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THE BICYCLE THAT WON OUT

By RALPH HENRY BARBOUR

Author of "The Crimson Sweater," "Crofton Chums," etc.

The Parkville Bicycle Club came into being between four and five o'clock one early June afternoon, partly around the horseblock in front of Ernest Paskert's house and partly in the loft of Tod Manley's stable. The adjournment to the stable was made in order that the election of officers might take place without the assistance of Ernest's sister Helen, aged seven years. Helen was unable to climb the back fence, and the proceedings of the club were conducted to the accompaniment of the young lady's howls of grief and protest.

Tod, who was sixteen and the oldest,—being Ernest's senior by two months and nine days,—was made captain. This was only fair, since the idea had been his. Besides, he owned the finest bicycle of any, a Purple Comet. Ernest became secretary and treasurer, and Joe Sterry and Sumner Story were honored with lieutenancies. These youths, with Len Osterhaut, Jerry Myers, Jack Fallon, and Barry Norris, comprised the membership. It was decided to restrict the number to eight, for the time being. Barry Norris, to be exact, was not elected to full membership, because he did not have a wheel, and it was the concensus of opinion that every member of a bicycle club should possess a wheel. But as every one liked Barry, he was allowed to put his name down, with the understanding that he was to acquire a bicycle before becoming a member in good standing.

When the meeting had adjourned, Barry and Joe Sterry walked across town together. Barry was fourteen, a rather solidly built boy, with copper-colored hair and very blue eyes. Joe was fifteen, tall and slim and dark. On the way they discussed Barry's chances of buying, begging, or borrowing a bicycle. Joe said he guessed the other could get one somewhere, and Barry agreed cheerfully. Being cheerful was Barry's long suit. Boys with red hair and blue eyes always are cheerful. Nevertheless, when Joe had turned aside into Maple Street, Barry confessed to himself that the prospect of becoming an active member of the Parkville Bicycle Club was n't very bright. He had never owned a bicycle, although he had long since learned to ride those of his friends, and he knew very well that his father was n't in a position to buy him one, even a second-hand one. He had a matter of three dollars of his own, but three dollars would n't go far in the purchase of a bicycle. And yet he did want to belong to the club. He pushed his cap to the back of his head and perplexedly ran a hand through his coppery hair. But for once that aid to reflection failed of results, and he was very silent and absent-minded during supper and put the sugar on his cold meat instead of into his cocoa.

This was on Tuesday. Four days later Barry awoke, dressed, and slipped downstairs in the early morning, avoiding the two squeaky steps and letting himself out the back door with the stealth of an Indian on a scalping expedition. Outdoors, he kept to the edge of the grass, lest his shoes should crunch too loudly on the gravel and awake his parents. The pale rays of early sunlight did marvelous things with the varnished leaves of the old Beurre Bosc pear-tree at the corner of the woodshed, while somewhere amidst the shining foliage a song-sparrow fluted joyously.

"Guess he knows it's Saturday, too," thought Barry as he pushed open the shed door.

It was cool inside and fragrant with the odor of sawdust and newly split kindling. There was a scarred and littered work-bench along one side. One could have found almost anything on that bench had he searched long enough: boxes of nails and screws and bolts and rivets, cans of half-dried paint and varnish, pieces of machinery, iron rods and springs, a discarded clock, a broken coffee-mill, a partly completed bird-box, bits of wood, shavings, iron filings and dust, and, crowning all, the rusted frame of a bicycle and one wheel.

A few minutes later the song-sparrow gave up trying to make himself heard above the din that came through the open door and flew along the side-yard to the big elm in front of the little white house. The June sun climbed higher, and jewels that sparkled on the grass disappeared. Inside the shed a hack-saw rasped or a hammer tapped on metals. And so two hours fled, and a voice called from the kitchen doorway.

"Barry! Come to breakfast, dear!" And, several minutes later: "Barry! Barry! Come to breakfast at once! Your father's down, and—"

"Yes'm, just as soon as I get this—"

"Not another minute! Now mind!"

