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   Chapter 3 IN A RUNAWAY AUTO.

The Motor Rangers Through the Sierras By John Henry Goldfrap Characters: 11330

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"Can't you stop her?" gasped Joe, clutching the forward portion of the tonneau and gripping it so tight that his knuckles went white.

Nat shook his head. He felt that he had done what he could to slow down the car. There was nothing left now but to face the end as resolutely as possible. As long as they lived the Motor Rangers never forgot that wild ride down the mountainside in a runaway car.

The speed can be described by no other word than terrific. The handkerchiefs all three of the boys wore about their necks to keep off sunstroke and dust streaked out behind as stiff as if cut out of tin. Their hair was blown back flat on their heads by the speed, and every now and then the car would strike a rock, which at the speed it was going would throw it high into the air. At such moments the auto would come back to the trail with a crash that threatened to dislocate every spring in its composition.

But Nat, his eyes glued to the path in front of him, clung to the wheel, gripping it till the varnish stuck to his palms. He knew that the slightest mistake on his part might precipitate the seemingly certain disaster. Suddenly, however, his heart gave a glad bound.

He saw before him one loophole of escape from a catastrophe. The stage was halted against the rocky wall on the right-hand side of the trail. So far over toward the rocky wall was it, in fact, that its hubs almost scraped it. This left a narrow space between its left-hand wheels and the other wall of the pass.

True, it looked so narrow that it hardly seemed possible that the auto could dash through, but it was the only chance that presented itself, and Nat was quick to take advantage of it. As they saw what the boy intended to do the onlookers about the stage broke into a cheer, which was quickly checked as they held their breath in anticipation. It was one chance in a thousand that Nat was taking. Would he win out?

Closer thundered the auto while the alarmed stage passengers crowded to the far side of the pass. Nat, his eyes glued on the narrow space between the stage and the wall of rock, bent low over the wheel. His heart underwent a terrible sinking sensation as it grew closer and he saw how narrow the space was. But he didn't give up on that account. On the contrary, the extremely narrow margin of hope acted as a tonic on his nerves.

As a naval gunner aims his big projectiles so Nat aimed the thundering runaway automobile for the narrow opening between the stage and the cliff.

Almost before he realized it he was there.

There was a quick flash of a brightly painted vehicle and white, anxious human faces as he shot by the stage and its dismounted passengers.

An ominous scraping sound was audible for an instant as the hubs of the stage and the auto's tonneau came in contact. To the left, Nat felt the scrub growing in the cracks of the rock brush his face, and then, amidst a shout of joy from behind, the auto emerged beyond the stage, unharmed save for a few scratches.

As Nat brought it to a standstill on the level, the travellers came running up at top speed. All were anxious to shake the hand of the daring boy who had turned seeming disaster into safety by his grit and cool-headedness.

"Pod'ner, you jammed that thar gas brigantine through that lilly hole like you wos makin' a poket at bill-yards," admiringly cried a tall man in a long linen duster and sombrero, about whose throat was a red handkerchief. He grasped Nat's hand and wrung it as if he would have shaken it off.

"My name's Cal Gifford. I'm the driver of the Lariat-to-Hombre stage," he announced, "and any of you kids kin ride free with me any time you've a mind to."

"Thank you," said Nat, still a bit trembly from his nervous strain, "I really believe that if you only had horses we'd accept your invitation and tow the auto behind."

As he spoke he started to scramble out of the car, the others following his example. The Motor Rangers were anxious to see what had gone wrong with their ordinarily trustworthy vehicle.

"Oh, he's quite young," simpered an elderly lady in a big veil, who was accompanied by her daughter, a girl of about twenty. An old man with fierce white whiskers stood beside them. They were evidently tourists. So, too, was a short, stout, blonde little man as rotund as a cider keg, who stepped up to the boys as they prepared to examine their car.

"Holt, plez!" he said in an authoritative voice. "I vish to take zee phitograft."

Nat looked somewhat astonished at so curt an order, but the other two Motor Rangers merely grinned.

"Better let him, pod'ner," suggested Cal Gifford. "He took them road agents a while back. Caught 'em in the act of sneaking the express box."

"Chess!" sputtered the little German. "I gedt find pigdures of all of dem. Dey vossn't looking andt I-click!"

As he spoke he rapidly produced a camera, and before the boys knew what was happening he had pressed a little lever, and behold they were "taken." But, in fact, their minds had been busy with something else. This something was what the stage driver had referred to.

"Road agents?" asked Nat. "You've been held up, then?"

"Yep, pod'ner, that's what it amounts to," drawled Cal nonchalantly, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world.

"The varmints stepped out frum behind that thar rock and we didn't hev time ter say 'Knife' afore we found ourselves lookin' inter the muzzles of as complete a collection of rifles as you ever saw."

"Un dey tooked avay der horses by der oudtside," put in the German tourist. "Oh, I schall have me fine tales to tell ven I get me pack by der Faderland."

"The D

utchman's right," said Cal. "The onnery skunks unhitched our plugs and scampered 'em off up the trail. I reckon they're in their barn at Lariat by this time."

"Oh, dear, and we'll have to walk," cried the young lady, bursting into tears.

