain was coming
down now in torrents, and he was wet to the skin. And with the rain came
darkness so thick as "almost to be felt." Then a flash of lightning rent
the sky, and a terrific crash of thunder warned him that the storm was
on in earnest.

He looked about him for some place of shelter. But there was nothing in
sight, not even one of the little cabins, of whose hospitality he would
so gladly have availed himself. The lightning came so fast now that the
sky was aflame with it, and the thunder was continuous and deafening. He
did not dare to seek shelter under the trees, and, in the open, the
steel and iron of his motorcycle might easily attract a lightning
stroke.

As he looked about him in perplexity, a peculiarly blinding flash showed
him a little shack at the top of the hill he had been climbing when the
storm had broken. It was only a few rods ahead of him, and, with a
feeling of immense relief and thankfulness, he made for it. There was no
light coming from it, and he did not know whether it was inhabited or
abandoned. But, in either case, it was shelter from the fierceness of
the storm, and that was enough.

Leading the wheel from which he had dismounted, he climbed the
intervening space and rapped at the door. He waited an instant and then
knocked again. Still there was no answer and after pausing a moment, he
pushed open the door, that had no latch and yielded to his touch, as he
stepped inside.

At first, coming from the outer air, he could only make out the outlines
of the single room, of which the cabin seemed to consist. He called out,
but there was no response. Then he rummaged in his tool box, and got out
a bit of candle that he had provided for an emergency. From a waterproof
pouch in his khaki suit, he produced a match and lighted the candle.
Then, as the flickering light grew into a steady flame, he was able to
take stock of his surroundings.

As he had surmised on his entrance, there was only a single room. The
floor was of dirt, and the shack had been simply slung together in the
rudest kind of a way. There was a small table of unplaned boards and a
stool, from which one of the three legs was missing. A bunk in the
corner and a tattered blanket completed the entire outfit of the
temporary shelter in which Bert had so unexpectedly found himself.

It might have been a cabin formerly dwelt in by one of the "poor whites"
of the mountains, or possibly a hunter's shack that served at intervals
for a temporary camp. At all events, it was shelter, and, in his present
wet and desperate condition, Bert was not inclined to "look a gift horse
in the mouth."

"It isn't exactly the Waldorf-Astoria," he thought to himself, as he
brought his motorcycle in out of the pounding rain, "but it surely looks
mighty good to me just now."

There was a rude fireplace at one side and some wood and kindling left
by the previous occupant, and it was only a few moments before a cheery
blaze gave an air of comfort to the small interior. After the fire was
well started, Bert took his wet garments one by one and dried them
before the fire. In a little while he was snug and dry, and inclined
to look philosophically on the day that had had such an unlooked for
ending. He even chuckled, as he looked at the speedometer and found that
it registered over two hundred and fifty miles. He at least was nearly
up to his schedule, in spite of the rain, and to-morrow was "a new day."

"It might easily have been worse," he thought. "Suppose it had rained
that way this morning, instead of holding off as long as it did. I've
cleared the Eastern States, at any rate, and am at last 'down South.'"

As a precaution, when he stopped at Washington, he had secured a few
sandwiches and a can of sardines. These he put out on the rough table,
and, as hunger is always "the best sauce," he enjoyed it hugely. There
wasn't a crumb left, when at last he leaned back contentedly and
stretched his legs before the fire.

"Like Robinson Crusoe, I'm master of all I survey," he mused. "Not that
my kingdom is a very extensive one," as he looked about the little room,
that he could have covered with one jump.

The rain still kept on with unabated fury, but the harder it poured, the
more cozy the shack seemed by contrast.

"Guess you and I will have to bunk it out together, old chap," he said,
addressing his faithful wheel. "Well, I might easily find myself in
worse company. You're a good old pal, if there ever was one."

He took from his kit some oiled rags and together with some old gunny
sacking that he found in a corner, started to clean the machine. The
mud with which it was caked made this a work of time, as well as a
"labor of love," and two hours wore away before he had concluded. But it
was a thorough job, and, by the time he was through, the "Blue Streak"
was as bright and shining as when it faced the starter at noon on the
day before.

While he was at work, Bert at times seemed to hear something that
sounded like the roar and dash of waves. But he dismissed this as
absurd. It was probably the splashing of the water, as it ran down the
gullies at the side of the road. He was far above the level of lake or
pond, and there was nothing on his map to indicate the presence of any
considerable body of water in that locality. Once he went to the door, a
little uneasily. But in the pitch darkness, all he could see was the
lights of a little town, far down the valley. He told himself that he
was dreaming, and, after promising himself an early start on the
following morning, he stretched himself out on the little bunk in the
corner, and in a few minutes had fallen into a deep and refreshing
sleep.



CHAPTER VI

THE BROKEN DAM


How long he slept he did not know, but, while the cabin was still
shrouded in darkness, he woke suddenly and sat upright, as though in
response to a voice that called.

He looked about him, unable at first to realize where he was. Then, as
he reached out his hand, it came in contact with the motorcycle, which
he had stood at the head of the bunk. His sleepy brain cleared, and the
events of the day before--the storm--the deserted cabin--came back to
him. He struck a match and glanced at his watch. It was a little after
four, and, promising himself that he would not go to sleep again, he
blew out the light and lay back in his bunk, planning out the ride for
the day so near at hand.

But try as he would, he could not concentrate his mind on the subject in
hand. Why had he awakened so suddenly? It was wholly apart from his
ordinary habit. Usually he slept like a log, and, like a healthy animal,
came slowly out of sleep. But this time it had been with a jump. He told
himself that it was probably due to his unusual surroundings, and
again tried to pin himself down to his schedule. But a vague sense of
uneasiness would not vanish at his bidding. He felt as though some
monstrous danger was threatening. Something direful and evil was in the
air. In vain he called himself an "old woman," and laughed, a little
uncertainly, at his fears. The subtle threat persisted.

He had never had a strong premonition of danger that had not been
justified. He was high strung and sensitively organized, and warnings
that would leave unstirred a duller mind rang in his consciousness like
an alarm bell. He recalled how, at Panama, not long ago, he had been
impressed by the same feeling of coming peril, when the plot to destroy
the canal was rapidly coming to a head. It had been justified then. Why
should he not trust it now?

He hesitated no longer. He hastily threw aside the old tattered blanket,
hurried himself into his clothes and went to the door of the cabin.

The rain had ceased, although the water was still running in streams in
the ditches that lined the road. Darkness yet held sway, but, in the
East, he could see the gray fingers of the dawn. In the dimness, he
looked about him, and, as his eyes became accustomed to the surroundings,
he saw, at a little distance, the outlines of a great structure that lay
level with the plateau on which the cabin stood.

With a few quick strides, he crossed the intervening space until he
stood on the brink of a gigantic dam. Then he knew what was meant by the
splashing and gurgling he had heard the night before.

Stretched out in front of him was an angry waste of swirling waters.
It was yellow and turbid from the clay brought down by the mountain
torrents that acted as feeders to the lake. Great tree trunks, tossed in
the boiling waters, had been jammed against the edge, increasing the
pressure, already great. Over the brink a cataract was falling, that
grew in volume with each passing moment. Through crevices in the lower
part of the structure, other streams were trickling.

To Bert, as with whitening face he looked upon the scene, it was evident
that the dam was in danger of collapse. There had been very heavy rains
in the preceding May, and the lake had been filled to capacity. The storm
of the night before had probably developed into a cloudburst farther up
in the mountains, and the floods that came down in consequence were
putting it to a strain that had not been counted upon when the dam was
built. It was none too strong originally--Bert could see masses of rubble
that had been inserted in the structure in place of solid stone--and
now the innocent were in danger of paying a fearful price for the
carelessness or criminality of the builders.

It had become much lighter now, and, as he looked down at the valley
below, he could dimly make out the outlines of the houses in the town.
Human beings were sleeping there, serene and confident, men, women and
children, babes in their mothers' arms. And he alone knew of the
terrible monster that at this moment was threatening to leap upon and
destroy them.

He turned again to the dam. The crevices were wider now. A perfect
torrent was pouring over the brink. Even while he looked, there was a
great bulge in the central part, and a deluge burst through. Two of the
capstones yielded and fell, with a noise that was drowned by the still
greater roar of the unleashed waters. There was no longer any doubt. The
dam was giving way!

With a sickening fear at his heart, he turned and raced for the cabin. A
louder roar behind him added wings to his feet. He burst open the door,
dragged out the "Blue Streak," and in another moment was in the saddle
and riding for dear life down the valley.

The mud was deep and at a curve of the road, his rear tire skidded and
threw him, bruised and bleeding, a dozen feet in advance. But he felt
nothing, thought of nothing but the unconscious sleepers who must be
warned. Stumbling and shaken, he resumed his seat, and tore along the
mountain road like the wind.

At the scattered farmhouses along the way, lights could be seen in the
windows. Here and there, he passed farmers already at work in the
fields. He blew his horn and yelled at these and pointed behind him.
They cast one startled glance up the valley and then rushed to their
houses.

He did not dare to look behind him, but he could hear a sullen roar that
momentarily grew louder. He knew that the monster had broken its bonds
and was abroad seeking for prey. He let out the last ounce of power that
he possessed as he raced on to the sleeping town. He had ridden fast
before, but never as he was riding now.

As he neared the town, he pulled wide open the siren that he only used
on extraordinary occasions. It wailed out in a wild, weird shriek that
spoke of panic, danger, death. There was no mistaking the meaning of
that call.

Now he was in the outskirts, and frightened faces appeared at the
windows while half-dressed men ran out of the doors. He waved his hand,
and shouted at the top of his lungs:

"The dam has broken. Run for your lives!"

The roar had now swelled into thunder. The flood was coming with fearful
velocity. No more need of his siren. That hideous growl of the tumbling
waters carried its own warning.

The path on which Bert had been riding wound along the side of the hill
to the east of the town. Corresponding slopes lay on the other side.
The dwellers on the sides of the hills were comparatively safe. It was
unlikely that the water would reach them, or, at any rate, they could
climb still higher up and escape, even if their houses were washed away.
But there was no hope for the buildings in the valley itself. They were
right in the path of the onrushing flood and would be swept away like so
many houses of cards. Nothing could resist that pitiless torrent now
less than a mile away.

Bert leaped from his wheel and dragged it into a thicket at the side of
the path. He cast a swift look up the valley. A great foaming wall of
yellow water, forty feet high, bearing on its crest gigantic tree trunks
and the debris of houses it had picked up in its path, was bearing down
on the town with the swiftness of an avalanche.

The houses were emptying now and the streets were full of frantic
people, fleeing for their lives. Bert heard the hoarse shouts of the
men, the screams of the women, the wailing of little children roused
suddenly from sleep. From every door they poured forth, making desperate
efforts to reach the higher ground. The air resounded with the shrieks
of those driven almost mad by sudden terror.

Into that pandemonium Bert plunged with the energy of despair. The time
was fearfully short and the tumult of the coming flood was like the
thunder of Niagara. He met a mother with a babe in her arms and two
crying children holding to her skirts. He grabbed the little ones up and
with a tousled little head under each arm placed them in safety. A
crippled boy, hobbling painfully along on crutches, felt himself
suddenly lifted from the ground and hurried to the hillside. He was
here, there and everywhere, guiding, pointing, encouraging. And then,
just as he was stooping to lift up a woman who had fainted, the flood
was upon him!

It struck the doomed town with the force of a thunderbolt. Frame houses
were picked up and carried along like straws. Brick structures were
smashed into fragments. It was a weltering chaos of horror and
destruction.

When that mountainous mass of water crashed down upon him, Bert for a
moment lost consciousness. It was like the impact of a gigantic hammer.
There was an interval of blackness, while the water first beat him down
and then lifted him up. He had a horrible strangling sensation, and
then, after what seemed ages of agony, he found himself on the surface,
striking out blindly in that churning mass of water that carried him
along as though in a mill race. He had never before realized the
tremendous power of water. He was a mere chip tossed hither and thither
upon the waves. His head was dizzy from the awful shock of the first
impact, there was a ringing in his ears, and the spray dashing into his
eyes obscured his sight. Almost mechanically, he moved his hands and
feet enough to keep his head above the surface. Gradually his mind
became clearer, and he could do some connected thinking.

At any rate, he was alive. That was the main thing. Although sore and
bruised, he did not think that any of his bones were broken. He was an
expert swimmer, and knew that if he kept his senses he would not drown.
His most imminent danger lay in being struck by a tree trunk or jammed
between the houses that were grinding each other to pieces. If this
should happen, his life would be snuffed out like a candle.

Even at that moment of frightful peril, one thing filled his heart with
gladness. He felt sure that almost all the townspeople had escaped. Here
and there, he could see some one struggling like himself in the yeasty
surges, or clinging to some floating object. Once the body of a man was
carried past within a few feet of him. His last conscious glance before
the flood overwhelmed him had shown him a number who had not yet reached
the higher ground. These had been caught up with him, and some no doubt
had perished. But he thanked God that hundreds, through his warning, had
found shelter on the hillsides. Their property had been swept away, but
they had retained their most precious possession.

The loss in animal life was heavy. Bert groaned, as he saw the bodies of
cows and horses and dogs tossed about in the raging waters. Not far off,
a horse was swimming and gallantly trying to keep his head above water.
His fear-distended eyes fell on Bert, and he whinnied, as though asking
for help. But just then a great log was driven against him, and with a
scream that was almost human he went under.