"Oh, gee!" But Barry obeyed, for his father did n't like to be kept waiting, and there were reasons why Barry preferred not to displease him just now!

"How long have you been up, son?" asked Mr. Norris, as Barry, furtively finishing the drying of his hands on his trousers, took his place at table.

"Half-past five, sir."

"Makes a difference what day it is, does n't it?" said his father, dryly. "Yesterday your mother had to pull you out of bed."

Barry smiled sheepishly and applied himself to his cereal.

"Don't eat so fast, dear," said his mother. "That bicycle won't run away."

"No'm, it can't," mumbled the boy. "It's only got one wheel."

He observed his father speculatively, but the hint went unnoticed. Instead, "And don't talk with your mouth full," said his father, sternly.

"I know where I can get a front wheel, Ma," Barry observed, when it was safe to speak. "Mr. Perkins has one, and he says I can have it for a dollar and a quarter. It's a twenty-four inch, and the one I 've got is twenty-six, but I guess it would do."

"That's very nice, dear. Are you ready for more coffee, John?"

"No more, thanks. I must be going. Got a full day ahead at the factory." Mr. Norris pushed back his chair and arose, and Barry sighed. Grown-ups are sometimes horribly dense!

When his father had gone, Barry gulped the last of his coffee, slipped a buttered muffin into his pocket against future needs, and hurriedly folded his napkin. Then:

"May I be excused, Ma?" he asked.

"When you have folded your napkin properly, Barry."

He sighed as he shook the obnoxious thing out again and tried to make edges and creases agree.

"I want you to bring up some coal," said his mother. "And see that the wood-box is filled, too, dear. Have you sifted the ashes lately?"

"No'm; but please can't I do it this evening? I 've just got to get that bicycle together. First thing I know, the summer 'll be all gone!"

"I should n't worry about that just yet," replied Mrs. Norris, smiling. "But don't forget the ashes again, dear."

A quarter of an hour later the sound of metal tapping on metal guided Joe Sterry to the woodshed. "Hello, Barry!" he greeted. "How's The Junk-pile getting along?"

"Pretty well," answered Barry, pausing to wipe the perspiration from his brow. "Guess I 'll have it 'most done to-night."

Joe observed it dubiously. "Seems to me you need a lot of things yet," he said. "Jerry Myers says he knows a fellow over in Loganport who's got a wheel he 'll sell cheap."

"What does he call cheap?" asked Barry.

"Maybe fifteen dollars."

"Huh! Well, I have n't got any fifteen dollars. Besides, if it was any good, he would n't sell it for that."

"You can't tell," responded Joe, clearing a space on the edge of the bench and seating himself. "And he might take less. Why don't you go over there this morning and see the fellow? How much money have you got, Barry? You said you had some, did n't you?"

"I have n't got fifteen dollars, anyway," replied Barry, evasively. "Nor ten. And I guess he would n't sell for less than ten."

"No, I guess not." After a minute, during which Barry's hack-saw sent shivers up and down the visitor's spine, Joe remarked: "Archie Loomis wants to join the club."

"How can he? Thought there was only going to be eight of us."

"Well, Tod seems to think you are n't coming in, Barry."

"I'm in already! You tell Tod so, Joe. If Archie joins, some other fellow will have to get out. I'm not going to. When are they going to have the first run?"

"A week from to-day. Do you really think you can make that thing go, Barry?"

"Like a streak! You wait and see. I can get a front wheel at Perkins's, where I got this. He gave me the frame, you know, and I paid him for the back wheel. And he said he guessed he might find me some other parts, like a chain and sprocket-wheel. He's got a raft of old truck in that upstairs room of his. You know he used to be in the bicycle business before he started the garage. And I guess he 'll help me out if I get stuck putting it together. Say, hold this steady a minute, will you, while I get this bolt through? That's the ticket! How's that? Begins to look pretty good already, does n't it? When I get a coat of enamel on it you won't know it from a new one! Now I'm going over to Perkins's and see about that wheel and sprocket. Want to come along?"

