Chapter XX A Moment of Peril - The Rover boys on a Tour by Edward Stratemeyer

"This is the life!"

"That's right, Tom. This kind of touring suits me to death," returned Sam Rover.

"Tom, how many miles an hour are you making?" broke in his wife.

"Remember what you promised me--that you would keep within the limit of the law."

"And that is just what I am doing, Nellie," he answered. "But it's mighty hard to do it, believe me, when you are at the wheel of such a fine auto as this. Why, I could send her ahead twice as fast if I wanted to!"

"Don't you dare!" burst out Grace, who sat in the tonneau beside her sister. "If you do I'll make you let Sam drive."

"He's got to let me drive anyway after dinner," said the youngest Rover boy. "That's the arrangement."

It was the second day of the tour, and Valley Brook Farm, and in fact the whole central portion of New York State, had been left far behind.

The weather had turned out perfect, and so far they had encountered very little in the way of bad roads. Once they had had to make a detour of two miles on account of a new bridge being built, but otherwise they had forged straight ahead.

Tom and his wife, with Grace and Sam, occupied the first automobile, the remaining space in the roomy tonneau being taken up by various suitcases and other baggage. Behind this car came the one driven by Dick Rover.

Beside him was his wife, with Mrs. Stanhope and Mrs. Laning behind them.

Some distance to the rear was the third machine, a brand-new runabout, containing Chester Waltham and his sister Ada. Waltham had at first wished to take the lead, but had then dropped behind, stating he did not wish to get the others to follow him on any wrong road.

"You go ahead," he had said to the Rovers. "Then if you go wrong you will have only yourselves to blame."

"Well, we don't know any more about these roads than you do, Waltham,"

Dick had replied. "We are simply going by the guide book and the signs."

"I hate to use up my brains studying an automobile guide," Chester Waltham had returned with a yawn. "When I am on an outing I like to take it just as easy as I possibly can."

"It's a wonder you didn't bring a paid chauffeur along," had been Sam's comment.

"I thought something of doing that, but my sister objected. She said if she was to go along I must run the car. You see, she wants me to risk my neck as well as her own," and the young millionaire had smiled grimly.

They had been running for several miles over a road that was comparatively straight. On either side were tidy farms, with occasional farmhouses and barns. Now, however, the road became winding, and they soon passed into a patch of timber.

"Four miles to the next town," announced Sam, as they rolled past a signboard. He looked at his watch. "Quarter after eleven. Do you think we had better stop there for dinner, Tom?"

"No, we are going on to Fernwood, six miles farther," was the reply.

"They say the hotel there is much better. And, believe me, when you get away from the big cities the best hotel you can find in a town is none too good."

It had been rather warm on the open road, and all those in the automobiles welcomed the shade of the woods.

"It's a pity we didn't bring our lunch along," said Dora to Dick, as they moved along at a slower rate of speed. "We could have had a good time picnicking along here."

"Yes, we'll have to dine out in the woods sometimes on this trip," put in Mrs. Laning. "I like that sort of thing much better than taking all our meals in hotels or restaurants."

The first automobile had reached a spring by the roadside, and here Tom came to a halt, presently followed by the others. Collapsible cups were handy, and all were ready for a drink of the pure, cool water which the spring afforded.

"Fine! isn't it?" exclaimed Dick, after the ladies had been served and he had had a cupful himself.

"You're right," answered Tom. "A good deal better than that bottled water we have down in the New York offices."

"But it can't beat the water on the farm," said Sam. "I must say no matter where I go the water doesn't taste quite as good as that at Valley Brook."

"Oh, that's only sentiment, Sam!" cried Grace. "Now, I think the water at Cedarville is just lovely."

"I think you are taking a little chance in drinking from a spring like this," was Chester Waltham's comment. "It may be pure, and then again it may be full of all sorts of germs."

"Sure! it may be full of tadpoles and bullfrogs, too," added Tom, gaily.

"But you've got to take some chances in this life, as the fly said when he flew down into the molasses jug and got stuck there," and at this little joke there was a general smile.

Beyond the spring the road went uphill for a long distance, and then took a turn to the southward, past more farms and over a bridge spanning a tiny stream. Then they came to a small town, looking dry, dusty and almost deserted in the midday, summer sun.

"I am glad we didn't arrange to stop here," was Nellie's comment, as she glanced around.

The sleepy little town was soon left behind, and once again they found themselves passing over a series of hills, dotted here and there with farms and patches of woodland. Then they came to a place which was very uneven and filled with rocks.