And now Bert noted that the force of the flood was abating. It had
reached the lowest part of the valley, and, ahead of him, the ground
began to rise. With every foot of that ascent the torrent would lose
its impetus, until finally it would reach its limit.

But there a new danger threatened. There would be a tremendous backwash
as the current receded, and in the meeting of the two opposing forces a
terrific whirlpool would be generated, in which nothing human could
live. In some way he must reach the shore before the flood turned back.

There was not an instant to lose, and he acted with characteristic
decision. The torrent was slackening, and he no longer felt so helpless
in its grasp. He could not swim at right angles to it and thus approach
the shore directly, but must try gradually to pull to the left, in a
long diagonal sweep. Inch by inch, he drew away from the center of the
stream and slowly neared the bank. Twice he had to dive, to avoid tree
trunks that dashed over the spot where he had been a moment before. Once
he barely escaped being caught between two houses. But his quick eye and
quicker mind stood him in good stead, at this hour of his greatest need.
His lungs were laboring ready to burst and his muscles were strained
almost to the breaking point. But his long powerful strokes brought him
steadily nearer to the eastern bank and he steered straight for a huge
tree, that stood on the edge of the rushing waters. He missed it by a
foot, but was just able to grasp a trailing branch as he was swept
beneath it. A desperate clutch, a quick swing upward and the ravening
waters had been cheated of a victim. Slowly he made his way over the
bough to the trunk of the tree, and fell, rather than dropped, to the
ground. Utterly exhausted, he crumpled into a heap and lay there
gasping.

He had escaped death by the narrowest of margins. Even while he lay
there, bereft of strength and worn out with struggle, the flood reached
its limit, paused a moment and then rushed back. The receding current
met the other still advancing. Like giant wrestlers, they locked in a
fierce embrace, and the waves shot up for thirty feet. Great logs flew
out of the waves and fell back with a resounding crash. Had Bert been
in the center of that seething maelstrom, nothing could have saved him
from instant death.

But he was safe. He had gone into the very jaws of death and come out
alive. Spent and wrenched and bruised he was, and weary beyond all
telling. Each arm and leg felt as though it weighed a ton. But he had
never incurred pain or danger in a worthier cause, and he rejoiced at
the chance that had impelled him to take up his quarters in the deserted
hut the night before. The rain had assuredly been a "blessing in
disguise," bitterly as he had regretted it at the time.

A full hour elapsed before he was able to get on his feet. Had it
not been for his splendid physical condition, he would have utterly
collapsed under the strain. But soon his heart resumed its normal
rhythm, the blood coursed more strongly through his veins, and he
struggled up from his recumbent posture and began to take note of his
surroundings.

How far he had been carried in that wild ride, he had no means of
knowing. But he judged that he must be fully six miles from the site of
the town. There had been several turnings in the valley and from where
he stood looking back, he could not see more than a mile before a bend
in the road cut off his view. But the stream itself was sufficient guide
as he retraced his steps, and he knew that all too soon he would reach
the sad and stricken crowd that would be camped on the banks, bewailing
the calamity that had come upon them with the swiftness of a lightning
stroke.

He looked at his watch. It had stopped at ten minutes to five, probably
just at the second that the mountain of water swooped down upon him. He
threw a glance at the sun which was only a little above the horizon, and
concluded that it was not much more than six o'clock. Scarcely more than
an hour had passed, but it seemed to him as though ages had elapsed
since the moment when he had been startled by that first premonition of
danger.

How lucky that he had heeded it! Had he obeyed his first impulse and
disregarded it, he would have been compelled to stand by, a helpless
spectator, and see a whole community wiped out of existence. And the
bitter memory of that neglected opportunity would have cast its shadow
over him as long as he lived.

His thoughts went now to the gallant machine that had carried him so
swiftly to the work of rescue. Good old "Blue Streak!" Once more it had
proved a tried and trusty comrade, responding to every call he made upon
it. How quickly the miles would fall away behind him if he only bestrode
it now.

The wish had scarcely been formed before a substitute appeared. He heard
the sound of wheels, and a team came up behind him. The man who was
driving told Bert to jump in, and whipped up his horses as he hurried on
to the scene of the disaster.

Soon they came upon the homeless throng, huddled upon the slope that
overlooked what had been home. Some were weeping and running about, half
crazed with anguish. Others were dry-eyed and dumb, moving as though in
a dream, their minds paralyzed by the shock. They needed everything,
food and tents and medicines and doctors and nurses. The telegraph
and telephone service was out of commission and the offices had been
swept away. The outside world knew nothing, as yet, of the frightful
visitation that had come to the little town, nestling in the West
Virginia hills.

Bert's resolution was taken on the instant. There was nothing more
that he could do here. Little, in fact, could be done until the flood
subsided, and there were plenty of hands only too willing to dull their
heartache in work that would keep them from brooding too much on the
disaster. But no horse could get to the world without as quickly as he
on his motorcycle. He waited only long enough to learn the shortest
route to the next town of any size. Then he rushed to the thicket on the
hillside where he had left his wheel, and was rejoiced to find it safe.
Fortunately, it had been beyond the high water mark of the flood. He
dragged it out, mounted, and, with one last look at the waters that had
so nearly been his grave, threw in the clutch and started up the valley.

The sun was much higher now and the roads, while still muddy, were
rapidly drying out. He cleared the summit of the hills and could see far
off the buildings and spires of the town he sought. Like a meteor, he
shot down the slope, and in a few minutes was the center of an excited
group in the telegraph office, to which he at once repaired. Soon the
wires were humming, and within a short time the entire country, from
Maine to California, was stirred to the depths by the news of the
calamity. Doctors and supplies were rushed from the points nearest to
the stricken town and from Washington the Federal Government sent a
squad of Red Cross nurses and a detachment of troops to take charge of
the work of rescue and reconstruction.

Only one thing was omitted from Bert's graphic recital of the story. He
said not a word of his wild ride in the early dawn. Others, later on,
when they had regained something of composure and could recall events
preceding the catastrophe, remembered a rider rushing along the country
roads and calling upon them to flee for their lives. They told of the
siren, shrieking like a soul in pain, that had roused them from their
sleep with its dreadful warning. The reporters, avid of sensation,
listened eagerly, and embroidered upon the story some fanciful
embellishments of their own. They did their utmost to discover the name
of the rider who had come racing through the mists of that early
morning, but failed. The only one who could tell the truth about it
never did. Except to a few of his intimates, and that under the pledge
of secrecy, Bert locked the story in his own breast and threw away the
key. It was enough for him that he had been able at a critical juncture
to do, and do successfully, the work that stood ready to his hand. The
deed carried its own compensation, and he rejoiced that he was able to
keep it from public view. But, somewhere in West Virginia, a crippled
boy remembered him gratefully, and two little youngsters were taught to
mention a nameless stranger in their prayers.

And now that nothing was left to do in behalf of others, Bert's thoughts
reverted to his own affairs. The day was still young, despite the events
that had been crowded into it. Up to this moment he had not thought of
food, but now he was conscious that he was ravenously hungry. As soon
as he could shake himself loose from the crowd that had listened
breathlessly to his story, he went to the hotel and ordered an abundant
breakfast. When he had finished, he was once more his normal self. He
replenished his gasoline supply, consulted his map, jumped into the
saddle and was off. Before long he reached the road that he had been
traveling the previous day; and, bending low over the handlebars, he
called upon the "Blue Streak" to make up for lost time.

The scenery flew past as in a panorama. Up hill and down he went at
railroad speed, only slackened within the limits of a town. In this
thinly settled country, these were few and far between, and he chuckled
as he saw his speedometer swiftly climbing. The roads were drying out,
and, though still a little heavy, had lost their clinging quality. In a
few hours, he flashed into Charleston, where his ears were greeted by
the cries of the newsboys, calling out the extras issued on account of
the flood. Staying only long enough to report his time and get a meal,
he resumed his trip, and, before night, had left the worst part of the
hills behind him and had crossed the border line into Kentucky, the land
of swift horses and fair women, of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, the
"dark and bloody ground" of the Revolution.

It was a tired rider who almost fell from his saddle that night, after
having covered three hundred miles. A fierce determination had buoyed
him up and the most daring kind of rough riding had carried him through.
Now the reaction had set in. An immense weariness weighed him down and
every separate muscle had its own distinctive ache. But his mind was at
peace. He had fought a good fight. A supreme emergency had challenged
him, and he had met it squarely. And no twinges of conscience for duty
unperformed came to disturb the sleep of utter exhaustion into which he
fell as soon as his head touched the pillow.



CHAPTER VII

A KENTUCKY FEUD


The following morning he arose early, his abounding vitality having
enabled him to recuperate entirely from the exciting events of the
day before. He was soon in the saddle, bowling along at a good clip
through the "Blue Grass" State. He found widely varied road conditions
confronting him. At times he would strike short stretches of "pike" that
afforded fairly good going. As a rule, however, the roads were sandy,
and consequently, very bad for motorcycle travel.

At times, the sand was so deep that he felt lucky if he averaged fifteen
or twenty miles an hour. Often the only way he could get along at all
was to ride in one of the ruts worn by the wheels of carriages and
buggies. These were usually very deep, so deep, in fact, that with both
wheels in them the footboards barely cleared the surface of the road. Of
course, this made riding very dangerous, as the slightest turn of the
front wheel meant a bad fall.

It was only by skilful balancing that Bert managed to make any progress
at all. As every one knows, a bicycle or motorcycle is kept erect by
moving the front wheel to one side or the other, thus maintaining the
proper center of gravity. Riding in a rut, however, this method became
impracticable, so Bert was forced to keep his equilibrium by swaying his
body from side to side, as necessity dictated.

He found that the faster he traveled through these ruts the easier it
was to keep his balance. Of course, if he had a tumble going at that
speed he was much more apt to be badly hurt, but he had no time to think
of that. If he didn't go fast, he couldn't win the race, and to him that
was reason enough to "hit it up" regardless of possible consequences.

Sometimes he met a carriage, and then there was nothing for it but to
dismount and wait for it to pass, that is, if he thought the driver had
not seen him. But if he was on a long stretch of road and the driver had
ample time to get out of the way,--well, there was no stopping then. The
driver, seeing a blue streak approaching him at close to a mile a minute
clip would hastily draw to one side of the road and then descend and
hold his horse's head; and usually none too soon. There would come a
rattle and roar, and Bert would be a speck in the distance, leaving a
cloud of dust to settle slowly behind him.

The driver, after quieting his horse--all the horses in this part of the
country were unused to motor vehicles of any kind--would resume his
journey, muttering curses on them "pesky gasoline critters." But taken
altogether, Bert found his first day in Kentucky one of the most
strenuous he had ever experienced.

Night found him in a rather unlooked for situation. He was a little
ahead of his schedule, and he had reached the town at which he had
planned to stay several hours short of sundown.

"No use losing three or four precious hours of daylight," he thought. "I
might as well push forward and take a chance of getting shelter at some
village along the way."

This he did, following directions given him in the town in which he had
originally intended to stay. As usual, however, the directions proved to
be wrong, and the village failed to materialize. To add to his troubles
as darkness came on, he took a wrong fork in the road, and before long
found himself in a road that was absolutely impassable on account of
sand.

"Well," thought he, "it begins to look like a night in the open for me,
and that won't be much fun. I want to get a good night's sleep to-night.
Heaven knows I need it."

But when he had just about resigned himself to this, he was relieved to
see a light spring up, some distance away. "That's good," he thought,
"I'll see if all I've heard about Kentucky hospitality is fact or just
mere talk."

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.



CHAPTER VIII

THE FORGED TELEGRAM


Bert's stay in Louisville was brief, and all the more so, because
neither Tom nor Dick was there to meet him, as they had planned. Bert
took it for granted that something out of the ordinary had happened,
however, and bore his disappointment as philosophically as he could.

"No doubt they've been delayed," he thought, "and will meet me in the
next town. That will be a spur to me to go faster so that I can see them
sooner."

He had a refreshing sleep, and was up early, resolved to make a
profitable day of it. After he had eaten breakfast, he paid his bill,
and was just going out the door when the clerk stopped him. "Just a
minute, sir," he said. "Here's a telegram for you. I almost forgot to
give it to you."

"When did it come?" asked Bert, as he took the yellow envelope and
prepared to open it.

"Oh, just about an hour ago," replied the clerk, "no bad news I hope?"

This question was occasioned no doubt by the expression of Bert's face.
"Come quick," the telegram read, "Tom very sick; may die. We are in
Maysville. Dick."

Bert's voice shook as he addressed the hotel clerk. "One of my friends
is very sick," he said. "He's in Maysville. How long will it take me to
get there?"

"Well, it's a matter of close on two hundred miles," replied the clerk,
in a sympathetic voice, "but the roads are fair, and you can make pretty
fast time with that machine of yours."

Bert whipped out his map of Kentucky, and the clerk pointed out to him
the little dot marked Maysville.

"All right, thanks," said Bert, briefly, "good-bye."

"Good-bye," said the other, "I hope your friend isn't as bad as you
fear."