By the following Saturday Barry's three dollars had disappeared, but he had a bicycle. At least, that is what he called it, although Joe still referred to it as The Junk-pile, and the other fellows variously dubbed it The Noiseless Norris, The Pumpkin, and The Yellow Peril. The color allusions were due to the fact that Barry's funds had given out before the enameling stage had been reached, and he had been forced to fall back on some pumpkin-yellow paint saved from the time when Mr. Norris had done the kitchen walls over. (Mrs. Norris had never been really happy in her kitchen since.) But what the others called his bicycle did n't bother Barry a bit. He considered it a perfectly good machine. To be sure, the front wheel was smaller than the rear, giving the impression that the rider was in the act of taking a header over the handle-bars, the pedals did n't match any better, the mud-guards were home-made, of roofer's tin, one grip was rosewood and the other electric tape, and something—Barry thought it was probably a broken ball-bearing—made a weird sort of grinding sound. And, of course, it lacked a coaster brake, to say nothing of a tool-bag, and the tires were not only mismated, but antique. But it would go, and that was enough for its proud owner. Barry's name for it was E Pluribus Unum, but he called it Plury for short. To scoffers he pointed out that some good automobiles were "assembled," and asked why an "assembled" bicycle should n't be just as satisfactory. Secretly, the scoffers thought him very clever, and Sumner Story tentatively considered trading his own Crimson Rambler for E Pluribus Unum.

Around town, that Saturday morning, Barry's wheel performed very creditably. It was n't awfully speedy, nor exactly smooth-running, and it was a trifle noisy, but at a little distance it was quite gorgeous and impressive. Not until the club had gone some four or five miles into the country along the Sandy River road did Plury show a weakness. Then the chain, a gift from Mr. Perkins, broke, and the captain called a halt while repairs were made. After that Plury pedaled a little harder than ever; and when Long Tom Hill was surmounted, poor Barry was purple of face and devoid of breath. It took him ten minutes beside the road to recover. Joe stayed with him. They did not overtake the rest of the club that afternoon, and at five o'clock were toiling through mud and a violent thunderstorm two miles short of home. Getting wet always affected Joe's temper, and he said so many unkind things about Barry's bicycle that Barry very nearly became angry. The last mile, from the mill bridge to town, was done in silence,—or what would have been silence if the thunder had n't crashed and the rain hissed,—and the friends parted without much regret on either side.

Barry managed to buy a new chain the next week, and he paid fifteen cents, besides, to a tinsmith to have the front mud-guard resoldered. The latter repair made Plury a lot quieter, but brought to Barry the rueful conclusion that bicycling was a most expensive sport.

A week later the second run was held on a warm Saturday morning. They went out on the boulevard as far as the tool factory, and then turned northward on the Plympton road, reaching Spectacle Pond at noon. There, having brought food along, they built a fire on the big flat rock by the ice-house and had fried steak and underdone potatoes and charred toast, washing down the viands with ginger ale which was allowed to cool in the pond, but had n't—much. Afterward they explored, or sat under the willows and waited for the afternoon to cool before going on. Some of them went in swimming, and Len scraped most of the skin off one leg on a sunken log, and every one had a dandy time. Barry, who had propelled E Pluribus Unum fourteen miles, spent most of the time on his back, wondering what it would be like to ride such a bicycle as Tod's Purple Comet and ruefully reflecting that the return journey, by way of Plympton and Loganport, would be a good twenty-two miles long. Now and then he felt inquiringly of his back or kneaded the muscles of his legs.

