Chapter XIII. A Wild Automobile Ride
 

"This is glorious!"

"It certainly could not be finer, Dick."

"Some day, Dora, I am going to take you for a long ride," went on Dick. "I mean some day after we get home with that treasure," he added, in a lower tone, so that the chauffeur might not hear.

"That's a long time off, Dick."

"Perhaps not so long."

"And what are you going to do after this hunt is over?"

"Go to college, I guess. It is not yet fully decided, for we don't know what college to go to."

"I hope--" Dora broke off short.

"What, Dora."

"Oh, I was just thinking. Mamma thinks that I might go to college. If I went it would be nice if we went to two places that were near each other."

"Nice? It would be the best ever!" cried Dick, enthusiastically.

They were running along a country road a good many miles from Philadelphia. All the noise of the city had been left behind and it was as calm and peaceful as one would wish. The second machine was only a short distance behind the first, and each was making not less than thirty miles per hour.

"Do you know, some day I am going to make a regular tour in an auto," remarked Sam. "I am sure a fellow could have lots of fun."

"You can have this machine any time you want to," said the chauffeur, who had taken greatly to, the party.

"We'll remember," answered Dick, indifferently. He did not particularly fancy the fellow, for he was rather familiar and his breath smelt of liquor. Twice he had talked of stopping at road houses, but Dick had told him to go on, fearful that he might drink too much.

A hill was before the automobiles, but both machines climbed it without an effort. From the top of the hill a fine view was to be obtained, and here a hotel had been located, and this displayed a sign which interested the boys and girls very much:

ICE CREAM. SODA WATER. ROOT BEER. BEST CANDY.

"Let us stop for some ice cream," suggested Songbird. And he yelled to those in the automobile ahead.

All of the girls loved ice cream, so despite Dick's anxiety over his chauffeur, a stop was made, and the boys and girls filed into the hotel for the treat. Dick lingered behind to speak to both of the machine drivers, for he saw that the second man was of the same "thirsty" type as the other.

"Do you smoke?" he asked.

"Sure," was the reply from both.

"Then here is a quarter with which you can buy some cigars. And please remember, no drinking," he added, significantly.

"Can't a fellow have a drink if he wants it?" demanded the chauffeur of the first car.

"Not while you have my party out," was Dick's reply.

"Well, a fellow gets thirsty, driving a car in this dust," grumbled the second chauffeur.

"If you are thirsty, there is plenty of water handy and root beer and soda water, too. I meant liquor when I spoke."

"Oh, we'll keep straight enough, don't you worry," said the first chauffeur, and then both of them turned away to a side entrance of the hotel.

Dick was much worried, but he did not let the rest see it. He joined the crowd in the ice cream pavillion attached to the hotel, and there they spent an hour, eating ice cream, water ices, and cake. Then some of the lads went off and got several boxes of bonbons and chocolates to take along on the rest of the trip.

When they went out to the two automobiles the chauffeurs were missing. A man was trimming a hedge nearby and Dick asked him if he had seen the pair.

"Must be over to the barroom," said the gardener. "That Hellig loves his liquor, and Snall likes a glass, too."

"Was Hellig the driver of this first car?"

"Yes, and Snall ran the second."

Just then Tom came up, having placed Nellie in the second car.

"What's the trouble, Dick?" he questioned.

"I am afraid both our men have gone off to drink. This man says they both love their liquor."

"They do, and both of 'em have been locked up for reckless driving but don't say I told you," said the gardener.

"Humph! This is serious," murmured Tom. "I don't like to trust a chauffeur who drinks."

"Come with me," said his brother, in a low tone. "Just wait for us," he shouted to the others, who were now in the two cars.

He walked behind the ice cream pavillion, Tom at his side, and then the pair reached a side door, connecting with the hotel barroom. They looked in and at a small table saw the two chauffeurs drinking liquor from a bottle set before them. Both were rather noisy and had evidently been imbibing freely.

"I won't let no boy run me and tell me what I shall take," they heard Hellig say thickly.

"I'll drink what I please and when I please," answered Snall. "Let us have another, Nat."

"Sure."

"This is the worst ever!" murmured Tom. "They are in no fit condition to run the cars. I wouldn't trust my neck with either of them."

"And I am not going to trust the lives of the girls in their care," answered Dick, firmly.

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know yet. But one thing is settled--, they shan't take us back."

"I think I could run one car--if we didn't go too fast," suggested Tom, who had run several machines at various times in his lively career.

"I could run the other."