But before he finished speaking Bert was on the "Blue Streak," and was
flying down the street. In a moment his mind had grasped every angle of
the catastrophe. If he went to Tom, it would very likely mean the loss
of the race, for a matter of four hundred miles out of his road would be
a fearful handicap. But what was the race compared to dear old Tom,
Tom, who at this very moment might be calling for him? Every other
consideration wiped from his mind, Bert leaned over and fairly flew
along the dusty road. Fences, trees, houses, streaked past him, and
still he rode faster and faster, recklessly, taking chances that he
would have shunned had he been bound on any other errand. He shot around
sharp bends in the road at breakneck speed, sometimes escaping running
into the ditch by a margin of an inch or so. Fast as the "Blue Streak"
was, it was all too slow to keep pace with his feverish impatience, and
Bert fumed at the long miles that lay between him and his friend.

Now a steep hill loomed up in front of him, and he rushed it at breakneck
speed. Slowly the motorcycle lost speed under the awful drag of the steep
ascent, and at last Bert was forced to change to low gear. The "Blue
Streak" toiled upward, and at last reached the top. A wonderful view lay
spread out before him, but Bert had no eye just now for the beauties of
nature. All he saw was a road that dipped and curved below him until it
was lost in the green shades of a valley. Bert saw he would have no need
of his motor in making that descent, so threw out the clutch and coasted.
Faster and faster he flew, gaining speed with every revolution of the
wheels. With the engine stopped, the motorcycle swept along in absolute
silence, save for the slight hissing noise made by the contact of the
tires with the road. The speed augmented until he was traveling almost
with the speed of a cannon ball. At this speed, brakes were useless, even
had he been inclined to use them, which he was not. Two-thirds of the
way down he flashed past a wagon, that was negotiating the descent with
one wheel chained, so steep was it. Had the slightest thing gone wrong
then; had a nut worked loose, a tire punctured, a chain broken or jumped
the sprockets, Bert would have been hurled through the air like a stone
from a catapult. Fortunately for him, everything held, and now he was
nearing the bottom of the hill. Ten seconds later, and he was sweeping up
the opposite slope at a speed that it seemed could never slacken. But
gradually gravitation slowed him down to a safer pace, and at last he
slipped in the clutch and started the motor. In the wild descent his cap
had flown off, but he hardly noticed it.

"I'll soon be there at this rate," he thought, glancing at the
speedometer. "I've come over a hundred and fifty miles now, so Maysville
can't be much further." And, indeed, less than an hour's additional
riding brought him to the town of that name.

He went immediately to the hotel at which his friends were supposed to
be. But when he stated his object to the hotel clerk, the latter gazed
at him blankly. "There are no parties of that name stopping here," he
said. "I guess you have the wrong address, young man." Bert showed him
the telegram, but the clerk only shook his head. "There's something
wrong somewhere," he said; "suppose you see Bently, the telegrapher. He
could probably give you a description of the person that sent the
telegram, anyway."

"Thanks, I will," said Bert, and hastened out. A dim idea of the true
state of affairs was beginning to form in his brain, but it hardly
seemed possible his suspicions could be true. He soon reached the
telegraph office, and accosted the operator.

"Can you tell me," he asked, "who sent that telegram early this
morning?"

The station agent glanced at the telegram, and replied: "Why, I can't
give you a very good description of the man, for I didn't take special
notice of him. He was a young man of medium build, though, with light
hair, and now I come to think of it, he wore goggles. Seems to me I
heard some one say he was riding a motorcycle in some cross country
race, but that I can't vouch for."

"I think I know who he was, all right," said Bert, "and I'm much obliged
to you."

"Don't mention it," returned the other, and turned again to his work.

Bert walked out of the station with clenched fists and blazing eyes.
"It's Hayward who sent that telegram," he muttered, between clenched
teeth. "I'd stake my soul on it. But I'll win this race in spite of that
crook and his tricks. And anyway," he thought, with his eyes softening,
"old Tom _isn't_ sick after all, and that's almost enough to make me
forgive Hayward. I feel as though I had just awakened from an awful
nightmare."

It was characteristic of Bert that his anger and chagrin at being
tricked in this dastardly way were swallowed up in his relief at finding
the report of his friend's illness false.

Bert consulted his map, and found that by taking a different route
than that by which he had come he could save quite some distance, and
started out again, after filling the "Blue Streak's" tanks with oil and
gasoline, with the grim resolve to have revenge for the despicable trick
that had been played on him, by snatching from Hayward the prize that he
was willing to stoop to such depths to gain.

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. "We'll make it ahead of everybody else or
die in the attempt, won't we, old fellow?" he said, apostrophizing the
"Blue Streak." "Nobody's 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.
"What's up?" they demanded, both in the same breath, "who sent that
telegram, do you know?"

"I think I know," replied Bert. "I haven't 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. "I'd make him regret the day he was born. Just you wait till the
next time I come across him, that's all."

"If I see him first there won't be anything left for you," said Tom. "Of
all the dirty, underhanded tricks I ever heard of, that is the limit."

"Well, I won't contradict you," said Bert, grimly, "but all he'll ever
gain out of it will be a sound thrashing. Don't you believe for a minute
that it's going to help him win this race. I'll ride day and night until
I've 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 I'm 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 there's 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 that's
done," he thought, "I'll just have a bite to eat, and turn in. This
isn't half bad, after all. It's a lot better than some of the hotels
I've 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, we'll
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 wouldn't 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 he's had a
breakdown we can help him out."

"Fine!" agreed Dick, enthusiastically, "let's go out right now and make
arrangements with the garage keeper so we'll 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, it's always open," he replied, "come and get the car any time
you want it. It's all the same to me, so long as it's paid for."

"All right, we'll take you at your word," they promised, and returned to
the hotel.

"We'll get a good early start," planned Tom, "we ought to leave the
garage before six o'clock if we expect to meet Bert in time."

"We'll do just that," agreed Dick, "and maybe I won't be glad to set
eyes on the old reprobate again."

"I, too," said Tom, "he'll be a sight for sore eyes."

"That's what," agreed Dick, "but if we're going to get started at that
unearthly hour, we'd 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. "P'raps he stuck to the railroad tracks clean
through, an' is in Boyd by this time."

But Dick shook his head. "If he'd followed the tracks right along he'd
probably have reached town last night," he said, with an anxious look in
his eyes. "I'm afraid he's 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 ain't," replied the veteran, "leastways, nothin' except the
old Holloway trail, and you can't rightly call that a road. It's most
wiped out now, an' jest leads plumb to nowhere."

"Just the same," exclaimed Dick, excitedly, "that's 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,
"I'll go ye. But whareabouts in that gasoline buggy o' yourn am I goin'
to sit? Thar don't seem to be much room to spare."

"You sit here," exclaimed Tom, jumping out. "I'll 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. "We're
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 Bert's recumbent form,
apparently asleep.

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

But the old plainsman was peering out from under his horny palm. "It's
almighty queer," he muttered under his breath. "That young chap must be
an all-fired heavy sleeper to sleep in broad daylight like that. Let's
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. "There's somethin' wrong here, an' I've an idee I
know what it is, too."

"That's whatever!" he exclaimed, when they had advanced cautiously a few
steps further. "They's a bunch o' scorpions has crawled up on him durin'
the night to keep warm, an' if he moves an eyelash they'll 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 ain't 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 don't 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 cal'late 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,
you're certainly the luckiest, without exception. If you had waked up
ten minutes sooner, you would----"

"Waked up your grandmother," interrupted Bert. "Why, I've 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, I'll be jiggered," exclaimed the Westerner, in an admiring voice,
"you've sure got nerve, young feller, and no mistake. It ain't everybody
as could hold hisself the way you did with them blamed critters crawlin'
all over him. It took nerve, it shore did."

"Probably you'd have done the same thing if you'd been in my place,"
observed Bert, with a friendly smile.

"Waal, mebbe I would an' mebbe I wouldn't," replied the old man,
evidently much gratified by this little compliment, "although I don't
say as how I haven't 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 I'm more than
grateful."

"That's 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. You'd have done the same fer me ef you'd 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 I'll follow. My
appetite is beginning to come back with a rush."

"Ye'd better follow the road we come by back a piece," advised their
guide, "ye'll soon come to the main road leadin' into Boyd, and you
oughtn't 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 Bert's 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.

"I've managed to keep pretty well to schedule so far," he told them,
"and some of the worst going is over. But, believe me, I wouldn't want
to repeat some of the experiences I've had. Take this morning, for
instance."

"No, I shouldn't think you would," said Dick. "But tell us about a few.
It won't do you any harm to rest up an hour or two now, and we're 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, "I'm sorry, fellows, but I'm afraid
I'll have to be moving. Get hold of that auto again, why don't you, and
go with me a little way. You can do that all right, can't 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
don't 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. "We'll 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, "I'm 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 I'll 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 I've got to do something," he thought, "since I haven't got the
part, I'll have to try and make one, that's 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.

At last, by dint of patient filing until his fingers ached, he cut
through the obstinate metal and finally held the precious bit of steel
between his fingers.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, mopping his streaming face, "that was an awful
job, but the end justifies the means. I wouldn't swap this little bit
of steel now for ten times its weight in gold."

He tried it in the slot on the engine shaft, and found it a fairly tight
fit. "Eureka!" he exclaimed aloud, "that's bending circumstances to suit
your will, or I don't know what is."

He quickly screwed on the holding nut, and once more was ready to start.
"Come along now, old fellow," he said, apostrophizing the "Blue Streak,"
"we've got to do double work now to make up for this delay. Speed's the
word from now on."

Misfortune after misfortune overtook him, however, and he was delayed
again and again. It almost seemed as though fate repented of having
saved him from a horrible death that morning, and was resolved to make
up for her leniency by imposing unusual hardships on the devoted
motorcyclist.

He had not gone more than ten miles from where he had made the new shaft
key when the long driving chain snapped. Of course, he had extra links
with him, and repaired it quickly, but even then much valuable time was
lost. Then, he had hardly started again before a weak place in the front
tire gave way with a report like that of a pistol shot, and he was
forced to put in a new tube and a repair patch.

This done, he chugged on some time without further mishap, and was just
beginning to believe that his troubles were over, when suddenly he was
apprised by the hard jarring of the back wheel that the tire on it had
gone flat. This meant another half hour's delay, and Bert began to feel
that he was "hoodooed" in earnest.

"I wonder what will happen next," he thought, as he started off, after
remedying the last misfortune. "Hard luck seems to be keeping me
company, and that isn't the best kind of a road companion to have."

But for the present his fears remained unrealized, and as the road
continued fairly good he raced along, mounting up the miles on his
speedometer in a very satisfactory fashion. He made good time, and only
stopped when the pangs of hunger warned him that it was lunch time.

Tom and Dick had taken care to see that he was provided with plenty of
wholesome "grub," and had personally supervised the putting up of the
lunch by the good-natured hotel chef.

"They certainly made a good job of it," thought he appreciatively, as he
partook of delicious fried chicken sandwiches and crisp brown crullers.
He washed down the meal with a long pull from his canteen, and then,
after allowing himself a few minutes of hard-earned rest, was off again
toward the goal that now began to seem less distant than it had before.

But the "jinx" had not yet deserted him, as he was soon to discover. As
he was bowling along at a pace well over thirty miles an hour, he
suddenly turned a sharp bend in the road and ran squarely into a deep
bed of sand. Before he could slow down appreciably, he was in it--and, a
second later, was in it literally. All his skill and strength could not
keep the machine from skidding, and he experienced a bone-racking fall.

In a second he had picked himself up, and ran to where the "Blue Streak"
was lying, its motor still plugging away and the rear wheel sending
showers of sand into the air. Bert shut off the power and proceeded to
take stock of damages. The footboard on the right had struck through the
sand to the hard gravel below and had broken one of its supports. This
weakened it so much that Bert found it would not bear his weight.

There was nothing for him to do but repair the damage as best he could,
and at length he managed to make a temporary repair with a spool of
copper wire and a pair of pliers.

"This is getting serious," thought Bert ruefully, as he finished the
job. "I'll never get anywhere if this keeps up long. But perhaps it's
better to have everything come at once and get it over with. I might as
well look at the bright side of it, anyway."

He started off finally, and now it seemed that at last he was to go
forward without interruption. But unfortunately, he was to find that
this view of the case was altogether too sanguine. The road grew
continually worse, and it became impossible to make even average speed.
In places it was very sandy, too, and this hindered him a good deal.

His trusty mount stood the bumping and wrenching it received without the
slightest sign of weakening, and Bert was grateful indeed for the
staunch construction that made its present satisfactory performance
possible.

The road was deeply rutted, and it was only by the most careful managing
that he steered clear of the depressions. But nothing could stop him,
and he plugged doggedly on. The "Blue Streak" slipped and skidded, and
tried to "lie down and roll over," as he described it afterward, and the
strain on his wrists and arms was tremendous. If the handlebars had once
gotten out of his control they would have zigzagged wildly and the
result would have been a bad fall. This Bert did his best to avoid, as
he was already bruised by the spills he had been through.

