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CHAPTER XIII


DICK'S BRAVE ACT


"Hold on!" cried Dick, as he saw revealed a maze of wheels, levers, belts and cranks. "What is this? Who are you?"

For an instant he thought the thing might be an infernal machine.

"Who am I?" asked the man. "Why, I'm Silas Kendall, of Manlius Centre, an' this is my perpetual motion machine. Wait until I take th' chain off so's it can git inter motion an' ye'll open yer eyes, I reckon."

"Is it dangerous?" asked Bricktop, preparing to run.

"Not a bit, if ye don't put yer fingers in th' wheels. It wouldn't harm a baby."

He drew from his pocket a key, which he proceeded to insert into a big lock that held together the ends of a chain which was twisted about the biggest wheel on the machine.

"Have t' keep it chained up," he said, with a queer sort of smile, "or it would keep on workin' all th' while. Fll show ye—Silas Kendall—he'll astonish th' world. Ye got my letter, I reckon," turning to Dick.

"Letter? No. What letter?"

"Th' one I writ ye about this machine."

"I don't remember—oh, yes," added Dick, quickly. He did recall among the many letters he had received recently (begging epistles most of them), one in which the writer said he would soon call to exhibit a new machine he had invented, and one which was destined to make all interested in it rich for life. But Dick thought it was just like lots of other missives he had been receiving from cranks since the advent of his wealth, and he threw it away. Now, it seemed, the letter was from Mr. Kendall.

"Is that really a perpetual motion machine?" asked Frank, who, with the other boys, was much interested in such things.

"Of course it is," replied the man. "I invented it all by myself. I'll tell ye a little about it before I unchain th' critter an' let it git t' work. Did ye fasten th' hoss, Mandy?" he asked, as his wife approached.

"Yep, Silas. Now, do be careful of that contraption. I ain't got no faith in it," she said, turning to the boys.

"No, that's jest th' way with wimmin," remarked Silas. "Yet I really invented it for her."

"How?" asked Dick.

"Wa'al, I was watchin' her churn one day, an' I thought how awful it was that wimmin had t' work so hard. So I decided, if I could invent a machine that would do th' work it would be a great labor-savin' device. Wa'al, I went t' work on it—"

"An' he never give up fer a year," interrupted his wife. "He neglected th' farm until it ain't worth shucks. He spent all he had saved up t' buy machinery, an' he ain't hardly slept nights with worryin' over perpetual motion. I wish he'd throw it away an' go back t' farmin'. He made money that way."

"Farmin's too hard work, Mandy," joined in Mr. Kendall. "We'll be rich now, fer this machine is destined t' revolutionize th' world. I come, jest as I writ ye," he went on, turning to Dick, "t' give ye th' fust chance t' git stock in th' new company I'm goin' t' form t' make th' machines. They don't cost much, and we'll be millionaires in a year. If you've got a leetle t' invest you'll git big dividends out of this."

"Let's see how it w^orks," suggested Walter.

"All right," assented Silas. "I'm goin' t' unchain th' perpetual motion machine. She'll begin t' whizz as soon as I take th' shackles off, an' then—wa'al, watch out, that's all."

He sprung open the padlock with a click and the chain rattled to the ground. As it did so Mr. Kendall sprang back, as though the machine might bite him. He stooped down and peered toward it as if it might spring at him. But nothing happened. The machine was as motionless as a hitching post.

"Hum! Suthin's wrong," murmured the inventor. "Guess it got a leetle stiff comin' over in th' wagon. I'll jest give it a start. Where's a pole? Mandy, git me a clothes pole."

His wife went to the back yard, where she had noticed some, and while she was gone the boys looked at the apparatus.

It consisted of a big wheel, with spokes made in zig-zag fashion. The spokes were shaped like a trough and contained a number of metal balls, which were prevented from falling out, as the wheel turned, by some strips of wood.

There were other smaller wheels connected with the big one, and a tall chute, with a sort of endless chain, to which were attached hooks and buckets. There were also several heavy springs.