"Then let us do it, Dick. Those fellows don't own the cars, and we didn't hire from them, we hired from the owner of the garage. I guess we have a right to run them under the circumstances."

The two boys walked back to the automobiles. All of the others were now anxious to know what was wrong and they had to give the particulars.

"Oh, Dick, you must not let them run the cars!" cried Grace, turning pale.

"I'd rather have you and Tom run them ten times over," declared Dora.

While the party was talking the two chauffeurs came from the hotel and walked unsteadily towards the automobiles. Their faces were red and their eyes blinked unsteadily.

"Stop!" called Dick, when they were some distance away, and the gardener and some guests of the hotel gathered around to see what was the matter.

"What yer want?" growled Hellig, thickly.

"We are going to leave you both here and run the cars ourselves," answered Dick, coldly. "You are not fit to run them."

"What's the reason we ain't?" mumbled Snall. He could hardly speak.

"You've been drinking too much--that's the reason."

"Humph!"

"We are going to run them machines an' don't you forgit it," mumbled Hellig, and lurched forward.

"Don't you ride with those intoxicated fellows," said one of the hotel guests.

"We don't intend to," answered Dick. "All ready, Tom?" he called out.

"Yes."

"Then go ahead. I'll catch up to you."

"Hi, you stop!" screamed Snall, as one of the automobiles began to move off down the road. But Tom paid no attention to him.

Running swiftly, Dick reached the other car and hopped up to the chauffeur's seat. He had watched the driver operate the car and knew exactly what to do. He soon had the engine running and then he threw in the speed clutch just as Hellig lurched up.

"You mustn't ran away with that machine!" he roared.

"Keep away!" cried Sam, and leaning out of the car he gave the chauffeur a shove that sent him flat on his back in the dust of the road. Then the car moved off. As those in the automobile looked back they saw Hellig arise and shake his fist after them and Snall waved his arms wildly.

"We'll hear from them again, I suppose," said Sam.

"And they'll hear from me," answered Dick. "and the fellow who sent them out to run the cars for us will hear from me, too," he added.

Tom was quite a distance ahead, but they soon caught up to his car. By this time they were out of sight and hearing of the hotel, and going down the other side of the hill they had come up.

"If you wish, you can take the lead," said the fun-loving Rover to his older brother. "I don't know a thing about these roads."

"We'll have to trust to luck and the signboards," returned Dick.

"It will be all right if only you don't get on some road that is impassible," put in Fred.

"And get stuck thirty miles from nowhere," added Songbird.

"You stick to dem roads vot haf stones on de got," said Hans wisely. "Ton't you vos, drust der car to der tirt roads, no!"

"I shall follow Hans' advice and stick to the good roads," said Dick. "I think the signboards will help us to get back to Philadelphia sooner or later."

They sped down the hill and there found the road turned to the left and crossed a small stream. Then they reached a corner with several signboards.

"Hurrah! that's the way to Philly!" cried Sam.

"But it doesn't say how many miles," protested Grace.

"Never mind, we are bound to get there before dark, and that is all we care," came from Nellie.

In the exhilaration of running the cars, Dick and Tom soon forgot about the trouble with the chauffeurs. It was great sport, and as soon as Dick "got the hang of it," as he said, he let the speed out, notch by notch. His car ran a trifle more easily than did the other and before long he was a good half mile ahead of that run by Tom. Those in the rear shouted for him to slow down, but the wind prevented him from hearing their calls.

"This is something like, isn't it?" said Dick to Dora, who was beside him.

"Oh, it is splendid!" she replied enthusiastically. "I feel as if I could go on riding forever!"

"An auto certainly beats a team all to bits, if the road is good."

They passed up another hill, and then through a patch of woods. Then they made a sharp turn, and the car began to descend over a road that was filled with loose stones.

"Say, Dick, you'd better slow up," cautioned Sam, as the machine gave a quick lurch over a stone. "This road isn't as smooth as it was."

"I know it."

"I saw a road to our right," said Grace. "Perhaps we should have taken that."

There was no time to say more, for the automobile was jouncing over the stones in too lively a manner. Alarmed, Dick, who had already shut off the power, applied the brake, but he was not used to this and he jammed it fast so it did not altogether prevent the car from advancing.

"Oh, we must stop!" screamed Dora, a moment later. "Look ahead!"

Dick did so, and his heart gave a leap of fear. Below them the stony road was narrow, and on one side was a rocky gully and on the other some thick bushes. In the roadway was a farmer with a large farm wagon filled with lime. Should they hit the turnout below somebody would surely be hurt and perhaps killed.