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Steve and the Steam Engine

Sara Ware Bassett

  Produced by Roger Frank and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at


  By Sara Ware Bassett

  The Invention Series

  Paul and the Printing PressSteve and the Steam Engine


  "It was the conquering of this multitude of defects thatgave to the world the intricate, exquisitely made machine."--Frontispiece.See page 103.]


  The Invention Series


  By Sara Ware Bassett

  With Illustrations By A. O. Scott

  BostonLittle, Brown, And Company1921


  Copyright, 1921,By Little, Brown, and Company.All rights reserved

  Published September, 1921

  The Plimpton PressNorwood Mass U S A




  I An Unpremeditated Folly 1

  II A Meeting with an Old Friend 19

  III A Second Calamity 34

  IV The Story of the First Railroad 51

  V Steve Learns a Sad Lesson 67

  VI Mr. Tolman's Second Yarn 77

  VII A Holiday Journey 94

  VIII New York and What Happened There 110

  IX An Astounding Calamity 125

  X An Evening of Adventure 145

  XI The Crossing of the Country 156

  XII New Problems 169

  XIII Dick Makes His Second Appearance 178

  XIV A Steamboat Trip by Rail 192

  XV The Romance of the Clipper Ship 205

  XVI Again the Magic Door Opens 216

  XVII More Steamboating 224

  XVIII A Thanksgiving Tragedy 238

  XIX The End of the House Party 248



  "It was the conquering of this multitude of defectsthat gave to the world the intricate, exquisitelymade machine" Frontispiece

  "You've got your engine nicely warmed up, youngster,"he observed casually 9

  "I wish you'd tell me about this queer little old-fashionedboat" 181

  He was fighting to prevent himself from being drawnbeneath the jagged, crumbling edge of the hole 244





  Steve Tolman had done a wrong thing and he knew it.

  While his father, mother, and sister Doris had been absent in New Yorkfor a week-end visit and Havens, the chauffeur, was ill at the hospital,the boy had taken the big six-cylinder car from the garage withoutanybody's permission and carried a crowd of his friends to Torrington toa football game. And that was not the worst of it, either. At the footof the long hill leading into the village the mighty leviathan sounceremoniously borrowed had come to a halt, refusing to move anotherinch, and Stephen now sat helplessly in it, awaiting the aid hiscomrades had promised to send back from the town.

  What an ignominious climax to what had promised to be a royal holiday!Steve scowled with chagrin and disappointment.

  The catastrophe served him right. Unquestionably he should not havetaken the car without asking. He had never run it all by himself before,although many times he had driven it when either his father or Havenshad been at his elbow. It had gone all right then. What reason had he tosuppose a mishap would befall him when they were not by? It wasinfernally hard luck!

  Goodness only knew what was the matter with the thing. Probablysomething was smashed, something that might require days or even weeksto repair, and would cost a lot of money. Here was a pretty dilemma!

  How angry his father would be!

  The family were going to use the automobile Saturday to take Doris backto Northampton for the opening of college and had planned to make quitea holiday of the trip. Now it would all have to be given up andeverybody would blame him for the disappointment. A wretched hole he wasin!

  The boys had not given him much sympathy, either. They had been readyenough to egg him on into wrong-doing and had made of the adventure thejolliest lark imaginable; but the moment fun had been transformed intocalamity they had deserted him with incredible speed, climbing out ofthe spacious tonneau and trooping jauntily off on foot to see the town.It was easy enough for them to wash their hands of the affair and leavehim to the solitude of the roadside; the automobile was not theirs andwhen they got home they would not be confronted by irate parents.

  How persuasively, reflected Stephen, they had urged him on.

  "Oh, be a sport, Steve!" Jack Curtis had coaxed. "Who's going to be thewiser if you do take the car? Anyhow, you have run it before, haven'tyou? I don't believe your father will mind."

  "Take a chance, Stevie," his chum, Bud Taylor, pleaded. "What's the goodof being such a boob? Do you think if my father had a car and it wasstanding idle in the garage when a bunch of kids needed it to go to aschool game I would hesitate? You bet I wouldn't!"

  "It isn't likely your Dad would balk at your using the car if he knewthe circumstances," piped another boy. "We have got that match to playoff, and now that the electric cars are held up by the strike how are weto get to Torrington? Don't be a ninny, Steve."