"Ye see th' way it works," explained Mr. Kendall, "is by them balls. They roll down the spokes of th' wheel, toward the tire, so t' speak, an', of course, their weight makes th' wheel go 'round. Then, when they git t' th' end of th' spokes they drop out an' roll toward th' high chute. Soon as th' balls git thar th' endless chain an' th' hooks an' buckets on it catches hold of th' balls an' lifts 'em t' th' top. Then they drop inter th' hollow spokes agin an' th' same process goes on over agin. It goes on forever, like th' brook that poetry feller writ about—I forgit his name. It's perpetual motion as sure as ye're a foot high. Ah, here comes Mandy with th' clothes pole. Now I'll jest give th' big wheel a start, 'count of it gittin' stuck, an' you'll see suthin' worth watchin'."

With the long clothes pole Silas gave the big wheel a cautious poke. It began to move slowly, and he released a big spring.

"Stand back, everybody!" he called. "She vibrates suthin' terrible when she gits goin', an' I don't want nobody t' git hurt!"

At first the wheel barely turned. Silas gave it another prod with the clothes pole and it moved more quickly. Then it released another spring and began to gather speed. Faster and faster it went, the iron balls rolling along the hollow spokes and dropping out with a noise like distant thunder.

"There she goes!" cried the old man, his chin whiskers vibrating in the intensity of his excitement. "There she goes!"

Faster and faster the wheel whizzed around. The balls began dropping with such a continuous noise that one had to shout to be heard.

"How do you stop it?" called Dick.

"No, it won't stop," replied Mr. Kendall, misunderstanding the question.

"Well, how you going to get it home?" shouted Bricktop.

"Oh, when I want to stop it I jest throw th' chain at it, an' it tangles up in th' wheel, an' slows up enough so I can fasten it. If I didn't it would go on—forever—jest like that there brook."

The machine did seem to be working well, although only on account of the strong springs. The balls, as they rolled down the inclined spokes, imparted a swift motion to the wheel. The released balls ran down an incline to the foot of the chute, and the lifting belt began to slowly turn over on the wheels on which it worked. Then something happened.

Whether Silas had not built his machine strong enough to stand the strain, or whether the perpetual motion was too much for it, was never disclosed. At any rate, when the big wheel was revolving at a rapid rate, and the balls were dropping out like immense hail stones, there was a sudden rending, splitting, breaking and cracking of wood. Then the machine seemed to creak and groan in agony. Next there was a snapping sound and the air was filled with a shower of black iron balls, as though a bombshell had burst.

"Duck, everybody!" yelled Dick. "The thing's exploded!"

The machine fairly flew apart, splinters of wood, bits of iron, belts, spokes, chute, inclines and everything was scattered to the thirty-two points of the compass.

"Oh, Silas!" exclaimed Mrs. Kendall. "There it goes!"

"Yep," answered Silas, as he ran to get under a tree. "Thar she goes, sure enough, Mandy!"

There sounded dull thuds as the balls struck the earth. Fortunately no one was hit. Then it began to rain bits of wood.

"I guess it's all over," said Dick, as he and his chums looked down from the porch where they had taken refuge. "What happened, Mr. Kendall?"

"Everything," replied the inventor, in gloomy tones. "I see what th' matter was. Th' big wheel was too strong for th' rest of th' machine. Them balls give it too much power an' it jest naturally went to flinders. I see my mistake now. I'll build it all of iron next time. Wa'al, they say experience teaches us, an' this sure has been a great experience!"

"It sure has, Silas," remarked his wife. "You'd better give it up now, an' go back t' farmin'. That'll pay."

"No, sir," replied Silas, firmly. "I'm goin' t' make a perpetual motion machine before I die, an' don't ye forgit it. I see where I made a mistake an' I'll profit by it. I don't s'pose ye'll want t' invest anythin' in it until I make my new model?" he asked Dick.

"No, I think not," answered the millionaire's son.

"Wa'al, I'll call on ye agin when I git it re-built," promised Silas, as he piled the bits of his broken machine into the wagon and drove off.

"Say, Dick, what'll it be next?" asked Walter, as they watched the disappointed farmer driving away. "I never knew it was so exciting to be rich."