At times he was forced to stop and rest a few minutes, and he always
made use of these breathing spells to let the old oil out of his motor
and pump in a fresh supply. Then when he resumed his journey the motor
would be like a different piece of mechanism. It almost seemed as though
it, too, became weary at times and benefited by a brief rest. Probably
every experienced motorist has noticed this, and many theories have been
advanced in explanation, but none of them seem very satisfactory. Bert
by this time was beginning to feel the effects of the strain he had
endured all through the day. He plowed slowly through the clinging sand,
traveling most of the time on low gear. This was not the best thing in
the world for his engine, and every once in a while he was forced to
stop and let it cool. With the engine turning over so fast he had to use
an excessive supply of oil, and at length was warned, by the sucking
sound of the oil pump, that the tank was empty.

Fortunately, however, before he left Boyd he had secured an extra half
gallon can of lubricating oil, which he had strapped on the luggage
carrier. "And it's a mighty lucky thing I did, too," he thought,
"otherwise I'd be stalled for good, with the prospect of a long tramp to
the nearest town. But now I can still beat the game."

He unstrapped the can, and emptied its contents into the oil tank. "That
ought to last me until I reach some place where I can get more," he
thought, throwing the empty can away. "Here goes to buck this sand like
a rotary plow going through a snow bank."

He gave the motor a couple of pump fulls of oil, and started it going.
Slipping in the clutch, he moved forward with the grim resolve to take
long chances for the sake of gaining ground. Gradually he opened the
throttle, and when he had attained a good speed, changed to high gear.
The "Blue Streak" gained momentum and charged ahead, throwing showers of
sand into the air. Every muscle tense, Bert held the motorcycle on the
trail, despite the strong inclination it evinced to go off on little
exploring expeditions of its own. He reeled off mile after mile at a
good clip, and began to feel better.

"This might be a lot worse," thought Bert, "if nothing happens now,
I'll have made pretty fair progress by supper time." Consulting his
speedometer he found that he had covered something over a hundred and
twenty miles so far, which, considering all the delays he had been
subjected to, and the bad roads, was very fair progress.

But even as this thought was passing through his mind, the front wheel
caught in a hollow, the handlebars were wrenched from his hands with a
force that almost broke his wrists, and he was flying through the air.
He landed with a crash, and for a few moments, dazzling lights glittered
before his eyes. Gradually these cleared away, and he sat up, feeling
very dizzy and sick.

As his head cleared, he staggered to his feet, and looked around for his
motorcycle. There it lay, at some distance, half buried in the sand. He
went over to it, and, after scooping some of the sand away, succeeded
by a great effort in pulling it upright.

"I guess my part of the race is finished right here," he thought, with a
sinking heart. "Something _must_ have been badly broken in a fall like
that. It's a wonder I wasn't killed myself."

He set the "Blue Streak" up on its stand, and cranked the engine. It
gave a few spasmodic explosions, but then stopped. "I knew it," he
exclaimed aloud, with a feeling nearly akin to despair. But his
indomitable spirit was not yet ready to give up hope, and he commenced a
careful examination of his mount.

The handlebars were slewed around until they stood at right angles to
the machine. But this was a minor thing, and with the aid of a wrench he
soon set matters right. The main thing was to locate the cause of the
motor refusing to run, and he set himself to solve the problem, as he
had so many others in the course of this most eventful and unlucky day.

He tested the magneto spark by kicking the motor over energetically,
and holding the conduction cable a quarter of an inch or so from the
cylinders. A hot blue spark jumped snapping across the gap, and Bert
drew a sigh of relief. Provided the magneto were all right, he felt that
he might get started again after all.

"The trouble must be in the carburetor," he concluded, and forthwith
proceeded to dissect that highly important part of his equipment. His
suspicions proved well founded. The carburetor was packed with sand,
which had worked up into the spray plug and completely blocked the fine
grooves cut in it.

"That's easy," thought Bert. "I'll just wash this out in a little less
than no time, and then I hope everything will be all right."

He washed gasoline through the carburetor, and cleaned the spray plug
till not a vestige of sand remained. He then quickly assembled the
instrument and connected it up with the induction pipes. Flooding
the carburetor with gasoline, he gave the engine a quick turn over.
Immediately it started off with a roar, and Bert threw the wrench he had
been using into the air, and deftly caught it again.

"Hurrah!" he cried, "now, old boy, we'll try it again."

He still felt rather dizzy, but the sun was getting low, and he knew he
would have to "go some" to reach the next town before dark. He hastily
put his tools away, and in a short time was speeding along again,
nothing daunted by the accident. Presently the road improved, a sure
sign that he was approaching a settlement. Soon he could make out the
low houses of the little prairie town before him and he increased his
speed, "splitting the air" like a comet.

He reached the village without further trouble, and was soon solacing
himself for the strenuous day he had gone through with the best dinner
the resources of the town could provide.



CHAPTER XI

THE FLAMING FOREST


Early on the morning of the eighth day of the trip, Bert crossed
the line into Oklahoma. He found little difference in the roads he
encountered, most of them being of a very poor description. But by this
time he was used to all sorts of going, and could listen without
laughing, when one of the natives, in a fit of enthusiasm, would speak
of some atrocious path as a "highway."

Of course, in isolated instances some village or town had inaugurated a
"good roads" movement, and then Bert found nothing to complain of. But
as a rule the roads were inferior, and he found fast travel practically
impossible.

He rode steadily, however, and by noon had made fairly good progress. He
now found himself in a thickly wooded country, and rode mile after mile
in a deep shade that was very grateful after some of the blistering
hours in the open he had been forced to undergo. There was a brisk
breeze blowing, and the leaves rustled pleasantly, allowing slender
shafts of sunlight to flicker through them as they swayed and whispered.

Bert drew in great breaths of the fragrant air, redolent of a thousand
woody odors, and wished that the whole of his journey lay through such
pleasant places. After a while he came to a beautiful little glen
through which ran a sparkling brook.

"Just the place to eat lunch," thought Bert, and quickly brought the
"Blue Streak" to a standstill. Dismounting, he unpacked his lunch box,
and, sitting down on a broad, flat-topped rock at the edge of the
stream, ate contentedly.

"This place is a regular little Garden of Eden," he mused. "There must
be fish in that stream. If I only had a hook and line along, I'll wager
I'd get some sport out of it." Then another thought struck him. "By
Jove!" he exclaimed aloud, "a swim would feel mighty good now, and there
must be a place deep enough for one somewhere around here. I'm going on
an exploring expedition, anyway."

Sure enough, around a slight bend in the stream he discovered a pool
that almost looked as though it had been made to order. A gigantic tree
had fallen across the stream, forming a natural dam. The clear water ran
over and under it with a tinkling, splashing sound, and Bert gave a
shout of joy.

"Here goes for a glorious swim," he cried, and, undressing hastily,
plunged in. The water was icy cold, and for a moment the shock of it
took away his breath and made his heart stand still. But in a few
seconds the reaction came, and he splashed around, and even managed to
swim a few strokes in the deepest part.

"This is great," he thought. "I wouldn't have missed it for worlds. It's
too bad the old 'Blue Streak' can't enjoy it with me." He smiled as this
absurd thought crossed his mind, but little knew how much of prophecy
there was in it.

When he felt thoroughly refreshed, he climbed out to the bank, and
quickly slipped into his clothes. "I can dry out as I go along," he
thought, with a grin. "Somebody evidently forgot to hang bath towels on
these trees. Very careless of them, _I_ think."

He hurried back to where he had left the motorcycle, and soon was once
more purring along the woodland track. He had traveled something less
than an hour, when he began to notice a thin blue haze in the air, and
at the same time to smell a pungent smoke. His first thought was that he
was near some settler's cabin, but as he rode on he could see no sign of
human habitation, and the green forest stretched away on both sides of
the road without any break that might denote a trail.

But the smoke kept getting heavier every second, and suddenly the truth
smote him like a blow in the face. "A forest fire," he thought, "a
forest fire! and here I am, in the heart of these woods, with absolutely
no way of escape, that I can see." Even as these thoughts flashed
through his mind, a rabbit dashed out onto the road, so mad with terror
that it almost ran under the wheels of the motorcycle.

Bert brought his machine to a standstill with a jerk, the back tire
skidding as he jammed on his brake. A thousand plans raced through his
head, only to be rejected as soon as formed. Of them all only one
offered the slightest hope of escape.

"The brook," he thought, "if I can only get back there I'll have a
chance to pull through. If the fire beats me to it--well, there will be
one less contestant in this race, that's all."

He lifted the motorcycle bodily from the ground, in his excitement and
dire need, handling it as easily as he would a bicycle, pointing it back
the way he had so lately come. Then, with a shove and a leap he was off
on a wild ride, with life itself as the prize.

He flew swiftly along the narrow trail, careless of ruts and obstructions
that he had avoided with the greatest care but a short time before. The
smoke grew thick and choking, reddening his eyes, irritating his lungs.
It was only by the greatest good fortune that he avoided a collision with
the panic-stricken animals that dashed across the road in great numbers,
disappearing among the underbrush on the other side. Now he could hear a
distant roaring and crackling, and great waves of heat billowed down upon
him. He clenched his teeth, and opened the throttle to the utmost. The
woods streaked away on both sides, and soon he saw that he was nearing
his goal.

But the fire was traveling fast as well as he, and he could see it
leaping through the tops of the trees at no great distance. The heat
scorched and burned him, and the motorcycle felt hot to the touch. But,
after what seemed an interminable time, he reached the brook, which now
offered the last chance of safety.

Scarcely checking his speed, Bert swung off the road. His machine
skidded wildly, but the tires gripped in time, and Bert steered for the
deep pool in which he had bathed less than two hours ago. The "Blue
Streak" crashed through the underbrush, beating down all opposition by
its terrific momentum, the powerful motor forcing it forward like a
battering ram. Bert gripped the tank with his knees, and held on grimly,
checking his mount at last at the brink of the pool.

By now, the heat was almost intolerable, but there was still something
left for him to do before he could plunge into the cool water. Way back
in his camping days he had learned the best way of fighting a forest
fire, and now he put his knowledge to account. He applied a light to the
grass and underbrush bordering the pool, and a thin line of flame began
creeping to meet the furious conflagration dashing through the trees.
This would leave a narrow belt of charred land around the pool that
would hold the fire at a little distance, at least.

This done, Bert seized the handlebars of his motorcycle, and hauled it
into the pool after him, until it was partly immersed.

"That's the best I can do for you, old friend," he said. "I guess the
fire can't reach you there, at any rate."

Then he waded in until he reached the deepest part of the pool, and
waited for the advance of the devouring element.

He had plenty of company, as rabbits, foxes, and numerous other wild
creatures continually plunged into the water, their eyes wide with
terror, and all thoughts of age-old enmities wiped from their minds.

The heat grew more intense every moment, and Bert felt the skin on his
face blistering. He took a long breath, and ducked his head completely
under water. He kept it there until it seemed as though his lungs would
burst for lack of air, and then lifted it to take another breath. In
those few seconds the fire had made tremendous strides, and now met the
backfire that Bert had started. He had only time to take a hasty glimpse
of all this, and then was forced to duck under again. Every breath he
drew was hot as the blast of a furnace, and seemed fairly to scorch his
lungs.

The fire burned for a few minutes with no appreciable lessening of its
fury, but then, deprived of fuel, gradually passed by on each side of
the pool. Its terrific roaring slowly died away in the distance, and the
unbearable heat abated somewhat, although smoke still hung in a heavy
pall over the blackened ground.

At last Bert found he could venture from the water with safety, and
accordingly did so. At the same time the wild creatures who had sought
refuge in the same place bethought themselves of engagements elsewhere,
and scampered off.

Bert hauled the "Blue Streak" out of the water, and found it practically
unharmed. Some of the enamel had blistered, but Bert paid little
attention to this, so long as the machine was still in running order. He
had taken care not to let the water touch the magneto, and so was able
to start immediately.

As he rode over the blackened trail, Bert could not help comparing the
scene of desolation that now met his eye with the beautiful appearance
the woods had presented so short a time before. In places the ground
still smoked and smouldered, and in others trees burned like giant
torches.

But Bert realized that he had had a narrow escape from death, and this
thought kept him from dwelling too long on the devastated landscape.
After two or three hours' riding, he passed the fire belt, and once
more entered a flourishing forest. He made steady progress, and before
nightfall reached a fair-sized town. Most of the able-bodied men had not
returned from fighting the fire, and at first the few who were left
would hardly believe Bert's account of his escape. But a look at the
blistered enamel on the motorcycle convinced them, and they united in
congratulating him on his good fortune. As one grizzled old fellow
remarked, "Thar ain't many folks as can say they've come through a
forest fire as easy as you did, son. Thar generally ain't much o' them
left to tell the story."



CHAPTER XII

RACING AN AIRSHIP


It was a hot, oppressive day when Bert set out from Ralston. But he had
had a restful sleep, and felt in fine trim for anything. He had eaten a
hearty breakfast, and this no doubt added to his feeling of buoyancy and
satisfaction with life in general. In addition, his mount was acting
beautifully, purring along with the deep-throated exhaust that tells its
own story of fine adjustments and perfect carburetion.

The country through which he traveled was very flat, and for mile after
mile he glided easily along, encountering no obstructions worthy of the
name. The road was smooth, and, contrary to the general run of roads
in this section, comparatively free from sand and dust. The fresh,
invigorating air added to his feeling of exhilaration, and he was
tempted to "open 'er up" and do a little speeding.

He had about decided to do so, when suddenly he became conscious of
hearing some noise not proceeding from his machine.