"And I haf vot you call it, a oatmeal?-py my pig toe," protested the German.

"I guess you mean a corn, Dutchy," laughed Cal.

"Vell, I knowed it vos some kindt of cereal," was the reply.

"Seems a shame to see that purty critter cry, don't it?" said Cal, nodding his head sidewise toward the weeping young lady.

"This is an outrage! An outrage, I say!" her white-whiskered father began shouting. "Why were those highwaymen not shot down? Why didn't somebody act?"

"Well, pod'ner, you acted up fer sure," grinned Cal. "Am I mistaken or did I hear you say you'd give 'em five thousand dollars for your life?"

"Bah!" shouted the white-whiskered man. "It was your duty sure to protect us. You should have fired at them."

"I'd hev bin a hull lot uv use to yer then, except fer funeral poposes, wouldn't I?" inquired Cal calmly.

"Bah! sir, bah!" sputtered the angry old gentleman.

"Good thing ther h'aint no mounting lions 'round," drawled Cal. "They might think we wuz an outfit of sheepmen by all the bah-bahing we be doin'."

"But how is my daughter to get to Lariat, sir?" begged the elderly lady. "She hurt her foot in getting off the stage."

"Well, ma'am," said Cal, "supposing yer man yonder takes a try at carryin' her instead of wasting wind a-bahing?"

"Voss iss diss bah? Maybe I get a picture of him?" asked the German, bustling up excitedly with his camera all ready for business.

"Oh, sir, my husband was excited. He didn't know what he was saying," exclaimed the elderly lady clasping her hands.

"There, ma'am, don't take on. I was only a-having my bit of fun," said Cal. "Maybe when these boys get their gasoline catamarang fixed up they'll give us a ride."

"But they cannot take all of us, sir," cried the lady, beginning to weep afresh.

"There, there, ma'am, never mind ther irrigation-I mean 'Weep not them tears,'" comforted Cal. "Anyhow, you and your daughter can get a ride."

"But my husband-my poor husband, sir."

Cal turned with a grin at a sudden noise behind them. The white-whiskered man had now turned his wrath on the unfortunate German.

"Out of my sight, you impudent Teuton," he was shouting. "Don't aggravate me, sir, or I'll have your blood. I'm a peaceable tourist, sir, but I have fought and bled in my time."

"Must hev bin bit by a mosquito and chased it," commented Cal to himself as the lady hastened to console her raging better half, and the little Dutchman skipped nimbly out of harm's way.

"What yo' bin a-doing to ther ole bell-wether, Dutchy?" inquired Cal.

"I ask him if he blease tell me vere I can get a picture of dot Bah, und he get madt right avay quvick," explained the Teuton.

While all this had been going on among the tourists and Cal, the other passengers, mainly mountaineers, had stood in a group aside talking among themselves. In the meanwhile, the Motor Rangers had been examining the damage to their car. They found that the connecting rod working the band of the emergency brake had snapped, and that a blacksmith would be needed to weld it. Cal, who had strolled up in time to hear this decision, informed them that there was a blacksmith at Lariat.

"And a good 'un, too," he volunteered.

The stage driver then made a request for a ride on behalf of the young lady and her parents.

"Me and the Dutchman and the rest kin hoof it," he remarked. "It ain't above five mile, and down grade, too."

"A steep grade?" asked Nat, with some appearance of interest as Joe finished unbolting the loose ends of the broken rod.

"No, jest gentle. It runs on 'bout this way all down into Lariat."

"Well, then," said Nat, with a smile, "I'll save you all the trouble of walking."

"How's that, pod'ner? We kain't all pile in the hold of that benzine buggy."

"No; but I can give you a tow."

"What, hitch my stage on ahind your oleomargerinerous gas cart?"

"That's it."

"By the big peak of Mount Whitney, that's an idee!" exclaimed the delighted stage driver, capering about and snapping his fingers like a big child. "Wait a jiffy, I'll explain it all to Bah-bah and the rest."

This was soon done, and the Motor Rangers in the interval attached a rope to the rear axle of the car and in turn made it fast to the front of the stage. The pole of the latter vehicle was then led over the tonneau of the auto and Joe and Ding-dong deputed to steer. From the driver's box of the stage Cal worked the brake.

An experimental run of a few yards was made, and on the gentle grade the plan was found to work perfectly, the auto towing the heavy stage without difficulty.

"Now, then, all aboard the stagemotebubble!" shouted Cal, and a few minutes later all the passengers, delighted with the novelty of the experience, had piled on board. All delighted, that is, except the white-whiskered man.

"All aboard that's a-goin' ter get thar!" bellowed Cal, fixing him with a baleful eye.

"Bah! Bah!" sputtered the white-whiskered one indignantly, nevertheless skipping nimbly on beside his wife and daughter.

But there came a fresh delay.

"Holt on, blease! Vait! I vish a photegrift to take him!"

"Ef yer don't hurry up Dutchy," shouted Cal, "you'll hev a picter of yerself a-walking inter Lariat."

But the photo was taken without delay, and amid a cheer from her overjoyed passengers, the stage, which moved by such novel means, rumbled onward on its way to Lariat.

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