"Oh, it's exciting, all right," answered Dick, and he added: "I don't think that was a real perpetual motion machine. The springs made it work. But, come on, or it will be too late for our motor boat ride."

With a big basket, filled with good things to eat, which the cook obligingly put up for them, the four boys were soon at the dock where Dick's craft was moored.

"Let's go to Handell's Island," proposed Bricktop. "I heard there was a cave there that no one ever got to the end of."

"That'll be fun. We'll explore it," said Dick, always ready for any sort of an adventure.

Heading the boat toward the island, which was about ten miles away, the boys stretched out on the cushions to enjoy the trip. It was a beautiful July day, hot enough to make a ride on the lake the height of enjoyment.

They reached the island in quick time, for the boat was a fast one, but, to their disappointment, the cave did not prove so mysterious as they had hoped. They managed to get to the end of it, though the way was choked with dirt and rocks, and found nothing of interest.

"This cave is a regular lemon," announced Bricktop.

"What did you hope for? To find some of Captain Kidd's treasure?" asked Walter.

"Well, it might have been used by the Indians once," was the red-haired youth's answer. "Some day I'm going to bring a lantern and see if I can't find a few arrow heads or the graves of some dead Indians."

In spite of their disappointment, the boys managed to have a good time, to which the fine lunch added not a little. It was getting dusk when they started for home, with Dick at the steering wheel.

As they approached the dock at Hamilton Corners they saw, when a mile away, that the lake in the vicinity of the boat-house was lighted up.

"What's going on?" asked Walter.

"Oh, it's carnival night," replied Dick. "I forgot all about it. They're going to have a procession of boats on the lake. We'll hurry up and join in. I wish I'd thought to decorate my boat."

He speeded up the craft, anxious, as were the other boys, to take part in the water pageant. They bore down on a little fleet of boats, gaily decorated, and filled with merry, laughing, young persons. The procession was just forming.

Suddenly there sounded a sharp report aboard Dick's boat.

"The motor back-fired," he said. "Take the wheel, Walter, while I look after it."

But, a moment later, it was seen that it was no mere back-fire in a cylinder. A sheet of flame arose from the bottom of the craft.

"The gasolene tank has exploded!" yelled Dick. "Jump for your lives, boys! The boat's afire!"

Above the hissing, crackling flames the motor still puffed away, sending the boat straight toward a confused flotilla of other craft, the occupants of which set up screams of terror as they saw what had happened.

"Jump!" cried Dick again, as he crawled aft and tried to shut off the engine.

Three splashes in the water told that his companions had leaped overboard and were comparatively out of danger.

"Come on, Dick!" cried Bricktop, rising to the surface. "Jump, or you'll be burned to death."

"I can't!" yelled back Dick, shielding his face from the awful flames with his arm. "I've got to shut off the engine, or the boat'll run into some other one and set it afire!"

Once more he bravely tried to work his way to the engine. He could not reach the gasolene cock from where he was. He cast a look ahead, and saw that his boat was approaching, at swift speed, a knot of other boats, the steersmen of which were too confused to know what to do. Some were getting out of the way, but others were in the direct course of the burning craft

"What can I do?" Dick asked himself in a hoarse whisper. "I must stop the boat, or steer it out of the way—but how?"

He could neither reach the engine nor the wheel, for the fire was now raging in bow and stern. He stood in a little cockpit amidships, where, for the moment, there were no flames.

Dick looked desperately about him. Nearer and nearer his craft shot to the boats containing girls in their light summer dresses. Once the burning motor boat touched the craft in which the young women were their clothes would envelop them in flames.

"I must stop my boat!" thought Dick, desperately.

Then a brilliant idea came to him. He gave one look at the whirring fly-wheel of the motor. Then, seizing a heavy monkey wrench he opened the jaws and fastened it on a boat hook, so that it stood at right angles to it. Then he thrust the wrench right into the fly-wheel.

There was a grinding, crashing sound, and, a moment later, the whizzing wheel spokes had caught the wrench, and, with resistless force, had driven it through the bottom of the craft.

Dick had scuttled his own boat!