At first he thought it must be an automobile coming up back of him, but,
as he glanced over his shoulder, he could see no sign of one, although
the road stretched out for miles without a break.

Instantly his mind grasped the significance of the sound.

"It must be an aeroplane," he thought, and, glancing upward, was not
much surprised to see one outlined against the clear blue of the sky.

"Well, well," thought Bert, "this is an unexpected pleasure. I didn't
know there was an aeroplane within two hundred miles of here."

The aeroplane, which proved to be of the biplane type, was evidently
descending. At first, Bert had stopped to get a good look at it, but
then, feeling that he had no time to lose, had remounted and resumed his
journey.

But as he went along, he knew that the 'plane was still descending
because of the increasing noise of its exhaust. In the same way he could
tell that the machine was overtaking him, but at first the thought of
trying to beat it never entered his head. Even in all his varied and
exciting adventures he had never had a brush with such an adversary.

In an incredibly short time, however, the aeroplane was directly over
his head, and he glanced upward. As he did so, the aviator leaned
forward slightly, and waved his gloved hand. Bert waved in reply, and
then the airman made a gesture which Bert interpreted, and rightly, as
being a challenge.

Needless to say, our hero was not one to decline such an invitation, and
accordingly he opened his throttle a little. Instantly his exhaust
changed from its deep grumble to a harsh bark, and his machine leaped
forward.

In answer to this, the aviator fed more gas to _his_ motor, and his
graceful machine soared forward in advance of Bert and the "Blue
Streak."

"Oho!" thought Bert, "this will never do," and he gave his powerful
machine more throttle, at the same time advancing the spark to the
limit. That last fraction of an inch of spark sent his machine surging
ahead like some wild thing let loose, and he leaned far down to escape
the terrific resistance caused by the wind. The road streamed away
behind him, and he had a thrill of exultation as he felt his machine
leap forward in response to the slightest touch of the throttle.

His adversary in the air was not to be easily outdistanced, however, and
he kept up with Bert, refusing to be shaken off.

Bert felt that now was the time to take the lead, if possible, and
accordingly he opened the throttle almost to the limit, although he
still held something in reserve.

The powerful motor responded nobly, and the machine skimmed over the
sun-baked road at a terrific pace. The bird-man did his best to squeeze
a little more speed out of his whirling motor, but was unable to cope
with the rushing, roaring little speck down below him. At last he was
forced to a realization of this, and abruptly cut down his speed.

Bert continued his headlong flight for a short time, but finding that
the aeroplane did not pass him, concluded that it must have fallen
behind. Accordingly, he slackened his own speed, but very gradually, for
he was too wise to risk disaster by slowing down too suddenly.

Soon his speed had abated sufficiently to allow the use of the brakes,
and he brought his machine to a standstill. Lifting it onto its stand,
he pushed his goggles up on his forehead, and looked around for his late
rival.

He made out the aeroplane at no great distance, and could see that it
was making preparations to land. When the aviator reached a point almost
over Bert's head, he shut off his engine entirely, and, describing a
great spiral, landed gently on the ground not a hundred yards from where
Bert and the "Blue Streak" were standing.

Bert immediately ran toward him, and the aviator stepped stiffly from
his seat and held out his hand.

"You've got a mighty fast machine there, comrade," he said, with a grin,
as Bert shook hands with him. "I thought my 'plane was pretty good, but
I guess your motor bike is better."

"Well, it isn't so bad, perhaps," replied Bert, unable no matter how
hard he tried, to keep a little note of pride out of his voice. "I
manage to get a little action out of it once in a while."

"I should say you did," agreed his late rival, "but what are you doing
way out here a thousand miles from nowhere, more or less?"

"I might ask the same question of you," replied Bert, with a smile, "but
as you beat me to it, I'll answer yours first."

Bert then proceeded to outline briefly the contest in which he was
engaged, but, before he had gone far, his companion interrupted him.

"Oh, I know all about that!" he exclaimed. "And so you're one of the
chaps in the transcontinental race, are you? Well, you haven't got so
much further to go, considering the distance you've covered already."

"No, I guess the worst of it is over," agreed Bert, "although I've been
told that there are some very bad roads ahead of me."

"You're right, there are," replied the aviator, "and that's where I have
an advantage over you. I don't have to worry over road conditions."

Bert saw that he was a little chagrined over his defeat, and so forebore
to argue the merits of motorcycle versus airship.

"Just the same," he thought to himself, "I'm a whole lot more likely to
get where I want to go than he is."

Then he and his new-found companion fell into a discussion regarding
various types of motors, and inspected each other's machines with
interest. By the time this was over it was high noon, and Bert proposed
that they eat lunch together.

The aviator agreed heartily to this, and accordingly they unpacked their
lunches and, sitting in the shade of one of the aeroplane wings, made a
hearty meal.

When the last crumb had been disposed of, they shook hands with
expressions of mutual regard, and the aviator was very cordial in
wishing Bert all kinds of success in the contest. Then they said
good-bye, and resumed their respective journeys. Bert watched the
airship ascend in great spirals, until it was a mere speck in the
distance, winging rapidly eastward.

Before starting, Bert looked over his machine carefully, in order to
assure himself that nothing had been loosened by the vibration caused by
the high speed. Everything seemed in perfect shape, and in less time
than it takes to tell he was "eating up space" in a fashion that
promised to land him speedily at his destination.

But before he had gone many miles, he found the road, which up to now
had been exceptionally good, becoming more and more sandy, and he was
forced to go slowly and pick his way very carefully. As the sand grew
deeper his machine evinced a very decided tendency to skid, and he was
forced to exert all his strength to keep the front wheel pointed
straight ahead.

Soon he shifted to low gear, and crawled forward at a pace little faster
than a brisk walk. He now had reason, as indeed he had a score of times
so far, to bless the foresight that had led him to purchase a two-speed
machine. Without this, he felt that the accomplishment of his task would
be well-nigh hopeless.

The heat became more and more oppressive, and the alkali dust on his
face smarted and blistered. At intervals he would dismount, take a drink
from his canteen, and give his motor a chance to cool off.

Then he would start on again, resolved to reach the next town before
nightfall. What with the many interruptions and the slow pace, however,
darkness overtook him while yet he was more than ten miles from his
destination.

Dismounting, he lighted his lamp, and once more took up the forward
flight. The air, from being excessively hot, now became quite the
opposite, and he felt chilled to the bone. He kept doggedly on,
nevertheless, and at last his perseverance was rewarded by his catching
a glimpse of the lights of the town for which he was bound. At the same
time the road became much better, and he covered the intervening mile or
two at good speed.

The town was not a large one, but it could afford a square meal and a
good bed, and that was all that Bert asked for. He had a hard time to
tear himself away from the other guests, who were very much interested
in his adventures, and plied him with innumerable questions.

At last he managed to say good-night, and fifteen minutes afterward was
sunk in the deep, dreamless sleep of utter but healthy exhaustion.



CHAPTER XIII

AN UNSEEN LISTENER


Bert was lost. There was no use blinking the fact. For two hours past
this feeling had been growing stronger, and now it had deepened into a
conviction.

It was an unusual and disconcerting experience for him. His sense of
location was very keen and acute, and, even without a compass, he had
been able almost instinctively to distinguish the cardinal points. But
just now he was deprived of the help of that trusty counselor. He had
been compelled to dismount, a little while since, to make some trifling
adjustment. Some time later, when the sun had disappeared under a cloud,
he felt in the pocket where he usually carried his compass, and was
dismayed to find it empty. He must have lost it in bending over the
machine. He could replace it when he reached the next large town, but
just at present he missed it sorely. For an hour now, the sun had been
invisible, and although he felt confident he was traveling due West, he
would have given a good deal for absolute assurance of that fact.

If he had been following some broad highway, he would not so much have
cared, as he would have been sure before long to reach some settlement
where he could again get his bearings. But there had been a number of
trails, none of them well-defined, and he had chosen one that grew
fainter and fainter as he progressed until it had faded away into the
mass of the prairie. In bright sunlight, he might have still been able
to trace it, but, in the dun haze and gathering dusk, it was no longer
visible.

Although the country was mostly a level plain, it was interspersed here
and there with bits of woodland and rocky buttes, rising in places to a
height of two hundred feet. One of these Bert descried in the distance,
and, putting on more power, he neared it rapidly. If he had to spend the
night in the open, which seemed very probable now, he wanted to have the
cheer and comfort of a fire, and there was no material for that in
the treeless plain. At the edge of the wood he could get boughs and
branches. By the aid of the spirit lamp that he carried in his kit, he
could make a pot of coffee to supplement the sandwiches he had with him.

By the time he had reached the woods it had grown wholly dark. He jumped
from the saddle, leaned the "Blue Streak" against a tree, and commenced
to gather twigs and branches. He soon had enough for his purpose, and
was just about to apply a match, when he caught the twinkle of a light,
farther up the wooded slope. He looked closely and could see the
outlines of a cabin from which the light was streaming.

The discovery was both a surprise and a delight. Here was human
companionship, and an opportunity to know just where he was and how he
could best reach the nearest town. He thought it was probably the hut of
some sheepherder or cattleman, and he had no doubt of a warm welcome.
Apart from the hospitality that is proverbial on the Western plains, the
occupant of that lonely cabin would be just as glad as himself to have a
companion for the night. He thrust his matchbox back in its waterproof
pouch, and, taking his machine by the handlebars, began to trundle it up
the slope.

His first impulse was to blow the horn of his motorcycle, as a cheery
announcement that a stranger was coming. But as he reached out his hand,
some unseen power seemed to hold him back. There seemed to be no reason
for the caution, but that subtle "sixth sense," that experience had
taught Bert to rely upon, asserted itself. On such occasions he had
learned not to argue, but to obey. He did so now, and, instead of going
directly to the cabin as he had planned at first, made a wide circle and
came up behind. He left the motorcycle fifty feet away, and then with
infinite care drew near the cabin.

It was a rude structure of logs, and mud had been used to close up the
chinks. There was no window on that side, but in several places the
dried mud had fallen away, and the light shone through the crevices.
Bert glued his eye to the largest of these openings and looked in.

A smoky lamp stood on a rough pine table, before which a man was seated
on a nail keg. His face was partly turned away, and, at the moment Bert
saw him, he was applying his lips to a half-filled whiskey bottle. He
took an enormous dram and then slammed the bottle down on the table and
drew his sleeve across his mouth.

Around his waist was a cartridge belt, and two ugly-looking revolvers
peeped from his holsters. A bowie knife lay on the table beside the
lamp. The outlook was not reassuring, and Bert blessed the caution that
had impelled him to "hasten slowly" in approaching the cabin.

He blessed it again when the man with an oath and a snarl picked up a
handbill that had dropped on the floor. In doing so, he exposed his full
face to view, and Bert thought that he had seldom seen one so wholly
villainous.

The ferret-like eyes, set close together, as they looked out from
beneath bushy brows, glinted with ferocity. Although comparatively
young, dissipation and reckless living had stamped their impress on
every feature. His outthrust jaw bespoke a bulldog courage and
determination. Brute was written largely all over him. An ugly scar
across his temple told of the zip of a bullet or the crease of a knife.
It was the face of a desperado who would stop at nothing, however
murderous or cruel, to gain his ends.

As the light fell upon the paper, Bert saw that it was headed by the
word "REWARD" in staring capitals. Then came a picture that corresponded
closely to the face of the man who was reading. Large print followed, of
which Bert could see enough to grasp the meaning. It was an offer of
five thousand dollars reward for the capture, alive or dead, of "Billy
the Kid," who had held up a stage at Valley Gulch two weeks before, and,
after killing the driver and one of the passengers who had resisted, had
made his escape with the contents of the express company's pouch.

Billy the Kid! The newspapers had been full of the robbery at the time
it was committed, and columns had been published narrating his exploits.
He was wanted for thefts and murders covering a series of years. Posses
were out for him in all directions, but he seemed to bear a charmed life
and had successfully evaded capture. An almost superstitious fear
attached to his name, and he was cited as an illustrious example of the
"Devil taking care of his own."

"Dead or alive," muttered the outlaw with an ugly sneer. "It will have
to be dead, then. They'll never get me alive."

Bert was in a ticklish situation. The slightest move on his part might
betray his presence to this sullen bandit, to whom human life was
nothing. He slipped his hand behind him and was comforted by the feel of
his revolver. It was a Colt .45, fully loaded, and he knew how to use
it. In that fight with the pirates off the Chinese coast it had done
good service. He knew that, at need, he could rely upon it now. He took
it from his hip pocket and put it in his breast, with the handle
protruding so that he could grasp it instantly.

Just then the gallop of horses smote upon his ears. The outlaw heard it,
too, and jumped to his feet. He blew out the light and snatched up his
weapons. The hoof beats drew nearer and a halloo rang out that was
evidently a preconcerted signal. With an oath of relief the desperado
relighted the lamp and went to the door.

"It's time you came," he ripped out savagely. "What kept you so long?"

"Couldn't help it, Cap," protested a man who entered the cabin, closely
followed by four others. "Manuel had to hang around the telegraph office
till the message came from Red Pete. The minute it came, we beat it
lickety split and almost killed our hosses getting here."