  Thus they had ridiculed, cajoled, and wheedled Steve until hisconscience had been overpowered and, yielding to their arguments, he hadset forth for the adjoining village with the triumphant throng oftempters. At first all had gone well. The fourteen miles had slippedpast with such smoothness and rapidity that Stephen, proudly enthronedat the wheel, had almost forgotten that any shadow rested on thehilarity of the day. He had been dubbed a good fellow, a true sport, abenefactor to the school--every complimentary pseudonym imaginable--andhad glowed with pleasure beneath the avalanche of flattery. As the bigcar with its rollicking occupants had spun along the highway, many apasser-by had caught the merry mood of the cheering group and waved asmiling salutation in response to their shouts.

  In the meanwhile, exhilarated by the novelty of the escapade, Steve hadincreased the speed until the red car fairly shot over the levelmacadam, its blurred outlines lost in the scarlet of the autumn foliage.Then suddenly when the last half-mile was reached and Torringtonvillage, the goal of the pilgrimage, was in sight, quite without warningthe panting monster had stopped and all attempts to urge it farther wereof no avail. There it stood, its motionless engine sending out odors ofhot varnish and little shimmering waves of heat.

  Immediately a hush had descended upon
the boisterous company. There wasa momentary pause, followed by a clamor of advice. When, however, itbecame evident that there was no prospect of restoring the disabledmachine to action, one after another of the frightened schoolboys haddropped out over the sides of the car and after loitering an instant ortwo with a sort of shamefaced indecision, at the suggestion of BudTaylor they had all set out for the town.

  "Tough luck, old chap!" Bud had called over his shoulder. "Mighty toughluck! Wish we had time to wait and see what's queered the thing; but thegame is called at two-thirty, you know, and we have only about time tomake it. We'll try and hunt up a garage and send somebody back to helpyou. So long!"

  And away they had trooped without so much as a backward glance, leavingStephen alone on the country road, worried, mortified, and resentful.There was no excuse for their heartless conduct, he fumed indignantly.They were not all on the eleven. Five of the team had come over in TimBarclay's Ford, so that several of the fellows Steve had brought weremerely to be spectators of the game. At least Bud Taylor, his especialcrony, was not playing. He might have remained behind. How selfishpeople were, and what a fleeting thing was popularity! Why, half an hourago he had been the idol of the crowd! Then Bud had shouted: "Comeahead, kids, let's hoof it to Torrington!" and in the twinkling of aneye the tide had turned, the mob had shifted its allegiance and gonetagging off at the heels of a new leader. They did not mean to havetheir pleasure spoiled, not they!

  Scornfully Stephen watched them mount the hill, their crimson sweatersmaking a zigzag line of color in the sunshine; even their laughter,care-free as if nothing had happened, floated back to him on the stillair, demonstrating how little concern they felt for him and hisrefractory automobile. Well might they proceed light-heartedly to thevillage, spend their money on sodas and ice-cream cones, and shoutthemselves hoarse at the game. No thought of future punishment marredtheir enjoyment and the program was precisely the one he had outlinedfor himself before Fate had intervened and raised a prohibitory hand.

  The fun he had missed was, however, of scant consequence now. All heasked was to get the car safely back to his father's garage before thefamily returned from New York on the afternoon train. Now that hisexcitement had cooled into sober second thought, he marveled that he hadbeen led into committing such a monstrous offense. He must have beenmad. Often he had begged to do the very thing he had done and his fatherhad always refused to let him, insisting that an expensive touring carwas no toy for a boy of his age. Perhaps there had been some truth inthe assertion, too, he now admitted. Yet were he to hang for it, hecould not see why he had not run the car exactly as his elders were wontto do. Of course he had had a pretty big crowd aboard and the heavy loadmight have strained the machinery; and possibly--just possibly--he hadspeeded a bit. He certainly had made phenomenally good time for he didnot want the fellows to think he was afraid to let out the engine.

  Well, whatever the matter was, the harm was done now and he was in amost unenviable plight. No doubt it would cost a small fortune to getthe automobile into shape again, more money than he had in the world;certainly far more than he had in his pocket at the present moment. Whatwas he to do? Even suppose the boys did remember to send back help(they probably wouldn't--but suppose they did) how was he to pay amachinist? As he pictured himself being towed to a garage and the carbeing left there, he felt an uncomfortable sensation in his throat. Hecertainly was in for it now.