"Got to be careful here unless we want to get a puncture," announced Tom, and at once reduced speed.

They were running on another winding road which seemed to bear off to the northward. Here there was something of a cliff, with great, rocky boulders standing out in bold relief.

Suddenly, as Tom reached a bend, he saw a man coming towards them. He was an Italian, and carried a small red flag in one hand.

"Back! You-a git-a back!" cried the man, waving his red flag at them.

"Blas'! Blas'! You git-a back!"

The grade was downward and the man had appeared so suddenly that before Tom could bring the first automobile to a standstill he had gotten at least a hundred feet beyond the Italian, while the second car, run by Dick, was by the man's side.

"What's the trouble here?" demanded Dick.

"You git-a back! You git-a back!" exclaimed the Italian, frantically.

"Blas' go off! You git-a back!"

"Hi, Tom, come back here!" yelled Dick. "This fellow says there is a blast going off."

Tom was already trying to heed the warning. He had stopped so suddenly, however, that he had stalled his engine and now he had to take time in which to use the electric starter. In the meanwhile, the Italian workman ran still farther back, to warn Chester Waltham and anybody else who might be coming along the road.

"Oh, Tom! can you turn around?" questioned his wife anxiously.

"Maybe you had better run the car backward," suggested Sam. He had noted the narrowness of the roadway and knew it would be no easy matter to turn around in such limited space. Besides that, there was a deep gully on one side, so that they would run the risk of overturning.

"Yes, I'll back if Dick will only give me room," muttered Tom, as he pressed the lever of the self-starter. Then after the power was once more generated he threw in the reverse gear and allowed the car to back up.

"That's the way to do it, Tom," yelled Dick. "Come on, I'll get out of the way," and he, too, began to back until he was close on to the Waltham runabout.

"Look out! Don't bump into me!" yelled Chester Waltham, who for the moment seemed to be completely bewildered by what was taking place.

"What's the matter anyway?" he demanded of the Italian.

"Oh, Chester, there must be some danger!" shrieked his sister. "Say!

they are both backing up. Maybe you had better back up too."

"All right, if that's what they want," answered the young millionaire, and then in his hurry tried to reverse so quickly that he, too, stalled his engine.

"Back up! Back up!" called out Dick. "We've got to get out of here!

There is some sort of blasting going on ahead!"

"Oh, Dick, be careful!" cried Mrs. Stanhope, and sprang up in the tonneau of the car in alarm, quickly followed by Mrs. Laning.

"You will run into Mr. Waltham, sure!" wailed the latter.

"Don't smash into me! Don't smash into me!" yelled the young millionaire in sudden terror. "If you bump into me you'll send me into the ditch!"

By this time Dick's car was less than three feet away from the runabout, while Tom's machine was still some distance farther up the road.

Boom! There was a distant explosion, not very loud; and following this came a clatter as of stones falling on the rocks. None of the stones, however, fell anywhere near the three machines.

"Oh!" cried Grace.

"Is that all there is to it?" queried Nellie, anxiously.

"I don't know," returned Tom. He had now brought his automobile once more to a standstill.

All in the three machines waited for a moment. Then they gazed enquiringly at the Italian who stood behind them.

"Say, is that all the blasting there is?" demanded Chester Waltham.

"Dat's heem," responded the foreigner. "He go off all right, boss. You go," and he waved the stick of his flag for them to proceed.

"Some scare--and all for nothing," muttered Tom. "The way he carried on you would think they were going to shake down half of yonder cliff."

"Oh, Tom, they don't dare to take chances," returned Nellie. "Why, if we had gone on we might have been showered with those stones we heard falling."

"You fellows want to be careful how you back up," grumbled Chester Waltham. "You came pretty close to smashing into me."

"Well, you should have backed up yourself when you heard us yell,"

retorted Dick, sharply. "We didn't know how bad that blast was going to be."

Tom had already started forward, and in a moment more Dick and Chester Waltham followed. But hardly had they done this when the Italian on the road suddenly let out another yell.

"Boss! Boss! You-a stop!" he cried. "You-a stop queek! De two-a blas'!

You-a stop!" and he danced up and down in added alarm.

Those who had gone on paid no attention to him, and an instant later passed around a corner of the cliff. As they did this they saw a man on the open hillside waving his arm and shouting something they could not understand.

"Tom, something is wrong----" began Sam, when, of a sudden, his words were swallowed up in a fierce roar and rumble that seemed to shake the very ground beneath them. They saw a flash of fire in an opening of the cliff, and the next instant a burst of flames and smoke was followed by a rain of rocks all around them!