Chapter XIV. What a Roman Candle Did
 

It was a time for quick action, and it was a lucky thing that Dick Rover had been in perilous positions before and knew enough not to lose his presence of mind. As the others in the automobile arose to leap out he called to them:

"Sit down! Don't jump! I'll look out for things!"

Then, even as he spoke, Dick turned the steering wheel and sent the big machine crashing into the bushes to one side of the roadway. He chose a spot that was comparatively level, and in five seconds they came to a halt just in front of half a dozen trees.

"We must take care of Tom's machine!" cried Sam, and leaped over the back of the automobile. The machine had cut down the bushes, so the path was clear and he ran with might and main to the roadway. At the top of the hill was the second car, coming along at a good speed.

"Stop! stop!" he yelled, frantically, and waved his arms in the air.

Tom saw the movement and knew at once something was wrong. He threw off the power and applied the emergency brake and the automobile just passed Sam and no more.

"What's the matter?" came from everyone in the second car.

"That's what's the matter," answered Sam, pointing to the foot of the rocky hill. "That wagon--Well, I declare!"

The youngest Rover stared and well he might, for the farmer's turnout with the load of lime had disappeared from view. The farmer had turned into a field at the bottom of the hill just as Dick turned his car into the bushes.

"I don't see anything," said Nellie. And then Sam had to explain and point out the situation of the first car.

"I guess I can get down the hill well enough," said Tom. "But this appears to be a poor road. We ought to try to find something better."

All those in the second car got out and walked to that which was stalled in the bushes. They found Dick and Fred walking around the machine trying to learn if any damage had been done.

"We might have kept right on," said Sam, and explained why.

"Well, we are here, and now comes the problem of getting back on the road," said the eldest Rover. "I don't think I can back very well in here."

"Better make a turn on the down grade," suggested Sam. "We can cut down some of the big bushes that are in the way, and fill up some of the holes with stones."

It was decided to do this, and all of the boys took off their coats and went to work. Soon they had a fairly clear path, and after backing away a few feet from the trees, Dick turned downward in a semi circle, and got out once more on the road. This time he was mindful to use the brake with care, and consequently he gained the bottom of the stony hill without further mishap, and the second machine came after him.

"There is that farmer," said Songbird. "Why not ask him about the roads?"

"I will," said Dick, and stalked into the field.

"This ain't no good road to Philadelphia," said the farmer, when questioned. "Better go back up the hill and take the road on the right."

"We can't get back very well."

"Then you had better go along this road and take the first turn to the left and after that the next turn to the right. You'll have about three miles o' poor roads, but then you'll be all right, but the distance to the city is six miles longer."

There was no help for it and they went on, over dirt roads which were anything but good. They had to go slowly, and Tom kept the second car far to the rear, to escape the thick dust sent up by the leading machine.

"This isn't so fine," declared Dick, with a grimace at Dora. "I am sorry we took that false turn at the top of the hill."

"Oh, we'll have to take the bitter with the sweet," answered the girl, lightly.

"I shan't mind it if you don't, Dora."

"Don't worry, Dick, I am not minding it a bit. I am only glad we got rid of that intoxicated chauffeur. He might have gotten us into far more trouble than this."

Inside of an hour they found themselves on a good stone road and reached a signboard put up by the automobile association, telling the exact distance to Philadelphia. This set them at ease mentally, and they started off at a speed of twenty miles an hour. Tom wanted to "let her out," as he put it, but Nellie demurred and so he kept to the rear as before.

"But some day I am going to have a machine of my own," said he, "and it is going to do some speeding, I can tell you that."

"Yah, and der first dings you know, Dom, you vos ub a dree odder you sphlit a rock insides owid," warned Hans. "Ven I ride so fast like dot I valk, I pet you!"

It was dark long before the city was reached and they had to stop to light the lamps, and they also had to fix the batteries of the second car. Fred, who was getting hungry, suggested they stop somewhere for something to eat, but the girls demurred.

"Wait until the ride is ended," said Dora. "Then we can take our time over supper."

As night came on they saw fireworks displayed here and there and enjoyed the sights greatly.

"I've got some fireworks on the yacht," said Tom. "I reckon I'll be rather late setting them off."

While they were yet three miles from the river they stopped at a drug store and there Dick telephoned to the owner of the machines, explaining matters, and asking the man to send down to the dock for the cars.

"He's pretty angry," said Dick, as he leaped into the automobile again. "He says we had no right to run off with the cars."

"Well, he had no right to send us off with those awful chauffeurs," answered Dora.

"Oh, I'm not afraid of anything he'll do," answered Dick.

Nevertheless, he was a bit anxious as he reached the dock, and he lost no time in sending the girls to the yacht with Songbird, and he asked his chum to send Mr. Rover ashore.

