Chapter XXI News of Blackie Crowden - The Rover boys on a Tour by Edward Stratemeyer

It was a moment of extreme peril, and what made it seem worse was the fact that the Rovers and the others could do nothing to save themselves.

Rocks, small stones and dirt flew all around them, striking with loud noises the hoods and other metal parts of the automobiles, and even landing in the tonneaus of the larger cars.

"Hold up the robes! Protect yourselves with the robes!" yelled Dick, but before the ladies could heed his words the rain of rocks, small stones and dirt had come to an end.

"Great Caesar! that's a fine happening!" groaned Tom, who had been hit on the shoulder by a fair-sized stone. He looked quickly at those in the car with him. "Any of you hurt?"

"I got hit in the head with something," returned Sam. "But it didn't hurt very much. How about you?" and he looked at Grace and at Tom's wife.

"I--I don't think I am hurt any," faltered Grace, as she looked at some stones and dirt on the robe over her lap.

"I'm all right," answered Tom's wife. "But, oh dear! something--I think it must have been a big stone--flew directly past my face!"

"I hope the others got off as well as we did," remarked Tom. "Let us go and see," and, suiting the action to the word, he left the machine, followed by his brother.

The second car had a dent in the hood made by a stone as big as Tom's fist. All those in the automobile had been hit by some smaller stones and also covered with loose dirt, but no one had been seriously injured, although Mrs. Laning declared that some of the dirt had entered her left ear and also her eye.

"Let me look at that eye," cried Mrs. Stanhope, as soon as she had recovered from the shock of the second blast. And then she went to work on the optic, and presently Mrs. Laning declared that the eye was as well as ever.

As Chester Waltham and his sister had been farther back on the road, around the turn of the cliff, they had not felt the effects of the second explosion excepting a slight shower of dirt which had covered the front of the runabout. But the young millionaire and his sister were greatly excited, and the former got out of his machine to run up to the Italian with the red flag and shake his fist in the man's face.

"You--you rascal!" he spluttered. "What do you mean by sending us into such peril as this? You ought to be put into prison!"

"I-a, I-a forget heem," faltered the foreigner helplessly. "I tink only one blas'. I forget two blas'," and he looked very downhearted.

But this time the man who had been up on the hillside came running to the scene of the mishap, followed by several of the workmen.

"Anybody hurt?" sang out the man, who was an American in charge of the blasting gang.

"Nothing very serious," answered Dick. "But it might have been," he added sharply. "You fellows ought to be more careful."

"I told Tony to keep everybody back for two blasts," answered the man.

"Why didn't you stay back until you heard the second blast?"

"He told us to go on," answered Tom.

"I make mistake," cried the Italian. "You forgive, boss," and he looked pleadingly at Dick and the others.

"Well, you don't want to make any more mistakes like that," returned Dick. "If we had gotten a little closer somebody might have been killed."

"That's the second time you have failed to obey orders, Tony," said the gang master, sternly. "You go on up to the shanty and get your time and clear out. I won't have such a careless man as you around."

At these words the Italian looked much crestfallen. He began to jabber away in a mixture of English and his own tongue, both to his boss and to our friends. But the boss would not listen to him, and ordered him away, and then he departed, looking decidedly sullen.

"I can't do anything with some of these fellows," explained the man in charge of the blasting. "I tell them just what to do, and sometimes they mind me and sometimes they don't. I'm very sorry this thing happened, but I'm thankful at the same time that you got through as well as you did," and he smiled a little.

"You're not half as thankful as we are," put in Sam, dryly.

"I hope there is no damage done to your cars, but if there is I'm willing to pay for it," went on the man.

"A few dents, but I guess that is all," answered Dick, after a look at both the car he was driving and the one run by his brother. "We'll let those go, for we are on a tour and have no time to waste here."

"All right, sir, just as you say. But here is my card; I don't want to sneak out of anything for which I'm responsible," continued the man. "If you find anything wrong later on you let me know and I'll fix it up with you."

"We ought to sue this fellow for damages!" cried Chester Waltham, wrathfully. "It's an outrage to treat us like this."

"Were you hurt in any way?" asked the man, quietly.

"We got a lot of dirt and stones on the runabout," growled Waltham.

"Oh, Chester! don't quarrel over the matter," entreated his sister, in a low tone. "The man didn't want to do it."

"Oh, these follows are too fresh," grumbled the young millionaire. "The authorities ought to take them in hand," and then he reentered his runabout, looking in anything but a happy mood.

"Do you think we can go ahead on this road now?" asked Dick, after a few more words had passed between the Rovers and the man who had the blasting in charge.

"I think so," was the reply. "Just wait a few minutes and I'll have my gang of men clear a way for you." He was evidently a fair and square individual who wanted to do the right thing in every particular, and the Rovers could not help but like him.

"It was all that Italian's fault," remarked Sam to Tom, while they were waiting for the road to be cleared of the largest of the rocks. "If he had kept us back as he was ordered to do there would have been no trouble."

"He looked mighty mad when he went off," was Tom's answer. "If that fellow in charge here doesn't look out, that chap may put up some job on him."