Still, by the time they were ready to go on, Barry was feeling heaps better, and he rolled E Pluribus Unum into the road quite proudly and mounted with only a very subdued groan. At Plympton a pause was made for refreshment at a drug-store. Barry, perhaps unwisely, selected a luscious-looking concoction of ice-cream, crushed strawberries, and chopped walnuts. A mile later he wished he had n't, for his stomach was now almost as unhappy as his legs and back. He pedaled on in the rear of the procession, which was his accustomed place, and hid his sufferings from the occasional backward glances of Joe. But when they were half-way up the long, though gentle, ascent of Locust Ridge, endurance failed. The yellow bicycle, which had been going slower and slower, wobbled erratically for an instant and subsided in a clump of bushes. Needless to say, Barry subsided also.

When, after a moment of delicious languor, he thrust the branches aside and looked out, the rest of the Parkville Bicycle Club had disappeared over the brow of the hill, and only a faint haze of dust remained. Philosophically, Barry settled himself comfortably to the task of recuperating. Gradually the crampy feeling inside him passed, and after a quarter of an hour or so he brushed a grasshopper from his neck and sat up. As he did so, a hum that grew rapidly into a throbbing fell on his ear. Up the long hill a blue-gray automobile was charging. Barry knew that car, just as every other boy in Parkville knew it. It was Mr. Stanwood's 90-horse-power Rainsford, a marvelous roadster, with a high hood, two bucket seats, steel wheels, and a long, sloping stern. When Barry dreamed dreams he saw himself at the wheel of that car. It was not, of course, old Mr. Stanwood who owned it, but Mr. George Warren Stanwood, the junior partner of the Stanwood Tool Company, in whose office Barry's father was employed, and it was Mr. George Warren Stanwood who, lolling nonchalantly back in the car, quite alone, presently flashed past Barry's admiring eyes. There was a roar, a bluish streak, and a cloud of dust, and Barry was alone again.

"Gee!" he muttered with awe. "He must have been going fifty miles an hour! And right uphill, too!" He listened. A faint throbbing came to him and then ceased abruptly. "Guess he's home now!" Barry chuckled.

With a sigh at the thought, he picked himself up and, rescuing Plury, pushed it to the brow of the hill. From there, bearing to the right until lost to view, the hard, firm road descended in a long slope that promised three miles or more of easy journey. Barry mounted and set off. With a good brake, he might have coasted all the way to the edge of Loganport; but as it was, he had to keep his feet on the pedals and not let the pumpkin-yellow contrivance get away from him. He whistled gaily as he began the descent and was still whistling when, half a mile below, his wandering gaze fell on the blue-gray car. Then the whistling stopped in the middle of a note, Barry's heart turned over sickeningly, and he nearly fell from his wheel. A hundred yards away, beside the road, the gorgeous car lay upside down! Straight through the frail fence it had plunged and down the steep bank until a great maple-tree had stopped it. The road was torn and gashed, and splintered wood and broken glass were all about.

Barry never remembered how he reached the overturned car. Nor will he ever forget the awful feeling he had when he caught sight of two brown-trousered legs protruding from beneath it! For a moment he was too dazed and panic-stricken to think, and in that moment a voice came from beneath the car.

"Hello!" it said quite calmly. "Any one there?"

"Y-yes!" stammered Barry, in vast relief. "Are you killed?"

"Don't think so, thanks: but I'm pinned down under here pretty effectively. One of my rear tires burst, and—" There was a groan, and then, "No use," said Mr. Stanwood. "I'm fast. I say, are you alone?"

"Yes, sir. Do you think that if I pulled—"

"Not a chance. Something's sitting across my back. Would you mind going on to Loganport and sending some one out here to lift this thing off me? Better go to Browning's Garage, I guess. They 'll have jacks there. Who are you, by the way? Are you in a car?"

"I'm Barry Norris, Mr. Stanwood, and I'm on a bicycle."

"Oh, John Norris's boy? Well, you might get busy with that bicycle, if you don't mind. I fancy I'm all right so far, barring a rib or two, but I have a hunch that this pesky thing is settling. You might ask them to hustle along, eh?"

"I 'll go as fast as I can, sir! Is n't there anything I can do for you?"