  It would be ignominious to charge the repairs to his father but thatwould be the only course left him. Fortunately Mr. Tolman, who was arailroad official, was well known in the locality and therefore therewould be no trouble about obtaining credit; but to ask his father to paythe bills for this escapade was anything but a manly and honorable wayout and Steve wished with all his heart he had never been persuaded intothe wretched affair. If there were only some escape possible, somealternative from being obliged to confess his wrong-doing! But to hopeto conceal or make good the disaster was futile. And even if he couldcover up what had happened, how contemptible it would be! He detesteddoing anything underhanded. Only sneaks and cowards resorted tosubterfuge and although he had been called many names in his life thesetwo had not been among them.

  No, he should make a clean breast of what he had done and bear theconsequences, and once out of his miserable plight he would take carenever again to be a party to such an adventure. He had learned hislesson.

  So absorbed was he in framing these worthy resolutions that he did notnotice a tiny moving speck that appeared above the crest of the hill andnow came whirling toward him. In fact the dusty truck and its yet moredusty driver were beside him before he heeded either one. Then thenewcomer came to a stop and he heard a pleasant voice:

  "What's the matter, sonny?"

  Stephen glanced up, trying bravely to return his questioner's smile.

  The man who addressed him was white-haired, ruddy, and muscular, and hewore brown denim overalls stained with oil and grease; but although hewas middle-aged there was a boyish friendliness in his face and in thefrank blue eyes that peered out from under his shaggy brows.

  "What's the trouble with your machine?" he repeated.

  "I don't know," returned Stephen. "If I did, you bet I wouldn't besitting here."

  The workman laughed.

  "Suppose you let me have a look at it," said he, climbing off the seaton which he was perched.

  "I wish you would."

  "It is a pretty fine car, isn't it?" observed the man, as he approachedit. "Is it yours?"

  "My father's."

  "He lets you use it, eh?"

  Stephen did not answer.

  "Some fathers ain't that generous," went on the man as he began toexamine the silent monster. "If I had an outfit like this, I ain't sosure I'd trust it to a chap of your size. Still, if you have yourlicense, I suppose you must know how to run it."

  "You've got your engine nicely warmed up, youngster," heobserved casually. Page 9.]

  A shiver passed through Stephen's body. A license! What if the strangershould ask to see it?

  There was a heavy fine, he now remembered, for driving a car unless onewere in possession of this precious paper, although what the penalty washe could not at the instant recall; he had entirely forgotten there wereany such legal details. Fearfully he eyed the mechanic.

  The man, however, did not pursue the subject but instead appearedengrossed in carefully inspecting the automobile inside and out. As hepoked about, now here, now there, Stephen watched him with constantlyincreasing nervousness; and after the investigation had proceeded forsome little time and no satisfactory result had been reached, the boy'sheart sank. Something very serious must be the matter if the troublewere so hard to locate, he reasoned. In imagination he heard hisfather's indignant reprimands and saw the Northampton trip shrivel intonothingness.

  The workman in the meantime remained silent, offering no comment torelieve his anxiety. What he was thinking under the shabby visor cappulled so low over his brows it was impossible to fathom. His hand wasnow unscrewing the top of the gasoline tank.

  "You've got your engine nicely warmed up, youngster," observed hecasually. "Maybe 'twas just as well you did come to a stop. You musthave covered the ground at a pretty good clip."

  There certainly was something very disconcerting about the stranger'sconversation and again Stephen looked at him with suspicion.

  "Oh, I don't know," he mumbled, trying to assume an off-hand air."Perhaps we did come along fairly fast."

  "You weren't alone then."

  "N--o," was the uncomfortable reply. "The fellows who sent you back fromthe village were with me."

  For the first time the workman evinced surprise.

  "Nobody sent me," he retorted. "I just thought as I was going by thatyou looked as if you were up against it, and as I happen to knowsomething about engines I pulled up to give you a helping hand. The fixyou are in isn't serious, though." He smiled broadly as if somethingamused him.

  "What is the matter with the car?" deman
ded the boy desperately, in avoice that trembled with eagerness and anxiety and defied all efforts toremain under his control.

  "Why, son, nothing is wrong with your car. You've got no gasoline,that's all."

  "Gasoline!" repeated the lad blankly.

  "Sure! You couldn't have had much aboard when you started, I guess. Itmanaged to bring you as far as this, however, and here you came to astop. The up-grade of the hill tipped the little gas you did have backin the tank so it would not run out, you see. Fill her up again andshe'll sprint along as nicely as ever."