The leader snatched the held out telegram and read it eagerly while the
five men, of the same desperate type as their captain, stood around
ready to jump at his bidding. It was clear that they feared and cringed
to him. His brute force and superior cunning combined with his evil
reputation held them in complete subjection.

The telegram was brief and seemingly innocent:

"Mary leaves at ten. Meet her with carriage. Pleasant visit."

He drew from his pocket a scrap of paper, evidently containing a key to
the message. He compared it with the telegram, and a light of unholy
glee came into his eyes.

"It's all right, boys," he said, his fierce demeanor softening somewhat.
"The Overland Limited will be at the water tank near Dorsey at three
o'clock. There'll be forty thousand in the express messenger's safe.
It's up to us to make a rich haul and a quick getaway. Now listen to
me," and with the swift decision that marks the born leader and that
went far to explain his ascendancy over his men, he sketched out the
plan of the coming robbery.

"You, Mike and Manuel, will attend to the engineer and fireman. First
get their hands up over their heads. Then keep them covered and make
them uncouple the engine and express car from the rest of the train and
run up the track a half a mile or so. I'll see to the express messenger
myself. He'll open that safe or I'll blow his head off and then break
open the safe with dynamite. Joe and Bob and Ed will stay by the train
and keep shooting off their guns, to cow the passengers and trainmen
while we get in our work. We won't have time to go through the cars, as
it will be too near daylight, and we'll have to do some hard riding
while it's dark. I hate to let the passengers' coin and jewelry go, but
we'll get enough from the express car to make up for that. Let your
horses rest till twelve and then we'll saddle up and get to the water
tank by two. Now you fellows know what you've got to do, and God help
the man who makes a bad break. He'll have to reckon with me," and he
laid his hand significantly on the handle of his knife.

There was an uneasy grin on the part of the men, and then they fell to
discussing the details of the plan, while the bottle passed freely from
hand to hand.

Bert, who had listened breathlessly to the daring plot, was doing some
rapid thinking. He had not the slightest idea where the water tank was
located. It might be east, west, north or south, as far as he knew.
But what he did know was that it behooved him to get away from that
dangerous locality at the earliest possible moment. His life would not
have been worth much if he had been discovered before they had discussed
the robbery. Now that he was in possession of the details, it would be
worth absolutely nothing. A killing more or less made no difference to
these abandoned outlaws, and they would have shot him with as little
concern as they would a prairie dog.

Then, too, the alarm ought to be given at once. By riding into the
night, he would have a chance of reaching some town and getting into
touch with the railroad authorities, by wire or phone. Or he might run
across some one familiar with the country who could guide him. Anything
was better than inaction. Theft and murder were in the air, and every
passing moment made them more probable. He might break his neck, collide
with a rock or a tree, ride over a precipice in the dark. But he had to
take a chance. Danger had never yet turned him from the path of duty. It
should not daunt him now.



CHAPTER XIV

THE OUTLAW PLOT


Slowly, carefully, hardly venturing to breathe, he backed away from the
cabin. He got outside the zone of light and felt for his motorcycle.
With the utmost caution not to touch the horn or siren, he guided it in
a wide semicircle down the slope. One of the horses whinnied as he
passed and an outlaw appeared at the door. After listening for a moment,
while Bert stood like a stone image in his track, the man, evidently
satisfied, turned and went inside.

Then Bert moved on again by inches until he reached the edge of the
woods. From there he knew that the faint click made by the valves in
starting could not possibly be heard from above. He drew a long breath
and for the first time turned his gaze toward the sky. He was rejoiced
to find that the clouds had vanished and that the deep blue was sown
with stars. He needed no compass now. There was the gleaming Polar Star
by which he had often guided his course as unerringly as by the sun. He
paused a moment to get a direction due west. Then he leaped into the
saddle and was off.

Not until he was sure that he was beyond the sight of any possible
watcher from the cabin, did he dismount and light his lamp. Then with
the confidence that came from the light streaming far ahead of him, he
threw in the clutch and let his machine out to the limit.

He had ridden perhaps twenty miles, looking anxiously about for the
lights of a town, when at some distance he saw the flames from a
campfire in the lee of a bluff far away to his right. He could see a
group of men, some moving about, others stretched out near the fire
apparently asleep. Mindful of his previous experience, he put out his
light and glided toward them like a shrouded ghost.

Stopping outside the circle of light, where he could study the scene at
his leisure, he counted a dozen men. They were strapping fellows, rough
in dress and appearance, but with honest, fearless faces. One of them
wore a badge that stamped him as an official of some kind, and he was
evidently in command of the party. Bert hesitated no longer, but,
mounting, rode slowly into the firelight.

There was a gasp of wonder at his appearance, and the men who were still
awake sprang to their feet with their hands on their pistol butts. A
second glance, however, as Bert waved his hand in friendly fashion,
disarmed them and they came hastily forward.

"Well, stranger," said the man with the badge, "you came in on us rather
sudden like and we was plumb surprised for a minute. You seem to be all
right though, and that machine of yours is certainly some beaut. We're
more used to riding four-legged things, though. We don't ask anything
about a man's business out here unless we happen to have some particular
business with him," and he touched his star. "So you can tell us nothing
or as much as you like. As to me I ain't got any secrets as to whom I
am. I'm the sheriff of Wentworth County and this here is my posse."

"Just the man I'd rather see at this minute than any one else in the
world," exclaimed Bert, delightedly. And then, in words that tumbled
over one another in their haste, he told them who he was, how he had
been lost on the prairie and of his adventure near the cabin of "Billy
the Kid."

At the mention of that notorious name the sheriff fairly jumped. "What!"
he shouted. "Billy the Kid and his gang? They're the fellows we're out
for now. Here, boys," he yelled, "get busy. We're on a fresh trail and
we'll bag the hull bunch before daylight."

Instantly the camp was alive with excitement. Horses were untethered and
saddled, and within five minutes the posse was ready to start. Bert had
given hurriedly the details of the plot and the sheriff's campaign was
quickly planned. He knew every foot of the surrounding country and he
headed his troop straight as the crow flies for Dorsey, the little town,
beyond which lay the tank where the Limited would slow down to take
water. His line of march was shorter than that of the outlaws, and
besides, they had not planned to leave the cabin before midnight.
He could count on getting there first and having time to make his
dispositions for the round-up of the gang.

"Well, son," he said, with a warm grip of the hand, when they were ready
to start, "I sure owe you a lot for this tip. This country's going to
sleep a heap sight better when they know these fellows have dangled from
the end of a rope. But how about you, now? I'll send one of my men along
with you to Lonsdale, if you like. That's fifteen mile west of here and
on the line of road you're traveling."

"No, thanks," replied Bert promptly, "I'm going with you, if you'll have
me."

"Going with us," echoed the sheriff in surprise. "Of course, I'm glad to
have you. But that gang is 'bad medicine' and there's goin' to be some
shooting. You ain't got no call to mix in, 'cept of your own free will."

"Sure, I know," said Bert. "I'm going along."

"Son," exclaimed the sheriff, extending his hand, "put her thar. I'm
proud to know you. You're the real stuff, all wool and a yard wide. Come
along."

A word of command and they clattered off, Bert keeping alongside of the
leader. He was thrilling with excitement. The primitive emotions had him
in their grip. A little while before, he had been in the conventional
world of law and order and civilization. Now, he was seeing life "in the
raw." A battle was imminent, and here he was riding to the battlefield
over the prairies at midnight under the silent stars. The blood coursed
violently through his veins and his heart beat high with passion for the
fight. That he himself was running the risk of wounding and death was
only an added stimulus. For the moment he was a "cave man," like his
ancestors in the morning of the world, stealing forth from their lair
for a raid against their enemies. Later on, when cooler, he would
analyze and wonder at these emotions. But now, he yielded to them, and
the time seemed long before the little cavalcade swept through the
sleeping town of Dorsey, and then, at a more slow and careful pace, made
their way to the water tank below the station.

As they came nearer, they dismounted and led their horses to a clump of
trees on the eastern side of the tank and a half a mile away. Two men
were left in charge, with orders to strap the horses' jaws together, so
that they could not neigh and thus betray their masters. It was figured
that the outlaws would approach from the west, and the members of the
posse disposed themselves in a wide semicircle, so that, at a given
signal, they could surround and overpower the robbers. If possible, they
were to capture them alive so that they could answer to justice for
their crimes. But, alive or dead, they were to "get" them. And as Bert
looked on the stern, determined faces of his companions, he had no doubt
of the outcome of the struggle.

After they had taken their places, lying flat on the ground with such
shelter as a bush or cactus plant afforded, there was a considerable
wait that was more trying to the nerves than actual fighting. Bert and
the sheriff were close together, but, except for an occasional whisper,
neither spoke. They were busy with their thoughts and intent on the
approaching fray.

Perhaps an hour had elapsed before they heard the distant tramp of
horses. Soon they could see half a dozen men approaching, their figures
dimly outlined in the starlight. The grip of the watchers tightened on
their pistol butts as they strained their eyes to get a better view of
their quarry.

Then silence fell again. A half hour went by. Suddenly a faint whistle
was heard in the distance, the ground began to tremble and a great
headlight swung into view, far up the track. It was the road's crack
train, the Overland Limited. The moment was at hand.

With a terrific rumbling and clanking and ringing of bells, the
ponderous train slowed down at the tank. The fireman was already on the
tender, ready to slew over the pipe that would bring a cataract of
water down into the reservoir. Just as he reached for it, there was a
fusillade of shots. Two masked men covered the startled engineer and
fireman with their revolvers and ordered them to hold up their hands.
Another hammered at the door of the express car and commanded the
messenger to open, on pain of instant death. Farther down the train
other shots rang out and windows were shattered by bullets to warn
passengers to stay inside.

But just then came a diversion. With a yell and a rush the sheriff and
his men swept down upon the astonished outlaws, firing as they came. The
bandits were caught like rats in a trap. They were the center of a ring
of flame, but they fought back savagely. There were cries and curses, as
men emptied their revolvers and then clinched in deadly struggle. The
bandit leader, leaving the express car, plunged headlong into the fight,
battling like a fiend. When his revolver was empty he flung it into the
sheriff's face and made a break for his horse. But Bert was too quick
for him, and tackled him, just as he had put one foot in the stirrup
and was swinging the other over his mount. With a mighty wrench he
dragged him from the saddle. The "Kid" uttered a fearful oath and
reached for his knife. Bert's hands closed around his throat and they
went to the ground rolling over and over like two panthers.

At gun or knife play the outlaw would have been the victor. But in this
hand-to-hand struggle, Bert was easily his master. His tremendous
strength, reinforced by clean living and athletic training, soon
triumphed over the rum-soaked body of the "Kid." But the latter's
ferocity was appalling, and Bert had to choke him almost into
unconsciousness, before his muscles relaxed and he lay there limp and
gasping.

As Bert rose, breathless but victorious, he saw that the fight was over.
Two of the outlaws were dead and another fatally wounded. The other two
were in the hands of their captors, and the sheriff coming up, snapped
handcuffs on the "Kid" and jerked him to his feet.

Passengers and trainmen came pouring from the cars, and there was a
Babel of excited questionings. The conductor, full of relief and
gratitude at his train's escape from looting, offered to carry the party
to the next town on the line. But the sheriff elected to take his
prisoners across country to the county seat, and after another exchange
of congratulations, the train moved on.

Then the triumphant posse, with one of its members severely, another
slightly wounded, took up their homeward trip. They had made one of the
most important captures in the history of the State, and the next day
the country would be ringing with their praises. They were naturally
jubilant, and the sheriff urged Bert earnestly to come with them as the
real hero of the roundup. But he stoutly refused and the only favor he
would accept was the loan of a guide to take him over to Lonsdale.

"Well," said the sheriff at last reluctantly, "I suppose you know your
own business best, but I shore am sorry to say good-bye. You've made an
awful hit with me, son. That was a lovely scrap you put up with the
'Kid,' and I've never seen a prettier bit of rough housing. I hope you
win your race and I believe you will. Anybody that can put one over on
'Billy the Kid' can pretty near get anything he goes after. If ever
you're looking for work," he joked, "come out to Wentworth County and
I'll make you assistant sheriff. Perhaps, though, you'd better not," and
his eyes twinkled, "cause it wouldn't be long before you'd have my
job."



CHAPTER XV

A MURDEROUS GRIP


Bert was having his first glimpse of the sea since he started on his
trip. He was weary of the land which he had traversed so swiftly and
steadily for two weeks past. The impression stamped upon his brain was
that of an endless ribbon of road, between whose edges his motorcycle
had sped along, until he seemed like a living embodiment of perpetual
motion. That ribbon had commenced to unwind at the eastern end of the
continent, and there were still a good many miles to be reeled off
before the race was ended. But now, as he sat on the veranda of the
beach hotel facing the sea whose surf broke on the sands a hundred feet
away, he could feel his weariness dropping away like a cast-off garment.
The tang of the ocean was a tonic that filled him with new life, and his
nostrils dilated as they drew in great draughts of the salt air.

"Ponce de Leon was wrong when he looked for the elixir of life in a
fountain," he thought to himself. "He should have sought for it in the
sea."

Before him stretched the mighty Pacific, its crested waves glittering in
the sun. Fishing vessels and coasting craft flashed their white sails
near the shore, while, far out on the horizon, he could see the trail
of smoke that followed in the wake of a liner. Great billows burst into
spray on the beach, and the diapason of the surf reverberated in his
ears like rich organ music. He drank it all in thirstily, as though
storing up inspiration for the completion of his task.