A minute later a light runabout spun up and a tall, thin man, with a sour face, leaped out and strode up to the two machines.

"Who hired these machines, I want to know?" he demanded. "I did," answered Dick boldly. "Are you the manager of the garage?"

"I am, and I want to know by what right you've been running the cars without the regular drivers?"

"We wanted to get back to the city and the chauffeurs were in no condition to bring us back," put in Tom.

"What have you to do with it, young man?"

"I drove one car and my brother here drove the other. We didn't hurt the machines and you ought to be glad we brought them back in good condition."

"Humph! You hadn't any license to run them."

"We took the liberty of doing so," said Dick. "If you want to get angry about it, I'll get angry myself. You had no right to place those cars in the hands of unreliable men. You risked our lives by so doing."

"Those men are reliable enough. One of them telephoned to me you had run away with the autos."

"The folks at the Dardell Hotel will tell you how reliable they were. I warned them not to drink, but they did, and they were in no condition to run any automobile."

"I don't allow just anybody to run my machines," stormed the man. "They are expensive pieces of property."

"Well, they are not worth as much as our necks, not by a good deal," said Tom.

"Don't you get impudent, young fellow!"

"He is not impudent," said Dick. "Your machines are all right--we didn't hurt them in the least. But I can tell you one thing," he proceeded earnestly. "We don't propose to pay for the hire of the chauffeurs."

"That's the talk," broke in Fred. "Pay him for the use of the cars only."

"You'll pay the whole bill!" growled the automobile owner.

"Not a cent more than the hire of the two cars," said Tom

The man began to storm, and threatened to have them locked up for running the cars without a license. But in the end he accepted the money Dick offered him.

"Maybe you haven't heard the end of this," he muttered.

"If you make trouble, perhaps I'll do the same," answered Dick, and then he and the others went aboard the yacht, where a late supper awaited them. Mr. Rover had heard of the unreliable chauffeurs and he was even more indignant than his sons.

"I don't think that owner will show himself again," he said. "If he does I'll take care of him." The man was never heard of; and that ended the affair.

"We had a splendid time anyway," declared Grace, and the other girls agreed with her.

Tom had not forgotten about his fireworks, and after supper he invited the crowd to the deck and gave them quite an exhibition.

"Here, Hans, you can set off this Roman candle," he said, presently. "Show the ladies how nicely you can do it. But take off your coat and roll up your shirt sleeve before you begin," he added, with a dig into Sam's ribs, which meant, "watch for fun."

Quite innocently the German lad took off his coat and rolled his shirt sleeve up over his elbow. Then he took the big Roman candle and lit it.

"Now swing it around lively," cried Tom, and Hans began to describe little circles with the Roman candle. Soon the sparks began to pour forth, and not a few came down on the bare wrist and forearm.

"Ouch! ouch!" yelled Hans, dancing around. "Ach du meine zeit! Say, somepody sthop dot! I vos purn mineselluf ub alretty!"

"Swing it around quicker!" cried Dick.

"Turn it in the shape of a figure eight!" suggested Fred.

"Loop the loop with it," came from Sam.

Around and around went the Roman candle and then bang! out shot a ball, hitting one of the masts of the steam yacht. Then bang! went another ball, hitting the top of the cabin.

"Hold it up straighter, Hans!" said Songbird. "Don't shoot somebody."

"If I hold him ub I burn mineselluf worser!" groaned the German youth. "Here, you dake him, Sam, I got enough."

"No, no, Hans, I won't deprive you of the pleasure of shooting it off," answered the youngest Rover, and skipped out of the way.

One after another the balls, red, white and blue, poured from the Roman candle. It was a pretty sight, but Hans' aim was more than bad, and one hit the bow and another the stern, while a third whizzed past Dick's ear. In the meantime Hans was hopping around like a madman, trying to keep the sparks from his skin.

"Throw it overboard!" cried Mr. Rover, who was enjoying the fun, but who was afraid somebody might get a fire ball in the face.

"Only a few more balls left," said Tom. "Hans, try to hit the top of the mast don't point it downward."

The German youth was too excited to listen to the advice. He continued to dance around. Bang! went another ball and entered the cabin of the steam yacht. Bang! came the final one and that too disappeared into the interior of the craft. Then the Roman candle went out, and Hans breathed a sigh of relief.

"I vos glat dot is ofer," he said. "No more firevorks for me, not on your kollarbuttons, no!"

"I hope they didn't do any damage in the cabin--" began Mrs. Stanhope anxiously, when there came a cry from Aleck Pop.

"Stop dat fire from comin' down!" yelled the colored man. "De hull cabin's in a blaze!"