"No, thanks. I'm fairly comfortable—considering where I am! Loganport's about three miles, Norris. You might—er—see what sort of a record you can make!"

Barry scrambled back to the road, mounted, and was off. How he wished then for Tod's Purple Comet! But there was no thought now of holding Plury back. He pedaled hard for a minute and then swung his feet clear. The grade did the rest. Barry silently prayed that the bicycle would hold together and that the old worn tires would stand the test. Faster and faster sped the wheel. Trees and fences and rocks flew past like things in a dream. The brown road rushed to meet him and vanished behind. He was around the curve now, and some two miles below, Loganport nestled in the valley—houses and factories, green trees and tall chimneys, seen dimly through watering eyes. The wind whistled past, and Barry strove not to think of the speed of his flight. He was frightened; there was no question about that; but with the fear, there was a fine sense of exhilaration. His hands ached from clutching the grips, and his heart hammered like mad, and yet he would not have been anywhere else could he have had his choice! E Pluribus Unum was running away and knew it and seemed to glory in it. Bouncing, grinding, tearing, the yellow wheel fairly shot down the long hill, the pedals revolving so fast that they could n't be seen, and Barry wondered if they had not flown off like his cap!

Suddenly a new sound entered into the medley, a harsh, grating sound, and Barry's heart sank. One of the tires had gone! But there was no help for it. He could n't have stopped had he tried, save by dashing the bicycle into the bank. The rim would stand for awhile, and he was almost at the end of the slope. Some two hundred yards ahead was the railroad crossing, and beyond that the outskirts of the town lay. Eastward, a trail of white smoke told of an approaching train, and for an instant a new anxiety assailed him; but in the next moment he knew he had margin enough. He was bumping across the tracks before the crossing-tender was well out of his hut. The speed of the bicycle diminished, for the road lay level at last. A dog tried conclusions with Plury, but was beaten to a standstill. A block farther along, Barry was able to get his feet back in the pedals although momentum was still carrying him fast. Then came a turn to the left,—fortunately he knew the town almost as well as his own,—and the sign of Browning's Garage beckoned. Grinding and squeaking as though in the utmost agony, E Pluribus Unum covered the last block, and then, like a spent charger, collapsed!

Barry picked himself up dizzily and ran the last few yards. A man met him at the open doorway and to him Barry breathlessly poured out his story. Then he was sitting in a chair in the little office, alone, dazed. There was shouting around him, and the deafening roar of an engine exhaust. Hazily he saw the big wrecking-car leap through the entrance and race away. Then there was a great quiet, for Barry had fainted.

 

Just a week later Barry and Joe were in the woodshed again. About them was a litter of crating and paper and excelsior. Between them was a brilliant, glittering Purple Comet bicycle. Barry gazed at it worshipingly and ran a caressing hand along the smooth enamel. "Gee!" he whispered. "Is n't it a peach, Joe?"

"Looks more like a plum," said Joe, but no less admiringly. "Did he know you wanted a Comet, Barry?"

Bary nodded and flicked a wisp of excelsior from the tool-box. "He asked Dad, and Dad had heard me say I wished I had a wheel like Tod's, and told him. Is n't it a wonder? Coaster brake, horn, luggage-carrier—"

"Handle-bars just like a real motor-cycle, too! Mr. Stanwood is certainly a dandy! Wish I'd saved his life!"

"I guess I did n't do exactly that," disclaimed Barry, modestly.

"Guess you did then! They say that if the men from the garage had got there just a few minutes later his spine would have been broken. As it is, all he got was a couple of busted ribs. Guess he has a right to be grateful to you, Barry!"

"Well—Anyway, he's done more than enough. He's raised Dad's pay and given me this, and I guess— Say, what time is it?"

"Must be most twelve. Why?"

"The run starts at two. I 've got to clean this mess up and eat my dinner and put some graphite on the chain and—"

"What 'll you call the new one, Barry?"

Barry observed the Purple Comet for a moment with frowning concentration. Then, "Plury Second," he said.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1944, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.