A man sitting near by looked at him with a quizzical smile, frankly
interested by Bert's absorption in the scene before him. With easy
good-fellowship, he remarked:

"You seem to be getting a lot of pleasure out of the view."

"I am," replied Bert promptly; "I can't get enough of it."

"There are plenty of people who have got enough of it," he observed
drily, "your humble servant among the number."

Bert scented a story, but repressed any sign of curiosity.

"It's the infinite variety that appeals to me," he said. "The sea is
full of wonders."

"And tragedies," supplemented the other.

He settled back in his chair and lighted a fresh cigar. As he struck
the match, Bert noticed that his right hand was horribly scarred and
disfigured. It looked as though it had been drawn through a harrow whose
teeth had bitten deep. Great livid weals crossed each other on the back,
and two of the fingers were gone. And Bert noted that, although his
face and frame indicated that he was not more than thirty years old, his
hair was snowy white.

"Of course, that's true," said Bert, reverting to the stranger's last
remark; "storms and shipwrecks and typhoons and tidal waves are things
that have to be reckoned with."

"Yes," was the reply, "but I wasn't thinking especially of these.
They're common enough and terrible enough. What I had in mind was the
individual tragedies that are happening all the time, and of which not
one in a hundred ever hears."

"Do you see this hair of mine?" he asked, removing his hat. "One day at
noon it was as dark as yours. At three o'clock on that same day it was
like this."

He paused a moment, as though battling with some fearful recollection.

"I don't know how familiar you may be with the Pacific," he resumed,
"but on this coast there is every variety of monster that you can find
in any other ocean, and usually of a fiercer and larger type. Nowhere do
you find such man-eating sharks or such malignant devil-fish. The sharks
don't come near enough to the shore to bother us much. But it's safe to
say that within half a mile from here, there are gigantic squids, with
tentacles from twelve to twenty feet long. More than one luckless
swimmer, venturing out too far, has been dragged down by them, and there
are instances where they have picked a man out of a fishing boat. If
those tentacles ever get you in their murderous grip, it's all over with
you.

"Then, too, we have what is called the 'smotherer,' something like a
monstrous ray, that spreads itself out over its prey and forces it down
in the mud at the bottom, until it is smothered to death. It's a terror
to divers, and they fear it more than they do the shark.

"But these perils are well known and can be guarded against. If I'd got
into any trouble with them, it would probably have been largely my own
fault. But it is the 'unexpected that happens,' and the thing that
marked me for life was something not much bigger than my fist.

"Have you ever seen an abalone? No? Well, it's a kind of shellfish
that's common on this coast. It has one shell and that a very beautiful
one, so that it is in considerable demand. The inside of it is like
mother of pearl and there are little swellings on it called 'blisters,'
that gleam with all the colors of the rainbow. It's a favorite sport
here to get up 'abalone parties,' just as you fellows in the East go
crabbing. Only, instead of getting after them with a net, we use a
crowbar. Queer kind of fishing, isn't it?"

"I should say it was," smiled Bert.

"Well, you see, it's this way. The body of the abalone is a mass of
muscle that has tremendous strength. It is so powerful, that the natives
of the South Sea Islands use the abalones to catch sharks with. Fact.
They fasten a chain to the abalone, and it swims out and attaches itself
to the under side of a shark. Then they pull it in, and no matter how
hard the shark struggles and threshes about, it has to come. The abalone
would be torn to pieces before it would let go. It's the bulldog of the
shellfish tribe, and a harpoon wouldn't hold the shark more securely.

"On the coast, here, they fasten themselves to the rocks, and as these
are usually covered at high tide, you have to hunt them when the tide is
low. You wade out among the rocks until you catch sight of an abalone.
Then you insert the crowbar between the shell and the rock. Only the
enormous leverage this gives enables you to pry it off. The strongest
man on earth couldn't pull it away with his bare hands.

"Usually, we went in parties, and there was a good deal of rivalry as to
who would get the largest and finest shells. I forgot to say that,
besides the shells themselves, once in a while you can find a pearl of
considerable value and great beauty. This occurs so seldom, however,
that it is always a red-letter day when you have such a bit of luck.

"One day, a friend had arranged to go abalone hunting with me, but just
as we were getting ready to start out, a telegram called him away from
town, on important business. It would have been the luckiest thing that
ever happened to me if I had got a telegram too. We were both much
disappointed, as on that day we were going to try a new place, where we
had a 'hunch' that we would make a good haul.

"The weather was so fine and I had my mind so set upon the trip, that I
determined to go it alone. The tide that day would be at low water mark
at about twelve o'clock. I threw a lunch together, got out my bag and
crowbar and started.

"A tramp of a couple of miles down the beach brought me to the place we
had in mind. It was a desolate stretch of shore, with no houses in sight
except an occasional fisherman's shack, and the crowds that frequented
the other beaches had left this severely alone. It was this, added to
the fact that an unusual number of rocks was visible at low tide, that
had made us fix on it as a promising location.

"The day was bright and clear and the sea had never appeared so
beautiful. Looked to me, I imagine, a good deal as it did to you just
now. It has never seemed beautiful to me since.

"The tide was on the ebb, but had not yet run out fully, and I had to
wait perhaps half an hour before the rocks were uncovered enough to
permit me to see the abalones in their hiding places. I spent the time
lying lazily on the sand with half shut eyelids, and basking in the
inexpressible charm of sea and sky. I never dreamed of the horror the
scene would inspire in me a little later on. There was a long swell but
little surf that day, and there was nothing cruel in the way the waves
danced in the sunlight and came gliding up, with an air that was almost
caressing, to where I lay stretched out at perfect peace with myself and
the world.

"Soon the ebb had reached its limit and there was that momentary
hesitation before the tide, as though it had forgotten something and
were coming back for it, began to flow in. Now was the time, if I wanted
to fill the sack that I had brought along with me to hold my spoil. I
remember chuckling to myself, as I looked around and saw that there was
not a soul in sight. If this should prove the rich hunting ground I
believed it to be, I would have first choice of the finest specimens.

"I slung the bag over my shoulder and holding the crowbar in my left
hand, began to make my way out to the rocks. I had stripped off my outer
clothing, and was in the swimming suit that I wore underneath. The water
was deliciously refreshing, after the sun bath I had been enjoying, and
I went leisurely along until I came to where the rocks were thickest.
The slope was very gradual, and, by the time I got among them, I was
some distance from the shore. Then I became alert and alive, and
buckled down to my work.

"My friend and I had made no mistake. The rocks were full of abalones
and my bag was soon filling rapidly. I exulted in the thought of the
virgin field that we too would exploit together.

"But, although the shells were numerous and unusually fine in their
markings, I could not find any that contained a pearl. That was the one
thing necessary to make my day a perfect success. I began to hustle now,
as the tide was beginning to come in strongly, and before long the
rising waters would cover the rocks.

"Suddenly, I saw under the green surface a large abalone with its shell
gaping widely. And my heart gave a jubilant leap as I saw a large pearl
just within the edge of the shell. How I came to do such a fool thing I
don't know, but, with a shout, I reached out my hand to grasp it. I
slipped as I did so, and, in trying to steady myself, the crowbar flew
out of my left hand and fell several feet away. And just then the shell
began to tighten. I tried to withdraw my hand, but it was too late. That
closing shell held it against the rock as though in an iron clamp.

"A sweat broke out all over me and icy chills chased themselves up and
down my spine. I pulled with all my might, but the shell, as though in
mockery, closed tighter. The feeling of that clammy mass of gristle and
muscle against the flesh filled me with a sick loathing that, for the
moment, overbore the pain of my crushed hand. So, I imagine, a man might
feel in the slimy folds of a boa constrictor.

"Instinctively, I raised my other hand, as if to insert the crowbar.
Then I realized that it had fallen from my hand. I could see where it
lay between two rocks, not six feet away. Six feet! It might as well
have been six miles.

"I was trapped. The full horror of my situation burst upon me. I was
alone, held fast by that powerful shell that recognized me as an enemy
and would never relax of its own accord. _And the tide was coming in._

"In a fury of rage and terror, I struck at the abalone with my left hand
while with all my strength I tried to tear away my right. But I could
have as soon succeeded in pulling it from beneath a triphammer. There
were gaping rents in the flesh opened by my struggles and I could see my
blood mingling with the green water.

"You have heard of bears and lynxes caught in traps who have chewed at
their imprisoned leg until they left it behind them and hobbled away,
maimed and bleeding, but free. I swear to you that I would have done the
same with that hand of mine, if I had been able.

"I thought of a woodsman whom I knew, who had been caught by a falling
tree that had crushed his foot. He knew that if he stayed there that
night, the wolves would get him. His axe was within reach and he
deliberately chopped off his foot. I didn't have even that chance. I was
in my bathing suit and my knife was in the clothes left on the shore.

"And all this time the cruel, treacherous sea was coming in and the tide
was mounting higher and higher. It purled about me softly, gently, like
a cat playing with a mouse. I beat at it angrily with my left hand and
it seemed to laugh. It felt sure of me and could afford to be indulgent.
It was already above my waist and my knowledge of the coast told me that
when it reached the flood it would be ten feet deep at the place where I
stood.

"I looked wildly around, in the hope of seeing some one on the shore.
But it was absolutely deserted. A little while before, I had been
gloating over the fact that I was alone and could have a monopoly of the
hunting. Now I would have given all I had in the world for the sight of
a human face. I shouted until I was hoarse, but no one came. Far out at
sea, I could glimpse dimly the sails of a vessel. I waved my free hand
desperately, but I knew at the time that it was futile. I was a mere
speck to any one on board, and even if they trained strong glasses on me
they would have thought it nothing but the frolicsome antics of a
bather.

"Now the water was up to my armpits. The thought came to me that if I
should keep perfectly quiet, the abalone might think his danger gone and
loosen his grip. But, though I nearly went crazy with the terrible
strain of keeping still, when every impulse was to leap and yell, the
cunning creature never relaxed that murderous clutch.

"Then I lost all control of myself. It wasn't the thought of death
itself. I could, I think, have steeled myself to that. But it was the
horrible mode of death. To be young and strong and twenty, and to die
there, slowly and inexorably, while six feet away was a certain means of
rescue!

"The water had reached my neck. My overstrung nerves gave way. I tugged
wildly at my bleeding hand. I raved and wept. I think I must have grown
delirious. I dimly remember babbling to the iron bar that I could see
lying there so serenely in the transparent water. I coaxed it, wheedled
it, cajoled it, begged it to come to me, and, when it refused, I cursed
it. The waves were breaking over me and I was choking. The spray was in
my eyes and ears. I thought I heard a shouting, the sound of oars. Then
a great blackness settled down upon me and I knew nothing more.

"When next I came to consciousness, I was in a hospital, where I had
been for two months with brain fever. They had had to take off two
fingers, and barely saved the rest of the hand. They wouldn't let me see
a mirror until they had prepared me for the change in my appearance.

"I learned then the story of my rescue. A party had come around a bend
of the shore when I was at my last gasp. They caught sight of my hand
just above the water. They made for me at once and tried to pull me into
the boat. Then they saw my plight, and, with a marlinspike, pried the
abalone loose. They tell me that my bleeding fingers had stiffened
around the pearl, and they could scarcely get it away from me. They
asked me afterward if I cared to see it, but I hated it so bitterly that
I refused to look at it. It had been bought at too high a price.

"And now," he concluded, "do you wonder that I dread that sleek and
crawling monster that I call the sea?"

Bert drew a long breath.

"No," he said, and there was a world of sympathy and understanding in
his tone, "I don't."



CHAPTER XVI

DESPERATE CHANCES


Bert's stay at the pleasant seaside hotel was limited to a few hours
only, but he gained incalculable refreshment from the short rest. It was
with regret that he could not spend more time there that he took leave
of the proprietor, and repaired to the motorcycle store where he had
left the "Blue Streak" to have some very necessary work done on it. The
engine had not been overhauled since starting from New York, and the
cylinders were badly incrusted with carbon. He had left directions for
this to be scraped out, and when he reached the shop expected to find
his machine waiting for him in first-class condition. What was his
chagrin therefore, when, on entering the place, the first thing he saw
was the "Blue Streak" in a dismantled condition, parts of it strewn all
over the floor.

He hunted up the proprietor, and indignantly asked him why the machine
was not ready according to promise.

"I'm very sorry," the man told him, "but as one of the mechanics was
scraping the front cylinder it dropped on the floor, and when he picked
it up he found it was split. So we can't do anything with the machine
until we get a new cylinder."

"But haven't you got a machine in the place you could take a cylinder
from, and put it on my machine?" asked Bert. "I can't afford to be held
up here for a day while you send away for a new part."

"There isn't a machine in the place that would have a cylinder to fit
yours," said the proprietor; "if it had been a rear cylinder, it would
have been easy enough to give you another, because we could take one off
a one-cylinder machine that would fit. But, as it happens, I haven't a
twin cylinder machine in the place."

"But how long will it take to get the new one here?" asked Bert.

"About half a day, I should say," replied the other.

"Half a day!" echoed Bert, and his heart sank. "Why, if I lose that much
time here it probably means that I'll lose the race. Do you realize
that?"