Inside of ten minutes the man in charge of the blasting told them they could go ahead, and so on they went as before, with Tom again in the lead. As they passed by they saw numerous places along the face of the cliff where other blasting had taken place. The man had explained that the work was being done by the contractors in order to widen the road in that vicinity.

About a mile and a half beyond the cliff, nestling in the midst of a number of pretty farms, they came to the town of Fernwood, the place at which they were to stop for their midday meal. They had the name of the leading hotel on their list, and found the hostelry a fairly large and comfortable one.

"I think we'll want a good washing up after that experience," remarked Dick, when the automobiles had been placed in the hotel garage. "My!

but that was a narrow escape!" and he shuddered at the recollection.

"You fellows were mighty easy with that man," observed Chester Waltham.

"He ought to have been made to suffer for his carelessness."

"Well, if you want to sue him, Waltham, you go ahead and do it," said Dick somewhat sharply. He was beginning to like the young millionaire less and less the more he came in contact with him.

A table had been reserved for the entire party, and soon the well-cooked meal put even Chester Waltham in better humor. Now that the danger from the blast was a thing of the past, they could afford to smile over the somewhat thrilling experience.

"Maybe after this it would be a good idea to ride with the tops up,"

said Tom. "Only we'd have to make them stone proof as well as rainproof," and at this remark there was a general smile.

"Remember, Tom, I'm to be at the wheel this afternoon," announced Sam, who thus far had not had much chance to do any steering on the trip.

"All right, little boy, you for the pilot act!" returned his fun-loving brother, gaily. "But remember what the girls told you--no speeding. The law in this state is four and one-eighth miles an hour, except on turning corners, where it is two and one-sixteenth miles," and at this little joke there was a titter from the girls.

As it was so warm during the middle of the day, it had been decided that they should not proceed on their tour until about three o'clock. This gave the ladies a chance to rest themselves, something which was particularly satisfying to Mrs. Stanhope and Mrs. Laning.

"I think I'll take a look around the town," said Tom, after the ladies had gone to one of the upper rooms. "Will you go along?" and he looked enquiringly at his brothers and Chester Waltham.

"I am going to write a letter to dad," answered Dick.

"I think I'll write a letter myself and enjoy a smoke," came from the young millionaire.

"I'm with you, Tom," returned his younger brother. "Let's go out and see if we can't capture a nice box of chocolates for the girls."

Tom and Sam were soon on the way. The main street of Fernwood contained less than four blocks of stores, and there was a cross street with half a dozen other establishments. But the place was a railroad center and, consequently, was of quite some importance.

Having walked up and down the main street, and procured a box of chocolates and a few other things, the two Rovers wandered off in the direction of the railroad station. A train had just come in, and they watched the passengers alight and then others get aboard. They were particularly interested in the discomfiture of a fat traveling salesman who came puffing up on the platform, a suitcase in each hand, just in time to see the train depart. The fat man was very angry, but this availed him nothing.

"It's a shame! a shame!" howled the traveling salesman, as he threw his suitcases down in disgust. "I know that train left at least two minutes ahead of time," he stormed to the station master.

"You're wrong there, mister," was the ready answer. "She was a minute late."

"Nonsense! Nonsense!" stormed the disappointed individual. "I tell you she left ahead of time. I ought to sue the railroad company for this,"

and he shook his head savagely.

"Gosh! we are up against people who want to sue everybody," was Sam's remark. "That fellow ought to join Chester Waltham, and then they could hire one lawyer to do the whole business."

"I might have been here five minutes ago if I hadn't been a fool,"stormed the fat salesman, as he looked for comfort at the two Rovers.

"That comes from trying to be accommodating. I was headed for this place when down there at the Ludding House I met a fellow who wanted to know how to get to Stockbridge. He stuttered so that it took me about five minutes to find out what he wanted."

"Stuttered, did he?" questioned Tom, curiously.

"He sure did! He had an awful stutter with a funny little whistle in between. I wish I hadn't waited to listen to him. I might have had that train, confound it!" went on the fat salesman, pulling down his face.

"Did you say that fellow stuttered and whistled?" broke in Sam eagerly.

"He certainly did."

"Will you tell me what kind of a looking man he was?"

"Sure!" answered the salesman, and then started to give as good a description of the individual as his recollection would permit.

"It must have been Blackie Crowden!" cried the youngest Rover, before the man had finished.

"I don't know what his name was," said the salesman.

"We want to catch that man the worst way," went on Sam. "Have you any idea where we can find him?"

"He asked me the way to Stockbridge, so I suppose he was going there,"

was the reply.

"Where is Stockbridge?"

"It's down on the road past the Ludding House. It's about five miles from here."

"Do you suppose the man was going to walk it?"

"I don't know about that. You must remember I was in a hurry to catch the train. Hang the luck! I wish I hadn't stopped to talk to that man,"

went on the fat salesman.

"And I'm very glad that you did stop to talk to him," returned Sam. He looked at his brother. "Come on, Tom, let us see if we can find Blackie Crowden."