  The relief that came with the information almost bowled Steve over.

  For a moment he could not speak; then when he had caught his breath heexclaimed excitedly:

  "How can I get some gasoline?"

  His rescuer laughed at the fevered question.

  "Why, I happen to have a can of it here on my truck," he drawled, "and Ican let you have part of it if you are so minded."

  "Oh, I don't want to take yours," objected the boy.

  "Nonsense! Why not? I am going right past a garage on my way back andcan get plenty more. We'll tip enough of mine into your tank to carryyou home. It won't take a minute."

  The suggestion was like water to the thirsty.

  "All right!" cried Stephen. "If you will let me pay for it I shall bemightily obliged to you. I'm mightily obliged anyway."

  "Pshaw! I've done nothing," protested the person in the oily jumper."What are we in the world for if not to do one another a good turn whenwe can?"

  As he spoke he extricated from his conglomerate load of lumber, tools,and boxes a battered can, the contents of which he began to transferinto Stephen's empty tank.

  "There!" ejaculated he presently, as he screwed the metal top on. "Thatisn't all she'll hold, but it will at least get you home. You are goingright back, aren't you?"

  The boy glanced quickly at the speaker.


  "That's right. I would if I were in your place," urged the man.

  Furtively Stephen scrutinized the countenance opposite but although thewords had contained a mingled caution and rebuke there was not theslightest trace of interest in the face of the speaker, who wasimperturbably wiping off the moist nickel cap with a handful of wastefrom his pocket.

  "Yes," he repeated half-absently, "I take it that amount of gas willjust about carry you back to Coventry; it won't allow for any detours,to be sure, but if you follow the straight road it ought to fetch you upthere all right."

  Stephen started and again an interrogation rose to his lips. Who wasthis mysterious mechanic and why should he assume with such certaintythat Coventry was the abiding place of the car? He longed to ask but afear of lengthening the interview prevented him from doing so. If hebegan to ask questions might not the stranger assume the same privilegeand wheel upon him with some embarrassing inquiry? No, the sooner he wasclear of this wizard in the brown overalls the better. But for the sakeof his peace of mind he should like to know whether the man really knewwho he was or whether his comments were simply matters of chance. Therecertainly was something very uncanny and uncomfortable about it all,something that led him to feel that the person in the jumper was fullyacquainted with his escapade, disapproved of it, and meant to preventhim from prolonging it. Yet as he took a peep into the kindly blue eyeswhich he did not trust himself to meet directly he wondered if thisassumption were not created by a guilty conscience rather than by fact.Certainly there was nothing accusatory in the other's bearing. His facewas frankness itself. In books criminals were always fearing that peoplesuspected them, reflected Steve. The man knew nothing about him at all.It was absurd to think he did.

  Nevertheless the boy was eager to be gone from the presence of thosesearching blue eyes and therefore he climbed into his car, murmuringhurriedly:

  "You've been corking to help me out!"

  The workman held up a protesting hand.

  "Don't think of it again," he answered. "I was glad to do it. Good luckto you!"

  With nervous hands Stephen started the engine and, backing theautomobile about, headed it homeward. Now that danger was past hisdesire to reach Coventry before his father should arrive drove everyother thought from his mind, and soon the mysterious hero of the brownjumper was forgotten. Although he made wonderfully good time back overthe road it seemed hours before he turned in at his own gate and broughtthe throbbing motor to rest in the garage. A sigh of thankfulnesswelled up within him. The great red leviathan that had caused him suchanguish of spirit stood there in the stillness as peacefully as if ithad never stirred from the spot it occupied. If only it had remainedthere, how glad the boy would have been.

  He ventured to look toward the windows fronting the avenue. No one wasin sight, it was true; but to flatter himself that he had beenunobserved was ridiculous for he saw by the clock that his father,mother, and Doris must already have reached home. Doubtless they were inthe house now and fully acquainted with what he had done. If they hadnot missed the car from the garage they would at least have seen itwhirl into the driveway with him at the wheel. Any moment his fathermight appear at his shoulder. To delay was useless. He had had his funand now in manly fashion he must face the music and pay for it. How hedreaded the coming storm!