"I don't see what we can do about it," replied the proprietor, shrugging
his shoulders. "I'll get the cylinder for you the first minute I can,
but that's the best I can do."

Bert saw that there was no use arguing the matter. He walked out of
the place without another word, but with a great bitterness in his
heart. All his days of heartbreaking riding--the hardships he had
undergone--the obstacles he had faced and overcome--all these things
were in a fair way of being set at nought because of the carelessness
of a stupid mechanician. The thought almost drove him frantic, and he
hurried along the pavement, scarcely noticing where he was going. At
last he collected his thoughts somewhat and pulled himself together.
Looking about him, he saw that he was not far from the postoffice, and
it occurred to him that there might be a letter for him from Tom or
Dick.

With this thought in mind he entered the postoffice, in one corner of
which there was also a telegraph station.

Walking up to the window, he inquired if there was any mail for Bert
Wilson.

"No," said the functionary behind the grating, "but there's a telegram
just come in for a party of that name. Bill!" he called, to the
telegraph operator, "here's Mr. Wilson now, him that you just got the
telegram for."

"Oh, all right," replied the operator, "here you are, sir. I was just
going to send it up to your hotel."

"Much obliged," said Bert, and tore open the yellow envelope.

"Ride fast," it read, "have just heard Hayward is within three hundred
miles of San Francisco. Hurry."

The slip of yellow paper dropped from Bert's nerveless fingers. Three
hundred miles away. Why, Bert was as far from San Francisco as that
himself, with mountainous roads still before him, and his machine out of
commission!

If he could only do something, anything, that would be a relief. But he
was absolutely helpless in the grasp of an unforeseen calamity, and all
he could do was to pray desperately for the speedy arrival of the new
cylinder.

He hastened back to the repair shop, and found that in his absence
everything, with, of course, the exception of the front cylinder, had
been put together. "We've done all we can," the proprietor assured him.
"A few minutes ago I called up the agents in Clyde and they said that
their man was on the way with it. So it ought to get here early this
afternoon."

"Well," declared Bert grimly, "I'm not going to stir out of this place
till it does come, let me tell you."

He waited with what patience he could muster, and at last, a little
before two o'clock, the long-awaited cylinder arrived. With feverish
haste Bert fastened it to the motor base himself, too impatient to let
anybody else do it. Besides, he was resolved to take no chances of
having _this_ cylinder damaged. Ten minutes later the last nut had been
tightened, and the "Blue Streak" was wheeled out into the street. Now
that the heartbreaking waiting was over, Bert felt capable of anything.
As he vaulted into the saddle, he made a compact with himself. "If my
machine holds out," he resolved, "I will not sleep again until I reach
San Francisco;" and when Bert made a resolution, he kept it.

He scorched through the streets of the town regardless, for the time
being, of local speed ordinances. In a few minutes he was out on
the open road, and then,--well, the "Blue Streak" justified all the
encomiums he had ever heaped upon it. Up hill and down he sped, riding
low over the handlebars, man and machine one flying, space-devouring
unit. The day drew into dusk, dusk changed to darkness, and Bert
dismounted long enough to light his lamp and was off again, streaking
over the smooth road like a flying comet. At times he slowed down as he
approached curves, but was off again like the wind when he had rounded
them. Sometimes steep hills confronted him, but the speeding motorcycle
took them by storm, and topped their summits almost before gravity could
act to slacken his headlong speed. Then the descent on the other side
would be a wild, dizzy rush, when at time the speedometer needle reached
the ninety mark.

But the country became more mountainous after a while, and Bert
encountered hills that even the "Blue Streak" was forced to negotiate on
low speed. This ate up gasoline, and about midnight Bert, on stopping a
moment to examine his fuel supply, found that it was almost exhausted.
Fortunately, however, about a mile further on he reached a wayside
garage. He knocked repeatedly, but received no answer.

"Just the same, I've got to have gasoline," thought Bert, and acted
accordingly. With a screwdriver he pried open a window, and, filling a
can from a barrel, returned to his machine and filled the tank. Then he
replaced the can, and left the price of the gasoline in a prominent
place.

"Needs must when the devil drives," he thought, "and I simply had to
have that juice."

And now he was once more flying through the night, the brilliant rays
from his lamp dancing and flickering on the road ahead, and at times
striking prismatic colors from rocky walls as the road passed through
some cut. Mile after mile passed back under the flying rider and
machine, but still they kept on with no sign of slackening. Gradually
dawn broke, misty and gray at first, but then brightening and expanding
until the glorious light of full day bathed the hills in splendor. And
then, as Bert looked up and around, slowing down so that he could the
better drink in the glorious scene, he beheld, at a great distance, the
roofs and towers of a great city, and knew that it was San Francisco,
the golden city of the West. Sixteen days since he left New York and
the goal toward which he had struggled so bravely was at hand!

But even now there was no time to be lost. At this moment, Hayward might
also be approaching the city, and Bert was too wise to risk failure now
with the prize so nearly within his grasp. He started on again, his mind
in a whirl, and all thought of fatigue and exhaustion banished. The road
was bordered by signs indicating the right direction, and in less than
an hour Bert was riding through the suburbs of San Francisco.

Bert's entrance into the city was signalized by a display of the wildest
enthusiasm on the part of a big crowd that had turned out to meet the
winner. The details of the thrilling transcontinental race in which he
had been engaged had received their due share of space in the big
dailies, and his adventures and those of the other contestants had been
closely followed by every one possessing a drop of red blood in his
veins.

Bert was totally unprepared for such a reception, however, and it took
him by surprise. He had been through many adventures and had encountered
many obstacles, but had pulled through by dint of indomitable will and
pluck. But, as he afterward confessed to Tom and Dick, he now felt for
the first time like running away. But he soon abandoned this idea, and
chugged slowly along until at last he was forced by the press of people
about him to stop.

When he dismounted he was deluged by a flood of congratulations and good
wishes, and was besieged by a small army of newspaper men, each anxious
to get Bert's own account of the race. It was some time before he could
proceed, but at last he started on, surrounded by a contingent of
motorcycles, ridden by members of local clubs. They went slowly along,
until in due time they reached the city hall. Bert was ushered into the
presence of the mayor, who received him with great cordiality, and after
a few words read the letters Bert handed him.

"Well, Mr. Wilson," he said, when he had mastered their contents, "I am
certainly glad to know you, and I only wish you were a native of this
State. We need a few more young men of your sort."

"I'm much obliged for your good opinion, your Honor, I'm sure," replied
Bert, and after answering many questions regarding his trip, took his
departure.

Returning to the street, he mounted his machine, and, still accompanied
by the friendly motorcyclists, proceeded to the hotel at which he had
arranged to stop during his stay in San Francisco. Of course, Tom and
Dick were there to meet him, and hearty were the greetings the three
comrades exchanged.

"It hardly seems possible that I've won at last," said Bert. "I wasn't
sure that Hayward hadn't beaten me in, until I heard the crowds
cheering."

"Oh, you won, all right," Dick assured him, "but you didn't have much
time to spare. I just heard somebody say that Hayward got in not five
minutes ago. I'll bet he nearly went crazy when he heard that you'd
beaten him in spite of his crooked work."

"Well, when I learned what kind of a fellow he was, I just _had_ to beat
him," said Bert, with a smile.

Dick and Tom took charge of his machine, and stored it safely in the
local agency, where it was immediately hoisted into the show window and
excited much attention.

By the time they returned to the hotel, Bert had answered the questions
of a number of newspaper men, taken a much-needed bath, and dressed.

In his well-fitting clothes, that set off his manly figure, he looked a
very different person from the dusty, travel-stained young fellow he had
been but a short time before, and he was delighted to feel that for a
little while he was "out of uniform."

But Tom and Dick immediately collared him, and, as he professed himself
"fresh as a daisy," took him out to see some of the town. They had not
gone far before they were recognized by one of the riders who had formed
Bert's "Bodyguard" during his ride to the mayor's office. He introduced
himself as John Meyers. Nothing less than their immediately paying a
visit to his club would satisfy him, they found, so at last they gave in
and told him to "lead on."

The other laughingly complied. "It isn't far from here," he assured
them, "and if you like our looks we'll be glad to have you stay to
dinner. After that, if you're not too fagged, a few of us will be glad
to take you around and show you the sights. We're all proud of it, and
we want visitors to see it."

"That programme listens good," replied Bert, "and we're 'on,' as far as
the dinner goes. After that, though, I think I'll be about ready to turn
in. I was riding all last night, and I feel like sleeping without
interruption for the next week."

"Well, that's just as you say," agreed Meyers, "but here we are now.
Pretty nifty building, don't you think?"

It was indeed a handsome house into which he presently ushered them, and
they soon saw that its interior did not belie its outward appearance.
The rooms were large, and furnished comfortably and in good taste.

In the front room several fine looking young fellows were engaged in a
laughing conversation. They broke off when they caught sight of Meyers
and the three strangers with him. Introductions were soon made, and the
three comrades found themselves made thoroughly at home.

Of course, the chief topic of conversation was Bert's journey, and he
answered questions until he was tired.

"Here, fellows," said Meyers, perceiving this, "I think we've
cross-examined Wilson enough for the present. Anyway, dinner's ready,
and we'll see if you can eat as well as you can ride."

"Lead me to it," exclaimed Bert, "I'm as hungry as a wolf."

They were soon seated around a table on which was set forth a substantial
meal, and it is almost needless to say that they all did it ample
justice.

During the meal the chief topic of discussion, next to Bert's
record-breaking feat, was the forthcoming race at the big saucer track,
in which riders from all over the world were to compete.

Bert listened with great attention, for it was of the most vital
importance to him to know as much as possible of the track on which he
was scheduled to pit his skill and courage against the best and most
experienced motorcyclists of the globe. Of course, he would be given
ample time to practice and learn the tricks of the big saucer for
himself, but his experience of life so far had taught him not to
neglect even the slightest bit of knowledge that might make for success.

In due course of time the meal was despatched, and they returned to the
lounging room. A couple of pleasant hours were spent in conversation and
joking, and swapping tales of eventful rides under every conceivable
condition of sunshine and storm.

At last Bert rose, and said, "Well, boys, I've certainly enjoyed my
visit, but I'm afraid I'll have to make a break"--consulting his watch.
"I've had a mighty hard time of it lately, and I'm about all in."

He shook hands all around, and with many expressions of friendship from
the club members and amid hearty invitations to call again, Bert and his
companions took their departure.

"I suppose you'll begin practicing at the track pretty soon now, won't
you, Bert?" asked Tom, as they turned their steps toward the hotel.

"You suppose right, old timer," said Bert, slapping him affectionately
on the shoulder, "to-morrow, or maybe the day after, I'll get down to
business. I want to know that track as well as I know the back yard at
home before the day of the race."

"You can't know too much about it, that's certain," said Dick, soberly.
"You haven't had much practice in that sort of racing, Bert, and I'm
almost afraid to have you try it."

"Nonsense," laughed Bert, "why, I'll be safer there than I would be
dodging autos on Broadway, back in little old New York. Don't worry
about me. I'll put the jody sign on all of them, provided, of course,
that my machine doesn't take it into its head,--or into its gasoline
tank--to blow up, or something else along the same line."

"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!"



CHAPTER XVII

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 preëminent 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!"



CHAPTER XVIII

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."

"Go it, old man!" shouted Dick and Tom, each giving him a resounding
buffet on the shoulder, "show 'em what you're made of."

"Leave it to me," yelled Bert, for already the towing motorcycle was
towing him and the "Blue Streak" out onto the track. They went at a
snail's 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
"Blue Streak" 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 starter's 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 "Blue Streak" 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 "Blue Streak" 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--half a lap--three-quarters of a lap--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 Bert's 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.

"It's all over. It's all over," groaned Tom. "He's out of the race now.
He hasn't got a chance."

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.

"On with it, Dick, on with it," he said, in a low, suppressed voice.
"Let's have that wrench, Tom. Hold up the front fork, will you?"

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--nobody ever learned what--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.

Bert's 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 Bert's tremendous speed, small obstacles
seemed like mountains. The "Blue Streak" 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--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 "Blue Streak" 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--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 "Blue Streak" 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.

"You rode the greatest motorcycle race this old world ever saw, old
friend," said Dick at last, "but Tom and I are never going to let you go
in another. The world would be too empty for us without you."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the sheaf of telegrams of congratulations handed to Bert next morning
was one from Reddy. It was characteristic:

"Shamrock. Glory be. I knew you'd put it over. Keep in good shape for
football."

"He talks as if I were already on the team," commented Bert; "I may not
make it, after all."

"Swell chance of your missing it," scoffed Tom.

"Everybody knows you're slated for full-back."

To another message, Drake's name was signed:

"Hurrah for the blue. Be back for football in the Fall."

"A decided football flavor in your telegrams to-day," grinned Dick.

"Well," said Bert, "win or lose, I'll be there with both feet."

"You'd better have both of them with you, for a fact," drawled Tom. "You
couldn't do much without them."

And when a few months later, the football season opened, Bert's 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

"BERT WILSON ON THE GRIDIRON."



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

--Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).

--Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were corrected without
  comment.

--Variations of Blue Streak were made consistent ('Blue Streak'
  within quoted speech and "Blue Streak" in all other cases).

--Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

--Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.





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