  Once, twice he braced himself, then moved reluctantly toward the house,climbed the steps, and let himself in at the front door. He could hardlyexpect any one would come to greet him under the circumstances. Anominous silence pervaded the great dim hall but after the glare of thewhite ribbon of road on which his eyes had been so intently fixed hefound the darkness cool and tranquilizing. At first he could scarcelysee; then as he gradually became accustomed to the faint light he espiedon the silver card tray a telegram addressed to himself and with aquiver of apprehension tore it open. Telegrams were not such a commonoccurrence in his life that he had ceased to regard them with misgiving.

  The message on which his gaze rested, however, contained no ill tidings.On the contrary it merely announced that the family had been detained inNew York longer than they had expected and would not return until noonto-morrow. He would have almost another day, therefore, before he wouldbe forced to make confession to his father! The respite was a welcomeone and with it his tenseness relaxed. He even gained courage on thestrength of his steadier nerves to creep into the kitchen and confrontMary, the cook, whom he knew must have seen him shoot into the drivewayand who, having been years in the home, would not hesitate to lecturehim roundly for his conduct. But Mary was not there and neither wasJulia, the waitress. In the absence of the head of the house the two hadevidently ascended to the third story there to forget in sleep the caresof daily life. Stephen smiled at the discovery. It was a coincidence.Unquestionably Fate was with him. It helped his self-respect to feelthat at least the servants were in ignorance of what he had done. Nobodyknew--nobody at all!

  With an interval of rest and a dash of cold water upon his facegradually the act he had committed began to sink back into normalperspective and loom less gigantic in his memory. After all was it sucha dreadful thing, he asked himself. Of course he should not have done itand he fully intended to confess his fault and accept the blame. But wasthe folly so terrible? He owned that he regretted it and admitted thathe was somewhat troubled over the probable consequences, and every timehe awoke in the night a dread of the morrow came upon him. In themorning he rushed off to school, found the team had won the game, andcame home feeling even more justified than before. Why, if he had nottaken the car, the school might have forfeited that victory!

  All the afternoon as he sat quietly at his books he tried to keep thisconsideration uppermost in his mind. Then at dinner time there was astir in the hall and he knew the moment he feared had arrived. Thefamily were back again! Slowly he stole down over the heavily carpetedstairs. Yes, there they were, just coming in at the door, laughing andchatting gaily with Julia, who had let them in. The next instant hismother had espied him on the landing and had called a greeting.

  There was a smile on her
face that reproached him for having yielded tothe temptation to deceive her even for a second.

  "Such a delightful trip as we have had, Steve!" she called. "We wished adozen times that you were with us. But some vacation you shall have aholiday in New York with your father to pay for what you have missedthis time. You shall not be cheated out of all the fun, dear boy!"

  "Everything been all right here, son?" inquired his father from the footof the stairs.

  "Yes, Dad."

  "Havens has not showed up yet, I suppose."

  The boy flushed.

  "No, sir."

  "It seems to take him an interminable time to have his tonsils out. Ifhe does not appear pretty soon I shall have to get another man to runthe car. We can't be left high and dry like this," fretted the elder manirritably. "Suppose I knew nothing about it, where would we be? I wishedto-day you were old enough to have a license and could have come to thestation to meet us. I believe with a little more instruction you couldmanage that automobile all right. Not that I should let you go racingover the country with a lot of boys. But you might be very useful intaking your mother and sister about and helping when we were in a fixlike this. I think you would enjoy doing it, too."

  "I--I'm--sure I should," replied the lad, avoiding his father's eye andstudying the toe of his shoe intently. It passed through his mind as hestood there that now was the moment for confession. He had only to say,

  "_I had the car out yesterday_," and the dreaded ordeal would be over.But somehow he could not utter the words. Instead he descended from thelanding and followed the others into the library where the conversationimmediately shifted to other topics. In the jumble of narrative hischance to speak was swallowed up nor during the next few days did anysuitable opportunity occur for him to make his belated confession. WhenMr. Tolman was not at meetings of the railroad board he was at hisoffice or occupied with important affairs, and by and by so many eventshad intervened that to go back into the past seemed to Stephen idlesentimentality. At length he had lulled his conscience into decidingthat in view of the conditions it was quite unnecessary to acquaint hisfather and mother with his wrong-doing at all. He was safely out of theentanglement and was it not just as well to accept his escape withgratitude and let sleeping dogs lie? All the punishments in the worldcould not change anything now. What would be the use of telling?